quick hit: feminist readers: have you leveled-up?

Neighborhood Kids

Sorry y'all, but your parents should have thought about that before they had you.

People of Color, People with Disabilities, LGBTQAI People, plenty of marginalized persons have movements behind them, and yet in social justice circles people feel free to openly say “I hate children” without repercussions. Children are routinely beaten in the name of “good order and discipline” (and parents are blamed for not doing so in the name of “not being attentive parents”) and no one pays attention. We expect children to be silent unless spoken to, and we often walk around and talk around them as if they aren”‘t even there. And possibly more importantly, like our little friend, they notice when we don”‘t notice them. They notice when we fail to take them into consideration. They notice when they don”‘t matter. They notice when the world, when those who are meant to love them, don”‘t fucking see them or hear them. – from “Children Take Up Space (and Notice When We Don’t Notice)” by Ouyang Dan

Young people are scary because they are a social group whose rights we are reluctant to recognize. They are human beings with personalities, attitudes, opinions and needs. Just like misogyny arises out of a fear of women exercising their human rights; hatred of children arises from our wish to subordinate children. – from “We Hate Children” by Feminist Avatar in Scotland

Today, after reading an incredibly awesome piece of rad fem by a stellar author, I put forth a genuine and heartfelt question: Why do so many (not all) feminists exhibit vitriol and/or a non-inclusive attitude for children and their carers? Specifically, with regard to carers, I find there is a huge void where sensitivity, inclusivity, and a valuing of nurture-work and mothers is needed – even more specifically, mothers usually excluded and/or belittled are those non-white, non-middle- or upper-class, child- and home-oriented, disabled, neurologically atypical, gay, queer, or trans.

Two from the commentariat weighed in. The upshot of their responses: it’s “ridiculous” to say feminists hate mothers*, and anyway feminists have no real power so they’re just angry (and hey, understandably so, from my perspective) but their words only “sting” and have no real-life repercussions.

My charges of child-hate sentiment in the feminist sphere and resultant oppressions went unacknowledged and unaddressed.

One comment contained the following, which really has me chewing over it. See, I’ve heard this sort of thing before. Lots:

“Many radical feminists question why women wish to become mothers, because the planet is overpopulated and children are men”‘s all-time favorite weapon of choice to use against women. Not to mention that having a child ensures that you”‘re either raising another potential victim or another potential perpetrator.”

Here’s the thing: I’m dashing this off while being tugged at by my kids, mother, partner, and cats. Here I’m deciding to write to my readers – not the Haters, not the developed rad fems or those who want to discuss or ‘splain theory whilst ignoring lived realities of mothers/carers and children, and frankly, not those who hold anti-child views (sadly many of them don’t even know who they are). But if you find yourself generally wondering if you have any anti-child lingering sentiments (hint: yes you do), please read on and more importantly, read the links supplied.

I’ve written before, briefly (F-word example), of the unwillingness of some feminist discussion to acknowledge deeply-entrenched adultist tenets. These worldviews simmer under the surface but make themselves known in commentstreams of any article daring to defend children and their carers, especially one supporting their rights to be out in public at their levels of need (hey listen… I simply couldn’t bring myself to link to multiple vitriolic examples of breastfeeding hate, which are endemic in the US). One of the reasons I don’t self-identify as a feminist (although I absolutely support many feminist goals, and read and support many self-identified feminist activists) is because of the many ways feminist discussion has let down so many groups and continues to do so: today’s mainstream feminist discussion is often rife with demonstrations of racism, ableism, psychophobia, transphobia, adultism, and classism.

When discussing children the conversation – in mainstream and social justice spheres alike – is usually two-dimensional and frankly, played out: it seems we divide children into two classes: children parents can afford to feed – so parents have a duty to raise them “well-behaved” (regardless of the costs and pro-oppression indoctrination) and forcefully educated according to the institutional system – versus poor families with children. The solution in the latter case is – you shouldn’t have had them in the first place. In these often class-stratified discussions, pregnancy is often only discussed in terms of abortion rights (which are absolutely under attack) but not birth rights or holistic child-stewardship and nurture practices (including, shocker, the right to raise children without by-rote institutionalism). Like many in the self-identified right-wing, prominant progressives concern themselves with the care and quality of life – the life of babies or mothers (or non-babies and the right not to be a mother, which I unreservedly support) – concern which ends abruptly if a child emerges from the womb. I’m thinking of a progressive behemoth site with thousands of readers that describes itself as staunchly feminist; on this site a single author has posted merely two articles – out of thousands, scores of which concern abortion – that discuss birth culture and attendant realities in America (more dismal than you might imagine; yet it is still only considered fringe to advocate for revolution therein). There is – wait for it – one article discussing breastfeeding. One. In my opinion a feminist schema worth its salt would hold breastfeeding as a reproductive right and would, y’know, tackle birth reform. I won’t hold my breath.

The abovementioned rad fem comment seems to place a lot of value in asking WHY a woman would reproduce given how shitty things are. First of all, I commend objections to the multifaceted and ubiquitous narratives that a woman’s sole function is to reproduce. And things are pretty bad – and not only that, many people don’t even know it nor concern themselves. However, the reality is in having these same 101 social justice queries ad infinitum without deeper explorations of mother-and-child life we are letting down the women who do breed (something at present count, around 80% of women) as well as their children and (if they have them) partners.

Most women who feel and exercise what they believe is free choose to have children, even the “educated” (or seemly or middle class or whatever) ones, likely had little idea just how hollow the promises of “equality” (socially or within heterosexual partnerships) really are today. In my opinon this is largely due to misogynistic and kyriarchal mindsets – and in no small part also fallout from a child-segregationist culture. Many first-time parents have had little to no experiences caring for or being around well-nurtured children nor exposed at length to healthy child environs; almost every adult has moved from the position of child-as-oppressed to adult-in-privilege, and often will enact the damaging scripts they were forced into for so many years. The concepts of happy, celebrated, and idyllic motherhood are promised but ill-supported once baby arrives (although many mothers and fathers and carers manage to find genuine enjoyment and meaning from parenting). Our culture still functions to make many women choose between the family life she’d like and meaningful or respected paid work and financial support (and note: routinely criticizing and belittling traditional “women’s work” skews our ability to find meaning therein), even while we criticize these women for ever making sacrifices of one for the benefit of the other. We sentimentalize family life and mothering, but we also continue to frame parenting as huge drain that is less meaningful than Statusy Career or material acquisition, which of course erases the millions for who Statusy Career is not an option, a current reality, and/or a life-calling. More to the point, the needs of children are routinely, routinely ignored and the child class is raised while often being relegated to – still! – being seen, or not, and not heard – and often ill-protected (child abuse – verbal, physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual – another endemic and tragic occurrence that our school systems and supposedly progressive American ideals have not done nearly enough to halt or stem).  On the subject of child-raising anyone with an opinion weighs in and often gets a clown-horn for the front pages, while those who continue to successfully advocate and care for babies and children largely outside oppressive schema are relegated to the fringe or downright vilified.

I think I can understand a lot of feminist anger regarding children and motherhood, although I wish those vocalizing anger would consider their words carefully. Many women without children are tired of the oft-fed line that one’s life is not fulfilled unless one reproduces and that without kids a life is empty or sad or even “selfish”. And I agree, this seems like a lot of bullshit. But that is precisely my point – the promises and Hallmark-sentiments surrounding “motherhood” are deeply problematic and when many women step into this role – for reasons and in quantities that are no one’s business to be prescriptive about – the reality is quite shocking.

As for the arguments against marriage, motherhood, etc. due to these institutions functioning as patriarchal tools – yes, I get it (although find me an institution that never does function thusly). But here’s my thing – once the child is on the premises Planet Earth is it really appropriate and helpful to discuss how they shouldn’t have been born in the first place – or espouse a glum scenario that the child is destined to be either “victim” or “perpetrator” (that is they are a cipher and academic subject – not a whole, multi-faceted human being with a heart, mind, integrity, and a future full of mistakes and triumphs)? In asking for feminist responses to mother and child, to be told another version of “women shouldn’t become mothers/children should think about that before existing” is not addressing living mothers and children; it’s requesting we just have fewer mothers and children. Very, very tolerant, supportive, helpful, and on point (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

Where is the acknowledgment that if the world is ever going to experience positive change – either episodically or by the whole – it is precisely the raising of children outside oppressive regimes and mindsets that will make this happen?

While discussing the wretched state of Child, where is the attendant activist discussion and pragmatic approaches to treat the living and breathing children, here and now, who need adult advocacy and increased agency?

Bizarrely, sometimes social justice conversation indulges in the make-believe that each person (or nuclear/bio-family) is an island. Self-sufficient and all that. This framing ignores the fact our lives began with others caring for  us – however many mistakes our carers may have made, the vast majority of us received an incredible amount of work and nurture – and most of us will have a period of vulnerability bookending the end of our lives, too (those with disabilities or extenuating circumstances may not have the luxury of the normative but false “self sufficiency” narrative often promoted). It’s incredible to me how many grownups pretend they are separate, apart, do not rely on others, never did, never shall.

Author Naomi Aldort, who I’ve referenced here, wrote a book called Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. I’ve found it to be absolutely true that in the vocation of caring for other human beings my spiritual, emotional, and intellectual life has benefitted. My reality – mine – is that until I had children my activist mentality was almost non-existant and my passions were self-focussed; I rarely thought about how many others needed help, how many others had fewer privileges and resources and abilities than I. I am a flawed human being and continue to do my work, including self-improvement while trying to increase my stewardship for other people, for animals, for the planet. I am not perfect, but I will probably never support a worldview that doesn’t make it an active discussion point: helping those who need help and compassion, whatever population or class they belong to. Using such populations merely as theoretical entities (not human beings) might be necessary to get the ball rolling sometimes – but runs the risk of being a very underdeveloped and condescending strategy.

Some reading:

“On Hating Kids” at Feministe

“On childhate and feminism” at the Noble Savage

“My Child Takes Up Space” at Womanist-Musings

“The Ethics of Representing Childhood in Western Culture” by Naomi Aldort

And finally, “Children Take Up Space (and Notice When We Don’t Notice)” at Random Babble (quoted above), from which I offer this summation:

“[W]e as feminists, womanists, and social justice activists (and I”‘ll let you know where I fall on that scale when I figure it out) really fail hard at seeing children as what they truly are; a marginalized class of people who need their rights fought for and protected.”

Absolutement.

*(Um. Really.)