Fear of Youth is Fear of the Future

So, I originally wrote this post a couple of weeks ago when this whole prom thing went down. I finished the post, attempted to publish it, and my whole blog went up in smoke (ok, that’s a slight exaggeration perhaps). I’ve been having technical difficulties ever since, and am finally able to post things again. I’m leaving this post exactly as it was when I wrote it in a fit of frustrated disgust with the world. The things I had to say are still true, and unfortunately still relevant, despite the fact that some time has passed since the inciting incident related in the linked blog-post by Clare.

There’s a story out there this week about a young woman, Clare, who was kicked out of her senior prom because some of the chaperone dads feared she would inspire “impure thoughts” or something. This kicking-out was administered by a Ms. D on the grounds that Clare’s dress was too short (it abided by the stated dress code which she proved several times) and that Clare had been dancing provocatively (despite Clare’s friends vouching that she hadn’t been dancing at all yet). You should read the whole story in Clare’s own words. She’s really pretty brilliant, and breaks down the fuckery of the situation at the end pretty concisely.

But one thing that’s not mentioned really stuck out to me. It was the fear exhibited by the middle-aged of the young throughout her story. There was the fear of the fathers of young sexuality. But there was also Ms. D’s fear of a young woman advocating for herself with allies. This quote:

At this point one of the girls in my group came back and said that she’d been by my side the whole 15 minutes we’d been there and I hadn’t even danced more then 2 seconds and it was completely appropriate.)

At which point they told her that she wasn’t welcome in the conversation and when I protested and asked that she be able to stay to verify what they were saying to me they got very rude and said if she didn’t leave they would kick her out too.

It’s so clear that the adults feared the teenagers having or believing that they had any agency themselves. Who else would be denied a peer-advocate while being questioned/detained/removed by an authority figure? Only to “children” (those under 18) do we do this. We give them advocates (if they’re allowed one at all)…who are NOT among their peers. Other adults always. If a woman were being detained? There would be another woman present to ensure she had a peer there. If a person of color felt they needed an advocate from the NAACP? There would be one present before anything further occurred. But a 17 year old girl? No, we can’t let them gang up on us, or we might be proved wrong!

This fear, this is what is wrong with many societies these days. This fear of the young by those older. It translates into fear of citizens by the government, and when government’s fear (but fear insufficiently) they begin to enact “safety measures” which are only meant to keep citizens in their place. This fear? It’s fear of the future by those who are starting to look Death in the eye. Fear of the future is counterproductive, but more importantly, it’s dangerous. Fear of the future leads to regression, the repeating of history, and the oppression of anyone who tries to bring about change. Fear of the future leads to stagnation, and eventually Death, the very thing the Fear sought to avoid.

I’m starting to feel old these days, more and more often, especially when I hang about with particularly young people. But any time I read or hear about a story like this, I flash back to my own youth. I remember, clearly, all the times my desires were run over or denied or abrogated by my elders. The excuses were always along the lines of “you’re too young to know your own mind” or whatever. Every instance, I very clearly DID know what I wanted, and argued hard for it. And in every instance, after it was too late (sometimes long after), the adults in my life admitted they were wrong to deny my agency and that they had had an ulterior motive for doing so (mostly because many of the adults in my life were good people who could admit when they were wrong). Every memory stings yet, and every reminder is a goad to do better with my own child. As a parent to a (very) young child, I know that he is often not of the same mind two minutes in a row. But I am mindful that changing one’s mind does not negate the sincerity of the original desire, nor a child’s right to decision-making autonomy just as much as any adult.

I can protect and advocate for my son, but I can not make his decisions for him in his life. And I must not ever fear them, because that will be the beginning of the end.

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Reading Wrong Way ‘Round

There’s really nothing like picking up an intriguing new book by an author you’ve never read before, liking the synopsis enough to start reading…and discovering that the book is clearly the tail-end of a series. *sigh*

I picked up Kalimpura by Jay Lake from the library a few weeks ago. It was in their SF/F new-releases section, and I liked the look of the cover. It has a woman of color carrying two babies in slings and a long knife in her hand, looking determined. Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve found myself more drawn to stories featuring mothers, so I was intrigued. It took me a few weeks to start it, as I didn’t feel emotionally up to it for a little while, but once I did I certainly have been enjoying it. Really, I only have one complaint, and that’s the lack of any signifier of its series-status on the cover or inside!

Honestly, I almost want to quit reading it (I’m not very far in yet). Mind you, I enjoy the character of Green so much and Lake’s style well enough that I want to start reading Green (the apparent first book of the trilogy) in its place. I just feel like I’m missing a lot in Kalimpura, references to the previous books. It’s been rather hard to work out what’s supposed to be going on and why.

Then again, I’ll probably just keep reading. Green just beat the snot out of an assassin who tried to threaten her children, despite being recently post-partum and out of shape. And before that she got uppity with a god of pain and got away with it. She’s pretty bad-ass. Also, this is my first Jay Lake book and I’m a little too early in the book to decide for sure whether I love the style. But I’ll say this:

For a middle-aged guy, Lake sure has a rock-solid grasp of what it’s like being a mother of newborns, complete with the leaking and weird feeling body and the intensity of emotion and the protectiveness.

I’ll probably post my thoughts on the complete book at some point. Most likely in 4 months or something. 😛

Sit Down & Shut Up: Our Culture of Silence

We live in a culture (English-speaking, Western) that encourages hiding our true opinions and never voicing them. This message is pushed on women aggressively, but also on men. We are bombarded by messages such as “It’s better to say nothing than to cause a fuss.”

“Don’t speak ill of the dead, no matter who they are.”

“Don’t rock the boat.”

“Don’t talk about [insert terrible thing that has happened to you] or your reputation will be ruined.”

“Gossip is bad.”

“If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.”

“Silence is golden.”

There has been some push-back to this, some attempt to encourage people to speak up, be heard, share your opinion! Especially online, where blogs (which are basically a vehicle for individual opinions on things to be read by anyone) are a pretty big thing. But even here, in our pixellated world of words and images there is an undercurrent of the message of silence. In writer circles, we are encouraged to speak no ill of any other writer, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done. The comment sections of videos, blogs, even unmoderated/lightly moderated forums all sport vitriolic messages to the creator that their opinion, good or bad and regardless of subject, is not wanted.

Sit down.

Shut up.

Stay silent.

Honestly, it can be a bit difficult to overcome this message of Shut Up. I’ve blogged before about trying to stop silencing myself on subjects I care about. I’ve certainly made progress in the 3 years since I wrote that post, both online and off. But I still internalize the message. I still second-guess myself, and type up posts or comments which never get posted out of a fear of being told to Sit Down and Shut Up. Sometimes, those never-posted comments, tweets and posts deserve to never see the light of day. But too often, they’re heartfelt opinions that I’ve stifled when I should have shouted them.

As I said, there’s been push-back against this subtle Silencing. People who refuse to Sit Down and Shut Up online or off, no matter how often they’re told to do so. People who should into the void regardless if anyone is listening, because they refuse to let their opinions and beliefs languish in Silence. But too many of us internalize the Silence and keep quiet.

The world needs healthy debate, not silencing, in order to become a better place. It needs passionate, thoughtful people to voice their thoughts and opinions so others might hear and read them. Ultimately, Silence is the enemy of Progress.