Feminist mothers

Greetings! I’m Spilt Milk and I’m very pleased to be guest posting here at Feministe over the next couple of weeks. I live in Australia and I like tea, pancakes, people who support public breastfeeding, and puppies. I dislike fat hatred, body snarking and being expected to use Oxford commas (or not) with any kind of consistency. I blog about fat acceptance, motherhood and stuff, at Spilt Milk. Please bear in mind that I’ll be sleeping at hours when most Feministe regulars are probably awake and waking when, potentially, comments have long-lingered in moderation. Let’s see how that goes.

A few weeks ago an article by Clem Bastow, writer and feminist, was published in two major newspapers here in Australia, and subsequently responded to in op eds and countless blogs. In her piece Why having a baby is not the pinnacle of a woman’s life, Bastow wrote frankly of her lack of maternal desire and the ways in which she is judged for her choice to be childless.

As my 20s have run themselves out, the line of questioning from extended family members has shifted from “Are you seeing anyone?” to “And what about kids?” I’m 29 today and I expect the urgency with which the question is delivered to only increase once next year’s birthday rolls around.

Her piece struck a chord. Immediately I noticed a flurry of tweets praising what was perceived to be her bravery in speaking out about the pressures on women to conform to the maternity track. Given that it’s only a year since Chally wrote here about our former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd commenting on the responsibility of women to set aside time for childbearing, it’s pretty clear that the judgements Bastow wrote about are real. It’s no surprise that many young feminists felt her piece spoke for them. In a mainstream media filled with schmaltzy references to maternity and the message that the path to fulfillment is heterosexual breeding bliss, voices like hers need to be heard.

But there was another kind of flurry in my tweet stream. A lot of the people I follow who blog primarily about parenting were perturbed, not so much by Bastow’s piece itself (I didn’t see anyone asserting that the choice not to have children is not valid) but by the strength of the FUCK YES! response it was getting. There was an implication in the surrounding discourse that the pressure to have children was coming from, or at least upheld by, women who were mothers. And there was also a clear implication that pursuing career and creativity is still requisite on remaining child free, at least for a good long period. It had a whiff of old conflicts about it, and I’m not surprised that there was uneasiness.

Unfortunately, (though unsurprisingly, given the way news sites generally go) some of the comments on the article were hateful, amounting to either (and I’m paraphrasing) ‘this is why feminism is responsible for everything that is wrong with the world’ or ‘what would you know about life choices, you selfish, barren, immature slut?’ As the writer pointed out on Twitter, it was striking that much of the negativity appeared to come from mothers, when she had explicitly not criticised anyone’s choice to have children.

I suspect Bastow didn’t fully anticipate the effect of raising any issue which carries a ‘mummy war’ vibe. I know from my interest in breastfeeding advocacy that when it comes to any sensitive question about which parents are impassioned, defensiveness and anger are easily stirred. It’s common to blame teh over-emotional wimmenz for this state of affairs but clearly, when a group of people are operating in an environment where societal judgement is harsh, swift and has serious consequences, as modern parents are, it is too simplistic to condemn all such over-reactions. Because whilst Bastow is absolutely right that childbearing is a socially sanctioned choice (for straight, partnered, cis women), what wasn’t within the scope of her piece to address was the ways in which that choice remains unsupported in real terms.

It’s one thing to be handed a cookie for breeding. It’s entirely another thing to be handed actual, concrete assistance, understanding, and genuine respect for one’s mothering and sadly the latter is too rarely in evidence at a societal level. Importantly, there are many parents who get no cookies because they do not meet the criteria of ‘good parent’; that is, they dare to have children whilst being poor, or disabled, or non-white, or queer, or trans, or too young, or too old, or too fat.

I certainly agree with Bastow’s assertion that in the mainstream media the voices of women who are childless by choice are frequently distorted or silenced. But her piece did not speak to me. I feel that, in the spaces in which I move online — in feminist spaces — there is no bravery required to ‘admit’ that one doesn’t want to have children. Rather, there is often a privileging of the voices of non-mothers. There is a continued emphasis on feminism’s relationship to a kind of personal freedom that apparently comes with career, economic success and time that is one’s own: all things that theoretically can be achieved with a baby at your breast and a toddler on your hip but which, portrayals imply, rarely are. In discourse about reproductive rights there is an emphasis on abortion and contraception which far overshadows discussion of fertility treatments, birth choices and breastfeeding rights even though these are also intimately tied up with the core concern of bodily autonomy. In considering the role of blogging in social justice, there is often a devaluing or erasure of those who write about babies and children. The term ‘mummy blogger’ is infantilising, dismissive, and all-too ubiquitous.

I want to remind everyone that there are many fantastic writers who are blogging about the intersection of feminism and parenting. As the series on feminist motherhood hosted by fellow Australian and fellow milk, blue milk, attests, parenting is a rich seam to mine for feminist gold. But it is mostly other parents who comment on (and presumably read) parenting-focused blogs. Obviously, the blogs you read do not ultimately define you but if you’re into feminist blogs and never choosing those which focus on parenting, at all, ever? I think that needs to be challenged.

The intersections of social justice, parenting, child rights and family are — or should be — central feminist concerns. I don’t think it’s okay to leave birth and breastfeeding rights as a fringe issue, one usually only discussed by uterus-having people who’ve already given birth. I don’t think it’s okay to perpetuate negative stereotypes about motherhood or particular parenting ‘trends’ in feminist spaces, although this is a thing which still happens. And I really don’t think it’s okay to leave the task of raising and looking out for the interests of children almost solely up to to parents when we’re talking about the next generation here. The incoming wave of feminists.

Here is just a very small sample of posts of parenting interest from great bloggers. If these blogs aren’t already on your reading list, please check them out.
Why attachment parenting needs feminism by blue milk
Feminist readers, have you leveled up? at Underbellie

Extended breastfeeding in Islam by wood turtle
Sex education and my son at Womanist Musings
Dear Erica Jong at Raising My Boychick

And please share other links in the comments, too.

119 comments for “Feminist mothers

  1. Florence
    July 12, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

  2. July 12, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Lovely article. Thank you for your insight and balance.

  3. kmcakes
    July 12, 2011 at 8:28 am

    “The term ‘mummy blogger’ is infantilising, dismissive, and all-too ubiquitous.”
    Brilliantly put! And while I agree that non-parents should be more involved in parental issues, it becomes a tight rope in some respects. I’ve witnessed many times that child-fee people (both within feminist spaces and in the mainstream) will pass sweeping judgments or generalizations on the ways parents raise their children. I want the issues (breastfeeding, choice of birth method, intersection of poverty, etc) advocated for without it devolving into debates about proper parenting techniques with people who do not have experience parenting. Unfortunately, I have seen it happen frequently.

  4. Anon21
    July 12, 2011 at 8:34 am

    kmcakes:
    “The term ‘mummy blogger’ is infantilising, dismissive, and all-too ubiquitous.”
    Brilliantly put! And while I agree that non-parents should be more involved in parental issues, it becomes a tight rope in some respects. I’ve witnessed many times that child-fee people (both within feminist spaces and in the mainstream) will pass sweeping judgments or generalizations on the ways parents raise their children. I want the issues (breastfeeding, choice of birth method, intersection of poverty, etc) advocated for without it devolving into debates about proper parenting techniques with people who do not have experience parenting. Unfortunately, I have seen it happen frequently.

    I understand that feeling, but perhaps it suggests (if not explains) why childless people shy away from such discussions: they feel that they can’t make any contribution, or that if they do, they’ll be dismissed as having no experience on which to base what they say. Maybe that’s an entirely appropriate response, but you can see why that response would make childless feminist-minded people less interested in engaging with communities focused on child-rearing issues.

  5. Kira
    July 12, 2011 at 8:37 am

    THANK YOU.

    It can’t be said enough. Thank you.

  6. July 12, 2011 at 8:40 am

    LOVE the post and so great to see you here.

    P.S. The second link at the bottom of your post is pointing in the wrong direction.

    • Spilt Milk
      July 12, 2011 at 8:48 am

      Thank you :)
      And, fixed.

  7. Sam
    July 12, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Great piece. Thank you. Here is a brief piece I wrote on my personal experiences with parenting and feminism, particularly the guilt I feel as a working mother: http://smaddox.tumblr.com/.

  8. tinfoil hattie
    July 12, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Anon21, I have no problem with non-parents contributing to a discussion on parenting. I love to hear it. As long as the contribution isn’t all about selfish breeders who are ruining the earth with their ill-behaved children running around screaming in expensive restaurants.

    I’ll listen to just about anything else!

  9. Rachel
    July 12, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I would like to see more people using the term child free rather than the term childless.

  10. July 12, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I got banned from Livejournal over five years ago now (details, lots of them, in an online interview from 15th June 2006) because Six Apart, who owned Livejournal then, had decided to ban accounts which used a pic of baby being breastfed as a default icon.

    I’d adopted one such icon, made by a breastfeeding mum whom I knew on LJ, and so I got a suspension notice back in May 2006. I don’t know how many other people, like me, held on to the end and made Livejournal suspend our journals for having an “obscene” user icon, but I noticed two very odd things in the reaction I got, before my journal was suspended and for months afterwards:

    1. The level of sheer venomous hostility from people who were made very angry and fearful by the idea that a woman would have the legal right to breastfeed her baby in a public place (at one point, I was getting cartoons of women being sexually tortured posted to my journal – LJ Abuse declined to take action, either then or later).

    2. The surprise and outrage expressed at my supporting the right to breastfeed when I’m happily childfree. Apparently these people found it inexplicable and vastly irritating that a woman without children should take a public stand in favour of the right to public breastfeeding. I quit calling myself childfree for quite a while because it seemed to me that it had become too strongly associated with being anti-mothers, anti-children.

  11. July 12, 2011 at 9:58 am

    A) Spilt Milk! Hi! :: waves from the neighborhood of Twitter ::

    B) Yes.

    Not only am I a feminist breeder, but I’m a feminist breeder who is the primary care-giver of her children, who has furthermore knowingly truncated her professional choices in order to be more available to said children.

    I am absolutely ok with that — I have days when I’m not thrilled, but who’s thrilled with their lives 24/7? — but it feels like a thing that I have to explain, again and again: If feminism is about valuing actual women for who they actually are (which, while not the dictionary definition, is the working definition that seems fairly useful), then it has to be about valuing those feminists who choose to be at-home or nearly at-home parents.

    Would I have made this choice if I were raised under different social pressures? I don’t know, and no one knows. If the world were different, it would be different. But I do know that I make this choice honestly and willingly, and that is every bit as valuable (to me and to society) as choosing a full-time career path.

  12. Kristen J.
    July 12, 2011 at 10:03 am

    How appropriate given that a headline story on msnbc today is that some restaurant in PA is banning kids. **headdesk** Sorry can’t link on my phone.

  13. July 12, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Anon21: I understand that feeling, but perhaps it suggests (if not explains) why childless people shy away from such discussions: they feel that they can’t make any contribution, or that if they do, they’ll be dismissed as having no experience on which to base what they say. Maybe that’s an entirely appropriate response, but you can see why that response would make childless feminist-minded people less interested in engaging with communities focused on child-rearing issues.

    I do see that — both notionally, and as it plays out in conversation.

    But on a certain level, that just makes this like any other internet conversation. Some people are going to be dismissive, some people are going to say wildly inappropriate things, and some days, if you want to be part of a conversation, you have to stand up to some discomfort and claim your space in it.

    As a middle-aged, straight, married mother of two, I try very, very hard to never say “you won’t know until you’ve had the experience,” because honestly, how stupid do we think people are? Someone who hasn’t had a child knows that she doesn’t know what it’s like to actually have a child — just like I know that I don’t know what it’s like to actually live in the desert. But I know enough about myself that I know don’t want to join my sister-in-law in living in the desert, and many women know enough about themselves to know how they feel about motherhood for themselves.

    And, not for nothing, but everyone used to be a child. Of course people have a basis for talking about parenting — for good or ill, they’ve been on the receiving end. There does come a point where the person in the midst of parenting gets to say “I know more about this than you do,” just as there comes a point where a woman gets to say to a man “I know more about being a woman in our society than you do” — but if both sides are actively working on being respectful and actually listening to each other, that point often doesn’t even come up.

    (Of course, often it’s not respectful and people aren’t listening. That’s when I personally choose to step away).

  14. Safiya Outlines
    July 12, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Yippee! I’m really looking forward to your posts.

    Also, I think it’s ok to ‘lurk and learn’. I do that a lot at other blogs where I don’t necessarily have the personal experiences of knowledge to participate in the conversation.

  15. July 12, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Regarding something touched on, that often gets brought up in these discussions: the concept that those without children don’t weigh in on or have opinions about parenthood (or let’s be honest, as it usually *motherhood*) is usually fallacious. They *do* have opinions, and those absolutely manifest in the real world (in terms of action or, as this post addresses, massive inaction) whether one wants to believe they do or doesn’t. In the latter category anyone who’s had the care of young children in public, on a regular basis, and felt sheer burning hate, or glares, or heard comments at the grocery store knows that one’s opinions get aired in one way or another. To pretend one without children can live “neutral” in response to those (women) who have children is also to enforce the status quo. Just for starters, Spilt Milk is an AU blogger, but I’m pretty sure the birth scene there is about as bad as it is here in the US (pretty bad).

    I am a mother but do not close my ears to all without children, as being full of nonsense (I in general recognize spouting nonsense whether someone has kids or not). Personally, some of my favorite role models never had (or haven’t yet) bio children or children to care for; like author Thich Nhat Hanh (in the author/spiritual leader realm), and the many twentysomething women without children I’m friends with and surround myself with daily. Their thoughts are welcomed and their advice and experience is taken to heart; as is their active role in the lives of the children I live with.

    It is not a requirement one gives birth to or raises children to be helpful in raising the world’s children; just as giving birth to or raising a child doesn’t automatically make one immune to bad choices and behaviors – many of the perpetrators of violence against children, physical, verbal, emotional, spiritual, etc, are the children’s carers themselves, and I wonder how much TRUE and valuable assistance those without children are giving these parents/carers). I’m tired of the false rhetoric of “mummy wars” or “breeders vs. childfree” and I am frustrated so many continue to engage in these conversations.

    It goes without saying: great post, Spilt Milk.

  16. Azalea
    July 12, 2011 at 11:02 am

    kmcakes:
    “The term ‘mummy blogger’ is infantilising, dismissive, and all-too ubiquitous.”
    Brilliantly put! And while I agree that non-parents should be more involved in parental issues, it becomes a tight rope in some respects. I’ve witnessed many times that child-fee people (both within feminist spaces and in the mainstream) will pass sweeping judgments or generalizations on the ways parents raise their children. I want the issues (breastfeeding, choice of birth method, intersection of poverty, etc) advocated for without it devolving into debates about proper parenting techniques with people who do not have experience parenting. Unfortunately, I have seen it happen frequently.

    *applause* Thank you for this comment!

  17. Azalea
    July 12, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Kristen J.:
    How appropriate given that a headline story on msnbc today is that some restaurant in PA is banning kids.**headdesk**Sorry can’t link on my phone.

    Here is a lin, I read that article too:

    http://www.wtae.com/r/28488145/detail.html

    I have mixed feelings about that, some places are not appropriate for small children who can’t sit still or quietly. Small kids yell, scream, shout just because they can whenever they feel like it. Some will throw food, tantrums, drinks and laugh at it. They aren’t necessarily being bad they are being kids. Timeout threats dont work in restaurants, saying you dont like it usually doesn’t work either (I’ve seen it fail many times while out dining) and bribery doesn’t always work either. Parents will have to put up with a screaming tantrum when their method of disicpline doesn;t work, the rest of the world shouldn’t have to.

  18. Kristen J.
    July 12, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Eh, I’m not really bothered by kids screaming, but that’s just me. Besides not all kids scream. Wouldn’t it be better to ask obnoxious *people* to leave? That way we can toss people who yell into cell phones. I do think that unless it is physically dangerous kids should be allowed in work places at least until we have universal child care options. Presumably some of the restaurant staff have kids.

  19. matlun
    July 12, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Kristen J.: Eh, I’m not really bothered by kids screaming, but that’s just me.

    You do not believe the owner when he says that this has been a recurring problem?

    Throwing out people during their meal is more problematic than just refusing entry. Handling it through a blanket rule with no exceptions is probably a simpler way to address the problem.

    As long as there are other child friendly choices for the families I do not really see any problem with this.

  20. July 12, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I feel like I’ve seen a lot of discussions about how non-parents feel devalued and dismissed, and parents feel judged and feel that they’re being told what to do. I know as a non-parent, I frequently want to be included in these discussions, but struggle with finding appropriate ways of contributing, without stepping on toes or passing judgment. The important thing, I think, is to find better ways of contributing to these discussions.

  21. Azalea
    July 12, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Kristen J.:
    Eh, I’m not really bothered by kids screaming, but that’s just me.Besides not all kids scream.Wouldn’t it be better to ask obnoxious *people* to leave?That way we can toss people who yell into cell phones. I do think that unless it is physically dangerous kids should be allowed in work places at least until we have universal child care options.Presumably some of the restaurant staff have kids.

    When I am on “me” time it bothers me. My children are the center of my universe and they are very very loud. Typically that’s a ok with me but when I pay for a babysitter and go somewhere I don’t expect to see children I am paying for a little time away from childrearing which includes dealing with tantrums.

    When I want peace I go someplace with a dress code, no children’s menu and typically expensive. Those places usually have a policy in place where being loud gets you kicked out no matter who you no matter who is being loud regardles sof whether or not you’ve finished your dinner. YET there are still parents who bring (not newborn who could sleep through the whole ordeal) 2 and 3 year olds they are expecting to sit quietly for an hour or 3 in the same seat without any toys or anything to do so they wont be bored. They get cranky and then they get loud.

  22. Florence
    July 12, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Agreed with the folks who have said that non-parents are welcome in discussions about parenting. Just… have something to bring to the table, or take heed that maybe it’s time to chill and listen.

    But this — There does come a point where the person in the midst of parenting gets to say “I know more about this than you do,” just as there comes a point where a woman gets to say to a man “I know more about being a woman in our society than you do” — but if both sides are actively working on being respectful and actually listening to each other, that point often doesn’t even come up. — IMO, should be kept in mind. It’s not even about “parents vs. non-parents” as a category, but I’d prefer that the people participating in discussions about, say, nursing, childbirth, discipline, schooling, etc., have *some* expertise relating to the topic at hand. In my experience, I’ve had plenty of robust conversations with fellow social workers, teachers, nurses, babysitters, and others in caregiving capacities who were child-free, but they had more background knowledge to bring to the table other than “I had parents”. I wouldn’t even bring this up except for having enough history with people who don’t have kids or experience taking care of kids registering strong opinions on the raising of kids to know that the stinkeye is sometimes warranted.

  23. July 12, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Just a reminder that this is not a thread about kids in restaurants. Let’s re-focus the discussion on the post, please.

  24. Azalea
    July 12, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Ellie:
    I feel like I’ve seen a lot of discussions about how non-parents feel devalued and dismissed, and parents feel judged and feel that they’re being told what to do. I know as a non-parent, I frequently want to be included in these discussions, but struggle with finding appropriate ways of contributing, without stepping on toes or passing judgment. The important thing, I think, is to find better ways of contributing to these discussions.

    I think if everyone could be respectful. It’s difficult to not feel judged when people are throwing around accusations and I know it can be hard not feeling dismissed if the only point a person has is “but you dont have experience with Y.”

    Insead of taking a strong opinion and laying it on someone, get the facts, find out why and take that into consideration. I am guilty of pointing out that I am a parent and thus have experience and I will try not to be so quick to throw down the experienced parent card and actually listen, er, read what someone has to “say.”

  25. Past my expiration date
    July 12, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I am a parent and have experience, but the experience is primarily based on a sample size of two. After that, it comes from children of relatives, friends, acquaintances, and strangers, plus my own childhood, plus random stuff I might have read somewhere sometime. Non-parents presumably have just as much of that experience as I do, if not more. So I definitely think that people who do not have children can have a lot to contribute to a discussion about child-raising.

    (I know that there are people who are proud of hating children, because I have read their comments on the Internet :-), and I do not think that they would have much to contribute to the discussion — but fortunately I have never knowingly encountered any of these people in real life.)

  26. July 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I’m not comfortably situated in either camp (childless, but not as a committed state of being), so I’d rather read than participate in this discussion, but I also wanted to say hello and welcome to Spilt Milk and I’m looking forward to your posts here!

  27. Florence
    July 12, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Past my expiration date: I am a parent and have experience, but the experience is primarily based on a sample size of two. After that, it comes from children of relatives, friends, acquaintances, and strangers, plus my own childhood, plus random stuff I might have read somewhere sometime. Non-parents presumably have just as much of that experience as I do, if not more.

    Definitely agree with the notion that non-parents can have valuable contributions to the conversation at large, but I’m not convinced that people who haven’t grappled with parenting politics *as a parent* can be dismissed with superior rhetoric.

    Having to sift through mountains of opinions, conflicting research, and unasked-for advice for the children you are 100% ultimately financially, morally, spiritually, educationally, responsible for is a pretty singular life experience, and the experience of bearing that weight is near universal. Strong opinions, sure, we all got ’em, but the anxiety that comes from the fear of failing your kids is pretty much reserved for primary caretakers, as is the blunt force of shifting social mores around parenting.

  28. July 12, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    COMMERCIAL: Chaos is Normal is an excellent feminist mommy blog! She also writes about education and all kindsa wonderful things.

  29. Echo Zen
    July 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Speaking as a (mostly) child-free person, I do know one area of social justice where intersections between feminism and parenting take front and center – reproductive justice. Though I speak only for myself, I feel that in these spaces, the voices of non-mothers aren’t necessarily privileged over those of mothers (despite our image as baby-haters), mostly since respect for parenthood is such a prominent part of our messaging.

    I do think, though, that there’s an unspoken acknowledgement that having so many mothers working with us in clinics and speaking on our behalf strengthens our credibility against claims that we’re marriage-hating radicals who help women kill babies so they can selfishly further their education and careers. Perhaps this counts as the privileging of mothers’ voices? I don’t know.

  30. Iris
    July 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, you seem to be saying that feminists who do not have children have special rights or advantages in the feminist world. Rights or advantages such as birth control, access to abortion, enjoying kudos for choosing to remain non parents, fast track careers, etc. seem to be the premise on which you base your conclusions.
    I’m not going to argue whether or not that’s true – everyone has their own perceptions of truth for them.
    I will say, in my experience, parents are pretty much not willing to listen to people who are not parents regarding parenting or children. This is understandable, as Florence pointed out – ultimately, it is the parents who are responsible for their children.
    Feminism in the late 60s and the 70s, at least in the U.S., very much focused on all of those issues you used to express your ideas that feminism supports people who don’t have children. At that time, abortions were illegal, women could not get birth control “the pill” without being married or needing it to regulate their menstrual periods, and help wanted ads were segregated into “jobs for women” and “jobs for men”. Domestic violence was not recognized as a crime and cops could and did stop women who were driving alone in their cars to find out if they were allowed to be out and about alone. Women were not allowed to borrow money or have credit on their own. It was a different world. So perhaps there is not much for parents to feel included. I’m not a parent – I can’t really speak to parental issues.
    What has not changed is the fact that parents were in the majority then and are the majority now. You seem to be calling for a change in direction of or perhaps a more inclusive feminism.
    That sounds reasonable to me. Organize the protest and I’ll be there – at least in spirit. Generate the petition and I’ll probably sign it.
    However, long ago, I learned to keep my opinions to myself about parenting and child rearing. Consequently, it doesn’t so much interest me.

  31. Kathleen
    July 12, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Iris — actually second-wave feminism was highly parenting-aware, and in large part because a larger proportion of that generation of feminists had children at younger ages. Daycare, division of labor at home, maternity leave — huge, huge, huge second wave issues.

    Florence — I am your absolute fangirl. I don’t even know what to say in these discussions, other than nod at all of your comments!

  32. karak
    July 12, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Years ago, a professor of mine was talking about the human rights movements in Latin America. He took a moment to make a distinction between the Feminist Movement, which was associated with urban working white Latin American young childless women, and the Woman’s Movement, which was viewed as almost an opposing movement and spearheaded by poor rural nonwhite mothers and more concerned about specific community issues (like safe playgrounds) then Feminists, who looked at overall societal issues (like the fact that women are paid less for the same work).

    I think this divide that my professor pointed out is the same one coming into play here.

  33. Iris
    July 12, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Kathleen:
    Iris — actually second-wave feminism was highly parenting-aware, and in large part because a larger proportion of that generation of feminists had children at younger ages.Daycare, division of labor at home, maternity leave — huge, huge, huge second wave issues.

    I stand corrected.

  34. Kathleen
    July 12, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Iris:

    I will say, in my experience, parents are pretty much not willing to listen to people who are not parents regarding parenting or children.

    I think parents are willing to listen to parents and non-parents with whom they agree about childraising issues, and less so to parents and non-parents with whom they don’t. I think the issue is more what Florence said, above, about the real nub being not spanking/breastfeeding/co-sleeping/violent video games/ candy-eating/staying up late/ buying gendered toys /and so forth (non-parents can and do have opinions on all of these!) but just, only parents know what it is to face the internal and external pressure of living those debates. It’s more of a meta-thing: not debating the issues themselves,where everybody can play (because these are debates about the best way to foster the well-being of fellow members of society who in this case happen to be children), but knowing what it’s like to feel the societal pressure and internal responsibility of living it all out.

  35. Kathleen
    July 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    karak — I have the sense that your professor was just putting his own pejorative spin on feminism; feminists care about safe playgrounds. I’ve spent a lot of time in Latin America and never heard of such a divide, and am not sure what this separate “woman’s movement”, entirely distinct from feminism, might be.

  36. Sophia M. Echavarria
    July 12, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Anon21: I understand that feeling, but perhaps it suggests (if not explains) why childless people shy away from such discussions: they feel that they can’t make any contribution, or that if they do, they’ll be dismissed as having no experience on which to base what they say. Maybe that’s an entirely appropriate response, but you can see why that response would make childless feminist-minded people less interested in engaging with communities focused on child-rearing issues.

    I agree with this quote. I am 25, I have a brother (22) with an infant son and a sister(29) with three sons who both have children due to lapsing judgment in birth control. While I haven’t had the opportunity to meet my brother’s baby, I did use to help raise my sister’s sons. I babysat, fed, changed diapers, held hands, washed faces, rocked to sleep, chastised, encouraged and tutored. But whenever I disagreed with the way my sister, and to an extent, my mother and grandmother, dealt with certain child rearing issues, I was told to shut my mouth because I “didn’t know anything about having children” and was told “you’re children will hate you”. All because I didn’t think it was right to tell them to stop crying like a girl or because I thought that, after warning the child of a repercussion for misbehavior, that one should then follow through with the repercussion if the child misbehaves.
    While I admit I had a bit of an epiphany with the concept of including issues like breastfeeding and birth choice with other issues like abortion (which I will now always group together as means of assertaining bodily autonomy!), it’s difficult for me to feel I would be accepted in parental territory. Not just because being child-free would automatically translate as having nothing to contribute to other parents, but also because parents eat, think, and breathe their kids. I know that’s a good thing, but now any ineraction with me that doesn’t include their children in some way is me taking them away from their kids, or forcing someone else to watch their kids.

  37. July 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    karak: Years ago, a professor of mine was talking about the human rights movements in Latin America. He took a moment to make a distinction between the Feminist Movement, which was associated with urban working white Latin American young childless women, and the Woman’s Movement, which was viewed as almost an opposing movement and spearheaded by poor rural nonwhite mothers and more concerned about specific community issues (like safe playgrounds) then Feminists, who looked at overall societal issues (like the fact that women are paid less for the same work).I think this divide that my professor pointed out is the same one coming into play here.

    A similar topic was brought up in a former thread about Feminist organizers being averse to going into the community (especially lower-income or predominately POC areas) and talking to the women there about what it is they really wanted. I tried to find the thread, but I couldn’t find it.

    Little help, anyone?

  38. July 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Okay, so I said I was going to stay quiet (when do I ever listen to myself on that score?!), but I guess there was one thing that I wanted to throw in which is that the parent/non-parent divide is one of those places where I see the kyriarchy shine through most strongly. Because it’s not just “parents” but the “right kind” of parents (or the “right kind” of childfree folk) who get kudos and backslaps, right? And it’s the “wrong kind” of parents or non-parents who generally get chastised and questioned and policed, etc.?

    There’s a fairly low barrier to entry into “parenting” for most people (well, not always – fertility can be a huge barrier for some) and with the expansion and accessibility of birth control methods and alternatives to conception there’s a relatively low barrier to remaining childfree by choice as well (again, not always – resources are still socially stratified), so these groups are incredibly heterogeneous.

  39. Azalea
    July 12, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Past my expiration date:
    I am a parent and have experience, but the experience is primarily based on a sample size of two. After that, it comes from children of relatives, friends, acquaintances, and strangers, plus my own childhood, plus random stuff I might have read somewhere sometime. Non-parents presumably have just as much of that experience as I do, if not more. So I definitely think that people who do not have children can have a lot to contribute to a discussion about child-raising.

    (I know that there are people who are proud of hating children, because I have read their comments on the Internet :-), and I do not think that they would have much to contribute to the discussion — but fortunately I have never knowingly encountered any of these people in real life.)

    But the children you encounter by living amongst other people are children you are around briefly and the role you play in their lives compared to the parents role is not substantial or significant unless you are an immediate relative or caretaker of/for that child.

    I think those snapshot judgements of what is and isn’t good parenting is part of the disconnect between those who are parents and those who are childless. It’s always easier to say what you would do if when you’re not the one in the position of benefiting from or suffering the repercussions of that decision.

    As for the POV of once being a child, there are things that children don’t understand until they are adults themselves or sometimes not until they are parents themselves when it comes to parenting decisions/choices.

    There is that point where childless people have a lot to offer to discussions on parenthood and I think those people have their own credentials (with anything if you don’t have the experience credentials you have the concrete knowledge credentials).

  40. July 12, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Kathleen: karak — I have the sense that your professor was just putting his own pejorative spin on feminism; feminists care about safe playgrounds. I’ve spent a lot of time in Latin America and never heard of such a divide, and am not sure what this separate “woman’s movement”, entirely distinct from feminism, might be.

    I wouldn’t necessarily call that a pejorative view of feminism. It actually seems quite similar to Womanism.

  41. Kristen J.
    July 12, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    @Jadey,

    Agreed. Actually, it reminds me of your post on how social groups like feminism are constructed (can’t link). Outside this narrow universe being child free is pretty much a seemly constant battle. Here I can say I’m child free without people ignore, dismissing, refusing medical care, etc. etc. But within this community there is some significant hostility towards parents and kids. Its hard to negotiate the defensiveness when the kyriarchy is pressing on both groups from opposite perspectives.

  42. Azalea
    July 12, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Kathleen:
    karak — I have the sense that your professor was just putting his own pejorative spin on feminism; feminists care about safe playgrounds.I’ve spent a lot of time in Latin America and never heard of such a divide, and am not sure what this separate “woman’s movement”, entirely distinct from feminism, might be.

    Kathleen I think she is talking about Womanism which is a different sect than Feminism with different “urgent issues.” Of course there are tons of intersecting ideaology but she had the gist of it right, Womanism focuses more on the issues of minority women.

  43. July 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I thought I would throw in my two cents. I think the problem with the term mommy blog is that it applies to White rich/middle class, able bodied women. Those of us who parent from the margins must because of the issues we face mother radically. The topics we talk about make people uncomfortable because they cause people to challenge their privilege. As a mommy blogger myself (yes womanist musings is a mommy blog) I know that my personal lived experience greatly colors what I write about and this especially true when I write about issues that my families face.

  44. Spilt Milk
    July 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Jill:
    Just a reminder that this is not a thread about kids in restaurants. Let’s re-focus the discussion on the post, please.

    Word. Heads up: I will be deleting any further ‘I shouldn’t have to see kids in restaurants’ or similarly child-hating comments.

    As far as whether the child free get to comment on parenting: I agree with Kelly’s point above. When I take my kid out into the world all the people we encounter have their opportunity to ‘comment’ – the community has the power to impact on our lives in every way from whether I get glares or supportive smiles whilst dealing with a tantrum at the supermarket, all the way to whether people are willing to vote in a government who will improve the quality of childcare and legislate for the rights of working parents.

    I get that when you don’t have kids, you might get shut down in *some* discussions by some people – it’s only a few years since that was me too, I remember. But sometimes that’s your cue to listen. To learn. (Hint: it’s easy to do this by checking out some of the blogs I mentioned, and others.) It’s definitely not an excuse to bow out altogether.

  45. Erin
    July 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    But just to refocus the conversation a bit, I think it’s worthwhile to make a distinction between “parenting” and issues pertaining to reproduction, women’s bodies/rights/autonomy, and children’s rights. To talk about parenting, to me, is to talk about discipline and appropriate spaces for children, how we go through the mechanics of raising our kids. On the other hand, insisting on a woman’s right to her own body, to birth with respect and dignity, to breastfeed publicly should she choose, to stop being penalized for primary caregivers by one’s employers, for children to be respected as human beings, etc. These to me are the feminist issues, the ones that get lumped in with parenting somehow and we forget that they are *social justice issues*. I’m always a bit amazed when I hear so much in feminist circles about abortions – but the women held down and forcibly examined (*trigger warning* by this I mean, has a hand shoved forcibly into her vagina) by an OB while she screams I DO NOT CONSENT are nowhere to be seen (unless you’re in a childbirthy kind of blog). Pregnant, not pregnant, never going to be pregnant – we all need to be outraged about these violations of women’s autonomy and basic human rights.

    So yeah, I’m not really interested in anybody’s – parents or not parents – opinion about my parenting choices (when I potty trained, whether he has a paci, etc). But let’s all have an equal conversation about parenting, children, and social justice. It effects all of us.

    • Spilt Milk
      July 12, 2011 at 6:19 pm

      Interesting comment Erin. I’m not sure I agree entirely because, as Anji points out, child rights are pertinent and how children are parented — disciplined, nurtured etc — can’t be separated from the social justice issue of child rights. But I do agree that I don’t particularly seek input on my personal parenting decisions (unless I’m explicitly asking for it). We shouldn’t forget though that it is a sign of privilege that my partner and I are left alone to parent how we choose. Plenty of people have parenting choices dictated to them from outside (by government agencies who control welfare payments for example) so it is of feminist interest to have conversations about what constitutes appropriate parenting and what parental rights should be.

      Where I think it gets problematic is when people consider their interest in others’ parenting to be all about making sure they are ‘raising their kids right’ in order to ensure the comfort and convenience for themselves and other adults. But when child free friends show a genuine interest in the wellbeing of my child, and me? I’m happy to have their input and support.

  46. July 12, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    The problem I find when running in feminist circles, especially on the internet, is that people are either unaware of, or refuse to accept the existence of, their adult privilege (even the comments to that post show that many people who consider themselves feminists just don’t get it). I see a lot of child hatred which in turn becomes mother hatred – because who is raising the vast majority of these ‘undesirable’ children but mothers? And mother hatred is woman hatred, plain and simple. Child hatred/ageism and misogyny are so intricately linked, and it pains me to see that the majority of the feminist community doesn’t seem to be able to see this.

  47. Azalea
    July 12, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Anji:
    The problem I find when running in feminist circles, especially on the internet, is that people are either unaware of, or refuse to accept the existence of, their adult privilege (even the comments to that post show that many people who consider themselves feminists just don’t get it). I see a lot of child hatred which in turn becomes mother hatred – because who is raising the vast majority of these ‘undesirable’ children but mothers? And mother hatred is woman hatred, plain and simple. Child hatred/ageism and misogyny are so intricately linked, and it pains me to see that the majority of the feminist community doesn’t seem to be able to see this.

    But how do you define child hatred? And at what point does adult priviledge become inappropriate? There are things children should not see or hear places children should not go or be. Someone can have authority over you without you being less than that person. The relationship between parent and child is similar to that of employee and employer, soldier and commander, pentant and priest.

    There are some people with children who think parenting any other way than their own is abusive or wrong or mean. There are people without children who think the way they *think* they would parent is the way everyone should parent and anything els eis being a bad parent or even an abusive parent. There has to be a point where we realize that parenting is a choice, the way you parent is as personal as your decision to have a child. It is not fair to demand total uniformity on child rearing.

  48. igglanova
    July 12, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    ‘Some people are going to be dismissive, some people are going to say wildly inappropriate things, and some days, if you want to be part of a conversation, you have to stand up to some discomfort and claim your space in it.’

    Thanks for saying this. It seems like a very basic, even old-school concept to encourage women to do such simple things as develop confidence and strong self-esteem, as well as the willingness to assert your opinion with strength instead of undermining it immediately with anxious hedging. If you have good reason to believe in your argument, let that shine through; don’t wait for everyone else to become kinder before you dare to say something, because it ain’t gonna happen. I wonder why feminism, at least Internet feminism, seems to have discarded this as a political position.

    Anyway. Although I don’t plan on having kids myself, I always appreciate thoughtful feminist discourse on the subject of child-rearing. Everyone has a stake in the rearing of the future generation, whether they realize it or not: sometimes your contribution can be as simple as being one more progressive brick in the wall of public opinion (try not to cringe too hard at that metaphor :P). I look forward to more of your posts.

  49. Iris
    July 12, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    Kathleen: I think parents are willing to listen to parents and non-parents with whom they agree about childraising issues, and less so to parents and non-parents with whom they don’t. I think the issue is more what Florence said, above, about the real nub being not spanking/breastfeeding/co-sleeping/violent video games/ candy-eating/staying up late/ buying gendered toys /and so forth (non-parents can and do have opinions on all of these!) but just, only parents know what it is to face the internal and external pressure of living those debates.It’s more of a meta-thing:not debating the issues themselves,where everybody can play (because these are debates about the best way to foster the well-being of fellow members of society who in this case happen to be children), but knowing what it’s like to feel the societal pressure and internal responsibility of living it all out.

    Hmmm…I’m going to respond – only because you quoted me. It may be your comment wasn’t really directed at me – maybe you’re using a quote from me as a starting point? If so, “never mind,” says Roseanne Rosannadanna

    If you are commenting to me – I’m really not sure what you are saying after the 1st sentence. “Meta” makes no sense in the sentence you’re using it in. Perhaps you meant “macro”? As in, large or large scale.

    I think you’re saying all people can and do have opinions on the everyday minutiae concerning children, but only parents can really have the true knowledge and insight concerning their children in the grand scheme of things.

    Have no quarrel with that. Personally, I think it’s great to see children and anyone and everyone else as individuals. Some people are overwhelmed by that and prefer to categorize in broad terms. Most people, including myself, are probably a mix of the two.

    Feminist parenting is a great concept, and I’m sure no parent really needs me to tell them how to do it.

  50. July 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Kristen J.: @Jadey,

    Agreed. Actually, it reminds me of your post on how social groups like feminism are constructed (can’t link). Outside this narrow universe being child free is pretty much a seemly constant battle. Here I can say I’m child free without people ignore, dismissing, refusing medical care, etc. etc. But within this community there is some significant hostility towards parents and kids. Its hard to negotiate the defensiveness when the kyriarchy is pressing on both groups from opposite perspectives.

    For clarity’s sake, I think this is the post Kristen is referring to.

    Renee @ 44 covered the issue I was getting at in my last comment in a much more direct and specific way!

  51. Emily
    July 12, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    to Sophia at 37:

    I would accept you in my parental community. What you said clarified something for me: child-free vs. parent isn’t really the issue. The issue is really asshole vs. non-asshole.

    There are a lot of shitty, shitty, horrible fucking parents out there. Lots of parents abuse their kids or mistreat them in other ways. Some don’t mistreat them but treat their kids in a way that makes the kids more likely to misbehave. I don’t want their fucking advice. However, I would love to talk to someone, with kids or without, who is reasonable and kind. The conversation would probably be a little smoother if that person had some substantial experience caring for children, but it’s not an absolute prerequisite.

  52. Hanna
    July 13, 2011 at 2:53 am

    Great post, spilt milk! I think what you say about the difference between society “approving” of women having children (so long as they fit a particular mould), and real respect and support, is so true and very illuminating. I am an Australian woman who has no kids but hopes to have one in the next couple of years. I guess if I do I’ll get a tick from the kinds of people mentioned in Bastow’s article for “fulfilling my biological destiny”. But I’m not sure it won’t disadvantage me in material ways, for example in the way I am treated at work (I have often seen mothers talked down to once they have kids, or dismissed as boring.)

    I really like your blog as well.

  53. July 13, 2011 at 6:36 am

    This article had SUCH a mixed response! Personally, I loved it, but the majority of commenters felt like it was an attack on their choice to have children. And Clem’s article was an attack in a way – but more so an attack on those who inadvertently behave negatively towards us empty fruit bowl types. I mean, it hardly happens that I’m walking down the street and I’m yelled at for my lack of babe-in-arms, but when independent and deliberately barren women are still portrayed by the media as some single white female type character you really just want to scream and thus, write an article for fairfax about the ordeal.

  54. Florence
    July 13, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Kathleen, I’m blushing over here.

  55. Spilt Milk
    July 13, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Camilla, I think ’empty fruit bowl types’ is my new favorite euphemism for childless. Thank you for bringing an Australian flavour! And you make a good point: there is misogyny embedded in the way Gillard has been judged for her lack of children and wedding ring. It is something that needs addressing.

  56. tinfoil hattie
    July 13, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    I would like to see more people using the term child free rather than the term childless.

    Of course you would. Since this is a post about people who don’t have children, and the challenges they face.

  57. tinfoil hattie
    July 13, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    parents eat, think, and breathe their kids.

    All of us? Really? We do? We have no other interests, or lives? Huh. That’s funny. I didn’t know that about myself.

    THIS is the kind of comment that pisses me off. It’s dismissive, ignorant, and judgmental. Why not just call us “breeders” and be done with it?

  58. samanthab
    July 13, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    As someone who was raised by a feminist mother who happens to be an Ob-gyn, I wholeheartedly applaud 99.9998% of this post. On the other hand, as a mentally ill women whose affluent non-mentally ill sister just got fertility treatments so as to avoid the mental illness in her family, I’ve got to say, sorry, a wealthy woman’s right to pick and chose her child via IVF is *not* neatly comparable to a woman’s decision not to carry a child. When there are untold multitudes of starving children in the world, it’s actually pretty immoral to decide that *those regular children* aren’t good enough for you because they might not get early acceptance to an Ivy League school. That choice really is not the same choice as deciding that you aren’t in a place to raise a child. They are a world apart in terms of privilege.

    • Spilt Milk
      July 13, 2011 at 7:09 pm

      Samanthab, I never said fertility treatments were neatly comparable to abortion rights. And you are making a lot of assumptions about what I think fertility rights should look like. For the record, what currently concerns me in that area is the lack of equality in terms of accessing fertility services in Australia, particularly for lesbian, queer, unmarried and poor people.

  59. monkeypedia
    July 13, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Samanthab, it seems as if you’re saying that people who are infertile and choose fertility treatment are automatically being immoral because they could have adopted an already born needy child. However, this argument could just as easily be made for anyone who purposefully conceives a child with or without fertility treatment, instead of adopting an already born child. I don’t want to derail this discussion completely, but the ideas that 1) infertile people have a special moral obligation to adopt that other people choosing to give birth do not have and 2) that adoption is both morally uncomplicated and inherently morally superior to fertility treatment, are both pretty suspect, and have been (I think) debunked pretty thoroughly (I don’t have the links to discussions on these topics at my fingertips, but can probably dig them up).

  60. Azalea
    July 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    samanthab:
    As someone who was raised by a feminist mother who happens to be an Ob-gyn, I wholeheartedly applaud 99.9998% of this post. On the other hand, as a mentally ill women whose affluent non-mentally ill sister just got fertility treatments so as to avoid the mental illness in her family, I’ve got to say, sorry, a wealthy woman’s right to pick and chose her child via IVF is *not* neatly comparable to a woman’s decision not to carry a child. When there are untold multitudes of starving children in the world, it’s actually pretty immoral to decide that *those regular children* aren’t good enough for you because they might not get early acceptance to an Ivy League school. That choice really is not the same choice as deciding that you aren’t in a place to raise a child. They are a world apart in terms of privilege.

    I thin that has more to do with wanting to bear a child yourself or have your own biological child. Should people not have anymore biological children until the people who give their children up for adoption decide to stop putting babies up for adoption and those that awaiting homes find a family?

    Would you rather a woman carry the pregnancy and then terminate late in the second trimester when tests reveal the mental illness she is trying to avoid now?

    From mental illness ot gender people have teh right to decide which if any at all fetus will occupy their bodies. Their selection process is a private matter and they shouldn’t be judged on their own bodily autonomy.

  61. Azalea
    July 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Also some women feel they are not in a place ; mentally, emotionally or whateverlly to raise a child with special needs.

  62. Kathleen
    July 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Azalea and Angel H. — that would make sense; I had thought womanism was North America-specific & pretty closely related to American gender & race politics of the 1970s and I didn’t realize it had a wider reach. I haven’t come across it in Latin America, but I haven’t been everywhere there, of course!

    Iris — I didn’t meant to direct anything specifically at you, but thanks for your response. I meant something a little different; that parents and non-parents alike are fully legitimate participants in conversations about what makes for good child-raising (it’s a broadly relevant social issue, and everybody knows something about it), but only parents know what it feels like to be “under discussion” in those conversations which can become quite heated and even mean-spirited. They can also be wonderful, generous, and supportive, of course.

    samanthab — it’s weird to me how quick people are to rhetorically press orphan kiddos on people who have made it clear they don’t want to adopt. This may not be what you intended, but the tone and spirit of such comments suggest orphans should be visited on people you view as selfish as some kind of life-lesson, or even punishment. That would be good for the children in question…. how, exactly? Like if you really think the people in question are self-absorbed assholes, how does it make sense to put defenseless children under their care? It’s hard not to conclude that argument comes far far away from a place of caring about kids.

  63. Spilt Milk
    July 13, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Ok, this discussion of IVF is turning into a derail.

    Also:

    Azalea:
    Would you rather a woman carry the pregnancy and then terminate late in the second trimester when tests reveal the mental illness she is trying to avoid now?

    This assumes some very problematic things – that mental illness can be tested for prenatally and that a termination is objectively a bad thing or at least objectively worse than genetic selection. I am also concerned that this is veering into ableist territory.

    Can we stay on track please?

  64. Azalea
    July 13, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Spilt Milk:
    Ok, this discussion of IVF is turning into a derail.

    Also:

    This assumes some very problematic things – that mental illness can be tested for prenatally and that a termination is objectively a bad thing or at least objectively worse than genetic selection. I am also concerned that this is veering into ableist territory.

    Can we stay on track please?

    I apologize for the derail but I thought it was part of the topic of the discussion on parenthood, this ebign one of the things that people ( parents and the child free alike) tend to have very strong opinions on.

  65. Esti
    July 14, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Anji: The problem I find when running in feminist circles, especially on the internet, is that people are either unaware of, or refuse to accept the existence of, their adult privilege (even the comments to that post show that many people who consider themselves feminists just don’t get it). I see a lot of child hatred which in turn becomes mother hatred – because who is raising the vast majority of these ‘undesirable’ children but mothers? And mother hatred is woman hatred, plain and simple. Child hatred/ageism and misogyny are so intricately linked, and it pains me to see that the majority of the feminist community doesn’t seem to be able to see this.

    I have a lot of difficulties with the idea of adult privilege. I understand that there are ways in which children are mistreated terribly in society, that we are not always diligent enough about addressing those problems, and that mothers (and fathers, but more often mothers) frequently face a lot of hostility from the rest of society. So I understand and agree with the idea that we should be having more and better dialogue about the treatment of children and parents. On board with that.

    The problem I have comes into play when people seem to equate “not being able to do everything adults can do” with privilege. To take the list you linked, Anji, because it’s the most recent example I’ve seen of this, I can’t wrap my head around the idea that children should be able to decide whether to go to school, or should be able to work under the same conditions as adults, or that parents shouldn’t be able to pick up a child throwing a tantrum in a store and take them outside.

    I’ve seen some people respond to that criticism by saying that adult privilege isn’t a normative term, it’s descriptive — so, for example, we might think it’s morally okay to not allow six year olds to drink, but adults’ ability to choose to drink alcohol is still a privilege. That’s fair enough as far as logic goes, but for me it takes the force out of the act of naming privilege. I think privilege needs a normative aspect, because it’s about people being advantaged in a way that we don’t like. I don’t consider it privilege that men will almost certainly always hold the 100m dash record — even if that’s based on male physiology giving them an advantage over women, it’s just a descriptive difference between the two genders. On the other hand, I do think there is male privilege in distributing more athletics funding to men, because I have a moral objection to the idea that female runners, even if not as fast, are not as worthy of support.

    And ultimately, I think that the people who are on board with adult privilege as a concept recognize that age-related differences in capacity, ability, etc. can be valid grounds on which to treat people differently. Because virtually every discussion of the disruptive child in a restaurant trope that I’ve seen (and yes, I agree that discussion is incredibly overused) asks that we have more patience for or tolerance of “age appropriate” child behavior in public — the theory being that it’s fine to be upset when an adult is being too loud or throwing things onto the floor or what have you, but we should make allowances for the fact that a child naturally has some of those tendencies as a function of their age. And I agree! We should have more patience for it! But the corollary, to me, of being okay with giving children more leeway where age appropriate is that we should also be okay with the areas in which we give them less leeway because it’s age appropriate.

    That doesn’t mean no rights for children. It just means modified, age-appropriate rights. So abuse and neglect are not okay, and refusing to listen to your child’s feelings and requests are not okay, and viewing children as being of lesser value than adults is not okay. But preventing your child from doing things that could harm them, and interacting with your child in an age-appropriate manner, and making decisions on behalf of your child in their best interests — to me, that’s just being a good parent.

  66. Bagelsan
    July 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    I’m looking forward to reading your posts, Spilt Milk, but I’m just curious whether the future ones will also be comment locked (like the latest one is?)

  67. Bagelsan
    July 14, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I agree with Esti @68, and also with TheFeministBreeder on Thursday 31st December 2009 at 2:28am (from the Adult Privilege checklist link’s comments.) I don’t think the checklist makes a lot of sense, and doesn’t in any way convince me there is “adult privilege” — I certainly agree that there is ageism, but I don’t think it’s so easily divided into children vs. adults (and definitely not along the lines laid down by the checklist.) Children gain a lot of these “privileges” as they grow older, while still remaining children, and many adults do not have access to them (at all or some ages) or even start losing access to them again as they age further, so I believe a strict dichotomy of adult vs. child is not helpful.

    • Spilt Milk
      July 14, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      @Bagelsan The adult privilege checklist does not assume that all adults have all privilege. There is, clearly, overlap between the ways in which children lack privilege and the ways in which other groups (people with disabilities being one example) lack privilege. Saying ‘some adults are oppressed’ doesn’t negate the oppression of children.

      @Esti I’d encourage you to look into how people who live consensually with their children manage this stuff in practical terms. One of the links I gave – Underbellie – might provide you with links. Unschooling parents (and those who were unschooled) have things to say too about what happens when children exercise more choice and autonomy than is traditional in our culture.

      Acknowledging adult privilege has been a huge and uncomfortable shift for me, I’ll be frank. I also don’t think the concept or the list is entirely unproblematic but that does not render it useless, in my mind. On the contrary,
      it means this is an idea worth sitting with, exploring, keeping at front of mind. I know my parenting is more, not less, effective when I can achieve this. But it is not easy, given the personal and cultural baggage I carry and that is true of most parents.

  68. Lara Emily Foley
    July 14, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Interesting, see if I were running late and I was driving and my partner said hold on I want to get this CD to listen to, I would have said we are already running late and that zie would have to do without it. Conversely I would stop and get it for a child that age because I’m aware that they are not as emotionally capable of going without something they really really really want.

    • Spilt Milk
      July 14, 2011 at 6:48 pm

      Lara Emily Foley – yeah, I can see it playing out that way too. Depends on the relationships and the length of the car trip involved, probably! But I think the point is that what we discount as annoying demands from children are sometimes the same demands adults make and expect to be met.

  69. Mike
    July 14, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    I’m more curious about the acknowledgement of children’s priviledge.

    We live in a society where many things that children do would result in formal criminal charges (assault, vandalism, theft, etc.) if done by an adult.

    If we are to accept that children are fully human beings (not necessarily a bad idea) doesn’t that mean that we need to hold them responsible for unwanted touching and harm, or the destruction of property they do not own?

    Reading the comments about children in restaurants, I am specifically reminded of an instance when I was out at a casual dining restaurant and a young boy at the table next to me attempted to climb onto my girlfriend’s back, without her consent (the resaurant had a long booth running the length of the wall, so the boy was already standing on the surface my girlfriend was sitting on, he then took two rapid steps, planted a hand on her shoulder and began to hoist).

    Can you imagine if an adult did that? They would be asked to leave the restaurant, at a minimum. Given the difference in genders, they could also be charged with groping or harrassment, and certainly a case could be made for battery. But because it was a child, no one was asked to leave, much less were the police contacted.

    How can these viewpoints be reconciled? How can children be fully human and “oppressed” yet simultaneously not bear many of the basic responsibilities we ask of people who are fully human?

    Do we also need a complimentary children’s priviledge checklist? Or is it perhaps more prudent to acknowledge that priviledge is not sufficiently nuanced to describe the relationship between children and adults?

  70. Bagelsan
    July 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Or is it perhaps more prudent to acknowledge that priviledge is not sufficiently nuanced to describe the relationship between children and adults?

    This is a bit what bugged me about the checklist, the lack of nuance. One criticism I saw in the comments was that the difficulties faced by children weren’t grouped by age, for example, and it’s a criticism I agree with; like I mentioned above, children are subject to less and less of that checklist as they grow older but they also face more “adult” consequences for their actions.

    And of course your (tongue-in-cheek?) suggestion of “children’s privilege” would have the same flaw in reverse; if a 17-year-old climbed on your girlfriend he probably would have gotten in a heap of trouble for it despite being a “child” legally. I’m not convinced we can apply a privilege checklist to conditions (both harmful and beneficial) that all people cycle through over the course of their childhood/teen years in a age-dependent manner.

    Also, I think extremely little of the checklist is specific to children — a lot of it was relevant to anyone who has trouble expressing themselves verbally, reaching high-up objects, or holding down a job — and that again makes me question the checklist’s utility.

    (Spilt Milk, please let me know if this is sounding too nitpicky or child-hating. I’m trying to digest this concept “out loud” because it’s one that really challenges me, and one which I hear zero about in my offline life, but if this isn’t the proper forum for that I’m happy to shush up a bit.)

    • Spilt Milk
      July 14, 2011 at 6:31 pm

      I think, for me, the point is that even when children can express themselves they are routinely ignored, even by loved ones.

      A little example: we were going on a car trip. My kid, as we pulled out of the driveway, after a busy and frustrating morning, when we were already running late, suddenly demanded (she’s three, impulses often trump ‘manners’) to listen to her Winnie The Pooh CD. Which was inside. It was my partner’s instinct to ignore the request – after all, we were late, she was being loud about it, and he doesn’t like Winnie The Pooh. Also, parents are discouraged from ‘giving in’.

      I asked him to stop and went inside and got the CD. Not because I was pandering. But because if we’d been goingsomewhere, and I was driving, and my husband had said ‘wait a sec, I wan to get X to listen to’ I’d have done him the courtesy of stopping. And because he’s an adult, I even put up with his shitty music taste because we make compromises.

      I’m betting plenty of people would see nothing wrong with not stopping for Winnie The Pooh but would say I was rude, selfish, etc if I couldn’t wait a minute for my husband. But you can only see it that way if you think kids are less-than.

      It’s a minuscule example, I know.

      Mike, I might have more time for your argument if it was not currently LEGAL to hit children, and take and vandalize their things.

  71. Lara Emily Foley
    July 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Spilt Milk:
    Lara Emily Foley – yeah, I can see it playing out that way too. Depends on the relationships and the length of the car trip involved, probably! But I think the point is that what we discount as annoying demands from children are sometimes the same demands adults make and expect to be met.

    Oh for sure but my interpretation of the same scenario shows that the reverse is also true as well.

  72. Bagelsan
    July 14, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    There is, clearly, overlap between the ways in which children lack privilege and the ways in which other groups (people with disabilities being one example) lack privilege.

    Oh definitely! To be clear, I’m having trouble seeing how there isn’t total overlap in the types of oppression — there are kids of color, non-neurotypical kids, queer kids, etc, and they obviously face similar oppressions as their adult counterparts. But the additional child-specific oppressions they face are grown out of, and are something that everyone has to go through. Also there are some compensations for their youth — for example, a young child with a disability that would make it difficult to hold down a job isn’t usually expected to hold down a job like an adult might be. The age-specific stuff seems to cancel out a bit. So I’m having difficulty pinning down an oppression unique to children as a class* that they suffer on top of all the “adult” ones.

    *actually, to really belabor the point, maybe this is my real problem: the idea of children as a “class”. Because saying something like “people over age 15 should be allowed to vote” or “people over age 10 should be allowed to have completely independent bank accounts” makes sense to me in a way that calling for these things for all minors does not.

    • Spilt Milk
      July 14, 2011 at 6:45 pm

      ‘child-specific oppressions they face are grown out of, and are something that everyone has to go through’.

      I don’t agree with that at all.

      1) What you suffer as a child shapes who you are as an adult. It’s cyclical, in the sense that we often treat children as we were treated. Obtaining more privilege doesn’t just make up for or erase the years where one lacked privilege.
      2) It doesn’t have to be that way. There is no objective reason why children must ‘go through’ voicelessness, disempowerment, physical punishment etc

      I don’t disagree that what the adult privilege list means in practical terms changes with the age of the child. For example, I couldn’t ask or receive consent from my daughter before touching (to clean) her vulva when she was a baby. Now, I can. So I should. But that doesn’t change the fact that even as a baby her body was her own and I had to respect that by not hurting her, by making choices that affected her body with her interests in mind.

  73. Azalea
    July 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Spilt Milk:
    I think, for me, the point is that even when children can express themselves they are routinely ignored, even by loved ones.

    A little example: we were going on a car trip. My kid, as we pulled out of the driveway, after a busy and frustrating morning, when we were already running late, suddenly demanded (she’s three, impulses often trump ‘manners’) to listen to her Winnie The Pooh CD. Which was inside. It was my was my partner’s instinct to ignore the request – after all, we were late, she was being loud about it, and he doesn’t like Winnie The Pooh. Also, parents are discouraged from ‘giving in’.

    I asked him to stop and went inside and got the CD. No because I was pandering. But because if we’d been goingsomewhere, and I was driving, and my husband had said ‘wait a sec, I wan to get X to listen to’ I’d have done him the courtesy of stopping. And because he’s an adult, I even put up with his shitty music taste because we make compromises.

    I’m betting plenty of people would see nothing wrong with not stopping for Winnie The Pooh but would say I was rude, selfish, etc if I couldn’t wait a minute for my husband. But you can only see it that way if you think kids are less-than.

    It’s a minuscule example, I know.

    Mike, I might have more time for your argument if it was not currently LEGAL to hit children, and take and vandalize their things.

    I wouldn’t have gotten it for either person. Neither one of their demands for X music will trump my need to be on time someplace I consider important, especially if we are already late. In fact my husband wouldn’t dare be that selfish. Children are naturally selfish and they don’t grow out of that selfishness by everyone continuing to put their whims (not the child him or herself but their childish whims) ahead of any and everyone else.

    Minutes matter when you are running late.

    IF we were going on a long car ride, I would have gotten it because I KNOW my child loves that CD and would prefer to listen to it and during a long car ride you owe to your child who didn;t ask for this long car ride and probably isn’t very interested in it either, to make them as comfortable as possible. But if were on our way to work or someplace where time matter and it was a brief ride. Winnie stays home. The request is shot down ( I wouldnt ignore I’d blatantly say no, we’re late ) and we go where we need to go.

    • Spilt Milk
      July 14, 2011 at 7:42 pm

      azalea: Having needs and wants is not selfish (although I do agree that adults need to balance their needs with those of others, and that children learn to do this as they grow, much earlier than many assume). Selfish is perjorative and implies willful disregard of others. I don’t think this applies here, not even to an adult (forgetting to grab a CD and thinking one more minute to go get it is reasonable is human, not a moral failing).

      Can we think a little about our language? Replace the words children and childish with girls and girlish in these phrases: ‘girls are naturally selfish’, ‘girlish whims’.

  74. Mike
    July 14, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Spilt Milk: Mike, I might have more time for your argument if it was not currently LEGAL to hit children, and take and vandalize their things.

    What does this even have to do with my argument?

    Seriously, you really didn’t answer anything.

    Though this comment does bring the “oppressed olympics” to mind…

    • Spilt Milk
      July 14, 2011 at 7:31 pm

      Mike: Your argument seemed to be that adults are oppressed by children when attempts are made to take into account their stage of development in legal matters. That is like saying that when courts take mental illness or disability into consideration when sentencing offenders this oppresses able bodied folks. It’s not oppression Olympics, it’s nonsense.

      For the record, I don’t think happen to think it’s ok for children to climb on other people without their consent. (I think it’s ok to insist that they stop. If you’re demanding punitive action as well, I’d ask you to consider what you think that would achieve.) But the fact that children sometimes do ‘bad’ things is not and never will be a reason to ‘ban’ them all from spaces. We won’t be having the discussion re restaurants on this thread. It’s been done. End of.

  75. Bagelsan
    July 14, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I’m betting plenty of people would see nothing wrong with not stopping for Winnie The Pooh but would say I was rude, selfish, etc if I couldn’t wait a minute for my husband. But you can only see it that way if you think kids are less-than.

    Awesome, this actually makes sense to me. (Even though some people have the opposite opinion, clearly.) Maybe I wouldn’t grab the CD in one case or another, and would fulfill neither request, but I could imagine myself giving more weight to an adult’s request than a child’s.

    I’m still unconvinced that that’s oppression of the child, though, because in that example I’d probably also expect my theoretical husband to 1) have put thought into the fact we’re running late before making the request 2) get the CD himself and 3) be willing to accommodate me similarly in the future. These would all make me more amenable to considering his request. However I’m not sure those are fair expectations of a (young) child so I’d not be quite as motivated to wait. (Frankly, they are likely naive expectations for most adults; I would foolishly have them nonetheless. :p)

    BUT I’m totally glad at least to have an example from you I can get my head around properly even if I continue to disagree for the time being (so thanks for that!) I will continue to ponder — perhaps I can think of my own example that would convince myself.

    • Spilt Milk
      July 15, 2011 at 2:42 am

      Okay Bagelsan, try this example: a man leads an adult woman into a hair salon. He asks the hairdresser to cut her long hair short. She cries in protest, saying that she wants to keep her long hair. He again asks the hairdresser to do as he asked and the hairdresser complies, even though the woman is crying and at times needs physical restraint. The man slaps her hand away when she tries to cover her hair, and threatens more punitive action if she doesn’t behave. She eventually acquiesces, the man pays for her haircut, the hairdresser waves goodbye to him with a smile and asks him to come back soon.

      How would you respond to that scene?

      If the woman was a young child, would your response change?

      I was never allowed control over my hair length and style as a child. I know a lot of parents who think nothing of dictating how their child looks in every way. Why? And, to relate this to the broader discussion, a lot of judgement is leveled at (usually) mothers for how their children look and dress and conform/don’t conform.

  76. Iris
    July 15, 2011 at 12:31 am

    This link is to a beautiful movie about a child. It shows excellent adult/child relationships. It’s almost 2 hours – but worth it – the photography is absolutely amazing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cVydVFr-OU&feature=watch-now-button&wide=1

  77. Zistane
    July 15, 2011 at 1:04 am

    I like reading blogs about this situation because I’m getting into it myself. And because I’m utterly astonished at this cultural narrative of ‘it’s so easy to get/be pregnant’. No, really, it’s not, for me at least. I’ve had miscarriages, I’m having health issues, I know it’s possible…but it’s not easy, and it often feels undignified and humiliating. I’m not having a great time of it – I’m glad it’s possible, but I’m sick and in pain most of the time and have been for months now. And it drives me mad that it constantly feels like my experiences are getting devalued by some friends around me who talk about how much they hate children. How easy it is to be a ‘moo cow’ and so forth.

    It’s not childless folks as a group, it’s simply jerks who don’t think, but the lack of empathy is bewildering me, and hurting me during a time when I am exhausted.

    ((Trigger warning))
    I’m really terrified by the potential loss of bodily rights, too, from discussions with my hospital, from discussions with friends who’s requests were ignored: ‘You have to ask me before internally examining me’, ‘Please don’t give me the shot for the managed third stage – no, I mean, actually don’t. No, don’t.’ ‘Can you ask before you press really hard there instead of just doing it’ and worst of all ‘The epi didn’t take, you have to stop the c-section’ – THAT was ignored. After my own miscarriage, when they were checking for retained tissue and being rough, I was startled by how little my requests were paid attention to: ‘That is very painful, you need to be more careful.’ ‘I’ll stop in a bit.’ ‘It’s really hurting, very badly, please stop or be careful.’ ‘I’ll stop in a bit.’ I couldn’t do anything about it – I was extremely weak from blood loss, and people were literally taking the patting on the head approach. What the hell can you do when you’re unable to stand and no one listens?

    I would be curious to hear about doulas and advocates without children – birthing and pregnant people need advocates who remember they have rights, and that absolutely is a role anyone with empathy and humanity could take on.

    With some of my experiences, I really feel like I must have stopped being an autonomous person in the minds of some people as soon as I became pregnant.

  78. Kristen J.
    July 15, 2011 at 1:16 am

    @Bagelsan,

    There’s always the old standby, that children even adolescents are often not consulted regarding their own medical decisions. Or that they aren’t taken seriously when they report abuse or offer a statement regarding their own best interests.

    I don’t think *all* children, at all ages can always provide meaningful input, but I think its problematic that their voices about issues that seriously effect them are routinely ignored under the theory that “they’re just kids.”

  79. shfree
    July 15, 2011 at 1:38 am

    Zistane:
    I like reading blogs about this situation because I’m getting into it myself.And because I’m utterly astonished at this cultural narrative of ‘it’s so easy to get/be pregnant’.No, really, it’s not, for me at least.I’ve had miscarriages, I’m having health issues, I know it’s possible…but it’s not easy, and it often feels undignified and humiliating.I’m not having a great time of it – I’m glad it’s possible, but I’m sick and in pain most of the time and have been for months now.And it drives me mad that it constantly feels like my experiences are getting devalued by some friends around me who talk about how much they hate children.How easy it is to be a ‘moo cow’ and so forth.

    It’s not childless folks as a group, it’s simply jerks who don’t think, but the lack of empathy is bewildering me, and hurting me during a time when I am exhausted.

    ((Trigger warning))
    I’m really terrified by the potential loss of bodily rights, too, from discussions with my hospital, from discussions with friends who’s requests were ignored: ‘You have to ask me before internally examining me’, ‘Please don’t give me the shot for the managed third stage – no, I mean, actually don’t.No, don’t.’ ‘Can you ask before you press really hard there instead of just doing it’ and worst of all ‘The epi didn’t take, you have to stop the c-section’ – THAT was ignored.After my own miscarriage, when they were checking for retained tissue and being rough, I was startled by how little my requests were paid attention to: ‘That is very painful, you need to be more careful.’ ‘I’ll stop in a bit.’ ‘It’s really hurting, very badly, please stop or be careful.’ ‘I’ll stop in a bit.’I couldn’t do anything about it – I was extremely weak from blood loss, and people were literally taking the patting on the head approach.What the hell can you do when you’re unable to stand and no one listens?

    I would be curious to hear about doulas and advocates without children – birthing and pregnant people need advocates who remember they have rights, and that absolutely is a role anyone with empathy and humanity could take on.

    With some of my experiences, I really feel like I must have stopped being an autonomous person in the minds of some people as soon as I became pregnant.

    Zistane, I am so sorry your experiences have been so heart-wrenching for you, both physically and emotionally. I was fortunate enough to have a really good advocate in my labor and delivery room so I could focus on the process of getting the baby out of my body. She worked with the nurses, who then kept the residents out of my room. I think that is key, because hospitals can run roughshod over a birth plan, especially if things start to progress in a way that they would rather it not go. So see if you can get a doula, or if your other person in the room is going to be able to put the foot down and advocate for you when needed. And if you don’t have a person lined up to go through the process with you, I really, really recommend that you do have someone there.

  80. Kathleen
    July 15, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Spilt Milk — that argument is silly and insulting when used by PETA (substitute “woman” for “animal”) and it’s silly and insulting here. There are much better ways to argue for rights, protections, and prevention of abuses than this.

  81. Kristen J.
    July 15, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Kathleen:
    Spilt Milk — that argument is silly and insulting when used by PETA (substitute “woman” for “animal”) and it’s silly and insulting here. There are much better ways to argue for rights, protections, and prevention of abuses than this.

    People keep using this argument, and I don’t mean to just highlight you Kathleen, but it doesn’t make sense. Children as a class include women. Women as a class include children. Female people under the age of 18 are *still* women. They experience many of the overlapping oppressions that women experience, plus some people have an even greater tendency to ignore their need, wants, and views.

  82. igglanova
    July 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I don’t think parents should cut off their children’s hair against their will, but it is honestly insulting to compare women to children. Why can’t we, as a fucking feminist community, accept this? A man is not a woman’s guardian; he is to his children. The relationship is totally fucking different.

    Non-consensual hair chopping is appalling when done to women or children, but it is appalling for slightly different reasons. To a child, it is a betrayal of trust and a violation of autonomy, but it does not have the added humiliation (which is enormous) of extravagantly losing an adult dominance interaction. Don’t underestimate that blow to an adult’s pride. Yeah, kids may hate submitting to their parents, but they are used to it in other contexts and they aren’t socially diminished or degraded by onlookers when they do obey. That kid isn’t going to be seen henceforth as a weakling or a social pariah.

    I guess a simpler way to say this is that women should not EVER have to obey a man who isn’t an explicit authority figure like a cop, a judge, an employer, what have you. That forced obedience adds an additional layer of trauma.

    We can argue for children’s rights without resorting to a cheap analogy.

  83. Azalea
    July 15, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Spilt Milk:
    azalea:Having needs and wants is not selfish (although I do agree that adults need to balance their needs with those of others, and that children learn to do this as they grow, much earlier than many assume). Selfish is perjorative and implies willful disregard of others. I don’t think this applies here, not even to an adult (forgetting to grab a CD and thinking one more minute to go get it is reasonable is human, not a moral failing).

    Can we think a little about our language? Replace the words children and childish with girls and girlish in these phrases: ‘girls are naturally selfish’, ‘girlish whims’.

    But children ARE naturally self, they do not naturally consider other people, they consider themselves. That is not a bad thing they simply have to LEARN to share and be thoughtful and considerate. They have to LEARN to be nice. This concept is taught from Nick Jr to Pre K in socialization of children. Part of being immature is being selfish and inconsiderate and expecting others to put you first. It’s a developmental issue that applies to toddler and small children across the board.

    I consider it selfish because you have to thin about YOUR wants to think its ok to make someone even later just for a CD, especially if its a short ride. Some things can wait, some can’t. Minutes count, being late to daycare can mean you can’t drop your child off for the day. What then? They have their music but you no longer have anyone to care for your child while you are at work. What do you? How do you explain to your boss that Winnie the Pooh is the reason you can’t come to the office today?

  84. Azalea
    July 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Spilt Milk:
    Okay Bagelsan, try this example: a man leads an adult woman into a hair salon. He asks the hairdresser to cut her long hair short. She cries in protest, saying that she wants to keep her long hair. He again asks the hairdresser to do as he asked and the hairdresser complies, even though the woman is crying and at times needs physical restraint. The man slaps her hand away when she tries to cover her hair, and threatens more punitive action if she doesn’t behave. She eventually acquiesces, the man pays for her haircut, the hairdresser waves goodbye to him with a smile and asks him to come back soon.

    How would you respond to that scene?

    If the woman was a young child, would your response change?

    I was never allowed control over my hair length and style as a child. I know a lot of parents who think nothing of dictating how their child looks in every way. Why? And, to relate this to the broader discussion, a lot of judgement is leveled at (usually) mothers for how their children look and dress and conform/don’t conform.

    Men are not responsible for the grooming of women the way parents are repsonsible for the grooming of children. My oldest son HATES getting his hair washed and he will literally put his messy food hands in his hair. He loves combing and brushing it though. He SCREAMS whenever anyone puts water in hsi hair because he prefers it messy. Seriously. Do I stop because he asked and then demanded me to? Do I let him sleep with food in his hair the rest of his life until he is ready to wash his hair?

    I have ALWAYS used tear free shampoo, I let him select the water temperature and he selects which tear free shampoo and body wash we use but he STILL doesnt want it in his hair. So what do you suggest? How do we (me and his dad) repsect his bodily autonomy and let his voice be heard?

    • Spilt Milk
      July 15, 2011 at 5:30 pm

      Azalea you are totally missing the point. I am not talking about keeping hair clean. That is a comfort/potentially (maybe in some situations) a health issue. I am talking about the length and style. Why is it so hard to reconcile the notions that children need to be cared for, and children are people who deserve to have a say in their lives?

  85. Azalea
    July 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Kristen J.: People keep using this argument, and I don’t mean to just highlight you Kathleen, but it doesn’t make sense.Children as a class include women.Women as a class include children.Female people under the age of 18 are *still* women.They experience many of the overlapping oppressions that women experience, plus some people have an even greater tendency to ignore their need, wants, and views.

    People under the age of 18 are girls unless you saying that women and children are the same developmentally and all that misogyny was really just men being the responsible ones and taking care of women considering they are the same whether they are 1 or 100. a toddler is a woman, a 9 year old is a woman and a 99 year old is a woman and they should all be treated the same.

  86. Kathleen
    July 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Azalea and igglanova — zackly.

  87. Spilt Milk
    July 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    igglanova: I agree it’d be a cheap analogy if I was claiming that the experience for a child and a woman would be the same.

    Rather, I was asking that people consider how their response as an onlookers might differ, and why, and if therefore the routine practice of violating the autonomy of children is something that is normalized for them, and if they are okay with it. It’s not about saying all oppression is the same but about identifying that oppression exists, given that most people seem highly resistant to even acknowledging that children are fully people, let alone people who may be oppressed in our culture.

    I’m also seriously not ok with using ‘they are used to it’ and ‘their peers are used to it’ as justifications for oppression. I mean, really?

  88. Kristen J.
    July 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Azalea: People under the age of 18 are girls unless you saying that women and children are the same developmentally and all that misogyny was really just men being the responsible ones and taking care of women considering they are the same whether they are 1 or 100. a toddler is a woman, a 9 year old is a woman and a 99 year old is a woman and they should all be treated the same.

    Oy, way to miss the point. Misogyny is people hating women. Are you saying that slut shaming a 15 year old female person isn’t misogynistic? Look how fun this is to wildly misrepresent someone’s position.

    Women of all ages have different capabilites. Shall we exclude all female people who don’t meet your developmental standards?

  89. Bagelsan
    July 15, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    I don’t think parents should cut off their children’s hair against their will, but it is honestly insulting to compare women to children. Why can’t we, as a fucking feminist community, accept this? A man is not a woman’s guardian; he is to his children. The relationship is totally fucking different.

    Exactly.

    Spilt Milk, I want to have this conversation with you but this is not the first time (or even the first post) that you’ve used this kind of argument and it’s really useless and offensive. Please don’t keep comparing small children to grown women — no one is allowed to wipe my ass, either, but it doesn’t mean infants are being molested by their parents when they get their diapers changed.

  90. Spilt Milk
    July 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Azalea: Something’s bothering me about the tone this discussion’s taking so I just want to clarify, hope everyone can forgive the comment spam. I’m not representing myself as some kind of perfect parent or saying that being conscious of adult privilege makes parenting easier. My kid hates having her hair washed too, and I am so looking forward to that particular dilemma resolving. Parenting is damn hard, and it’s complex, and ambivalence and compromise are part of the deal. What I am asking is that people are willing to reconsider long-held positions. Because this is important.

  91. Azalea
    July 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Kristen J.: Oy, way to miss the point.Misogyny is people hating women.Are you saying that slut shaming a 15 year old female person isn’t misogynistic?Look how fun this is to wildly misrepresent someone’s position.

    Women of all ages have different capabilites.Shall we exclude all female people who don’t meet your developmental standards?

    YOU ar emissing th point. WTH See the other comment about the difference between a man deciding he is going to wipe your ass and a father changing his infant daughter’s diaper. The infant probably doesnt even WNT to wear a diaper, especially if she knows that “big girls” wear underwear should men force you to wear a diaper too? That is what I was getting at, THAT kind of misogyny that proclaims a man’s authority over women as if she were his child.

  92. Kristen J.
    July 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    @Azalea,

    Right. So saying children deserve respect commiserate with their capacity just like older people do is just like saying all women are childlike and need men to protect them. That is a completely reasonable interpretation of my comment.

  93. Azalea
    July 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Spilt Milk:
    Azalea you are totally missing the point. I am not talking about keeping hair clean. That is a comfort/potentially (maybe in some situations) a health issue. I am talking about the length and style. Why is it so hard to reconcile the notions that children need to be cared for, and children are people who deserve to have a say in their lives?

    Well yeah length and style isn’t something I bother with unless there is a legitimate reason to cut it (gum got in it etc). My sons love combing and brushing and styling. I will braid their hair they love it.

    People if my child has his say he would never have clean hair, he would eat fast or fried foods everynight and never have vegetables, chocolate cake and strawberry icecream would be breakfast on top of a pancake with candybars for breakfast and snack. He’d jump down the stairs ALL stairs and the height wouldnt phase him it could be the stairs to the Lincoln memorial (we’ve been he insisted and cried when I said no) should I have given in? You’re a parent you know damn well children’s demands tend to be things that parents say no to or are firm about for their own good, literally they want to do dangerous and unhealthy stuff quite often. It’s part of the glory of not knowing any better and its part of the fun of being a child. HOWEVER as a parent we know better, we don’t let them, we say no, they cry they think its unfair they think we are not listening. My teenage sister doesnt understand why she cant have an unlimited talk text and data plan on her AT&T cellphone that she isnt paying for, she doesnt see why our mother doesnt just buy more or why she gets upset when there’s a 2 thousand dollar bill because she stayed online on her iPhone the entire billing cycle. Right now she thinks ” mom has money she should just pay it, she KNOWS I “need” unlimited” as if she has a rght to someone else’s money. Thats the kind of thinking that happens when parents give their child an equal voice. We would NEVER say a SAHM shouldnt be entitled to sufficient income but who thinks teenagers should be trusted with a credit card with a very high limit?

  94. July 15, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Azalea: If a child is old enough to have formed a wish to wear “big girl underwear” and to not want a nappy forced upon her, there are plenty of parents who would be open to that idea and work with the child, instead of pinning her down and forcibly duct-taping a nappy onto her 24 hours a day. A willingness to be open to less normative parenting possibilities and more co-operative decision-making is exactly the point here.

    Perhaps, if you’re interested in learning more about this (and going back even further in developmental age), you could seek out and have a listen to what some parents who choose EC (elimination communication) are saying about their reasons for it? I don’t believe it’s the only reasonable course of action, but the discourse around it can be illuminating, if challenging.

  95. Kathleen
    July 15, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    lauredhel: instead of pinning her down and forcibly duct-taping a nappy onto her 24 hours a day.

    Another parenting discussion engaged in good faith! High five everybody!

  96. Bagelsan
    July 15, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    lauredhel: instead of pinning her down and forcibly duct-taping a nappy onto her 24 hours a day.

    Another parenting discussion engaged in good faith! High five everybody!

    Man, I haven’t changed a lot of diapers but clearly the ones I have changed I’ve been doing all wrong… :p

  97. Azalea
    July 16, 2011 at 10:12 am

    lauredhel:
    Azalea: If a child is old enough to have formed a wish to wear “big girl underwear” and to not want a nappy forced upon her, there are plenty of parents who would be open to that idea and work with the child, instead of pinning her down and forcibly duct-taping a nappy onto her 24 hours a day. A willingness to be open to less normative parenting possibilities and more co-operative decision-making is exactly the point here.

    Perhaps, if you’re interested in learning more about this (and going back even further in developmental age), you could seek out and have a listen to what some parents who choose EC (elimination communication) are saying about their reasons for it? I don’t believe it’s the only reasonable course of action, but the discourse around it can be illuminating, if challenging.

    But your idea of forcibly duct-taping a nappy is ummm not cool. If the child is in my care and not potty trained, the child needs a diaper. Emphasis on NEEDS. I wouldn’t babysit for a child who doesn’t because I am not going to be cleaning up a chaotic trail of poo and urine all over my car, home, outside, at a restaurant etc etc.

    Mychildren get choices, I choose the selection they have and they decide from there. They do not however have an endless sea of possibilities when it comes to the choices they have. I will not budge on diapers until nearly or fully potty trained but I do want to understand this concept of ageism as it relates to children and what is suggested as a reasonable and logical means to address it.

  98. igglanova
    July 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Spilt Milk, I think we actually agree on a lot of things so I don’t want to come at you all aggressively. But, well, the point of an analogy is usually to make people question why they treat one thing differently than another when they are logical equivalents. That’s the main weakness of argument by analogy, because all you need to do to invalidate the analogy is find an important difference between thing A and thing B. The treatment of children and the treatment of women are not logical equivalents, and the main reason is the vast gulf of developmental difference between the two.

    ‘I’m also seriously not ok with using ‘they are used to it’ and ‘their peers are used to it’ as justifications for oppression. I mean, really?’

    I seriously disagree with it, too. That wasn’t what I was saying – in fact, I explicitly said that nonconsensual hair chopping was ‘appalling.’ The point of saying (really an oversimplification but whatever) ‘they’re used to it’ was to underscore the additional trauma of forced submission when you are a person, by virtue of your completed development, for whom that is totally inappropriate.

    FWIW, I think the more convincing arguments for children’s rights are the ones that don’t bother with comparisons to adults but the ones that ask: ‘Is there a reason to inflict this on children? Do the benefits (such as better outcomes as adults, or simply present happiness) outweigh the costs?’

  99. July 16, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    I’ve written at length about these issues from my own feminist / unschooled childhood background on my own personal blog … it’s always discouraging to me when conversations about children in the feminist blogosphere degenerate so quickly into dehumanizing shouting matches. I’m so glad this one seems to have stayed on a moderately even keel.

    And Spilt Milk, I mostly wanted to say THANK YOU for writing these posts from the perspective of a parent who parents more or less like my own folks did starting thirty years ago when I was born. I feel surrounded these days by people who hold very different views of parenting and children than I generally do, and even though I am not a parent right now it makes me feel extremely lonely. I love coming across one of your posts that is able to articulate the sort of parent-child / family life I remember and envision for my own extended family into the future.

  100. emjaybee
    July 17, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I write with other bloggers over at http://www.theunnecesarean.com about one particular intersection of feminism and parenting–the treatment of women in birth (high c/s rate being only one aspect of it). We spend a lot of time exploring the ways women are disempowered in labor and birth, medical abuse, debates over the science of standard treatments like epidurals (which DEFINITELY sets off people’s self-defense alarms because they assume we are judging them).

    And yes it IS frustrating to see how many feminist women are unaware, at least until they get pregnant, of the struggle for control over women’s bodies in the L&D ward and the history of that conflict. It is inextricably connected to the struggle for contraceptive/reproductive freedom but doesn’t get much play in classic feminism (tho more than it used to at least).

  101. Sarah
    July 19, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I cannot tell you how much this post resonated with where I am in my life/identity as a feminist right now.

    I’m a graduate student in medical anthropology studying reproductive health issues in rural East Africa. I’m currently doing my first field site visit, and my partner and I have almost completely decided that we want to time our first child so that he or she will be around 6 months when I start my year of fieldwork in about 3 years. Working here on reproductive health issues, I often get questioned by my informants about why I’m a partnered woman without children working on these issues, which has definitely influenced my decision about timing my first pregnancy. Also, most of the parenting practices I believe strongly in would be much easier to carry out here than in the states. On the other hand, I am learning from further-along graduate students in my program that revealing this decision to my department would seriously jeopardize my standing in the department.

    All very tricky and all confirming my conviction that women should be supported in mothering when and if they feel it is right for them, on their own terms, rather than anybody else’s.

  102. Spilt Milk
    July 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Sarah:
    All very tricky and all confirming my conviction that women should be supported in mothering when and if they feel it is right for them, on their own terms, rather than anybody else’s.

    Word. It is infuriating that these things are still major issues for so many.

    That sounds like seriously interesting research, too.

    emjaybee: Thanks for your comment — blogs like theunnececesarean are super important resources, too. I have seen few discussions of birth rights on major feminist sites, aside from occasional debates about the term birth rape (which at least bring the concept of bodily autonomy for birthing women into the picture). An exception would be the down under group blogs Hoyden About Town and The Handmirror.

  103. July 20, 2011 at 4:16 am

    Good piece.
    I felt quiet angered by Clem’s piece, I felt it was bordering on ‘Mummy bashing’ and while I do understand the pressures, the article seemed to claim these pressures come from Mummies. I also found the part in which she claims that “once liberated women’s magazines like Cleo and Cosmo now have sections on pregnancy and stay at home Mums.”
    I don’t think those sort of magazines are ‘liberated’ and I felt that with this sentence, Clem implied that if women take on these roles, that they are anti feminist.

    I wrote about it on my blog: http://lilymaemartin.com/blog/2011/07/12/to-motherhood-or-to-not-motherhood-who-gives-a-fuck/

  104. July 22, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Yes, thank you.

    I’ve visited feministe.com before, read a few articles, I forget what they were, but I recall promptly concluding, especially from the comment streams, that “this is one of those breeding = anti-feminism blogs.”

    I don’t understand why so many people are buying into the notion that having sex and being sexy is a feminist act but sexually reproducing is yucky, boring, and demeaning to all humanity. It’s castrating. It’s misogynist. I don’t dig it.

  105. Fat Steve
    July 23, 2011 at 12:20 am

    @SpiltMilk, you responded to the original article’s comment (I assume you were responding to the bit you quoted,) of

    “As my 20s have run themselves out, the line of questioning from extended family members has shifted from “Are you seeing anyone?” to “And what about kids?” I’m 29 today and I expect the urgency with which the question is delivered to only increase once next year’s birthday rolls around.”

    with

    “I feel that, in the spaces in which I move online — in feminist spaces — there is no bravery required to ‘admit’ that one doesn’t want to have children”

    Apples and oranges., really. What you are criticizing Ms. Bastow for, is caring more about her interactions with her family than her interactions with the feminist blogosphere, which just seems like victim blaming. She clearly isn’t spending enough time, in these ‘online feminist spaces’ that give you such safety.

  106. Nicole
    July 24, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Azalea: But your idea of forcibly duct-taping a nappy is ummm not cool. If the child is in my care and not potty trained, the child needs a diaper. Emphasis on NEEDS. I wouldn’t babysit for a child who doesn’t because I am not going to be cleaning up a chaotic trail of poo and urine all over my car, home, outside, at a restaurant etc etc.

    What you are saying here is that YOU need the child to have a diaper. Which is fine, I understand that, people have different levels of tolerance for mess, especially fecal and urine mess. But the needs here are not that of the child. Indeed a diaper is probably not the most hygenic thing for the child, who will inevitably end up sitting in her own feces and urine, albeit for short periods of time.

    I have a two year old, we aren’t ECers and we use disposable diapers. But I don’t kid myself into thinking we do it for her. We do it for our convenience and comfort. And our convenience and comfort count too, absolutely. But there is a tendency for adults to systematically confuse the things we do for us as parents with things we do for children.

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