Module 1: The History Of Childhood reading continued – Penelope Hetherington’s ‘The Sound of One Hand Smacking: History, Feminism and Childhood’ part 2

bed-1293442_960_720Second part of my notes on Penelope Hetherington‘s piece ‘The Sound of One Hand Smacking: History, Feminism and Childhood. You can find part 1 here. As usual, bold indicates direct quotes, the rest of the notes are mine taken at first reading.

“It is during the period of childhood that individuals construct their understanding of the world in terms of their gender identity, their class position and their ethnicity… It is in this period that personality is formed out of the complex interaction between powerless children and powerful adults. Deeply held convictions and strongly felt emotions, some of which maintain patriarchal structures, are passed on from one generation to the next through the funnel of childhood.” – p2

This is of course true. What is interesting socially I think is how marginalised this experience actually is. The lived experience and status of children, especially really in really early childhood where the pattern for these experiences are first founded, seems to be extraordinarily overlooked, considering the immediate and long term impact.

There is a normalised attitude that what happens to babies and young children really doesn’t matter, because of the perception of them as less than people at that age. Observing a baby closely from birth, you can notice their hypersensitivity and awareness to the world around them. Yet, this does not seem to inform our culture, and seems fundamentally lacking in group childcare institutions for example. Much of our culture and behaviour around babies seems to frame them as the property of the parents, this is noticeable in how their bodies are treated, products produced for them, how they are dressed even, and the parent child dynamic.

“This is the site which needs examination in order to imagine the construction of a different world.” – p2 

As a result of the marginalisation of children, the stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination that they experience on the basis of their age and life stage, it is no wonder that this site, childhood, is invisible/overlooked – What could possibly be interesting and important about childhood in regards to social progress? The belief that important, meaningful and influential things only happen in the ‘adult world’ grossly inhibits our ability to grasp both the importance of the lived experience of children, and children’s rights.

“The introduction and spread of education is a second important area for consideration by researchers and writers whose primary interest is in the social structures and dominant discourses of society.” -p4

I plan to dig deep on the history of education in the third module of this UMA. The history and influence of the family and of schools are my two main areas of interest for this work. Unpicking the origins of schooling, the nature and experience of schooling, and the impact this has on the bodies and minds of the people within schools, plus the very beliefs that underpin and perpetuate our institutions of education are of paramount importance to understanding our current conditions. What is also exciting is to juxtapose this with alternative education, and emerging educational models that are manifesting entirely separately from traditional education settings.

“The history of child health has been left largely to the medical profession in the past and there is important historical material to be found in medical sources, including medical and psychiatric journals. However, feminist historians are generally familiar with the idea that the conventional barriers in academia between various disciplines need to be disregarded in many instances, and, in this case, there are important questions in this field which relate to childbirth” – p6

I studied the history of midwifery as part of my undergraduate degree and through that became aware of shifts in birth practices, particularly medicalisation and the move to hospital managed births. Going through the process of pregnancy and birth twice and engaging in the current discourse on birth culture and politics made me far more aware of the significance and influence of childbirth. Articles like this highlight why Hetherington is so right to highlight the importance of the ‘childbirth experience’ and it’s impact on the women, children and families, and the “Deeply held convictions and strongly felt emotions, some of which maintain patriarchal structures…passed on from one generation to the next” as mentioned above. I will be exploring this subject area more in module 2, Patriarchy, Feminism and the Culture of Parenthood. The beauty of my unschooling and self directed approach is that the conventional discipline barriers mentioned above do not exist.

“Finally, there are, as yet, very few historical accounts of the institutions which have worked to provide special services for children with all kinds of disabilities. While this is not necessarily a special interest of feminist historians, it is an important part of the overall history of the experiences of children, and one which would offer opportunities to examine the interrelationships between charitable bodies and state institutions.” -p6

This is a really interesting and important point, especially when considered alongside education, as particularly the climate in schools seems increasingly problematic for children that deviate in any way from a very narrow ‘approved’ personal and behavioural identity. Unlawful exclusions are a widespread and largely ignored issue in the English school system, and the issues and impact around ‘children and neurodiversity’ comes to mind as being especially relevant.

When it comes to charitable bodies and state institutions, I am always thinking in terms of adultism/childism (term yet to be agreed), the impact of patriarchy and paternalism in their design, and children’s rights perspective. Through the course of these studies I hope to develop historical context to better understand these influences.

In conclusion, Hetherington states:

“These are subjects which reveal the fundamental values of any society and the nature of the inescapable connections between changes in the material world and the gradual cultural shifts that accompany them. These studies are fundamental to an understanding of the construction of the gender order and, therefore, crucial for those feminist activists who want to work in the political arena.” – p6 

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2 thoughts on “Module 1: The History Of Childhood reading continued – Penelope Hetherington’s ‘The Sound of One Hand Smacking: History, Feminism and Childhood’ part 2

  1. Sophie, it’s great to see you back in this particular flow. It’s so much more engaging and sustaining when we do it in alignment with our whole lives. Much of this resonated with me, particularly this “The introduction and spread of education is a second important area for consideration by researchers and writers whose primary interest is in the social structures and dominant discourses of society.” I’ve talked to other parents about this. The way we’re socialized to outsource our children’s learning to a system that sells to them, and to us, and is designed to maintain a very oppression-based hierarchy. So glad you’re sharing!

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