On Cats and Consent

How do you teach young children about consent? How do they learn what is and is not appropriate touch? How do we teach them to accept and respect the boundaries other people have set for their bodies and personal space?

These are difficult and confusing questions. The issues are complex and nuanced. It’s not as easy as “keep your hands to yourself” and “no means no.” It gets even more difficult when we say no one can touch you with out your permission but then we force them to let creepy Aunt Agnes to kiss them. If you delve into the layers of different relationships and social cues that vary from one society to the other and one family to another it becomes impossible to comprehensively impart this type of understanding to a child.

My suggestion is to give each child a cat. Why? Well, for starters our culture doesn’t expect as much in terms of tolerance and behavior from cats. Mans best friend is not permitted to bite or growl no matter what forms of torture and fear you subject it to. If Jr. pulls his tail and pokes him in the eye, Rover is just supposed to endure. Not so much for Fluffy. If you torture the cat there will be retribution and every adult will tell you it is your own fault. Therefore, I suggest that cats are the ultimate tool for teaching consent.

The alien dog has three cats who are his minions. These are not my cats. They make me aware that they are fully developed individuals who have chosen to live with the alien dog and tolerate me. They permit the alien dog to sleep with them, touch them, and play with them all on a regular basis. I am only allowed intermittent contact. Sometimes they want to sit on me but I can’t touch them. Sometimes they want to be pet or brushed. It’s all on their terms.

One of the cats is very large and has this incredibly fluffy pooch of a belly. It hangs down when he walks and he is very often lying on his back showing it off to the world. It is the softest fur I have ever touched. I love his belly fluff. He does not like me to touch his belly. Some days he will permit me to give it a quick rub. Most of the time he tells me no with a dirty look. If I attempt to touch the belly after the dirty look he will swat me away. If I persist there will be blood drawn. The cat gets to decide when and if I can pet his belly. And he can change his mind at any time.

The cats have also taught me that touch is not always reciprocal. Sometimes one of the minions likes to reach up and gently pat my face. One of them likes to reach out and barely touch my foot while I sleep. This does not mean that either of them like it when I touch their paws or face. I have the scars to prove it!

Ever try to pickup a cat that didn’t want to be held? Ever try to get one in a carrier? Ever try to get the cat off the bed so you can change the sheets? Yeah, good luck to you. Because a cat doesn’t change its behavior for you. It doesn’t allow your desire to determine its movements. If it wants to sit in the sun then you can just wait. There is no amount of begging, pleading, bribing, manipulating, or whining that will change a cats mind. Force them to your will at your own peril.

Now what about all this blood? Cats are notorious for scratching the hell out of you when you have crossed the line. We accept this as a natural behavior from an animal defending its right to personal space and the sovereignty to be felt the hell alone. Why do we permit this in a cat, but not in a human being? Perhaps it is the illusion of control. For some reason we have, as a culture, accepted that cats will never be fully domesticated. As such, we have entered into a contract where the humans  and the cat will respect each others limits. Sometimes we will forget or cross a line. This will result in a gentle reminder, be it getting pushed off the bed when they attack you toes or being swatted at when you pet an off-limits area of the feline body. If it goes beyond that we agree that claws will be employed.

Give each child a cat and let them learn about consent through trial and error.  Think of how valuable those lessons are. I summarized them for those in the back:

Point #1- Each individual gets to choose who is permitted to touch them

Point#2- Each individual can change their mind and owe you no explanation

Point #3- Just because you let them touch you that doesn’t mean they owe you a damn thing

Point #4- Your desire does not supersede any other individuals autonomy

Point #5- Individuals have the right to defend themselves if you don’t respect their boundaries.

 

Lost in Translation

When I was originally developing my warped ideas with J. I had the idea that at some point I should do a podcast. It stemmed from my ongoing frustration with the limitations of Google Translate. At the time I was receiving emails in Spanish and my limited high school training wasn’t up to the task of colloquialisms. The message would be cut and pasted into Google Translate with varying degrees of success. I thought that reading some of them along with a stream of consciousness commentary would be entertaining.

Of course, this got me to thinking and that is often a bit frightening. It was a twisted path that ended pondering literature and just how different it reads in the original language. The belief that writers choose their words deliberately is an argument I have had with every teacher and professor that wanted me to debate symbolism. So much of what we read has been translated. Anyone who has studies language knows there is almost never a direct translation, especially in abstract concepts like sky, wind, love, or home. I started to wonder how different many books would be if they were read as intended.

That took me back to Google Translate. And my apologies to Google, I know you are doing your best. This is a direct translation. Word for word. Wouldn’t that make for an interesting podcast? However, if we wait for me to find motivation, purchase equipment, learn how to use it, and actually post we will all be collecting social security. Maybe I’ll get there, but why should you have to wait?

So here is a passage of Proust. The passage in French, then the same passage as in the English printed version, and last the direct translation, per Google, of the French to English. I think it’s best to read them aloud. If you, like me, can’t speak French Google does have an audio function. Enjoy!

Original French:

Mais à l’âge déjà un peu désabusé dont approchait Swann, et où l’on sait se contenter d’être amoureux pour le plaisir de l’être sans trop exiger de réciprocité, ce rapprochement des cœurs, s’il n’est plus comme dans la première jeunesse le but vers lequel tend nécessairement l’amour, lui reste uni en revanche par une association d’idées si forte, qu’il peut en devenir la cause, s’il se présente avant lui. Autrefois on rêvait de posséder le cœur de la femme dont on était amoureux; plus tard sentir qu’on possède le cœur d’une femme peut suffire à vous en rendre amoureux. Ainsi, à l’âge où il semblerait, comme on cherche surtout dans l’amour un plaisir subjectif, que la part du goût pour la beauté d’une femme devrait y être la plus grande, l’amour peut naître – l’amour le plus physique – sans qu’il y ait eu, à sa base, un désir préalable

English Print:

But at the time of life, tinged already with disenchantment, which Swann was approaching, when a man can content himself with being in love for the pleasure of loving without expecting too much in return, this linking of hearts, if it is no longer, as in early youth, the goal towards which love, of necessity, tends, still is bound to love by so strong an association of ideas that it may well become the cause of love if it presents itself first. In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses the heart of a woman may be enough to make him fall in love with her. And 50, at an age when it would appear—since one seeks in love before everything else a subjective pleasure—that the taste for feminine beauty must play the larger part in its procreation, love may come into being, love of the most physical order, without any foundation in desire.

Google Translate English:

But at age already a little disillusioned with approaching Swann, and where we know just be in love for the pleasure of being without requiring reciprocity too, this rapprochement of hearts, if not as in early youth the goal towards which tends necessarily love, still has united however by such a strong association of ideas, he can become the cause, if present before him. Once we dreamed of possessing the heart of the woman we were lovers; Later we feel has the heart of a woman is enough to make you love. Thus, at an age when it would seem , as especially seeks in love a subjective pleasure, from the love of a woman’s beauty should be the greatest , love can be born – love the most physical – not that there was, at its core, a preliminary desire