Module 1: The History Of Childhood reading continued – Penelope Hetherington’s ‘The Sound of One Hand Smacking: History, Feminism and Childhood’ part 1


So after quiet a long break, the UMA is back on. A benefit of being your own master is that you can work in the way that best suits you and that you need to, which includes taking time away if necessary. I’m excited to be back, and I don’t mind if it takes me a 100 years to do this work.

I’m continuing my reading and research for the first module, The History of Childhood and Emergence of Children’s Rights. I’ve put Hugh Cunningham down for a bit and picked up The Sound of One Hand Smacking: History, Feminism and Childhood by Penelope Hetherington, which is one of the resources in my UMA library. Direct quotes are in bold, accompanied by my spontaneous notes, I’m writing as I’m reading.

So lets start.

“The history of childhood provides us with insights into the ways in which individuals construct their understanding of the world and into the ways in which generational changes occur in cultural practices.” (p2).

What a brilliant summary. I have been thinking a lot about this, this experience of function of childhood, and it’s power. I am inclined to think that it explains why women and children experience such diminishment,  because of the actual power of the interaction and process between parent and child. As Hetherington points out, childhood itself is the opportunity in which our beliefs and behaviours are perpetuated, passed on. If you want to identify the absolute power point for effecting social/cultural change, you find it hiding in plain sight, right there in that window of interaction that starts at birth and continues through the coming years.

And then you think about how that period of time, and how the people with closest proximately to influencing that change are undermined and diminished. Its brilliant really, in it’s simplicity, and yet astonishing in it’s implication when you consider the current environment in which parenthood and childhood exists.

Hetherington goes on to point out that the history of childhood should consider changes in family size and the situation of families re: the economy, children before the law, in education and health services, class, gender, ethnicity (p2), and then:

“The apparent purposes and actual practices of institutions set up by charitable bodies, or by the state, need careful analysis, as do child-rearing practices over time. These subjects which reveal the fundamental values of any society and the nature of the inescapable connections between the changes in the material world and the gradual cultural shifts which accompany them.” (p2)

Childcare provision and schooling, and parenting norms, all require critical analysis, because indeed, the influence of these things are immense.

“…too little attention has been paid to the ways in which cultural practices are passed on from one generation to the next, or why particular practices commander attack or are abandoned. The history of childhood, still largely neglected by historians, offers the best way for us to enlarge our understanding of these processes and, therefore, the greatest insights into the ways in which feminists might usefully intervene politically” (p2)

Indeed. This comes back to what I have been considering regarding acquisition of belief systems and their consequence on all aspects of our human construct. Our beliefs, brains and understanding of self is building and connecting as a result of our experiences and interactions with our external environment from the day we emerge from our mothers. Prevention rather than cure requires that we critically analyse the history of childhood and the current environment and challenge and address the issues that arise. Much is observable in the current experience of childhood – the gendering and limiting of children from birth, the homophobic and transphobic attitudes that affect children’s lived experience, the general marginalisation of people on the basis of their perceived capabilities, age, and even perceptions of their humanity. The subjugation of children to adult domination is so culturally normalised it is generally invisible – this is a normalised and hidden experience of oppression that is internalised through childhood as a bedrock for our belief systems, embedded in our unconscious mind.

I have to go to bed now, but it’s great to be back.


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