The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Different Kind of Parenting

I'm a mom. I've been at it almost 17 years now. And while I like to think I'm pretty good at it, I realize that there are many, many moms who are better at it than am I. But there are places I draw lines. I have a difficult time understanding how parents...any parents...could justify hurting their children. Hurting them emotionally or physically. I do understand that there is some grey area there. That cultural norms are going to vary and that my culture is not, necessarily, better than another.

Pimping out my kids, a la Jon Benet Ramsey, dressing my toddlers like college coeds and parading them in front of like (yet simple) minded people, who refuse to acknowledge that the end result invariably leads to kiddie porn, is one thing I've shied away from. Turning them into tiny sexual beings. As Highlander puts it, "objectifying them". And much as I try not to be offensive, I find I can't apologize for that opinion.

Clitoral mutilation, for religious or cultural reasons, is another thing that yanks my chain. Parents willingly allowing their young daughters to go through the pain of this procedure is bad enough. These same parents are deliberately denying their daughters sexual pleasure for their entire lives, as well as the emotional scarring that goes with the lifetime of that experience. It's one that just keeps on giving.

I understand that there's no contract, really. That each parent approaches the job a little differently. That there is no manual handed out at the hospital when you bring them home. But isn't it understood that you love these children? That you want to make them happy and keep them healthy? I mean, the parents that actually WANT to raise their children, of course. Not the folks that have children and then neglect them or abuse them because of their own mental health issues. I realize that those kids are certainly damaged at the hands of their parents. And it's not that I don't take issue with those parents (I do), I just can't get over the parents who claim to be helping their children by doing these things to them. Things that seem to me (a relatively sane and reasonable human being) to be so very hurtful.

This hit home, yet again yesterday, when I ran across this story on a museum artifact on display. I hadn't been aware of this practice at all. Maybe I'm the last person in the world that hadn't heard of this. And if so, I wish I could have retained that title.

Although it has been more than 100 years since it was common, I was stunned to read that parents intentionally castrated their sons to further their singing careers. Bad enough, in my eyes, by itself, but when you factor in the relatively small number of boys who actually succeeded in the field, it's sickening. Boys as young as eight, losing the ability to father children later in their lives, through no decision of their own. Worse, that they were doing so, by such an gruesome way.

Apparently, at the time, the castration of pre-pubescent boys, before their voices had matured, was the standard way to help them retain the unusual vocal range, and, as they reached adulthood, it was backed with the full power of men's lungs. The unfortunate side-effect being that those boys would never be able to function at all sexually. Thousands of boys throughout Europe, over hundreds of years, were castrated in the hopes that they would become famous opera singers.

How many thousands of men and women were denied a normal existence...a normal sexual existence...because of the decisions of their parents? And do you think those boys were given any voice in the decision? My guess is that it was just about as much as the girls who have endured female circumcision.

"Timmy, your dad and I think you sing really swell and we think you could be really famous. The only thing is that without cutting off your balls, we can't guarantee it. So, what do you say, Timmy? Wanna get your nuts removed?"

"Hmmm. That's a tough one, Mom. But, yeah, sure, if I could be the next Justin Timberlake, I'll go get the hedge trimmers right now!"

See, I don't think so. I think these kids were held down, kicking and screaming, likely by the people who they believed would love and protect them, and then they were hurt. Very badly.

And I just don't get it. I had to leave the room when the doctors were putting stitches in my daughter. I was getting so angry that they were hurting her that I had to step out. How could I hold my child down while they had their sexual organs removed or permanently disfigured? How could I ignore my child's cries? How could I look into that child's eyes then...or any day afterwards...and not be consumed with guilt? And yet, I don't get the impression that these people have lost an hours sleep or have anything remotely resembling remorse. They did it to help their child. To better that child.

That part, I will never "get". Never. Ever. Ever.


Blogger Highlander said...

In many cultures -- probably in EVERY culture, if you go back to its most primitive beginnings -- there is little or no sentimental attachment to children. In a pre-civilization setting, children are simply tribal resources. And just as many of our most deeply ingrained cultural taboos -- incest, homosexuality, cannibalism -- date back to this period, so, too, can a culture, or a set of parents', emotional view of their offspring as being little more than chips to ante up, or horses to race, in the perpetual grinding game that is life.

As with so many things (Women's Liberation, tolerance of non-mainstream sexuality, acceptance of other cultural norms), a sentimental attachment for/to, and a willingness to see one's children as separate individuals who need to find their own separate happiness, are artifacts of civilization. A civilized society such as our own allows for the development of many lifestyle and emotional 'luxuries' that would drag a subsistence level hunter-gatherer tribe down to extinction. One of these is being able to 'love' your children, and make economic and social sacrifices for their well being.

I'm not excusing contemporary parents like the Ramseys, who live very affluent lives, and yet who clearly still regard their children as chattel and as resources to be exploited for their own betterment. As with the choirboy castrati that trouble you so much, the attitude that one has a beautiful or talented child and should therefore objectify that child, or effectively pimp them out in some way to make money off their beauty or their talent, turning that child into a commodity for the parents' use -- this is a pre-medievalism that should have no place in an enlightened civilization. Once we advance to the point where we can provide liberty and at least the opportunity to find happiness to all members of our society without foundering that society, then, certainly, we should -- if civilization and social evolution have any other purpose, I can't see it. But just as many people remain trapped in the inculcated generational emotional biases of bygone eras regardless of their continued social practicality, so too do many folks continue to regard their kids (or their spouses, for that matter) as useful accessories to their own lives.

It may well be that sociopathy of this nature (regarding other human beings as objects) was once a useful survival trait. It is slowly becoming otherwise, but until it becomes entirely disadvantageous, it's not likely to die out.

Still, as you say, it's horribly disturbing when you run into examples of things like this, in recent history or still happening right now. Kids are one of my big buttons; I think a culture can and should largely be judged on how well it takes care of its more helpless members, which always includes children. So, just like you, I hate this stuff when I run across it. But we are, at least, getting better at dealing with it, and a time may come in the relatively near future when, truly, no child has to suffer this kind of neglect or abuse any longer. It's simply a case of social conditioning and moral indoctrination; when our culture places the emphasis on treating children as human beings and makes that a moral imperative, it will, more and more, come about.

4/05/2006 6:00 AM  

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