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February 18, 2003

Chapter 1: About This Book - part 3

II. Goals
I want to provide a theoretical foundation for Youth Liberation activism. In a very general way, my job breaks down into two parts: analysis of the problem (adultism), and proposing a solution / strategy for change (teen-led activism). I've chosen to limit this book to describing the problem -- and even then, for the sake of brevity, only in an introductory way.

I have an academic background and by nature am attracted to a philosophical tone. However, I am also an activist -- which means I have to be concerned with mobilizing specific communities to the cause. I don't think many readers will pick up this book out of pure, uninformed curiosity and then feel moved to become full-time activists. The ideas herein are most likely to appeal to people who are (at least marginally) already involved in Youth Liberation work, or who care about issues that are only a short step away from this topic.

From this perspective, my task is really to introduce several different communities to the ideas of the others. In a sense, I want them to become more ideologically and politically integrated. Indeed, the process of comparing and contrasting their different ideas is what led me to my own beliefs.

I have identified five core goals for all of my Youth Liberation writing:

1. Explain child abuse by using Feminist domestic violence theory.
2. Redefine "Children's Rights" work as fighting an oppression.
3. Promote youth-led activism within the Children's Rights movement.
4. Add Youth Liberation to the Progressive Left's agenda.
5. Offer Youth Liberation a toolbox of activist tactics.

...My goals in writing exceed the scope of this book; not all of these topics will receive direct attention herein. Nonetheless, these themes will doubtlessly influence the present volume, so I think it's appropriate to explain them now, if only briefly. [With luck, I'll be able to follow this book with one that provides a more in-depth and historical analysis, and another that deals with the logistics of youth-led activism.]

(1) Explain child abuse by using Feminist domestic violence theory.
Physical violence receives significant attention in my work. This focus reflects my sense that intentionally causing pain is the epitome of oppression. It is the awful end result of normal values being taken to an extreme, to their logical conclusion. As such, it illuminates the oppressors' most destructive thinking.

Violence also provides a useful focal point for designing specific liberation proposals. In my framework, liberties are seldom just for their own enjoyment -- they are the necessities of self-defense. Most of the agenda points that I support contribute in some way to youth being able to remove themselves, at their own discretion, from an abusive home.

Feminist theories of male violence against women emerged, in part, from an awareness of historical oppression. They emphasize the role of power and control-related motives. A new, Feminist-style analysis could go a long way toward explaining violence against minors. True, it would add little to present understandings of infant abuse. And it would largely neglect various other factors known to contribute to violence -- such as parental drug / alcohol use -- but because these are not seen as *causal* factors. Despite such caveats, translating Feminist insights produces some very useful and previously unexplored perspectives:

  • Violence is about adults' desire for power and control. It is a means to an end: obtaining minors' obedience. The line between legitimate "discipline" and illegal "abuse" is artificial. Violence is not prohibited; it is simply regulated.

  • Many grownups have a strong desire to embody the role of "the parent" or "the adult". If being "the parent" is equated with being in control of one's child, then "correcting" them with physical punishment can provide a strong feeling that one has fulfilled the obligations of his/her role. Giving punishment can also reinforce the adult's sense of identity: that they are different from and superior to the younger person (and youth in general), because the youth's subordinance has been made apparent. [This is analogous to how some men's commitment to embodying "masculinity" leads them to subordinate and/or hurt women.]

  • If adult authority was ever just a tool for protecting youths' well-being, it has since transcended that purpose. For many, authority is an end in itself. People with an "I'm the adult, you're the kid -- do as I say" attitude generally feel entitled to make petty commands, self-serving rules, and major interventions in the young person's life -- actions that provoke legitimate resistance. A resentful tone, being slow to respond, or not doing what you're told, is seen as insubordination: a punishable offense. In this cultural context, it seems inevitable that some percentage of parents will ultimately resort to violence to enforce respect for their position.

  • Like assaults on other minorities, violence against minors can also be seen as a form of "hate-crime". Prejudice against teens is apparent in adults' widespread disparagement of youth character and culture. Prejudice creates a hostile environment, which increases the likelihood of conflict and use of physical force. Essentially, youth are attacked, within the home, for showing their membership in a disliked group.

  • Along these same lines, parents may *anticipate* the onset of stereotypical "adolescent behavior" and begin treating their children with suspicion and an overly critical eye. in doing so, they may actually be responsible for creating the "moody", "rude", and "rebellious" behavior that they have expected and feel compelled to punish.

-- to be continued --

February 18, 2003

Posted by Sven at February 18, 2003 05:55 PM