‘Kids are gross’: on feminists and agency

For obvious reasons, motherhood has long been a topic of interest within feminism, and, at times, of pointed and passionate disinterest. Recently, in the Sydney Morning Herald, Dilvin Yasa  sparked conversation about the extreme difficulty of motherhood and the taboos forbidding mothers to admit regret about the role. As Amy Gray has pointed out, there is an important distinction to be made between the socially constructed role of motherhood and a woman’s relationship with and feelings towards her children: ‘When a woman tells you she regrets becoming a mother, she’s not telling you she dislikes her children. She’s telling you she dislikes the job.’ This is a distinction that we would do well to recall in discussions about childbearing, motherhood and reproductive rights within feminist discourse more generally, as well as when we are discussing and listening to the personal experiences of mothers.

‘Give me a kiss!’
‘I don’t want to.’
What? Yes you do! Come here, give me a hug, or I’ll chase you and give you one myself!’

My son, Oscar, is three. He is articulate and perfectly able to understand plain English, but people are constantly talking about him, in his presence, as if he’s not there. Many of my friends are self-described fierce feminists, who can and do rant indefinitely about the indignity women suffer by being silenced, ignored, objectified and dismissed, and yet they consistently do all of these things to Oscar. They ignore his requests not to be touched or embraced, and never make what is to me the very obvious connection between this and their own feminist positions about the non-negotiable need for consent. They override his very clear statements about his emotions; they even laugh when he’s upset and say, in his hearing, that his anger is ‘cute’.

None of these people are purposefully cruel, nor is their approach to interacting with children unusual. What has often perplexed me, though, is how often this kind of behaviour is exhibited by people who are so involved with and driven by feminism, which is so heavily grounded on assertions of dignity, autonomy and respect. What I’ve come to suspect is that many feminists’ failure to recognise the autonomy of children is, at least in part, symptomatic of the way children have for many feminists become symbols of oppression. But when we are unable to separate the systematic discrimination that makes mothering a ridiculously difficult and often oppressive role from the fact that children are sentient, autonomous human beings who deserve dignity and respect, we are in danger of allowing glaring hypocrisies to creep into the way we construct and use feminist principles and ideas.

‘He’s so cute. What’s his name?’
‘How old is he?’
‘Just over two.’
‘Still a pup! Hello, Rumpold.’ I reach out to let him sniff my hand. ‘He’s beautiful.’ I ruffle his fur.

We talk a lot, in discourses regarding and informed by feminism, about the fact that women should be able to exist in public spaces without being approached by strangers who comment on our appearance; without being touched by people who don’t have our permission, but who feel entitled to touch us because they like the way we look. Oscar gets more unsolicited comments about how cute he is, more uninvited pinches on the cheek and ruffles of the hair and demands for affection from strangers, than anyone else I know. I made a point, from when he was very young, of teaching him to express his discomfort: he says ‘I want some space’; he says ‘I feel shy’; he says ‘I don’t want you to touch me’; he says ‘I don’t like that, please stop.’ These statements from him are almost always laughed at, and then ignored, until I step in on his behalf.

‘He’s very cute. What’s his name?’
‘How old is he?’
‘Hello Oscar! You’re three!’ The woman leans across the tram seat to ruffle his hair. He ducks his head, hides behind my arm.
‘Shy,’ he says.
‘Gorgeous,’ she tells me. Reaches down to pinch his cheek.

It doesn’t help, when it comes to trying to get people to respect the consent and emotions of children, that in the assertions we make about our reproductive rights our discourse frequently descends into comments like ‘kids are gross’ or ‘I just really hate children’. There is something about making these kinds of blunt statements as a person with a uterus that feels liberating – and I get it, because I used to say similar things myself. I would relish the shock of conservative people listening. I think the time of this kind of statement being radical or shocking is past, but I also think that these sorts of comments distinctly lack respect for the inherent human dignity of very young people. These statements are commonplace enough in feminist circles for calling them out to feel strange; and yet they’re inherently dehumanising and objectifying, which to my mind makes them blatantly out of step with everything feminism should be.

I by no means believe that women need or ought to have loving or maternal feelings towards children. The gendered onus put on women to be nurturing, maternal and selfless is inherently oppressive, and I applaud every person who knows and articulates what they do and don’t want to have happen to their bodies and their uteruses. But the recognition of the structural oppression of people with uteruses is not incompatible with children being recognised and treated as autonomous, individual people. We can and must voice our concerns about reproductive rights, and the often oppressive role of motherhood, without these concerns somehow being twisted to validate the disrespect and oppression of actual children.

What do we mean when we say that kids are gross? Do we mean that cleaning up shit is gross? Do we mean snot is gross if it doesn’t stay out of sight? Maybe the mess that comes with a person learning to use their own body to feed themselves, that’s what we find gross? None of these things are exclusively associated with children. Moreover, making blanket statements about an entire demographic of people – saying that they disgust us – is not tolerated, nor is it considered particularly intelligent or kind, if made about any group other than children. But when people say things like this about kids, no one seems to bat an eye. Is this because we’re confused, en masse, about the sentience of children? About how much they see and hear and understand?



A few months ago, I had a large-ish group of people around for dinner at my apartment. I do this pretty regularly; it’s a good way for me, a single parent who very rarely has evenings free for socialising with other adults, to catch up with a lot of people at once. At some point or another during these evenings, Oscar will take himself into his room for a while, to get away from the loud and irrelevant adult conversations taking place in the main rooms. At this particular dinner a few months ago, when I went to check on him he seemed flatter than sheer tiredness warranted. I asked if he was okay, and he said, ‘My hands are small and not very good at holding berries. Those big friends were laughing at me when I was trying to eat and I felt shy,’ and then he burst into tears.

This is a pretty standard kind of situation, one that most parents will be familiar with. And it’s easy to dismiss – children get tired, become sensitive, worse things happen. But I bring it up because it is evidence of some of the ways we grossly underestimate the emotional intelligence, sentience and autonomy of children.

For my friends without children (which is most of my friends), parenting is very ‘other’ as an idea and an experience, and Oscar can consequently become a phenomenon to observe and comment on and laugh at, rather than an individual person with feelings. Many of the discussions I have about parenting with other young people, especially with other women, are about the role of motherhood and the ways it disadvantages me in terms of my career, my studies, my social life. These are important discussions. But while obviously intrinsically connected to the fact that I am a mother, my child is a separate person in his own right and not simply a by-product of my motherhood.



That night, I tried to explain to Os that sometimes big people forget that they are often very messy eaters themselves; that sometimes they talk about people instead of to them, and are rude by accident, just like children can be. I told him I was sorry that he’d felt uncomfortable and that I’d talk to the big people. I brushed his teeth and tucked him into bed, and returned to the wine-fuelled conversations about sexism in the street, racism at work, identity politics; the palpable catharsis in the next room. People saying ‘this happened,’ people saying ‘I felt this,’ people saying ‘I don’t want this’, and everyone else in the room listening and believing them. I let myself feel proud that my home is, for some people, a safe and receptive space in which to articulate the experiences they have navigating the world in their inherently politicised bodies.

It should always be that kind of space for Oscar too; spaces (and discourses) claiming to be feminist should be spaces where the autonomy, consent and dignity of all people are upheld and respected. I’m not suggesting that every place frequented by adults ought to be child-friendly, nor am I trying to suggest that there is no distinction to be made between children and adults. But I am suggesting that every place that children enter should be a place where they are respected as people. The idea that children are individual human beings should not feel like a radical notion – especially not for feminists.


Image: Petak / Zorislav Stojanovic

Caitlin McGregor

Caitlin McGregor is a writer, student and editor based in Castlemaine. @caitlinmcgregor

More by Caitlin McGregor ›

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  1. A cogent response to the challenges faced by a single parent feminist. Oscar is fortunate his Mum is so aware of his needs. As a grandparent of 12 small ones I have tried too to respect their human right to dignity and acceptance for who they are. Well ritten and argued Caitlin.

  2. Thank you Caitlin for your refreshing and insightful observations in this piece of writing. As a grandmother and an ex paediatric nurse I have during my adult life been vigilantly aware of the rights of children to be heard and respected at all times. They are indeed separate people and not an accessory of the adults around them. We would all do well to remember this fact.

  3. Oh, wow. Poor Oscar. I felt so sad for him, as he described his embarrassment at being laughed at. I wonder if that laughter is due to your friends’ embarrassment of not really knowing how to relate to children? I know before I’d had children, I definitely didn’t consider their autonomy much… but seconds after giving birth to my first child, it struck me very clearly that he was someone else, a separate person, not ‘mine’.

    I also have strong empathy for this:

    What I’ve come to suspect is that many feminists’ failure to recognise the autonomy of children is, at least in part, symptomatic of the way children have for many feminists become symbols of oppression.

    Becoming a mother seems like a sell-out to some feminists, which is short sighted at best. Is there no understanding that surely, feminists who have children will be raising more feminists? This can only be a good thing!

    I’m so glad you’re giving Oscar the skills and the language to be able to express himself. I only hope that the adults he encounters will be willing to listen and respect him.

  4. Caitlin, in reading your brilliant article I wanted to write a response to explain how much I enjoyed it and learned from it. I feel inadequate in my writing skills to explain how powerful your piece is. I can certainly relate to the great gift a child is to a parent. I am glad you are raising Oscar to be confident in himself and his emotions. Great article, great messages, may you be as proud of Oscar in 21 years time as I am of my oldest child soon to turn 24.

  5. ‘she’s not telling you she dislikes her children. She’s telling you she dislikes the job’ – couldn’t it be possible that she dislikes her children, and if that is the case, that’s okay too? A really interesting article and perspective, Caitlin!

    1. Yes, I think it’s possible that some mothers dislike their children.

      NO, I do not think that’s at all “okay.” If a woman chooses to be a non-custodial parent, then she’s welcome to feel however she wants about her genetic descendent.

      But a woman who chooses to be a custodial mother has an obligation to care for her children both physically and emotionally, and it is not possible to provide appropriate emotional care to a child if you dislike them.

      Children are not given legal freedom to leave their parents. They do not have a legal right to consent or withdraw consent to the relationship. This makes it particularly egregious to force them into a relationship where they are not loved. Because they cannot legally escape an abusive relationship (and lack of emotional nurturance is a form of abuse), a parent who cannot find another way to avoid such abuse has at least a moral obligation to end the relationship and seek a new situation for the children.

      (And before anyone brings up the “I love you but I don’t like you” line, that is a horrible thing to say and not at all possible. Love that is not also “like” is just misguided duty masquearding as love. Likewise, it’s foolish to think that you can secretly dislike your children–most people, child or otherwise, can tell when the significant figures in their life stop loving them).

      So NO, it’s not okay to dislike your kids. If you cannot love your children, you should immediately cease having more children and begin to look for a guardian who is capable of properly loving and caring for them.

      1. Liking your children, and loving your children, do not necessarily go hand in hand. Most parents, at some point, do not like their children. That IS okay. As long as a parent is loving, caring, open and present for their child, it’s fine and very, very normal to sometimes not like them.

        1. As someone who has had that argument thrown at them their whole life, often laughingly, I can say that it is a hurtful and flawed logic. What you may not like about your children is something that they have done: maybe they took too long to put their shoes on when you’re rushing out the door in the morning, maybe they want to watch Barbie’s Dreamhouse for the fiftieth time and are not budging. But it’s not THEM that you dislike, it is their actions. That may seem like a small distinction to make, but for a child especially it is very a important one. Saying that you don’t like THEM can promote shame and a feeling that your parent loves you out of obligation or instinct, but if they have a choice they don’t really like who you are as a person.
          This is something that my husband and I do for each other, and it has been very healing for both of us to be reminded that our actions do not define us.

        2. If you don’t “like” their actions, that’s one thing. But rejecting your child’s identity is very hurtful. Maybe they’re more willful, stubborn or something than you’d like, but parents need to learn to accept that.

    2. As the child of a woman who disliked her own children, I can categorically say that no, it’s not actually okay for a parent to not like their child.

      Understandable, maybe, because some kids are not very likeable, but the they are still dependent on their parents and it is very psychologically damaging to know that your parent dislikes you and wishes you belonged to someone else.

      I speak from experience.

      1. I mean, it’s 100% okay to not like people! To avoid them and cut them out of your life!

        But when those people are your minor children who have done nothing wrong except *be children*, there are real psychological consequences.

        I have infinite sympathy for people who get into parenthood and sink like a rock because it turns out they aren’t cut out for dealing with kids 24/7. I don’t want kids, myself, because I know I would not be capable of meeting 100% another human being’s needs for the first few years, let alone the many more years of declining but still present obligation.

        If my mother had been able to choose not to have children, she, like I, would have chosen not to, and I would not have had the upbringing I did, which hamstrings me even at 40 with feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy.

        She never beat me. But she made it evident for 18 years that she would rather have had a dog – and said as much on one occasion – and found no satisfaction in being a mother. She made it obvious I was an inconvenience, an obstacle, a hindrance to the life she wanted to lead.

        So, no, it’s not a morally weightless thing to dislike your kids, even if it’s not a thing you do on purpose.

        Kids can fucking tell.

  6. My heart broke hearing the way Oscar described his feelings ‘those big friends laughed at me’ 🙁 I’m sorry Oscar. You also express your feelings way better than me and I’m a few decades older than you.

    Hi Caitlyn, I’m not into kids much myself but strongly believe in kids being an autonomous individual, I kinda liken kids to cats, let them decide if they trust you and they set the boundaries to follow. It’s actually made kids less gross to me (and yup not a fan of bodily fluids by anyone full stop). But I digress, I really loved the food for thought you’ve given me. Thank you for this and thank you Oscar for teaching me how us big friends should be a lot better to our little friends.

  7. Interesting article. I’m just wondering if you did, in fact, return and keep your promise? Did you tell the big people how Oscar felt? In the wine fuelled environment. As you said you would? And, if you did, how did that go?

      1. Thanks for asking about this! I did talk to them, but not as forcefully as I should have. I said that he’d felt upset and embarrassed because he felt people were laughing at him, when what I should have said was “stop laughing at him, don’t do it again”. Something I didn’t really address in this article, and probably should have, is how difficult I find it to call people out on their interactions with Os, and how imperfect I am at in even though I try to make it a priority.

        1. I feel the same way, Caitlin. Some of the people I love the most want to be my son’s favorite buddy. Their clumsiness in relating to him often means they overwhelm him ad’s objectify him and then he feels shy (though in any other case, he’s not.) I need to address it kindly but I’m afraid of turning them off, when it’s affection they’re trying to offer.

        2. Hi Caitlin. Yes, as a mother, and having felt some of these same difficulties, I appreciate your point of view on this. I also believe I understand that feeling of ‘imperfection’ you mention in your comment. It must be a common feeling amongst many (parents / guardians / etc)?

          I was interested in the response of the ‘big friends’. Often when raised as an issue, a child’s wishes / emotions are dismissed or treated as ‘cute’, and the adult raising them can be treated as such also! How do we raise these issues in an effective way? Perhaps writing a thought provoking article is a good step! Thanks for doing so!

          1. At a small gathering at my son’s house, some friends of theirs I’d just met began sharing their 5 year old daughter’s diagnosis, learning challenges, etc. I felt her shrinking up on the couch beside me! So I turned to her and called her by name, and said, “I want us to be friends, but you don’t know me yet. Is it okay for them to be telling me your business? Because if it isn’t, I’ll tell them to stop.” I felt the grownups jaws drop, but I focused on her. It was like a light turned on inside her. She looked me in the eye and said, “You’re (my grandson’s) meemaw, and ‘Uncle (my son’s)’ mom, so that makes you like my meewaw, too. I guess it’s okay.” I said, “I want US to be cool, though. If you want, I’ll tell them we need to talk about something else.” She snuggled up to me and said, “It’s fine.” So I simply let the grownups gather what they would from that exchange. >:-)~

        3. Great article…really well expressed. This issue in particular is interesting to me. While I’ve never felt inclined to invade a child’s space and I’ve always disliked children being required to hug people, I have found myself part of conversations about children that are in the room. This has always made me uncomfortable and made me dislike myself afterwards for participating/facilitating it. I have to say often these conversations are started by the mother and involve complaining about their child’s behaviour. I’m not sure if it is done with the sense the child doesn’t understand or with the intention that they do. I don’t like being complicit but I find the social pressure not to offend an adult seems to supercede the need not to offend the child. Isn’t that awful? Is it simply because we see adults as the more powerful players? Do you feel this might be why you didn’t more forcefully criticise the party-goers?

  8. A measured yet passionate piece. And I particularly liked your drawing an analogy with how alleged dog-lovers intrude on dogs’ space. If kids could bite the intrusive hand, maybe the big people would be more wary — and respectful.

    Myself, I not only interceded for my own son when necessary, but still do so sometimes for kids I don’t even know. And for dogs!

  9. Great article! This is as a mother, who also had children younger than my peers, I am commending your article. The point needs be made. I had three now grown up sons, in my early twenties, when my peers were students at university, and commencing their careers. I made friends with other younger mothers, from working class backgrounds, who had no great expectations of education and career for themselves. These women had more of the kind of experience driven intelligence myself and my sons needed the company of. I dropped out of university every time I re-commenced studies, and have no regrets. The learning which we base in our emotions, rather than in our head, often surpasses the discourse of academia, feminist included. You might want to have a look at an approach to child safety called “Protective Behaviours”, which, although it is too often only taught after authorities realised children were at risk, is a good set of simple instructions to give children, about ensuring the sanctity of their personal body space as well as a child is able. Obviously it is adults responsibility to ensure children are enabled in every respect to stand up for themselves. The protective behaviours programme teaches children to remember five points, one for each digit of a hand. 1) what danger feels something like …….(fill in the blank individualized to each child’s experience e.g. at the top of a big huge slippery dip, my palms are sweaty, or my tummy flutters); 2) we all have the right to be able to make that scary feeling stop; 3) if the scary feeling does not stop we need to tell somebody else who is able help us stop that feeling; 4) make a list of all the grown ups who might be able to help stop scary feelings; 5) if we tell a grown up, and nothing changes, we need to tell again and again, and find another grown up and tell, and never stop telling until the scary feeling stops. I learned to deliver this programme for teenagers as well as infants, when employed by the YWCA, as a youth worker working with younger mothers. A job I got after volunteering in a young mums project, when I should have been at university. The biggest difficulty, will be of course, when a child gets their scary feeling, in the company of somebody who other adults had trusted. But we need let ourselves reconsider what trust is, and why we trust anybody, because most often I have found, when my children forced me to reconsider, that my first impression of that adult, had also been distrust. It was always an adult who was themselves victimized in childhood, yet it is not the responsibility of our own children, to have to put that right, even though our children have enough emotional intelligence to be sensitive to the problem.

  10. Thank you, Caitlin. You articulate perfectly the stinging feeling I get when I read/hear feminists proclaim their dislike of children. I thought I was just being defensive, but now I have better understanding of my own feelings!

    1. I feel the same way when I hear generous, intelligent people say, “I’d like to be a parent, but I can’t/don’t want to______” and they name some totally optional thing that they feel is a requirement of the job. Even more heart-breaking, when young parents feel guilty or overwhelmed because they’re not meeting some checklist of arbitrary expectations! They get depressed and/or resentful of all the ‘demands’ and wonder if they’re broken. NO! You’re simply letting parents or peers or pintrest tell you what ‘parenting’ looks like! Design a life YOU love and, if there’s a desire to protect and guide and lead by example–go for it! Mutual respect and a willingness to be vulnerable and invest is all it takes to make any relationship wonderful. <3

  11. “What I’ve come to suspect is that many feminists’ failure to recognise the autonomy of children is, at least in part, symptomatic of the way children have for many feminists become symbols of oppression.” Really? When all that’s described here is standard practice in the way adults – feminist or not – relate to children? For me, the link to feminism is that the hypocrisies you write about are simply not on the feminists’ radar. They may be woke to the outrages of patriarchal oppression, and as per this article, they may even choose to process every aspect of life through a feminist-first lens. But like all the unwoke/unwashed/unsocialised neanderthals they decry, here they are simply forgetting to second guess themselves and tie themselves in knots over every social interaction – as they expect others to do over feminist issues. When it comes to issues that aren’t feminist-related they just – gasp – don’t care enough, and – shudder – get it wrong and become the hypocrites you describe. Yes, we are all d@#kheads sometimes, to look at it this way might lead to a bit of useful humility.

    1. yeah, I have to concur. I see no backing support for the argument of a connection between this failure to recognize children’s autonomy and being a feminist who views children as a symbol of oppression. for one thing: so very many feminists don’t have children! also, almost everyone I know fails to recognize children’s autonomy. it’s a relatively new area to be wakened to.

  12. Victoria Brookman at Macquarie Uni has done a masters thesis, and is now doing her PhD on many of the issues raised in this post, in the context of literature.
    Thanks for writing it.

  13. It has always seemed to me that calling the movement feminism is a fatal flaw in itself. What we need is a humanist movement.

    1. Although humanist sounds better, I would say it is more of an umbrella term – equality and autonomy as a human no matter our race, gender, sexuality, age, religious stance etc. However, each of these issues needs to be addressed together and individually. Like any big job we break it down to smaller pieces, hence anti-racism, LBQT rights, disabled autonomy and rights, feminism, etc. It might be better that we change feminism to gender rights as we move onto more detailed understanding of patriarchal damage to both men and women and children. As a good example of the distinction between the overall humanism, and a distinct issue we can look at anti-racism with #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter. Of course all lives matter, but black people in the States were/are experiencing a particularly high number of people being shot by police. Gun violence is a major problem there, but black people are targeted in ways other races aren’t. Gender issues are a particular problem of humanism that needs to be dealt with differently to LBQT rights etc, although a Venn diagram would show the crossovers.

  14. I wonder if the feminists who say they dislike children are not really telling you they hate children, but rather that they don’t understand children. They have no experience of them since being one themselves, and as we try and progress as people the entire understanding of children has changed. Which is a good thing. Children are forced to do many things, from playing sport at school to eating brussel sprouts to helping at home. Everyone needs to learn to shift these expectations and understand personal choice no matter what age people are or who is doing the assuming!

  15. It always bothers me deeply the way some people think it is ok to treat children in ways that they would *never* treat an animal, or even a grown human being. It’s like they think the fact that the human is smaller and still developing gives them license to be rude, demeaning, aggressive, even abusive.

  16. Interesting comments. We forget sometimes that issues about (nonsexual) touching between adults are very cultural.

    In many parts of Europe and South America, these hangups aren’t as prevalent. People of all genders touch each other regularly in conversation, on the bus etc

    1. ‘Hangups’ is a judgmental term. I wonder if everyone in those cultures you mention feels as comfortable as you assume they are? What one person sees as ‘non-sexual’ may be interpreted differently by another. Even if they don’t feel the touching as sexual, they may just dislike it.

      In some other cultures the degree of touching that happens between the sexes in Australia would be seen as highly inappropriate, whatever the motivation.

      If one person feels uncomfortable then the touching becomes a matter of dominance, whatever the intention of the person doing the touching, and certainly, the articulation of discomfort should mean an end to further contact. That people would ignore a child’s expressed view is atrocious.

    2. Even in “touchy” cultures like South American, touch is a matter of consent. The issue is that most of the time consent is implicit, as some kinds of everyday touch are far too common to ask for explicit consent (like a kiss on the cheek to great most people, even strangers). However no one would force you to do it, or do it to you without your (at least tacit) agreement, but people do it all the time to children even if they explicitly say they don’t want it. As I see it the article applies just fine to our cultures.

  17. Hi, great article! I am interested in translating it into Spanish. How can I contact the author? Thank you!

  18. As someone who’s been writing/producing for children for over 20 years, I’d say you are speaking of a wide-spread ism that most people don’t even know exists: adultism. Intersectional feminists aren’t the only ones to have bypassed it – it’s in almost everyone, including many, many educators. Part of the big success of my company’s work is simply in kids recognizing, almost immediately, that we don’t do that; that we ‘get’ them, on their level, as equals, as full humans. May this knowledge spread!!

  19. When generalizations overtake individuality and group think turns into gang mentality. autonomy is a key word lest one forgets the definition.

  20. Hi, thank you for your article. I’m not sure why but my family don’t have this problem at all. Maybe it’s a cultural thing and new Zealanders are more aware of personal space? Or my friends and just awesome with kids? I can’t imagine anybody touching my daughter if she said no. I am often holding her around new people. I would step in and say his shy, just let him be. Maybe your friends are getting a little too tipsy before Oscar goes to bed?

  21. Oh yeah, we often say hello, do hi 5’s, fist bumps or waves so the adult doesn’t feel rejected and my daughter has a less physical way to communicate.

  22. I absolutely loved this article. Children are constantly treated as ‘below’ adults and are completely underestimated. I love how you shared a feminist perspective on it. Thankyou so much for putting into words the social implications that arise from the condescension towards children.

  23. we’re all at different places in our awareness and connecting the dots, aren’t we? I agree with most of what you’ve written, yet found your example of the dog to be ironic, as I’ve just recently begun to shift my awareness and respect for my dog’s bodily autonomy. I want to brush her tail….it gets ratty if I don’t…yet she makes it very clear she doesn’t want it to be brushed. Yet, animals too, have rights. Animals too, are “sentient, autonomous beings who deserve dignity and respect, we are in danger of allowing glaring hypocrisies to creep into the way we construct and use feminist principles and ideas”. As a sentient being she has the right to have a ratty tail if she wants to. Yet, I myself am just on the cusp of awareness of plant’s rights not to be picked or stepped on….I tromple the “weeds” in my efforts to step around the iris.

  24. I always loved how my mum endured I experienced having my opinion valued from a very young age. Even if I was the only child among the women talking I was able to have a say. I was not allowed to speak over anyone but my mum would acknowledge that she saw I had something to say and then would mentally file my place in the queue. Then when it was my turn she would say “I think Diane has something to say” I value the respect she showed and the ways she facilitated me being able to express myself. I speak publicly about quite difficult subjects and even after years, still get nervous but I know my mum started that foundation for me to have experienced others value what I had to say and make a space for me and this has sustained me and I try to do the same for others.

    1. “I was not allowed to speak over anyone but my mum would acknowledge that she saw I had something to say and then would mentally file my place in the queue. Then when it was my turn she would say “I think Diane has something to say” ”

      The one thing is, though, why should your friends have to listen to what your child has to say?

      1. One assumes for the same reason that they have to listen to what any other adult in the room has to say. Because it is polite and respectful not to talk over people.

      2. I understand you already received a response, but I wish to emphasize it. Because listening to a child has to say is as respectful as listening to what an adult has to say. Even if a child has something utterly silly to say, it is a very crushing matter to brush them off. Whether or not you’d feel the same, I’m sure you can at least understand that most people wouldn’t like to be ignored and left out.

  25. Interesting. I’m American (and I normally feel as though we’re pretty behind everyone else), but all people my own age and younger respect when kids ask not to be touched. Older people don’t get it–but I also think that very old people are often starved for company, let alone adorable young children.

    1. Americans, in my experience are not a touchy generally. I rememberat University the American exchange students did not generally kiss and hug greeting other genders.

    2. Americans, in my experience are not touchy generally. I remember University the American exchange students did not generally kiss and hug greeting other genders.

  26. I completely agree that children need to be treated with respect and understood when it comes to consent. Not only does it give them their own comfort, but it helps them grow up with an understanding of how to treat others as well! It’s never too young to learn about consent, whether it be your own or in regard to others!
    I will kinda be a little nit-picky myself and say that I have been the person who doesn’t want children because of (insert the blank here- gross, I hate them, etc) but most of the time, I do not feel that way! I actually like kids for the most part, I just don’t have real strong feelings for wanting to have one. It’s when people throw the “oh you’ll have children someday!” shtick my way that I start saying that sort of thing. Most of the women I’ve spoken to about this feel similarly- no real strong feelings until it’s jammed in their face.
    “They’re gross” and “I just hate kids” are bad things to say in front of a kid, I won’t argue that- I definitely try not to. They can be pretty awful things to say in general. Just perhaps keep in mind that for some women, it’s more of a knee-jerk defensive phrase that is thrown out when confronted by this in a way to try to stop this “Oh you’ll want them someday!” conversation, given that it’s something that happens pretty regularly. Yes, you can explain that it’s your body and you’ll do what you want with it. But after the tenth or eleventh time of telling that same exact person the same exact thing, all you really feel like saying is “I just fucking hate kids, so there!!!” (No exaggeration. Looking at you, grandma.)

  27. The premise of this article is so thoughtful, and then it was ruined by falling back on the classic ‘my friends without children just don’t get it’. No. It’s people who don’t respect children, not childless people only. There’s plenty that parents don’t get, but as a childless person, our views are dismissed constantly and mercilessly.

  28. This is an interesting perspective on the rights and autonomy of children–by which I guess you mean little people under 18 years. But I don’t understand why in order to defend the rights of children you have to demonize feminism and feminists.

    I am a feminist gainfully employed working mother and I — and several feminist mothers of my generation; I am 51 years old with a 17 year old child — do not consider kids to be “gross.” We love our children and believe in raising them with the same dignity and self-respect that we claim for ourselves and our adult partners.

    This article appears to use children’s rights to put down feminists and feminism for seemingly gratuitous, suspicious and perhaps tendentious reasons. Are you against feminism? Are these “feminists” cited as examples in your article and their alleged comments and behaviors stemming from a small group of selfish, unevolved and thoughtless women familiar to you? They might not be feminists at all. Perhaps your sample population could be hedged in correctly making your arguments more persuasive thusly, rather than being presented as a blanket assertion that feminists are insensitive towards children.

    At this late point in our civilization when women anywhere in this world could offer abundant instances of our daily abjection at the drop of a hat — and I live in the country where the sitting president likes to “grab women’s pussies,” and the country voted him into power! Go figure! — let us please not divide the child against the mother and disparage feminism as the problem with the world.

  29. I guess that it’s another example of the fact that well-meaning proponents of a particular cause–whether it be feminism, LGBTQ rights, or otherwise–often fail to apply the same empathy, consideration, and rigor of argument to other groups whose causes they might not actively champion. I have to admit to being more than a little annoyed when non-vegan activists friends discuss rights issues and respect and “human” dignity while chewing on chicken or eating ice cream, as if animal oppression was a completely different and lesser kind of oppression.
    Maybe we’re not really built for logical consistency, or maybe we only have room for so much empathy. Who knows?
    In any case, as someone who has more than once said “I don’t like children”, I’ve definitely got some work of my own to do…

  30. Hey, thanks so much for this article! I grew up with ADHD, of which one of the symptoms is a thing called rejection sensitive dysphoria (or RSD) which causes the sufferer to feel extreme sensitivity to any perceived “rejection”. As such I was always particularly sensitive to adults laughing at me as a child, and since almost every adult did, it led me to believe there was something wrong with me. That plus the fact that every adult, including my own mother, treated me as if I didn’t deserve privacy or autonomy simply for being a child, caused lasting psychological problems. So when I read about Oscar being upset by the adults’ laughter I personally resonated with it. Children aren’t pets, they’re very intelligent and should be treated with the same respect as anyone! I just wish this weren’t such a difficult concept for so many people.

  31. This was a really interesting article. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a parent, but I am endlessly confused by people’s inability to relate to children. Most people do not have memory problems, so how do they not remember what it is like to be a child? Why do people think they’re something other than just very new humans? Very odd…

    Your kid sounds very articulate though, well done for encouraging and fostering that vocabulary and assertiveness.

  32. I guess I don’t get it. I don’t like children. And when I say that I do mean specific things. When I like someone, it’s because of specific things; I like their opinions on politics, their taste in literature, we share hobbies and we enjoy the same activities. They have a willingness and capability of understanding my needs, and the same from myself to them. We relate in our experiences that are universal to existing as a person with understanding, experiences, thoughts and ideas.
    Children lack the things that are requirements for me to like someone as an autonomous person, or to even truly DISLIKE someone. They’re just kind of THERE. Yes, they can have an opinion on someone but if you ask a child their thoughts on classic white feminism and how it effects race politics in France, you’ll be hard pressed to get an answer. Even if you take the time to try to explain it, children don’t have the repertoire of knowledge and experiences to engage thoughtfully on a subject. Even someone who, for example, has a form of mental disability such as autism or something likely has enough world experience and stored knowledge to form conversations that would be engaging enough to allow me to like or dislike them based on their thoughts and feelings. Children don’t have that. Even if you ask to share a hobby or activity with them, there’s a real chance that they won’t have the motor skills, logic skills, focus or communication skills to engage in it. How many times have you tried to get a child to do a task with you, only for them to grow weary of it long before it’s done and demand to engage in something else?
    If an adult treated me like that and also had no interesting, thoughtful or well reasoned opinions on things that mattered to me, not even enough to carry on a conversation, I would determine that I did not like that person.
    Children are just kind of muddling through the world, still compiling knowledge and experience and refining their communication and motor skills. Their brains are still developing, incapable of the kinds of interactions that would allow me to desire their presence. And while that’s fine, I don’t have to enjoy being around that and I don’t. I don’t ‘hate’ children, there’s not enough of a person there for me to hate, but I don’t like being around them.

    That’s also not some oppressed feminist perspective. People who aren’t feminists treat children like you describe all across the board. I really don’t see how this relates to feminism at all? I actually see this a lot in older generations especially people who identify more conservatively. Maybe as feminists women have a different perspective on this… And maybe we should expect better out of feminists and their treatment of sapient beings… But it’s HARDLY a problem that stems from feminism.

    1. I think that’s one of your issues right there. You value people for what are ultimately somewhat shallow matters. I don’t need someone to be so knowledgeable for me to like them. I like someone more for their spirit, their energy and curiosity, than I do for whatever amount of knowledge they’ve compiled. God knows I’ve spoken to a lot of people who share similar interests yet lack so many more emotional nuances that some children totally have.

  33. Thank you so much for this article, its so beautifully and sensitively written by you. I have been very moved by the article. Perhaps it balances out for me, my own experiences with very young children. In this I mean, often young children appear afraid of me, even when their parents encourage the child to say hello. I began to wonder why this happened so often. I was always annoyed or angry looking person. That simply puts adults off, let alone children. Reading your article helped to balance the responses of young children. Who wants to say hello to a fierce angry looking woman who smokes to much. Regardless I still enjoy seeing children being children. On occasion there are young children I meet who are happy to engage with me. Thank you again for this fresh and forward article.

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