Recently I lost a family member who meant a lot to me and when I needed to take time to help my family through it, the concept of what a family is, became an issue.
Until then I had never questioned who I considered my “family” to be, but I realized very quickly that for those in power, there was still a very antiquated view of it.
When you think of family do you automatically picture, a father, mother, two kids; one boy and one girl? Do they possibly have a furry pet? Are they sitting down to dinner at a table in a traditional dining room? Is the father smiling while the son recounts his day and the girl sweetly helps the mother set the table?
If this is what you picture, more than likely you’re from my generation or generations before. As a Gen-Xer, I was constantly fed a diet of what the perfect family was. From the Nick at Night reruns of Leave it to Beaver to the Cosby Show, I was inundated with the two-parent, 2.5 kid ideal of a family.
For many it does sounds perfect and if your lifestyle emulates this, that’s wonderful. But for a lot of people in this world that couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only is it not an accurate representation of a large portion of our society. But constantly portraying the perfect family in the media like this has gone a long way to ostracize many of us in this country.
Representation Matters –
We, as a society are slowly moving towards a more inclusive concept of family and with this move comes something that most of us have never thought about; acceptance through perception.
TV and advertising are some of the most prevalent ways that the majority of Americans view our perspectives of normalcy.
Even though, Black families have lived in upper-income brackets for a long time. It wasn’t until we saw Jefferson’s & the Huxtables did it become visible to the majority of Americans that we did not all live in poverty.
Interracial relationships aren’t new by any stretch of the imagination but in 2013 Cheerios decided to air a commercial with a mixed-race family. The backlash was so strong that Cheerios felt compelled to take the critics to task for their responses.
In 2014 Cheerios did it again but this time they featured two gay fathers and their daughter. Obviously, Cheerios was bound and determined to portray the American family from many different perspectives, come hell or high water.
There has been much debate as to whether advertisers use the ever-shifting cultural landscape to highlight the changes and celebrate them or whether they see a financial opportunity and use the social shift to capitalize on it.
Regardless of their reason, the media is a reflection of the prevalent culture and they are very aware of who spends money. This move by the media holds a mirror up to the direction our world is heading and forces us to at the very least acknowledge it.
Why It’s Important –
For some, it’s a reminder that nothing stays the same and those in power will eventually be usurped. The problem with this it very rarely elicits a positive response from the sections of our culture that feel their position of authority threatened.
But look at it this way, the louder they get, the more defensive they get; the more change is making a dent in their ideas of normalcy.
For every family that doesn’t follow the two-parent, 2.5 kids model, this form of representation matters. Because once your “alternative” life has reached the mainstream, you can no longer be erased from the narrative and therefore, you have solidified a place in history.
Trans and gay children are emerging amongst the mass media’s rush to monetize the shifting familial view. You can see it in the rebooting of the old traditional show “The Conners”, a blue-collar family in the heartland with a child that is exploring what it means to be different than the norm, and a family exploring what it means to practice unconditional love in a town that might not be the most accepting.
We have many shows that highlight the world of a young gay male and I love it! I appreciate the fact that it shows not just the struggle but also the joy of being able to be you amongst those who love and respect you. Who knows maybe these shows are making a difference and are connecting with people who might not be so accepting. Hopefully, they see the totality of the young man and not just his emerging sexuality.
What I can’t wait to see is when the young lesbian female becomes a part of the discussion. I recently saw a commercial where it looked like two teenage girls in love and I’m definitely here for it. That was nice but I can’t wait to see more.
As a long-time single mother, I always looked to see where I fit in. Every time I saw a mother like me on TV, it seemed to be that she was either angry about her situation or she was so well off that the concept of being a single mother was more about the nannies and the lack of children in her sphere.
For the life of me, I can not remember a time when a single mother has been shown to love her children, fight for children, struggle for her children and everyone comes out on top regardless of money.
Another example of representation: The show “Why Women Kill” on CBS Streaming has a polyamorous husband and wife. Do they show the family in a good light? I don’t know, because I am not polyamorous I can only speak from the outside. But I will say that as I watch the couple, their marital issues do not seem to stem from their “alternative” lifestyle but rather from the things that most couples struggle with, and I like that. Will it stay this way? I don’t know, but I love how they are portrayed. Not as gluttonous individuals who only see relationships as a mere way to satisfy physical lust but rather as complex human beings who just so HAPPEN to be in a polyamorous relationship
When Your Family Is Not Represented In The “Real” World –
I had taken for granted that my family group was just that; family. It wasn’t until I needed to take time off of work that it was thrust in my face that not everyone saw it the same way.
For the most part, the tried and true people are covered in your bereavement leave. You have the parents, siblings, children, and In-Laws but that’s as far as most traditional companies go.
And not only is that the line that is drawn in the sand by the companies, but this is the thought process for most of those that make the rules. For those that can effect change, the shifting of the family dynamic is something that comes after an almost exhaustive change in the outside world.
Accepting domestic partnerships in lieu of gay marriage took many companies decades to embrace and for some, it wasn’t without protest.
These protests came from stockholders with traditional ideals of what a family was. There were protests from those in the corporate hierarchy who were worried about how the company would be perceived if they accepted the alternative lifestyle.
For many companies that eventually embraced the changes. They are still reluctant to accept the fact that many couples, heterosexual as well as same-sex; no longer marry but still see themselves as family units.
This is why in states the legalized gay marriage there have been companies that removed the domestic partnership allowance for benefits. They did so because for them the allowance of it was simply to satisfy the gay employees who could not marry. Once they were allowed to there was no need for it. They completely glossed over the fact that many couples no longer feel the need to utilize marriage as a way to legitimize their relationship.
For the most part, old-world corporations move with the shifting landscapes like mountains move with the wind. It takes far too long for them to recognize the validity of their employees' lives.
What they either fail or refuse to realize is that with each new company popping up comes a lot of the changes that these overlooked employees need.
This is not such a big deal when the job market is struggling and people are in such a dire need for employment that they are willing to take what they can get. But in strong economies, people feel the need to be valued for all aspects of their lives.
Let’s Make Sure It Never Goes Backwards –
We are on what feels like a bullet train to changing public perception of what constitutes a family, but we can not rest now.
Just as we are rising we can very quickly be moved to the back burner and the push for “traditional values” can be moved to the forefront.
I love my little family, I love and cherish my small extended family and the thought that any entity doesn’t see it as legitimate upsets me. Because of my frustration, I will continue to speak up, force conversations that might be uncomfortable for some and put a spotlight on the way the world truly is.
There’s enough room in this world to include us all, it’s not about removing anything but rather it’s about including. Inclusion only hurts those who refuse to grow and change and it might be painful for those who refuse to let go of what used to be but it’s more painful for those of us, who feel ignored.