On his blog Of Battered Aspect, Dave Hingsburger recounts a story which I think is worth looking at from the perspective of childism.
We were grabbing a bite of lunch at a small cafe, in a mall, right across from a booth that sold jewelry and where ears could be pierced for a fee. A mother approaches with a little girl of six or seven years old. The little girl is clearly stating that she doesn’t want her ears pierced, that’s she’s afraid of how much it will hurt, that she doesn’t like earrings much in the first place. Her protests, her clear ‘no’ is simply not heard. The mother and two other women, who work the booth, begin chatting and trying to engage the little girl in picking out a pair of earrings. She has to wear a particular kind when the piercing is first done but she could pick out a fun pair for later.
“I don’t want my ears pierced.”
“I don’t want any earrings.”
The three adults glance at each other conspiratorially and now the pressure really begins. She will look so nice, all the other girls she knows wear earrings, the pain isn’t bad.
She, the child, sees what’s coming and starts crying. As the adults up the volume so does she, she’s crying and emitting a low wail at the same time. “I DON’T WANT MY EARS PIERCED.”
Her mother leans down and speaks to her, quietly but strongly, the only words we could hear were ‘… embarrassing me.’
We heard, then, two small screams, when the ears were pierced.
Now, I know what the childists will say, this is just a little thing. Getting your ears pierced, all girls have to go through it, it’s not a big deal, and so on and so forth. But if it’s not a big deal, then why even bother coercing the child into doing it? If it’s not a big deal, then why did any of this happen? And I imagine that, as a bystander, I would feel the same way. I would feel like I shouldn’t intervene not only because of parental ownership (“none of your business”), but also because it’s not such a big deal. But that’s indoctrination. The proof that it’s indoctrination is that we wouldn’t feel the same way if an adult was being treated in the same way. But then, an adult would be more able to defend themselves, and would probably not be so dependent on other people’s approval that they would simply give up.
You can say, well, ultimately it did happen so the child must have at least stood still long enough for it to happen. But that’s not consent. The child very, very clearly objected to the procedure. The fact that it was browbeaten into accepting it (if it did accept it) does not mean the act was consensual. It clearly was not. A human being said no to a procedure, was under no obligation or duty to have it done, and it was forced to have it done. This is coercion. This is force. This is an application of power, just like any other application of power in a hierarchy.
Again, I know that there is a tendency to say that children’s values and desires are worthless, and that parents know what’s best. I feel it myself as I write this entry, this feeling that I’m making too big of a deal out of it (and as I do, I keep reminding myself, if it’s not a big deal, why did the mother absolutely need to coerce her own child into it?). But it is a big deal. We repeat over and over that “no means no,” and that this is a basic principle of consent that applies to all of us. But when children are concerned, no does not mean no. No means blackmail, coercion, and control. Like rapists say, “no” means “maybe,” and “maybe” means “yes.” And in any other context, we would call this the credo of a sociopath, a rapist, a monster. But it is the credo of parents, as well.
I am not saying all parents are sociopaths or monsters. I have zero doubt that the mother, in this story, meant well. She wanted her daughter to fit her gender role, as most parents do, because that’s what children must be raised to do (adapt to society’s rules and roles). That is the essence of parenting. Therefore, the mother, from her perspective, did not do anything wrong. Because we are raised to believe that children are not full human beings, we accept, as a normal part of life, that a child’s “no” is meaningless and trivial. We know that when we were children, our “no” was meaningless and trivial, and we know that the same is true for children nowadays. This is nothing anyone ever makes a fuss about.
It is a fundamental principle of all authoritarian systems (of which families are only one extreme example) that consent is always taken, never asked for. War is justified by “future consent.” State oppression is justified by “implicit consent.” Pornography and prostitution are justified by the “consent” of accepting money. Capitalism is justified by the “consent” of contracts. And so on.
What is the blackmail in this situation? We get a hint of it with the “embarassing me” part. The parent’s “reasoning” is something like this: “you are making me look bad, you are embarrassing me in front of other adults (we police each other and evaluate each other’s parenthood based on children’s behavior), therefore you should stop right now before I punish you for doing this. You should act like a ‘good child,’ that is to say, do what I want you to do so you can conform and I can look good for having a ‘good child.'”
I’m not saying she said this at all. For all we know, she may have just said “you’re embarrassing me, stop this tantrum right now,” or something of the sort. But what I’ve said is the reasoning behind it. The punishment and the “good child” role are often kept implicit, because the child has already integrated them in its understanding of its parents’ behavior. If I disobey, I will be punished. “Good children” don’t disobey. “Good children” aren’t sticks in the mud who get in the way of their parents’ fun.
The fundamental premise is that the child must put the parents’ values and desires first, not its own values and desires. This premise is irrational. The only job of a child is to be a child, socialize with other children, and develop in a healthy manner. Parents have nothing to do with any of those things, except insofar as they are ready to support the child in these tasks and otherwise leave it alone. Anything beyond that goes against the child’s rights as a full human being.
While piercing a little girl’s ears is not by far the worse form of the fuckability mandate that is enforced on women, it is still gross and disgusting that a seven year old would be seen by her mother in that way. But this is not the mother’s fault: women do not make the rules. If they did, women wouldn’t have to wear high heels, which deform your feet and spine, makeup, which is impractical and has carcinogen ingredients, or shave their pubic hair, which leads to rashes, infections, and makes STD rates higher.
And piercing one’s ears can cause infections as well, which are wholly unnecessary since a seven year old should not get their ears pierced, and anyone who says otherwise is a fucking lunatic. A seven year old has no social need to look fuckable, unless you’re a pedophile. A seven year old has no social need to look like anything but themselves. What a parent thinks about that is completely irrelevant. If, once fully informed of the risks and the possible reasons why they want to do so, a seven year old wants to get its ears pierced, I wouldn’t object to it. But this is very, very clearly not the case here.
What should the mother have done? She should have apologized to her daughter for going against her desire not to get the procedure done, and both should have left the store politely. That was the only right thing to do. But not many mothers would do that, because it means “losing face”: most parents see parenting as a struggle for control (and they are taught to view it that way, as well), and they hate to lose.
Since most people have no problem coercing their children, what should bystanders do? Well, first of all, there are very few people in our society who would see anything wrong with this situation at all. I read this story in radical circles, which are rather different from the general population. And a radical in this situation would probably doubt themselves like I do. And even if they did speak up, the most that would happen is that mall cops would be called, and then you get into trouble for basically no good reason, because the mother has no reason whatsoever to listen to you. I just don’t see what good intervening would do. What we need is public shaming. And I suppose this story being told is a good beginning, although we don’t know the name of the mother and can’t shame her properly. Even then, the sense of entitlement that parents have is so high that I don’t know if shaming would do that much good.