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If She’s Not Having Fun You Have To Stop

October 29, 2009

This is about the nuts-and-bolts of how the work gets done. This is about parenting the next generation.

A boy and a girl run around on the grass at the park. The boy tackles the girl. The girl laughs. She gets up and runs away. She loves to run. He chases, she turns and they grab eachother, tumble and land in a pile, giggling. After a few minutes, he tackles her again and she lands a bit hard. She is bigger and physical, but he more than holds his own in roughhousing. She pauses for a second. Then she laughs again; she’s still having fun.

Dad gets his attention, and says, “If she’s not having fun, you have to stop.”

He is two. He needs to hear this now, and so does she. And again, and again, and again, so that like wearing a helmet on the bike it is ingrained. My kids would not think about riding a bike without a helmet. Wearing a helmet is what you do when you ride a bike. Doing otherwise has not occurred to them, and I need the lesson to stick so that, if their peers make bad choices, they stop and think and decide not to join the bad choices.

What I said will mean a lot of things in a lot of contexts; but it always means the same thing. Regard for one’s partner is a basic component of respect.

At one level it’s an anti-rape lesson. This is “Yes Means Yes” in practice. The mere absence of “no” does not a partnership make; and a real partner wants to participate. Shared activity is wanted by everyone involved; “pushing leaners” is for political polling.

But it’s not just an anti-rape lesson. It’s a life lesson. So I start teaching it now. He doesn’t need to know what sex is or what rape is to know what a partner is. If your partner isn’t having fun, you stop.

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46 Comments leave one →
  1. Ros permalink
    October 29, 2009 4:24 pm

    That’s the very best educational parallel I’ve heard so far.

    Thanks. 🙂

  2. October 29, 2009 5:48 pm

    I have a 5yr old son and an 18m old girl…I repeat that many many times every day. If she is crying, leave her alone, she doesn’t want to play. Every time I repeat it, I think of what you just said.

    We also do the same for him when we play…as soon as someone stops having fun, we stop. If he tells us to stop, we stop. This is the only way to teach our kids boundaries.

    • November 17, 2009 10:20 am

      That’s really great.

      When I was a child (and now, actually) my mother didn’t respect me saying no or telling her to stop doing something to me at all, and it caused me a lot of trauma and upset. And she wonders now why I don’t trust her.

      • November 19, 2009 2:01 am

        Same here, except it was my dad and uncles, not my mom. To this day, if anyone ever intentionally tickles me I get FURIOUS – so enraged I can barely see – and sometimes have a panic attack.

        “If she’s not having fun, you have to stop” is a fantastic philosophy. It’s important to teach kids to be in tune with a playmate’s (or, someday, lover’s) responses. Just because a partner acquiesces to something doesn’t mean it’s a great idea for you to DO it.

  3. K Ditzler permalink
    November 1, 2009 7:26 pm

    I am 23 years old, and I started using this last night at a Halloween party, with my 20-something friends. I started saying, “If she’s not having fun, you have to stop.” Someone immediately picked up on it as an anti-rape statement, and countered, “But silence is consent!” For the rest of the night, though, when people noticed that someone was being annoyed by another’s actions, they said, “If they’re not having fun, you have to stop.” It was really, really awesome, and finally a positive action that gets people to think about their actions without being preachy.

  4. November 2, 2009 10:31 am

    Someone immediately picked up on it as an anti-rape statement, and countered, “But silence is consent!”

    If sarcastic, that’s a bit grim. If in earnest, that’s a bit frightening. My essay in Yes Means Yes the book is about the clash of those basic conceptions — silence is consent, which is basically a property transaction way of viewing the world and only fits with what I call the Commodity Model of Sex where sex is transacted like a good or service; as distinct from the Performance Model of Sex, where sex is an interaction shared by the participants and therefore consent is necessarily only present when affirmative.

    As long as people seriously think that silence equals consent, the idea of an unconscious woman as a stack of free newspapers will continue to hover. This “take one” attitude ought to horrify people. It doesn’t, but it ought to.

    • PatriarchySlayer permalink
      January 10, 2010 10:07 pm

      Thomas that was an awesome essay! When I read that I had like multiple epiphanies. It was amazing. Thank you so much for writing it. However, once I read it I was disappointed that the rest of the people in my life didn’t view sex in this manner. They all whole-heartedly believe in the Commodity Model of Sex (with women always the losing party) and it is depressing. I hope that the world changes.

  5. November 2, 2009 4:23 pm

    Best. Parent. Ever.

  6. K Ditzler permalink
    November 2, 2009 6:59 pm

    It was a sarcastic comment, as the group is one that indulges in black humor. I answered them as if they were serious, but the conversation was less productive from there. At least I made them uncomfortable, by pointing out the truth.

  7. November 4, 2009 1:08 am

    I’m adding that phrase to my parental script.

  8. November 5, 2009 8:49 am

    Fantastic. Especially nice to read after seeing some concern-troll in the comments to the post about ‘too late to say no’ in The Sexist.

  9. November 15, 2009 5:29 am

    Came here via the Carnival of Feminist Parenting. Excellent, excellent article, and I say similar things to my son, now two and a half.

    But there is something I’d like to add; it’s important to teach these things to the next generation but just as important to model them, too.

    Unfortunately this side is so often ignored. When the two-year old in question says “no!” to his Dad, is he listened to? Or is his “no”, like the “no” of so many children, ignored, called a”tantrum”, is he told to “get on with it, there’s no choice”, is he told to “stop answering back”? Because I’d hope it’s the former, but all too often its the side of this that people miss out.

  10. November 16, 2009 1:37 pm

    I also came via the Carnival of Feminist Parenting. I want to second Ruth’s comment about modeling. This is often the hardest part of parenting, isn’t it? I’ve written about how raising an assertive girl means valuing and respecting her assertions and letting go of the notion that a “good” child is a complient child. (That essay appeared at I also write extensively about the intersection of parenting and self defense (broadly defined to mean all kinds of self determination and protection skills) on my own blog.

    I look forward to exploring this site more thoroughly. This is a wonderful post. I believe a very important part of feminist work happens in families, in how we raise our kids.

  11. November 17, 2009 6:48 pm

    EXCELLENT parenting example for the next generation of respectful adults who treat each other with dignity, empathy, and kind regard. It is, as you said, SO important to instill this message in our youngsters over and over until it becomes completely and entirely automatic to treat others with respect. To honor their ‘yes’ and their ‘no’.

  12. November 20, 2009 1:55 am

    Thank you for the reminder, on multiple levels. And I really appreciate the Performance Model of Sex idea — thank you for adding that to my vocabulary. As a parent, I’m going to take the article’s message away to teach to my son, and also to teach myself. It’s so horrible to be someone weaker and be taken advantage of, even if it’s for something supposedly benign like tickling (which I also hate!). We have had to teach this to relatives, who liked to tickle our son when he was too young to consent and too young to show whether he was having fun or not. We assumed for him that he was not and made them stop.

  13. Martijn Dekker permalink
    April 2, 2010 10:26 am

    That’s a pretty good idea, actually. I looked at a few of the links you posted though, and that reminded me: you should also teach them not to blindly expect the same respect from others. Want, sure. Get, absolutely. But never act on the assumption that others were brought up as respectful as you have… That’s what causes incidents.

  14. Duckiloo permalink
    April 26, 2010 4:52 pm

    Fuck, I love you.

    Totally seconding the “Best. Parent. Ever.” comment.

    Even though I’m firmly a non-breeder, this comment works on a base level.
    I’m adding it into my general discourse when dealing with people in general – it seems like a good principle for everyone to pick up on.

  15. Emily WK permalink
    June 23, 2010 9:45 am

    I’m about to be the parent of a boy (due in September, eek!) and this made me tear up (that might be the pregnancy, too) with its simple genius. I love it. Thank you.

  16. milkstained permalink
    June 23, 2010 5:30 pm

    Yes, yes, yes! My son is 2 years older than his twin sisters and 5 years older than the youngest. They all hear this all the time – “if it’s not fun for everyone, then it’s not fun.

  17. Alison permalink
    June 24, 2010 2:26 pm

    In my workplace the men can get into some stupid man-child “shenanigans”. There were quite a few people who were offended by their behaviour, though not directly affected. When I explained this, and about how it’s a workplace where people can’t really choose their company, the response was “well, if they’re going to be precious, of course they’re going to get offended.” I can’t believe I actually had the nouse to say “you don’t get to say what offends other people. If they don’t like it, you can’t keep doing it. As soon as you know you’re offending them, and you keep doing that thing, you’re saying you don’t care how you make them feel, that you’re ok that they’re uncomfortable, and that it’s your fault.” How pleased I was to find this didn’t damage our friendships. It feels like the same phrase as above, but in a slightly different context.

  18. January 11, 2011 8:06 pm

    This is beautiful; you’re a great parent. 🙂

  19. Jen permalink
    January 5, 2013 3:03 pm

    I first read this when my son was very small. I was reminded of it following reports of yet another victim of rape culture – a teenage girl being repeatedly raped while the rest of her small town jeered, photographed or pretended not to see.

    From that moment I first read this I have taught my son that games are only fun if everyone wants to play and nobody has to have hugs and kisses if they don’t want them. On occasion I have reminded him of this specifically so that the adult trying to coax a hug from him overhears. I now have a daughter and I am beginning to teach her the same thing. Thank you for giving me such a simple and perfect tool to help me raise respectful, responsible people.

  20. December 17, 2013 8:59 pm

    Reblogged this on inksplatis: this is my design.

  21. Ruth permalink
    December 19, 2013 5:42 pm

    Great post… although personally, I prefer “it’s not fun unless everyone’s having fun” (and that applies to seagulls and ducks and pets, too).

  22. Alex permalink
    December 19, 2013 10:23 pm

    A great lifers son for sure. Anti-rape, anti-bullying, pro-appropriate behavior. However, I think it’s just as important to teach young girls “If he’s not having fun, you have to stop”. Sexual coercion occurs at equal rates between boys and girls under 25.

  23. April 12, 2014 7:19 pm

    Reblogged this on Feminism and Human Rights.

  24. September 6, 2014 2:58 pm

    Reblogged this on FEMBORG.

  25. September 6, 2014 7:39 pm

    Excellent piece. Thanks for sharing.

  26. xclusivx permalink
    September 7, 2014 12:49 am

    Reblogged this on XCLUSIVX fanzine.

  27. May 8, 2015 8:46 pm

    Reblogged this on coforbo.


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  16. Respect for Others at a Young Age | adriannaguardado

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