So – you may be aware that there have, over the past several months, several blog posts that have elicited positively vitriolic 600+ comment threads over kids and public spaces. On Feministe, there were 2, here and here. Renee at Womanist Musings posted a response here. Jezebel re-posted the Feministe post that led to a horrifying thread that I am NOT going to link to. There are also been other conversations lately, all of which seem to devolve in to an “I hate kids and they all suck!” v. “kids should always be allowed anywhere!” shouting match that ignores the needs and issues of most parents and children, as well as child-free adults. And now, in my own personal space, I would like to lay out some of my thoughts on these conversations.
1. Feminists. Hm. I’ve always considered myself a feminist, but as a largely privileged white cis lady, I’ve never been faced personally with many of the issues that have driven so many away from feminism as an idea/institution. I was aware of the exclusions and seriously bothered by them, but I have to say that having some of these exclusions directed at me because of who I am (a mother) is a whole new experience. This is really the subject for another post, because I could go on, but I certainly got a first hand experience at some of the seriously privileged exclusion that feminism directs at people who don’t fit the “right profile”.
2. Children as people. For me this is a no-brainer. However, I’ve seen several comments that seem to be asserting that if children are equal to adults, they should have the same responsibilities – getting a job, same jail time and criminal justice system for the same crime, etc. I cannot fathom what short-sighted non-rational person thinks that this would be a good idea. Children are human beings who do not yet have the capacity to rationalize, reason, look ahead to consequences, etc. that adults have. Children are NOT the same as adults, that does not mean that they are LESS than adults.
3. Children are already undervalued in society. Kids aren’t able to lobby or advocate for their education or well-being if the adults around them don’t take care of it.
4. Socialization. How are kids supposed to learn how to interact in positive ways if they aren’t supposed to be in public? What do you think that kids learn when you glare at them? They learn that they are bad and people don’t like them. What a great way for kids to grow up!
5. Don’t confuse parents that don’t know when an upset child needs to leave a venue to calm down with thinking that children are bad. If you’re irritated with a child’s behavior, look to the adult. Are they TRYING to remedy the situation? Attend to the child’s needs? Are they in a position where the adult CAN remove the child? Are you in a place/situation that it’s appropriate to have that expectation? There ARE parents who think their kids can do no wrong and they are freaking annoying. But there are also a lot of adults that just don’t want to accept that fully able, privileged adults sometimes need to share public space with kids.
6. In a feminist/womanist space, I think it’s a little narcissistic to expect a pat on the back for choosing not to have children/remain childfree. I think that being childfree is a totally valid choice that not enough people are comfortable making. I do think that many people end up with children (for a variety of reasons, I’m not trying to make this a judgment) who if they really got to choose, probably would not. But in a space that actively supports those kids of choices, and, as I’ve learned over the past week, often puts up with derision and dismissal of women who DO choose to keep/have children, I fail to see how things like “my vagina is a child-free space!” really furthers the conversation. (mentioning you don’t want kids or that you are child-free does not fall under this criticism, just seeming to want a medal for it; same goes for parents – mentioning that you have kids is fine – acting like you should get an award for it is another situation).
Queer women: this was not a seriously addressed issue in the posts/threads, but there did seem to be a lot of exclusion of queer bodies in this conversation. I feel like a lot of queer folk get shut out of a lot of feminist discussions, esp with motherhood – it gets so gendered, and I’ve seen active exclusion of women because they cannot themselves bear children (and other things too).
So – what do I as a mom want? It seems that there should be some constructive feedback here after all the complaining :)
Can’t we women support each other in the choices we make? for better or worse, isn’t the feminist movement supposed to be about women’s right to choices about our lives? Those choices sometimes include children, and throwing us out of the club because we make that choice is hypocritical. (also, see above for the fact that it is not always a choice)
Second, who do you think that these kids grow up to be? Adults. Adults who have been told that they are not valued. Fabulous.
Third, I can only speak for myself here, but generally I don’t need a whole bunch of help and support. I would appreciate, though, if you choose to interact with my kids, please be positive. If you need to ask them to stop a behavior, ask them in a polite way, understanding that children don’t usually react well to being yelled at and that positive reinforcement of good behavior is much healthier and more effective than negative reinforcement of “bad” behavior. If you don’t want to interact with my kids, don’t.
Finally, please don’t assume that I had kids and got stupid. I know what’s dangerous. I know what’s annoying. I bend over backwards to try to NOT annoy all of the adults going about their day around us. If Kieran throws a fit in the middle of the grocery store and is laying in the middle of the floor screaming, please be aware that I did not know that he was going to do that. I wish he would stop. I did not arrange it for your personal irritation. If I had known/thought he’d do that, we never would have gone to the grocery store.