By Toby Rollo of Lakehead University, Political Science Department, Faculty Member.
Posted on Facebook in June 2017. Reposting here with permission.
There was once a time in the media when it was deemed acceptable to insult or degrade a political opponent by comparing them to ‘naturally degraded’ groups such as women (e.g., soft, feminine, effeminate, hysterical, etc), to LGBTQ folks or to people with disabilities. These groups resisted, showing dominant society that categories of natural degradation and their reproduction in the service of an insult nourish a culture that is exclusionary and violently sexist, homophobic, and ableist. Today, such (explicit) comparisons are no longer tolerated.
Indeed, today, we are left with only one naturally degraded category and one genre of insult-by-comparison: the figure of the child. Take, for example, the Op-Ed in the New York Times authored by David Brooks (May 15, 2017), “When the World is Led by a Child,” in which Brooks attempts to illustrate the ineptitude and selfishness of Donald Trump. “Trump is an infantalist,” writes Brooks, by which he means that “mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy,” indeed, he is “a 7-year-old boy desperate for the approval of those he admires.” In the end, Brooks offers that Trumps immaturity “is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.”
Readers will chuckle at these equivalencies, much like white men are still amused by insulting comparisons to women, LGBTQ, and people with disabilities. And like the violent degradation of those marginalized groups, the perpetuation of the child’s status as naturally inferior has deadly consequences.
Today, the world is sustained economically by the physical labour of approximately 170 million children. Over five million of these children suffer under conditions of slavery (e.g., as sex slaves, child soldiers, etc). The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has been ratified by almost every nation-state (Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States are the exceptions), yet only 44 of those countries have take the basic step of prohibiting domestic violence against children. With the exception of the State of Delaware, every jurisdiction in North America legally sanctions physical violence against children either in the home, in schools, or in both. In the US, over 80% of children experience violence at the hands of their parents of care-givers and it is estimated that over six million children are abused every year. Many states in the US allow schools to administer corporal punishment. Not unrelated to these dim statistics is that fact that suicide is the third leading cause of death for children over the age of 10. As for children 15 and older, suicide is the second most prevalent cause of death; homicide is third. A US congressional report suggests that upwards of 2,400 children are killed by their parents or caregivers every year.
The media has a role to play in perpetuating this atmosphere of exploitation and violence. And so I’d like to see a moratorium on the deployment of children as props in the game of political “analysis”. If you work in the media, please take this into consideration. If you are a reader, please do not accept childist practices as white men once accepted sexist, homophobic, and ableist practices.