Adult privilege and discrimination against children

[To give you some context as to why I am writing this: see this post at Bitch PhD (and particularly check out the comments), this post at Feministe (and, oh my goodness, check out the comments); this post at Blue Milk; and this post at Student Activism.]

The funny thing about in-built privilege is that so-often the bearers of said-privilege really have no idea that they are exercising it or that they have come to feel themselves entitled to it. Instead, they justify it with all sorts of excuses and by reference to the prevailing status quo – as though ‘the way things are’ are, by definition, ‘the way things ought to be’.

A few examples (past & present):

 White privilege under Apartheid South Africa

(This continues to be exercised everywhere, don’t get me wrong. It is just easier to point to blatantly obvious examples.) This privilege consisted in part of carving out ‘white only’ spaces and having draconian rules for when and how black people (and people of other colour) could enter such spaces.

Another less overt form of discrimination (and one that continues in most places in the world) is that many white people treat people of colour with less respect than they treat other white people. They talk down to them or overlook them altogether. This can mean that they receive a message that they have less value than white people, that they do not have their needs taken into consideration, and even that they will not be served in a shop, etc.

This is discrimination, pure and simple.

Male privilege under patriarchy

Historically, and still in many places and cultures, this privilege consists of carving out ‘male only’ spaces and occupations into which women might only be admitted if they conform to the bahavioural standards established to conform to the dominant-adult norm (i.e. act as though they have someone at home taking care of the house/children/etc; do not discuss their children/family obligations/’women’s issues’ etc; quit if they become pregnant/married; think & act in ‘male’ ways; etc). “Obviously” some occupations and spaces have remained off-limits because they are “clearly” unsuitable (having been established around the needs of the dominant-males). This might include anything from men’s clubs, to voting, to governing, to military or front-line positions, etc…

Another less overt form of discrimination is that many men treat women (particularly women of a particular age, weight, appearance, etc) with less respect than they treat men. They talk down to them or overlook them altogether. This can mean that they receive a message that they have less value than men, that they do not have their needs taken into consideration, and even that they will not be served in a shop, etc.

As a feminist it is fairly easy for me to label all of these attitudes as discrimination, pure and simple.

Able-bodied privilege

While sometimes this is exercised in a very blatant manner, with people openly excluding disabled people from accessing certain spaces and (particularly) occupations, most often this privilege is exercised in a more subtle manner. Many many public spaces have been constructed in such a way that many disabled people have difficulty accessing them and/or difficulty in making use of them (i.e. shops & restaurants without ramp access and with insufficient space to fit a wheel chair, parks with stairs, offices located on higher levels of building with no lifts, a whole range of places that do not have accessible toilets, etc.). All of these spaces have been constructed around the capabilities and needs of able-bodies adults and we take this status quo for granted. In fact, many people view requests for alterations to be unreasonable or even as an expression of privilege!

Another form of this less overt form of discrimination is that many people treat people with disabilities with less respect than they treat able-bodies adults. They talk down to them or overlook them altogether. This can mean that they receive a message that they have less value than able-bodied people, that they do not have their needs taken into consideration or even that they will not be served in a shop, etc. (This may sound familiar by now, but, of course, it plays out in different ways and in different contexts than it does for able-bodied people of colour or women).

All of these practices and attitudes are discrimination, pure and simple.

And then we have children…

Adult privilege within our culture

This consists of carving out ‘adult only’ spaces into which children may only enter if they adhere to behavioural standards established to conform to the dominant-adult norm (i.e. adhere to a particular decibel level; remain seated rather than moving around; keep all emotions firmly in check; think & act in ‘adult’ ways, etc.). “Obviously” some spaces will remain off-limits because they are “clearly” unsuitable (having been established around the needs of the dominant-adults). This might include anything from cinemas, to a certain class of restaurant, to theatres, community meetings, or any of these “after a certain time of day”, etc…

Children also suffer from less overt forms of discrimination. Most public spaces have been constructed in such a way that children have difficulty accessing them and/or difficulty in making use of them. Often it will be difficult for them to use the toilet without assistance and the sink will be too high for them to wash their hands. Their feet will dangle from the chairs and their natural inclination to stay mobile and to explore their environment will be constrained by tightly packed tables, low-level breakables, or a general atmosphere of intolerance. All of these spaces have been constructed around the capabilities and needs of able-bodies adults and we take this status quo for granted. In fact, many people view requests for alterations (most often made by parents, rather than children themselves due to the lack of agency of most children) to be unreasonable or even as an expression of privilege!

Additionally, most adults will feel entitled to treat children with less respect than they treat (able-bodies) adults. They talk down to them or overlook them altogether. This can mean that they receive a message that they have less value than adults, that they do not have their needs taken into consideration or even that they will not be served in a shop, etc…

Once again I’m going to go out on a limb and label all of these attitudes as discrimination, pure and simple.

Update: I had intended to point you in the direction of Anji’s excellent Adult Privilege Checklist at the end of this post and I forgot. Hopefully, some people will still wander over there now…

In case you just want a small taste of it, here’s a few samples of some of the comments at Feministe and Bitch PhD:

I think there should be more of a social expectation of parents to consider the adults around them. I think that parents should not only expect to be talked to when their child acts up, and they don’t respond, but also expect to apologize to the stranger they may have upset or disrupted.

In fact one parent asked me, when I told her to discipline her child if they should stay home until their child behaves, and not go out. I say yes! Most likely they made the choice to have that child, and a part of making that choice is the responsibility that comes with it.

[Question:] “Tell me would, would you tell a disabled person to leave a restaurant because they were being to loud or making you uncomfortable?”

YES. If a disabled person was in a restaurant banging silverware on the table, or yelling at the top of their lungs, then YES it would not be bigoted or prejudiced or whatever of me to be both annoyed by it and to request that person leave the restaurant.

There are certain restaurants, I think, where it’s more “family friendly” and this kind of behavior is tolerated (I’m thinking of places like Red Robin.) But a fancy, quiet restaurant? Not acceptable, whether it’s a disabled person or a child.

Part of the “interacting with society” you think is so important includes getting told off, coldly glared about, and snidely whispered about when you behave like an idiot. Consider our contempt for your children just another useful learning experience for them.

I don’t like being around kids, the same way I don’t like being around loud, obnoxious people who monopolize conversations and can’t talk about anything except themselves, and I make no apology for that. If your child can behave like a reasonable human being [EDIT: read ‘adult’] in public, then good for you. But I get really, really tired of watching parents let their kids run amok while shrugging off the damage with “S/he’s only a chyyuuld.”

I, for one, would not tolerate a grown adult behaving that way [screaming for a drink] in a public place. Actually, not many people would. So if you’re really going to try to equate children with adults when deciding where and when they should be allowed in public, then you really ought to consider the social responsibility that that expectation creates. As an adult, I would NOT get away with things that children do in public for very long. So if you want your toddler to be considered the same as me, an adult, then your toddler should be responsible for behaving in an adult manner.

I don’t mind children in spaces like restaurants, as long as the children are well behaved. This largely is the responsibility of the parents (and largely the parents’ failure when the kid is a monster). […] I have zero patience for or tolerance of children who don’t behave.

I have never been and never will be fond of kids or want to be around them much. That has nothing to do with being feminist or antifeminist. It has to do with the fact that I don’t like kids any more than I like peas. I do not want to hear children screeching in an expensive restaurant at 9:00 at night, when they should be in bed. I’ve seen parents bring their children into bars at night! I am civic-minded and I accomodate other people’s children in appropriate situations as much as possible, but don’t tell me that I have to start dressing more modestly because your sisters have children now (my now ex-boyfriend).

Now I think I need to have a lie down.

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