Tag Archives: children

Who are the real Child Abductors?

A police photograph took over the news last week: a tiny girl sitting between her parents, all of them staring blankly into the camera. It is not a flattering picture: the man and woman seem tired,old and dead-eyed, and the little girl looks squeezed uncomfortably between them, with questioning eyes and tangled hair – like a dishevelled version of Maddie McCann. But none of this would have ever sparked anyone’s interest, if it hadn’t been for the fact that the little girl looks white, and her parents brown. Something has got to be wrong with this picture!

Or so the Greek police must have thought, when they found this family in a Roma camp they were raiding. In this environment, being a pale-skinned child that cannot speak Greek is deemed suspicious and reason enough to take her away and submit her to DNA testing. The results seemed to confirm the fears: Maria and her supposed parents were not related, ergo, she must have been abducted. The media was quick to conclude: “Once again”, those criminal vagabond gypsies had stolen a white child! The police, the charity organization responsible for Maria, and the news media started frantically searching for her parents. Where could they be found? Scandinavia was suggested as Maria’s likely origin, because, well, look at her! Continue reading

A Cushion Against Reality: girls-only and boys-only schools

Ever since I’ve moved to London, I have encountered a very interesting phenomenon that I’ve never really thought about before: girls-only and boys-only schools. They may exist in the countries I’ve lived before, but are so rare that it’s not at all astonishing to believe that this phenomenon had died out in the fifties. Well, not in the UK apparently, where it seems perfectly normal to send your children to schools that segregate the sexes.

I don’t know if that’s just my foreigner bias talking, but I am veeery sceptical of this model. In my opinion there are only two main reasons why parents would want to send their children to this kind of school, both of which I find highly problematic:

1. The essentialist approach: They want their children to be educated specifically in relation to their gender. We all know where that would lead: boys will have more sports lessons, build models, have IT classes; girls get to paint and sing and write stories, because that’s what they like to do/are better at, because SCIENCE! I don’t know if this is in fact being done in those schools – I certainly hope not – but I wouldn’t be surprised…

2. The evolutionary approach: Parents may think their children will concentrate and learn better, if they’re not constantly surrounded by the opposite sex. That idea implies that kids are always and exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, and that perfectly normal and healthy desires are somehow problematic in general.

Don’t get me wrong. Boys can be distracting at school, in the good and the bad way; I know what I’m talking about. But the thing is, they never stop being distracting, so you might as well learn what that feels like from like the beginning. Most of us, fortunately, don’t live in a bubble where we will never ever encounter people of the opposite sex in our daily lives, on the street, at work, in our free time. So why bother shielding kids from that?

And I’m not just talking about possible flirtation, crushes, unrequited (or requited) feelings. I’m talking about every form of daily interaction, which includes politeness, respect, generosity, but also rudeness, arrogance and ignorance. I think children can only be properly socialized if they get to experience all kinds of behaviour from all genders, and learn to appreciate or to deal with it. And it is the role of parents and teachers to make sure they don’t get discouraged along the way, but not to shield them from it.

A school environment is what will eventually prepare young people for a work or university environment, and I could imagine that it would be very hard to be confronted with the other sex for the first time way past puberty in that type of setting – a setting where they will have to respect each other opinions, listen and learn from each other, and become a team.

Segregated schools are robbing children of that fundamental and influential experience.

didn’t particularly benefit from a girls-only environment: “mädchen in uniform” (1931)
via manchesterfilm.coop

Feminism’s Flaws: We don’t want you to be a 50’s housewife

“Why is feminism still so afraid to focus on its flaws?”, I read on The Guardian’s website this week and my immediate reaction was: It is? Feminism isn’t flawless, just like any movement and ideological system isn’t, but it surprises me that it would get called out for being uncritical regarding these flaws. Moreover, the word “still” in the headline suggests that this has been an ongoing issue for quite a long time. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.

Among the social movements that I can think of right now, I believe feminism has been among the most self-reflexive, self-critical of them all, to the extent where it has almost eliminated itself. (Remember the postmodern debate regarding the validity of women as a category in the 80’s and 90’s?) Feminists have always tried to integrate new concepts within academia, such as postcolonialism, queer studies, men’s studies, intersectionality. It has been a struggle, and it has been divisive to a movement that had been split into separate camps from the beginning. That’s why it is hard to speak about one kind of feminism in the first place. Radical, liberal, socialist feminism and others; these strands still exist today, and they differ from generation to generation. This heterogeneity hurts feminism, as much as it would hurt any movement, any political idea, but it has also benefited from it, the most obvious advantage being that feminism is still alive and active today, because it has managed to remain or become relevant in all sorts of societies. Don’t believe me? Feminism has become superfluous in our societies of affluence and equality of opportunity? Just a glance further South at the aftermath of the Arab spring suggests that feminism is more relevant than ever. Reducing feminist influence to improving the comfortable lives of well-to-do European and American women doesn’t cut it anymore. Feminism has not been bypassed by globalization; in fact it has embraced transnational connections from the beginning. It now matters to all of us whether or not a woman is allowed to drive a car in Saudi Arabia or love a woman in Uganda. If you are unaware of feminism’s involvement in global affairs, it’s not the flaw of the movement but your own information shortcomings.

But I’m getting carried away. Deborah Orr, the author of the above mentioned article doesn’t criticize any of the things I have mentioned, even though I would have guessed these were the more legitimate concerns: feminism’s global relevance, its often contradictory and hard-to-reconcile stance between academia and political activism…

But Deborah Orr is on to something else. First of all she mentions feminism’s branding problem. There’s probably a lot of truth to that but then again, I believe this is a problem of the Left in general, not just feminism. The movement is divided, just like the Left is, so branding has to be a problem, if you cannot even adequately label yourself without offending someone. But what Orr really wants to point out is this:

“The fundamental and rather serious problem is the blunt and somewhat stubborn emphasis on “equality”, difficult enough in a society deeply divided by economic inequality generally, even without the added complication that it’s the people with care of children, whatever their sex, whose economic freedom is most compromised the world over.” [All quotes are taken from this article.]

Orr goes on to say that feminism has long seized to focus mainly on the rights of middle-class white Western women, and she certainly speaks the truth. Slutwalks and quotas are important issues right next to reproductive rights, migrant women’s rights, and female labor in the developing world, and all of them are heatedly debated within feminist circles as well. So while (in)equality, social or otherwise, certainly is an issue in our society, feminism cannot be blamed for inadequately addressing it. On the contrary, the Sex-and-the-City version of postmodern feminism has been surpassed; class and race issues are more relevant to feminism than ever. But once again, this is not what the author actually tries to criticize. She is only obsessing over one thing in particular:

“But equal opportunity in the workplace has not resulted in equal achievement, and not all of this is the fault of continuing chauvinism. Women bear the children and, far more often than not, they wish to be the primary carer for those children. At its most strident, feminism can be mistaken for an ideology designed to make women feel they are wrong to want that. Worse, feminism has accidentally promoted the idea that it’s pretty easy to work and have children, with the right support in place.”

Um, no. As one commentator has rightly pointed out, that is a capitalist idea. Feminism may promote that the right support will make it easier, not easy. But working, as the author correctly points out, has never been a choice but a means to survive for most women, and continues to be just that. And here is where it would actually make sense to interrupt with a good ol’ “But what about the menz?” Having both a family and a demanding job is never going to be easy for a woman, but I don’t see why it should be any different for a man? I’m sure we can all agree that sharing the responsibilities helps, and since most families develop out of heterosexual relationships, these or other partnerships are needed in order to sustain a happy family life. Women cannot do it all alone, so if they want that, then yes, I believe they’re wrong in thinking it will work out. A family doesn’t just consist of children and a mother. There can be fathers, life partners, grandparents, friends, a commune. Sadly, in our individualist society people often don’t even consider the necessity and power of communities and solidarity, and neither does Orr. She continues:

“On even an average income, it’s never easy, […]. Your priorities change. Work is no longer the most important thing, for a while anyway. Ambition can dissipate. For many women, that’s a self-evident truth.”

So it is a self-evident truth for women that their children become more important in their lives than work, but it isn’t for men? I wonder how Orr would substantiate that statement without getting into some fuzzy gender essentialism. Rejecting this kind of stereotyping is not a flaw of feminism, it is what modern feminism is all about. So, Ms. Orr, if you believe that women should always be the primary care-takers of children and should postpone or give up their careers in order to take care of the home and family, while for men in the same situation nothing ever changes, then yes, you’re right not to call yourself a feminist, but don’t worry, we’re not gonna make you.

"Your priorities change. Work is no longer the most important thing, for a while anyway. Ambition can dissipate."

J.Crew’s Dark Agenda: Disturbing Gender Identity With Pink Nail Polish

blatant propaganda

some parents and doctors seeing red

dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity”

psychological sterilization

put some money aside for psychotherapy

Care to know what all the fuss is about? It’s about this advertisement by American clothing company J.Crew:

Apparently Fox and Friends are worried that this boy will “grow up” to be a homosexual or transsexual (oh, the horror!). But really, all we should be worried about is that he’ll grow up to be a hipster.

Refusing Children, Refusing The Status Quo – The Implicit Systemic Critique Of The Childfree Movement

Europeans are dying out like dinosaurs no longer accustomed to their environment. Since right-wing populists have once again started to announce the decline of the occident, the media is doing the best to feed the public’s fears with possible reasons: immigration, islamification, decline of the birth rate! The latter is especially interesting as it concerns not so much the ”others” (meaning immigrants) but ourselves (meaning white middle class academics because that’s what Europe should look like, right?). We simply suck at reproducing ourselves! Day-in, day-out we have to confront ourselves with statistics claiming that every couple has to produce at least something like 0.6 more children to prevent the European race from extinction. And now this: the ”Childfree” movement!

Edward del Rosario

More and more single individuals and couples decide not to have children of their own, and not due to physical or other incapabilities but voluntarily. The movement is spreading all throughout Europe, North America and even India. The reasons for staying childfree are manifold and usually legitimated as being the individual’s choice only. However, I would like to argue that this choice is to a large extent the product of systemic problems that need to be addressed, not in order to ensure the survival of Europe ”as it used to be” and not because our current economic systems may be unable to deal with the challenges of an overaging population and a decreasing workforce, but because I would like the Childfree movement to be seen as a means of resistance rather than just another libertarian decision.

Here are some of the major reasons for people’s decision not to have children:

Reason # 1:Women decide to be childfree because they lack the ‘maternal instinct’.

I’m not sure how valid this argument is, because isn’t the maternal instinct something that sets in once you actually have a child and not before? Maybe I’m still too young to know what it’s like but I doubt that women these days can rely on hearing the ticking of their biological clock all of a sudden to know when it’s high time to have children. I believe that ‘baby fever’ is a myth when related to the majority of women. In Eastern Germany, for example, it was considered normal for women to have the first child in their early twenties and I doubt the majority of them were guided by maternal instincts but rather economic advantages and social recognition. Otherwise how can it be explained that these days the biological clock starts ticking ten years later than it used to? Considering how a large percentage of women has been taking hormonal contraception for almost half of their lives, I am convinced that this must at least alter if not completely muddle up their experience of fertility.

Reason # 2: Men and women decide not to have children to save time, money and energy and invest it into their own lives.

This strikes me as the most probable and honest reason for being childfree and a perfectly valid one in today’s society, which has seen major changes in the role of the family, marriage, men and women, and self-fulfilment.

Rather than a commonly expected goal, the decision to have a child has become more a matter of preference, an outcome of a careful weighting of the pros and cons of parenthood, and a ‘derivative’ of a personal quest for self-realisation. In contrast to ‘Western’ societies, the social acceptance of childlessness as a matter of choice and personal lifestyle has been spreading only recently in the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. (Sobotka, 2004)

The last sentence should not be misleading: state socialism does not necessarily result in a higher birth rate. In the GDR, birth rates kept declining despite strong pro-natalist policies. But higher divorce rates and lower birth rates can be considered private means of resistance to a political agenda that put pressure exclusively on women and failed to address men’s role at home and in the family. However, it is far from the truth to make women’s advancement on the labour market responsible for declining birth rates. Studies show that ”working mothers are having more babies than stay-at-home moms’, as the comparison of Sweden and Italy in terms of birth rates and women’s employment illustrates.

Today, under neoliberalism, the pressure put on young women and men concerning their future plans has become even more severe:

Increased individual aspirations and a new image of a dual-earner family as a benchmark serving to evaluate one’s living standard have further strengthened career orientation in women’s lives. Partnerships have become more fragile, with more young people remaining single or cohabiting and marriages being eroded by rising divorce rates. Furthermore, the decision to become a parent has been increasingly seen as a matter of personal choice. Coupled with the growing demands of the labour market in terms of qualification requirements, competitiveness, and flexibility, high levels of childlessness may be viewed as the inevitable consequence of recent societal transformations as well as the competitive character of liberal market societies. A single individual ‘unhindered’ by any commitments is the winner in the race: Beck proposed that “the ultimate market society is a childless society.” (Sobotka, 2004)

That having children is viewed entirely in economic terms and considered a financial liability becomes evident when reading comments by childfree individuals concerning their decision. Statements such as ‘‘children are a non-refundable deal” are all too common. Unfortunately, in a society entirely driven by the market logic, I don’t find those statements very outrageous.

Reason # 3: The world is suffering from overpopulation and childfree people don’t want to contribute to that.

This argument actually repudiates the European population crisis I have mentioned above as a global issue. In fact, globally, the human population is nowhere near extinction, that’s for sure, and since ressources are scarce and unequally distributed, people in developing countries are suffering from starvation and unacceptable living conditions. It seems logical that one person living in an industrialized Western society will do more damage to the environment and use up more of the world’s resources in a lifetime than several people born in Africa. Therefore, having less children could affect the world positively in greater dimensions (especially if childfree people devoted their extra time and money to volunteer work and helping their community, which a lot of them claim they do). So I’m wondering: why do childfree people not openly state that their choice is based on issues in today’s society? What could possibly be a stronger measure for claiming that there’s something wrong with the world we live in, than refusing to bring a child into it? Being childfree is a choice, but it also means resisting the norm and should therefore be expressed as a critique of current conditions in order to improve them for everybody, regardless of whether they are going to have children or not.

Note: I do not mean to offend any parents nor convince anyone to be childfree. Rather, my intention has been to ‘out’ the Childfree movement as not only critical of the idea of and social pressure behind becoming a parent, but critical of society as a whole, and that it should be voiced as such.

Stimulating Procrastination

Lately, a lot of work for university has prevented me from writing anything blog-related. Therefore I decided to share some posts with you that I found worthwhile to read this week.

A glimpse of hope, yet still a lot to do…:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/01/world/01iht-poll.html?_r=1&hp

I used to think modesty and politeness were good qualities. I guess that’s why I’m not a successful entrepreneur:

http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/06/30/how-men-and-women-pitch-stories/

And finally, having a highly pregnant friend from high school makes you wonder about how to raise children. After all, don’t we all want them to hold true the same ideals and beliefs we care about? About an attempt to raise (post)feminist children:

http://www.womanist-musings.com/2010/06/is-that-boy-or-girl-talking-to-kids.html