Friday, July 27, 2012

Feminist Parenting: The Larger Picture

Because the original has disappeared except where it's been reposted, I'm borrowing a blog post that was wonderfully written and sadly, remains very relevant, by a bloggess from the California National Organization For Women website. The following is not my work.

Feminist Parenting: The Larger Picture

I have a suggestion for all the people out there who consider themselves progressives, and who are currently child free.

Before you decide to say that kids shouldn't be allowed on airplanes, in restaurants, in theaters, or basically out in public at all unless they're able to behave like miniature adults, take a moment to realize that you are spouting the exact same rationale that allows privileged groups to tell marginalized groups to sit down, shut up, and adapt to the world built for people of privilege rather than demanding that the world adapt to them by becoming more just.

When you say that kids need to act like adults to be acceptable in the public eye, you're in league with those who say the LGBT community should just "act straight" and not be out in public forcing people to acknowledge their existence.

When you get annoyed that kids being around impacts your ability to have the quiet adults-only experience you wanted, you are acting very similarly to those who complain that fat people walking around in bathing suits like they have the nerve to be ok with their bodies makes a day at the beach unpleasant.

The people who put up this sign had similar arguments to the 'no children' crowd.

Yes, the adult world is not designed for kids. Nor is the able-bodied world designed to accommodate disabled bodies, nor the cisgender world to facilitate the lives of trans people, nor the neurotypical world for NNT folks. The world we have is designed to make life easier for those at the top of the pyramid of kyriarchy. Let's pull no punches here, that means the world is designed for the comfort and convenience of white, able-bodied, straight, attractive, neurotypical, slim, educated, cisgender, high-income adult males (and there are undoubtedly some categories that I've forgotten here that also convey privilege).

Yet almost never do progressives just decide that, hey, those pyramid toppers really are the majority, so they deserve to have the world adapt to them. Folks who are in the minority, who find the world as it exists to help the pyramid toppers just doesn't accommodate or even acknowledge their needs? Well, those folks really just need to accept things as they are and do their best to fit into "normal" society. And if they can't do that? Well, then they need to at least get out of the public eye, instead of demanding that they be treated as human beings with equal rights. Because acknowledging their equal rights and changing society so that everyone can participate equally is a pain for the pyramid toppers.

And let's face it, most of us are somewhere further up on that pyramid than the bottom rung. Most of us have our areas of privilege, and it's damn easy to ignore the privilege we have in favor of complaining about the ones we don't have.

Here's one that pretty much everyone reading this has: adult privilege.

As an adult, the world is generally sized to fit me. I will probably be able to find a seat in public spaces that will allow me to sit comfortably and reach the floor. Light switches, windows, sinks and toilets are positioned for me to be able to reach easily. I can be fairly certain that I will be able to lock the door to my bathroom stall and reach the toilet paper once I'm sitting down. I will almost never find myself trapped somewhere that I cannot leave without assistance. When I am hungry, I can get the food that I want when I need it; when I am thirsty, I can get a drink when I need it. When eating out, or at a movie, the wait time will usually feel reasonable to me, and I can eat as I would at home without attracting stares and rude comments. Silverware, plates, and glasses will be sized to fit my hands. If my wait time for food or entertainment feels unreasonable, and I complain, people will generally be understanding and apologetic. I understand the unspoken rules of interacting in public spaces, they feel natural to me, and I am able to follow them without causing myself distress.

I can speak my native language with fluency and always be understood by other native speakers. I will almost never be laughed at by another speaker of my native language for my language choices, or inability to express myself. If I am routinely yelled at, criticized, and belittled in my own home, almost everyone will recognize that as abusive behavior. I cannot legally be physically disciplined in my place of education. If I am hit, even once, by a loved one, that can be legally considered abuse. I have legal standing to protect myself. My physical and emotional needs are treated as reasonable and important. I am not dependent on others for my economic support.

I could go on and on, but I think this helps to draw the picture. I recognize that each of the things I've listed can be negated by another form of marginalization, like disability, non-neurotypicalness, fatness, old age, poverty, etc., but my point stands. Children are marginalized daily by adult society, and, for the most part, even "progressive" adults will accept and support that marginalization, rather than asking adult society to make the adaptations necessary to treat children as full human beings, with different needs from adults.

Progressive parents, parents who are taking a long-term view of their child's development, and of society's development towards justice, are not going to play the "children should be seen and not heard" game. We're concerned not just with making things easy for the adults around our kids, but with growing our kids into the kind of adults who care about others, and respect those further down on that pyramid.

So no, I'm not going to let my four-year-old kick the back of your seat during a three-hour plane flight. But neither am I going to insist that she sit completely still and make no noise. I'm not going to take her to a 10 pm showing of Up, but I'm going to expect that it's ok if she asks me questions in her normal voice throughout the matinee showing. I'm going to take her out to real restaurants, and ignore the dirty looks when she drops her (adult-sized) fork for the third time and spills the (adult-sized) glass of milk. And yeah, I may choose to continue shopping while she throws her hissy fit, because maybe teaching her that the hissy fit doesn't earn a reaction is more important to me on a long-term basis than whether you have to hear her that one time. And if I choose to sit down and quietly talk to her about why she's upset rather than putting her in time out, or punishing her, maybe it's because I actually care about her feelings, and about taking care of them and of her.

Maybe that more just world we're all hoping, looking, and working for comes when we respect everyone's rights and needs, not just those that impact us, or whose struggles we can sympathize with, or who don't personally annoy us.  And maybe, just maybe, starting out a child's life by teaching them that they matter, and that they have the right to be treated as a full and equal human being regardless of their size or ability, is the start to changing the larger society so that it recognizes the needs of all its members, regardless of where they fall on that pyramid.

Posted by Elena Perez

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