An interesting discussion arose recently over a boy’s reluctance to be hugged by an older female relative. The hug came as a surprise and the boy jerked back and pushed the hugger away. Some felt this was rude and a sign of him not being comfortable in social situations.
But why should anyone have to accept social touching even by a close relative or friend? Certainly, we know that casual touching is increasingly looked on with suspicion. Which is not necessarily always a good thing—something I may explore in a subsequent ten minutes.
But the real issue is the matter of body autonomy. The right to security of the person—as it is described in some constitutions—is one of the underpinnings of all human rights. Even as far back as 1776, there was some understanding of this in provisions against unlawful confinement and protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Though it took another century for America to realize that security of the person—in a land where all men are created equal—should also include the right not to be enslaved.
My body, my choice has long been a mantra of the feminist movement. The right to own one’s own body underlies the right to reproductive control including the right to an abortion. Despite efforts by mostly male legislators to argue differently, there is no competing right between mother and fetus, since the fetus without the mother’s body, cannot exist on its own until very late in the pregnancy, and, even then in most of the Western world, the woman’s autonomy is paramount. To force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term is no different than forcing a person into slavery.
Body autonomy is also critical to other gender issues. No-one should have the ability to control or limit who people love or have sex with (provided the other person is capable, legally and psychologically, of giving consent) or even how they define their sexuality to be. The right to modify your body to fit your definition of self is critical to the essential freedom of the body that cuts through all our most basic rights.
Which brings us back to the boy who didn’t want to be hugged without consent. Later, that same day as the family was leaving, the situation of hugging came up again. Grandma asked permission to hug and when granted gave a small squeeze, careful not to go too far. Grandson replied by seeking a second more generous embrace. Consent given, freedom expressed, love displayed.
And that’s ten minutes.