Oh dear.

Cher Rusty,

I’ve proven a lot better at making lists of my feelings than I have about doing my (only slightly) less feelings-based work. Did you know that the feminist internet has been set on fire–FIRE. IT’S BURNING UP–by another post by a mother telling people they really don’t have like, a fundamental human right to exist in childfree spaces and their expectation that they do is culturally determined and that they should think about how to extend the same generosity and consideration towards children that they do towards other human types?

I wish I were writing under my real name so that the first google result for me on the Jeff Rosen Internet Never Forgets would be me telling all the people who think this is about the one time there was a loud kid at their favorite restaurant and they never behaved in any such way because back then parents knew how to CONTROL their children to make like Aimee Mann and eat a bowl of hot dicks. I really do. I am actually considering writing Sadie Stein a note–she and I (and you, for that matter) have a friend in common and I’ve met and liked her at parties etc–and I kind of want to be like, here is a very specific person whom you know who is a mother and here are ways in which the discourse you are actively perpetuating is directly harming her, fyi. Also, I think it’s pretty astounding that the Jezebel comment moderators would NEVER EVER EVER let a comment about Megan Fox’s cankles or whatever slide, but they’ve totally permitted long threads being really nasty about a three-year old. Stay classy, Internet.

This is also possibly because 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.

Anyway. Whatever. This debate simultaneously has the ability to bore me to death and totally preoccupy me. What I wanted to talk about on this hazy late morning was the evolution of my thoughts on child-rearing as a choice. I guess there must have been a time around 18-20 or so when I assumed the default American-upper-middle class that having kids was a choice for which you HAD TO BEAR THE CONSEQUENCES. I honestly don’t remember that, but that might be that I went from being pretty strongly child-identified to feeling pretty strongly that I would have children one day. But from pretty early on I adopted the Bitch PhD position that for me boils down to:

People have children because if you fuck someone of the opposite sex, chances are that sooner or later you (or, if you are a man, your partner) will get pregnant. It’s lovely that we have ways of avoiding this, and tragic when people who want kids find out they can’t, but let’s not be stupid: having children is not the choice. NOT having children is the choice. (from Tedra Osell, the original Bitch PhD)

and then:

People repeatedly justified hating kids on the basis of kidness being temporary. . . I will treat, this logic implies, that creature as fully human when she leaves behind her partiality. The silliness of this should be apparent – firstly, because while each individual kid may grow up, kids as a class will always exist (I think I ripped that line from Twisty but I can’t look for it); secondly, because it full-on admits the figuring of childhood as something to be gotten over, a handicap to be cured of, a regrettable but necessary stage on the way to full humanity. Which, I assume, is again relinquished once one enters a stage in life, either by virtue of age, disease, or accident, when one is not capable of fully autonomous and self-contained existence. This is – and here is my most basic point – the thing you are supporting when you say, “I hate kids,” and then insist on claiming it is just a social preference, a little personality quirk, perhaps one you even feel proud of, and one that no one has any business assigning a moral value to. You are contributing to the discursive reduction of children to sub-human status. Childhood is not a bad smell you get to hold your nose around until it passes. It is an iteration of humanity.

When I called this attitude antifeminist, I didn’t even originally mean the thing some readers mentioned, which is the extent to which kid hatred tends to disproportionately isolate women and/or be a veiled discursive gesture towards critiquing mothering. What I mean is that as an intellectual/activist sensibility, feminism (and so here I guess I mean something more like radical feminism than cultural feminism – terms that may not really work as oppositional, but for illustration’s sake …) is fundamentally opposed to patriarchy. That is, to systems that are based on oppression/pathologizing of the powerless by the powerful. (From Sybil Vane, who’s a more recent addition to the blog).

That said, I’ve been changing the articulation, though not the substance of my position lately. While I get the rhetorical usefulness of the first part and think it’s a neat reframe, I mean, it’s a bit sophist (which I mean in a sort of good way?). That is, it’s not insane to think well, if not having children is a choice, then isn’t having them? Once a second choice is introduced, we’re not talking about a unipolar system where you can potentially veer away but a bipolar system where you can move from one pole to another. For me, someone in a non-abusive relationship, with access to birth control and abortion and willingness to employ both, with some financial and personal resources and no particularly strong family or cultural pressure to have kids (or at least conflicting cultural pressures that sort of cancel each other out) having a kid did feel like a choice. At least some women are in my position – and you might even consider childrearing a choice in the absence of some of those factors. More importantly, to the extent anyone’s feminism is about allowing women to escape/demand redress for interpersonal, social, legal and economic injustices (which is a hella big assumption, but it’s part of my kind of dwindling feminism), it’s about moving women to places where childbearing looks like the kind of choice that it was for me, and the child rearing is not a choice thing becomes just a pragmatic stance and I think loses some of its force.

Anyway, here’s where I’m at now. I am totally willing to grant that childbearing/rearing is a choice in a kind of trivial sense, that is, if more than anything, you don’t want to have a kid, you can probably find a way out if it. But it’s stupid to talk about it as a choice in any way that structures our interactions/treatment of each other, because it’s a choice that’s hard-to-impossible for many people to make, and even if it weren’t, it’s a choice that some very significant percentage of people are going to make. I know this because we actually live in a super kid/parent-unfriendly culture and people still have kids, a lot. (I really buy the species-level urge to reproduce as an explaination of this because holy hell, nothing else explains why anyone would have a kid in The America of Today. Every other area of your life takes such an insane hit.) Holding people over-accountable for the choice to parent and making the world actively less accommodating to them because of that choice is, as far as I’m concerned at this point, like punishing people for having jobs. We could, theoretically, all go live in boxcars in Portland and eat out of dumpsters, but anyone who really expects that of us is a total cobnobbler.  Thoughts? Refinements of my metaphor to offer?



P.S. it strikes me as a Young Person of the World, you may think heeeeyyyy ok sounds fine but I don’t really want kids in my upscale cocktail bars, like the one we saw Gil Mantera’s Party Dream at. I 100% don’t believe that’s a real problem. Has it ever happened? Sure. Did everyone probably live? I think so. But it’s like the Death Panels of the Kids Aren’t People Party.

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  • rrr  On 28 July, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    Also, I think it’s pretty astounding that the Jezebel comment moderators would NEVER EVER EVER let a comment about Megan Fox’s cankles or whatever slide, but they’ve totally permitted long threads being really nasty about a three-year old. Stay classy, Internet.

    Well, some of the Jezebel moderators have been eliminated by the new/incoming/current EIC in episodes such as this one.

    As a result, things happen like the fairly recent (and also fairly regular) deluge of borderline-race-baiting threads on Jezebel, but NO moderators who identify as either wholly/partially of color.

    A long-winded way of saying that what you’re describing doesn’t surprise me.

    • Violet G. Beekeeper  On 28 July, 2010 at 3:01 PM

      Thanks for the context. I am not quite sure why I persevere in having any expectations of the comment sections/moderation policies of any heavily trafficked blog? But it was actually pretty surprising to me.

  • jemand  On 29 July, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    you know what I just thought of? the changing demographics of the US, children as a class today are much more nonwhite than the older people who feel they have a right to turn up their noses at them.

  • jemand  On 29 July, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    oh and also, you touched on this, but in allowing childhood to be framed as an unfortunate phase to be gotten over, it feeds into narratives that disabled people are responsible for getting themselves cured before society can be expected to accommodate them.

    And to frame children as behaving “other” and will be fully accepted when they begin to show only the social patterns of other adults is like people saying they have no problem with homosexuals as long as they don’t “act too queer.”

    The dehumanizing attitudes and language towards children are bound up in all the other forms of dehumanization and discrimination we struggle with as a society– and as long as we allow basic human dignity to be denied to any class, including children, we are making it harder for others to be free.

    There are basic standards of behavior that should be met to help everyone feel comfortable in society, and sometimes children break those, and when they do, they should be gently taught not to behave in those ways. But many of the things children are blamed for? Are not in that category, and are actually perfectly harmless, and are denigrated simply because of being “different.”

    • Violet G. Beekeeper  On 29 July, 2010 at 12:30 PM

      You’re right, and your comment also underscores that childhood is a space of disempowerment which intersects with EVERY OTHER space of disempowerment except for, I guess, old age. But are you anti-racist? Guess what there are non-white kids! Feminist? There are girl children! Disabled kids, queer kids, poor kids, trans kids, enslaved kids, abused kids, kids who get stressed out by other kids being loud just like you do. It’s just so totally ridiculous to see a pro-child worldview contrasted with activism or consciousness in any of these spheres.


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