This 5th Grader's Note About The Rules Of Consent Shows That, Yes, Consent Can Be Learned Early
Whoever says you can't teach consent at a young age is wrong — and here's a story that proves it: A Twitter user going by the handle @WhosDenverJones tweeted on Sept. 15 a picture of a fifth grader's letter about consent with the caption, "My friend who's a 5th grade teacher just sent this to me! I'm dead!!!" In the letter, a fifth grader named Zoë addresses another student named Noah and outlines a list of rules, from "Do not touch my shoulder" to "Stop playing with me on the bus." Zoë is very clear about what's not OK, and instructs Noah to "Reread [the note] 500 times" in case he forgets. Every item on the list is written with a different color, and exclamation points are sprinkled throughout to make sure Noah doesn't miss a thing. And just in case he doesn't get the picture, it seems Zoë has got a lot of adult friends who have her back.
This girl hasn't even started middle school yet and she's already everyone's role model — the tweet has already been retweeted more than 6,000 times. Zoë teaches all of us that no matter our age, we have every right to tell other people if we don't want to be touched or if they're making us feel uncomfortable. She also clarifies her friendship boundaries, stating that she's too young to have a boyfriend and she doesn't like him "as a bf" anyway. A talking-to from Zoë's dad and her adult friends isn't the only consequence, though. The note also warns Noah that he'll be responsible for any trips to the counselor's office if he keeps bothering her.
Despite the fact that it seems like it should be an easy concept to grasp, consent continually trips up full-grown adults in our society: Catcalling and street harassment enable others to treat women's bodies as public property; we keep having to fall back on analogies to explain consent; and there are so many things we're not taught to ask consent for, but really should be. But so many of these issues could be shut down early if we just started teaching consent from an early age — not just for sex, but for something as simple as giving someone a hug. And as Zoë's letter demonstrates, kids are more than capable not only of understanding it, but of setting their boundaries firmly.
It's also perfectly OK to take away consent as much as it is to give it — another thing that Zoë's letter nails. Unfortunately, society teaches women that they have to resort to passive aggressiveness or subtle reminders so as to avoid "hurting" other people's feelings; in many cases, our culture even teaches women to themselves to be touched in ways that make them uncomfortable purely to appease other people. But it's your body and your personal space, and everybody needs to respect that.
In fewer than 200 words, this particular fifth grader shows that consent isn't hard to understand at all — and it shows that teaching people to respect other people's boundaries can and should begin early. Maybe then, we'll finally start making some headway towards dismantling rape culture.
Nobody's got time to deal with "foolishness," anyway.