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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

City mice and country mice

Matt Yglesias has a post about the wrongheadedness behind the assumption that suburban living is somehow better for kids. Quick and to the point.
I don't know if he realizes it or not, but stuff like this needs to be said loud and clear. We are living in a society that is using "the kids" as a rhetorical tool to convey all sorts of reactionary ideas that can't be stated directly for fear of looking ignorant. However, state that something is good for "the kids" and deflect all criticism for your reactionary beliefs. In the case of the defense of suburbia, it's easier to say that it's for "the kids" than cop to wishing for the whiteness and conformity of the suburbs. I see this more than ever now that my boyfriend and I are trying to move back to the city after growing impatient with living in the bland outer limits of the city and having people criticize our decision by dancing around their true opinions of the city.
"The kids" are used to justify racist beliefs and the desire for conformity, but it extends beyond that. The most obvious way "the kids" functions as a subterfuge is in the area of adult sexual panic. Most homophobes I know justify their beliefs in the oppression of homosexuals by making vague arguments that if homosexuals are afforded equal rights, "the kids" will somehow be damaged. How is never explained, of course, because once "the kids" are invoked, all argument stops because no one wants to be the child-injuring bad guy.
Women are oppressed sexually due to child-protection lies, too. Beyond even just sexual oppression, all forms of sexism are now defined as child-protection. Cultural conservatives have set up and are constantly reinforcing a belief that when women gain, children suffer, even though the truth is usually just the opposite. So women shouldn't be equals in education or the workplace to protect "the kids", even though all evidence shows that the better women do the better their children do. Soon-to-be women are oppressed for their own good as well, as is evidenced by the way all-important contraception is withheld from teenage girls, condemning them to early motherhood for the good of their own childish selves.
Be careful anytime you hear arguments touting the protective benefits to the children or the kids of any policy. Odds are that it has little to nothing to do with any actual children and everything to do with creating a cover story for repressive social policy. Conservatives have gotten very good at using coded language to hide their aims, such as substituting "family values" for what most of us call the good old-fashioned patriarchy, and they have succeeded in making that valuable word "patriarchy" unspeakable in public. Now they want to take away any and all ability to discuss public policy rationally by introducing phantom children into the equation. Don't let it happen to you. Scoffaw at attempts to argue on behalf of the children. Ask which and what children. Make them give concrete, fact-based examples of actual injured children. Don't let up until they admit that they simply want to control adult behavior.

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Blogger echidne said...

I really like your way of thinking! I keep nodding my head as I read. Yes, it is indeed true that we make "it's for the sake of children" serve all sorts of other purposes, especially the removal of women from any kind of power in the society. We never ask why children should be so isolated that their mothers by necessity become isolated, too.

This is especially weird when at the same time we have expanded what a child is to an age as high as 24, while eight-year old girls are married off in other cultures. Now, the latter is indeed terrible, but it shows how cultural and relativistic we are in our child-rearing ideas. While children are not protected enough in most of the world and in the poor areas of our country, I believe that we overprotect children in the upper income classes, so that when they're finally 'let loose' they can't actually function as adults. I have seen one thirty-year old example of this.

Keep up the interesting writing. I'm going to add you to my links.

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5/19/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My weirdest experience with this was around the time of the Columbine shootings. I was debating with a woman online, pointing out that statistically speaking, a child had a better chance of being struck by lightning than being shot at school. Her response was something like "spoken like someone who's never had children."

And with that, I was defeated. The facts were on my side, but apparently since I hadn't experienced the fear of having my children killed, my point of view was irrelevant. Not only that, but she also managed to imply that parental paranoia was not only acceptable, but _should be accomodated by everyone_.

I think that fits under "conformity" in your structure above.

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5/19/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Whiteness" of the suburbs? Have you checked out the 'burbs around cities like Washington, D.C., or Atlanta lately? Let's just say they're more "diverse" than Harlem.

5/19/2004

 
Blogger Alex said...

Couldn't agree with you more on most of it (especially when I heard some talking head bring up the "kids" as regards gay marriage). On the other hand, the "for the kids" argument becomes important when it comes to schooling. For those who cannot afford to send their children to private school, the public school systems in, say, Montgomery (in MD) or Fairfax (in VA) counties are far superior (at least in reputation) to DC public schools. As far as racism is concerned, at this point you reach a chicken vs. egg situation, I think, but it is a legitimate concern for parents who really do have the best interests of their children at heart.

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Blogger Amanda said...

You don't have to like it, but "white flight" is still a predominant motivation behind the set-up of the suburbs now, even if there are now suburbs that are racially mixed. I have a very distinctive memory of a realtor in one suburb here that my mom was looking to buy in that said that the schools were very good and your kids don't have to go to school with "those people". If schools is suburbs are better, it's sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, it seems to me.

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Blogger Alex said...

True enough, but how to reverse it? Parents with school-aged children want good schools now, not in two or three or ten years, and so if they can afford it they move to where the schools are better and it's hard to blame them. It's not just that they think the schools will be better (more funding, more resources, better compensated teachers, more special programs) in the suburbs; they know they will be.

5/19/2004

 
Blogger Stuart said...

I agree that children are used as an excuse for adoption of policy positions that really have other reasons behind them. However we need to differentiate between people who advocate positions based on "what's best for the children" and people who make life choices on this basis. I know plenty of people who have moved to areas where they would be less happy in the hope that their children would have better schools and a safer environment. I don't know if this is the "right" decision for them but I would be very hesitant to criticize their motivations.

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Blogger Amanda said...

I agree that the motivations for moving to the suburbs are a mixed bag, but it's certainly made worse by some of the political rhetoric out there. And of course, white flight does create "bad" city schools because after it happens, all the money is yanked out of those city schools. That's a particularly bad problem in Texas.
A good first step is "Robin Hood" programs that actually work--programs that route money from rich school districts to poor ones. But people resist these programs, since they don't want "their" money going to educating "those people's" children. Well, I don't have kids but I still pay property taxes. And I have serious problems with my money going to a school district that already has so much more than the one next to it. It's one of the reasons we're moving.

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Blogger Eric V said...

I have 2 boys and I find that the idea that being a parent entitles you to throw all common sense and rationality out the window is not just bad for a society that considers itself free but just bad parenting as well. I mean how can you protect your children and teach them to protect themselves when you yourself are unable to rationally evaluate risks and deal with them.

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