So this morning my Twitter feed exploded with the latest iteration of the eternal, asinine debate: should we allow strollers on public transit? In this case: should we charge extra for strollers?
Because there is NO OTHER POSSIBLE REASON for our system to be overtaxed than the selfish choice of your Roncesvalles and Leslieville yummy mummies overloading it with their little Peytons and Vanessas in their Bugaboo Frogs, right?
SO LET’S STOP FOR A MINUTE. I haven’t got a lot of time to write this because I have to take Gus to the vet for a follow-up ultrasound – DOGS ON THE TTC! – but I have pretty much exactly three things to say about this.
1) Let’s check our class assumptions for a moment, shall we? The so-called “rich bitches” pushing those $800 strollers are a minority of mothers. (They are also not necessarily rich – there is a thriving second-hand stroller market and grandparents will frequently buy a nice stroller. They are also not necessarily bitches. I know a fair number of these ladies and they are the same mix of awesome, normal, and awful as everyone else.) Also those $800 strollers are usually much more compact than the $150 Safety 1st stroller you get on sale at Walmart. The woman you fume at for taking up so much space on transit with her infant probably has no choice when it comes to transportation. [Note: this paragraph has been edited to correct some unfortunate implications. “Rich bitches” is a common characterization of certain mothers, not my opinion of them. -kmh]
2) AND EVEN IF SHE DID – even if she has a nice safe car at home to whisk her child around town without exposing you to the indignity of having to share space with a tiny human being, she still has the right to use public services. As does her child. And be honest, when you see a woman driving a car with an infant in the back, do you say something like “Look at that selfish bitch, polluting the environment”? I bet you do.
3) AND HEY SPEAKING OF BABIES BEING HUMAN. Babies are human. They are not miniature robots designed with the express purpose of annoying you. They are human beings and members of our society, they have legitimate needs and desires, and have the right to use the same services as anyone else.
No matter what they do, mothers can’t win. I tweeted about this extensively this morning, so you may want to skip this if you follow me on Twitter, but I feel the need to go into it again. You are excoriated for being environmentally irresponsible by procreating, but also for being environmentally responsible by taking your child on public transit. You are told over and over again that you have to breastfeed or you’re a horrible selfish parent, yet people give you everything from the side-eye to the horrified stare to outright discrimination if you do it in public. You are expected to bring up a perfectly socialized child…without ever bringing them into society, because you can’t expect people in stores or restaurants or, hell, streetcars to put up with your child crying or whining or running around or otherwise acting like a child. Mothering is expected to be perfect, joyous, and invisible.
And I am really, really done with trying to live up to that impossible standard. Let me tell you a story.
Last May I was home alone with the baby for several days. Ben was away on tour for almost a month, but I did have either my mother or my mother-in-law here for a lot of that time. Anyway, during the time I was alone, Cecil knocked over my phone and broke the screen. The only place I could take it to be repaired was near the goddamn Skydome. I also had to get a birthday present for my dad (Bobby Flay’s Grill It!), and the only place I could find it for sale downtown was the Eaton Centre. So on a Tuesday towards the end of May I put Cecil (then about 3 months and 12 pounds) in the ring sling and went out to do these errands.
Have you ever slung a 12-pound weight around your neck and carried it around in 27 degree weather for four hours? It gets really, really heavy, and really, really hot, and really, really squirmy and uncomfortable when it’s a living creature who would rather not be confined in yards of fabric on a hot day. (To top it all off I was wearing giant rubber rain boots because the forecast called for a thunderstorm AND IT DIDN’T EVEN RAIN. Bastards.) But I did it, because the only stroller I could use with him at the time*, a giant plastic monstrosity, was much too large to take on the subway and streetcar.
And you know what? I still got funny looks and judgement and assholes questioning my right to exist in public space with my infant. No matter WHAT you do, whether you drag your huge-ass stroller up and down the subway steps or bite the bullet and carry your infant in a decidedly un-ergonomic sling for hours and hours on a hot day, SOMEONE will feel they have the right to tell you to GTFO.**
I still take (11-month old, almost 20 pound) Cecil around in a carrier – an Ergo, because he’s long outgrown the ring-sling – but if I need to, I do not hesitate to take my stroller. For one thing, he will only put up with being in the carrier for so long, being a very active near-toddler, and for the other, I do not want to carry 20 pounds of unhappy human if I don’t have to. And I shouldn’t have to in order to access a public service that is as much mine and Cecil’s as it is yours.
And if people are going to be assholes to me no matter what I do, I might as well do what’s most comfortable for me and my child.
For all the gains women have made towards equality, for all the strides men have taken towards being more active and involved parents, things are still not equal. Women are still much more likely to be primary caregivers of their children. If you limit the access of children to a public service, especially infants, you are limiting the access of women to that service. And if that isn’t a feminist issue I don’t know what is.
*The little umbrella strollers people talk about when they say “why don’t they use those little strollers you get for $30 at Walmart?” are not suitable for babies under the age of 6 months as they don’t provide head support and can’t recline enough. We started using one with Cecil about a month earlier than you’re supposed to because it was SO HOT that it was unsafe to take him anywhere in the sling, and his head control was pretty good.
**This story, of me going really above and beyond to avoid inconveniencing my fellow transit riders, I liken to my sex ed story. Due to the woefully inadequate sex ed I received at Catholic school, when I needed to know more I went to the public library, found the Sex for Dummies book, hid in a corner, and read it cover to cover. Good for me for taking responsibility for my sexual health, I guess, but you can hardly base a system around the assumption that everyone is resourceful and a good problem-solver. You cannot expect parents to do what I did any more than you can expect teens to do what I did.