The Logic of Who Deserves Respect

I came across an article on the Consumerist which got my attention.  The article is here and you can read the original news story here.

Potty Training Your Kids At The Restaurant Table Might Possibly Upset Nearby Diners

“I noticed that this lady was having her two — she had two twins, two little girls about 2-and-a-half years old, sitting on what I thought were booster seats,” one witness to a public potty training tells KSL-TV in Utah.

But she soon discovered that those booster seats were actually kiddie toilets. “She had to undo the jumpsuits, and take them all the way down so they were completely nude, with the jumpsuits down to their ankles just eating their chicken nuggets, sitting on little toddler potties,” the diner recalls. “I was like this is not ok, we’re eating, there was a business meeting with about five or six businessmen going on right next to me. The place was packed.” So she did what lots of people would probably do in the same situation: Take a photo with her phone and post it on Facebook.

What is going on with the reasoning in this paragraph?:  “It is inappropriate to have your children exposed and naked in public.  THEREFORE, I am going to take a picture of your naked children and display it in public.”  It’s not a good enough answer to simply say, “Stupid people are stupid” because we see the same weirdly-contradictory logic in other situations:

–When people talk about women, self-respect, and sex.   The narrative I’ve seen played out numerous times goes something like this:  Dude is upset that woman is not protecting herself properly against inappropriate sexual advances; so, he starts making inappropriate sexual advances towards her.  The idea is something like, in not ‘respecting’ herself enough, she is no longer worthy of respect from him.

–When someone is harassing a person on the street and they yell out,  “You’re beautiful!” but if ignored they will tack on, “F*** you, you Ugly B****!”

–When we talk about how innocent and asexual kids are but if one of them gets raped (but not also murdered) or has sex all of a sudden it’s completely plausible that they are mature, worldly, experienced, and sexual beings.

–When, “Black women are only seen in a barely positive light FOR sex. It’s an awkward turn to this stereotype – everyone wants to f[***] me, but I’m the ugliest thing walking, huh?” (From here.)

This incident with the potty training kids highlights the weird part of this madonna/whore logic where the meaning of “inappropriate” shifts.  It starts out as, “These children are being inappropriately exposed and need to have their bodies protected” but then changes into, “the other diners are being inappropriately exposed to these bodies and thus (the diners) have a right to ridicule and display them (the bodies).”  It begins as an impulse to protect but ends as a desire to punish.


What are other instances of this sudden flip from respect to disrespect or from protection to exploitation?  And what are the unspoken premises here?


Bonus Rant:

The whole, “Please stop, I’m unable to partake of food in the presence of grossness and/or social inappropriateness,”  screams of #firstworldproblems.
If something is upsetting your sensibilities, please just be quiet and eat your damn dinner instead of proceeding to tell other people how gross and inappropriate their bodies are.  (And I’ll admit, I still catch myself wanting to do this sort of thing because it’s a cheap and easy joke to deride someone for being gross and unseemly.  But really it’s just spiteful judgement and petty hierarchy-climbing.)

13 thoughts on “The Logic of Who Deserves Respect

  1. I agree that taking the picture and putting it on facebook is, at best, an odd and inappropriate thing to do, but why do you think the person above was worried about the kids being exposed, as opposed to being annoyed or a bit grossed out at people going to the bathroom in a place for eating? I’ll admit that I would find that unpleasant and inappropriate myself, even though I don’t really care if kids go naked in general. At least in the part you quote, I don’t see any indication that the person is trying to prevent harm to the kids (except perhaps in the sense that having a parent who wants to toilet train you in a restaurant is perhaps itself a bad thing), as opposed to just not wanting to see people use the bathroom in the dining area.

  2. I’m not seeing the error in objecting to having children urinating or defecating in a potty in a restaurant. I certainly do not see it as telling others how “gross their bodies are.”

    Perhaps this is a first world ‘problem,’ insofar as we do not expect to go out to dinner and have anyone urinating or defecating next to us, but sometimes first world expectations are appropriate in the first world. Honestly, would we think parent-guided training in tooth brushing, tampon changing, or masturbation should just be ok with other diners?

    Taking a pic of it is odd, but we live in a (first world) period in which people do take and post photos of everything – objectionable or not.

  3. Posting pictures of naked children online is immoral, but being mad at someone who disregards such fundamental boundaries surrounding cleanliness is completely justified. Urine and feces don’t belong where people eat, and it’s more than understandable to react to their presence in such spaces with revulsion. That’s a proposition with a kind of obviousness that no number of analogies between examples of bias and injustice and cases like these will ever shake.

  4. The problem isn’t naked two year olds – it’s anyone of any age using a potty chair in a restaurant dining room. That’s not just gross, it’s a health hazard and probably in violation of health and sanitation regulations for eating establishments.

    I’d bet that the person who posted the photo wasn’t thinking about naked toddlers, but the “oh my god can you believe this” outlandishness of the situation.

    Would I have taken a photo? No – I’d have asked to see the manager, pointed out the problem, and then if the situation wasn’t promptly addressed, left.

    Understanding that you don’t crap where you eat is not a first world cultural thing (although this particular venue may well be), it’s a health issue.

  5. It seems to me that all parties acted/reacted inappropriately to this incident. The first was the parent, who should have taken her children to the bathroom rather than having them urinate/defecate where they eat; the second was the woman who took a picture, rather than asking the restaurant manager to do something; the third was you, when you took sides, because what you seem to be saying is that it is OK for the mother to potty-train her children in the restaurant dining room, and all the other diners should just suck it up and mind their own business.

    And by calling this a ‘#firstworldproblem’, you are doing exactly what you began a rant against–indulging in an ad hominem attack on those who disagree with you.

    For the record, I do think it was inappropriate to take a picture and post it on Facebook; and I think such inappropriate behavior should be discouraged. However, I also think allowing children to urinate/defecate in a restaurant dining room is inappropriate for a lot of reasons, and should also be discouraged.

  6. I live in a non-first world country, Chile, and people do not toilet train their children in public here and doing it would not be acceptable, for hygenic reasons alone.

    Saying that toilet training in public is a first world issue projects a false and negative view of non-first world societies.

  7. It sounds like I was unclear on a few points, so I’ll try to respond to the concerns posted here.

    #6 – the ‘first world problem’ I was mocking was not that people potty train their children in public. I was mocking the reaction of someone saying “I am incapable of eating in the presence of such inappropriateness” which (1) I suspect is usually an exaggeration and (2) is a malicious attempt at policing other people’s bodies. I apologize if I did not sufficiently mark off that section as a tangent.

    #5 – I was not originally ranting against ad hominem attacks. I was ranting against dickishness and exploitation. So I am totally fine with judging people’s character to do that, since this is not a philosophy essay. And since I pointed out that I myself have to struggle not to do the very thing I was ranting against, it wasn’t an ad hominem attack, since it applies to me, too. Now, if you think I was being too much of a dick in this post, we can talk about that. (This could be an appropriate place to bring up the conversation from (

    #4 – In the articles on this story, the fact that the patron talked about the children being naked belies the idea that this was only/primarily a health issue.

    #3 – What is a fundamental boundary of cleanliness?

    #2 – In a culture where we take kiddie porn very seriously (as an evil thing), I would say publicly posting a picture of a nude two year old (who is not related to you) goes beyond odd. In fact, the second half of my post is an argument that “odd” is not a sufficient description given the pattern of other ‘odd’ behaviors people engage in.

    #1 – From the fact that one of the patrons cited the businessmen being present and cited the children being nude, added together with our cultural norms and worries about children, adult men, and nudity, I concluded that that there is an element of protecting children from not being inappropriately exposed in public.

    Interestingly, at the end of the day, even if I’m wrong about the analysis of the potty training children case, all the other examples in the second half of the post still stand. And the pattern within those examples is the true fish I am trying to fry. I appreciate being challenged on the points that are unclear or insufficiently supported, but I was also hoping to receive feedback on the main thesis.

  8. “What is a fundamental boundary of cleanliness?”

    Although I don’t think, in general, that it counts against an argument if there aren’t rigorous definitions for all the concepts it uses — after all, almost everything we write will contain terms that we do not and could not define — I think in this case the challenge to provide definitions is easily met. Try: a rule whose violation is particularly likely to result in unhealthy conditions. If that one doesn’t work, see if you or anyone else can produce a plausible definition of cleanliness that does not entail that feces and urine are unclean.

  9. Stacey,

    I’m wondering if the general pattern is something like: You did something wrong, so you deserve no respect. There may be an upcoming series here on mobbing which, like bullying, can start like this. A similar reaction occurs when an outsider challenges an insider.

    The ‘offending’ mom is indeed getting something like mobbed. Thank goodness we don’t know her name.

    That said, I think there may be a very general revulsion re feces. People typically won’t think of eating a piece of chocolate that looks like a turd, for example. Dan Kelly’s got a great book called Digust, and it discusses this.

  10. “What is going on with the reasoning in this paragraph?”

    I’m not sure it’s reasoning as such, to be honest – e.g., if you asked this person to justify her reaction, she probably wouldn’t even know where to begin; it probably wasn’t something she reflected on before she did it; etc. It seems much more like a reflexive outgroup-identification/shaming/social control sort of deal.

    But, um, at the same time, it really is a terrible idea to set up small portable toilets for your kids in the middle of a public restaurant. The response wasn’t at all the right response, but that sort of thing certainly deserves some response or other.

  11. If you have come to a point in your life where you can’t distinguish between people who are upset because some lunatic parent set up toilets in a restaurant dining room so their kids could defecate in them and “body policing,” you probably need to rethink a lot of things.

  12. Despite the problematic nature of the specific example used, I think the original poster made good points about inappropriately photographing people one believes to be doing inappropriate things, and about class-based body shaming.

    I’d like to suggest a set of examples which clearly are relevant to that issue — the photos section of the People of Walmart website:

    For non-US readers, this is clearly and nakedly class-based, and to an extent political as well. Well-off people don’t shop at Wal-Mart. Liberals don’t shop at Wal-Mart if they can avoid it (they’re huge right-wing donors). Poorer people often have to, as Wal-Marts displace and destroy local stores around them, especially those which compete on price. This is ugly.

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