October 11, 2005
The "Youth Power" Framework (part 3)
VI. THE NATURE OF ADULTHOOD [continued]
27. Adulthood is a membership organization.
Adulthood is an organization. There are people who are members, and people who are excluded. Membership grants privileges. The rules for who is a member and who is not are explicit, they are written out. The organization has a government that makes policy decisions. The organization has a constituency of members who usually do not have direct control over policy decisions, but whom elect representatives and benefit from membership nonetheless. The lines that divide members and non-members are enforced by a police force. There's even an informal dress code, for what is considered appropriate for members to wear (as well as how they should behave).
Adulthood is unlike other organizations in several ways. Induction into the group is not voluntary, it is presumed. The majority of membership privileges are granted at age 18 -- but some are granted earlier, and some are granted later than this. Despite these peculiarities, adulthood is still fundamentally an organization.
28. The implicit "mission statement" of the adult organization is this: "maintain control over youth".
The U.S. government, by virtue of excluding youth from all participating in formal decision-making processes, could be called an "adultarchy". The government has relations with, and policies for, many groups, not just youth. Where youth are involved, however, the government's goal is to maintain control. This control may be viewed as being for young people's benefit -- protecting them, educating them, supervising them. Nonetheless, it is adults and not youth who are intended to be in control of youths' lives.
There is a tension between parents' interests and the interests of the government.
There is a long history of parents viewing children as their private property. The government, as primarily a collective of parents, raises this principle to the law of the land. A law such as a city-wide curfew is an example of rules that may exist within the home being elevated.
There are differences of opinion amongst parents about how to best manage youth as a "resource". This leads to creating standards for parenting, and intervention in situations of abuse. Youth are the private property of their parents; but they are also the collective property of all adult citizens. The question of what youth themselves want is seldom even discussed.
29. Both adults and youth try to dissociate themselves from childhood.
An important philosophical question for YL is this: If youth are oppressed by adults, why do they themselves go on to support the adultarchy? If adulthood is an organization, wouldn't becoming an adult require a sort of political conversion, wherein youth renounce their former identity as a youth?
It is undesirable to be underneath other people's control. It is an inferior status that bears stigma. Consequently, both youth and adults attempt to dissociate themselves from childhood and things deemed "childish". There are a number of strategies for doing this.
A young person may (1) simply deny membership ("I'm not a kid!") -- interpreting childhood as a matter of character rather than law. They may (2) avoid being in the company of people younger than them, and try to make friends with people older than themselves (tenth graders avoiding ninth graders, trying to hang out with eleventh graders). They may try to make themselves seem superior bullying or putting down peers ("you're such a baby!"). Youth may (4) try to emphasize another identity's superiority, in order to compensate for youth's inferiority (e.g. manliness). Or, they may (5) try to pass as an adult -- either by embracing "adult" activities such as smoking, drinking, and sex -- or by actually creating a fake I.D.
Adults, even though they are formally members of the adult organization, often continue to engage in these same behaviors. It is still possible for the stigma of seeming "young" to be attached to an adult. And, since adulthood is a largely artificial category, it may be difficult to feel secure in one's identity.
[Most people never "renounce" their former identity as "youth" upon becoming adults, because they never identified as "youth" to begin with. They have spent their entire lives looking at the world from the adult point of view, and attempting not to be marked as "kids".]
30. Members of the group "adults" can refuse to identify with the organization, and challenge its structure.
There is an important distinction to be made between "membership" and "identity". With regards to being a youth or an adult, one has no control over which group one has membership in. However, one can "identify" with either group at any particular time. One's identity is how one thinks of oneself, and presents oneself to the world.
People who have been given membership in adulthood need not identify with the organization's interests. One may in essence be a "conscientious objector", fighting against adults' control of youth. One may even consider oneself a sort of "abolitionist", attempting to do away with the organization (as it stands) altogether. In terms of the "dress codes" of adulthood, one may be an "age bender" -- mixing adult and youth clothing, behaviors, and cultural interests. Rather than aspiring to be either "young" or "adult-like" at all, one may aspire to embody "ageless being" -- transcending the stereotypes attached to either category.
31. "Ending" adultism would require a transformation of culture as well as laws.
Adult oppression of youth is not merely a matter of laws. Laws are simply the most clearly articulated expressions of adult supremacism.
If we were able to truly end adultism, we need to begin with revisioning the relationship between adults and youth within the family. Creating a new relationship there, which is based on egalitarianism and young people's ownership of their own bodies -- but which also deals with the practical issues of being a caregiver -- would give us a firm foundation for also creating new laws. Even within YL, work remains to be done. revisioning the parent-child relationship.
Even beyond the parent-child relationship, however, adultism is embedded in identity. Adult supremacism is not merely about seeing youth negatively -- it is also about adults feeling pride, feeling they are better than youth, feeling they deserve control. Adulthood itself must be re-imagined. Youth Power advocates a vision of "ageless being" -- a society wherein differences in anatomical and mental ability are grappled with seriously, but where there is no special glory in being adult or male or white or able-bodied -- these things are mere accidents. To invest identity in them sows the seeds for oppression.
[It should be noted that investing identity in being a youth, female, black, disabled, etc. -- while oppression exists -- is another matter. Identity of this sort provides the basis for resisting oppression. It is the work of adults to learn to see themselves as more similar to youth; it is the work of youth to learn to see the ways in which they are treated dissimilarly from adults.]
Posted by Sven at October 11, 2005 04:16 PM