Warning: this is a looooong post 🙂
An acquaintance of mine was once overheard bemoaning activist women having children because it took them out of the movement. His argument was that there are so few efficient organisers around that it’s a shame when one of them gets ‘taken away’ to have children.
This has to be one of the most anti-women statements I have ever heard. But then look around the movement and see any positive writing about the role of women as mothers and you will notice that there isn’t any. So it’s not very surprising that this attitude exists.
Sure, there is an open acceptance and inclusion of feminist analysis, there are women’s collectives and when we have conferences we (almost) always include childcare in our planning. But the role of motherhood is still sitting on the outside and certainly not seen as a central role of the community. It’s seen as something to accommodate rather than truly seeing the contribution that motherhood brings to political thought.
So why does pregnancy and motherhood take women out of the movement? Because there isn’t room in the movement for them.
When researching anarchist approaches to pregnancy, motherhood and parenting, all I could find was negative. Even to the point of reading one woman describe pregnancy as the mutilation of a women’s body! How the hell are we supposed to support our systers with that attitude around? Try and find positive actions in support of pregnancy and motherhood and all you will find is pro-life maniacs screaming about the life of the unborn child. Or women defending the right to abortion…
What I did find however was an article called “Too Cool For Kids” by Billie Clayton, published in The State Adversary (Aotearoa Anarchist Mag, Winter 1996), which rang so many bells for me. So many in fact, I’m going to reprint it here (hope she doesn’t mind!).
Too Cool For Kids – How Anarchist bigotry supports the nuclear family.
By Billie Clayton.
This is a rant born of my frustration, some of these views are personal – no apologies.
It seems anarchists in general consider that children suck and people who have them are boring dickheads. It is quite acceptable in anarchist circles to slag off children in a way that would be condemned if it were any other group. Jokes about mutilating babies generally find favour. So do jibes about people who chose to stay home with children “not having a life” or “selling-out”. Comments such as “Oh God, I would never have children” are delivered with a scoffing snideness. I’m sure most of my readers are in amused agreement about my observations so far. Before you get too comfortable I have a few revelations about the origin and implications of the anti-child view.
Firstly, being anti-children and anti-parenthood is not rebellious or unique. It seems many anarchists express these views as part of a rejection of the parents values. Just because you can’t understand your parents doesn’t mean the values of any person choosing to become a parent are incomprehensible. As anarchists we have many criticisms of mainstream society, including such concepts as “family values”. However, dismissing children and parents all together is throwing out the baby with the bath water.
There is nothing unique about having no respect for children or parents. This is not only the attitude of many anarchists, but of New Zealand capitalist society. Children, like any other unwanted minority are institutionalised – in their case in schools. There is no place for children and babies in a capitalist society. Buses and public transport are difficult to use with babies and children. Cities and buildings are designed for adults, children are seldom considered. Many people object to women breast-feeding in public. Babies and children are not welcome in workplaces. What’s more, babies take women out of the work force, where capitalism wants them, because women are cheap to employ. Women also look nice round the office and besides, who else would do some of the work that women do?
Mainstream views on children and parenthood have changed since the fifties. The world is now considered overpopulated and the need to reproduce the workforce has diminished. Industry can now depend on third world and immigrant labour. Pressure is put on young people in our society not to settle down and have children, but to “succeed”. Young women who want to be mothers are looked down upon, young women who want to be lawyers are applauded. Rather than challenge these values, anarchists have swallowed them hook, line and sinker. The disdain for children and parents expressed by many anarchists is typical of the individualist grab-what-you-can-and-fuck-everyone-else values fostered by capitalism today. Good one Generation X.
While the anti-children view is not rebellious or unique, it is bigoted and oppressive.
I define bigotry as the belief that someone is inferior to you simply because they are different. Many of you will have experienced bigotry as vegetarians, punks, queers, feminists, Maori, anarchists, women and as many other things. Bigotry against children is no different.
When you discriminate against children, you also discriminate against the people who care for those children, mothers, fathers and other caregivers. This again is nothing new. Anarchists are repeating the exact dynamic which patriarchy uses to discriminate against women, who are more likely to be primary caregivers. Children and parents are so underrated by mainstream society that they are pushed out of public places, into dormitory suburbs or sub-standard urban housing. Many, as punishment for procreating, live on, or just below, the breadline. Women (and some men) who fall victim to the stress of raising children with no money, no support and no recognition of the value of their work, are written off as “hormonally unstable” and treated for “post natal depression”.
Yes the nuclear family sucks, I’m sure almost all anarchists agree. But the nuclear family does not exist because people who want children prefer to live that way. The nuclear family exists because children and parents have been pushed into a corner by industrialisation. Post-industrial western society has been divided into public (work) and private (home) worlds. Work done in the private sphere is not recognised, financially or otherwise.
The last thing you need when you are trying to raise children in this environment is to be scoffed at by the I-want-to-be-a-rebel-and-get-in-the-paper young people with too much leisure time on their hands to appreciate the reality of working class existence.
Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I want to offer some suggestions of the implications for the anarchist movement of these anti-child views, and some ideas of how a change of attitude might be beneficial.
I see anarchist ideas as a haven and anarchist activities as the first building blocks of a new society based on cooperation and egalitarianism. I believe anarchists should be able to offer alternatives to institutions that are oppressive and alienating, such as the nuclear family. Anarchists further entrench the nuclear family in their attitudes and in practice. Anarchist ideology offers a new vision of work, love and sexuality, evolution and revolution. Yet there is no new vision of family and what family might mean in an anarchist society.
The reality is that people have children, and having children today is a difficult task. Parents and children do not deserve to be discriminated against. Discriminating against children and parents alienates against people who may potentially be involved in the movement.
Anarchists can avoid discriminating against parents and children and further the idea of collective responsibility in the following ways:
- If you chose to be childless, remember this is a personal choice that should be valued and respected as much as choosing to have children. When you voice your preference try to do it without denigrating other peoples choices. The choice not to have children is as influenced by socialisation and mainstream as the choice to have children.
- Start seeing yourself as responsible for children around you. If a child is doing something dangerous or disruptive at a gathering don’t just expect the parents to deal with it. Be involved, offer to help.
- If you are planning an anarchist gathering consider the needs of children and parents as you would any other group. Provide a crèche if necessary, toys and a quiet place for parents and children. Offer pregnant and breastfeeding women the comfortable seats. When there is food, offer to hold babies or mind children while parents or caregivers eat. People with babies have to wait to eat most nights; you could wait for your meal once in a while.
- Be prepared to have children present at any anarchist event including meetings. Remember, excluding children, means parents are also excluded. Children and babies are often noisy – tough shit – their parents have a right to be there and anarchists should learn to cope with children. If a child is proving too disruptive to a meeting offer to look after them while the parent or caregiver attends.
Most importantly, anarchists need to understand and appreciate the work of parents and caregivers. If looking after children was valued by society, more men would be involved with the children they are happy to help conceive, but not take responsibility for, and more people would take on support person and co-parent roles for children in their community. This would be the most effective way to break down the nuclear family.
This article really hit the nail on the head for me in many ways, and it also made me re-think some of my previous behaviour. Those who know me will know that previously I’d been pretty adamant that I was never going to have children. But I do believe that I’ve always been a huge admirer and supporter of those who do. I guess being a women’s rights officer on a student union on a campus with lots of parent students gives you plenty of opportunities to learn how!
I have always been the sort of person to think about childcare and I’m happy to organise some if no one else has thought of it. But I guess over the last couple of years I’ve got a bit slack with ensuring that young mums and pregnant women have the space to be involved. Something I’m now more than aware of!
What this article did get me thinking about however was the role of children in the movement as active participants. How often is it that we create spaces for children to share with us in their vision? How often do we really pay attention to what they see the future of their world to look like? I must note that any activities involving children need to be managed carefully to manage their needs and abilities. It is not cool to sit young children down, show them a gruesome slideshow of war deaths and then ask them how we should deal with it! But why can’t we provide positive spaces for them to participate.
I attended a Green Party conference once when we had a Teenie Greenie workshop where all the conference kids got together and did some artwork based around their favourite things about the world. This art was all presented by the kids to the conference and then pasted on the walls around us to keep us inspired during our (hideously tediously boring) policy workshops. I believe that was a really effective way to get children involved in a useful and meaningful way. I’d love to hear of other suggestions.
It is so essential that if we really want to actively break down the powers of patriarchal and capitalist oppression that we consciously address some of these issues. Especially if we can create amazing creative responses within our communities. Not only will we be opening up our communities to more people but also we will all benefit from the creative, nurturing energies of parents and their children.