Over at Feministe, there’s a monster thread concerned with policing children’s behaviour. According to some people on the thread, children shouldn’t be allowed. Our public spaces should be free of them for fear of them ruining the grown ups’ day.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But only a bit. Mostly it’s about children being kept out of restaurants and movie theatres, and how parents are necessarily bad parents if their children cry, or run about, or create any kind of disturbance. In short, if they behave like children.
There’s a lot to not like in the thread, and given that it’s now over well over 300 comments long, I wouldn’t bother with it. I think the thing that disturbs me most is the assumption that many people make (both in the thread, and in real life), that my children will be noisy, and disruptive, and they need to be KEPT UNDER CONTROL. The effect is to treat children as though they were smelly, slimy bugs that have crawled out from under a log, and are objects of disgust.
It’s a commonplace way for children to be treated. Years ago, because another child had cried during a wedding ceremony once, we were told that we could not bring our 13 month old daughter, from whom I had never been apart for more than a few hours, to a wedding ceremony. The assumption was that she would cry, and that I wouldn’t have the sense to take her out. One of the local inexpensive family restaurants we go to on occasion serves drinks to children in nasty plastic mugs, not even mock glasses. We have to ask specially for our sensible and careful daughters to be given glasses. When we got onto a plane with the kids, people roll their eyes, and look put out and angry to be seated beside children. Yet our girls are quite capable of managing a few hours in a seat on a plane without creating any more trouble than any other passenger.
I do not understand why my children, and any other children, are treated with suspicion. Not all the time, by any means. Not everywhere, by any means. But often enough, instead of making the same basic assumption that applies to adults in public spaces, that is, the assumption that the adult will comport her or himself in a way that makes the space easy for everyone to be in, the reverse assumption is made. People assume that the particular children they see right in front of them will do something that disturbs the adult, before even giving the children a chance. It’s a nasty prejudice. And yet it’s one that many people (see that thread at Feministe for example), seem to embrace. It seems that it’s okay to say, “I hate children.”
And even if the children do “misbehave”, so what? Lots of adults do that too. They take calls on their mobile phones and sit bellowing at the restaurant table so everyone can hear them, they talk at the tops of their voices full stop, they fart in crowded lifts, they neglect to wash, they abuse the waiting staff. And yet, they are still allowed to go out in public.
Enough with hating children, with treating them with contempt. Children are people too.