Meet The Mom Using Music To Educate Kids On Consent
It’s been less than two weeks since Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner, a former Stanford University student, to six months in county jail for brutally sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster after a frat party. In a statement, Turner’s father said his son would be taking on a public outreach campaign following his sentence, visiting college campuses to give talks on the evils of binge-drinking and “sexual promiscuity” — as if either of those were the cause of Turner’s crime. With an increasing number of cases like this one front and center in the news — in which the victim is essentially being blamed for her own assault because she was drinking on the night of the crime — parents are faced with the challenge of talking to kids of all ages about consent. How to explain that only yes means yes, and not even a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit can take away your right to say no?
That’s where Baltimore-based musician Ms. Cacie comes in. The artist released an album of songs for children ages 2 to 6 this month called Yes Means Yes!, tackling big themes — including consent, ableism, anxiety, and nonbinary gender — using simple and age-appropriate language.
In the title track, “Only Yes Means Yes,” Ms. Cacie sings: “Did someone ever ask you for a hug, but you really didn’t want to hug? Well, that’s OK. And it’s OK to say, ‘No, thank you.’ . . . Because only yes means yes, and no always means no. You can be polite but true, because your body belongs to you and only you.”
Ms. Cacie, born Acacia Sears, is a 32-year-old mother of one who has been making music since age 15. She was inspired to write and record this album after singing “The Wheels on the Bus” at a preschool about two years ago and hearing the children sing, “The daddies on the bus say, ‘Keep the baby quiet!’” complete with angry finger-wagging.
“I really didn’t like that,” Ms. Cacie says. “Fathers are just as capable as mothers are of soothing their crying children, and they wouldn’t be telling the mom to keep the baby quiet. They would be helping soothe their own child.”
She posted about her frustrating experience on Facebook and a friend commented with the joking song title, “The Mommies on the Bus Say Fuck the Patriarchy.” That got Ms. Cacie thinking about creating an album filled with progressive songs for kids — and she started writing Yes Means Yes! that day.
“The idea of writing this album,” Ms. Cacie explains, “was to make the world a better place by starting children off with these big, complicated, interesting concepts that they’re going to encounter in their everyday lives, throughout their lives, and make them so easy to understand and so easy to remember that they won’t have to work as hard to incorporate good behavior and good practices into their lives.”
She launched her Kickstarter campaign in July of last year and raised more than $16,000 in a month. Now, the album is available through iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Bandcamp. You can also check out a few of the songs on the album on Ms. Cacie’s YouTube page.
In a world of Brock Turners, you may think that parents would be overjoyed to have an album full of songs with positive messages for kids. But Ms. Cacie’s music has received some surprisingly negative feedback, especially the song “Only Yes Means Yes.” On YouTube, the comments became so nasty that Ms. Cacie decided to shut them down across her YouTube channel. One user wrote, “This song makes me want to non-consensually hug a child.”
“A lot of people were telling me I’m unfuckable,” the singer/songwriter says.
Even women’s lifestyle site The Frisky posted a snarky review of the Yes Means Yes! Kickstarter campaign, calling it an: “IRL Portlandia sketch . . . for parents and their mini-mes, who firmly reject the values present in children’s classics like ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and whatever patriarchal evil Peter, Paul, and Mary might be slinging.”
Though shaken, Ms. Cacie drew strength from the negativity.
“Whenever somebody said something outrageously awful to me, I felt empowered,” she says. “I knew that if people were reacting this negatively to something that I felt this strongly positively about, that means I was doing something that was necessary.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of feminist parents who support this kind of work, as evidenced by Ms. Cacie’s successful Kickstarter campaign. One of them is Jamie Kenney, a mom of two who has written for Romper about feminist parenting. She says that she isn’t usually one for kids’ music — she prefers adult music that’s kid-friendly and is currently listening to an edited selection of tunes from the musical Hamilton with her little ones, ages 2 and 4. But she could definitely see her kids getting into Ms. Cacie’s music.
“I absolutely applaud this project,” she says. “Being a feminist parent is exhausting sometimes because you’re working so hard to find media that model gender equity and racial diversity that don’t even subconsciously diminish a particular group or promote stereotypes.”
She offers an example of unexpected gender exclusion in a kids’ book she recently borrowed for her daughter from the library:
“[It was] about a little boy auditioning a temporary monster under his bed after his usual monster takes a vacation,” Kenney explains. “We’re reading and all was going well until the little boy in the book rejects [a monster] just because she’s a girl monster: Girl monsters are for girls, he says, but boys need a boy monster. And the thing is, little things like that creep up in so many books that I worry about their cumulative effect. . . . When you have a book, song, whatever that you don’t have to alter in any way, it’s refreshing.”
Last year, California became the first state to enact legislation requiring high school students to receive affirmative consent lessons in sex-ed classes. It’s a positive step in a nation where abstinence-focused sex education is the norm in 26 states, to be sure. But research shows that teaching kids about bodily autonomy at a young age is more effective at promoting healthy sexual behavior later in life, and helps kids learn what’s okay and what’s not.
Perhaps Yes Means Yes! can become a classroom tool? Ms. Cacie certainly hopes so — and she knows she has strong support.
“When people discovered what I was doing, their eyes would light up like I was telling them about something that they never knew they wanted,” she says. “I believe in this project and I believe in this music.”
Lead image: YouTube