ANALYSIS | Chris Graham
The internet has been in meltdown for days, as ‘Nappy Consent-Gate’ rebounds around the world.
In case you missed it, last week ABC television in Melbourne featured an interview with sexuality expert – or ‘sexuality expert’ in scare quotes if you work for one of the major media outlets – Deanne Carson on the issue of creating a culture of consent.
It was in response to an ABC 4 Corners episode on Tuesday night which profiled the ongoing furore around the sentencing of a young Australian man, Luke Lazarus, who was jailed for rape, and subsequently released amid a debate about sexual consent.
By the weekend, the story had appeared in newspapers from the UK to the US, Canada and New Zealand and most western speaking countries in between. Even Breitbart News, once edited by the extreme right-wing Trump adviser Steve Bannon and the original home of ‘fake news’, has taken up the issue, in the style you might expect.
It’s difficult to track where the meltdown began, but as early as Wednesday last week, sacked right-wing shock jock Michael Smith was covering it on his website after it was brought to his attention by contributor Jill Jacks.
Below is an edited, 30-second clip of the lengthy interview – Carson’s comments about ‘asking consent for babies to change their nappies’ are what have sent the globe into a spin. What a lot of media haven’t reported is that Carson prefaced the comment with ‘we teach parents from birth’. It was clearly intended as a way to start parents thinking about how to create the culture of consent.
On the upside, it’s sparked some pretty extraordinary discussions around consent. Social media has lit up with the story trending on Twitter and Facebook, and while much of the commentary focusses on Carson’s appearance – she has pink hair, shock horror – fascinating debates about issues like bodily autonomy are springing up everywhere.
It’s not all that different – albeit more intense in an age of social media pile-ons – to the debate around whether or not you should smack children, which has been a perennial favourite for media outlets on quiet news days. The story is almost guaranteed to spark a flurry of angry responses whenever it’s raised… which is why media occasionally raise it.
Sadly, a 50-year study published in 2016 in the Journal of Family Psychology settled that argument, after it found that the more you smack your child, the more problems they take into adult-hood, including aggression.
Even so, as of April this year, only 53 nations have completely prohibited corporal punishment in all settings, including the home. Australia is not one of them, although New Zealand, our nearest neighbor, banned smacking almost a decade ago.
In any event, Deanne Carson is the first person to start a global conversation around building a culture of consent from birth.
While the pushback has clearly been intense – it always is – in a decade or so, Carson will be remembered as one of the pioneers of a debate around one of the simplest but most under-practiced concepts known to humanity. Consent.
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