Feminism/Feministe’s Problem with Mothers? [Updated]

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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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22 thoughts on “Feminism/Feministe’s Problem with Mothers? [Updated]

  1. Ok, you look down your nose at people who give the “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” story, yet you defend your position with a single comment?

    Have you ever considered how some of the other comments made certain people feel? Due to having chemo when I was 30, I am now at age 40, unable to have children. Do you not see how hurtful all the ‘mothers are so great’ comments can be? Do you not see that you are entitled by the fact that you have a working reproductive system, and there are actually people like me who are not as lucky? I suppose you don’t think about anyone but yourself.

  2. While I am genuinely sorry about your situation and can’t begin to understand the position from which you are writing this, I don’t think that my comments are that “mothers are so great”. I actually did not say anything like that at all and I don’t even think the original poster said anything like that. So, while I could understand why those comments would be hurtful for you (and I know which comments you are talking about), I don’t know exactly why you are directing your anger at me.

    My post here is to express my disappointment in how quickly a loud chunk of Feministe commenters were willing to shut down part of society to other members of that society. Because one of the reasons I call myself feminist and I read feminist blogs is because of how inclusive it is (though I accept that even this can be a problematic issue). But yesterday, I did not feel included and, yes, I took it personally.

    But obviously you didn’t feel included either and that’s the problem about the response and the comments. It should be about how we make everyone included in this society, not how we keep people out, section off spaces. So, while I will not back down on my position, I totally see your point about not feeling included yesterday either, and that’s a problem. That’s the OVERALL problem I was trying to address.

    And I stick by my dismissal of anecdotal stories about the terrible child and irresponsible parent because 1) they are a trope, a stereotype and 2) all parents have been those parents at one time or another because all kids are those kids sometimes. So, yes, sometimes kids are terrible. I get it. But so are adults and I don’t think using anecdotes gets the argument anywhere, except into a personal arena that pisses everyone off.

  3. I’m sorry if it sounded like anger and I appreciate your response. The reason why I confronted you on it was because I felt like you highlighted a certain type of comment and glossed over some others (though you did acknowledged the poats after I brought them up.) I felt like, well… what I said in the original comment, that you didn’t think about people like me and how we might feel after seeing some of the comments. Perhaps some of the more “angry” responses were motivated by the feeling of being told that you are less of a person because you haven’t given birth.

    I don’t know for sure if I would have kids, I certainly have a great life and a great husband (even if he is a bit slobby,) so I don’t let it bother me, but I don’t enjoy being told (not by you) that I should- and that puts me (and probably others) in ULTRA-defensive mode

  4. I see I made the most galling list xD

    I wasn’t arguing for child-free spaces, if it seemed like that. I’m supportive of the idea that children may be an oppressed group. But the biggest oppressors of children are not non-parents, who have relatively little power and influence in a child’s life. If someone glares at a little kid in the supermarket, sure that’s unpleasant, but I thought we could at least speak of ways parents (and non-parents in kids lives) could help their kids have more control over their life, in safe ways.

    A lot of teenagers and pre-teens begin questioning the religious/spiritual beliefs they were brought up with… they may decide to follow another faith. You, as a parent, can squash that. You can either punish them relentlessly until they give up, you can refuse to help them attend spiritual meetings, you can ban them from buying religious texts…

    You see what I mean? A child is not going to die from studying and becoming interested in Wicca. It harms no one. But children can have their religious beliefs controlled and extinguished.

    They can be punished over their sexual orientation when they’re older.

    They can be forbidden to play with certain children, because of their parents own biases towards people of certain race, religion, etc or just because they don’t like the kids parents.

    Parents, teachers, social workers, counselors… all these people are more involved than a stranger in the supermarket. I just think it’s kind of a waste to talk about helping children as an oppressed class and then target the people that are least involved in their lives…

    I like a lot of what Maia said but it did come across somewhat as just bashing on non-mothers. Listening to mothers-are-the-greatest and just so awesome and non-mothers are pieces of crap is kind of uncomfortable when your own was an abusive piece of shit.

    I’ve only been legally not a child for over a year now and it astounds me. That people can have lives that aren’t filled with terror, dread, and helplessness. :/ So yeah, feminist, and I have a problem with mothers.

  5. This gives me a lot to think about. And, yes, I do see what you mean.

    You read the post as being against non-mothers and reacted accordingly. I read a lot (not all, not close) of the commenters as being anti-mother/anti-parent and anti-kid and I reacted accordingly. And I am still and will remain disappointed that a feminist community could be so judgmental and want so badly to police the behavior of parents and mothers. I hadn’t ever experienced that in that way among that group of people (because we all know it happens constantly outside of that community).

    But I do think the post was about people respecting parents AND children, not just the latter. So, while I agree completely that the people who most affect a child is there parents, family members, teachers etc. (of course, I don’t think anyone’s arguing otherwise), I think this post was about society in general and the way that we all operate in the same space. So, I took it as a call of acceptance for mothers/parents/children and maybe I read it that way because I am a parent and because I struggle in public with the way that people act towards me and my child.

    And I really don’t think it’s a waste to talk about how a society of people reacts to mothers, parents, and children (or how a society of people reacts to childfree women, minorities, whomever). While maybe it is not going to have some sort of lasting impact in a way that your relationship with your parent/s will, the way that we are policed by all members of society has an impact on how we operate as social beings, how we in turn relate to the people around us, and how we find our place in the world. I just truly believe that we need to accept and embrace the fact that we are part of an ENTIRE society, not simply individuals who are only affected by those relationships closest to us. Why else give a shit about the images of women portrayed in the media or champion welfare programs?

    I hope it’s clear, though, that I get why you read and took the OP the way that you did. I respect that completely even if I still don’t read it that way. I try my best to get rid of the privileges and shit that cloud the way I see the world but sometimes I have trouble. I’m admitting that right now. I admit it all the time. I also fail at it often, too.

    But is it really that you have a problem with mothers? In general? It’s fine, if not normal, to have issues with your mother – serious ones at that – but to put that onto all mothers, I don’t know. But I also don’t know you, your situation, or anything else, so in that case, it’s to each their own. But I do believe to be a feminist, to believe in the equality of all people, we have to have a public space where mothers, parents, children, childfree women, everyone is included, respected, and accepted. That’s my own personal definition and I stick by it.

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. I did totally highlight a certain type of comment. You’re right. And you’re right that I wasn’t thinking about people who would be impacted by the “mothers are great” part of the thread. Obviously that also hit a nerve with lots of people.

    I would seriously never tell anyone that to have a fulfilled life or a “correct” life that you need a kid, or a husband, or a partner, or anything else. I feel like I am making it up as I go myself and I have no business telling others what they should be doing.

    I hope that a post/thread such as the one on Feministe yesterday will show people that we all, women without kids and with kids, have a lot in common in the way that society reacts to us and the way those reactions make us feel.

    Thanks for your comments.

  7. Hey there! Thanks for the thoughtful response.

    as much as I can from my privileged position of being a mother in a society that thinks women should be mothers

    I would go further and say that neither mothers nor the childfree are overall privileged in relation to each other – the economic consequences of motherhood are not to be taken lightly, and neither are the social consequences of not having kids. I really think that the relevant issue is that women are not privileged as a class, and therefore any reproductive decision we make will be penalized.

    That said, “feminists as an unthinking monolith are mean people who don’t like kids” is an anti-feminist trope which makes woman- AND kid-positive goals like affordable and accessible child care, reproductive justice, and social support for autonomous reproductive decision-making even more difficult to realize by stuffing the straw-feminist.

    It is shaming, to expect people to be silent about the reasons they are childless or childfree. If women are childfree because they’re not wild about kids, and they go ahead and risk social approbation by being honest about that, it’s not an attack on mothers, it’s a political statement that motherhood isn’t hard-wired into XX chromosomes. It’s socially very easy to bash feminists by showing off one’s own gender conformity , but it’s not particularly productive.

    I mean, it’s easy for me to say “focus on the big issue” because I like kids and am generally pretty tough to bother, but don’t have my own, so I don’t really have a direct stake in the conversation. But…yeah, I can’t help but feel like the “kids in restaurants zomg” is just a distraction from some vital human rights issues.

  8. I think it’s definitely a bit of both. A lot of the comments *were* harshly anti-child, although thankfully there was less that last time.

    I agree it’s very important to discuss the public spaces issue. Parents and their kids shouldn’t be made to feel shamed or treated badly when they go to places, just because they are parents with children. But discussing only that, and treating it like the sole reason why children are oppressed, feels like co-opting to me. “Children are an oppressed group, now let’s talk solely about one of the issues that negatively affects parents” Especially since there was so little talk about how to make places more child-friendly or more comfortable for kids, and more about making things more comfortable for the parent.

    Nah, I don’t a problem with mothers in general. I just have a problem with the author and some other people’s acting like all mothers are just these warm, loving, compassionate people when clearly they are not. And when motherhood is put up on a pedestal, and everyone goes with this assumption that they all care and love and would take a bullet for their baby, you invite trouble.

    I’ve seen kids beaten till they bleed, and people avert their eyes and do nothing because “It’s her kid. It’s not my business to interfere with a mother and her child.” Myself, and plenty of other kids, have been placed into abusive homes because of the idea that a mother is a better parent than a father, that she will always have her kids best interests at heart.

    Well thanks for listening to my tl;dr xP

  9. Hey, back at you.

    And, for the record, I don’t feel like childless or childfree life choices at ALL mean that someone is attacking my choice (or whatever you want to call it) to be a mom.

    I basically agree with everything you wrote here. And I, too, agree that “kids in restaurants” is a distraction from larger issues. Obviously, I read the post and the comments and was shocked that people were seeing only the trees and not the forest, even if the forest I was looking at was different from what other people saw (wow – did that metaphor make sense?).

    Maybe you don’t have a *direct* stake in this conversation because you won’t go out today with your kid and have to deal with people’s response to your presence, but I think all women have a stake in this, just like you said at the top and in the passage I quoted from you. These issues – kids in restaurants – is just some weird ass way at talking about all of women’s reproductive choices and the way that society interprets them and spits them back at you. But somehow it got garbled into a messy mess.

    Thanks for the comments. This back and forth with people in this forum (versus the one on Feministe) has really helped me process all of this.

  10. Yeah, I wasn’t around last time and I don’t have it in me to check that post out.

    Sure, if maia wanted to talk about children’s oppression in general, you’re right. But I think she just wanted to talk about public space (and private space – a hinkier issue). Of course, that’s still just my interpretation and maybe the thing I wanted the post to be about.

    I’m with you on not imaging that all moms are great. Trust me. Really, no one should ever be up on that pedestal because we are all just humans and we will all fuck up. And some of us will do terrible things, no matter how we identify.

    I think the issues you are being up are important (god, are they important), I just don’t think that the OP was about that stuff. Not this time. Hopefully, next time, though. Hopefully next time the conversation will be a little less exclusive from all sides.

  11. Hey, I think YOU are so cool. A lot of people have conflicting – and valid – claims and interests here. I just know in my field employers are kind of like, yes we have excellent policies to handle parenthood should that incredible contingency arise! Like they don’t think they’re hiring mammals or something. It’s a huuuuge surprise every time someone has a kid, and we totally have to come to terms with that possibility alllll over again. As much as I hate seeing that in my conservative profession, it’s even worse to see in feminist discourse.

  12. When I saw there was a comment, I told myself not to read it before I went to sleep. But this made me smile. Thanks.

  13. Woot! I made your galling list.

    I read your blog post earlier today, but had to come back and reread later to make sure I understood what you were trying to say.

    For the record my comment was this: 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.”

    I don’t believe that libraries are adult only spaces. But academic libraries are geared towards the 18+ crowd. As a result, we have very few resources for children who come in with their parents. A pen and scrap paper is the best that I can do. But according to this comment “but that they can provide the magic toys and books that make or break these tenuous kid situations?” I’m under the impression that you expect that the institution will provide entertainment materials for the children.

    Most of the children that come into my library are great. I have a lot of fun talking to them. But there are some that misbehave. The misbehavior comes from boredom. Nine times out of ten they’re bored. Why is it inappropriate to expect that the parents come properly prepared? After all they made the trip down to the college (currently we do not have an on site day care facility) with their children in tow. The parents have the appropriate materials for their class(es). Why are their child’s needs not attended to before leaving home?

    I don’t feel its unreasonable to expect that parents should bring entertainment for their child. A book that they like to read, crayons, or a toy.

    The other patrons there are using the facility to study. I don’t feel its unreasonable for them to expect a certain degree of quietness. If a child can abide by those guidelines, then life is good. But if if a child is unable to be quiet, or needs to wander around, then the library is not an appropriate place for them to be right then.

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  15. First, thanks for reading and for commenting.

    Second, no, I was not saying that I expect to the institution to provide anything.

    My problem was in your expectation and your assumptions about those parents whose children misbehave in the library BECAUSE those parents don’t bring the right supplies to distract their children or to keep them quiet. Plus, you make it seem in the original comment from Feministe’s site that MOST parents do this. In your comment to my post, you change that and say that only some misbehave. Fair enough.

    What you assuming in all of this is that parents don’t care enough either about their kids or the other people in public because they don’t prepare adequately before they leave the house. That these parents who come to your library with their kids are unaware of their children’s potential for boredom but dismiss it since they are too busy paying attention to themselves. You are also assuming that if parents did bring “enough” stuff with them, then the kid will be distracted and behave in the appropriate manner. So, in the end, if a child is misbehaving in the library it is a parental fail. But sometimes, kids don’t give a shit what you brought with you. Sometimes they are teething, they are tired, who knows what. Sometimes, as a parent, it doesn’t matter what you have with you, it isn’t the right thing. But to assume that the problem stems from the fact parents just aren’t responsible enough – well, I think that’s the problem. That was my problem with the comments that I had a problem with.

    While I assume that parents are doing the best job they can at every moment, a whole lot of people on that post were assuming, instead, that a lot of parents are irresponsible and selfish. Maybe that is not what you meant or how you feel, but that is what your comment said to me on that night when I posted it to my blog. All parents (ALL of them) are going to have moments when they aren’t the best parent, when they are selfish, when they do something irresponsible. But for the vast, vast majority, they are simply moments. Sometimes that will happen in public. Those people are embarrassed and they are aware. But sometimes you have to get something done in that academic library that was created by people who didn’t give a shit that someone may one day need to be there with their child – academic spaces, in particular, are notoriously not child-friendly. But sometimes you need to copy that journal article, you need to search the internet, you need to check out that book, you need to meet with your study group, you need to read those two chapters in the “library only” book.

    I was just simply amazed that on Feministe that people not only expected the worst of parents (which means moms in most cases), saw them as selfish and irresponsible, assumed the worst. And in response to those assumptions were arguing for spaces to be purposefully restricted so that kids (and therefore, parents, which means moms in most cases) are kept out.

    So, I guess my point is that I get what you are saying and why you are saying it, I’m just saying that I am not okay with the underlying assumptions. Of course, when I am at an academic library, I would prefer for it to be quiet. But, for me, the problem is never children. It’s the asshole on the cell phone. Always. always.

    Again, thanks for commenting.

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  18. I’ve read the original post and all the comments, and some other blog responses. I too have been thinking about this for awhile.

    I agreed with a lot of the original post. I do think the U.S. (I can’t speak about other countries, including others in N. America) is not child-friendly in public spaces. I think children are human, and deserve to be treated as such. I think glaring at parents (and it always seems to be women) is unhelpful when they are dealing with a unruly child, and that in some instances the parent could create chocolate ponies from rainbow clouds and it’s not gonna help whatever is causing the child to be ‘loud’ (like pain causing babies to cry on airplanes; ear popping hurts, and babies translate/share this hurt into screams.) I think it takes being in a very privileged and/or unaware space to say mothers should just hire babysitters, or not take planes, or not go out to eat, or not go shopping with their children. And I think it is disgusting that feminist spheres in the real world are unfriendly to children (way to keep that middle/upper class standard going, feminists.) [This reminds me of a story I read somewhere else of a mother who brought her baby to a lecture/dialogue by Gloria Steinem; the baby started to fuss and Steinem halts the speech to basically say, “Unless you feel leaving will help, don’t feel you have to go because your baby is crying.”] I also agree with comments that called out here’s-a-bad-experience-with-a-child being turned into all-children-are-horrible-ugh!

    Before I continue I also want to add I am childless and plan to stay this way. I have a small pool of experience with children on a one-on-one basis.

    Anyway, I agreed with a lot of her post, but not all of it. I don’t get how her original story links to the basic argument of the post; there are a number of reasons her friend could ask about if her child is with her, ranging from I’d like to make sure she’ll have toys/a place to bed-down (as it seems ludicrous to assume her bad-ass 3yo will be able to stay up till the sun rises) to I have someone at this place who has issues with children related to PTSD (as one commentator pointed out her partner did). Maybe she just doesn’t like Aza; just like with adults, I don’t like every child that crosses my path. Maybe she doesn’t want a child in her house, because of safety issues (the place isn’t child-proofed or she’s recently been doing construction and has things laying around).

    I had issues that she conflated a private place (her friend’s home) to ALL public places. That I should smile or make funny faces or talk to her child. I don’t like it when men tell me to smile, and I don’t like being told to smile at children. In response to some of her comments, I have a right to not interact with her child, just as I have a right to not interact with any stranger who comes up to me when I want to be alone. I also really dislike her complete avoidance of addressing the comments dealing with people who have physical and/or mental disabilities that cannot deal with children and/or children-friendly spaces.

    She kind of goes back and forth with this in her comments, but it came off to me as I have to help out/watch over kids in public (to a greater degree than I do for other people). Now, when I’m in a set place and I see a child without a caregiver, I keep an extra eye on them. And I try to offer help to someone I see struggling – whether this has to do with a child or disability or anything else. But she acts like this is something I have to do, that I’m a bad person (child-hater!) if I don’t (whether it’s because I don’t or can’t), and that I should want to.

    *shrugs* Maybe some of my response is just a reaction to some of the commentators and not the post. But she read this way to me. I do agree we need to stop being hostile to children and parents; I guess what I don’t see is why I’m obligated (her word in the comments) to be friendly (smile or make funny faces) to them either.

  19. To clarify when I wrote “I also agree with comments that called out here’s-a-bad-experience-with-a-child being turned into all-children-are-horrible-ugh!” I meant that the comments that gave anecdotal evidence of annoying kids/experiences at times conflated into therefore ALL children are this way, which is not true.

  20. Thanks for this incredibly thoughtful reply. I totally get where you are coming from and I appreciate your analysis of her OP.

    My overall problem, like you mention towards the beginning, was the response to mothers and children. It was shocking for me and what I reacted to.

    For me (as someone with a kid, obviously), I read her post as asking people to be as cordial to children and their parents as they are to anyone in society. I felt like the incredibly negative reaction to that showed how people can and often do react to children in public. It was crazy to see those feelings reified in the feminist sphere.

    But I agree that she conflates public and private. I see the big problems there. She definitely could have approached the topic in other ways. But part of me thinks that it would still has elicited the same sort of reaction about children and the irresponsible parents that let them ruin other people’s dinners. And that is what makes me sad about all of this.

    Again, thanks for your comments. I appreciate them. I really do.

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  22. I’m going to respond to this and I will try to keep it short. I often fail at that attempt. My oldest daughter is now three years old. I can bring an entire suitcase full of toys, an ipad with movies and books, every art supply known to man… and she is still going to wander around and talk to people. She is an extrovert. She loves loves loves loves people. If there are people around she wants to talk to them. I don’t take her to the library. I worked in libraries starting in elementary school and finishing when I was in college. I get libraries. I respect them. I can take her to the children’s section, of course.

    But I don’t get to take college classes. I am slowly going deaf. I have an inner ear disease. It’s genetic. I really want to start taking sign language classes. I have been really busy trying to survive up to this point in my life and I haven’t been able to get to learning the language that will some day be my link to having any relationships left with the people who love me . I’m kind of scared. Learning languages gets harder and harder as you age.

    I do self study stuff, but I learn best in a classroom. I went all the way through graduate school before having kids. But I didn’t get to the sign language in time. And now I can’t go because the classes involve lab time and my wonderful daughter isn’t welcome. I really hope that my hearing loss doesn’t accelerate dramatically. I also have a younger daughter. She turns one this month. I’m a stay at home mom. I don’t have the money to pay for 20 hours of childcare during the week so that I can take the classes when the school offers them and do the labs. It’s going to be a long time before I am able to invest the time it will take.

    I absolutely acknowledge my choices in my life. I am not acting like I am a victim. But I am making a choice not to do something that is fairly important in my life because doing this at this time is not mandatory for my survival. I already have my degrees. If going to college is the only way that a woman is going to long-term better her life, then it’s a lot less optional. The longer a woman puts off going to college the less money she will make over her lifetime and the more her family will suffer. I bet you an awful lot of them also have children who just want to talk to people.

    And you and I both think that children who want to talk to people shouldn’t be in libraries. I think that is because we have privilege.

    I can imagine a world in which my wonderful daughter came with me to the library and wandered around chatting people up. People who were very busy and distracted could say, “This really isn’t a good time to disrupt me, please talk to someone else.” They would use a civil tone of voice as if they had received a perfectly civil overture of conversation they do not want to accept. And the people who are there killing time between classes on facebook could have a delightful conversation with my delightful child. She is three, but informal evaluation (from her doctor) places her verbal abilities in the 8-9 year old range. Talking with her is really interesting. Adults enjoy her. Yeah, I’m being a bragging brat right now. But man. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if it was ok for her to find a way to fit into society naturally? Do you want to know why she is so delightful and pleasant to converse with? Because I have the privilege to provide her with a life that is oriented entirely around her needs.

    Thus we come back to the mothers who have to be in college. After writing this comment I have kind of come to the conclusion that I kind of suck for my belief that children shouldn’t be in libraries at all. Why not? My daughter would probably be fine. But I’m afraid to try. I’m afraid that people will be nasty to her. I’m afraid that I will be shamed for being so rude as to bring an extrovert child into the space. Because I promise you I would not be able to distract her with stuff. She isn’t into stuff. She’s into people.

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