A mini-explosion occurred on the Internet this week when Bishop Larry Trotter, pastor of a Chicago mega-church, posted a picture of himself in the bathtub with his four-year-old granddaughter. Trotter sat in the tub smiling beside the little girl, whose face has been blurred out; both are covered in bubbles, so it’s impossible to tell whether he or she is naked (or wearing swimwear, or otherwise clothed).
Quite understandably, people got very concerned.
According to Clutch Magazine, Trotter told “The John Hannah Morning Show” that the girl’s mother was in the bathroom during the entire time tub session, which he said lasted for five minutes, and that both he and his granddaughter were wearing bathing suits. Additionally, he said another family member uploaded the picture on Instagram.
I asked everyone from my friends and family to my Frisky coworkers what they thought of this image — and more specifically, bathing with grandpa or another adult family member — and reactions were mixed. Everyone agreed Trotter’s Instagram pic was ”inappropriate” on some level, but we all had wildly different reasons.
My best friend said she used to take baths with her father up until she was five years old. I asked her if she thought that was inappropriate. “No, but we’re European,” she replied, adding that her family is more laissez-faire about naked stuff in general, like nude swimming and going to nude beaches.
A Frisky staffer said they had bathed with their dad once and only once. They had bathed with their mom and sibling often and their dad only joined them one time when he was drunk and, like, “Fuck it.” She was excited their dad had joined them for a bath because it was a rare occurence.
All the other Frisky staffers had bathed with one or more siblings; some of us had bathed or showered with our moms and one showered with her dad. I called my own dad to ask what we did and he said no way. I mean, we are WASPs. But even so, I am pretty sure I remember showering with my mom, although I was so young I don’t really remember. My mother did get naked in front of me, my sister, and brother on a private beach on Martha’s Vineyard, which allowed nudity, when I was nine or 10. I thought that was embarrassing, but not at all sexually abusive.
So why, then, the gut reaction to Bishop Trotter’s bathtub time with his granddaughter? We’re not used to seeing grandparents bathe with their grandkids, for one thing. And the fact he’s a man raises eyebrows; clearly Americans see it as more socially acceptable for women to bathe with small kids, despite the fact women can and do sexually molest children.
The fact this picture was posted on Instagram made lots of people I spoke with uncomfortable. One person pointed out that even if the bathtime was non-child-molesty and innocent, it was posted online where any pedophile could find it. I also find it questionable that the image was posted on Instagram by another family member, not Bishop Trotter himself or the girl’s mother. It made me wonder if that family member was trying to expose Trotter somehow. (As we all know, pedophiles and other child abusers prefer to keep things secret.)
Someone else pointed out, however, that having a culture that freaks out about possibly innocent displays of physical intimacy between family members is sort of depressing. Little kids are cuddly and that intimacy is really sweet. My nicest memory from this past Christmas break is two of my nieces and I cuddling on the couch watching videos on CuteRoulette together. I feel lucky that I am a woman and we can pile up on the couch without anyone batting an eye.
In an ideal world, grandpas, dads, uncles and brothers should be able to kiss and hug kids without the automatic assumption that they are pedos. I also find it sad that male elementary school teachers need to be extra-careful to not appears as if they’re being too cuddly with their students (especially if the students are the ones going in for a hug). I wish punishments for actual sexual abusers — people who get sexual gratification from touching or talking to children in gross, inappropriate ways — were harsh and intense. The unchecked privilege of sexual abusers is unconscionable. At the same time, I wish we could be a bit more “European” about our naked bodies and physical affection.
I don’t know what the correct answer is. Bishop Trotter has admitted that posting the picture was “unwise,” but that sharing baths was common when he was growing up. Perhaps the answer is that times have changed and Trotter just hasn’t changed with them.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!