Saturday, August 25, 2007

No Children Allowed!

Last year I wrote a post describing how family--child-friendly, really--New Paltz, NY was. I thought of that post last night as I was musing over this post as I was trying to intellectually wrestle with the reality of feminists (or progressives in general) who have little sympathy for families. That might not be the way they see their position, but the comments I have seen on my blog or elsewhere think of children as a "choice" for which the parents alone are responsible. The worldview is something like this: the fact that families are often strapped for cash, time, and sanity are regrettable facts, but--hey--only those who choose to have children are responsible, not the rest of us who have chosen a child-free existence.

Another iteration of this view is that women who stay at home, and therefore lose wages and future social security and retirement, have made that "choice" and its their own fault if they end up destitute because their spouse left them.

I never shared these views before having Maddie, but I am even more blown away by the reasoning now than ever. I am struggling to understand what about this radical individualism that I don't like. One could argue that I, like most people after children, have transformed from a liberal to a communitarian. But, I doubt that is the explanation. Maybe part, but not all. I still value liberalism and think it is a more sane political philosophy for dealing with difference without demanding too much compromise of ones' values or identity. Liberalism, furthermore, is not mutually exclusive with valuing families and children. I think any rendering of liberalism (especially the radical individualist views of many anti-child/family progressives) that considers parents alone responsible for all the "burdens" of child rearing is bad thinking.

So, what's the problem? How is it that otherwise good lefties can be so insensitive to the plights of families--whether those families be Republicans or Democrats? So part of my answer lies in the way we construct public space--hence, why I thought of my post on New Paltz wherein I praised how all of the business in the downtown were tolerant of children, but took pains to find ways to make them as welcome as possible. The next public space I thought of was my campus. I brought Maddie with me to campus on Friday and was amazed by how many other colleagues had their children with them and how welcoming and excitied the community was about the arrival of my daughter. A new colleague asked what people would think if he brought his 15 year old son to campus--let him sit in on classes or use the facilities--and I answered unhesitatingly that his son would be welcomed open arms. My workplace is not just tolerant of children, but thrives on the fact that employees incorporate their families into the fabric of this workplace. But, New Paltz and my campus are exceptions.

Most public space in the United States is intolerant of children. Squawking babies annoy customers in restaurants, patients in waiting rooms, etc. Many establishments are expressly not for families to frequent--loud music, smoke and happy hours. Very few workplaces would allow an employee to bring his or her children with them to work. You get the picture. When you have a tiny infant, like I do, it takes a lot of psychological work to get up the nerve to go out and enjoy public spaces--gosh, maybe I am talking about commercial spaces?--without caring about the dirty looks and sighs from people who can't stand your infant's cries.

But, certainly, there are many cultures that carve up public space much differently than we do. Some workplaces, in other parts of the world, are brimming with children and people holding babies. The culture embraces children and doesn't set up a strong demarcation between public and private. You see, how we inhabit public space does a lot to teach us about how we should expect to live. If you have children, expect to give up many of your enjoyments and ease in public spaces. If you don't have children, continue to have much freedom of movement. If you have children, don't expect others to delight in them, hold them, or wish your presence when you are with them. If you don't have children, you don't have to ever be bothered with them or take part in the educating of them.

This is unfortunate. I can see why it continues. How we cut up space makes it possible for many people to choose to be totally unencumbered. They are permitted and in some ways rewarded for staying childless. Again, this is unfortunate.

What are your thoughts on this anti-children/family wing of the lefties?