I was going to have a different post for you today but it’s been one of those days where I keep getting my Outrage Button jabbed so I’m going to have to write about child rights instead.
This morning I woke up to a three year old who had just brushed her teeth and gotten herself dressed and packed her own bag for creche (her father was up with her and had made her breakfast, but she did the other stuff herself because she wanted to.) She woke me with a kiss and a good morning mama and then I put the kettle on and opened up Twitter, where I was confronted by #youngkidsshouldbebannedfrom in trending topics.
You can check out the thread yourself, but I will say that these tweets could be loosely categorised as Intended as Gentle Humour (‘#youngkidsshouldbebannedfrom Twilight’); Outright Bigotry (#youngkidsshouldbebannedfrom speaking/#youngkidsshouldbebannedfrom any public places I can’t stand their screaming); Violence and Abuse (#youngkidsshouldbebannedfrom Everywhere except the gallows/#youngkidshouldbebannedfrom anywhere except a rusty cage); Slut Shaming (#youngkidshouldbebannedfrom wearing makeup/dressing slutty); Disdain and Erasure (#youngkidsshouldbebannedfrom the word love they don’t even know what it means/#youngkidsshouldbebannedfrom thinking they are grown); Parent Blaming (#youngkidsshouldbebannedfrom going outside until their parents teach them manners/going anywhere if their parents can’t control them) to what amounted to Rape Threats and ‘Jokes’ about Sexual Abuse (I won’t quote those).
Now, I included the little preamble about my daughter this morning here for a reason. My reality is that I live with a child. My reality is that I parent a child. My reality is that this week, when my husband is home from work and I have paid child care arranged for hours I’m actually not doing paid work is an anomaly. I’m the primary carer for a small person. Excluding her from places excludes me. Saying she is less than human in any way (incapable of real love, not deserving of rights) erases what I do and belittles me, as well as her.
I don’t care about questioning anti-child bigotry only because I am a parent (it is certainly true that plenty of parents don’t really recognise that children are people) but also because I am a feminist. Misogyny and child hate are bound so closely together (partly because most primary carers are women so in practical terms excluding or vilifying children means excluding or vilifying women) that they feed each other. If you’re all for calling out misogyny, then anti-child bigotry ought to be on your list too.
The #youngkidsshouldbebannedfrom hashtag genuinely upset me, and not only because it included some violent, triggery stuff (although, making jokes about child abuse is on the same level as making rape jokes: that is, scores about a billion on the douchebag metre). It upset me because the bigotry was so blatant and yet it exists in a world where so many continue to deny that anti-child bigotry is A Thing. Substitute any group of people for the words ‘young kids’ in that hashtag and then tell me it’s not bigotry. Read through how many of the responses sound like stuff you’ve heard said about children and parents, even stuff you’ve heard said about children and parents on Feministe or other feminist sites, and tell me we don’t have a problem.
One of the issues is that children are so often erased in our culture. There are places you expect to see children (schools, playgrounds, maybe the supermarket, children’s books, movies and televison) and places you don’t expect to see them (a lot of other public spaces, as well as books, movies and television made for adults). And this means that many non-parents (and some parents) lack reminders that children are diverse, well-rounded, fully realised (though still growing and developing) people.
I’ve recently watched Season Four of The Wire (yeah, I’m really slow) and I found it particularly compelling because, unlike just about every other television series I’ve watched lately, it treated children and teenagers as characters in their own right. I had some pretty big misgivings about the potential for stereotypes (particularly with the ‘white teacher saves children of colour in rough school’ narrative) and there were many problematic elements (the ‘good’ mothers are white, and almost all of the mothers are blame-worthy) but on balance I think the show did a pretty good job of illuminating ways that systems like schools, welfare and foster care let children down, often precisely because children have no voices. ‘Kids don’t vote.’ But I don’t think that the (perhaps heavy-handed) political message was the most important aspect of the season’s treatment of kids. What mattered to me as a viewer was that they were there. They were interesting, they had personalities and internal conflicts and they were given some screen time in their own right.
More depictions of children and teenagers as individual human beings in popular culture won’t solve systemic problems like child abuse and neglect. But it would help, I think, if more of us asked why we don’t see children and teenagers in positive or at least nuanced portrayals in media that is meant for adult audiences. Why don’t we consider children to be fully realised characters, or their stories to be compelling?
What would also help make the world a better place for children (and ultimately adults) is if more people took it upon themselves to push against this insidious form of bigotry. You don’t have to be a parent to know that prejudice, hateful language, physical and sexual abuse and discrimination is not okay. And you don’t have to live with a three year old, as I do, to know that children are people. Those of us who care for children and practise feminist parenting could do with a little help on this one.
But the first step to dealing with a problem is acknowledging that you have one, right?
Take a step.
Television’s Kid Problem by s.e. smith at this ain’t livin
Adult Privilege Checklist by anji at Mothers For Women’s Lib
The radical notion that children are people by me at Spilt Milk
(Comments closed for now at Feministe. Those of you who’ve seen past threads on this stuff know why. I’ll keep them open here though because I know some regular readers might have something to say.)