You see, I can’t be the only one who thinks this was just one of those silly old phrases that nobody seriously did. I mean, it sounds barbaric, yet, apparently, it most certainly happens. I always took it as a thinly veiled threat, but not once did I actually think there were parents out there committing this sort of domestic abuse. It is most certainly cruel and unusual punishment, and, sadly, is still extremely common. It is exactly as it sounds, readers. You put a lump of soap into a child’s mouth when they have misbehaved to teach them a lesson. Oh, yeah. That’s perfectly normal. I mean, it’s no different to lacing their dinner with poison, or indeed, defenestrating them, but, well, it’s just a little lesson to put them in their place, right? Dear Lord…
You see, if I was a child and I knew I could have this barbaric ritual undertaken on me, I’d just replace the soap with edible soap when the parents weren’t looking. You might wonder why someone invented edible soap. It’s not as strange as edible underwear. Apparently, babies like to eat the soap during bathing. I mean, I’m not a parent, so that’s news to me. Although I know I should be horrified, I actually find it rather sweet. Just the thought of a little baby, munching on soap. And, you know, edible soap is a great idea. They can eat all the soap they want and they won’t get a dicky tummy. Aww. I’d be a terrible parent, wouldn’t I?
It’s not just kids who suffer. The earliest written record of this punishment dates back to 1832. A record from the Legal Examiner tells a true story of a married couple. ‘[They were] constantly quarrelling… One evening, on the man’s return home, he found his wife intoxicated. Perceiving a piece of kitchen soap lying on the ground near the spot, he crammed it into his wife’s mouth, saying, “She has had plenty of water to wash with, she ought now to have a little soap.”’
From that horror sprung a new punishment the world fell in love with. In 1873, a schoolmistress in Iowa punished a boy in her class for chewing tobacco during class. By 1889, this was reported in Good Housekeeping magazine. ‘A friend of mine was horrified one day by hearing her little boy make use of a very bad word… Turning to the maid she said, “Jane, you may take Master Dick upstairs and wash his mouth out with soap and water. It is too soiled for him to sit at the table with us.”’ I know exactly what you’re thinking, readers. Master Dick. Oh, yeah. That’s how you name a child…
Come the 1950s, a ruling in America found in favour of washing student’s mouths out with soap as the ‘best form of punishment.’ By 1953, Judge Harvey L. Neelan fined one Miss Mertz $25 for her drunken obscenities and ordered her mouth to be washed out with soap. The same thing happened again in 1963 to Louis Winiarski. Instead of serving 10 days in prison. Remarkable, really.
And it just goes on and on. In 2004, a teacher from New York was suspended after washing out the mouth of a student with soap for using vulgar language. A huge petition was launched countrywide to get her reinstated. The petitions organisers argued that what she did wasn’t wrong and was perfectly acceptable, meaning if the petition was a success, we can read a lot into it regarding the current feelings about this punishment across America.
She was reinstated.
In 2008, Jane Fonda said a bad word on NBC and was sent a 1.5 gallon bottle of soap with instructions to ‘wash her mouth out.’ Even one of the Powerpuff Girls had her mouth washed out with soap. In the 110th episode, Buttercup said, “Less talking, more fucking thinking!” Cut to a shot of Buttercup sucking on a bar of soap. Of course, in the episode, the cuss was censored with a car horn, but not in the script. Naughty Buttercup. She’ll be chewing tobacco next week.
But it’s not always soap. Also used is liquid soap, dishwashing liquid and even other types of cleansers. Many children are forced to swallow this liquid or swill it around in their mouths. It’s extremely common in America and Britain, but also in many other countries around the world. It is highly dangerous, however. Most children subjected to this humiliation become violently ill, due to irritation along the digestive tract. It can even cause severe lung damage.
I can’t help but be horrified that there are idiots out there who think this child abuse is even remotely acceptable. You may as well punch your child in the face, it’s no different. A child may behave better, but only because they’re scared of you, not because their behaviour has been ‘corrected.’ Christ, children shouldn’t be scared of their parents! Love is the way, not hate. Every single reputable scientist on Earth now agrees that there is a significant psychological impact on children who are punished in this way, even if it’s ‘only’ a smack or two a year, it still takes a mental toll over time. There are strong correlations between things like washing a child’s mouth out with soap and mental health problems. In one study, one child said, “You [feel] sort of as though you want to run away because they’re [the parents] sort of like being mean to you and it hurts a lot.” Another, “You feel like you don’t like your parents anymore.” All experts now agree that this sort of treatment severely damages parent-child relationships. Yet the question remains. Why is it still so incredibly popular when the weight of evidence against it is so bloody huge?
This, and, indeed, all forms of physical punishment on children, is illegal in the UK if it causes harm to the child, which we know it does, and will, if prosecuted, land the parents five years in jail for actual bodily harm. Yet a 2006 poll in Britain found that 73% of the British population believe physical punishment of children, specifically, washing the mouth out with soap, is not only ‘perfectly acceptable,’ but also, if banned, would cause ‘absolute mayhem.’ NO IT WOULDN’T! Positive reinforcement is proven to work better than negative reinforcement in any case. Thankfully, come 2012, 63% of the British population supported a total ban of all physical punishments on children and that’s wonderful. I don’t get on a soapbox very often, probably not appropriate I do so today, but for God’s sake, stop this corporal punishment of children! Ban it! It’s ludicrous that even needs to be said in 2016! For crying out loud, it shouldn’t need to be said…
I literally couldn’t give a damn what anyone who disagrees with me has to say. I am on the right side of history, you are not. The weight of evidence against this is with me and, thankfully, I am proud to say I live in a country that, largely, agrees with me. I’m also proud I was never subjected to this cruelty. Washing a child’s mouth out with soap. A tradition that we, as a human race, shouldn’t, maybe, just maybe, keep up anymore. Maybe worth thinking about. Just a little idea I had. I know, I know! Not causing harm to a child! A revolutionary idea, isn’t it?
We’ve come a long way since that poor drunken woman had her mouth washed out with soap, but, by golly, we still got a long way to go…
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