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.
Categories: language, relationships, social justice
I work at a public library. Before that, I was a sunday-school teacher and a babysitter. I have dealt with sick children, hyper children, angry children, and children who thought it was fun to try and choke me with my braid or knock whole shelves of books over.
Yet somehow, I’ve never really had a problem with them. I can deal with them. I can work with them on resolving their issues of the moment. I can get them to behave, with a little bit of actual communication.
The people I have truly horrible memories of are all adults. Like the woman who put on a show complaining loudly about there being TEENAGERS in the LIBRARY, TALKING. Or the dad who didn’t like me giving his daughter a candy (like we’d done with all the kids at sunday school) and backed me into a wall and screamed in my face until he had to stop for breath. Or the creep at the library who follows random women around until they leave.
We have this image of children as obstinate, contrary, self-righteous, and somewhat mean-spirited. (This is, ironically, something we’re supposed to think while believing that childhood is idyllic.) But I have yet to meet a child who was truly any of those things. (Ok, I’ll grant you contrary.)
I see all of those traits in a lot of adults. A lot of the worst child-haters that I’ve met are themselves what they hate in children. I think there’s a lot of projection going on there, and I think you’re right that it’s societally-supported projection.
I can reason with children. I can’t reason with a lot of the adults I deal with, and that kind of scares me.
(I think this is the first time I’ve commented here. Hi!)
OK, between the two of you, you’ve got me hooked. I hadn’t had time to read Feministe today, and I’m supposed to be writing something else, but I’m putting the kettle on then heading over to read it all.
Sort through for the worthwhile parts – the thread has certainly devolved into some world-class wank, as do all threads where “childfree activist” asshats become involved.
After one poster talked about generalised hyperbolic slams against “parents these days” having their roots in misogyny and mother-blaming, someone calling itself “Greta” came out with these pearls:
What a gem and an asset to the Feministe commentariat. Bravo.
Plus, hi Alix!
I responded to the comment on Feministe (mainly because I’m an incorrigible stickybeak and can’t refrain from dropping in my two cents worth) but I have to admit that at least one commenter got to the point which I think encapsulates a lot of the problems: there’s a predominant attitude which appears to be strongly encouraged in the United States that there are *only* two possible positions on any issue, and that if you aren’t 100% behind one position, you *must* be 100% behind the other. There appears to be no space for middle ground, or for middle gears in the argument.
Personally, I’m not overwhelmingly keen on children, but I recognise this as my own choice, and try not to bitch about it too much in public. It’s my problem, after all.
Thanks for highlighting these parts of the discussion, Lauredhel, because I couldn’t quite bring myself to read the whole thing.
I’m no childfree activist, but I am one of those people who’s frequently annoyed by children, and frequently mouthy about it. But then, the other day, a little boy about 7 came up to pet my dog and asked me what kind he was. I said, “Half pug, half corgi,” and the kid, obviously never having heard of the latter, went, “Corgi? I’M GOING TO GO LOOK THAT UP IN MY BOOK!!”
There is pretty much no faster way for a child to charm me. (Hell, there’s probably no faster way for an adult to charm me than asking me about something and then saying, “I’m going to go look that up!”) I’m also reminded of one of my nephews, a budding ornithologist who looks up every bird he ever sees. I was driving with him in the backseat once when he was about 6, and had to stop to avoid hitting a biggish, round, slow-moving bird crossing the road. Completely forgetting he was there, I went, “What the hell kind of bird is that?” And he, who couldn’t even see the bird but had driven this road many times, said with all the world-weariness of a 40-year-old, “Oh, it’s probably a grouse.” I couldn’t stop laughing, because he was right, of course, and I realized that at 7, he already knew a lot more about some subjects than I ever will.
But when I think of children as a concept, I too often think about the ones who piss me off, not the ones who make me laugh and marvel with their quick minds and curiosity. So thanks for the reminder.
6, 7, whatever. I don’t remember how old he was at the time, but somewhere in there. 🙂
And this, in a nutshell, is a large part of the reason I think child-hatred is actually displaced or unexamined/unresolved anger. I see three kinds crop up regularly among people who profess to hate children:
1. They had crappy childhoods (or some majorly crappy incidents) and are angry at the whitewashing of childhood that society engages in, which denies their experiences/trauma.
2. They are angry that society pushes having children as some sort of requirement, especially for women.
3. They have had a few bad encounters with specific children and/or parents, and have generalized this out.
Incidentally, if you rewrite what I quoted above to say “people”, not “children”, you have what I often feel like. But as my mother says: my attitude, my problem.
I’ve no intention of having kids of my own (for a number of reasons), and don’t find them, in general, all that appealing. But like other people say, my issue.
Having said that, kids amaze and charm me. I love that they’re willing to admit when they don’t know something. So many adults “wing it”. I love their insatiable curiosity about everything, and how they can stump you with a very simple question (usually “Why?”). I love that they see the best in everything. I even love it when I see them really throwing themselves into a tantrum like their lives depend on it! And I love when they say and do things that aren’t meant to be funny but from an adult perspective, they are. Kids live in the moment, and so many of us do not.
So when I say I’m not fond of children, I mean for myself. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like kids or think any less of them than adults. When I see people wanting to ban kids from restaurants, coffee shops and the like, I wonder what their problem is, and why do they feel the need to force their issues onto others.
I think that a lot of people feel uncomfortable around kids and don’t know how to act with them, and what we don’t understand scares us. Also, being a mother of two I know how annoying and distracting they can be in restaurants etc, so mostly we don’t eat out anymore because it’s often not worth the stress. Because we do care that other people are being disrupted by our kids. But I really get my knickers in a twist about people who try and ban children from everywhere they have a perfect right to be. How are they going to learn how to behave in social situations if they are never allowed out?
I also think it’s sad that commenters who have chosen not to have kids feel they have to apologise for that choice. That is another thing that really riles me. A man chosing not to have children doesn’t raise any eyebrows (except if perhaps his mother is desperate to be a grandmother) but women are expected to apologise for it.
“The people I have truly horrible memories of are all adults. Like the woman who put on a show complaining loudly about there being TEENAGERS in the LIBRARY, TALKING.”
(snort) if that was all my teenagers did, I’d have to convert to…..something….in gratitude.
But I would gladly have them around all the time if I never once had to deal with another adult complaining that what they have to do on the computer is just ever so much more important than anything anyone under 18 might have to do. Needless to say someone else will complain to me later – most likely a co-worker – that kids today are just so spoiled and impatient.
“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.”
I would liken the prejudice against children to be more similar to prejudice against senior citizens. (In the US at least, old people are resented because they are perceived to have too much political power and people think that their social service programs cost too much money.)
We were all children once, and assuming that we don’t die prematurely, we will all become old, or we at least have the potential to become old. However we will not all be nonwhite, female, gay, disabled, poor, etc. and in many cases can never be – I think it’s much easier to “other” those groups.
FWIW, I used to say “I hate children” all the time. Now, if they’re obnoxious I blame their parents instead, and when they’re not obnoxious, I guess I don’t really hate them.
What a fabulous post, Tigtog.
The idea about all the wrong attributes being defined as “childish” because it’s the adults who do the defining, makes one think of the parallel case of the different ethnic worlds being stoushed about at the moment. Like the guy who’s 100% sure that middle easterners could never be educated.
I had a wild swing from – kids leave me cold, I don’t relate to them; to – completely captivated. I don’t have to tell you the event (or rather two events) that brought that on. I think I’m a rather shallow person that way.
Sorry, Lauredhel, I just assumed it was Tigtog’s post. How rude.
Helen: gosh, no offence taken, being mistaken for tigtog!
Another aspect of this whole discussion that has caught my interest is the division of kids and parents into “good” and “bad”, with this sort of implication that all kids who are being “good” (commonly defined as quiet, obedient, unobtrusive) right now are “good” kids, with “good” parents who have somehow done everything right. And that there is this whole other group of “bad” kids, who must therefore by definition have “bad” parents, who must bear the brunt of blame for their child not performing according to expectations and destined for social failure.
I realise there are some extremes in existence, but in the common course of things, I’m thinking that today’s “good” kid (and parent) is tomorrow’s “bad” one, and vice versa. I’ve certainly been there in both categories – some days we’ll be out and about when my lad has a meltdown, maybe from tiredness, maybe from a blood sugar swing, maybe from pure ornery selfishness. Other days will be like today, where we went to the library and he spoke politely and kindly and with impeccable manners to everyone we met.
He sang out a cheery “Hello!” to a child leaving the library as we arrived. He quietly and respectfully enjoyed the books and the toys. He greeted the librarian at checkout with a “Hi! You have a really nice computer”, passed her the books, followed by “May I have two stamps please? Cool, a book-head stamp and a dinosaur. Thanks! We’re going to the playground now. Bye!”
Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe he’ll be the kid pouting and throwing things and stamping and lashing out, and I’ll be the exhausted pale sleep-deprived mum wishing she could be magically transported out by invisible space monkeys. With vodka.
I find disablism a particularly interesting one in this regard. Most of us would be pretty confident that we’re not about to dramatically change race, gender, age, or sexuality in the near future, or at least that these things are somewhat predictable or are presaged by signs of impending change. Disability, however, including catastrophic disability, could happen to absolutely anyone at any time – and, for many of us, would trigger poverty, often quite abject poverty. Almost all of us will become disabled, if we live long enough. But most people are wandering around in a fog of (wilful?) denial of these possibilities, and are vigorously othering and disregarding disabled people.
Like children, disabled people (of all ages) are typically expected to stay out of public spaces unless they can cope in a self-contained, independent, and unobtrusive manner.
Actually I was just thinking about it this morning, that with age often comes disability, and with more people in the developed world living into their 90s or 100s, it’s becoming more significant.
You’re right that class can change, too, although changes in disability/class are not assumed to be part of a “life cycle” the way being a child, adult, elderly is.
It was interesting being first a parent of an “easy” child and then a “difficult” child.
It is very hard to talk to teachers to convince them that your child is indeed an eccentric but a complete joy nonetheless, and an inveterate learner, when you’re painfully aware that you may be coming across as the “not my little angel, of course he’s a genius” parent who we all know!
I think it is fascinating the number of replies the Feministe thread got. It was interesting that when I posted on kids and education, it got more comments (at Surfdom) than I’d ever had. Obviously kids are THE hot button issue of the moment. I’m trying to reconcile that fact with the fact that the often fascinating “mommy blogs” aren’t better patronised, but perhaps it’s because there are so many; having said that, there’s a heap of political / feminist blogs too!
Now I’m off to read the Feministe thread, been trying to get the space to do it for 3 days.