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August 5, 2010

The Debate Over Child-Free Spaces

Okay, I hate to get involved in a big drama (hahaha, who am I kidding, I love it, but not necessarily in cases like this)... but we couldn't help but notice the Internet shit storm going back and forth about children in "adult" places. This is a debate that pops up often over the years; this time it started on Feministe with a post from Maia that declared "you do not have a right to child free spaces". The post lead to an infinite number of comments (some of which were downright offensive) and smaller sub-debates.

It seemed so fitting that a series of fights over where one should or should not bring their children would occur just weeks before the 6th annual BlogHer conference. Those of you unfamiliar with the BlogHer conference, it is unique from other business events in that children are not merely allowed, but rather they are welcomed. While BlogHer is not just for mommy-bloggers, the moms do make up a large percentage of the attendees and BlogHer knows that - they provide on-site daycare, a lactation lounge, and endless giveaways for parents.

Last year, we wrote about an incident that occurred during BlogHer '09 in which a few women were turned away from a private party hosted by Nikon because they brought their babies. A slew of debates sprung up from "what is the appropriate etiquette for RSVPing to an event?" to the more controversial "is it ever okay to take a baby to a bar?" So we couldn't help but pay attention to the some of the many blog posts that recently popped up in response to these same issues.

Sometimes it feels like women - and bloggers specifically - are forced into two stereotypical categories: Mothers who believe that if you're not a mother (or at least wish that you were) then you're not a real woman and feminists who hate children and are pro-abortion. Obviously neither of these extremes are accurate and both are offensive. However, when a topic like this comes up, the stereotypes start to come out in full force.

We obviously don't consider ourselves mommy-bloggers, but some of our regular readers might have noticed that one of us is a mother (although perhaps an unconventional one at times). So while I would never go so far as to say that the way I do things is the "right" way, I definitely do have some opinions on the subject.

Starting with Maia's post, I'd have to agree with her on some points, but not all.
i dont understand people who claim to be feminist on one hand, and on the other hand think that children should be designated to certain public and private spaces, not mixing in ‘normal’ public areas, such as restaurants, stores, airplanes, etc. cause in us culture, when you create little reservations for children, you are really creating little reservations for mothers. it is the mother who will be sent away to take care of the child. and how is that supporting all women and girls?
I do agree, quite strongly, that when people discriminate against children they are in effect discriminating against mothers. (In some ways it is a class issue because not everyone can afford a babysitter, but regardless of socio-economic status, women should be able to spend time with their children in public without getting flack for it.) While the vast majority of feminists that I know are supportive of mothers and children (or are mothers themselves) there are the select few who sometimes forget that mothers are women too. And obviously fathers should have similar rights and support. 

Whenever someone makes the argument that kids don't belong _________, it usually includes some anecdotal example of a terrible child whose horrible antics disturbed their sophisticated grown-up evening. However, not all kids scream, throw things, run wild, and knock things over. In fact, I don't even believe that most do. I've definitely seen it happen, but more often when I see kids in a (stereotypically) adult-centric environment they're very well behaved and respectful of the rules. And yes, I said "rules".

Most places do not have age restrictions, but they do often have behavioral requirements - and these extend to adults and children. Restaurants, bars and various other establishments aren't considered fully "public" - their owners do have the right to refuse service based on their own discretion and it doesn't always amount to discrimination. For instance, many establishments have dress codes and quite a few places do have certain guidelines for behavior (such as noise restrictions). Not every child is well equipped for every single situation. If your child is throwing food in a restaurant, the owner does have the right to ask your child to adhere to their standards or leave. Just like if your father was throwing food in a restaurant, they would be given the same ultimatum.

So while I can't accept the idea that children do not belong in certain places merely because they are children, I also don't think children should be permitted to do whatever they please wherever they please just because "kids will be kids". I think they should follow the same rules and be held accountable for their actions, much like an adult would be. Not exactly the way an adult would be, because children aren't just little adults, they're children.

Renee from Womanist Musings made an excellent point (in the comments section of her blog on the subject):
We are talking about children which means we don't hold them to the same standards as adults because they don't have the same maturity level but they are STILL HUMAN.
This is so true. Depending on a child's specific age, development, and temperament, they may lack the communication skills, impulse control and understanding necessary to be held to the exact same standards as adults. But that doesn't mean no standard at all. I think we are responsible for monitoring our children's behavior and teaching them proper social etiquette in various situations (not merely for the "convenience" of those around them, but more importantly, for their own benefit). It is our job as parents not only to model positive behaviors, but also to correct negative ones. Does that mean controlling them as if they were pets or belongings? No. Does that mean punishing them for acting their age? No. But the other extreme (being overly permissive or even negligent) isn't okay either. 

And I'm not suggesting that most or even many parents are overly permissive or negligent (or that if your child is "misbehaving" in public that you are) but I will acknowledge that sometimes in a few rare examples it is the case. But it's not the norm and is a unfair stereotype to perpetuate. One or two bad examples do not make the rule.

And yes, of course, it happens... kids have meltdowns, they spill things, they make mistakes... just like all human beings. (In fact, I've seen way more "inappropriate" behavior coming from adults and I have little forgiveness for that, because they do know better.) It bothers me when one or two rare negative examples are used as "proof" of why people should never bring small children anywhere or as an excuse to offer unsolicited advice . I'll never forget the (non-parent) woman who advised my friend to give her baby cold medicine to make him sleep through their whole flight. I'm not going to comment on whether or not I think it's okay to do that (although I personally wouldn't do it) but it wasn't the advice that infuriated me. It was the reasoning: "for everyone else's sake". Sorry, but I'm not going to drug my child for your convenience, no matter how entitled you think you are to a quiet flight.

I've taken Lil' Lilith all over from infancy on... airplanes, movies, theater shows, concerts, "fancy" restaurants, libraries, stores, weddings, funerals, business offices, meditation classes, pride fest, religious services, and even an outdoor keg party once. I'd love to be able to take credit for her behavior, but truthfully I was just blessed with a kid who was relatively mellow and sociable even at an early age. Often I've either received dirty looks as I entered (before she even had a chance to behave or misbehave) or was "complimented" as I left (such as "oh I couldn't even tell there was a baby in there!") I remember once I brought her to a performance of one of Shakespeare's plays and a woman in the audience near us informed me that this type of play was "not for her", as if I just wandered in there by accident without knowing what the show was about. (PS: She loved the show.) I think as parents we should expose our kids to different experiences; not just those that are "for kids". People shouldn't have to end their lives and become shut-ins just because they have children.

But then we also need to recognize the difference between a kid spilling food in a restaurant vs. a kid repeatedly and purposely throwing food across the room... or an infant crying on an airplane vs. an infant crying during a theater performance... or a toddler having trouble sitting still at the movies vs. a 10-year-old repeatedly kicking the back of your seat even after you've politely asked them not to... or having a few beers at a quiet pub with your child in tow vs. dragging your kid to a loud, crowded club so you can get fall-down-drunk.

However, I disagree with the claim that there are no spaces that might be considered "child-free". And I'm not just talking about places like strip clubs or NC-17 movies. (Note that I didn't say bars. While I don't think it's always appropriate or safe to bring a child to a bar - and I would certainly respect any bar owner's refusal to allow it - I don't agree with the idea that it's never okay or automatically makes you a bad parent). 

From Maia's post:
recently, i was hanging out at a bar, when a friend called and invited me to come hang out for a few drinks and chill time as the sun came up. cool. then, i heard a bit of whispers in the background and the question posed to me: is aza with you?


ummm…what? why? does that matter?


my daughter, aza, is a person. a three year old person. a funny, cute, bad-ass, curly haired person who loves to dance and draw, wearing short skirts, watching pink videos, and talking on the phone. frankly, she is probably cooler than you are. she is definitely cooler than i am. but even if she wasnt you dont have the right to discriminate against her based on her age. or her race. or her gender. or her nationality, etc.
To me, this goes beyond the "child-free spaces" issue to the issue of being a gracious guest. I think it's poor manners to bring an uninvited guest to a friend's house or party without asking first. It's not discrimination to choose the people you surround yourself with in your own home or at a private event. I don't think it necessarily makes you anti-child (or anti-mother) if that doesn't always include your friends' children. 

Unfortunately, many of the comments I've read lately on the subject most have definitely smacked of anti-child sentiments. Such as the claim on Jezebel.com that anti-child chauvinism is not ageism or discrimination:
Beyond this, she's lost me by dragging in straw-man "feminism," and generally attributing to young children a level of autonomy, power and authority they'd neither want nor expect. Let's not pretend this is about "discrimination against children" - no instance of which the author actually provides - or, if it is, she's just done her cause a major disservice.


(By the way: The post is tagged "ageism." No: ageism is when someone is prevented from doing something that's a legal or societal right; preventing kids from doing something that did not occur to them in the first place, and which could potentially compromise the security of themselves or others is not the same thing and to claim it is does a disservice to anyone who's actually encountered it.)
Um, no. Sorry, but I have to disagree on that one. Ageism is not just when someone is "prevented from doing something that's a legal right or societal right". Ageism is also about prejudicial attitudes, beliefs and hatred of people based on their age. It's true that children do not have the same level of autonomy and power that adults have, but that doesn't give single people the right to treat children with such disdain simply for being children and it doesn't give them the right to say that children should therefore be banned from public places.

Besides, the last time I checked, being allowed to go to a public place (without being treated with disdain or disgust) is a legal and societal right.

Since the point of the original topic, which was basically "hey, my kid is a person too," was so far derailed into various fights and extremes here are just a few random excerpts from some of the plethora of posts in response to Maia (or in response to someone else in response to Maia) that we found interesting... some we agree with, some we don't, some which float around in a grey area.

Sierra on Strollerderby:
One of the most important points to be made here about kids being people is that their parents, particularly their mothers, are not their puppetmasters. If my kid starts wailing and throwing boxes of cereal in Aisle 7, I can’t just apologize and turn the volume off the way I can if my cell phone goes off in a crowded theater.


I can do my best to help her behave well; keep her well-rested and fed and entertained. But if she’s losing it, she’s just like any other person with a problem. What she needs is help. You’d never go up to a 25-year-old sobbing two tables away from you at a restaurant and tell them to be quiet; you’d either stay out of it or offer help. Kids deserve to be treated the same way.


Similarly, if a kid crosses a line with you, the thing to do is to gently hold the kid accountable. Politely ask her to quiet down, return your toy or get off your foot.


Generating a culture of fear around moms in public, that they’d better get those kids to shut up and act sweet or else, only serves to make us more fearful as parents. Frightened moms are stricter, less flexible and ultimately less able to handle stressful situations that crop up with their kids. Ease up a little, and the kids will have fewer meltdowns to begin with. Everyone wins.
Elena on Women's Glib:
I get annoyed when people freak out about how Angelina Jolie is raising her children. (Do I have some mixed feelings about how she can “magically” change a child’s life by adopting them? Yes. Do I think this makes her a bad mother? No.) I’m also annoyed when people assume that when a child is crying in a public space, the mother of that child is bad/stupid/selfish/should’ve gotten a sitter. There are times when I’ve gotten annoyed with the children around me (airplanes are one of those times, though a dingbat honeymoon couple who wouldn’t stop whining about a flight delay takes the cake for me, andf or every crying child in a theatre, there has also been the adult who blithely uses flash photography, even when the house manager tells them not to). However, most of those times, the children were not causing any harm to themselves or others, and the parents were trying their best to calm down their children.


We have to ask ourselves: Is this child going to harm themselves or others? Do the parents intervene to prevent that from happening? Are the children being abused (physically/sexually/emotionally)? Are the children abusing others? And in those situations where outside interference comes from a response to a dangerous situation, we should not have to apologize for our actions.
[...] it’s not fair to tell a kid “get lost” from a space they have a reason to be, and whose rules they are following, just because they’re of an age that they *might* cause problems. Adults don’t get thrown out of public spaces until they actually cause problems; the same “innocent until proven obnoxious” standard should be applied to kids. [emphasis mine]
The key to treating someone like they’re actually human is not getting in the way of their self-determination. If my child doesn’t want to say “hi” to a complete stranger, I don’t make that happen. I have watched my nieces and nephews (chiefly my nieces, of course) be told to smile, to give people kisses, to say hi and bye when they didn’t want to, all in the name of being “polite” or “respectful” or “because this is what you DO”. My eldest nephew, for example, went through a phase where he didn’t want to say hello or goodbye, but halfway through our visit he’d just come up and start talking to me. He wanted to approach me on his own terms, and I let him. When the adults around him started to insist he go through the formalities with me, a relative stranger, I brushed them off, telling them I wasn’t bothered by the lack of salutations.


The other thing is, the way we treat children teaches them how they’re supposed to treat themselves and others. If you ignore their needs, you are teaching them that it’s ok to do that to other people, and that their needs aren’t really important. I certainly learned that lesson well.

Also, this is worth mentioning... In one of her follow-up comments, Maia wrote:
as for the supposed dangers in taking a kid to a bar. i dont know what kind of bars, some of you go to. but you obviously party a lot harder than i do.
Many of the people who felt so strongly that Maia was wrong, seemed to have some preconceived notions about what goes on at a bar (or more specifically, what goes on at the bars that people like Maia are taking their children to).

Such as Zuzu from Kindly Póg Mo Thóin:
drunks are fucking terrifying. [...]
I don’t like to see kids of any age at bars. Leaving aside questions of the unsuitability of a bunch of drinkers as companions for children, bars are fucking LOUD even if they’re not playing music. A crowded bar creates a self-reinforcing feedback loop of noise — the bigger the crowd, the louder it is, and the louder you have to talk to be heard. I will leave a bar that’s too loud; I can’t imagine that’s good for the development of any kid’s hearing. [emphasis mine]
Or Karnythia from The Angry Black Woman:
First up, let me just speak up as someone who was that kid in the bar in the middle of the night. The child isn’t having fun. No, not even if they get up and start spinning in circles. They’re not spinning in circles, whining, breaking things, or screaming because they enjoy being dragged from pillar to post while you ignore even the most basic concept of respecting their needs. They’re (at best) overstimulated. More likely they’re tired, cranky, scared (especially by the drunk people), and really in need of someone to step in and put their needs first. That person should be their parent. Be considerate of your child. They are indeed a person and as the one responsible for their well being you should treat them as one. [...]
 
They don’t tend to feel safe when every adult around them is out of control. *hint hint* Drunk people are not in control. They often say things that small people do not need to hear, and frequently do things that small people do not need to see. [emphasis mine]
Or Helen from Order of the Gash:
I really don’t think the way to empower children is to treat them like miniature grown-ups. Kids don’t know social cues the way adults do – their brains aren’t done developing so they don’t think in the same ways. That doesn’t make them stupid or ill-mannered, it makes them kids. And it means that they generally deal with situations differently from adults. I can go to a bar and see two frat dudes having a drunken fight and shrug it off – five-year-old Helen would have been terrified. And maybe there are some kids out there who can see such things and it’s not a big deal, but I don’t think there are many of them. While I recognize it’s not my job to parent other folks’ kids and I’m not going to be stomping around ordering parents with kids to leave my booze-drinkin’ places, I also don’t know why it’s so objectionable to acknowledge that no, kids aren’t just like adults and they deal with social situations differently.
Or Dawn, a commenter on Maia's original post:
I can remember being a kid, the adult spaces I got dragged into were boring and they contained dangers and frightening things like the time two drunk guys got into a fist fight in the middle of a bar. There was lots of screaming, shouting and two adults several times my weight shoving each other over tables and stuff.


I didn’t enjoy loud noises as a kid and I honestly wish that my caretakers had recognised that I was extremely unhappy in loud noisy places and respected that enough not to drag me into loud places.


Children don’t find bars, pubs, fancy restuarants to be interesting, they find them boring. Leave the kids at home for both their safety and comfort. [...]


If parents respected their children enough to put the comfort of the child over the parent’s wants? Nobody would ask for child free spaces because children wouldn’t turn up in bars, at late night showings of gory movies and we’d only see comfortable, happy and well adjusted children in posh restuarants.
I do not want to make light of or disregard anyone's past experiences, but frankly, I think these are extreme examples that do not necessarily depict the type of setting in which Maia would have had her daughter. First of all, not every bar is loud... not every bar is crowded... not every bar is filled with drunk people. For that matter, not all people who are at a bar (drunk or not) are scary or out of control. It is possible for people to have a few drinks and not be drunk, in fact at most of the bars that I frequent when/if patrons get to the drunk-and-out-of-control point, they are cut off and perhaps asked to leave (hopefully in a cab). 

I know that Zuzu, Karnythia, Helen and Dawn may beg to differ based on their personal experiences with drunks, but trust me, their experience is is not always the case. Secondly, they make the assumption that bars are the only place where there may be loud, scary, out of control drunks. I've seen way more fights break out on the streets of Manhattan, than at any of the bars I've been to and I doubt anyone would try to make the argument that children should not be permitted to walk down the street. (And since when it is child abuse to expose your kids to cursing? If that's the case, then you might as well just call Child Protective Services on me right now because Lil' Lilith has a mouth like a sailor.) I've seen plenty of loud, scary, and out of control behavior in public "child-friendly" places... If my child is scared, unhappy or in danger, I leave. I do not let my child run loose anywhere that it is not safe for her and I don't know many parents who do. So I don't know on what basis is the assumption made that if a child is at a bar, they are automatically unsupervised and in harm's way.

Also, a lot was made over the fact that Maia had her daughter out late, but where is it written that children must sleep during specific hours of the day? Some babies and children require a lot of sleep, while others need much less... but there is no rule that it has to be at a certain time. When Lil' Lilith was a toddler, I was working from home so I wasn't on the typical 9-5 schedule... so neither was she. She stayed up late, but she also slept in late... she got plenty of sleep, but she was on my schedule. (When she got old enough for school, we gradually weaned her off her late nights and got her on a more appropriate schedule.)

And finally, who says that every child at a bar or other "grown-up" setting is necessarily unhappy and bored? You'd be surprised how much some children like being around new experiences and feeling like they're part of a "grown-up" situation (within reason). Like I said before, I'm not making the argument that children do belong in bars, but I don't think that if a parent does decide to stop in at a bar with their children in tow that they are automatically bad parents or placing their children in harm's way or putting their own needs over those of their children. There are tons of different types of bars and tons of different types of kids, so I don't think you can turn your own biases and experiences into generalizations in order to judge other people's decisions.

For example, check out this story from Carolyn Castiglia from Strollerderby:
I took my daughter to a bar show once when she was about a year old. Like Maia, I figured it was no big deal. I’d seen other hip mamas with their adorably-dressed babies in the same venue, so I saw no problem in following suit. Unfortunately, even though no one seemed to bat an eye at her presence, it ended up being a miserable experience for everyone involved.


My baby girl had no idea who the room full of people surrounding her were, so she cried every time the crowd laughed, feeling disoriented. As a result, the crowd slowly became less willing to laugh, and the performers felt the need to call attention to the pink elephant in the room. I don’t blame them – that’s what we do as comics. But after that experience, I vowed never to bring my kid along to a show again. Because babies don’t really belong in bars. They don’t. 
I'm sorry, but is it just me or is "babies don't really belong in bars" the wrong lesson to come away from this incident with? All I can tell from this story is that her baby doesn't belong in a bar at a comedy show. It was a "miserable experience for everyone" not simply because she brought a baby to a bar to a comedy show, but because when it became clear that her baby was unhappy and lacking the specific temperament required for that kind of setting, she didn't leave. Talk about a perfect example of What Not To Do.

If it had been Lil' Lilith crying at that bar that comedy show, I would've taken her out after the first or second time it happened. I wouldn't have let her mess up the entire performance and then complain afterward that it wasn't a fun time and therefore babies don't belong in bars. Let's treat these things on a case-by-case basis, okay? I've never taken my daughter to a comedy show or a bar or a comedy show at a bar, but between the ages of 6 months and 2 years Lil' Lilith went to over a dozen theater performances (not children's theater) but she never cried or became disoriented when the audience repeatedly laughed or applauded. In fact, she laughed and clapped right along with them, even if she didn't necessarily know why. She also remained quiet during the more serious moments and if she did make a little peep, I quieted her immediately (usually by nursing her) or left the room before it ever became a "pink elephant in the room".

That doesn't mean my daughter is "better" than Carolyn's. It just means she's different. So why should her arbitrary rules apply to me? No disrespect to Carolyn, but in this particular case I think she did the wrong thing in the moment and then drew the wrong conclusion from it. If children make a little extra noise at times, who cares, they're children... but it is rude to disrupt a performance no matter what age you are. It's not the same as a kid forgetting to use their "inside voice" in a fancy restaurant, because frankly, people may want and expect a quiet dinner but they're not entitled to it. However, at a performance it's just plain disrespectful to make excessive noise; your baby doesn't know any better, but you do. It's incidents like that, that lead people who aren't parents to claim that they need child-free spaces, when really it's not the children's fault at all.

One final offensive quote from cypheroftyr on The Random Musings of a 1973 Original:
Long story short, I think the OP of that piece is an idiot, needs to realize that life changed when you became a parent and it’s just not ok to declare that everyone else must just bow down to your whims and be excited because you want your child attached at the hip, no matter then venue, no matter the event and well we just have to deal with it. Here’s a news flash, we don’t have to deal with it and a majority of people won’t because the world is not yours just because you are now a parent. Stop and step back away from the blinders of how awesome my kid is, look, look, look! and realize no one cares about that but you.
And... fuck you. 

On that note, we're going to stop writing about this and finish start packing for BlogHer. After reading so much negativity and animosity about parents and children we're looking forward to the mom-friendly and child-friendly atmosphere at BlogHer '10. Even though only one of us is a mom (and no, I'm not bringing my daughter)... and even though some of the mommy-bloggers don't exactly embrace us with open arms (what? is it the name?) it'll still be a nice to get away from the drama.

Or at the very least get to a different drama for a day or so.

10 comments:

FilthyGrandeur said...

i really enjoyed reading this, especially since you rounded up the best and the worst sides of this apparent debate. i'm still astounded by how quickly people assume that parents are stupid or incapable, that they need to be specifically told where they can take their children. and you're absolutely right about how someone else's arbitrary rules shouldn't apply to you or your child. it totally removes the individuality and agency from parents and kids.

LS said...

This post really resonated with the ways I've long felt children's rights and child raising should be handled. A very well reasoned, cogent post. Thank you.

Most of the things I wanted to say were said by you later on in the post, so I won't say them. I do have two quick notes, however.

Something I didn't see mentioned at all in your post is the fact that many adults feel the need to act differently when children are around. I know you don't care about your children hearing cursing, but most parents do.

So when I'm in the presence of children, particularly if I don't know their parents, I don't curse as much. However if I'm in an adult-aimed environment (lets say, a bar, though I don't actually drink myself.) then I feel I should be able to curse without fear of offending some parent.

Actually, that could be an interesting thought experiment. Take any location, insert a person who is cursing like a sailor, and a person with their child. The person with their child complains. Based on the location, does the proprietor ask the sailor, or the parent, to leave/deal with it?

Lastly, one minor note, you mention early in the post that discrimination against children is discrimination against mothers. I realize this blog is aimed primarily at women, and that the realities of our world are that you're mostly correct...but I would be remiss if I didn't point out the many fathers who tend to the primary care of their children.

I certainly hope to be one of them someday. I'm far more child-oriented than my ladyfriend is.

Thank you again for the brilliant post.

Megs said...

I don't really get where all these single people without children are coming from. I am a single woman without children, and I welcome children in public spaces. Not just because I like kids, but also because I've encountered FAR more rude adults in my 25 years than unpleasant children. I mean, even annoying kids who misbehave are harmless. Adults, on the other hand, can be difficult to deal with and their rudeness is often abusive.

I remember only one occasion when a child was intentionally rude to me. One. I was in a public restroom washing my hands when this cute little girl of about 5, or so, came bursting in, looked me straight in the eye, and shouted, "You need to get out of here. NOW!" Trying not to laugh, I asked her why, and she glared at me, "Because you're DONE!" I told her calmly that it was for me to decide whether I was finished and when I should leave. She turned around in a huff, stormed out, and I laughed myself silly. I remember the incident with amusement. Compare that to the myriad occasions when grown ass people have been condescending, abrasive, and degrading towards me (I worked in retail in high school and was a server all through University), and I'm supposed to see KIDS as the problem in shared spaces? Not bloody likely.

If adults, for all their own character flaws are given implicit permission to share public spaces with other adults, I see no reason why kids need to be excluded on principle.

And maybe I'm a radical, but I consider crying babies/kids pitching fits to be just a part of life and its soundtrack. Granted, I've been told that I have an unnaturally long fuse on many occasions (even my own mother can count on one hand the times in my life I've lost my temper), but I just don't see the point in getting all worked up over a child having a temper tantrum. To the point where it RUINS EVERYTHING!11eleven! (A claim I find particularly preposterous when it comes to bitching about cranky kids in grocery stores - Yeah, I was having SO MUCH FUN buying groceries until this kid came along and RUINED IT! Pssh!) I understand that a child screaming loudly isn't the most pleasant sound, but are we all so fragile that we can't handle a little disruption in our everyday lives without blaming/shaming and just being all-around assholes about it? I know, I know - it totally sucks that we have to share the planet with other people, but we DO, and that's life, and it's about time we, as a culture, stop putting our own convenience and comfort above the agency of others - even if those others are children.

scrumby said...

Thank you for this post. I followed the mess when it started on Feministe and boy was it all over the place. (The entire "kids in bars" thing was just so not the point but no matter how many people brought the wide variation in what is defined as a "bar" they just couldn't let it go.)I think you did a wonderful job of addressing the flaws and assumptions on both sides of the debate.
My one complaint is what so often gets ignored in this debate is the massive lack of consensus on the public interacting with children which is so often the root of the strife. If your child were misbehaving do I as a stranger have the right to tell them to stop? If yes, then I shouldn't get screamed at for addressing your child. If no, then I expect you to discipline them. I'm fine with either system, just pick one.

Atheistchick said...

"Innocent until proven obnoxious..." Pure genius. I don't mind anyone in any public space unless s/he is being obnoxious in some way, regardless of age. I also think that it's true that that one horribly bad-tempered screaming kid in the nice restaurant can become the stereotype, when really, it's just that no one notices the well-behaved kids. Great post, and a good sum of the different opinions on childfree spaces.

On a side note, I am interested that in all the comments I have read about childfree spaces, no one has seemed to disagree with the terminology. When I hear that something is ___free (fat-free, chemical-free, etc.) I associate the "___free" format with something that is bad and needs to be removed. I have heard of some people instead addressing such spaces as "childless" or some other term that doesn't imply that children are inherently bad. Not that I think that childfree is a bad term; I think it is appropriate, but it seems as though others would have picked up on it.

Anonymous said...

To me, what's most interesting about the issue of children in public spaces is that of mothers in public spaces. I just wish there was more discussion of other reasons that mothers want and need to be in public space than just going to the bar. It sort of strikes me as "firstworldproblems," that tongue-in-cheek Twitter shorthand for, well, exactly that.

The fact that we get so wrapped up in the specifics of whether or not children should be in bars, to the point of attaching terms like children's rights, discrimination, and ageism, to it is all a little ridiculous. If you want to talk about children's rights, then let's talk about real problems like child abuse or education, not whether some stressed out and direly in need of a drink parent can get that drink exactly when and where they want it.

It just seems to me that people who have real problems are too busy dealing with childcare or maternity leave issues or any number of other real-life problems that come with children than whether they can go to the bar with said children.

Before you all go hating on me, I'd like to point out that I have one of these children creatures myself, and have on occasion popped into the local bar with her. We go very early and leave early, and as she gets into toddlerdom we won't be doing it again - it's just no fun trying to keep her out of trouble.

But either way, I just don't think this is some grand issue of our times. The fact that this is so polarizing says more about our expectations and sense of entitlement - whether that's entitlement to continue living the good life even after children or entitlement to control every aspect of your environment.

And I'm not convinced that people wanting kids out of bars is necessarily a sign of anti-child sentiments.

Lilith said...

Anonymous, believe me, children's right to go to bars is not high on my list of things I care about... And honestly, I don't believe that the original poster maia was really talking about her right to bring her daughter to a bar. It was really more of a general discussion about whether adults have a right to child-free spaces... unfortunately so many of the commenters and responders decided to nitpick about the fact that maia had her daughter at a bar so obviously she's a bad mother. That was very problematic for me. So while I'd never write a blog entry about how important it is that we allow children in bars, I think a lot of the judgments made about maia were way off base and so I had to comment on that.

Kelly Hogaboom said...

Good post round-up, and: everything @FilthyGrandeur said.

I started writing up an "anti-child" post at my site Underbellie but I had just TOO MANY EXAMPLES of how much is out there. Also how much many people profoundly underestimate and dehumanized ALL children (usually using a few anecdotes of horrible "brats" to prove their point).

The only thing I'd add is it is hardly just those without children who demonstrate decidedly anti-child sentiment. Many parents/carers resent their chuldren or are ill-equipped and/or parent according to dominator culture, etc.

Carolyn said...

Hey - just came across this - you took my quote out of context, just FYI - I was hosting the show so I couldn't leave. You (and any interested readers) should really read the whole piece for context.

Lilith said...

I did read the whole piece (and linked to it for others) and I don't think I took the quotes out of context. You never indicated in the original post that you were hosting the event and therefore couldn't leave, but I do see the situation somewhat differently knowing that.

However, I still draw the same conclusion: I still don't accept that your one experience somehow 'proves' the lesson that babies don't belong in bars. It's still an arbitrary rule drawn from one random example.

And really, if you're bringing your baby somewhere and you know you can't leave, then maybe it's a good idea to have a back-up plan if the baby was having a problem (which babies often do, seeing as they're babies). I don't know any parents who would bring their baby to a bar/party/show and then would willingly force them to stay there while they were crying or scared or unhappy.

So really, the lesson isn't that you should never bring a baby to a bar... it's that you shouldn't bring your baby to a bar if you cannot leave.