There are a couple of recent guest posts at Feministe written by a woman named Maia regarding children in public spaces and what it means to be a mama. I was horribly late to the comment-party (-FAIL), and when my “thank you” got to be more than 200 words, it got transferred here. So.
The bit of Maia’s post that stood out to me:
im not a feminist ( yeah, i said it…shrug). but i dont understand people who claim to be feminist on one hand, and on the other hand think that children should be designated to certain public and private spaces, not mixing in ‘normal’ public areas, such as restaurants, stores, airplanes, etc. cause in us culture, when you create little reservations for children, you are really creating little reservations for mothers. it is the mother who will be sent away to take care of the child. and how is that supporting all women and girls?
I am the mother of a small child, who, long before becoming the mother of a small child, had the opportunity to watch small children in situations that most people in my area (US Midwest at the time) wouldn’t consider “appropriate” places to bring kids.
The four year old child of my voice teacher ran and played with other kids up until the few moments before my teacher’s recital began, when the kid climbed up into a chair, sat face forward and paid attention to what was going on, with only a small reminder from his mama to do so. This was normal for him, going to concerts and being quiet when they started, because he’d gotten the opportunity to do it.
Thing is: if you take kids places that don’t specifically cater to kids, they learn to do the things the adults do. My two year old already knows, when we go to our local cafe, that you go get in a chair and sit down, that when we go to hear music somewhere, you listen to the music. There are times we go home early, sure, but that’s usually for kiddo’s well being (too tired or hungry).
Expecting children to be on airplanes is the reasonable thing to do, yet some fellow airline travelers seem to think that my child getting to go see the grandparents is some sort of infringement on their right to quiet. If they know they are bothered by children and would take the time to buy a $2 package of earplugs at the dollar store, they might be much less bothered when/if the hollering begins. Pressurizing and depressurizing the cabin hurts some people’s ears, and if you’re not verbal yet, the only way to deal with that is screaming.
I haven’t encountered self-proclaimed feminists with this attitude yet. My usual interactions with the why-are-children-in-my-WAY crowd have either been with complete strangers or with people whom I know to not be particularly interested in treating children like human beings (or women, for that matter, although they’d deny both charges).
The key to treating someone like they’re actually human is not getting in the way of their self-determination. If my child doesn’t want to say “hi” to a complete stranger, I don’t make that happen. I have watched my nieces and nephews (chiefly my nieces, of course) be told to smile, to give people kisses, to say hi and bye when they didn’t want to, all in the name of being “polite” or “respectful” or “because this is what you DO”. My eldest nephew, for example, went through a phase where he didn’t want to say hello or goodbye, but halfway through our visit he’d just come up and start talking to me. He wanted to approach me on his own terms, and I let him. When the adults around him started to insist he go through the formalities with me, a relative stranger, I brushed them off, telling them I wasn’t bothered by the lack of salutations.
The other thing is, the way we treat children teaches them how they’re supposed to treat themselves and others. If you ignore their needs, you are teaching them that it’s ok to do that to other people, and that their needs aren’t really important. I certainly learned that lesson well. I’m grateful I woke up to
One small note: I call myself a radical feminist. I don’t know if that label says all the time what I want it to say, that the problems of misogyny and racism and ableism are at the very roots of our society, so what needs to happen is for all that to be rooted out – that it won’t get better with patches and creams, cosmetic changes like allowing (some) women to vote or making the wage gap not-as-bad or making abortion theoretically legal but only marginally obtainable. The problem is at the root, so the solution has to go there. I don’t know what my part in it is, but when I just read what bfp and other WOC say about their lives, that just kids just being kids while black or brown gets them arrested and abused, that the places mainstream feminism has repeatedly ignored women of color gets them killed.
This shit has to stop. I am not going to go off all delusional like the Great White Woman Who Saves The Brown People From Themselves. What I can do, right now, is raise my child to treat others like human beings. What I need to do further than that, I don’t know. But I’m not going to go expecting WOC to tell me, either. It’s my job to educate myself.