Treating People Like Monsters

“But maybe if they didn’t treat us like monsters, we wouldn’t be monsters.
I want us to try living like people for awhile, see how that goes.”

Stone Hunger, N. K. Jemisin, Clarkesworld Magazine, July 2014.

When we treat people like outcasts, we inspire our fellow human beings to behave in certain ways.

It takes a lot of strength to fight this sort of consistent, insidious condemnation.

I didn’t have that strength in the past. It was easier to simply avoid the risk of condemnation.

Perhaps I do now.
Perhaps I can live like people do, rather than hiding.
Let’s see how that goes, at least for awhile…

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Update 2: Is Australia becoming a Police State?

Religious protesters demanding changes to asylum seeker policy removed from Parliament House – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

[Update 2/Corrected: Asylum boat turnbacks: Australia paid people smugglers under former Labor government, as well as under Tony Abbott’s government. Abbott’s government turned them back, Labor didn’t, but both paid them money. Oh dear. Just, oh dear. I can’t even…]

Wow, they kicked them out? For protesting? In the foyer of Australia’s Parliament House? Unbelievable.
[Update: Apparently, the protesters were removed because they weren’t in a “designated protest zone”. That’s pretty petty and controlling, if you ask me. Bet the government sympathisers don’t get removed for bootlicking outside “designated fawning zones”. What, the entire country is a designated praising-the-government zone? I rest my case.]

But you can just walk into Parliament House and take a self-guided tour. I did it with a backpacker friend. We even got to see both Houses of Parliament (they weren’t sitting at the time).

So I can only conclude that they are being kicked out for their opinions. (Or, euphemistically, “causing a disturbance”, or “blocking the walkway.”)

Police state warning.

This is breaking news, so I’m posting it straight away. But that means I’ve burned a blog post I could have used as a buffer later in the week…

#DistractinglySexy: Women Scientists and Systemic Bias

Women Scientists Are Tweeting "Sexy" Photos Of Themselves At Work To Shut Down Sexism.

Women get paid 83% as much as men.* That’s a 17% loss of female earning capacity (real jobs or real pay that women have lost just for being women).

So compare this ongoing, systemic discrimination** against women with a very few, very sexist men losing their jobs.

If 17% of men lose their jobs over being sexist and male, then that’s an interesting statistic.

When 17% of men lose their jobs over just being male, then I’ll agree there’s something terribly wrong.

That said, I am a white man who benefits from systemic bias in many ways. I sometimes say stupid, discriminatory things. I don’t always realise. I’d hope to be told what I’d done, and given a chance to change.

I recently did the Old-Young and Gay-Straight Harvard Implicit Association Tests. It turns out I have implicit positive associations with being young and straight. Which is tough when I’m getting older (and gayer!) If you’re interested in your own implicit biases, and willing to be disturbed, give them a try.

After missing a week or so of blogging, I’m trying a new strategy – less-than-perfect drafts! Let me know how it goes, or if I mess anything up.

  • Yes, I rounded up.

** In orchestral auditions, the impact of gender on assessment is 50%.

Stereotyping Families

“When your kid has a new friend, don’t ask ‘What do your friend’s mommy and daddy do?’ Ask what their parents do”
from How not to raise a homophobe: A straight parents guide..

It’s good advice: avoid assuming that every child has a male and female carer. But it falls into exactly the trap it’s trying to avoid: assuming too much about someone else’s family.§

What about children whose parents were never married, separated, divorced, or bereaved?#
What about blended or polyamorous families?
What about children who live with their extended families, or are in foster care?
We just can’t assume that every child (or, for that matter, every person*):

  • has more than one carer,
  • has at most two carers,
  • has exactly one family~,
  • lives in only one household,
  • or lives with a (biological) parent!

And, more broadly, we just can’t assume that every person:

  • is employed,
  • has or wants a relationship, significant other(s), or child(ren).

What about single people?

I’d like to suggest an alternative:
Say, “Tell me about their family…”
This can be backed-up with a variety of age-appropriate questions (if the child needs prompting):

  • Where do they live?**
  • What do they do for recreation, hobbies, or holidays?**
  • What are their values, cultural, and/or faith background?##

In addition to asking about a child’s carer’s work. However, if asking about work is common in the culture around a child, they’ll most likely pick it up anyway.

You could also mix it up by asking about the other child, as well as their family. But my guess is that you’ll have heard a lot about the other child already!



§ The article, and particularly the quote, implicitly assumes that every family has exactly two parents.

# Many arguments against marriage equality rely on the assumption that children benefit from or need carers (well, “parents”) of two different genders. These apply just as much to families which have experienced separation, divorce, or bereavement. But, for some reason, they’re never mentioned. This has always irritated me.

* Adults regularly ask these same questions of each other. We just don’t often notice, because they’re lifelong habits.

~ I grew up with a single mother as my primary carer. I have three parents, in two separate families and households. My families have multiple surnames, and mine is unique – which allowed me to easily filter telemarketers when I was younger, because they’d ask for Mr. W. (who doesn’t exist).

With divorce rates above 50% in some jurisdictions, multi-household and blended families are no longer the the exception to the nuclear family – they’re often the rule.

In some (sub-)cultures, “Ask what their parents do” means “what do their parents do for a job”. This is often used as a proxy for (unconscious) class categorisation. Other (sub-)cultures typically ask about relatives, ancestry, interests, or religious background†† as an introductory exchange.

†† Many Christian sub-cultures inevitably ask “Where do you go to church?” as an opening line. This allows instant categorisation of someone’s likely theological variations, and also subtly excludes those who are not attending (typical) churches.

** These questions are potentially classist. (Also, not everyone plays or watches sport as a hobby.)

## These questions are potentially discriminatory on a racial, cultural, or religious basis. I’m not always confident I can ask these questions without the risk of being racist. But there are some contexts where they can be appropriate.

Updated: Changerooms, Children, and Etiquette

[Topics: Child Abuse Risk Factors, Child Supervision]

I’ve recently seen more men directly supervising children in changing rooms. Each time I go swimming, I see at least one man supervising children as they get changed.

I think it’s great that men are spending time with children under their care.* There’s obviously a growing awareness of child safety and the need to supervise children.

But I can’t help noticing these guys who stand there, fully clothed, looking terribly awkward. Not looking at their kids too much, not looking at the other guys getting changed too much – where can they look? What are they meant to do with themselves while supervising the kids?

I’ve seen some male teachers supervising school groups who look completely out of their depth. They’re meant to supervise the kids, without looking at them! And they’re not meant to look at anyone else, either…

I can feel a little awkward, too, particularly when someone ends up staring at me. And it’s not only carers who do this! I sometimes end up staring at guys (adult men), too. Sometimes I’ve zoned out and ended up starting into space (but space with someone in it!) Other times, I’ve ended up staring, thinking: “I can’t believe that guy is so incredibly fit!”~

I have no idea what the etiquette is for men, child supervision, and changerooms.

Part of my cluelessness is historical: my parents separated when I was young. I only have fuzzy memories of my dad taking me swimming, and those memories tend to focus on diving for coins. I was the eldest child, and my mum was my sole carer until I was a teenager, and didn’t need close supervision.§ So I didn’t grow up with men supervising me on a regular basis, at least until I reached high school.#

Part of my cluelessness is cultural: when I was growing up, child protection was taught, but there was less awareness of the need to supervise children around strangers.

And part of my cluelessness is situational: I’ve never had kids, and I’m rarely in a carer’s role. Even when I’m around children, I’m not their primary carer, so I can take the lead from someone else.

But I can put up with a little awkwardness. I’m willing to learn. My awkwardness is such a minor cost, compared to a vital outcome: improving the safety of younger children.**



* Men don’t deserve to be congratulated for equitably sharing caring responsibilities. It’s simply their responsibility. Neither do children necessarily need a male carer. However, I do want to acknowledge that male-identifying children often imitate male role models. (It’s important that children have some interaction with role models of all genders.)

Nor do children need carers of any particular gender, nor specific combinations thereof.

~ The pools I usually attend all have gyms attached, and it’s common practice for people to go to the gym, then use the pool, spa, steam room, and/or sauna. (I’ve only ever been to one pool that has every single one of these facilities!)

§ Even if I wasn’t strictly a teenager, I certainly felt old enough that I didn’t want my mother supervising me closely any more. My dad was an occasional carer from when I was around 10 years old onwards, but my mum remained my primary carer.

# I went to a single-gender high school with a high proportion of male teachers. Even before high school, I was involved in the Scouting movement, and I had male teachers from late primary school onwards.

The child protection training I received as a child at primary school included adult strangers, but also adults known to the child. Statistically, [Detailed Discussion of Child Abuse Risk Factors] children are more at risk from adults known to them or their families.

I was a Christian youth worker for around 6 years, but only with high-school aged youth.

** There’s an ongoing, complex, and nuanced debate around child supervision, from free-range children, [Update: to children left in a car for a few minutes,] to helicopter parents. I can’t possibly do the debate justice, but I do want to acknowledge that: supervision isn’t a panacea; each family makes decisions on child supervision based on their particular context; and some children simply don’t have a same-gender primary carer.## There are many families won simply can’t conform to the supervision regimes that some people expect. There can be many reasons for this, including single-parenthood, shared custody,†† parental work commitments, and cultural contexts (including extended families).

## Almost all children will be cared for by an adult of another gender at some point while they’re growing up, even if it’s only on an occasional basis.

†† Shared custody typically results in children having only a single carer at any one point in time (even if they swap between multiple single-carer households). This can change if the separated parents have partners who act as carers.