Via Molly @ first the egg comes a passionate articulation of the right of children to be treated as human beings, rather than as a subspecies to be “liked” or “not liked” en masse. Sybil Vane @ Bitch PhD writes
Now, maybe I meet someone who doesn’t necessarily dislike Little V in a personal way but who is “not really a kid person.” And here I mean not necessarily someone who doesn’t want to have kids or who doesn’t have any experience being around kids or someone who lives a lifestyle that doesn’t produce any exposure to kids. I mean someone who is expressive about a “I don’t really like kids” attitude or a “I hate going to restaurants or museums where kids are making noise” attitude or a “of course it’s fine for other people to have kids but I don’t want to be around them” attitude. This sort of thing is a deal-breaker for me. I’ve gotten pretty rigid about it in recent years as I become more assured in my certainty that it’s an anti-feminist attitude and you suck if you hold it. Kids are a vulnerable, disempowered, inevitable portion of the human community and you do not get to “not like” them or to wish that weren’t a part of your public space. Not allowed. I invite you to swap out “kids” for any other disempowered community in the above phrases (“women,” “schizophrenics,” “hispanics,” “the blind”) and notice what an asshole you sound like.
You can read the whole post over at BitchPhD.
The first time I wrote about it, I realized I was coming down hard on someone who sounded like an asshole in comments (they’d left a post on my blog calling young people “feral, shrieking little carpet apes”). But I was largely unprepared for the backlash I got on the post, where people resisted mightily the possibility that there might be parallels between dehumanizing children (based on age) and dehumanizing other segments of society based on other group characteristics (such as race, national origin, gender, etc.). People made all sorts of assumptions about my socioeconomic status, my personal background, my status as a parent, and suggested that being an advocate of children’s humanity is only the province of privileged, solipsistic white mothers with ivy league educations.
So let me be clear, here. I’m not a parent. At this point, it’s unlikely that I will ever be a parent. The reasons for this are personal, relational, ethical, sociopolitical and economic in nature — too complicated to delve into in this post. But the point is: not a parent. And to tell you the truth (contrary to popular opinion re: women and infants) I’m okay with that.
There was a time (I won’t lie) when my fondest dream (at age nine) was to set up an orphanage with my best friend and spend my days nurturing a vast brood of Anne Shirleys who otherwise would not have caring adults to call their own. But I’ve grown and changed, tried quasi-parenting for a while (I spent a year as a live-in childcare provider), and realized that is not where my primary interest lies.
There are even days when I’m not just “okay” but incredibly relieved by the idea that I will never — unforeseen crises not withstanding — be the 24/7 primary caregiver of a young person. Even with a willing and able partner, that job seems prohibitively daunting. Particularly in a culture where meaningful support for caregivers (of the elderly as well as the young) is so thin on the ground.
But the point is: none of these personal decisions or experiences absolve me from the responsibility of including children in the human community. They don’t absolve me from the responsibility of treating them with the same courtesy and respect with which I expect folks to treat me, and with which I treat adult members of the human community. As Molly writes @ first the egg
I actually am not “a kid person” in any normal sense of the term — I’m not that whipped up about children just because they’re children, I’m generally much more interested in a puppy or kitten…or adult person…or this here computer screen…than a baby I don’t know personally — but they’re people.
The awesome thing about this is, in my experience, that young people thrive on being taken seriously. On being treated with a straight-ass, no bullshit attitude. Speaking from my own remembered experience as a child, I had zero interest in being fawned and fussed over, having my personal space invaded by adults who thought of themselves as “liking children” and were subsequently pissed when I failed to delight in their cosseting.
I wanted to be taken seriously, to be leveled with, and to be given a seat at the table with all the adults around me who discussed interesting and complicated things, had wicked skills for creating things and exploring the world, and who might possibly share that experience with me.
It’s true that children, by virtue of their still-developing brains and bodies, do not always meet the requirements set forth by our culture’s model of ideal able-ness and imagined self-sufficiency . . . but then, as I pointed out last Saturday, neither do we. Children need help meeting their material needs, need spaces and resources to explore the world and gain material, cognitive, and emotional skills to become more independent. Not every adult is prepared to provide on-the-ground assistance to children in this way, just like not every adult provides eldercare around the clock. But as members of the human community, citizens of the world, we can recognize that all of us matter — and treat those whose paths we cross accordingly.
And the sooner, the more ardently, we can impress upon young people that they matter just as much as the next person, the more likely it is that those young people will grow into older people who — no matter how privileged, how able, they become — will remember that their able-ness is not what imbues them with worth: it is their membership in the human community. Just as that membership in the human community grants the person sitting next to them on the subway, or standing in line behind them at the coffee shop, or playing on the swings at the park, intrinsic worth.
And hopefully, just maybe, this belief in the worth of humanity will make the world a richer, more compassionate, less threatening, less defensive, more bountiful world to live in for us all.
*image credit: Christmas Day Morning by Carl Larsson @ the Carl Larsson Gallery.