ageism and me.

So there’s this post up at Feministe, beginning with the provocative line “you do not have a right to child-free spaces.” It’s written by the mother of a young daughter who is tired of getting the stink-eye from people when she brings her kid out in public. I don’t have kids and I don’t particularly enjoy being around them, but I did think she made some good points about how notions of “appropriate” child behavior and parenting can be tied to race and class prejudices, and how not everyone can has a family support network or can afford a sitter so a lot of women end up pretty much having to haul their kid around wherever they go. And I will admit my perspective is that of someone who had a fairly easy childhood and has never attempted to raise anything other than a kitten, so it’s very true I don’t know firsthand how difficult it is to raise a kid.

However, one thing I can’t get on board with is the post’s author framing children (that is, the category of “children” in and of itself, not talking about the ways in which one’s age can affect one’s other social categorizations) as an oppressed class. This is not the first time I’ve heard this – pretty much every time I hear anything about ageism it’s about ageism in reference to younger people. Folks in the comments are going so far as to say that people not wanting to be around kids is equivalent to wanting “whites-only” spaces. And, okay, I find that fucking infuriating. This isn’t about this discussion in particular, it pertains to all the shit about “youth liberation” I’ve heard since I was a teenage anarchist (hey, isn’t that a young adult novel somewhere? Bawwww haw haw).

My main objection, I think, is this: “youth” is a temporary, subjective category. A person inevitably grows out of being a kid/teen. However: a person CANNOT grow out of their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, blah blah etc. For this reason, a lot of stuff I read about “youth oppression” sounds awfully appropriative, considering the relatively temporary nature of the category to which it applies. I can see how one’s youth can combine with other factors to produce oppressive notions (all teens of color are shoplifters, all young gay dudes are promiscuous, etc.), but I have trouble seeing youth itself as a category of oppression. Especially considering the extent to which youth is romanticized as an ideal state by American commercial media (and in subcultures such as punk rock).

Edited after discussion to add some more thoughts: My boyfriend said that he considers children as a class oppressed because of their vulnerability to abuse by adults, and I can see his point in that regard (I should also note that the same thing can apply to elderly people as well – I wish talking about age wasn’t so centered around young folks). My objection was the way this post seemed to frame “oppression” as “not being treated like an adult.” I really don’t think the way to empower children is to treat them like miniature grown-ups. Kids don’t know social cues the way adults do – their brains aren’t done developing so they don’t think in the same ways. That doesn’t make them stupid or ill-mannered, it makes them kids. And it means that they generally deal with situations differently from adults. I can go to a bar and see two frat dudes having a drunken fight and shrug it off – five-year-old Helen would have been terrified. And maybe there are some kids out there who can see such things and it’s not a big deal, but I don’t think there are many of them. While I recognize it’s not my job to parent other folks’ kids and I’m not going to be stomping around ordering parents with kids to leave my booze-drinkin’ places, I also don’t know why it’s so objectionable to acknowledge that no, kids aren’t just like adults and they deal with social situations differently.

And I don’t really like the argument that there must be something wrong with me if I don’t want to send “warm energy” towards a kid who’s acting up. While I have no patience for people who don’t understand that kids are kids and most of them engage in public misbehavior at some point, I also am a weird-looking gal with a surly and irascible demeanor. I look like a miniature Mortal Kombat character on most days, for crying out loud. I’m not really in the business of trying to brighten the days of strangers, no matter what their age, and when I try I tend to come off as weird or creepy. So I’m not going to give someone shit for having a rambunctious kid (unless that kid is actually causing some kind of harm to others), because children are generally like that and the lil’ hellspawn will likely grow out of it, like pretty much everyone does. But I’m also not going to try to charm them into being quiet because I’m not good at that kind of thing and I don’t know why I should be obligated to. (Put this paragraph in the “why I am a grouchy shut-in” files, I guess.)

Oh, and of course the comments totally turned into “this one kid did something awful in public this one time while I watched” vs. “oh my god, you are a totally awful person if you don’t want to bounce a babby on your knee all the time!” Feh. Also, when this was reposted on Jezebel it turned mostly into “LOLZ HER KID’S NAME IS FUNNY” and assumptions that the poster was some Park Slope yuppie, which five minutes of scanning her online writing would disprove. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PEOPLE.

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~ by Smellen on July 27, 2010.

2 Responses to “ageism and me.”

  1. I enjoyed the above post, but I wanted to make one comment: the duration of a status as temporary does not necessarily mean that one can not be oppressed during that time. For example, someone recovering from hip replacement may temporarily use a wheelchair — the world is no less inaccessible for them just because they will eventually be out of that chair. All forms of ageism are sort of temporary, youth will eventually age out of it and elderly folks will pass on, but the issue retains importance, if that makes sense?

    Off to read more of your blog, I like what I have read so far!

    • Yes, it does make sense. However, I do want there to be some acknowledgment that a temporary state of oppression is not the same as a permanent one. Like, I heard some folk singer dude once play a song about how he truly knew how much prison sucked because he got thrown in jail overnight at a big protest (RNC or something? I don’t recall). And yes, it’s definitely possible to be abused in prison even if you are only there for a night, but that experience is not the same as serving a 20-year sentence and having that same abuse happen over a much longer period.

      I also would like to see some more acknowledgment that how youth are treated can vary based on socioeconomic and geopolitical circumstances. While I know that Mai’a, the Feminist guest writer I linked to in this post, is pretty on top of that shit, I’ve seen some people who definitely aren’t. Like the obnoxious “adult privilege checklist” I found which was basically a long list of first world problems – “I am often forced to eat foods I don’t like,” “I do not get to decide on my bedtime,” “I am not allowed to decorate my house,” etc. Oh, cry me a river. How about “I have to work in a sweatshop twelve hours a day,” or “I’ve been forced to become a child soldier”? Not that only the most egregious problems are worthy of our attentions, but maybe show that you are aware that some kids have to deal with worse shit than being made to eat broccoli and got to bed at 9PM.

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