Here I state the obvious: Having a daughter is different than having a son. Example: at some point, maybe around two years ago, I realized I had to be careful how I tickled her.
Tickling is a Dad’s best weapon. It’s physical, it’s aggressive, it’s playful. It says, simultaneously, “Dad is fun” and “Don’t mess with Dad.” It’s horseplay at its most intimate, the most delighted roughhousing. It is usually completely pure and simple in its feeling.
With E1 I could drive him to the point of pain, back off, and go at it again, without any compunction.
With E2, my baby girl, I had to think twice about what expectations it would set for other intimate interactions down the line. If I kept tickling mercilessly, would it seed a little self-doubt about whether her protestations could — and should — be honored?
I decided not to risk it. She still yelps in mock-terror when I show my tickle-claws, but she knows that when she says, “STOP,” I will immediately back off. And her older brother knows it, too. In this world of fraught sexual politics and complicated gender dynamics, one has to apply some forethought.
It’s not yes means yes, but we’re getting there.