You know, I only just looked at all the comments on my post on spanking. For some reason, I was nervous to look at the comments because that post was probably the most personal one I have ever written. I very much appreciate your kind words and thoughtful dialogue in response to the post. Now that I have read the comments, I find I have some more things to say on the topic -- even though I just said in my last post that we should be thinking about happy, furry puppies this weekend instead of depressing topics like spanking. So here goes:
-- I want to clarify that I was thinking of spanking (a deliberate, ritualized event) as opposed to swatting when I wrote the post. I am not a big fan of swatting either, but I do see a difference between swatting (especially if it is rare and employed only as a last resort) and spanking. I don't condone it, but it's a tougher issue for me. On the other hand, I was once swatted on the ass at age eight by a teacher for talking when she was trying to make an announcement. I didn't know she was trying to get the class's attention. She could have just told me to stop talking. She could have tapped me on the shoulder or walked up to me if she couldn't get my attention. The swat was entirely unnecessary. And while the event lasted less than half-a-second, it was completely mortifying. Personally, if I have kids, I would neither swat nor spank.
-- I think parents often believe spanking is necessary because they forget how much power they have over their children even without spanking. As a parent (at least of small children), you are a lot bigger and stronger. You have complete control over your children physically and materially. You have the power to control how they spend their time, where they go to school, what they read or watch, who their friends are, and myriad other aspects of their lives. You also -- and perhaps this is the most important thing -- have emotional control over them.
While children may appear to be defiant at times, ultimately, especially when they are young, they want to please you. Approval and disapproval are very powerful tools in every parents' arsenal. Dogs are the same way. I am reminded of an incident one winter when I had taken my parents' collie out for her evening walk. She ran into the woods and just would not come out. I was exhausted and cold and desparate to go to bed. When she finally came out of the woods ten minutes later, we walked home and the whole time, I was swearing quietly under my breath because I was so irritated at her. Half-way through the walk, she started nuzzling my hand. I looked down, and she started crying, and she had her tail between her legs, and she rolled over. I, of course, got down in the snow and hugged her and told her it was okay. The point is that I didn't need to hit her in order for her to feel upset that I was upset.
As a kid, I was not unlike my parents' collie. I wanted my parents' approval. I would have done anything necessary to get their approval if they had conveyed what they wanted in a non-punitive fashion. While very small children may lack the cognitive skills necessary for you to get your point across by "reasoning," there are other ways to convey what you want and get it without spanking. Spanking is overkill. It completely reduces a child, who is already under your thumb.
-- A couple people raised the point that spanking (and swatting too, actually) involves an assault on a private part of the child's anatomy. This is a very important point. Biologically, the buttocks are an erogenous zone (and yes, it is erogenous even for very young children) and culturally, the buttocks are considered a private and intimate area. Children are capable of developing great modesty at a very young age. I personally remember that by age three, I refused to take my clothes off at the beach, and I also became very upset at the same age when I had to take my pants down for a shot at the doctor's office.
Thus, I think spanking can be experienced by the child as a sexual assault. This is especially true if the child's pants are pulled down, but it can still be sexually truamatic with the child's pants up. Certainly, spanking is an assault on the child's modesty. For me, this was a huge aspect of the trauma I experienced as a child. I do think my experience was akin to being raped-- and I say that with full recognition of the extent of the trauma rape victims undergo.
This article and this article address the sexual dangers of spanking children. Project NoSpank is a large internet resource with information from an anti-spanking perspective. For a more scholarly approach, check out the home page of Professor Murray Strauss.
UPDATE: My brilliant commenters have raised another important point. I think it is important to avoid condemning spanking parents. Despite my strong disapproval of spanking, I recognize that it is a cultural norm. Because it is a cultural norm, a lot of otherwise good people spank their kids. A lot of people think they should spank their kids. It is nonetheless a cultural norm that I very much would like to see go by the wayside.
(Of course, a lot of bad people spank too. In my case, I believe that I was victimized by someone who took sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain and humiliation, and who bore some degree of malevolence towards me.)