“You’re Hurting Her!” A Story of Consent in the Santa Line

UPDATE Dec 14th 2015
Since this story was first posted it has been shared extensively around the world. We have received many comments, so many in fact that our website is experiencing difficulties, and is unable to display comments at this time.

Some people believe it is a made up story, or that it has been heavily embellished. Others have reacted strongly to the story and believe it is playing into unacceptable gender norms and other societal scripts.

The Consent Crew presents this story here as it is, an eloquently retold real life story of what a father experienced when he took his seven year old son to visit Santa. It does seem too good a story to be true- and yet sometimes amazing things do happen in real life. By presenting this here, we hope to generate discussion about the ways we teach and role model consent to both young people and adults.

We have added a short statement from the father at the end of the story.

Thank you for engaging in an interest in Consent Culture. 

This story was shared by a father, and is about his seven year old son, Sage.

“So, my son and I are at the mall, waiting for pictures with Santa. He starts chatting with a boy, and discovers they’re the same age. The boy is a bit obnoxious, so my son decides to play with the toddler behind us, instead. I will hereafter refer to the kid in front as “OB.”

The line moves at the usual snail’s pace. I hear “Hey!” and turn to see a young girl giving OB a glare. “What?” he says. “I said ‘hi’ and you were ignoring me. That’s -rude-.” My son also turns and looks.
Line moves a bit more. OB takes to yanking on the girl’s braid. “Scotty,” says his mom, indulgently, “that’s not nice.” He grins at her. I assume, at this point, that the girl is his sister, as her mom is nowhere to be found.
He does it again. Cycle repeats. -Then- the girl’s mom comes over from where she was chatting with her friends. And the boy does it again.

Santa lineup
Families visiting Santa in a mall

“Scottyyyyyy,” his mom says, looking amused. “That’s not a nice way to get her attention.” She leans into the other mom a bit and says, “I think he likes her.” The other mom smiles back, with that “Gosh, ain’t young love grand?” expression. The girl looks flustered, but not terribly hurt.

I look down to see my son looking up at me with a baffled expression on his face. I resolve, at that point, to intervene if he does it again.

He does it again. I’m trying to figure out something to say as the mom “Scottyyyyy”s again. Then my son says, “Stop that!” Everybody looks at him. “You’re hurting her!”

“Oh, sweetie,” the boy’s mom says, “he just likes her. He thinks she’s pretty. Don’t you think girls are pretty?”

I decide to let him handle it.

My son scowls enormously at the mom. “What does her being pretty have to do with hurting her?”

“Oh, he’s not really hurting her. He’s just trying to get her attention.” The girl’s mom is nodding in agreement. “Don’t worry, she’s fine.” The girl’s expression is the very image of exasperation.
And OB does it again. “OW! Stop it!” the girl finally snaps. “That hurt!”

My son steps forward, spins the other kid around by his shoulder, and punches him hard enough in the gut to drop him to his knees. “Oh my god! Scotty!” his mom yelps. “What do you think you’re doing?!” she yells at my son.

He looks up at her. Shrugs. And says, “I think he’s pretty. I just wanted to get his attention.”

The mom glares at me while she collects OB off the ground and pulls him out of line. “Aren’t you going to say something?” she yells at me.
I nod. Put my hand on my son’s shoulder. Look at him meaningfully. “Well-played, sir,” I say. He beams at me. “You PRICK!” OB’s mom shouts. My son looks shocked. “-Language-!” he says to her. They storm off.

My son turns to the girl, looks her up and down, and says, “You -are- very pretty. I’m sorry I let that boy pull your hair. That was not okay. He needs to learn about consent. It’s a thing.”

They spend the rest of the line-up chatting about consent while her mother looks embarrassed and confused.

My son gets to Santa. Santa asks him if he’s been good. “Weeeeellllllll,” he says, “I just punched a kid who wouldn’t stop pulling this girl’s hair.” Santa looks at me. I nod. Santa considers. “I’d say you’ve been -very good-, then.” He gives him an extra candy cane.”


A Follow-Up from Sage’s Dad:

Sage and I have been talking about this a lot.

One of the things that made him the most uncomfortable about that experience was that it turned violent. We discussed it at length afterwards — that there are different options to deal with these things. Compared to other kids his age, he’s remarkably non-violent. I have many memories of watching him stand by the side as a group of kids basically beat the crap out of each other.

As others have pointed out, kids don’t necessarily have the socialization we do. Violence is, frankly, more common for them. I viewed his response as measured and appropriate…for a seven year old.

In regards to the comments about “letting the boy hurt her” — he was apologizing for not acting sooner, not trying to rob the girl of agency. In the conversation we had afterwards, he was actually angry that none of the adults (including me) did anything about what was going on.

I don’t celebrate the act of violence. I celebrate that my son doesn’t buy into gender norms that say it’s okay to hurt girls and women, and that he was brave enough to act on it.

I think the reason the other mom looked so embarrassed when my son was talking to her was because he was pretty much repeating what we’ve taught him about consent. A lot of “you own your body,” and “no one should touch you without your permission,” etc. Which sucks, because I didn’t want her to feel humiliated. I kept hoping she’d pipe in to agree or something, but she just stood there and looked like she was personally getting crapped on. I made a few supportive comments, but it didn’t make a dent.

Of course, when I later brought up the whole “don’t you think punching him was an example of touching without permission” thing to my son, we ended up having a loooong talk about the few times violence could be acceptable.

Sage definitely doesn’t buy into the “boys will be boys” ethos. Never has, really. We’ve had to do a bit of de-programming to counteract the effects of television.

I had a fascinating discussion with him about de-escalation, and how women are taught to go passive in the face of male aggression. I come from a family of very strong women — while they do experience the same sort of crap other women go through, they immediately confront it. Sage has very strong female role models in his life, not the least of whom is his mom.

Little kids are learning about consent, but it seems to be from the viewpoint of “avoid” or “tell a grown-up.” These tactics don’t seem to do much good, as far as I can tell. Bullying continues to fly under the radar of most adults, who conveniently forget how brutally violent the lives of children can be.