I also like this response, even though I don’t actually think there was childfree-shaming going on in the original post. And I don’t even agree the OP was asking women to be mothers or have children or even “coo over babies” – instead just asking people to respect everyone, including parents and children, in the public realm instead of getting instantly upset about the presence of a not-totally-quiet kid.
But I respect and, as much as I can from my privileged position of being a mother in a society that thinks women should be mothers, understand the fact that women who choose to be child-free or who have no other option are very sensitive (and rightly so) to their position in this society, especially in relation to mothers. And I at least appreciate the argument here, even though I obviously don’t agree with these points, and I like seeing these things from other perspectives than my own (especially ones that aren’t explicitly judging mothers or parenting, or using anecdotes in order to make their point).
What I do think is really interesting is the fact that both women with kids and women without feel shit on by society – that’s why we have feminism, right? That’s why the discussion has to be above and beyond just whether we like children in restaurants or if kids belong in bars. I really, really like this statement at the end of the post:
I’m so annoyed at people who buy into the divide-and-conquer strategy about kids. The issue, very clearly, isn’t about “cultural hostility towards children.” It’s about the cultural policing of reproductive decisions, the under-valuing of child care labor, and the class disparities of child care opportunities.
Also, this other post is so cool, I just want to keep reading and processing it. I’m not sure I even understand it all but it makes me think. Case in point:
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.
Jezebel has a response and the comments to the response are worse than Feministe. For example,
People who assume they can become parents and then live their lives the same as if they were single are the problem – that is why I have chosen not to have children, and I should not be subjected to your kids just because you’re a shitty person and parent. [The thing that makes you a shitty person and parent, btw, is bringing your child to anything more “upscale” than Applebee’s.]
Also, parents who take their children to bars are terrible fucking parents. Why are you giving them that behavior to model?
And I like this post at Stroller Derby, which is a different response than mine or Jezebel’s:
Generating a culture of fear around moms in public, that they’d better get those kids to shut up and act sweet or else, only serves to make us more fearful as parents. Frightened moms are stricter, less flexible and ultimately less able to handle stressful situations that crop up with their kids. Ease up a little, and the kids will have fewer meltdowns to begin with. Everyone wins.
The point is not that you should not have adults only space. Go ahead and rock the age limits on nightclubs, bars, what have you. But genuinely public spaces: shopping areas, public transportation, city streets, most restaurants – these spaces are for everyone. The kids in them deserve to be treated with respect.
Update: It is morning and I have continued to let this post and its comments wash over me. Here’s the thing.
I get that some people are never going to agree with me on this. I get that there are people who have either chosen to be child-free or have no other choice. I’m not denying those choices or judging someone for having a different path in life. If you feel like I am, I apologize because that is certainly not my intent at all. But I refuse to let go of the idea that all people in our society (including children) should be accepted in public spaces. And I refuse to let go of the notion that if you want to call yourself a “feminist”, you have to believe this, too. Because I think you do and I’ll explain why below.
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.
If you want people with children to get out of your public space, you are telling women to get out of your public space. Because whether or not you are a parent, there is no secret that in our society (and I am speaking about the US since that is where I live and what I know) that women take the brunt of that role. Yes, that’s changing and that’s great. In fact, in my own household, we are actively working to change that for ourselves, for me, but when an entire society and its institutions are built in such a way, it’s not so easy to work completely outside of such structures even if you are trying and trying hard. So, when you are talking about children, you are also talking about women. And women = feminism. That doesn’t mean that I ONLY care about mothers and think that they should be THE priority in the movement. I just don’t think that if you have a different path in life or if you find kids annoying or if you find parents annoying that you should be so quick to want to dismiss them from public.
So, even if you are couching your points in what appear to be “I’m just looking out for the safety of the children” or “this is what a responsible parent would do”, you are implicitly saying that women are:
1) not looking out for the safety of their children, at least not as much as you are and shame on them. And this is something that people slap you across the face with constantly once you choose to become a parent. It’s a nearly daily thing. Strangers want to tell you how to parent. Shit, this is an issue as soon as you become pregnant. THIS is why a crux of the pro-choice movement says that we should trust in women and their judgment as people, as human beings.
and 2) by default will act irresponsibly without someone to teach or show them otherwise. It’s insulting, it’s condescending, and, to me, it’s anti-feminist. As someone in support of the original poster yesterday, I didn’t feel the need to talk about parental responsibility because I assumed it was there. It was clear that a big chunk of commenters did not. So, yeah, I took that personally as a woman and a mother. And I think ALL women should take that line of reasoning personally because we all have experienced that moment when we realize that the person we are talking to, working for, working with doesn’t trust our opinion, our knowledge, or our ability simply because of the fact that we are women.
I guess that’s it. If you get nothing out of this except that I don’t like people who disagree with me or don’t like children or don’t have children, then you aren’t getting me at all.
I’ll end this with some quotes from Amy Richards’ Opting In. Take them as you will, as you want:
In fact, the initial tension between feminism and motherhood developed because the former advocates the pursuit of independence, while the latter is based on dependence. In its most basic definition, feminism is about self-worth and dignity, which mothers need in order to parent effectively – even if they don’t think they need it for themselves, they should be giving that example to their children. (6)
To actually enjoy motherhood or to embrace it challenges most people’s assumptions about how to be a feminist. No matter how much defensive maneuvering feminism does, campaigning for women to be in the workplace or to not have children if they don’t want them is interpreted primarily as urging women to forsake their biology. In truth, arguing for inclusion isn’t the same as arguing for absolutes – asking for women to have a seat in the boardroom doesn’t mean that all women have to pursue that route. (7)
Feminism’s crusade remains unfinished because examining the “personal” is far more threatening than condemning the political. (9)
Feminism is a process, not a conclusion: raising awareness, creating resources, and challenging why this is the way things have to be. (12)
So, it is late and I almost never post this late at night. Normally I am exhausted from my day, just trying to get to bed as early as I can manage in order to get a full night’s rest before my son gets up in the morning. Tonight, in particular, I am heading to bed “early” because my son has been cutting a molar, which means that there’s no guarantee that he will sleep all night long.
But I can’t get this blog post from Feministe and the comments after it off my mind. It’s consuming me today because it was an incredibly disappointing experience for me, a self-proclaimed feminist and a mom.
A guest-poster (maia), wrote a post that started like this:
you do not have a right to child free spaces.
And it goes on…
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?
And then she did what I guess was the WORST. THING. EVA. She writes,
but dont get me wrong. kids will be kids. at times that means tears, loud noises, knocking things over, etc. and when that happens the worst things to do is start sending out negative energy, glaring at the mama and child, yelling, sour faces, etc. much more helpful is to take a deep breath, send warm energy toward the mama and kid, give a sympathetic smile, and maybe even start talking with the kid to distract her from whatever has her upset at the moment. a lot of times, a little bit of attention from an outsider will change the mood quickly. doing so in a way that does not overstep the mama’s boundaries and voila! you are the hero of the moment. and everyone is happier and less stressed. see, really, its that easy.
I guess that people who wrote comments took this as her instructing them to take care of her child when she is in a public space and her child is having a difficult moment.
Well, shit hit the fan immediately and it is still going, nearly 16 hours later. Right now, there are 409 comments.
Before today I guess I imagined two things. 1) Feministe has a feminist readership and 2) that feminists support everyone, especially mothers. I was WRONG. I want to believe that I was wrong about 1 but I am fearful now that I am wrong about 2.
Let’s sample some (okay, ALOT of the) comments that I find particularly galling (and this will NOT include any of the very many, many, many, many, many “this one time at this one place this one kid did this annoying thing and the parents just sat there doing nothing about it. So, therefore, we need kid-free zones in this society so I can escape from these annoying children and their irresponsible parents” scenarios and experiences):
The issue I take with kids in public spaces is when parents think that because their kids are allowed to be there, they can behave in any way that they want. If children are just little people, then they need to behave in the way people are expected to behave.
But there’s no guarantee that even if the parents DO try to get the kid to behave, that the kid will behave, and in the meantime while this grand experiment of behavior is playing out, the rest of the patrons have to deal, even if this is the nice meal he’d saved up for so that that he could propose, even if this was the first time a woman who has spent the last two years going to nothing but Applebee’s and TGI Fridays because of the kids was able to get out and go someplace nice and grown-up. [Give me a break with the stupid hypothetical situations]
You have to consider the safety of the child, and that is one instance where I cringe whenever I see a child in a LOUD environment. I study speech and hearing, and I know the devastating effects loud sounds can have on a child’s hearing and in turn speech and language development (that said, please turn down your iPod and wear some ear plugs to that show, grown-ups!).
It’s not appropriate to bring children everywhere, and I dislike the blanket statements that “children are ok/not ok in bars.” Bars are all different. I would balk at someone bring a child to a tightly packed sports bar, a smoky nightclub or a 5 star “jackets required” establishment.
It isn’t just about the comfort of adults, it’s about the safety of the child as well. Children have no place in bars because drunken adults are a danger to them. I would no more let a child be in a bar where an adult might fall on them due to drunkness than I would let one play with matches/an iron/any other dangerous object.
I can remember being a kid, the adult spaces I got dragged into were boring and they contained dangers and frightening things like the time two drunk guys got into a fist fight in the middle of a bar.
I feel the same about my parent friends on Facebook. I’m friends with *you* and while I recognize your new baby is a huge part of your life (that I am in fact interested in), if you can talk about *nothing* other than your child, you’ll be hidden from my feed, or even de-friended.
I think part of the problem in US society is the relationship of strangers to children. I have often felt awkward about dealing with disruptive children who are not my own. I want to help, and I know that, as maia says, the friendly intervention of a stranger is often incredibly helpful. But in US society, it is just not really allowed. On the occasions I have done it, it has worked out really well.
When I was young and a baby started wailing in church, the mother always took the baby outside. In the case of toddlers and older children having tantrums, the mother or father always scolded the child and left with him or her. European kids are much better behaved than the ones in North America.
I’m no expert on kids, but I think today’s undisciplined children are tomorrow’s disturbed teenagers and adults.
I am not calling for a ban on children in these places, but parents, please remember that your child WILL ruin the experience and further embed this prejudice against ALL mothers and children in the minds of all adults in a place if your child is obnoxious.
So because that’s their parents’ ‘life choice’ I should automatically respect that? I’m absolutely going to judge people who encourage their children to behave badly and disrespect the rights of other people, not because I hate kids, but because those kids have no chance of figuring out anything of value on their own, and because their behaviour earns them glares and whispered insults when it should be their parents who are the target of people’s rage. I’m going to judge people who do that to their children.
And it’s not anti-kid…I feel the same about someone’s favorite TV show, bellydance class, sci-fi habit, NASCAR/shoe shopping obsession, what have you. If that’s all you can talk about, then we might not be having many conversations.
What astounds me is how few parents provide activities for their child(ren). They know that they’ll be here for a few hours. Yet they bring no snacks, no books, no crayons/markers, and no toys.
And I remember on the relatively few occasions that my sister or I acted up, cried or threw a hissy fit in a public place like a library, restaurant or bank, we were promptly removed by a parent from said place until we got over it and were told in no uncertain terms that people don’t want to listen to us and that if we ever wanted to get out and to more “grown up” places, we’d best learn what’s socially acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. That’s what’s called responsible parenting
So I think asking parents to consider whether a place is really actually comfortable for your child, and whether they even want to be there, is not so bad.
Sadly we can’t always rely on parents to make the right decisions for their children. Sometimes decisions have to be made to protect the child, regardless of whether the parents think something should be allowed or not.
Also, I have not seen one child screaming out of control while their parent found it amusing or got pissed off when someone pointed out it wasn’t good idea. I’ve seen myriad parents do this. Sorry we live in a community. Everyone has to be taken into consideration not one person’s preshus.
There are PLENTY of amazing responses that are pro-women, pro-mothers, pro-parenting, pro-everybody. But I just can’t believe that “feminists” feel this way about other women, other parents, other people.
Okay. I’m not that naive. But these arguments about why we need to create and maintain adult-only spaces that are based around the assumptions that most parents don’t do a good job or accept the responsibility of being a parent are so incredibly dismissive and condescending. As if children aren’t people, too. As if their completely different experiences and relation to the world don’t matter.
It’s not that I don’t get how a child or what appears to be a non-responsive parent can ruin a meal or a plane trip, but for fuck’s sake Feministe commenters, if anyone on this planet can at least have empathy and/or sympathy for the work that goes into parenting, you would think it would be you.
Why do you assume so quickly that parents are arrogant and selfish when it comes to their children? Are they any more arrogant or selfish than you? Why do you assume that parents don’t care about the safety of their children? Why are you so quick to the judge the decisions that parents are making? Who are you to tell me what is appropriate behavior for my child and shouldn’t someone be telling you that your eye rolling, your guffawing, your sighing, your just-loud-enough-to-be-heard rude comments about me and my child are inappropriate, too? Why do you assume that the only way to handle a toddler who is having a “tantrum” is to scold and be dragged outside? And why do we think that all people have access to the same resources as everyone else and should be able to provide not only the so-called “appropriate” discipline for that child at that moment in that space, but that they can provide the magic toys and books that make or break these tenuous kid situations?
Gah. And blah. And ahhhh!
As maia said tonight when she signed off in the comments,
oh but before i go…this is a feminist site, right? the readers are primarily feminist, yes? that is audience, feminists…ok then, we now know all we need to solve the great mystery: why did mai’a address the op to feminists…
Yeah, why would feminists need to read her post, see it from her side? I think these comments make it very clear why.
I have more clever and insightful things to say about this but I am tired. Maybe I’ll come back to this, maybe I won’t.