It’s remarkable how some terms can migrate from their original semantic meaning to become symbols of some political or ideological struggle. Some terms, like ‘class struggle’ or ‘proletarian revolution’, for example, were politically loaded at conception rendering their politicization understandable. Nowadays, however, terms with no original political connotation, particularly in the sphere of family life and personal relationships, have also become “trouble maker” concepts.
It would seem that children’s education and formation of gender roles in the family and society would be rather far from the political struggles. But at the same time there is no other topic in modern Russian society, which is more politicized than the topic of juvenile justice (same is true for some other countries as well). The only other such topic is, in fact… gender equality!
When I first encountered people’s fear and hatred towards a quite peaceful concept of “juvenile justice”, I sincerely believed that these people were merely mistaken in defining this term for themselves. I thought it was important to spell it out to them that the juvenile justice system was simply one particular aspect of children’s rights relating to the judicial sphere, primarily when dealing with cases of criminal prosecution of minors or the protection of the rights of child victims.
In countries where minors are regularly condemned to long prison terms, where the practice of torture or even murder of suspects, detainees and convicts is common, the development of institutions of juvenile justice is absolutely necessary, because all of these horrors also concern minors, who face such “judicial system”. Is it not scary for any parent or teacher to think that a minor that they know personally – even if he did something bad, i.e. participated in theft, fight, burglary, etc. – finds himself under complete power of the very police officers, investigators, security guards, whom we know to be accustomed to torture, beat, rape, intimidate people during interrogations, those who, for example, had killed a fifteen year old Ilya in St. Petersburg (a minor who had been detained for no reason at all) or who had beaten to death a Ukrainian boy in a penitentiary colony in Southern Russia?
Juvenile justice means simply greater responsibility of the representatives of executive power or judges in legal cases involving minors. This includes specific, more humane rules of interrogation (and it is no coincidence that mandatory notification of parents and a lawyer of a minor about his or her case is also an element of “juvenile justice” so hated by some people, as it doesn’t deny the importance of parental involvement in a child’s destiny). Juvenile justice also involves a particular way of conducting the trial – specially trained judges should seek to only minimally traumatize the young prosecuted, defendant, witness or victim. This also involves the possibility of applying weaker punitive measures for young offenders of law, existence of psychological and pedagogical institutions (rather than merely punitive institutions) to deal with underage offenders, which deprive youths of any chance of a normal life in future. The almost omnipresent prohibition of using “capital punishment” for juveniles (whether death sentence or imprisonment for life) is also a form of juvenile justice.
However, you will not find outspoken supporters of death penalties for minors or killings of children during the investigation among the rabid opponents of juvenile justice. On the contrary, all these ardent opponents of the juvenile justice system are very fond of children (verbally) and all that they ever want is to bring up children properly and make them happy. True, their favorite sort of education and bringing up children to be happy involves a mandatory system of parental “rewards and punishments”, which is domestic violence by other name. However, I would like to remind them that violence, beatings, such “time-tested” educational measures like spanking, flagellation, torture of children by hunger and cold are prohibited by the laws of almost every country (certainly in Europe and the former Soviet Union) and a number of international legal regulations, and this prohibition goes far beyond the juvenile justice that these people hate so much. Of course, they usually do not speak exactly about the practice of flogging, they just say that juvenile justice will take children away from their parents for a mere gentle slap coming from a caring parent, who thinks only of the benefit of his or her children. These aging men speaking on Youtube on behalf of some kind of “people’s power” politely call these forms of violence “mere mimic and gestures” and assert that “punishing a child is almost sacred to us, and somebody from abroad says it’s not necessary… they simply want to destroy us!”. And here, it seems to me, lies the true cause of fear, the supposed “destruction of things sacred to us” by some imaginary juvenile justice, which, in fact, refers to the whole concept of the rights of the child. Same as when the proponents of spanking choose to “delicately” call beatings “mimic and gestures”, they also do not speak against the rights of children directly, but instead talk about some mysterious and obviously foreign to us “juvenile justice”. In fact, even in countries with the strictest control over possible family violence nobody takes away children from their parents for some small spanking: social welfare representatives can only take away the child from parents if bruises from spanking and beatings are properly registered, which can in no way be the result of some “mimic and gestures”.
These people are scared not by the prospect of non-spanked children growing deeply unhappy and unprepared for life, their hatred is not aimed at the right of children to humane judicial procedures and proper investigation. These things do not bother these people at all. The key concept here is “they destroy us”, that is destroying our rule, our centuries-old privileges of the elders, our habit to control someone else’s life, the a priori rightfulness of parents before their children, always and every case, without any legal restrictions. Many of the guardians of parental authority cite examples of the “beneficial” beatings they received as children from the older members of family, not noticing that the basis of their argument is the simple principle of army bullying of younger soldiers – “I was beaten before by others, so now I, too, beat the newcomers and no one can forbid me this”.
One of the most convincing arguments for many people in this debate is the principle of inadmissibility of “state intervention in private life” when protecting the rights of children in family. This intervention is unpleasant, of course, – any government intervention by the people in uniforms doesn’t make us any happier. However, to avoid this completely is only possible when we attain the state of affairs when no more crimes are committed at all (in this case, indeed, is would be unnecessary and wrong to allow someone to “intervene”). But while the children suffer and even die from the hands of adults, there should be some protective mechanisms against this.
The same principle of “non-intervention” into “the privacy of the traditional family” is declared by the ever growing army of fighters against the “gender theory”, but even in a more bold fashion. People, who were supposedly accustomed to the concept of equality, are at the same time terrified by the idea of “gender equality”. Although the issue of gender equality has a lot more to do with adult life (main indices of equality being equality of wages between men and women, the proportion of representatives of each gender group in the structures of power, independent role in society – all these things are not linked to problems of children as such), but heated disputes arise again around the issues of school and pre-school education for children.
If one googles the fatal word “gender” (in Russian) a long list of panic-stricken headlines emerges: “Gender theory is aimed at corruption of children”, “Gender theory destroys the continuity of experience of generations” and, of course, “Gender theory is a suicidal diversion by the West”.
So what do these “anti-gender” theorists (almost always they are also the fighters against juvenile justice, often within the same texts and speeches) see as the greatest dangers of these subversive ideas?
According to the fighters against gender theory, discussing gender equality leads to the loss of identity, and it is only one step from subjugation and “destruction” (“a natural result of the introduction of gender philosophy in the West is its self-destruction due to physical extinction”), as “atomized people are easier to manage”. We will not discuss the risks of “self-destruction due to physical extinction”, whatever the philosophy behind this strange thesis. However, we should pay attention to the argument that the loss of identity leads to “atomization” of the victims of gender theory, which allows evil forces to subjugate them and take all the power in the world. However crazy these conspiracy fears may sound, I see here a possible explanation of the origins of this fear before the ominous “gender”. Who are those that risk the loss of gender identity? Obviously it is the children who are brought up with the idea that boys can wear skirts and girls can wear trousers or even those – oh boy! – who attend kindergartens where girls are allowed to play Lego and boys are allowed to play with a toy kitchen.
It is obvious that children always play all sorts of different games, unless they are locked up and separated from each other and are only allowed to have toys designed for their “sex”. What is even more obvious is that girls wear pants for a long time now and do not suffer from some “loss of identity”. Since the modern world (or at least the greater part of it) is now far away from the segregated education practices for girls and boys, from the mandatory long skirts for girls, from burning as witches the women “who dress up in men’s clothing”, but has still not “destroyed itself” and has not even become completely “atomized”, why would gender theory threaten it now? I think that to allow girls to wear trousers is not the complete end to the power of one sex, but for the boys to be allowed to wear skirts or to work in the kitchen is to recognize equality, which is equivalent to defeat for these people.
Stylistically, the struggle against juvenile justice and the struggle against gender equality are very similar: pumping up hysteria in discussions of quite simple and obvious matters (while using sophisticated foreign terms, which supposedly carry with them some sort of Western sabotage), substituting one concept for another (saying “mimic and gestures” when meaning beating, talking about “the loss of identity” when meaning intention to maintain inequality). However, the main thing here is that they are both one and the same in essence, they struggle for the “traditional” oppression and subjugation, they struggle for power and overindulgence, they fight against the rights of children, women and minorities.