So I couldn’t quite make it the whole weekend blog-free after all.
For all you Dr. Who fans out there, Hanna chose to memorialize the doctor/donna this Memorial Day. Hop on over to …fly over me evil angel… for some fan video fun.
One more post before I have a mini blog hiatus for the Memorial Day Weekend.
What with the new Robin Hood film out, people have been harking back to versions of yore (see, for example, this episode of On Point from NPR in which film critic and historian David Thomspon and professor of English from Cardiff Stephen Knight discuss the legend of Robin Hood and its various incarnations in film). Hanna and I have been remembering with fondness the 1973 animated Disney version. My brother and I spent several years of our childhood — the ones in which we were not playing Redwall, Swallows & Amazons or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — playing Robin Hood and Maid Marian (she kicked ass, in case anyone feels this is an open question), and our interpretation was heavily, heavily influenced by the singing animals in this particular adaptation.
I adored Maid Marian and at the time (I was maybe six or seven?) we had friends who were on sabbatical in England. So my father, an amateur calligrapher, penned a letter from Maid Marian of Sherwood Forest and mailed it to them to post back to me postmarked from England. It was on pink stationary, I remember, in an airmail envelope with a postage stamp bearing the head of Queen Elizabeth. I kept that letter in my treasure box for many, many years. In fact, it’s probably still filed away somewhere in my parents’ attic, in the box of Precious Things To Rescue In Event of Fire.
Ahem. Anyway. Hanna discovered earlier this week that she had part of the song (all she could remember) of “The Phony King of England” song stuck in her head — so here to make sure that everyone else gets it properly stuck in theirs as well is yours truly.
In addition to Disney’s retelling, of course, there are lots of other Robin Hoods to pick from — including (I’m a librarian after all!) book versions. Robin McKinley’s Outlaws of Sherwood is a classic, and I personally enjoyed Theresa Thomlinson’s Forestwife, which is a retelling of the legends from Marian’s point of view. For the “real,” legend cycle versions, my mother read to us from The merry adventures of Robin Hood of great renown, in Nottinghamshire, illustrated by Howard Pyle.
There was also the Song of Robin Hood, a songbook published in 1947 and illustrated in minute detail by Virginia Burton. My mother played and sang the songs for us, but as children we were most absorbed by the detailed picturework around each page of music, which dramatized the stories in sequential panels like tiny comic books without words.
So go forth and enjoy Robin Hood in all his many incarnations! Happy Friday and have a wonderful long weekend. I’ll be blogging again next Tuesday.
I think in my ideal world, in which Dahlia Lithwick and Nina Totenberg would be on the Supreme Court and Jon Stewart would be President, I’m starting to think Jay Smooth would be Attorney General, or maybe Senate Majority Leader.
Does that prove he’s some hard-core racist that doesn’t care about Black people? No. But it does suggest that he’s such a hard-core purist libertarian that he cares more about this abstract set of principles than he cares about any actual people – that he’s more committed to these rigid abstractions than he is to protecting the basic rights of human beings in the real world.
$1 reviews are posts about books I find (or Hanna finds for me) on the $1 used book carts at the bookstores we visit around Boston.
This past Saturday, Hanna found me a copy of Urvashi Vaid’s Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay & Lesbian Liberation on one of the $1 carts at Brattle Book Shop. ‘Cause it had all the right keywords in the title, she picked it up for me (my girlfriend is awesome!). Published in 1995, it’s fairly dated — most notably in its repeated references to lesbian, gay and sometimes bi with trans issues completely ignored, even in the section on intersectional politics (more below).
Vaid is a community organizer and lawyer (she attended Northeastern University Law School here in Boston in the early 1980s) and during the 80s and early 1990s worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. This book is clearly influenced by that, since she focuses on law and politics at the national level, rather than the more cutural history, personal politics stuff I tend to find the most interesting to read and think about. As an activist Vaid is also very focused on the contemporary moment (mid-90s), a perspective that means her analysis ages more rapidly (in my opinion) than it would if she was taking a longer, cultural-historical view. But then, that’s clearly my own scholarly bias!
Having said that, I’m going to turn around and more or less contradict myself by sharing a couple of passages from Virtual Equality that I thought resonated nicely with my post a couple of weeks ago about the heavy reliance of lgbt advocacy on the biology-is-destiny argument, at the expense of arguing that choosing non heteronormative relationships can be a positive and ethical personal and social choice.
From the first chapter, “Virtual Equality” (p. 30)
Homosexuality always involves choice — indeed, it involves a series of four major choices: admitting, acting, telling, and living. Even if scientists prove that sexual orientation is biologically or genetically determined, every person who feels homosexual desire encounters these four choices
Just as, I would point out, every person who feels heterosexual desire encounters them.
The first involves whether we will admit the existence of our desire: Will we acknowledge to ourselves that we feel same-sex attraction? The second choice is whether to act on this desire: Will we risk engaging in this love? The third is whether we acknowledge to other people that we are gay, lesbian, or bisexual … [this] question never end[s], because the process of coming out to other people never ends. The final choices each gay person makes is how to live a queer life.
Again, I’m struck by how easily we could understand these questions in the context of human sexuality, full stop. Regardless of the nature of our attractions, every person makes a complex series of choices about how to articulate, act on, and share with the world their own sexualness. I don’t think these questions are unique to non-straight people, but I do think they are thrown into relief for anyone whose sexuality does not approximate the normative vision of what it means to be sexual.
From “Divided We Stand: The Racial and Gender Status Quo” (p. 289)
My problem with conservative views of gay and lesbian identity is twofold: I disagree with the reliance on biology as the reason gayness should be fully tolerated, and I disagree with the idea that single-identity politics is effective. Same-sex behavior may well be related to physical differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals, but if our purpose in this movement is to remove the stigma surrounding same-sex love, then both biologically gay people and those who simply fall in love ought to be embraced by our movement.
I’m not particularly comfortable with how she phrases this, as “biologically gay people” on one hand and “those who simply fall in love” on the other (wait: don’t people who are “biologically gay” fall in love too??), but she’s spent the few pages before this talking about the Kinsey data on people who identify as straight but nevertheless report same-sex sexual encounters at some point during their lives, so I think that’s what she’s trying to get at, as clumsy as it sounds.
Organizing around the notion that there is a fixed, definable gay and lesbian identity is far more convenient than organizing around the notion that homosexual desire is a potential in every person. It is also far less threatening to straight America. We are certainly more comprehensible when we speak and act as if there is such a thing as a gay gene than when we attempt to argue that we seek to liberate homosexual potential in all people! … But even biology does not limit its expression to one form of being. The fact that homosexual people are as multifaceted as humankind itself means that our effort to organize around one gay or lesbian identity will inevitably fail.
What she ends up arguing is for the end to identity-based politics (which is where we see how she is arguing against the late-80s and early 1990s narratives of identity and political advocacy). In its place, she urges the necessity of a broad coalition of people organizing not around accidents of personal experience or identity but rather (dare I say) values.
In the chapter on the political right (what Vaid identifies as “the Supremacist Right” to differentiate those who are interested in preserving the democratic process from those who use it as a means to a supremacist end) she writes specifically about the importance of discussing sexual values and ethics on the left, rather than leaving such discourse to the political and religious right (p. 324).
The most provocative and, in my view, important of [Suzanne] Pharr’s suggestions is the call that the gay and lesbian movement vigorously debate sexual ethics. We must talk about our values, what we do, what we won’t do, what we think is right, and what we believe is wrong.
And, I would add, share the outcome of those conversations with the wider world. I think that since 1995 there has been more discussion about progressive and/or leftist, feminist and queer sexual values — educators and bloggers have definitely been asserting more frequently the importance of not leaving the ethics debate to conversative interests. Vaid approaches the issue gingerly, with the bitter divisions of the feminist “pornography wars” in the recent past. It was heartening for me to realize, as I read this passage, just how far we’ve come since then in articulating and embracing the wide variety of human sexual expression, and arguing for the “safe, sane, consensual” ethic as a starting point for discussing the finer points of what it means to make moral choices as a sexually active, sexually joyful human being.
Obviously, the task is far from over (will it ever be?), but reading Virtual Equality was a small taste of a single political moment captured in time through prose, and I was impressed by how much the discourse has changed since then, even if the issues remain virtually the same. Hopefully, as we begin to speak differently, we’re live differently as well. As feminism has taught me over and over again: langauge matters like hell: speaking about what we value is, hopefully, a step in the direction of seeing what we value valued all the more in the dominant culture.
Here are the things that made a theater of moviegoers laugh at a recent screening of Babies:
• Babies suffering, especially sibling-on-sibling violence.
• Tiny Godzilla babies shot from below against a clear blue sky.
• Babies making that face babies make when they poop; also, fart.
• Babies crying. (Note: Babies crying in real life incite terror—what if they cry forever? Audience laughter indicates the faith that crying on film will, before too long—unless the film is a European auteur production—cease. Besides, a baby crying on film presumably stopped crying long ago; a baby crying now must be attended to right now.)
And, hands down, the most popular gag:
• Inter-species slapstick. Including but not limited to: Babies pulling the ears of cats. Babies sticking tiny baby fists into dogs’ mouths. Babies stepping on the faces of baby goats. Babies surrounded by cows. (All related to the previously noted joys of baby suffering, but perhaps more profitably categorized under the rubric of “babies courting danger.” Again, funny on film; not usually funny in real life.)
Smallwood argues that the film is a nature documentary (babies as mammals) rather than a documentary which attempts to tell a human-centered story about what life is actually like for newborn persons around the world. “From whose perspective is Babies made?” she speculates, concluding: “Not the babies. Babies look up from [their mother’s] breast, not across at it. The mother’s face is the object of the baby’s eyes, but the mother’s face is just what the camera hides, again and again.”
In other words, the film apparently attempts to isolate the babies themselves from the world of human relationships in which those children exist so inextricably (and which practically the sole job of infants is to learn how to navigate successfully themselves, since their lives literally depend up them).
Still, I’m intrigued by the film enough that I’ll likely see it on DVD eventually, if not in the theater (independent theater ticket prices here in Boston are through the roof!).
Back in April, Hanna was kind enough to set up the mystical VCR to tape the PBS American Experience documentary on Earth Day, eponymously titled Earth Days so I could watch it as sociopolitical background for my thesis.
I thought they did a particularly thoughtful job selecting the requisite talking heads, choosing a wide range of folks involve in environmental policy and activism from the 1960s through to the present. What I found most fascinating was the way in which environmental activism in the early days (prior to the Reagan administration) was not a strictly partisan issue — controversial in some aspects, yes, but not seen as a Democratic cause (or a Republican cause for that matter).
The most striking part of the film, for me, was the section in which they discuss the commitment brought by the Carter administration to environmental sustainability in the late Seventies, galvanized in part by stagflation and the fuel crisis — and then the Reagan administration’s reversal of all, and more, of the previous decade’s worth of progress toward a more environmentally-friendly America.
Denis Hayes, The Organizer: [Carter] had solar water heaters installed on the White House roof.
President Jimmy Carter (archival): A generation from now, this solar water heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest ventures ever undertaken by the American people.
Denis Hayes, The Organizer: He gave me the best job of my life running the Federal Solar Energy Research Institute and a budget that increased and doubled every year that I was there and the opportunity to really do some important things.
President Jimmy Carter (archival): The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly. It is a problem that we will not be able to solve in the next few years; it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century. We must not be selfish or timid, if we hope to have a decent world for our children and our grandchildren. We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future rather than letting the future control us.
Hunter Lovins, The Motivator: Carter, I think, made a fundamental mistake, which was he saw the transition as one of constraint and of one of privation, and of giving up, and of lowered lifestyle.
Denis Hayes, The Organizer: In a period from 1973 to 1980 the price of oil went from $4 a barrel to $30 a barrel. And that clearly was enough to cause the public to support things like fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and other things that would have been inconceivable unless you’d had a crisis.
* * *
Ronald Reagan, Presidential Candidate (archival): They tell us we must learn to live with less, and teach our children that their lives will be less full and prosperous than ours have been, that the America of the coming years will be a place where because of our past excesses, it will be impossible to dream and make those dreams come true. I don’t believe that and I don’t believe you do either. That’s why I am seeking the Presidency. I cannot and will not stand by and see this great country destroy itself. Our leaders attempt to blame their failures on circumstances beyond their control, on false estimates by unknown, unidentifiable experts, who rewrite modern history in an attempt to convince us our high standard of living, a result of thrift and hard work, is somehow selfish extravagance, which we must renounce as we join in sharing scarcity.
* * *
Denis Hayes, The Organizer: For reasons that I just cannot even begin to comprehend, Reagan did his very best to completely shut down the renewable energy effort. In the instance of the institute that I led, he reduced our budget by more the 80%, fired half of the staff and fired all of our contractors, two of whom subsequently went on to win Nobel Prizes. It was just devastating, but for one year we did have within an element a very good energy policy.
Ronald Reagan, Public Service Announcement (archival): It’s morning again in America. And under the leadership of President Reagan our country is prouder, and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to the way we were?
Reporter (voice over, archival): The Reagan White House has finally dismantled the last vestiges of the Carter Administration. Workmen have now taken down the solar water heating system installed on the White House roof in 1979.
I highly recommend watching some or all of Earth Days, since (at least for those of us who barely remember the Reagan era, let alone the 1960s and 70s) it gives us a chance to re-imagine the public discourse surrounding environmental issues in ways that don’t lock us into partisan divides — gives us a chance to imagine a time in the not so distant past (and hopefully in the not so distant future) when there was more emphasis on the fact that we’re all in this together, as human beings on a living planet, and partisanship aside sustainability is really the only way forward if care to have a “forward” to be moving toward at all.
First up, several posts this week on Sarah Palin’s increased us of the F-word (“feminist,” sadly, not “fuck”)
Tracy Clark-Flory @ Salon tackles the debate ’round the blogosphere about whether Palin deserves to self-identify as such (or whether anyone has the right to judge her worthy or unworthy of it).
Brittany Shoot @ Women’s Rights Blog asks whether “conservative feminist” is an oxymoron, while Michael Tomaskey @ The Guardian describes the use of Susan B. Anthony as a conservative, anti-choice feminist icon.
And via my friend and fellow dual-degree student Colleen comes Janine Giordano @ Religion in American History on the competing collective memories and historical interpretations of Susan B. Anthony’s legacy. “We’re not used to sharing the narrative authority of the history of feminism, or interpretation of the historical record, with ‘conservative feminists.’ But I say we should be happy — in a way — that social history has finally begun to empower social movements outside of the academy.”
It’s not just a question of people arguing over who can or cannot claim the identity “feminist” (my two-second opinion: you get to claim whatever identity you want, but by the same token, I get to say why I do or don’t believe you fit the description). There are, of course, many women (not just Phyllis Schlafly!) who fight tooth and nail to undo the political and cultural work of feminist activists — often in the name of their own enlightened status. Amanda Marcotte @ Pandagon points to the example of columnist Maureen Dowd, who was recently full of faux concern about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s state of singledom.
Her disingenuous final paragraph really puts the cherry on the mean girl sundae:
Why is there this underlying assumption that Kagan has missed the boat?
I don’t know. It probably has something to do with you perpetuating the narrative. If you don’t like the story of how women can conquer mountains but are nothing without a man, then stop telling that story.
Similarly, Andi Zeisler @ Bitch Blogs nominates writer Caitlin Flanagan for the first ever Bitch Douchebag Decree “All-Star” award, writing
If there’s one thing Flanagan can really type some words on, besides how she hates feminism and how her mommy abandoned her, it’s teen girls and blowjobs. She’s heard a lot of stuff about how teens these days are having hookups and orgies and rainbow parties all over the place. But since Flanagan is perpetually arrested in a time of crinolines and sock hops, when all teens were apparently eunuchs, the idea that girls might actually enjoy exploring their sexuality is both logistically inconvenient and philosophically abhorrent to her.
A nun in Arizona was excommunicated from the Catholic church after making a decision at a Catholic-run hospital that a woman could recieve a life-saving abortion. Nuns can be so frickin’ awesome! The Catholic church hierarchy can be so, so not. Jill @ Feministe meditates on the inhumanity of that decision while David J. Nolan @ RhRealityCheck explains why the decision was actually not in accordance with canon law.
Alexa Kolbi-Molinas (Staff Attorney, ACLU) @ Feministing Community highlights the secular legal issues involved in the case, given that hospitals (religiously-affiliated or not) are required by law in the United States to provide life-saving care.
Not that Arizona isn’t already on a right bender, now that everyone who looks foreign in origin (read: not white) is required to carry identification papers and ethnic studies have been banned. Miriam @ Feministing has more, as does Brittnay Shoot @ Women’s Rights Blog who asks, “when they get rid of ethnic studies is women’s studies next?“
Amanda Marcotte @ Pandagon reports, however, that the future might be brighter than it looks at the moment: young white people care less frightened of immigration than their elders.
People are often spend a whole lot of time and energy criticizing other folks’ sex lives. Thomas Rogers @ Salon writes about Czech twins who are lovers and controversial porn stars, asking what about “twincest” pushes peoples’ buttons and why they can’t stop watching anyway. From Greta Christina @ The Blowfish Blog asks “is it possible to critique rough-sex porn without marginalizing kink?” and Charlie @ Charlie Glickman challenges the sex-positive community to think about the difference between shame, arrogance, and pride.
Young people (girls in particular) are certainly not exempt when it comes to the sex-obsessed gaze of society, and Amanda Hess @ The Sexist muses about the recent outcry over a viral internet video featuring young girls dancing in sexually suggestive ways. She discusses a similar theme when it comes to media coverage of Miss USA pagent winner Rima Fakih.
Sarah Menkedick @ Women’s Rights Blog points out how the Miss USA pagent coverage ties sexism and racism together in a neat package consisting of “a little racism, a little islamophobia, a little hating on immigrants, a little hypocritical outrage at beauty pageant participants who’ve gotten a bit too sexy.” In other words, Miss USA, in a nutshell.
Melissa McEwan @ The Guardian calls out the policing of women’s sexual selves in a slightly different vein, writing about the media coverage of recent allegations by Charlotte Lewis that she, too, was sexually assaulted by director Roman Polanski.
Harris’s concentrated effort to undermine Lewis’s credibility by casting doubt on her character, motives, and integrity is a textbook example of the sort of hostile reception any survivor of sexual assault can expect to receive when coming forward about the crime, no less when the accuser must point a finger at a famous man with powerful friends.
There are those who question why Lewis waited to come forward for so long. Reading Harris’s attack on behalf of his friend Polanski, is it really any wonder why?
The UK is debating whether or not to protect the identity of those accused of sexual assault (victims are already protected by anonymity laws in Britain). Cara @ The Curvature argues that this further perpetuates the myth that false accusations of rape are statistically more likely than false accusations in any other type of crime, and Cruella @ Cruella-blog gives one example of how reporting allegations in the media helped uncover at least on serial rapist’s activities when other victims came forward.
Someone who has been disproportionately in the public eye lately has been, of course, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. My legal junkie crush Dahlia Lithwick @ Slate suggests that the anxious questions being asked about Kagan say more about the fears we have for ourselves than they do about her ability to perform the role of Justice. (Bonus points if you can name the movie the quote she uses as a headline is from).
Brittany Shoot @ Women’s Rights Blog (she either had a busy week or we have super-similar taste in news stories!) brings up another issue with the Kagan coverage: Elena Kagan is Childfree. Get Over It.
And finally, for your feel-good story of the week: Jesus Would Have Gone to Gay Weddings. Michael A. Jones @ The Gay Right’s Blog reports on a group of Catholic priests who are making waves by arguing that Jesus wasn’t a screaming homophobe afterall. That in fact, you know, he might have been cool with the whole same-sex marriage thing. As long as he was put in charge of the wine.
*image credit: Modern Painting of Kiss by Beyond Dreaming @ Flickr.com
The text on the sign reads:
Diploma Is A Tool of Satan
Diplomas and academic status are Satan’s tools of oppression
To obtain them, students have come slaves to the education systems of the human kingdoms
We are honorable children of God
We need not subject ourselves to their system
….. being affirmed by God.
Thank you all for reading and enjoy your Saturday!
I have a lunch talk recap up over at the MHS blog (The Beehive), sharing some of the highlight’s from Alex Goldfeld‘s talk last Friday on the history of Catholics in Boston’s North End neighborhood, and specifically an 1859 incident at the Eliot School over whether Catholic students should be compelled to say Protestant prayers.
Goldfeld argues that this incident and the political rhetoric surrounding it on both sides raised questions about the place of religion in the school system and the role of public schools in the assimilation of immigrants that still have echoes in modern-day debates.
Irrational Point @ Modus dopens has a great addition to the conversation about why saying you “hate children” is problematic, and why debates about children in public spaces so often miss the mark (on both sides of the chasm!).
She makes a list of thirteen ways she sees people talking about children and/or parents in public spaces that she believes are discriminatory. They’re all worth reading and thinking about as we move through the world (and the internets), but I wanted to highlight a couple of particular ones.
People who think that all fussing, “noisy,” or “socially inappropriate” behaviour is misbehaviour get very little sympathy from me. Children may fuss because they are legitimately upset or uncomfortable. It’s not, like, totally unheard of for adults to raise their voices when they are upset either. Children may be a bit noisy because they have little concept of the noise they make (something which applies to many adults too). Children may display “socially inappropriate” behaviour just because, well they haven’t learned all that stuff yet, what with being little kids and all. Some adults haven’t learned them either.
I think this is particularly important to remember for two reasons.
One is that any one person’s idea of “socially inappropriate,” stopping short of one person attacking another (physically, materially or emotionally) is very subjective. We all have our own options about what kind of behavior crosses the line of what’s public and private. Sure, we can make our opinions known (i.e. “people who talk on their cell phone in the subway drive me crazy!”), and sure we can have conversations about how to share public spaces with others…but assuming we have the right to be the arbiters of what is or is not “appropriate” in public is a huge presumption. IP goes on
Statements of the form “x shouldn’t go out in public if y” make me distinctly uncomfortable because they assume that public spaces somehow belong to the speaker or the speaker’s Kind of People, and they get to decide who uses the public space. No deal. Public spaces get to be used by everybody — the clue is in the word “public.”
Many of the folks who assert their “right” (or at least desire) to be segregated from young people in public spaces are the same folks who speak out stridently against segregation according to race, gender, able-bodiedness and many other ways in which human beings discriminate against each other. I really do hope that we can start moving toward a better understanding of how these debates about where children do and do not belong — and how they should be “controlled” or “behave” when they are there — employ narratives of exclusion (exclusion, I would argue, often based on similar fears of the Other and the desire for social control) strikingly similar to narratives used to justify excluding women from male spaces, men from female spaces, people of color from white spaces and so on.
Which brings me to the second point I want to highlight. Beyond the dangers inherent in trying to arbitrate who does and does not belong in public spaces (you want only people over twenty-one at your wedding? your prerogative), the “I don’t want children in X space” argument is a form of Othering. It moves us away from focusing on a particular human being in a particular situation (whose actions may be an understandable response to situation Y) and instead draws upon our assumptions about children and about how “they” behave in public. The child sobbing in the cart behind you at the grocery store becomes The Child — representing all children, everywhere — who (in our minds) is incapable, simply because they are Child, of behaving “appropriately” (see point one) in public.
As IP points out in comments, musing about the importance of designated quiet spaces (on commuter trains, for example)
When I’ve worked with disabled kids, having a space that’s set aside as a “quiet room” can sometimes be really important. Kids can get too stressed out if there’s lots of noisy shouting and playing, just like adults can. So it’s not like the desire for some quite time is unique to adults, nor is quiet behaviour unique to adults.
The important thing, I think, is not to have entire classes of spaces (eg, restaurants) defined as “quiet” or “for grown-ups”, because that rules out too many people, and isn’t consistent (adults do talk, and laugh and play music in restaurants. Why shouldn’t kids?)
We hear a child screaming and instead of imagining that the child — as one particular human being — may have a good reason for being upset (don’t we all have bad days??) we ascribe the behavior to individual child as a group character trait. We stereotype. And in stereotyping, we lose site of the individual person. We dehumanize. We want this class of thing (Child), which we imagine incapable of any other type of behavior, out of our space where it is disrupting our lives.
And because of this animosity and impulse toward dehumanization on a cultural scale* the child (and by extension, the parents in many cases) cease being able to move through the world as human beings — who have good moments and not-so-good moments, highs and lows — and start bearing the burden of Ambassador for One’s Kind. It’s like being the one guy in a women’s studies class, whom everyone turns to (completely unfairly) for the Male Perspective. Or being the one woman of color. The one queer.
Hey, I’m glad that some people are able and willing to take on this role — and possibly by being a good ambassador help people think twice about their own prejudices and preconceptions. But I don’t think it’s the responsibility of all children and parents to be constantly, 24/7, model citizens.
As IP writes, “People who say ‘I don’t have to want kids…’ are right. You don’t have to want kids. And accommodating kids ain’t the same as saying you have to want to have kids.” Too often, it seems like, this conversation about children in public spaces turns into a mudslinging match over whether or not people who do not wish to be parents or caregivers are lesser human beings, less capable of love and compassion (see my post on the problem with Mother’s Day). People on both “sides” of this supposed dichotomy (“kids are angels” vs. “kids are demons”) fall into this trap. And in my opinion it detracts from the larger human rights issue, which is that children aren’t angels or demons, but simply people with the right to exist in public spaces just like the rest of us.
Sadly, as people have been pointing out in comments over at Modus dopens, all too often these conversations end up devolving into a scrabble for what are (rightly or wrongly) perceived to be precious and limited resources: a quiet park bench, a space on the bus, the attention of a sale’s clerk, right of way on the pavement. As ommenter Ariane writes
I think so much of this subject gets so wound up in the fact that pretty much everyone has been treated very shabbily by someone from a different “camp” at some point. There isn’t a parent who hasn’t been berated unreasonably, there isn’t a person who hasn’t found some other person’s child unbelievably difficult to tolerate, there isn’t a disabled person who hasn’t been treated abysmally, there isn’t a childfree woman who hasn’t been damned for not mothering. It’s so hurtful, it’s really hard not to resent other groups for not copping what you cop, or to remember that they are copping their own tailored abuse.
When we advocates of children’s human rights speak about the importance of treating children as people, often what is heard by skeptical listeners is the message that children and children’s needs are more important than adults (read: more important than them). What skeptics hear instead of “children are people with human rights” is, “children are extra special people who have the right to be the center of attention always and never be asked to treat others with care and compassion.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what to do about this mis-communication. And, to be honest, I’m really not sure there are quick solutions…other than continuing to point out that seeing children as people means being equally critical of both characterizations: the angel-child as well as the demon-child. In my world, there are no “good children” or “bad children”…just “children.”
And, too, I think it’s really, really important to emphasize that the goal is to find a way of sharing our public spaces in a way that enables everyone, as much as possible, to enjoy them, utilize them, move through them — whatever our individual goals are. This is not about taking space away; it should not be about denigrating one set of peoples’ needs in order to elevate another set of people to a position of privilege. The goal is to create a world in which all of us have less occasion to scrabble, feel desperate, freak out, or live in anticipation of being found socially “inappropriate” by another human being.
Some related links:
Irrational Point @ Modus dopens | The whole “I hate kids” thing.
Sybil @ BitchPhD | So, Ok.
Jill @ Feministe | On Hating Kids.
For my own previous posts on this topic, see:
not-so-quick hit: bigotry towards children | 4 may 2010
teaching moment: children are people too | 12 december 2008
children are people: take two | 17 december 2008
and, on a related note, today, I am able | 1 may 2010
*Again: this is not only (or even primarily) about individuals behaving intolerantly toward young people in public, this is about how we as a society talk about children’s presence in public spaces — and how that talk informs how we, as individuals, respond to actual sightings of said children in said public spaces.
*image credit: mum tries to escape – ELLE # 3, Mar 2010 by pixel endo @ Flickr.com.