I remember learning about consent when I was 12 years old – which was far too old, in my opinion. I should have been learning consent as early as five, if not before. Consent is one person explicitly permitting another person, or a group of people, to do something with or to that person. While the term is often used in the context of sex, for a small child it can also be used in the context of giving hugs, for example. The child’s body is his/her/their own. For children, learning bodily autonomy is very important to the growth process. It will help set them up for healthy relationships and boundaries in their teenage and adult life.
Learning consent during a time when most of my classmates were starting to experiment with sex was certainly too late for me. When I was little, I was told that even if I didn’t want to, I had to give auntie that big wet kiss, or hug grandma. My point is that kids should be told that if they don’t want to be touched/hugged/ kissed, they don’t have to be. I was getting mixed signals that my brain couldn’t always handle.
When I heard about the controversy surrounding “Show Dogs,” the May 2018 movie starring Ludacris, Will Arnett, Stanley Tucci and drag queen RuPaul, I was intrigued. Consent is a very serious issue, so when I read Terina Maldonado’s comments on the blog “Macaroni Kid,” I needed to go see the movie before weighing in myself. Maldonado’s take is that the controversial scenes were inappropriate for the young target audience, and that “with the #MeToo movement and all the talk of sexual predators in Hollywood, [she] couldn’t help but think this message, that is blatantly in the open for adults to see, but over a child’s understanding, is meant to groom children to be open to having people touch their privates, even though they don’t want it. It gives them the idea of a ‘zen place’ to go to mentally when they are touched.”
After watching the film, my take on it is that what at first seems to be a playful or innocent kid’s movie with all the talking dogs a person could want or need quickly turns into a sexual-abuse-normalizing nightmare. Max, a macho K-9 Police dog, must join, and ultimately win, a dog show competition in order to solve a case and save a clever but mischievous baby panda. He quickly realizes that it may just be his toughest mission yet.
While most of the movie does go off without a hitch, two scenes in particular cause warning bells to go off, both scenes showing a man touching a dog’s genitals. While this may have been an unintentional subliminal message from the production company, the potential consequences and the concern remain. One scene is even meant to be comic relief, involving bikini wax and clever camera angles. The other scene involves a dog show judge examining Max’s genitals in the context of the competition. Max won’t win the competition unless he lets the judge touch his private parts.
While both instances convey what may be standard show dog grooming, they could also suggest to children that sexual touching is okay and even encouraged. When the judge touches Max’s genitals, a former dog show champion tells him to “go to [his] zen place,” a statement reminiscent of phrases used by child molesters and/or pedophiles to get their victims to agree to their sexual advances. When a child sees a dog’s genitals being touched, he/she/they may not understand the difference between what is okay for an adult or other person to do to a dog and what is okay for an adult to do to a child.
The makers of the movie quickly released an apology for the scenes and agreed to send a new version to theaters. However, when I saw the movie at a northwestern Wisconsin theater, almost a week and a half after the company’s commitment to a new version, it still included the controversial scenes. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s Executive Director, Dawn Hawkins, released a statement to the public saying, “Children’s movies must be held to a higher standard, and must teach children bodily autonomy, the ability to say ‘no’ and safety, not confusing messages endorsing unwanted genital touching” (qtd in Vanity Fair). In the troubling scene, the dog is clearly uncomfortable while his genitals are being examined (i.e. he did not give consent to be touched), but that the procedure still needs to happen if Max wants to win.
We need movies and media that reinforce the concepts of consent, kindness towards others and bodily autonomy for all and also show kids that they have the right and power to refuse what is happening if they don’t like it. We need a culture that tells not only kids but also adults that their body and mind are solely theirs and that no one should be able to take that away from them, even if auntie wants that kiss.
For more information on teaching kids about consent, here are some possible starting points:
http://www.wcasa.org/file_open.php?id=1592 This toolkit from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault was created through a partnership between youth and subject matter experts from the fields of education, public health, sexual violence prevention, domestic violence prevention, and youth development. It provides a menu of options for starting or deepening a conversation about consent, including videos, lesson plans, images, web pages, and more. All resources are FREE and vetted by the team of youth and experts. Consent is looked at broadly, recognizing that preventing sexual violence starts with teaching youth active communication skills, empathy, and how to set and respect boundaries.
For another article about “Show Dogs,” visit this link:
Desta, Yohana. “Disturbing, Troubling, Wrong: Why Show Dogs Has Parents Up in Arms.” Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. 12 June 2018.
Maldonado, Terina. “Show Dogs, Don’t Let Your Children Be Groomed, Use This to Teach Them.” 20 May 2018. Macaroni Kid. Macaroni Kid. 15 June 2018.