ageism, one more time

The boyfriend and I have been arguing back and forth for a couple days about my last post. (Yeah, we’re nerds.) Having worked with disadvantaged kids, he feels strongly that children are an oppressed class. I, as previously stated, don’t really think so – I think youth can certainly exacerbate other factors (poverty, mental health issues, etc.) but I don’t know that it’s an oppressed class in and of itself. Again, I am uncomfortable with the way I have seen people compare identities that stick with a person for life (race, gender, and so forth) with youth, which is a short-lived and transitory category. It feels like someone trying to say that they know what it’s like to have a permanent disability because they had to walk on crutches for six months. (Then again, this may just rise from my general tetchiness at comparing identity categories and people projecting their experiences onto others. Though I did just make my point by using an oppression comparison [cue sad trombone sound effect].)

It also doesn’t help that many of the arguments I’ve seen for recognizing children as an oppressed class, both on the internetz and elsewhere, just seem like someone’s parody of what they think terrible hippie parenting is like. This “adult privilege checklist” is one example. The author makes some valid points – children are vulnerable to physical and emotional abuse from adult caregivers, their mental health issues are often not taken seriously, etc. But those points are lost in a sea of things like this:

When eating out, or at a film, the wait time will probably not feel reasonable to me, and if I eat as I would at home I might attract stares and rude comments.

1. If my wait time for food or entertainment feels unreasonable, and I complain, people will generally not be understanding and apologetic.

As someone who has worked quite a few jobs in the service industry: you’re not oppressed because your food isn’t out to you in five minutes. You just need to learn some patience and maybe how to wait your turn. I don’t blame a kid for not knowing these things – learning them is part of growing up, whatevs. But don’t claim you’re oppressed because the people you apparently think of as your servants aren’t dropping everything to meet your needs.

I might not be able to attend to my bodily needs (housing, food, water, toileting, health needs, taking myself to bed) without relying on someone else to assist me.

1. I am often forced to eat foods I do not like.
2. People might advocate force-feeding me, and this is not often seen as abusive.
3. My bedtime is set (often arbitrarily) by my caregiver, and I often do not have input on this.
4. I have no choice about my living space – the house I live in, its decoration, the arrangement of furniture etc.
5. I often have no choice about my outward appearance – haircuts, clothing etc.

You know what? If I had my way at age seven I would have eaten nothing but pasta with butter and various desserts, I would have stayed up until midnight every night, and I would have decorated the house entirely in a Ren and Stimpy theme. Oh, and I would probably be unhealthy and my parents and I would have been kind of miserable. I don’t think they “oppressed” me by making me try new foods and making me go to sleep at a reasonable hour. I mean, without my mom making me try it, I don’t think I would have discovered my love of curry, which would be a damn tragedy. And I don’t know about other kids, but my parents didn’t let me decide on major home decoration because my primary interests changed about every month.

I am not legally allowed to vote, even though government makes decisions about me and people like me.

Not to toot my own horn, but when I was younger (like, middle school age) I was considered a pretty bright kid – read above my level, read the news, liked to think I knew what was going on the world, etc. And you know what? I still believed everything my parents told me about politics and my views pretty much mirrored theirs. I have noticed that this is the case with most kids, at least until high school. (And even then, my views deviated from my parents’ only in that I was even further to the left.) Kids are generally not really the best at thinking for themselves, politically speaking. While I know that there isn’t a magical age of political maturity and some people continue to not think for themselves well into adulthood, I am nonetheless pretty comfortable with, say, not allowing 12-year-olds to vote.

So, you want to know why the term “child oppression” makes me raise an eyebrow? It’s because of shit like this, which evidently hails from some bizarro-land where being made to eat spinach means you’re marginalized. To which I say: Oh, boo hoo.

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~ by Smellen on July 30, 2010.

6 Responses to “ageism, one more time”

  1. Have you read the Dialectic of sex? Shulamith Firestone is v interesting on children as an oppressed class, although like you, I’m not sure I buy it all. Her re-writing of the Oedipus complex in terms of power not sex is good fun tho – you hate your father not because he sleeps with your mother but because he controls you and all you do (food, shelter, bedtime, spinach).

    Interspersed with that there’s some deeply dodgy stuff about how working class children are so much less fettered by the oppressive bourgeois moral strictures of the middle classes, so they spend their time having sex and living in a much free-er way, which I find very dubious – airy quoting of ‘friends who teach in ghetto schools’ is presented as proof of this. But one of her points is that although individual *children* will grow out of childhood, there is an oppressed class of children because they are constantly being replaced by more children.

    I do like a lot of what she says about treating kids more grown up, trusting them more, ‘the best way to raise a child is to LAY OFF’, etc.

    • I read a little bit of The Dialectic of Sex for a feminist philosophy class I had. I had many of the same feelings – some good points, but also some shaky logic in parts. That take on the Oedipus complex does make a lot more sense than the original, though.

      I have to admit I am deeply grossed out by anyone fetishizing the working class as free and unrepressed. I mean, I would think that part of the reason working-class kids are maybe more independent is that they are expected to help out their parents a lot more as far as supporting the household (monetarily and otherwise). So, not so much being free of bourgeois morality as, y’know, Mom’s working 60 hours a week and doesn’t have time to watch you like a hawk. Maybe you get away with more stuff but you also have more responsibilities.

      I don’t know that the best way to raise a child is to lay off. I mean, if I had been left to my own devices as a kid I probably would have made some pretty terrible decisions about my well-being. I had to learn social cues from somewhere, y’know? There has to be some kind of happy medium between sequestering your kids away and treating them like tiny adults. I don’t know where that balance is, which is probably why I’ve contented myself with raising my cat.

  2. That Adult Privilege Checklist just blew my mind (in a bad way).

  3. If being young is being a part of an oppressed class then they are the most fun discrimination of all the discriminations that there ever were.

  4. The “children are an oppressed class” line was always very popular with paedophiles, and apologists for paedophilia. Organisations like NAMBLA and PIE used to be full of bearded fucks who were outraged – *outraged* – on the kids’ behalf about the adult world’s repression of their natural desire to have sex with grown-ups. See also Hakim Bey, passim.

    • oh, ugh, I forgot about that shit. I remember back in my anarchist days there was a huge internet blowup over Hakim Bey and his hankering for young boys, with some of his defenders arguing that the only reason there were very few positive stories from kids about kid/adult sex is that they were ashamed to admit they found it so much fun. At which point I just stopped arguing and slammed my head into a wall repeatedly.

      I hate Hakim Bey to begin with (his writing style is more obnoxious than Mary Daly’s and his “argument” against abortion still makes me want to vomit blood every time I see it), so his desire to bone 12-year-olds is just one more lump of shit in the pile, so to speak.

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