When a child is involved, “no” means force.

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.

18 thoughts on “When a child is involved, “no” means force.

  1. Kendall October 6, 2016 at 11:00 Reply

    Ugh I would never pierce my daughters ears against her will, and I’ve always thought it was wrong to do to a baby as many parents in the US do. My moms ears were pierced as a baby and then her abusive step mother tore out her earring when she was 14, so she never got any of her daughters ears pierced and told us we could choose to when we were 12 years old, she also informed us how inconvenient piercings are and all the work you have to do when you get them, none of us have our ears pierced to this day because we were informed of all the annoying things you have to do >_<

    • Francois Tremblay October 6, 2016 at 15:07 Reply

      It’s kindof a smaller stakes version of circumcision of babies, I think. Except that babies can’t really complain coherently.

  2. John Doe October 6, 2016 at 11:27 Reply

    If that were my mother, I’d punch her out.

    You didn’t exaggerate one bit.

    Since we’re on the subject of childism and child abuse, I truly believe some people really need to have their rights taken away. I mean, take for example all the rapes that Christians and Catholics commit on children and the fact that they project it onto homosexuals. What makes matters worse is that they have the most legal leniency while LGB’s suffer. As far as I am concerned, none of these people are allowed to speak about the sanctity of anything, let alone speak in general, when they’re doing this kind of shit.

    • Francois Tremblay October 6, 2016 at 15:06 Reply

      But if you were a six year old girl, you wouldn’t. Children are not allowed to defend themselves against their parents, anyway.

  3. Brad Reddekopp October 6, 2016 at 18:01 Reply

    I’m not sure what, if anything, I would have done if I’d witnessed that. I find it shocking, though, that a parent would force their child to undergo a procedure that has nothing to do with her medical well-being. She’ll probably ask for ear piercings of her own volition within a few years so what’s the rush? I must also wonder about the worker who did the piercing. Was he or she aware of the child’s objections?

    • Francois Tremblay October 6, 2016 at 18:25 Reply

      Clearly they were aware of it. They were in on it!

    • sellmaeth October 8, 2016 at 01:34 Reply

      My parents didn’t have my ears pierced by force, and I never asked for piercings. It is not a sure bet. And that’s probably why the mother was in such a rush. At ten, the girl would already be better able to defend herself, the people doing it would perhaps see it as more unethical to force her.
      The girl might have been unfuckable forever! What a horrible fate!

      I’d like to know how the trauma of forcible ear-piercing influences people’s later lives. I don’t have any tattoos either, and abhor any body modifications that harm the healthy body. Perhaps, if I had been forced to get my ears pierced, I would have gotten my nose pierced out of sheer protest.

      • Francois Tremblay October 8, 2016 at 01:40 Reply

        I know, when I see a woman who’s not wearing earrings it’s like… ew… are you even a woman or some kind of gender neutral beast from planet Saturn

  4. sellmaeth October 8, 2016 at 01:26 Reply

    It is like female genital mutilation in why it is done (fuckability, it was done to the mother, too, so it can’t be so bad), the only difference is in the extent of the harm done to the child.

    It is really scary that this is so culturally accepted that not only did the mother feel this was okay, the piercers also were totally on board with forcing the child. I would probably not have dared intervene had I witnessed this – after all, it is “normal”.

    • Francois Tremblay October 8, 2016 at 01:34 Reply

      Exactly. That is why childism is so hard to see. It still hasn’t really been questioned at all yet, so we still see it as “normal.” Part of the fabric of life.

  5. sellmaeth October 8, 2016 at 02:38 Reply

    Apropos gender, there’s a comment on the blog you linked to that’s rather disturbing.

    The first part is a description of childhood trauma by ear piercing, which is as disturbing as other such accounts, but the last paragraph of it reads thus:

    “Of course then I grew up to be a man, and now the holes in my ears feel really wrong. Woohoo.”

    My bet is that the person in question is an FtT. (Do you ever feel the need to specify you grew up to be a man instead of, say, a tiger?) Who apparently thinks that it is perhaps a little bit wrong to forcibly pierce girls’ ears, but okay, women are going to have pierced ears anyway – it only feels REALLY wrong if one grows up to be a man.

    As if it is only wrong to pierce little girls’ ears because they might yet turn out to actually be men and thus deserving of basic human rights.

    This makes me angry. The whole post is about how wrong it is to pierce girls’ ears, and the comments are all about that, and now this person goes and says “Yeah, that’s not nice, but the result only feels REALLY wrong because I am a man.”

    • Francois Tremblay October 8, 2016 at 02:45 Reply

      “My bet is that the person in question is an FtT. (Do you ever feel the need to specify you grew up to be a man instead of, say, a tiger?)”

      I see you haven’t heard about otherkin. They do literally believe they are animals. I knew someone who said he was a dolphin.

      “Who apparently thinks that it is perhaps a little bit wrong to forcibly pierce girls’ ears, but okay, women are going to have pierced ears anyway – it only feels REALLY wrong if one grows up to be a man.
      As if it is only wrong to pierce little girls’ ears because they might yet turn out to actually be men and thus deserving of basic human rights.”

      Well yea, they totally believe in gender roles. They just think it’s wrong to misgender. They see nothing wrong about the objectification of women, as long as it’s only done to people who think they’re women.

      I saw a tumblr post where a woman said that her office had reprimanded her for not wearing makeup, and had reprimanded a man (who thinks he’s a woman) for wearing makeup. His beef was not with makeup, but with being misgendered. He insisted that she should be wearing makeup as well!

      “This makes me angry. The whole post is about how wrong it is to pierce girls’ ears, and the comments are all about that, and now this person goes and says “Yeah, that’s not nice, but the result only feels REALLY wrong because I am a man.””

      Well, you know men always have to reduce every issue to themselves… :)

      • sellmaeth October 8, 2016 at 03:09 Reply

        Yeah, transmen are really good at being exactly as entitled as men. If only transwomen were equally good at NOT being entitled … but as much as they might abhor masculine clothes, the masculine personality traits, including entitlement, they usually keep. (Which makes sense, as women are expected to let others define our role in society, and that doesn’t mesh well with transness. A truly feminine transwoman is an oxymoron)

        • Francois Tremblay October 8, 2016 at 03:18 Reply

          No, it was a male. A male man (mailman?). He just thinks he’s a woman.

  6. sagor October 8, 2016 at 03:30 Reply

    Ok, I will not talk about ear piercing. But lets take the case of a child who is in a desperate situation. Like an orphaned child who needs care and parenting but there is nobody who wants to do that or help him/her despite their ability to do so. Now a child always need and want support, love and respect even if she may not express it explicitly. Also rejection hurts like physical pain. Isn’t this child neglect a form of child abuse by all of us even if we are not responsible for her/his birth. What is your opinion Francois. Explain with arguments.

    • Francois Tremblay October 8, 2016 at 03:38 Reply

      Yes! Child neglect is a form of child abuse. We have a duty to provide love and support to the lives we bring into this world. And if the parents won’t do it, or can’t do it, then someone else has to.

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