Children should remain silent, and they are ‘good’ when they’re quiet, but ‘bad’ when they are not, because they are disturbing the adults and causing trouble. This attitude runs through the way people interact with children on every level, and yet, they seem surprised when it turns out that children have been struggling with serious medical problems, or they’ve been assaulted or abused.
The most common response is ‘well why didn’t the child say something?’ or ‘why didn’t the child talk to an adult?’ Adults constantly assure themselves that children know to go to a grownup when they are in trouble, and they even repeat that sentiment to children; you can always come to us, adults tell children, when you need help. Find a trusted adult, a teacher or a doctor or a police officer or a firefighter, and tell that adult what’s going on, and you’ll be helped, and everything will be all right.
The thing is that children do that, and the adults don’t listen. Every time a child tells an adult about something and nothing happens, that child learns that adults are liars, and that they don’t provide the promised help. Children hold up their end of the deal by reporting, sometimes at great personal risk, and they get no concrete action in return. Sometimes, the very adult people tell a child to ‘trust’ is the least reliable person; the teacher is friends with the priest who is molesting a student, the firefighter plays pool with the father who is beating a child, they don’t want to cause a scene.
Or children are accused of lying for attention because they accused the wrong person. They’re told they must be mistaken about what happened, unclear on the specifics, because there’s no way what they’re saying could be true, so and so isn’t that kind of person. A mother would never do that. He’s a respected member of the community! In their haste to close their ears to the child’s voice, adults make sure the child’s experience is utterly denied and debunked. Couldn’t be, can’t be, won’t be. The child knows not to say such things in the future, because no one is listening, because people will actively tell the child to be quiet.
Children are also told that they aren’t experiencing what they’re actually experiencing, or they’re being fussy about nothing. A child reports a pain in her leg after gym class, and she’s told to quit whining. Four months later, everyone is shocked when her metastatic bone cancer becomes unavoidably apparent. Had someone listened to her in the first place when she reported the original bone pain and said it felt different that usual, she would have been evaluated sooner. A child tells a teacher he has trouble seeing the blackboard, and the teacher dismisses it, so the child is never referred for glasses; the child struggles with math until high school, when someone finally acknowledges there’s a problem.
This attitude, that children shouldn’t be believed, puts the burden of proof on children, rather than assuming that there might be something to their statements. Some people seem to think that actually listening to children would result in a generation of hopelessly spoiled brats who know they can say anything for attention, but would that actually be the case? That assumption is rooted in the idea that children are not trustworthy, and cannot be respected. I’m having trouble understanding why adults should be viewed as inherently trustworthy and respectable, especially in light of the way we treat children.
Please take your time to read this.
Only the best.
Magic mirror in my hand, who is the fairest in the land?
Book of Hours, Italy, ca. 1480.
British Library, Yates Thompson 7, fol. 174
1. Stop faking your fucking orgasms. Society already tells young men that they run the fucking universe - if they can’t turn your cunt into a shooting star then for god’s sake, let them know about it.
2. Once you’ve stopped faking your fucking orgasms, use this newfound honesty throughout the rest of your life - stop ordering coffee you don’t actually like; stop sitting at a desk and allowing people to treat you like shit in the hopes that a meek attitude will earn you a promotion (it won’t); stop telling people they can finish your food when you’re not actually done yet. These may seem petty, but they add up, just like every orgasm you didn’t actually get to have.
3. If you wanna dance all night, dance all fucking night. Dance all night even if you have work in the morning. The worst that will happen is you’ll drink RedBull all day and look like a zombie - pass it off as a head cold to the real zombies you work with and flick through the embarrassing photos you’re being tagged in as you pretend to take a shit for some peace and quiet. I promise, you’ll remember dancing all night in ten years, not the suspicious way your boss looked at you that morning.
4. If your ass looks big in that, that’s a good thing.
5. You will never be as young as you are this second. Embrace it.
6. Embrace the fact that you’re going to get older. Ask your boyfriend if he will still love you when you’re seventy and your tits are down to your knees. Look forward to this time - seventy year old women are allowed to do pretty much whatever they want, and no-one can stop them. You can carry candy in your bag and not share it with a single soul. You can stay home all day and cross-stitch expletives onto handkerchiefs for your grandchildren and slip them under the table out of sight of the people you raised. You can drink whisky at 10am. Every phase of your life is going to be amazing for different reasons. Embrace that.
7. A lot of people will pretend to love Bukowski. Don’t pretend to love Bukowski if you don’t love Bukowski. It’s overplayed and no-one will mind if you actually like Virginia Andrews instead - the people who do mind are boring.