There is a Thing on Twitter and elsewhere at the moment that I've been following. It's rehashing a very well-worn theme that resurges from time to time, and provokes a strong division of opinion. It comes down to this: Some people think that children should be excluded / banned from either certain kinds of venues, or from certain venues after specified times, or from certain kinds of activities that are not R-rated. (I'm not even going to engage with the people who think that children should basically be NOWHERE AT ALL THAT I CAN SEE EVAH, because a) they are extremists, and one can't debate extremists and b) their arseholery and entitledness more or less defeats its own ends and they get little traction with people who are not of their own limited cast of mind).
I think it's not coincidental that this "issue" is being discussed again in the immediate wake of the David Koch breastfeeding in public snafu (if you missed it, Google it!) I also am not surprised that there is a strong correlation between those who dismissed the whole Koch thing as "not important" or "not a feminist issue" and those who think that childrens' presence in public spaces can be and should be limited. That some of these people are also self-touted feminist spokespeople makes me sad, but doesn't surprise me.
Having picked it to death in my head, there are two things that I find the most problematic about this argument:
1. It is inevitably and deeply discriminatory as currently argued.
Let's be really clear about this:
Venues already have the right to ask disruptive patrons to leave, whether the disruption comes from a shouty drunk, a party of merrymakers harassing the staff, OR a child breaking stuff. Whether or not they exercise this right is up to their judgement, and each draws the line differently.
But when you say "no children allowed" or "no children allowed after a certain time", you are not basing that exclusion on bad, damaging behaviour that's occurring. What you want to do is exclude a class of people based on an innate characteristic (age). The very presence of children, regardless of what they do, say or how they behave, is cast as an ill to be avoided, because their innate nature is unwanted, offensive or undesired. I cannot understand how you can argue that this is different from excluding, say, people with different skin colour, or people with disabilities, because, after all, some patrons would rather not look at / see those people. It's pretty sickening, isn't it, when you put it in those terms?
I know that there are reasons beyond taste why people may be very uncomfortable with children around. I feel for people struggling with child loss or infertility; being surrounded by children must be agonising at times, and I wish it wasn't that way. But, and I will wear it if this sounds harsh (and you may have at me in comments, I won't censor anything) - the public sphere and public venues are not lock-down safe spaces for grieving or traumatised people. It's absolutely alright to limit your private world in whatever way you need to, but to ask others - strangers - to carry the weight of your grief which they have in no way personally occasioned seems to me to be taking the point beyond what it will bear.
2. Whether this is understood or acknowledged or not, things that restrict childrens' access to public space also restrict parents' access to it, and in reality, often, disproportionately restrict mothers' access.
Parenting children is experienced differently by everyone, and just as every child is individual, so is every family dynamic. Some parents frequently take their children to public venues, others much less often, and that is for a million different reasons that are not important to this argument. Some parents and carers take their children to venues at times when the conventional wisdom is that those children "ought to be in bed", because clearly there is One True Way to Raise All Children, and All Children Have the Same Patterns, Cycles and Needs.
What happens if you bring down the ban hammer on childrens' presence at venues or at particular times? Yes, some parents get babysitters and leave the kids at home. Yes, some choose alternative venues (if available) instead. But some can't afford babysitting, or have kids that have issues that mean that they can't easily be left with others, or have no reasonable alternative venue available. So then one or more than one caregiver stays at home with the children - and in the standard narrative, this is often (although not always) the mother.
What's the message here? I'll boil it down for you:
a) When you have children, you should largely retreat to the private sphere, because
b) The public sphere is for grown-ups and their grown-up concerns, not for small persons and their carers; therefore
c) While you are parenting, you are not as fully adult as others are.
This is, of course, ten times worse when you add the breastfeeding crap into it. Women - when you breed, you cease to be proper grown-ups in the subtext of much of this debate. If you have the nerve to suggest that these are feminist issues ... well. They're not, because feminism isn't for mothers, you realise.
One of the blogs that I read often and really love is called Are Women Human? Grace, the author of that blog, writes about many feminist and humanist issues, using her central question as a locus for all her discussions, and it's astonishing how often that question - so simple, so profound - can point up the ways in which gender-based inequalities are manifested and justified.
What I'd really like to say to people who think that it's OK to ban children from places and spaces based on the fact of their age and nothing else is this: Do you believe mothers are human? I don't mean "sure, IN THE ABSENCE OF THEIR KIDS" - I mean as you find them, which can include plus-children. Do you believe that children are human? I don't mean "potential humans" or "one-day humans" - I mean human RIGHT NOW, in their current state of being.
I'm not asking if you like kids. I'm not asking if you want any, or if you enjoy spending time with them. I'm not asking if the sound of children chattering is pleasant to you, or if you would prefer to be in public without them. You can like whatever you like and prefer whatever you prefer; it's all good, not everyone is the same.
What I am asking though is whether you believe that your likes and preferences, and even, yes, your inconveniences, gazump the fact (if you so acknowledge it) that children are human, and mothers are human, and do not, should not, lose their human right to walk the world because you don't enjoy their presence.
What I am asking is whether you would support this kind of discrimination against any other demographic you care to name.
What I'm asking is whether you can believe that part of being human yourself is accepting the diversity of the world, in all its messiness and imperfection, and being able to see the richness of the whole that's woven from the many.
The many that includes children - their perspectives, their voices, their presence, their humanity.
So that's what I think about that.
Notes from beside a hospital bed
55 minutes ago