But why is it that "childfree" keeps morphing into "keep that kid away from me - I don't like kids, and I shouldn't have to put up with yours!"? (Disclaimer: I know that there are many childfree people (perhaps most?) who don't have this attitude. I am writing about those who do. Perhaps this faction gets the most media attention for the obvious reason that they are the extremists of the movement - I don't know.)
Before I had a baby, I thought other people's babies were a pain. I didn't like hearing babies cry on airplanes. And then when I had one, it wasn't that I suddenly found baby cries charming - not at all. It was simply that I realized this was just part of life, part of the way kids develop, and that there is nothing that can be done about it. In the same vein, I stop myself when I'm de-planing and getting worked up about how slowly the elderly woman ahead of me using a walker is moving. I mean, she's mobile. That's a big deal. And my impatience is really not the most important thing in that moment. Disability, too, is the way people develop. It's nearly inevitable, and so our attitude should be about making society comfortable and safe for babies, children, people with disabilities (who I am not comparing to babies nor children) - everyone. Shouldn't it?
Yes, crying babies can be annoying. But you can get used to them. If you want to, that is. I used to have a fair number of students in my classes with thick accents, and it was clear to me that the other students couldn't understand them. But I could. Why? Did I have some amazing talent for understanding accents? No. I simply had a job to do. As the teacher, it wasn't ok for me to stop listening because I couldn't understand. I had to listen harder, better, and more patiently. And what I learned - really, this was very surprising to me - was that I could learn to understand thick accents. And what that made me realize was that this meant that my students had simply been giving up and not listening because they didn't want to make this effort.
They didn't care enough or think that the student had anything to say that was worth listening to, so they stopped listening.
The childfree movement seems, often, to soar right on past making it acceptable not to have kids to making it acceptable to make derogatory comments about kids, and then further, to making it acceptable to not want to be around kids. Ever. And this I find as discriminatory as those students who weren't interested in what the student from India had to say.
I'm not saying that everyone has to enjoy spending time with children. Anne Lamott once said that being the mother of a young child was so boring that it made her want to throw herself down the stairs. Even those of us who have kids don't always enjoy spending time with them. But children nevertheless deserve the same generosity and respect that we would give to anyone else.
Radical lesbian feminist and separatist Julia Penelope, in her book, Call Me Lesbian, wrote about arriving on board a plane and finding a woman with a baby in Penelope's seat. The woman looked up at her, smiling, not at all apologetic. Penelope interpreted this as a moment in which the "breeder" was privileged, completely unaware that she was taking up space not meant for her.
In the years since I read Penelope's piece, during the time when my own son was a baby, I often wondered if I might ever encounter Penelope on a plane trip, and whether my baby might be in her seat. Penelope saw her own rights as completely central: Her right to sit in her assigned seat. Her right to not have to interact with a breeder and child. Her right to not have to look at a baby as if it were cute. (I wonder if it ever occurred to her that the woman might not have been able to afford two seats and was simply hoping the seat next to her was empty so she'd be able to set the baby down and rest her arms. Or that the airline might not have been able to get her two seats together.)
Not wanting to have a child is a choice that is all too often not validated, and that is a real problem: the childfree movement is right to be pissed off, and I fully support people who choose not to be parents (hell, I do more than support them - I encourage them!). But not wanting to associate with children is, first, a disturbingly entitled position: "I am so special that I should be allowed to construct my life in such a way that I do not come into contact with those I find undesireable." But it is also a prejudice. It is determining that there is a whole class of people that one does not want to be around, by virtue of their age.
In what other situation would it be socially acceptable to reject an entire group of people in this way? I can't think of a single one.
Here's a link to a childfree blogger I absolutely agree with - well, except for the thing about parents getting unfair benefits and abusing them - but I suppose it happens. Hmm. More on that later, I think. But anyway - methinks that her piece on one problem with childfree is also very applicable to some of the blogwars that have been happening lately...
And, FWIW, here's the quote that got me pissed off about all of this - from Bitch Magazine, helpfully posted on someone else's site:
And then there’s Adrienne Frost’s book, I Hate Other People’s Kids. Many people who describe themselves as childfree are quick to profess that they love children and are devoted aunts, godparents, babysitters or teachers. Frost is not one of them. From the very first sentence of her book (“I hate them with a vengeance… and I hereby give you license to hate them too”), Frost is unequivocal in her contempt not just for children but for a culture that increasingly resembles a vast Toys “R’ Us. And like café owner Dan McCauley, she speaks not only for the childfree movement but also for anyone who cares about manners and discipline. (And that goes not only for children: Frost aims much of her vitrol at parents themselves, as in the chapter “Have you Met My Vagina?” in which she berates new parents who force others into watching the “D-grade porn” of their birthing videos.)