"No shit" headline of the week

The "no shit" headline of the week award goes to National Public Radio for this story:

Study: Tolerance Can Lower Gay Kids' Suicide Risk

Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of suicide attempts — and some other health and mental health problems, including substance abuse. A new study suggests that parental acceptance, and even neutrality, with regard to a child's sexual orientation could have a big impact in reducing this rate.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that the gay, lesbian and bisexual young adults and teens at the highest risk of attempting suicide and having some other health problems are ones who reported a high level of rejection by their families as a result of their sexual orientation.

"A little bit of change in rejecting behavior, being a little bit more accepting," says lead researcher Caitlin Ryan, "can make a significant difference in the child's health and mental health."

You think? I guess I'm glad that this study was done, and that it's getting airtime on All Things Considered -- but it's amazing to me that this is noteworthy: that loving your kid unconditonally and accepting them regardless of their sexual identity could, you know, improve their health and well being.


Winter Break Booknotes

I'm headed off tomorrow morning to Logan Airport, for my Christmas Day flight back to Michigan. As Hanna remarked as we were hauling book-heavy her duffel bags down to the rental car last Saturday, "oh, the terrible cost of literacy!" My suitcase and carry-on will, similarly, bear an over-representation of books. A quick (and no doubt incomplete) survey of what's on the reading agenda for my winter break:

  • Monster Island, and its two sequels -- Monster Nation and Monster Planet -- by David Wellington. These are apocalyptic zombie novels about what happens to earth after human beings, infected by a mysterious virus, stop staying dead and instead come back hungry for human flesh.

  • Good Omens, co-authored by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett which Hanna has warned me to read with circumspection on the airplane, since spontaneous giggling has been known to occur during reading. Giggles will be welcome after a trilogy about zombies!

  • As will Little Women and Little Men which Hanna and another friend from Simmons, Laura, have impressed upon me the need to re-read and re-evaluate since I never enjoyed them much as a child. I have promised to give them a second pass . . . perhaps with an historians eye they'll prove more enjoyable (who says scholarly analysis ruins literature?)

  • Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville. I bought this last summer after reading The Scar (set in the same world) but didn't have the emotional energy to tackle it during the term (Mieville's fantasy world is a dark one) . . . so I'll be trying again!

  • On the non-fiction front, I have the new feminist anthology Yes Means Yes, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, which asks its contributors to meditate on how a world that promotes authentic sexual pleasure and agency can help combat sexual violence.

  • Likewise, feminist Linda McClain's book on the relationship between family relationships and politics, The Place Of Families, was cited in something I read recently on childhood and sexual agency (the exact reference is escaping me) and the copy I inter-loaned at the library has finally arrived -- so I'll get to indulge in my penchant for footnote wandering.

  • Finally, I practically had kittens when I was in the brookline booksmith a couple of weeks ago and saw that Nick Hornby's third collection of "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns, Shakespeare Wrote for Money, is out. I'm saving this one for the airplane, though my seat-mates may not thank me.

And what winter break would be complete without a movies as well as books? My friend Aiden and I were thinking about trying to see Milk before he left town for the holidays, but it didn't happen. I'm still hoping to catch it in the theater at some point, as well as the new Bond flick. Hanna and I are in the midst of Dr. Who (Season Four) with the second season of Torchwood in the offing as well . . . and it's been called to my attention in recent days (as somehow we got involved in a debate about the morality of Vader's death scene in Jedi) that I'm overdue for a review of the six Star Wars films. On a slightly more historical note, I have plans to show Hanna both Goodbye, Lenin! and The Lives of Others, both of which I think are interesting companion pieces to Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n Roll.


Christmas (Un)cheer

Not that I expect anything different from Pope Benedict, but c'mon dude. It would be nice if around the Christmas holidays you could show a little more compassion and demonstrate that you're not completely out of touch with real-world problems. But no.

Gay groups and activists have reacted angrily after Pope Benedict XVI said that mankind* needed to be saved from a destructive blurring of gender. Speaking on Monday, Pope Benedict said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour was as important as protecting the environment.
And a note to the TimesOnline: why oh why have you decided that now is the time to re-hash this tired old story about inter-generational feminist conflict?

"One of the most unappealing things about the feminist movement right from its inception was its tendency to judge other women," says Roiphe. And, given the polarising of opinion between old-school feminists and modern young women engaged with popular culture — which, like it or lump it, is obsessed with celebrity, consumption and youth — there is much room for judgment. (See The Guide Association’s new manifesto on the sexualisation of young girls and Germaine Greer’s recent berating of Cheryl Cole as “too thin to be a feminist” as yet more proof.)

“I do feel it’s time for those feminists to step aside,” says Frangoul. “It’s like, we’re grateful for what you did, but it’s time for you to hand over. We’ve got a different world-view, and we might have something different to say.”
It drives me crazy that news stories like this don't see the irony in painting young feminist women as paragons of openness and multiplicity when they turn around and cherry-pick quotes from young women willing to dismiss their elders as has-beens. This does not have to be an either/or proposition. The existence of young feminist activists does not mean that it's time for women older than, say 25, to give up, be silenced, or silence themselves. As Deborah Siegel argues in Sisterhood Interrupted, this persistent narrative of feminist in-fighting does more harm than good, obscuring the many valuable contributions women of all ages have -- and will continue to make -- in the realm of feminist activism.

At least they linked to the F-word, which is one of my favorite places to get UK-based feminist analysis. In fact, speaking of: here's the F-word on Pope Benedict's speech.

*I guess we womenkind get to enjoy the blurring of gender as much as we like. Ecological disaster be damned!

Snow Duo

The younglings in my neighborhood were busy today (a snow day for the Boston area schools) building snow people in every available space. I snapped a picture of this curbside parent-and-child snow family on my way home through the park tonight.


Kuumaa Kaakaota*

This mouth-watering round-up of cafes which serve hot chocolate in the Boston area is at the top of the "to do" list for Hanna and I in the first month of the new year . . . with a little extra time in our schedules, and likely cold temperatures demanding the regular ingestion of hot beverages . . . who could resist?

*"Hot chocolate" in Finnish . . . 'Cause why not? Who can resist the endless fun to be had from Google Translate?


Visual Argument for Home-based Education

I doubt comic artist xkcd meant his latest cartoon to be a plug for nontraditional education, but that was my first thought when I saw this picture!


They said there would be snow . . .

. . . and they did not tell a lie.

The snow is lovely this morning, and we managed to get Hanna off for her Christmas vacation with relatively little trouble. (I even got a ride to work out of the deal -- which felt like a true luxury!) This morning, while Hanna trekked up to the rental car lot, I was sent out to procure hot beverages from the local Starbucks. I snapped a few pictures of the early morning snow on my walk.

Head over to Picasa for a larger slideshow.


"Everybody to Get from Street!"

Unlike in Portland, Oregon, here in Boston we don't even need snow to have a snow day -- just the anticipation of snow is enough to declare a "snow emergency" here in the city. They are apparently trying to forestall the great snow debacle of 2007 in which the entire city shut down at once and traffic came to a stand-still. Coming from an area where this kind of snow fails to shut down the schools I have to admit I find the situation a little humorous. Still -- it'll give me some free time to help Hanna get packed for her vacation, and pick up those last few Christmas gifts.


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.


"Is There a Name For It?"

The following question was just posted on the Teaching Moment thread by theczech and I thought it was worth pulling out and highlighting:

Thanks for this post. It really put some pieces together for me... where do you think these child insults common in internet comments are coming from? It seems like there is a larger group of people on the web who discuss their hatred for children and exchange acidic insults that they all laugh at together. What is it that links these people together? Is there a name for it?

The closest I have come to in terms of finding a name for this type of rhetoric is "ageism," which can apply equally to our elders as well as our youngers. In a broader sense, we could also think of it as misanthropy: hatred of people. But both concepts fail to get at the very specific issues people seem to have with children and young people. The fact that we don't have a specific name for hatred of children and the perceived threat or inconvenience they cause to their elders is noteworthy. Whenever our language lacks a word to describe a phenomenon, that means the phenomenon itself is less visible.



Booknotes: Stalin's Russia

Before the end of the semester, in a burst of rebellious leisure-reading energy (read: procrastination), I began two books on Russian communism: Travis Holland's 2007 novel The Archivist's Story and historian Orlando Figes' doorstop of a book, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia. This was partly due to seeing, over the Thanksgiving weekend, a local production of Tom Stoppard's play Rock n'Roll at the Huntington Theater. As is the case with all of the Stoppard plays I have seen or read, Rock n'Roll explores the complicated relationship between ideas and the people whose lives are affected by them: in this case, communism and a cast of characters caught up in the realities of life in Prague during the 1970s and 80s.

The devastating affect of Cold War communism on the lives of human beings is the subject of both of these books, one a work of fiction and the other of nonfiction. I am still reading both of them, but thought I would post a couple of quotations to give you a flavor of the texts and hopefully encourage you to check them out yourself.

Holland's novel follows the story of Pavel, a widowed schoolteacher turned archivist, living in Moscow in 1939. In the opening pages, he is sent to interview the writer Isaac Babel, who has been arrested and taken to Lubyanka prison as an enemy of the people. During the course of their stiff conversation, Pavel tells Babel that his wife, Elena, has recently died in a train wreck caused by politically-motivated sabotage. "I can't imagine people intentionally doing that," Pavel says. "You've read my stories," Babel replies:
"Your colleagues, when they came to arrest me at my dacha, they dragged my wife along. Did you know that? They made her knock on the door. In case I resisted. Can you imagine how she must have felt, to have to do that?" An edge of bitterness has crept into Babel's voice. "You are not the only one who has lost his wife" (9-10).
In fact, as Figes tells us in The Whisperers virtually everyone in Russia during the Stalinist period lost at least one family member to violence perpetrated by the men whom the fictional Pavel is ordered to work for. For over six hundred and fifty pages he draws on diaries, oral histories, and other surviving primary sources in an attempt to piece together a picture of private life in a repressive regime. This picture is unquestionably grim. "For the mass of the population there were always two realities," Figes observes writes:
Party Truth and truth based on experience. But in the years of the Great Terror, when the Soviet press was full of the show trials and the nefarious deeds of 'spies' and 'enemies', few were able to see through the propaganda version of the world. It took extraordinary willpower, usually connected to a different values-system, for a person to discount the press reports and question the basic assumptions of the Terror (273).
The strategies used by individual people to keep themselves from being submerged in Party Truth are both interesting, from a psychological and political perspective, and heartbreaking: "My inner self has not gone away -- whatever is inside a personality can never disappear -- but it is deeply hidden, and I no longer feel its presence within me" wrote Yevgeniia, a student of Leningrad Institute of Technology, in 1938, after both her parents had vanished into the Gulag (257). However difficult these stories of personal trauma are to read, I am looking forward to finishing both books for the powerful stories they tell about the behavior of human beings living in inhuman situations.


Teaching Moment: Children Are People Too

Yesterday, the following comment was submitted on this post from November concerning fear of children in Britain [1]:

Someone obviously needs to re-read Lord of the Flies.

On a more prosaic level, I'd argue that people's feral, shrieking little carpet apes — oh, excuse me, Precious Darling Children — are a great argument for doing as many errands online as possible.

My first impulse was to delete the comment. Then I realized that it is a perfect example of the sort of casual dehumanization of young people that the original article highlighted. I am therefore going to use this as a teaching moment: an opportunity to explain a few things about why I believe the hatefulness that adults like b.g. feel free to express toward children in our culture is not acceptable.

The casual dehumanization of children is one of my research interests as a master's candidate in history; it is something I am both fascinated with as an historical and political phenomenon, and passionately opposed to in practice. Children are people. As someone who is opposed to hatred and fear of any group of people based on innate characteristics (skin color, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender) it appalls me how acceptable adults find it to express hatred and fear of children based solely on their age, or for behaviors that can be traced back to their developmental abilities. I see this among a wide range of adult populations, from feminists to Christian fundamentalists -- it's a form of bigotry that is in evidence across the political spectrum.

In part, I believe that this intolerance of young people is one symptom of the way, in modern culture, we have ghettoized many people who make us uncomfortable, or whom we perceive as an inconvenience. Those who slow down our over-burdened lives with their complicated needs or awkward social behavior. People whom, by their very presence, raise uncomfortable questions about our own values and our competence in a complicated, competitive society. People who are mentally ill, physically disabled, people who are struggling with poverty and old age. People who are made vulnerable by circumstance make us uncomfortable. As historian Gerda Lerner writes, in her book of essays Why History Matters [2]: "All of us, ultimately, will join one of the most despised and abused groups in our society--the old and the sick" (17). We would do well to remember, as well, that we all began life as members of a similarly vulnerable and dependent group: children.

This is not to argue that children are innately better than adults. Children are human: ergo, they are capable of human cruelty [3]. That is not the question at issue here. The question here is why people such as b.g. feel perfectly free to refer sneeringly to young human beings as "feral . . . apes" in a public space (this blog) when presumably, they would not feel free to make a similar remark about a black person. Or if they did, they would be held accountable. I have seen on countless feminist blog threads, self-identified feminists who are outraged about hateful speech directed toward women and other groups turn around and use offensive language to speak about the children.* Feminists have long argued that ostensibly "positive" ideals about women and femininity are just as dehumanizing as outright misogyny. Both obscure the complex humanity of the individual person before us. Similarly, characterizations of children as "precious little darlings" or "shrieking little carpet apes" are two sides of the same coin: neither recognize children as persons worthy of our respect. Yet as a culture, we have been reluctant to recognize these parallels.

I have read Lord of the Flies, William Golding's novel about marooned British schoolboys who resort to terror and violence in the absence of external social structure [4]. Lord of the Flies is a commentary on the nature of humanity more than it is about the innate character of children or the particular environment of childhood. Remember that the boys who have been shipwrecked in Golding's book are not, in fact, free of socialization: they have already lived upwards of a dozen years in families, and in a British boarding school, in which adults have taught them quite thoroughly what is to be expected from them as human beings. I would argue that the book demonstrates quite well the violence that has been done to these children previous to the shipwreck, in addition to offering a chilling reminder of the sort of evil that all of us, regardless of age, are capable of.

Language matters. Language can affirm the humanity of each individual being on this planet, or language can create a climate in which individual people -- or groups of people -- become easy to discount or view as unworthy of love, kindness, respect, or understanding. I will not be deleting b.g.'s comment because I think it offers us a valuable example of exactly the kind of hatred children in our lives experience on a daily basis. But let me be absolutely clear: from now on, anyone who leaves a comment on this blog using language like "carpet apes" to describe people whose sole "offense" is their youth will have their comments deleted. You may disagree with me that children constitute a marginalized group in our society. You are welcome to argue your point in comments with pertinent examples and other evidence. You are welcome to use strong language to express your feelings. You may not resort to insults. If the language you use would not be acceptable as a way to describe racial or ethnic groups, women, or queer folks, I will consider it similarly unacceptable as a way to describe young people. Because children are people too.

*It is important to recognize that many feminists do not use this language of dehumanization when speaking of children and youth, and in fact there are countless feminist activists and organizations who have placed the well-being of children and adolescents (regardless of gender) at the heart of their work. My argument here is that alongside this work there still exists a consistent current of hatred and fear directed toward young people, and that feminists are not always willing or able to see the applicability of their critique of inequality in other arenas to a critique of discrimination based on age.


OED: "Crime" against Children's Humanity?

Every abridged dictionary makes choices about what to include or exclude. Andrew Brown, in an op-ed column over at the Guardian online, questions the selections made for the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary:

Imagine a childhood without gerbils, goldfish, guinea pigs, hamsters, herons, larks, or leopards; where even the idea of these things had been replaced by practical modern concepts like celebrity, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, and creep. This is the world of the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

. . .

Dictionaries should be many things, but even the smallest should be a gateway into wonder. The child who doesn't even know of the possibility of larks and leopards has been robbed. To offer them instead the grey bureaucratic porridge of the new words is a crime against their humanity.

I'm not sure that I share Brown's level of disquiet over these particular words, but I do like the idea that to rob children of language to speak about nature is a "crime against their humanity."

Thanks to Hanna, my source for all UK-related news :).


UDHR at Sixty

Anita Sharma over at RhRealityCheck brought to my attention that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, turns sixty today. It was constructed in the aftermath of the Second World War by an international team of philosophers and political leaders and draws on the core ethical principles found in the major philosophical and religious traditions on the world. So in honor of the anniversary, I'm going to take a moment to recommend, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written by legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon, which I read with great delight and interest when it came out a in 2002. It's a fascinating story of an ambitious international project undertaken during the rise of the Cold War, and documents an important moment in the history of the recognition of human rights.


And Again With Twilight

Despite the fact that I am deeply suspicious of the book and have yet to see the movie, Hanna has decided to hold me personally responsible for the phenomenon of Twilight, and specifically the chivalrous male lead, Edward Cullen, whom she has taken to referring to as "your stupid vampire."

Given that my name will thus inevitably--at least in our apartment--be linked to many adolescent girls' (and adult women's!) lust for "vegetarian" vampires with stalker tendencies, I figure it's only fair that I get to post links here to some of the awesome (and hilarious) deconstruction of the series that's taking place around the blogosphere.*

Thus, two links that came across my desk today:

The first is Amanda Marcotte's rant on Pandagon,
Vampires, liberals, and blood-sucking pretend liberals, which manages to connect the hate-mongering commentary about Proposal 8 to reactionary adoration of Twilight (apparently, the popularity of the series "means feminism is bound to fail") through the person of Caitlin Flanagan. I have to say, when I saw that Flanagan had reviewed Twilight over at the Atlantic this week I about popped a blood vessel. Anyone who declares halfway down the first page of a review of teen lit that "I hate Y.A. novels; they bore me" has absolutely no business reviewing (or claiming to understand the popularity of) young adult literature -- let alone explaining with condescending smugness the desires of adolescent girls with such generalizations as "the salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life." Thank you, Amanda, for giving this review the critical attention it deserved -- and most importantly connecting it to larger themes of political conservatism.

And in case political analysis is not your bailiwick, commenter annejumps on the Pandagon thread provided a link to The Secrets of the Sparkle, a three-part (plus drinking game!) send-up of the series written by an ex-Mormon. (To explain title of the post: apparently, Edward Cullen sparkles in the sun. Like, literally. It's a detail I sadly forgot from my reading of the novels last year. Damn.) It's sort of like a picture book cliff notes version of the first three books . . . through the lens of LDS theology. Trust me.

Okay. That's my fun for this evening. Back to editing the final draft of my history term paper! The semester's almost over!

*I want to reiterate here that 1) my reservations about the series does not mean I think we should disparage the pleasure girls are getting out of the romance of the books--though we can encourage them to think critically about messages that Twilight conveys about sexuality and gender, and 2) that my reservations also don't mean I fail to get pleasure myself out of stories about scary, sexy vampire bad boys. I just happen to like my heroines with a little more bite and my sex with a little less prudery.