I'm on record for saying that I have no problem with kid-free spaces. In fact, I wish places would be a little more up front about if they want kids there or not. I try really hard not to bring my daughter into places where she's going to be overly disruptive, and I have taken her to the car in the case of a meltdown. But I'm also on record for noting that kids are actually people. It's true! But so many of these "public spaces" debates seem to totally gloss over the fact that kids are human beings who deserve respect.
Which is why I found this quote from the original Feministe post so interesting:
But let’s be real about the “I don’t want special treatment” thing. Of course you do. I mean, if “kids are just small people” and you don’t want special treatment, then you buy your baby a seat on the plane, right? You understand why people are hostile toward a crying baby, the same way they would be with an adult who spent the entire plane ride screaming? No? Sometimes special or different treatment is ok, because babies and children are unique classes of people with unique needs. Their brains, social skill sets and communication abilities haven’t fully developed. And so any decent society should understand that they deserve a little extra leeway. That’s a good thing. But let’s not pretend that it’s not special or different treatment (of course, let’s not also pretend that society isn’t pretty shitty to parents, and to mothers in particular)
That statement made me realize that there might be a core disconnect between my view on the world and those who think that tolerating children in public spaces is "special treatment." See, I don't think that it's "special treatment" to tolerate an adult who spent the entire plane ride screaming if the circumstances surrounding that adult's behavior were understandable. (My husband was once on a bus ride with a woman who was traveling alone immediately after brain surgery and another woman received a phone call a few minutes into the ride alerting her that her mother had died. Neither behaved in the way we'd expect an ideal travel mate to act, but both behaved in ways that the other travelers tolerated because of their circumstances). We make allowances for behavior that we don't particularly enjoy all of the time, so much so that I don't think there's anything particularly "special" about it.
So, there's a few things that I take into account anytime I'm in public around other people, regardless of if they are children:
With a few key exceptions, I have no right to the expectation of personal comfort in a public space. I have the right to expect that people do not intentionally invade my personal space. I have the right to not be groped or struck or cussed out in public.
However, I don't have the right to expect no one to brush up against me in a crowded space. I don't have the right to expect that the sounds of other people's conversations won't interrupt my meal. I don't have the right to expect that people will stop talking about things I don't like. I don't have the right to expect the guy waiting for the bus to stop singing off-key. I don't have the right to expect the woman on her cell phone in the store to stop fighting with the person on the other end. I don't have the right to expect that the people next to me not order shrimp because the smell makes me sick.
To me, recognizing that other people will behave in ways that I might not personally like is not "special treatment," it's just living. I also do not think that it is "special" treatment to alter my reactions to people who have physical or mental differences that make them interact with public spaces in ways different from me. If someone with a mental disorder is shouting out in the middle of a store or if someone with limited mobility is blocking my path, I don't think I'm treating them "special" by adapting my reactions based on those circumstances. I think I'm treating them like people.
So, in short, if tolerating the behavior of children in public is granting them "special" privileges, so is basically every other interaction we have with human beings. People are not a monolithic group. We all have quirks and differences, and we constantly use a contextual reading of the situations we find ourselves in to judge what is tolerable in a public space. Reacting to children should be no different.
Photo: C. G. P. Grey