There’s a long and involved thread on Feministe right now about the much-bandied-about phrase “I hate children!” The guest blogger, Roy, wonders why open hate speech against children is perfectly ok, when it’s not generally acceptable against other group of disempowered and victimised people. For varying values of “not generally acceptable”, anyhow; much bigotry against women, against fat people, against old people, against poor people, against people with disabilities, against immigrants, and against some other groups seems to be still perfectly acceptable in many circles, or at least winked at.
There are many meanders and subthreads and analogies, but I’m just going to pluck out this comment by EG, as one of the ones that made me think. Following a discussion of “childish” behaviour and its putative unpleasantness and discourtesy:
We wouldn’t describe that behavior as “acting like a kid” if it wasn’t how kids acted.
Really? Right, because folk wisdom is always so very accurate. Does “act childish” mean “express enthusiasm and interest in the world,” “sit quietly by yourself and cut out paper dolls for two hours” or “learn everything there is to know about sharks”? No, it doesn’t. “Act like an adult”- does that mean harrass women on the street, drink too much, talk very loudly on cell phones in public places, talk very loudly right behind me when I’m at the movies, and commit murder? Because the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of such lousy behavior are adults. No. “Act like an adult” means “be on your best behavior.” So what does that mean? It means that adults control the discourse.
This one struck a resounding note for me. I’ve watched my kid throw tantrums. I’ve heard him say whatever he could think of that would be most hurtful at the time. I’ve tried to deal with him unable to contain his boundless energy when it’s inappropriate, I’ve averted mortal danger many a time.
I’ve also seen him become completely absorbed in books about dinosaurs, and offer up long lectures about their characteristics and activities. I’ve seen him acquire vocabulary at the rate of more than one word every two waking hours, and master complex grammatical structures with far more facility than any adult. I’ve greatly enjoyed our conversations about the universe, the natural world, about how people relate to each other, about why animals do what they do, about the food we eat. I’ve watched him assemble tiny, intricate Lego and Kinder Egg toys that I couldn’t manage. I’ve photographed him hanging a python around his neck and grinning, when the adults were squirming and demurring. I’ve struggled with answering insightful questions that high school students don’t think to ask. I’ve become caught up in his absolutely infectious laughter, his wonder, his thrilling to the discoveries there are to be made and the emotions there to be felt. Right now, it’s “spooooky” things: he revels in the adrenaline rush, in fine-tuning his own reactions, discovering and tip-toeing along the line between what is “fun-scary” and what is just plain scary.
But it’s the first set of behaviours that is labelled “childish”, not the second. This is because adults, the dominant group, are the ones doing the defining, and people have a tendency to define the groups below them in the hierarchy in negative terms instead of recognising them as fully human.
EG goes on:
I just want to stress a point that Roy made and others seem to be missing: acknowledging the fact that children are deeply disempowered is not the same as arguing that children should take over control of their own lives. It’s amazing to me that so many adults feel so threatened merely at the thought of acknowledging that kids have no rights. The fact that it may be for their own good doesn’t make it less of an imposition on the kids.
I also don’t understand how so many people here seem to feel that they have superpowers and can tell whether a child is suffering from abuse merely by being in the same room. “I only hate the children who aren’t starving”? (paraphrase) One of the exciting aspects of being a child is that, since you can’t own property yourself no matter what, you can be subject to the most horrific abuse even if you live in a materially secure family. So starving kids in Africa get your sympathy, but you just know somehow that the kid having a meltdown on the airplane has never been physically abused, emotionally terrorized, or sexually molested? The fact is that children are vulnerable to this kind of abuse because they are children, regardless of where they live. Brilliant. I wish I were so clever.
Many adults seem to confuse “places for adults only” with “places in general.” The grocery store is not a place for adults only. Neither is the post office. Neither is a local coffee shop. Leaving one’s house means that one has to deal with the appalling risk of actually dealing with people who do not fill one with delight. Why are so many adults such whiny babies about this fact of life? Sometimes, when I leave my house, I have to pass a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher on the corner. He bugs the shit out of me. Does this give me the right to talk about how much I hate all Christians?
Watching their reaction to me saying “I hate children” amuses me and then I’m able to cool down from their sexist comments.
Ah, so when you’re the victim of bigotry and prejudice, you cope with it by metaphorically kicking the people even lower on the totem pole than you are. Well, it’s honest, at least, if not admirable.
Their brains literally don’t work as well.
So now you’re a neurologist-pediatrician? Their brains work differently. You don’t spend much time with kids, by your own admission, but I do. Small children can often do amazing amounts of arithmetic in their heads. They learn and understand vast amounts of detailed information. Their memories are often far better than those of adults. Their facility for languages is unparalleled. Your assumptions about a group of people you clearly have little or no experience with are laughable.
Read the whole thread. You might like to make yourself a cup of tea first.