Dressed to the Nines
ⓒ christina starr
Xtra! December 10, 1998
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The little girl on the sidewalk is dressed to the nines and she’s probably not even three. Somebody’s paid plenty of attention to buying her expensive shoes and matching them with her expensive dress. But I know from experience that at her age she could care less. It amazes me why some parents bother to spend so much on things that fit for maybe two or three months and have nothing to do with the well-being of their child. But it’s what I see next that sickens me.
          Her mother, also dressed to the nines, wants her to get in the stroller but the little girl has a different idea. When her mother starts pulling her by the arms she protests, saying “No!” and struggling to get free.
          It doesn’t mean she’s trying to be difficult. It’s the only way a three year old knows how to disagree. It’s probably the same way any of us would react if someone pulled us toward a vehicle we didn’t want to get in. But it’s not considered reasonable for a child. It’s considered rebellion. It doesn’t matter that she’d rather walk, her mother wants her to ride.
          So it’s okay to drag her daughter to the stroller. And it’s okay to hit her repeatedly once she’s there, to make her stay. It’s a horrible sight. But it happens in the middle of the sidewalk, on a busy Sunday afternoon, and nobody intervenes. We seem to believe too strongly in a parent’s right to do what they like to a child, even if it’s really hard to watch.
          Consider what would happen if an adult was hitting another adult. At least a crowd would gather, and somebody might try to stop it or call the police. But not for a child. Of course, we’re all against child abuse. But children are yelled at, pushed around, slapped, derided, scolded and forced to do things against their will, all over the place, all the time.
          It may be because they don’t want to stay strapped in their stroller, or because they’re making too much noise, or they want something they can’t have, or they don’t want something they’re being given, or they don’t want to leave the playground, or they don’t like the hat that‘s been shoved on their head, or just because they’re tired. In too many cases where a child’s will conflicts with an adult’s, the adult uses force to win.
          I’m the first to admit that child rearing is hard. It’s demanding and exhausting, and requires far more patience than you’d ever put out for a lover. We all make mistakes. We all lose our cool sometimes.
          But since before I was a mother, I’ve been aware of the harm that results from forcing people into categories. Gay bashing, lynching, wife assault, elder abuse, classism, racism – it comes from expecting people to fit into an idea of “normal” and from denying the freedom, rights and self-determination of those who don’t.
          I’ve come to believe that the disrespect shown towards children is the same kind of injustice. They’re expected to behave like reasonable human beings even though they have no idea what that is. They’re expected to speak to us in polite terms, to say “Thanks, mommy, but I think I’d rather walk” instead of hollering in disagreement. They’re expected not to sing so loudly on the streetcar or ask such direct questions. Where their will conflicts our own, we feel we own them enough to use verbal or physical force. It’s rarely adults’ fault for being rigid, quiet, too rational or uncomfortable with emotional expression. Children are supposed to fit in.
          Sound familiar? It’s not society’s fault for being sexually repressed, for allowing only one definition of sex, for expecting men to be masculine and women to be feminine. You queers just have to fit in. And if you don’t we’ll punish you, maybe even kill you.
          The child in the stroller continued to scream, of course. That part never made sense to me. In my own mothering, it has become obvious that parenting is easier when I respect my child, even if I have to be creative to get what I need. If that other mother allowed her daughter to walk, they’d still get where they’re going – maybe a little late – but her daughter wouldn’t be screaming and crabby and she wouldn‘t be stressed and guilty.
          What on earth do we think we’re teaching them, anyway? Proper social behaviour? Or how to have their freedom and self-respect squashed and, in turn, how to squash that of others?
          I truly believe that if we parent our kids with respect they’ll mature into people who respect themselves, who know how to defend their rights and the rights of others. It should be extremely important to all of us how children are treated. Not just the little boy who’s not allowed to wear dresses or the little girl who’s not supposed to get dirty. 
          But all the little hearts and minds who squish into this world without any judgement at all about being female or male, gay or straight, transgendered or transsexual, white, black, able-bodied, rich or poor. We have much to learn from them.

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It's rarely adults' fault for being rigid, quiet, too rational or uncomfortable with emotional expression. Children are supposed to fit in.