I’ve suffered from yet another Attack of the 50-line Comment, so I decided to make a post about it instead of cluttering Jenn’s comment box. Jenn has done what I’ve come to believe is tantamount to death in many feminist circles: she has spoken up for her rights as a non-parent in her post, baby wars. She was firm in her opinions, harsh (perhaps too harsh) in her judgement, and made the mistake of bringing up breastfeeding. Her criticism of our baby-worshipping cultures brought the attention of Dru Blood, a mother very much concerned about parental rights. If you can stomach the tense exchange, I recommend reading it. Just keep in mind that this post is a general response to the arguments, so I’m not pulling quotes or anything. Anyway, on with the show.
One of the main arguments from the non-parents is that we don’t hate parents (or kids), we hate bad parents. The kinds that refuse to teach or discipline their kids, who let them run wild in inappropriate places (sometimes to the point of endangering the kids and those around them), and who freak out at even the most polite suggestion that they, I don’t know, at least keep an eye on where their children are. Overall, I support this stance; kids are kids and therefore it’s the adult’s responsibility to make sure they’re protected and as well behaved as possible. This is, more-or-less, the stance that Jenn took. Dru, arguing for the parents’ side, pointed out that there’s a fine line between parents trying and failing and not trying at all. In many cases it simply is not easy, or possible, to tell which is which. And, she’s right. If the world were black and white, we wouldn’t need to be having these kinds of conversations.
Her point also brings up another issue. While I think that non-parent (childfree or otherwise) advice is valuable, since we offer an outside perspective, I acknowledge that it is that very outside perspective that makes it impossible for us to truly understand a parent’s situation. The same, however, can be said about parents talking to non-parents; yes, your kids may be your world, but that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to have a kid right now, nor or even ever. There is a point where parents and non-parents cannot truly understand the other, but I believe that, while it’s an important point, it is ultimately a superficial one.
In my studies on the matter as both a feminist and a childfree woman I’ve found that it is the very same parts of the patriarchy working against both sides of the divide: the institutions/social conventions that want to force mothers into some pre-conceived notion of motherhood (and punish them when they don’t fit into them perfectly) also work against childless and childfree women (and, to a lesser extent, they also work against fathers and non-parent men). One glance at the childfree livejournal community shows that, beyond the anti-[bad]parent venting, many posts are about the frustrations that childfree people face when total strangers shame them for not making the “right” reproductive choices. Having lived in mostly liberal areas, I haven’t personally encountered some of the worst horror stories, but I have had to get into more than a few terse conversations with my friends over my choice to be childfree. The worst I got was my uncle, who I love very much, calling me an “idiot” for wanting to get a tubal ligation.
Again, even though I tend toward the non-parent side, I fully believe that the parents’ arguments are valid, and furthermore I think it’s important for parents to bring some perspective to non-parents in this argument. But, just as I feel Dru Blood got hostile towards Jenn, so too have I felt in the past that many individuals in the feminist communities I lurk in are automatically hostile towards non-parents who are trying to understand but still refusing to slip back into the default value of acknowledging parents’ experiences as more valuable than our own. And, I guess, that’s what I feel feminist circles as a whole have a hard time understanding: individuals may get that the experiences of parents and non-parents are equally valuable, but society doesn’t.
No one is saying parents have it easy, far from it. The patriarchy is about control and it doesn’t care if the women are childed or not. But I would argue that the pervading opinion, in the US at least, is that having a child is the only way to become a 100% human being. And those without children are, by proxy, lesser and therefore we have to just suck it up and deal with it if our lives are intruded on by someone’s child. That doesn’t excuse some of the more extreme non-parent positions, just as the valid arguments of parents who want the ability to go out of their house with their young children doesn’t excuse the more extreme parent positions. All I’m saying is that the valid arguments parents have about their hardships are not exclusive of the valid arguments that we non-parents have.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go to a park and expect to have a nice, quiet stroll sans-children. I wouldn’t expect to go to a matinee G or PG movie on a weekend and not be surrounded by kids of varying age and varying rowdiness. I respect family-friendly spaces; heck, I think we should have more of them. Referencing a point that Jenn made in her original post about flying with a kid kicking your seat (my experience is with a kid dropping hirs pacifier on my foot), I would absolutely love for airlines to offer three kinds of flights: normal (like they are now), family-friendly (designed for kids, with G-rated movies and stuff), and adult-friendly (no kids under 13 allowed, designed for adults with PG-13 movies). With three choices, I see it as a win-win situation. Of course, with the airlines in some serious financial trouble it’s not feasible at the moment (too many people would get shut out of flight times they need), but I hold out for one day in the future.
Bottom line: I want to respect the rights of parents without giving up my own. I think our problem right now is entitlement complexes on both sides, with society goading us to fight each other so we don’t notice how badly our governments are shafting us. The problem isn’t parents or non-parents, per se, but rather a society that wants to control our choices rather than help us make them. An example of what I mean is that when Katrina blew through Miami schools were closed but my friend’s company was not. Because of this, the parents who didn’t have the luxury of having a stay-at-home spouse had to bring their kids in. The workplace had no daycare facility and was obviously not set up to handle children. In my friend’s work area there were four or five children, bored out of their skulls, making a ruckus and making it very hard for anyone to work. I don’t blame my friend for being annoyed (I would be, too). I don’t blame the parents for bringing the kids in (what other choice did they have?). I blame the company and our stupid government for not mandating that a company of that size have a daycare facility for the children of its employees.
As long as we continue attacking each other, nothing will get done. It’s not helpful for us to get all up in each other’s faces about the little things because we’re all fighting for the same reason: we want to be heard and acknowledged. We want society to fix our problems because we can’t do it ourselves. Discourse is good, but not if all it does is divide us further. Neither sides can respect each other as long as we continue to fight as if we’re diametrically opposed. We need, as Jenn has proposed, to communicate with each other. There is common ground and both non-parents and parents alike need to find it. Because otherwise it’s just all of us being oppressed, inconvenienced, and just plain getting the short end of the stick.