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.

“Ladies of the Field”

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Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and their Search for Adventure by Amanda Adams.

I’ve been reading this intermittently between other books I got from the library a few weeks ago. It’s an in-depth biographical look at 7 of the first women to venture out into the field when Archaeology was in its infancy. Some were adventuresses more than scientists and others were true archaeologists. Most are middle to upper-class white women, with one possibly mixed-race (Zelia Nutall’s mother was Mexican). All contributed in some significant way to the development of archaeology, and all did so at a time when women were not encouraged to use their minds or exert themselves physically. Some of them are more well-known than others (Agatha Christie and Gertrude Bell). Some were proto-feminists eager to help their sisters up in the world and others were as misogynistic as any man. But all were brilliant, strong women whose place in history should not slide into obscurity as they are doing.

One of the most exciting moments while reading this book was reading about Amelia Edwards, an early Egyptologist. I had one of those moments where I am convinced that I had discovered the historical inspiration for one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. That is a special moment, resulting in some ecstatic history-nerdery. It helps that Edwards was so very amazing herself. She essentially shepherded the study of Egyptology from the pursuit of dilettantes and adventurers and into its infancy of real scientific study. She was the mentor and friend of one of the most famous early Egyptologists, William Flinders Petrie. Petrie is one of the first great men in his field, who focused on the importance of every artifact no matter how tiny and mundane, instead of only being interested in plundering great treasures. But Petrie himself was brought into prominence by Amelia Edwards. Yet in all my years of studying Egypt and the history of Egyptology I had never run across her name. Possibly this is because she was more well-known in England than the US, but I feel reasonably assured that’s not the whole story. Archaeology is not so much a ‘boy’s club’ as it was during the glory-days of the women profiled in Ladies of the Field, but there still exists plenty of bias and overlooking of women’s contributions to the field.

The seven women profiled are Amelia Edwards (1831-1892), Jane Dieulafoy (1851-1916), Zelia Nuttall (1857-1933), Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), Harriet Boyd Hawes (1871-1945), Agatha Christie (1890-1976),  and Dorothy Garrod (1892-1968). They ranged from Egyptologists to pre-historians in their professional interests, but many of them focused on excavation in the Middle East and Mediterranean, the exception being Nutall who focused on Mexico. But the most interesting statistic to me, pointed out in the epilogue, was these women’s ages. Almost all of them began their careers in archaeology in middle-age. Some of them gave their greatest contributions to their fields while in their 50s or 60s. Personally, I found this inspiring. Of late, I’ve been feeling a bit like I’ve given up my opportunity for a good career in the interest of being a mother and have missed my window for field-work at the ripe old age of 28. These great women, the foremothers of my chosen career, rejected  that message of “too old” and went on to satisfying careers started late in life. Ladies of the Field reminded me it’s never too late to achieve your dreams until you’re dead AND buried.

I would also note, at least two of the women profiled were both successful novelists AND archaeologists. Hopefully the reason I found this fact compelling is obvious to any readers of this blog!