WPSA 2018: “Women and Children First! The Ideal of Co-Emancipation in Feminist and Gender Critique”


“Women and Children First! The Ideal of Co-Emancipation in Feminist and Gender Critique”


In the mid-20th century, scholars and activists began incorporating childhood and the rights of children into feminist discourse. Shulamith Firestone contended in 1969, for instance, that feminists must be cautious to “include the oppression of children in any programme for feminist revolution” lest they be subject to “the same failing of which we have so often accused men: of not having gone deep enough in our analysis, of having missed an important substratum of oppression merely because it didn’t directly concern us.” In this chapter, I argue that mainstream feminism has since developed sophisticated critiques of motherhood and domesticity, yet the idea of co-emancipation from patriarchy remains under-explored. More recently, queer theory has filled this gap by integrating childhood into some aspects of gender analysis, calling attention to the experiences of gender non-conforming youth but also to ways that the figure of the child is deployed to reinforce heteronormativity. Transgender scholarship, too, is broaching important discussions concerning youth gender and sexual diversity. Postcolonial, black and Indigenous feminists have initiated a discussion of violence and patriarchal oppression at the intersections of gender, race, colonialism and childhood. But it is Indigenous feminist work in particular, I suggest, which has developed the most robust ideal of co-emancipation, mainly in the contention that decolonization begins with youth and entails the full political inclusion and equality of children.