I am a huge sports fan. I especially get excited when watching women's sports, and that includes the soccer on the world stage. The popularity of the Women's World Cup was nothing short of absolutely inspiring. The leadership, athleticism and grit and resilience is exactly the type of great sports story that we all fall in love with. The recent Women's World Cup delivered on all fronts of entertainment and the brilliance of a worldwide sports event. Watching this, however, it made me painfully aware of the continued imbalance of power, not only in income and conditions, but also in the unwanted kiss that Spain's Jenni Hermoso had to endure after winning the World Cup. As a woman, I know moments like this are way too common, and we may not always unpack every cat call or misguided compliment that we receive. This unfortunate event, and its aftermath, can be an opportunity to discuss this moment with your children, boys and girls, especially if they are on a sports team, or in a club, or frankly anywhere there may be an imbalance of power.
After reading a recent blog from Girls Leadership in Oakland, California, I wanted to share three questions that may help parents unpack this moment with your kids and create an opportunity to discuss this important issue.
1. Have you ever had a moment like Jenni Hermoso, when somebody gave you a kiss or hug that you didn't want?
This is a big question, one that can lead to eye rolls, and mentions of how they haven’t wanted every kiss from you or an affectionate extended family member, or it could bring up more serious violations of consent. What is essential to talk about with our kids is that there is no power dynamic, like generations within a family, or moment, like a sports win, that allows the rules of consent to get blurry. Everyone always has the right to control what happens to their body; this includes hugs and kisses from parents. For me, practicing this isn’t always easy, but it does make the hugs and kisses that I get with consent all the sweeter.
If you or someone you love need support, please consider calling
Childhelp National Child Abuse hotline at 1 800-422-4453 (1-800-4-A-CHILD) or visiting https://www.childhelphotline.org/.
National support is also available through the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) at https://www.rainn.org/resources.
2. Afterward, she asked her teammate, "What am I supposed to do?" Why do you think she felt pressured to receive the kiss? Do you think she had any other choices?
The guy that kissed Jenni, Luis Rubiales, is a little taller than her, and it can be hard to feel powerful when somebody bigger than you is taking physical control. He is also like a boss to her, so he is in a position of authority or power, like a coach, or teacher. It can feel hard to speak up when someone has authority over you. He is older than her, and it can be hard to feel of equal power when engaged with someone who is older than you. Freezing is a natural and common response in a situation like this.
Even when the power imbalance of size, authority, and age make it feel like there are no choices, it is important to unpack the responses that you can have to someone not respecting your body. Come up with the choices together that you think exist, potentially including hitting, slapping, pushing, yelling, or others. These are choices that can be especially challenging for those raised to be pretty, polite, and perfect. This is a great opportunity to talk about the limits of being polite or likable.
3. What consequences do you think make sense for the RFEF president for doing that to a player? How might he address the impact of his actions?
There are a range of consequences that Luis might face to address the impact of his actions. To begin, he could make a public apology. It is worth talking through what makes a strong apology or an ineffective one. He could resign from his role as president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation.
Accountability might be a big word, depending on developmental levels, but it is the best one we know for owning the impact of your actions. This is often the first step if we are to have any hope of repairing the relationship, or growing from our mistakes. Accountability can be public, or private, such as a letter or personal note. It often helps if the offending person asks the person who they hurt if there is anything they can do to help fix or heal from the situation. This opens the door to the possibility of doing things differently in the future.
Turning discussion into action:
At Girls Leadership they recommend considering using role-play to discuss this topic. For kids who are practiced at being polite rule followers, it is vital to practice being loud, rude, and disagreeable. It is worth the discomfort of role-play to practice pushing, shoving, and building that muscle memory. There is a huge difference between knowing in your head what you “should” do, and having the sense memory of having done it, remembering what it feels like. For adolescents who are navigating the world on their own, a self-defense class can help build this muscle memory with the safety of punching and kicking pads. Taking self-defense together can give your kids a chance to see you, the adult, role model being strong, loud, and putting safety and consent over all else.
No matter how much you practice, though, real life can still be confusing and overwhelming.
Emphasize to your child that role play and self defense is there to help them feel in control of their reactions, but that it is never their fault if someone else violates their consent.
These conversations may be difficult, but talking about safety and consent can also help kids feel more connected to themselves and more confident in their bodies and their rights.