The XX Factor

The Feminist Argument for Making Your Child Walk

My first reaction to reading this piece in the New York Times about how almost no kids walk to and from school anymore was to sarcastically note that before the invention of the car, apparently there was no such thing as a good parent. As a kid who walked to and from school from the second grade on-and as someone who has no kids and no relationship to modern parenting culture-it’s easy for me to mock the hypervigilance that characterizes modern parenting. But then I read a couple of male bloggers I admire mock the piece by specifically noting that the chance of abduction is low, and the feminist in me revolted. Sure, the chance of your daughter being abducted like Jaycee Dugard is low, but from my experience and that of my childhood friends who (since we lived independent-minded West Texas) all also walked to school, the chance of grown men catcalling and even following you in a threatening manner approaches 100 percent. It’s easy for men to forget this, since most of them don’t have a childhood memory of having a grown man follow you down the street, but believe me, for an 11-year-old girl, that’s something you don’t forget.

That said, the feminist me is skeptical that this sudden fear of letting kids walk more than three feet without hustling them further in the safety of a car is something born out of a genuine concern for sexual abuse and harassment. In fact, the belief that children have to be moved everywhere by heavy machinery driven by their mothers falls right in line with the explosion of newly minted parental necessities that conflict directly with a mother’s ability to hold down a full-time job. I know that requiring my mother to drive us to and from school would have put my single parent household into the poor house. Attachment parenting, home schooling, even the trend toward avoiding vaccination all depend on women who are dependent upon their husbands (or a trust fund), because they sure as hell can’t work. Driving a kid everywhere is yet another way we crowd out a mother’s time with responsibilities that make paid work near-impossible.

And are you really teaching your daughters a good lesson if you keep them locked indoors to prevent grown men from harassing them? The fact of the matter is that catcallers don’t go away when you’re big enough to decide whether you can walk all on your own. And when grown women lurk inside their homes, afraid to walk around because of catcallers, we’re letting the terrorists win. Letting your daughters wallk while teaching them about who catcallers are and why they bully you-they hate your freedom!-strikes me as the better lesson than teaching daughters that they should let the few cruel men out there permanently clip their wings.