Posted at 15:41 on 30 Apr 2009 by Pandora / Blake
Today is the 11th Annual SpankOut Day in the US. (Thanks to Prefectdt and Natty for alerting me to this.) Smacking is still legal in the UK, although it is illegal to use punishment on a child that leaves "physical marks or mental harm". I've spoken out before on inappropriate legislation governing issues that are better left to personal conscience, so I'm not about to stand on a picket line crying out for yet another repressive Bill or Act of Parliament. But if smacking children were made illegal in the UK or US, I'm not at all sure that I'd object.
Like many spankos, I find this subject massively uncomfortable. I have fetishized corporal punishment since long before I reached puberty; I was getting turned on by thoughts of spanking when I was still a child, and I cannot easily separate the concept from my sexual response to it. As such I have a strong internal taboo against associating corporal punishment with actual children. The idea is inescapably sexual for me. Of course, children absolutely do have sexualities (no matter how much our society pretends that if we ignore this fact it will magically go away) and I'm not saying that children should never play sex or spanking games with each other. But adults in a position of authority have a duty of care which should not, in my opinion, engage with that child's sexuality directly. And spanking games and punishment are two very different things.
The primary issue, for me, is consent. As a feminist, consent is absolutely central to the realisation of my kink. It is what separates fantasy from reality. I might lie in bed at night telling myself stories about being enslaved, raped, abused; but my enjoyment of those stories, in the safe space of my own imagination, gives no-one permission to enact them.
Informed consent relies on experience, to some extent; to make a meaningful choice, one must have an awareness of what the other options entail. People accumulate this experience slowly and at different rates. Of course some people under the age of consent are morally capable of it. Some legal adults seem incapable of it. But I think the law in this instance is a justifiable compromise to protect the majority.
I know, better perhaps than the vanillas discussing this legislation, what the benefits of loving discipline can be. I can see the point of view of those who argue that loving, responsible corporal punishment is occasionally the most effective and appropriate option for a parent. I've had some lengthy debates about this in the past, and the responsible physical punishment of children looks remarkably similar to my adult D/s relationships. It goes like this: Discipline is only ever administered with prior warning. The consequences of an action are made perfectly clear in advance; and once stated are always followed through as promised, to ensure stability, predictability and security. Discipline is never administered in anger. It provides cleansing and catharsis; it is quick, it is memorable, and once over it is over, forgiven and forgotten. These rules apply to most methods of responsible discipline, but they are particularly important when it comes to corporal punishment, where the line between discipline and abuse can be so hard to make out.
I can see the argument in favour of the "responsible smacking" of children. I can see its virtues as a consequence of bad behaviour that is swift, fair, and leave no room for later guilt-tripping or emotional manipulation. But even so, I cannot condone it.
I, as an adult with a developed sense of personal agency and responsibility, can consent to physical discipline. And even I would never, ever want my Dom to hurt me in anger, or for anyone not my Dom to think they had the right to punish me physically. I have chosen my partners and explicitly negotiated a bargain that will benefit both of us. Children cannot choose their disciplinarians and even if they could, they cannot truly consent until they have a fuller understanding of personal responsibility and the consequences of their choices. I'm not saying this automatically happens at 16 or 18 or 21. But children's choices are so limited by their personal and legal dependence on their guardians that they cannot give meaningful consent.
Which is irrelevant to the central, pragmatic point, that most children who endure physical punishment are given no choice in the matter whatsoever. Most corporal punishment of children is not loving, negotiated and responsible. I would not wish that on any adult; it seems inhumane to me that I should wish it on someone so particularly vulnerable as a child.