III. Childhood: A Construction made through Censorship
In 1998, my mom became pregnant with my younger brother. She took my sister and me to the clinic, where the doctor rubbed a slick cream across her expanding belly. Everyone seemed keen on the hazy blur that flickered on the computer screen, but I was more interested in watching the doctor scroll a strange prod over my mother’s pale skin, how the gel swirled around in translucent little waves. Afterwards, the doctor showed me the murky snapshots: “This one is your brother’s head. This one is his peanuts. That’s how we know he’s a boy.”
“I like peanuts,” I said, taking small photographs from him. “They’re tasty.”
“Not those sorts of peanuts,” he said. Then he left for other, doctorly things.
I gazed into the pictures, not entirely sure of what I was looking at. It was all dark and splotchy, with a few disfigured lumps near the bottom. I only remembered how the doctor had distinguished between the two, “peanuts” in my left hand and “head” in my right. “Peanut, head, peanut, head… Peanut-Head!”
My sister clutched her stomach and rolled across the ground. I started laughing, too, for my own cleverness.
But the year my brother was born, my sister reflected differently upon my word choice. “You eat peanuts? He looked at you weird when you said that.” I still wasn’t entirely sure what I was being accused of—I liked peanuts! And “Peanut-Head” had a nice ring to it—but I felt embarrassed all the same. Hoping to refute my sister’s accusation, I tried to remember the doctor’s expression, but I could only remember how he had corrected me. I suddenly recalled his serious intonation—maybe even a stare, no, a glare of disapproval! A cold stone of shame dropped into my stomach. Tired of my silence, my sister left me to wallow in my peanut-eating thoughts.
Why is it so hugely important to protect children from sexuality and violence in the US? The answer lies in the Western construction of the child—supposedly what the child is and what it needs. In the West, the Enlightenment Era heavily influenced the conception of the Blank Slate Child. This specimen has no knowledge of the adult world and must be protected from Evil Forces that threaten to corrupt its chubby-cheeked, glossy-haired, rosebud State of Innocence (Higonnet 8, Castro-Vazquez 1). At default setting, such kiddies are chaste in mind, body, and soul; “the child’s body was supposed to be naturally innocent of adult sexuality, and… the child’s mind was supposed to begin blank” (Higonnet 8). This “Romantic child,” as coined by scholar Anne Higonnet, is the icon of innocence and naivety (“Innocence in Art”). Such a child is the most loveliest thing—meant to be nurtured, cherished, protected… or even coveted and envied (Higonnet 28). Many a “Moral Guardian” has great interest in shielding children from corrupting influences (aka, sex and violence on TV)… or at least until the time is right. This “when they’re old enough” is subjective.
The child’s “coming of age”—a transformation in psychological maturity or trial by pimply puberty—cites their moment of entering the adult world. But this ascension is marked differently in every culture, every person. As scholar Castro-Vasquez notes:
…The transition from youth to adulthood has been currently described as uneven and fragmented. It is uneven because the experiences of young people are diverse, and fragmented because different markers of adulthood are increasingly uncoupled from each other. For instance, although young people may have to wait longer in order to become financially independent, sexual activity and consumption are practiced at increasingly young ages. (Castro-Vasquez 2)