One was broadly supposed to be on the topic of parenting; I chose to focus on the significance of parental acceptance and the fact that caretakers of children should be more concerned with the kids' well-being than with the way the outside world will perceive them. The other was on the topic of same-sex marriage; we were supposed to argue, generally, either for or against it. I was pretty obviously for it, so I concentrated on the need to use the term "marriage" for same-sex unions as well as opposite-sex ones. Hope at least a couple people enjoy these? And feel free to comment/debate/whatevs.
Just As You Are: The Importance of Parental Acceptance by kishmet
In an era where bullying by peers has become a widespread, well-documented social issue, teaching children acceptance of others regardless of ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, and other factors is essential. However, this training cannot only be undertaken within the school system and other public institutions. Acceptance must be instilled in children by their parents or guardians, and the most effective way of accomplishing this is through the caretakers’ acceptance of their children. If children feel free and safe to express their own identities in their home environments, their self-confidence will be less susceptible to attack in other arenas. Also, they will feel less of a need, and less at liberty to ostracize others for their modes of self-expression.
Parents are meant to provide security for their children. This can come in the form of physical necessities: food, water, clothing, shelter. But equally important, and too frequently overlooked, are the mental and emotional necessities. Love is perhaps the most obvious of these, but acceptance is another, closely related to the first. Lack of acceptance will gradually wear away a child’s self-esteem; for example, if a young boy asks to take a ballet class and the request is met with a curt refusal or worse from a parent, the boy will be made aware that his interest in dance is somehow unusual and wrong.
From there, it is all too easy for a child to extrapolate that he or she is unusual and wrong in the same way. At the same time, the child learns from the parent’s example that rejection of others’ modes of self-expression is socially appropriate, and will be more likely to reject the identities of his peers that he perceives as somehow unacceptable. A boy who is called a “sissy” or a “fag” by his father for his interest in dance, or art, or even a simple lack of interest in sports might very well apply these epithets to his classmates.
The attitudes instilled by caretakers in the private family sector are thus carried out to the wider world, and they can have an enormous impact. At the same time, the way society is structured also affects the way parents treat their children in the first place. There are a number of societal norms presented to parents in the media every day, whether tacitly or explicitly. Caretakers are encouraged to allow children to express themselves, but only within a particular framework laid out for them.
Of course, there are non-mainstream television shows and films that portray a wider and more realistic range of human interactions, but in general, the most accessible media outlets provide an extremely limited view of acceptable behaviors. For example, mainstream movies feature plenty of “tomboy” female characters; they engage in activities traditionally considered masculine, such as tree climbing and baseball practice with their fathers.
Films try to position these characters as offbeat, somehow outside the norm, but in reality they are still operating within certain established societal boundaries. To prove this, a viewer need only examine the other side of the equation: boys behaving in ways that are traditionally considered feminine.
These characters are fewer and farther between than their tomboy opposite numbers, and this can send the clear message to parents that it’s acceptable to allow a little girl to play ball, but not to, say, encourage a little boy’s interest in theatre. Although parents may not realize these media messages have an influence on them – as C. Wright Mills puts it, they do not “possess the quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of individuals and society” (Mills 1) – but they are affected nevertheless.
Their children will be affected as well, not only by their parents’ reaction to the media material, but to the material itself. This is another reason why it is essential for parents to provide the acceptance so craved and required by their children. A parent can either be a powerful tool in favor of a child’s subversion of structural norms, or an equally powerful tool against it. They can reinforce societal limitations as presented by the media, or they can support their child in surpassing them.
Historically, parents and families in general were invariably expected to curb the younger generation’s self-expression in accordance with society’s standards. In previous centuries, many cultures held to very rigid ideas of honor; many still do. To be more specific, these ideas related to familial honor, as opposed to that of the individual. The actions of one person would reflect on all their blood relations, and so parents had great incentive to ensure their offspring lived up to the society’s standards. If one daughter engaged in premarital sex and became pregnant, for instance, any sisters would share her shame and perhaps lose the opportunity for any favorable marriage. These were cultures more focused on a family or a community as a unit, without room for individual expression.
Modern society has undergone many drastic changes that mean individuals are now, at least theoretically, judged on their own merits rather than those of their families. However, many parents cling to the notion that they must shape their children to suit social norms rather than letting their children express who they truly are. As Mills states, “[t]he very shaping of history now outpaces the ability of people to orient themselves in accordance with cherished values” (Mills 2), and this is certainly the case with childrearing.
Parents must come to realize that a child’s self-esteem and self-expression takes precedence over how the family will be perceived by the outside world. They must teach their children acceptance by example, so that they will raise confident children who will not feel the need to ostracize others in order to be secure in their own assumed identities. Parents have to overcome the outdated codes of familial honor in order to do what is best for their children: providing unconditional love regardless of those children’s interests and preferences.
What's in a Word? Avoiding "Separate but Equal" Status for Same-Sex Unions"
For some time now, the gay community has struggled to gain equal rights and equal recognition throughout the world. Organizations and individuals have fought to include homosexuals in hate crime legislation; to eliminate the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy; to gain fair representation on television, in movies, in books, and in the news; to be allowed to adopt; and for the right of same-sex couples to marry. This last item has been a point of great contention. Even within the community itself, some argue that civil unions should be counted sufficient, so as not to run up against the great resistance presented by those who believe that applying the term “marriage” to same-sex unions would sully a sanctified form of relationship intended for a man and a woman only.
However, “marriage” is a term used not only by the religious but by the government as well. It is also recognized by the general populace as perhaps the most intimate form of union between two individuals. Because of this, the word “marriage” must be made to officially encompass committed relationships between two people of the same sex. Doing otherwise would require the gay community to settle for separate but “equal” treatment, even if the rights and responsibilities of civil unions were extended to match those of heterosexual marriage, and this type of policy promotes bigotry and worse.
The laws and decisions of any government represent an enormous macro-level force that has an extensive impact on the population. At the moment, the government of the United States tends to treat same-sex couples as inferior to those involving a man and a woman. The U.S. issues marriage licenses that confer certain privileges and social status to opposite-sex couples, while denying these same options to same-sex pairings.
By doing so, they are stating implicitly that there is some tangible difference between homosexual and heterosexual love relationships. Homosexual couples are “good enough” in many states to share the benefits of civil unions with heterosexual couples, but they are not considered “good enough” to marry. The American government thus reinforces the largely religious perception that homosexuality is a sin, and that same-sex marriages would defile the institution of marriage as a whole. Not only does this run counter to the idea of separation of church and state, but it also encourages the American people to share their government’s tacit view that gay unions would somehow be inferior.
This encouragement promotes prejudice on a micro level, and has an impact on many individuals, both gay and straight. Because the government categorizes gay relationships differently and unequally, homophobic individuals may well see this as tacit approval of categorizing homosexuals as subhuman. They may feel freer to unleash slurs and violence against those who are gay or perceived as gay. If the U.S. government becomes more supportive of homosexual rights, those who are homophobic will most likely continue to hold their bigoted opinions, but they might be less liable to express them in damaging ways. What better way for the government to support its gay, lesbian, and bisexual citizens than by declaring that same-sex unions are equally worthy of the title of marriage?
This is a choice between protecting the very lives and physical and mental well-being of America’s gay community, and protecting the primarily religious sensibilities of prejudiced conservatives. As the framework of modern American society stands, the latter has been deemed more important, and as C. Wright Mills states, “within that framework the psychologies of a variety of men and women are formulated” (Mills 2-3). Larger-level institutions such as the government help to dictate and shape the thoughts and actions of individuals, as with the issue of same-sex marriage.
The United States is positioned at a point in history where the legalization of same-sex marriage, under that name, is a next logical step in the progression of gay rights. In many communities, homosexuals and bisexuals are no longer required to conceal their orientations, as the majority had to do even a decade or two ago. Both Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Proposition 8 are being heavily contested when they would not even have been questioned in previous years. More gay characters have been pictured in the media, and the struggles of gay individuals and couples have been brought into mainstream news outlets, whether these outlets are for civil rights or opposed to them.
With the increased visibility of homosexuality, the time has come for the government to defend the gay population by granting them the right of marriage, not by offering up “separate but equal” civil unions that will do little to sway public opinion.