Googling the Prime-minister, generalising gender, and grating generationalisms

September 25, 2018

Eagle hunter, grandson and mother. Mongolia. ‘All Secure’, Tariq Zaidi.

Journalist Annabel Crabb, challenges readers to google high ranking male politician’s names and ‘juggling’ and ‘children’. Her point is that men are not asked how they will ‘juggle’ their demanding work roles and family life. This question is regularly discussed in relation to women. Crabb calls out this gender disparity of accountability, and unexamined expectations of women as responsible for child-rearing.
This speaks not only to assumptions about men and women, but to the view of children as ‘burdens’ and ‘work’ – and lower-class work at that.
The privileged classes know that the more menial and distasteful a task, the more essential it is. Belgium carried on for over 500 days without a government being formed.
Australian parliaments have all but abandonned doing any actual work of governance, in favour of party politics and leadership shuffles – meanwhile life goes on.
The care of children – so essential for the wellbeing and flourishing of society – is thus regarded as a menial, low status, unskilled task (hear all the parents who have been well bested by their two year old in the simple task of going to bed recently laugh out loud).
So the alignment of women with children underscores both the perception of women as best fit for low status – but essential – tasks, and the perception of children as a low status task.
Nevertheless, the realities of parenting and working with children in our midst are also artificially obscured. Many men and women accomplish all of their daily work with children present. Children are generally more flexible and adaptable than adults in this arrangement.
The model of child as burden and women as best beasts of burden also depends on a mythology of caring for children as a 24/7 intensive single-focus role. Anyone who attempts parenting in that way will do themselves and mental health injury and most likely have frustrated and thwarted children. This is not recommended by anyone who understands what makes for healthy childhood development. Children are not best raised by mothers or fathers but by communities.
My professional life has engaged the field of working for better thinking and practice in communities around the experience of age relativised against the affirmation of all humans as whole persons and equal contributors and participants and dependents on human community. I listen carefully to the experiences, expectations and interpretations of people of different ages in their endeavours to relate to one another in a society that has gone mad with obsessive generationalism. 
I hear stay at home mums struggling to control their children – a futile and unworthy aim in itself, yet one they feel an intense obligation and unrealistic ambition for. I hear their isolation, trying to tough out hours of life in a house  geared for anything but health, play, creativity and relationship as the sole adult with a child or two or three. I hear their reticence to accept company and help from older women and men, mostly for fear of judgement of their parenting (as if it were a scored examination) and backed by a fair degree of judgement for the older generations and their ethics and style of parenting. In all of this intensity around the care and nurture of children, the personhood of children is decidedly absent. The story of children as investigators, initiators, workers, discoverers, skill acquirers (at the most phenomenal rate of adaptation and application) as spiritual and relational, as lovers and sensors is suppressed.
In Crabb’s aspiration for interrogating our male political leaders on family life and work interaction, the personhood of children is still marginalised.
Gender equality – a cause I support noisily too – is the point being pressed.
But can we press this point without regarding the connected issues of whole personhood articulated in other columns of the intersectional matrix. I think we can’t, and I think we ought not.
The notion of balancing work and family or juggling work and family, artificially disintegrates the person. I am always a mum, and always a scholar, and always a colleague, and always a culpable consumerist. The binarisation of work and family is not a self evident binary – but like most binaries, one that is socially constructed to privilege on over the other. A deliberate disintegration and opposition of two things presented as competing agendas or forces (in much the same way binaries of gender and race are configured as artificial antagonisms) where in fact they are mutually co-contributive parts of a life of health and thriving.
As I have protested many many times before, the whole paradigm of ‘having’ children itself is a moral travesty. Speaking of children as if they are things to have, possessions is dehumanising and sets people up for being surprised and frustrated when children are not able to be coraled like possessions. When children exercise their humanity it makes for existential angst in the adult parent.
Further to this, describing some adults as having children and some as not having, implying a system of haves and have nots is both a deplorable reiteration of classism, and a misappropriation of who we are in belonging with one another, not to one another. In most formulations, the expression of having children is an extension of the idea of one’s spouse as property – those who have a wife, might also have children. We are in a tragic hell of relational poverty in this situation. This betrays a rubric of considering a number of human persons, including children, including various ethnicities, including certain politicisations as units of currency and the means for political-economic bartering, rather than whole, essentially contributing and justifiably dependent persons. 
The discourse of child care and women, is of course about anything BUT the welfare of children, and rather about affirming certain kinds of power and liberating certain behaviours from healthy accountability.
If we are to initiate the most pressing conversation with our Prime-minister concerning the welfare of children, it is not going to be about his own, but the children of immigrant and asylum seekers, incarcerated indefinitely, illegally, and immorally off shore.

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