Thursday, March 21, 2013

Consent, Kids, and Divorcing the Childfree Movement

Yeah, sometimes I write titles to provoke people.  I'm not necessarily divorcing the childfree movement.  Childfree is something I am.  And as a childfree person, I recognize that childfree people have a great deal of social challenges.  So when I went to childfree forums in the past, it was due to a desire to have some support and help other people with those challenges.

Unfortunately, the community is more oriented toward child hate and anti-parent snark than it is really dealing with childfree issues.  I had to cut my involvement with them because I just got sick and tired of reading shit like:
  • Complaining about parents who do not "properly control" or "properly discipline" their children, usually referring to corporal punishment.
  • Demeaning low-income families using tired anti-welfare terminology.
  • Complaining about benefits meant to make raising children easier.
  • Lack of understanding of behavioral challenges, autism, and other disabilities.
  • Using nasty slurs to refer to children, like "crotch droppings."
  • People actually promoting eugenics.  I shit you not.
I literally do not go to any childfree places online anymore because the anti-child and anti-parent (usually anti-mother) bigotry just got too pervasive for me to handle.  In the end, too many members of this movement have completely forgotten that children are people.

Not only are children people, children are subjected to a great number of things that would be offensive to subject adults to.  One of the main issues is that people are unwilling to allow children the right to give--or not give--consent.  There are a lot of ways that this manifests itself, but I'm going to talk about two for now and hopefully bring up more later.

Children are not given the right to object to medical procedures done to their bodies.

There are some limited circumstances where this makes sense.  How many kids would refuse routine vaccinations or chemotherapy if it was up to them?  I'm not referring here to medically necessary procedures, but the myriad of procedures that are done on children--often infants--without their knowledge or consent.

Piercing the ears of infant girls, circumcising boys, cosmetic dentistry done for nothing but appearance, up to forced sex reassignment in intersex children... so many of these things are played off as "not a big deal," but they all involve modifying a child's body for no reason other than their parents or their doctors would prefer they looked a certain way.

There's the mentality that until a child has the ability to voice their concerns--and often long after--it's ultimately their parents' decision.  People even justify this stuff by proclaiming that they will want to get those procedures done later anyway, so why not make it easier for them now?  It's assumptions like these that drain children of their ability to consent and reinforce the belief that silence or inability to express one's interests constitute consent.  They do not.

Children are also not always given the right to object to harmful psychiatric practices.  In several regions it's still perfectly legal for a parent to coerce their child into gay-to-straight conversion programs... but this is an issue that could have its own post.

Children are not given the right to object to physical contact with adults.

My story turned out to be a bit more triggering for me than
I'd expected, so this may be triggering for you if you have
a history of people not respecting your right not to be touched.

This is the issue that initially inspired this post today.  First, I found a video from a guy explaining why he stopped tickling his daughter, and later a friend of mine posted a list of Ten Ways to Confuse a Child.  The important part is number three:  "Tell him he should never let anyone touch him if he doesn't feel comfortable, but then don't intervene when his aunt, who he sees once a year, hugs him against his will."

These reminded me of an extremely uncomfortable moment in my life.  As I've said before here, I really hate being touchedIt grates on me.  So I have lots of memories of being a child and having adults touch me without permission, often in extremely aggressive ways.  I used to avoid my uncle Bob because he roughhoused with us and it physically hurt.  Adults thought that was just hilarious.  My grandma would grab me and kiss my neck.  It made me feel disgusting.  But the big one?  My dad used to slap me and my brothers in the ass when we were little.  We all told him to stop, repeatedly, throughout our childhoods.  He'd brush it off as being playful, not registering that what he was doing would be defined as sexual harassment if he had been my age.  And he'd keep doing it.

Once, when I was maybe fifteen or sixteen, I'd had enough.  He slapped my ass on my way to use the bathroom, and I spun around and kicked my dad in the stomach.  He started laughing, saying "Wow, you got me good!"  I was standing in the corner trying not to cry.  My mom was there and told my dad that I was crying.  He finally got the picture that what he was doing was causing me emotional harm--I'm not a violent person, so my outburst was uncharacteristic--and it stopped.

I should not have had to kick my father for him to respect my boundaries.  And yet day after day, children are expected to just sit there and take it when adults tickle them, hug them, pinch their cheeks, kiss them, even if they have not consented to this and do not like it.

The main point here isn't that tickling kids is inherently bad--there are plenty of kids who love physical contact, and with appropriate boundaries that's fine--but that kids deserve a choice in the matter just like everyone else does.

Until they get those rights, I have a difficult time not seeing children as some of the most oppressed people out there... and because of this, reading the hate and vitriol on childfree forums simply does not appeal to me.