because, sadly, ranting didn't stop the pain

I don't know why, but for some reason this latest round of judgmental exclusivity over children in public spaces has really gotten to me. It's not like I haven't seen it happen before and it's not like I thought I'd never see it again. I've been a kid. I have kids as friends. I have parents as friends. Even though I will likely never have a child myself, I have lived and moved long enough in the world of families-that-include-young-people that my radar is up, reflexively, for the hate that inevitably showers down when those people do something our fucked up family-hating/family-idealizing (you thought these were separate camps in the childfree vs. parenting war? psyche!) feels is out of line.

What's so painful to me is that I feel like this is so fucking simple -- and should be even simpler for people familiar with feminist theories about how these dichotomies work. You can't win. You choose not (or cannot be) a parent -- particularly a mother? You're vilified. You have kids -- with a greater or lesser degree of deliberation? Suddenly a whole new world of discrimination comes crashing down upon you. Both sides of the coin interact with all other forms of prejudice and discrimination like physical and mental health issues, classism, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.

We're being played people. The system is fucked and the people who are existing in it can't win if they play by the rules. And it's intensely painful to me to see people I love and respect trash each other from both sides instead of working together to dismantle the expectations that surround them. About what it means to be a child. About what it means to be a parent. About what it means to be a family and have a fulfilling life (hint: you don't have to be a parent to be a healthy, connected grown-up).

This is all by way of a blithering introduction to a few blog posts written in response to the latest in hating (sparked by a post by Mai'a on Feministe which I thought was purposefully combative but no less insightful for it). Most of these came via my friend Molly who happened to mention the blog Blue Milk (thinking+motherhood=feminist) in a post earlier today which sent me link hopping.

Violet @ Beekeeper & Schwartz | Oh dear.
When I was four, my mom’s friend’s husband was talking about how he didn’t like kids on airplanes and you fucking tool, I’m right here. I still hate that guy. And now, whenever I fly with Little Miss Beekeeper, my heart is in my throat for hours at a time even though she’s really well-behaved (and too small not to be, I’d add) even though no one has ever been anything worse than indifferent to her presence.

This, I have to say, makes my chest all tight. Because a part of me dies inside at the thought of four-year-old Violet hearing that asshole and internalizing that hatred of herself, so that now as a grown woman and as a parent she fears that all of the other passengers on the airplane are telegraphing hate toward her and her daughter. If that's not toxic shit, I don't know what is.

scatx @ Speaker's Corner | Feminism/Feministe's Problem with Mothers?
What is bothering me about this discussion is that for the first time, I saw firsthand on an issue that directly includes me and my life choices the way that feminists can be exclusive. And that was a disappointment for me. That was a HUGE disappointment.

Because part of what draws me to feminism is that most feminist activists are working to make the world more open, more inclusive, not less. So, if you think that I am trying to say that you need to have children, or like children, or whatever, I’m not.

What I am saying is that we live in a society and part of the social contract is that we put up with each other in public spaces, even if that means dealing with children, or poor people, or minorities, or men, or whomever gets under your skin. That’s my point. It’s about a society that includes everyone.

scatx puts her finger, here, on part of what's so painful to me about these knock-down, drag-out fights over ageism. I came to feminism as someone already acutely aware of ageism (having been a young person who was routinely in spaces not designated especially/solely for children) and I came to feminism in part because of the way this experience exposed me to prejudice and marginalization. I involve myself in feminist politics because I believe in the power of feminist ideas and feminist activism to make the world a better place for all people. And I hate it when shit like this forces me to remember how easy it is for marginalized people to turn around and replicate the bullying and exclusionary behavior they so often have to deal with on the flipside. It's like having your lover suddenly say something transphobic, or your best friend crack a racist joke.

I get why it happens, but that doesn't make it easy to acknowledge.

bfp @ flip flopping joy! | last thoughts on motherhood stuff at feministe.
Right now at feministe, people are backtracking. Saying that maybe mai’a isn’t such a bad mother, now that I’ve read more of her posts. But somehow they are coming up with ideas for commenting policies that revolve around “guest bloggers should not assume we know their lives” or “guest bloggers should be more aware of who they are writing for.”

And it’s kind of astonishing to me that the very simple solution of asking questions for context may be a responsibility that commenters can handle quite easily is not really being discussed.

While I believe that a blogger (the same goes for any writer) is responsible for her own work, I am also disturbed by the notion that it is the writer's responsibility not to offend, rather than the commenters responsibility to be courteous to a guest who has been invited into their space -- for the express purpose of introducing new voices into the conversation. It reminds me of the kerfluffle about whether gay actors could play straight roles, and about whether trans folks are responsible for how they are read.

People who step outside of the norm are routinely more scrutinized and held to stricter standards for communicating their views than are people who more or less fit within the mainstream. Someone who expresses a minority viewpoint is more often condemned for their "tone" or for using nonstandard language, for not being and effective ambassador for their point of view. While I'm a long-time advocate of not being obscure for obscurity's sake, so that you can then feel smug an elitist about being smarter than all the plebeians who fail to understand you (yes, dude in my undergrad creative writing class, I'm thinking of you!) I am also suspicious of people who refuse to engage the minute an idea or the language used to express it goes outside their comfort zone. Particularly if those people then proceed to make fun of the person they've refused to listen to for not using BBC English or whatever the benchmark of normality and authority is.

And finally, because Molly brought it up in a comment on my last post about this, let me be clear: I don't think this is primarily a feminist problem. Like hating on women who are overweight (or women who fit the cultural beauty norms), hating on children/parents (or hating on people who choose not to parent) are wider societal prejudices that, as feminists, I think we should seriously unpack before carrying unthinking into our lives as activists. There are plenty of awesome feminist parents, feminist not-parents, and feminist children out there in the world -- and a huge part of modern feminist movement(s) have been about making the world a less hostile place for people who can't or won't fulfill the expectations of the ideal, self-sufficient adult. So this isn't (in my opinion) about feminism, per se being hostile to families or children (or people who don't parent). It's about unthinkingly regurgitating the hostility that seeps through out skin as we move through a toxic culture without stopping to think if that's really the orientation we want to have toward other human beings in the world.

Image: Statue of crying woman @ Flickr.com


  1. After several attempts, I can't figure out how to reply to marriagecoach on the Sex Nerd blog. eg. "the fact that you are a marriage coach is incredibly depressing" or pointing out his implication that you are hypocritical for commending a man on his attempt to communicate, when women bash men for not communicating, because all women are the same person... it just devolves into things that I feel are too hostile for Emily's quite amicable blog. I also think there is little chance he will notice his sexism and try and mend it. So I'm backing out, but wanted to say I support you, I guess. And will step back in if you think it's useful. If only I'd thought to call myself Boy Detective, I might had better luck...

  2. @Girl Detective

    Thanks for stopping by and saying "hi!"

    Yeah, I probably shouldn't have responded to John Wilder at Emily's blog in the first place -- the "marriage coach" label and the sex-as-duty language were total red flags. As you say, how depressing that someone like that is counseling, like, actual couples in the actual real world! It's really frustrating to see someone like that who purports to help people with their communication and is actually just into blame and shame. And as I said in my second response to him, his condescending attitude toward "us women" just wasn't cutting it in the "we can agree to disagree and still respect one another" department.

    Anyway, see you around at the sex nerd and feel free to stop by here any time :).