Children Are People: Take Two
It’s been a few days since my last post on this subject, which seems to have struck a nerve with many readers who found their way to my blog. A big thank you to all of the readers who have engaged in thoughtful and detailed conversation (critique included). It does not seem like good blog policy to try and respond to each comment individually (nor do I have the time!). But there were a few themes – particularly issues raised in dissenting comments – that I want to reflect on with more depth. So here is "take two."*
One of the oddest complaints, it seems to me, is the charge that calling attention to the dehumanizing language adults often use toward children as children is somehow indicative of white, elite, academic, heterosexual, privilege.
Last I checked, childhood is about as universal an experience as we human beings can claim. It is not as if children are only born to white, upper-class heterosexual adults with advanced degrees. The assumption that because I write about young people I belong to these categories says more, it seems to me, about the invisibility of the world’s children than it does about my own identity.** If “child” to a person who reads this blog automatically means white, rich, ivy-league-destined, non-queer child raised by white, rich, straight, ivy-league-educated parents, where does that leave the children who do not fit into that identity? Invisible? Irrelevant?
Children are a prime example of what feminist scholars sometimes refer to as intersectionality: they belong, as all of us do, to multiple human groupings, none of them mutually exclusive. Children are born into families of all income brackets and into families of all racial and ethnic backgrounds; children are born with all gender identities and sexual orientations. The argument that children are people, and deserve our respect as such, in no way implies that they are more marginalized because of their age than they (or an adult) may be marginalized by any other "ism." That is not the point. Instead, being mindful of the ways children are marginalized because of their age can help us to be mindful of the many other forms of discrimination they contend with. Just because a child experiences hatred or dismissal because of their age, does not mean they do not also experience hatred or dismissal in other ways. Being aware of children's rights, and challenging ourselves to think about children as part of the human community, means we should be paying more attention, not less, to all kinds of oppression.
Likewise, I am confused by the number of comments that suggest I am playing Oppression Olympics (a game of my-oppression-is-greater-than-your-oppression) or somehow belittling the experience of those who struggle with sexism, racism, or homophobia by using these examples as an analogy for the way I see children treated. By using these widely familiar types of othering, I am suggesting that the framework we use to understand those types of marginalization is also useful in understanding the experience of children as children, and childhood as a culturally-constructed space and set of social expectations. This is not a game of either/or but of both/and.
It is also important to remember that children are institutionally disenfranchised because of their age – there are many privileges of adulthood that we only grant to children when they reach a certain age (and, presumably, maturity), such as the right to vote. We also recognize the power differential between adults and children by writing protective legislation in areas such as child labor and sexual consent. Regardless of whether or not we believe these laws to be appropriate, their existence does mean we do treat children, legally, as a separate class of persons who have to earn many of the privileges adults take for granted.
Therefore, I don’t believe it is somehow wildly inappropriate to think about children as a group of people who are vulnerable to stereotype and marginalization based on their shared characteristic: age.
Finally, I would point out that my original post was not written in defense of particular parenting choices. I have my own very strong feelings about what children need from adults who care for them in order to thrive. From the examples given by many of you, I imagine we may disagree about what the best choices are. Yet regardless of the quality or kind of parenting they receive, children deserve – as do all human beings – our compassion and respect. Children have no control over what families they are born into, or what sort of adult modeling they see in the world around them. If they are on the receiving end of some of the anger expressed on this blog, I invite you to think about how that interaction will shape their idea of what it means to be a grown-up.
*Takes three, four, five, etc. may appear as invited or conceived of.
**Which, I would like to point out, most of you who posted are not in a position to make knowledgeable comments about. Like most of you, I am made up of a complex mix of insider/outsider identities and experience. Some of those are evident on this blog, some are not.