Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why You Can't Be a Baby-Hater And A Feminist At the Same Time

Act #258:  Offer to help a mom with a crying baby.

I used to be a baby hater.  I was that non-smoker who chose to sit in a restaurant's smoking section just to increase my chances of dining in peace, a.k.a. child-free.  I was that person who got annoyed (and a little creeped out) when a kid turned around in their booth and stared into my soul while I was trying to eat a meal.  The person who avoided eye contact with cute, wobbly toddlers who always seemed to wander into my pathway, for fear that I might have to further engage with them.

I get it.  Kids are loud, socially awkward, leak bodily fluids, and they are so darn needy.  And childless people deserve to go about their lives without having to be bothered by them.  Like I said, I used to be a baby hater.  And then six years ago I had one myself, and all of the bad karma I put out into the world for 35 years of baby-hating came crashing down painfully.  The glares and stares at restaurants.  The time my 4 month-old pooped on me on a plane....while we were sandwiched between two drunken college kids celebrating their 21st birthdays.  The wrath of beautiful women with expensive shoes, when my stroller wheels accidentally ran over their feet.

Recently, several airlines have adopted child-free zones, where passengers can pay a special fee for more leg-room and a flight without screaming babies.  Singapore Airlines, Air Asia, and Malaysian Airline all offer passengers the option to upgrade their travel so that they are not seated near children. If you really look around the next time you go into a restaurant, you will probably begin to also notice that families are often strategically placed together, away from other patrons.    In 1988, the Fair Housing Act was amended to add "familial status" as a protected category - making it illegal for a landlord to refuse rental to families with children, or segregate them to one particular area of a complex.  This protected not only families with children, but more specifically, single women who were being turned away for housing because landlords didn't trust that they could pay the rent.  Men weren't as impacted by this discrimination, because statistically, they weren't typically the ones raising kids on their own.  So we had single moms, probably struggling with one income (or maybe none at all - someone had to stay home to raise those kids), unable to find a place to live.   If she was working, she was, of course, not making as much as her male counterparts. 

While on the surface, such attitudes against the occasional annoying baby may seem harmless, when rules and policies, structurally begin to support those attitudes, the ramifications can be pretty significant - and can adversely impact the quality of life of women, just like it did in housing before 1988. Women are the ones with the boob - the only ones who have the capacity to provide nourishment to a newborn.  Women are the ones who are still staying home to take care of their offspring, because their husbands still have a better shot at bringing home the most economic sustenance.  While I'm not denying that there are equally engaged dads out there (I'm married to one of those), chances are, that crying baby on the plane is sitting on the lap of a woman.  The creepy kid in the restaurant is being scolded by his mother.  And the single parent who just walked out on an abusive marriage and is seek housing, is a woman.  Like it or not, the last time I checked, women were still the only ones able to give birth to those annoying, screaming kids.  And when we begin to alienate, segregate, devalue, and demonize children, we are, at the end of the day, harming their mothers. 

So if you are a baby-hater - like I was - but you care deeply about the status of women in the world, you may consider looking at those demonic little creatures a bit differently.  You can still be annoyed by them.  Lord knows, that I still am.  But maybe you can also be a little more forgiving, a little less rigid.  Maybe you can even refrain from judging and glaring and instead, offer a little assistance.   What better way to support feminism, than to actually support a real-life woman in need?

Photo credit:  Momlogic

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