Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Childless as Other

I noted this down a long time ago, when I’d been surfing the net and watched an interview. I’d been reluctant to post it, as I knew that I needed to say something about it, and to try and find a positive spin that would come out of it. But maybe not.

A well-known US TV host and comedian told another well-known TV host that he thought there was “a bigger difference between people with kids  and people who don’t have kids, than Red state Blue state” politics. Or in the terminology we might be more familiar with elsewhere in the world, between right wing and left wing politics.

I remember being appalled. First, he he said it to an interviewer who, to my knowledge, does not have children. The two share a common view of politics and society. They both seem to be decent people with a similar morality. So why would he say that? Secondly, is he really so blind as not to be able to understand people without children? To see such a huge cultural gap between us? Or perhaps he was simply trying to downplay political differences, by choosing a comparison with the fact that everyone has been one of these groups (people without children) and – perhaps as far as he thinks – will be (a parent), and it's not a big deal. But that's not how it came across.

You can see why I was considering the wisdom of sharing this view? It brought me pain when I first heard it, and it still irritates me, though I can laugh at the ignorance of this now.

I know what he was saying, of course. He was saying that the similarities of raising children, the shared day-to-day issues, are essentially the same between people of opposing political philosophies. He was saying that the areas they have in common are far larger than the areas where they differ. I understand why he said it too, trying to and encourage those on both sides of the political debate to see each other as real people, people similar to themselves. This effort is especially important in today’s environment of polarised political views.

But in doing so, he threw us under the bus. Stuck us on the outskirts of society, labelled as as “alien” and “other.” Implied that because we didn’t have children, we could never understand their lives. He isolated us, when we already feel so isolated. In order to promote unity and understanding amongst one group, he took a deliberate position to make another group seem different, even when they are not. We’ve seen that happen throughout history, and it is never a good idea.

What puzzles me is whether it was prepared. Did he sift around before the interview to find a comparison that would upset the least people? Or did it just pop into his head? I am not happy with either of those options. They both point to disturbing views of those of us without children, views that were flippantly thrown out into the world no matter who it hurt.

After all, there are childless people of all different political persuasions, in the same way that there are parents of all different political persuasions. There are childless people with different moralities just as there are parents with different moralities. There are good parents with compassion and empathy and terrible parents with neither. I think I have more in common with parents with compassion and empathy than they would have with those parents who have none. Surely? So maybe what ties us together with parents is our humanity, our concern for ourselves and our loved ones when we and they are vulnerable – whether that is for children, for the sick and vulnerable, or for the elderly. We all share enjoyment in a beautiful day, in laughter with friends or family, in a satisfying meal, and in a good night’s sleep. It’s an important reminder for us all.

So I’m going to turn it around and say that we need to try and apply this towards our own views towards others, including towards parents. It’s hard at the outset of this journey, when our wounds are open and raw, and just the mere sight of parents can be painful. Their whines that we have so much free time, or that we don’t have to deal with troublesome children, can hurt, and show a lack of understanding. We might be indignant that we would like to have a little less free time, and that we would be grateful for troublesome children to deal with. But as we go along, we realise that maybe their complaints are cries of frustration, a search for understanding. And we certainly share this with parents.

So my resolution for today is to try not to create or accentuate new divisions in an attempt to downplay or divert other, perhaps more problematic (to me) divisions elsewhere others.


8 comments:

  1. Wow, I couldn’t agree with this less. I find it much harder to relate to conservatives than to childfree/less people. The idea is absurd. How did the other person react in the interview? Did they point out the insanity of that statement? I have so many friends who don’t have kids and I find it much easier to relate to them than to some relatives who do have kids but are deeply conservative. Honestly, their child free/less status is a non-issue, while it’s hard for me to be truly comfortable around conservatives. Truly, the idea is baffling to me.

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    1. I think it would surprise you if I told you who said it too. Should I?

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    2. I want to know! There's only one host I could think of that would say something like this. But... here's the thing -- families are literally being torn apart by blue / red state politics. There are people we avoid because we can't handle that they're supporting certain things. I'm angry on two fronts -- on the creation of otherness AND the belittling of how divided the country is right now.

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  2. I know. I felt as the "Other" way too often in the last 16 years of my infertility.

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  3. My first reaction was "HE", but of course the ignorance and stupidity of the remark actually is not gendered. Other-ing people is a method of exclusion and inferring second class status ... Children of a Lesser God thing.
    Because I am now VERY much a senior I can absolutely state that while there can be periods when SOME people who have children have different activities in their lives than SOME people who do not have children, the statement is divisive and does not help any one.

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  4. I am so curious as to who said that. I'm with you --humanity of a person isn't tied to whether or not they have tiny humans. I care deeply about the future and while generations of young people, and I don't need to have produced one or raised one myself to do that. The divisions are so rampant, and it's disappointing that this person (tell me!) played on one division to highlight another. I think you're wise to try to avoid division, but that it's awfully hard to do.

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    1. Your wish is my command! I didn't want to divert the discussion initially, because I wanted it to be more about the statement and the ideas behind it, than about the person who said it. But now it is time to tell you. It was Jon Stewart. He said it back in 2010, in an interview with Rachel Maddow. I wonder if he would say it now?!

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    2. Well, that's disappointing. :( I've always really liked Jon Stewart, and he's done so much for the 9/11 workers and their families. I must say, I think we feel "othered" enough as it is without parents going out of their way to highlight the differences to us. And as Mel said, I seriously doubt the parent/non-parent difference is bigger than the Red/Blue divide in the States (& elsewhere) right now. Although the way people look at family, gender roles and reproductive choice (including pronatalism) is certainly a part of that broader divide.

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