The world's intolerance for noisy babies says a lot about how women are viewed
OPINION: Children. They're so annoying, aren't they? Running around with their sticky hands and loud enthusiasm for life, getting into everything and making a colossal mess. There should be a law about them: no children in public places between the hours of 7am and 5pm plus a curfew on all children from 5pm until 7am.
In short, no children anywhere that an adult can be disturbed. A land without children, like the fictional Vulgaria ruled by Baron and Baroness Bomburst. Children! YUCK!
Of course, I jest. But such sentiments are not uncommon. Society is fond of vilifying children, and in turn, the mothers who overwhelmingly make up the bulk of the primary parents.
Because children are noisy. They are often messy. They have yet to develop a respect for other people's personal space. They have no verbal filter, saying things that would be considered completely unacceptable if uttered by an adult. They are frequently annoying. Nobody is obliged to love anyone else's children, yet it sometimes seems as they we are expected to.
But there's a difference between being a rude, disrespectful parent who's teaching the values of entitlement to their little lords and ladies and simply being a parent trying to hold it together and stay connected to the world. The former is precisely the type who will, as happened to a friend of mine, bring their toddler into a gift shop and, after watching him merrily tear the wrapping paper to pieces to the horror of the store manager, declare that "Hugo is very artistic". The latter is the type who routinely wrestles with the stress of dealing with their own children in public (and the pointed looks they attract from other people) versus their need to remember what it's like to be a human being in that same public space.
I am familiar with both sides of this equation. I have previously been the snooty, child-free person who indulged her irritation with rambunctious kids, particularly those left to race around legs in cafes and restaurants or conduct loud, screaming tantrums in the confines of tram carts or, worse, airplane cabins. "Children should be put in the luggage hold!" I'd quip to anyone who would listen.
Of course, I have a baby now so have joined the ranks of the beleaguered parents who feel constantly pressured to keep their spawn restrained and under control. And while I still think it's acceptable for certain places to exclude children (poky bars, for example, or nightclubs, casinos and gun shows), I also lament the time I spent contributing to the judgment of parents. And let's be honest, when people talk about judging parents, they mostly mean mothers.
It's women who have to wrangle cranky babies with high-pitched wails, who have to manoeuvre bulky prams through narrow aisles while feeling keenly aware that this taking up of space with children and their needs is considered the pinnacle of the attention seeking, look-at-me behaviour that women are so swiftly shamed for. It's us who'll be yelled at when we fail to keep a tight rein on these tiny pinballs, hurtling as they do between one shiny object and the next. And through all of this, it's just accepted that this irritation is not only acceptable but justifiably pushed back against.
The stories I've heard from mothers who've been reduced to tears by the patronising scolding of other adults on the street have made my blood boil. It is especially galling when it comes from men, because they are statistically less likely to have suffered through the constant, repetitive, day-in-day-out monotony of child-rearing and all the boring, annoying things it entails. That isn't an attack on men, although of course it will be perceived that way. It's a recognition of the labour women are disproportionately called on to perform even as they are sneered at for being able to do 'only' that.
Yes, children can be annoying and obnoxious. You know what else is annoying and obnoxious? Men who take up too much space on public transport. Advertising billboards that take up visual space and bombard us with the message that we will never be good enough. Property developers. Rich people born into money who think they work hard and deserve their wealth. Loud motorcycles. Litterbugs. People who spit their gum onto the ground. Stale donuts sold at the price of fresh ones. The highway robbery of cinema pricing. Talkback radio. People who speak disparagingly of 'political correctness'. People who have loud conversations on their mobile phones. Young Liberals. Old Liberals. People who talk about "queue-jumpers" in regard to the refugee crisis. People who say "I'm entitled to my opinion", as if it's the same thing as your facts. Misogynist workplaces. Flashing neon lights.
There are so many annoying, obnoxious things in the world that are permitted with less push-back than the presence of children and their childlike behaviour. It takes a village to raise a child, but it just takes one person to make a mother feel like rubbish. Do better. Be better. Help more. Judge less. Because anything else is childish beyond belief.
- Sydney Morning Herald