Saturday, 15 December 2012

'Childism' - As Utterly Unacceptable as Sexism and Racism

In the past few decades, mankind has had to shake up their attitudes about a number of things. It is no longer considered to be 'ok' to degrade, humiliate, taunt or insult another human being on the grounds of their sex, race or sexuality. It still happens of course, but it is not considered acceptable. Make a sexist or racist joke down your local pub and you might get away with it. But post an image on Facebook that derides another human being, and you're likely to be reported or even prosecuted. That is, unless that image is of a child. Then it's ok.

These images have been doing the rounds this week. Most commenters seem to agree that they are 'hilarious':
"Comedy Gold'
"Gave me a smile - thanks"
"A bit of humour"
"I just love this!"

I beg to differ. The children in these pictures look sad, and humiliated. At a time when they clearly need help to sort out their sibling rivalries and calm their emotional storm, the grown ups responsible for their care have instead chosen to ridicule them. They are powerless to refuse this treatment, nor can they consent or otherwise to the photo being taken and shared on Facebook for the world to see.

It's hard to imagine any other group in society being treated in this way. But if we were to take a similarly degrading image of a woman, for example, there would be an outcry!

A few months ago I was inspired to write a post about tantrums when I saw this image on Facebook, and read the comments beneath it:

"Who needs a mop when you have a pre-schooler?!"
"I laughed so hard at this photo!"
"Good on the mum for carrying on!"

But is it really funny to see another human being in complete distress, and whatsmore, to take a picture of them and post it online?

These images are considered acceptable because they belong to a world in which we are prejudiced against children, seeing behaviour such as fighting with siblings or throwing tantrums in a shop as clear signs of their inability to control themselves, the burden they place on their carers, and their 'badness' or 'naughtiness'.

This is a world in which it is considered perfectly normal and justified to turn our backs on the distress of another human being, so long as they are a child. So normal, in fact, that you can learn exactly how to do it on prime time television. Note in this clip from Supernanny that the mother is twice offered comfort, whilst the emotional needs of the child are completely disregarded:

This attitude has been described as 'Childist' by Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, psychoanalyst and a leading expert on the nature of prejudice. Her book on the subject - Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children - is excellent, describing in complex detail how our childist attitudes - in just the same way as racism or sexism - create a world in which it becomes acceptable to dislike children or even harm and abuse them.

"CHILDIST beliefts - that children are burdensome and absorb more than their share of resources, that they should serve adults, that they are property, that they lack reason, that they are rebellious and must be broken through harsh discipline - do not reflect current scientific knowledge about children's development, capabilities, and needs. It is CHILDISM when adults interpret children's dependence as inferiority, and thus deny children's rights. We are CHILDIST when we transform the adult responsibility to care for children into an excuse to exercise unchecked power."
(Childism - extract from the Press Release)

It is time for us to stop finding it acceptable or even funny when we see evidence of childism, in real life or online. We need to take this prejudice seriously, and to stand up for children, who are often not given a voice in our current society and therefore unable to stand up for themselves. Once we recognise and acknowledge our childist attitudes, we take the first step towards much needed change.

Related Post: Let's Challenge Our Anti-Child Attitudes

Friday, 7 December 2012

Should We Be So Very Scared of Giving Birth?

This article has now been published in the Huffington Post.

Tapping into the twenty first century zeitgeist is easy, and a bit fun - you just have to tap into Google. For example, enter ‘very scared of’ … and you’ll see the top four things that people are very scared of, right now, like this:

Many women are scared, afraid, terrified of giving birth. Some – as many as one in ten – suffer from Tocophobia, a morbid fear of giving birth that leads them to seek elective caesarians if they can. Others, while they may not have a diagnosable psychological disorder, are still extremely anxious and fearful about the task of bringing their baby into the world.

It’s not really surprising that so many women feel this way. The media portrayal of birth ranges from the rather ridiculous soap opera version – 'woman looking terrified and sweaty delivers baby in pub drama' – to programs like One Born Every Minute – 'woman looking terrified and sweaty begs for drugs in hospital drama'. Birth education in schools is woefully lacking and standard ante-natal input is often focused on what your options are if you cannot cope. Is it any wonder we’re all 'very scared'?

Ironically, going into labour feeling extremely afraid can actually increase your chances of having a difficult or even traumatic experience. Not only can fear increase tension which in turn makes birth more painful, but approaching birth with negative expectations can lead to a more ready acceptance of medical interventions, which usually serve to increase rather than remove any discomfort or trauma. All these frightened women (and I was one of them once) end up getting the experience they both expected and dreaded – the  prophecy is fulfilled, fear becomes fact:

Is there any real justification for fear of giving birth? As well as the current negative media portrayal, there is an accompanying widely held belief that childbirth is dangerous, and that we should all be grateful for modern obstetrics, because, before it was invented, ‘women used to die’. But this is an oversimplification of a complex historical issue – many women used to (and in many parts of the world, still do) die in childbirth, not because of their bodies are poorly designed for birthing, but due to poor maternal health, poor diet and most of all poor hygiene. In the 19th century, over half of all deaths in childbirth were caused by Child-Bed Fever, a direct result of doctors simply not washing their hands.

The statistics we have on Western maternal mortality show a sharp increase in the early 1900’s, peaking in the 1930’s, in direct correlation to increased medical intervention such as botched caesarians and badly administered drugs. But the largest killer was always infection, often caused by doctors going from woman to woman and even from mortuary to birthing room, and this only subsided with the invention of drugs to fight it. Turning to the modern day, the country with the most medicalised model of childbirth, the USA, has seen rates of maternal morbidity double in the past 25 years.

In some cases, modern obstetrics saves lives, there is no doubt about that. The difficulty, for Western birthing women and no doubt their doctors too, is achieving some clarity about which cases are in actual need of medical help, and which would be best left alone. This, along with the conundrum of whether fear itself, and birthing in an environment not suited to our mammalian selves, is actually causing some of the hold-ups and struggles in modern labours, is a difficult and confusing tangle for us all to unpick, especially when you are nine months pregnant, or worse still, nine centimetres dilated.

In this complex environment, women are coming together to try to improve and inform their birth choices, and maximise their chances of a positive birth experience. In many ways, there has never been a better time to be pregnant - antenatal education has moved on from panting and plastic pelvises, and there now exists a whole host of vibrant groups offering everything from the latest information about evidence based care, to campaigns for birthing rights, for example The Birth I Want, One World Birth, One Born Every Minute - The Truth, and Tell Me A Good Birth Story.

I recently founded The Positive Birth Movement, a grass roots organisation aiming to spread positivity about childbirth via a network of free to access antenatal groups, linked up by social media. Within six weeks of launching we have over 30 UK groups and another 15 as far afield as New Zealand, Turkey, Germany, South Africa and the States. We believe that every woman deserves a positive birth – and that this doesn’t always have to be 'natural', but rather that:

The enemy of fear has always been information and communication. If you are worried about giving birth, you are not alone. Join The Positive Birth Movement on Facebook or visit our website for more information.