How legalising Same Sex Marriage Will Damage Families – a point by point rebuttal.

I was having a quick glance at Facebook earlier today, and came across this little gem of picture:
gay marriage

Disclaimer – if you are one of the 4 people who contributed to the discussion about this on Facebook, the below is basically a rehash of what was there. Feel free to stop reading now. Go and have a cup of tea or something. I won’t be offended, really! Similarly if I appear to have nicked a point off your Facebook comment and seem to be presenting it as my own idea then, er, take it as a compliment!

I haven’t written a pro equal marriage post in a while, and this seems like the perfect chance to write another.

So: this is a list of the perils which will befall the Good, Honest, Hardworking Families of Great Britain if The Gays are allowed to marry. As it is presented as such, as opposed to a list of Why Being Gay is Evil, I will presume that their objections are specifically against Equal Marriage. After all, homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967 by the Sexual Offences Act, and the age of consent for homosexual acts was bought in line with legislation covering heterosexual acts in an amendment to the same act in 2000. This list purports to show why Same Sex Marriage will damage families. Presumably therefore these potential dangers which the Exchange of Gay Vows will engender are dangers over and above those posed by just being gay and having gay sex.

Point 1: Children and Teenagers at school will quickly learn about “gay marriage” as teachers will have to teach them the new definition of marriage.

Well, yes, if Same Sex marriage is legalised in the UK, then axiomatically the definition of marriage will change. But I don’t remember anyone at school teaching me the definition of marriage. Even if they had I don’t think this is a particularly tricky concept to explain: that-thing-that-previously-only-a-man-and-woman-could-do-well-now-a-man-and-another-man-or-a-woman-and-another-woman-can-do-it-too. Easy.

Point 2: Gay relationships will be promoted to primary school children via storybooks.

I would sincerely hope that would be the case. Having decriminalised gay relationships, and taken further strides (or, in some cases, painfully slow baby steps) to equalise gay and straight relationships, the next stage is to normalise them. However on this point I am pessimistically of the belief that the authors of this list don’t have that much to worry about. Next time you find yourself looking at primary level story books, look how many inter-racial couples there are, or men and women in non standard-gender roles, or heaven forfend, someone transgendered. If lack of progress in other areas blighted by bigotry are anything to go by, legalising same sex marriage and comfortably showcasing the diversity of relationships in educational tools are likely be a long way apart.

Point 3: NHS-Endorsed Websites, which promote high-risk sexual practices, will be mainstreamed in secondary schools.

Now this may come as a shock, but attitudes to sexual relationships and the potential medical pitfalls which may occur (including conceiving a child) have come a long way since Marie Stopes wrote Married Love in 1918. Sex Education in the UK is predominantly focussed on teaching young people about the risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and the emotional upheaval which usually accompanies one’s first forays into Carnal Knowledge. As such, NHS-Endorsed websites which might be reasonably used as resources during Sex Ed classes, do not focus on the legal definition of marriage. They focus on the act of having sex. Because, and this may have escaped the authors’ notice, having sex out of wedlock isn’t illegal here. Consequently this point has sod-all to do with whether same-sex marriage is legal, and is solely concerned with gay sex, which has been legal for over 4 and a half decades.

Point 4: Being Male or Female will be meaningless if any combination can get married.

Having wrestled through early childhood, puberty and my later teenage years with the inescapable fact of Having a Vagina, I can testify that what being female means to me is…being legally allowed to marry a man. Yep, turns out that my entire gendered identity is solely related to the fact I can be legally joined in matrimony with one of the penis-bearing brigade. All those years of reading Judy Blume, Cosmopolitan & Simone de Beauvoir (full disclosure – I never actually made it all the way through The Second Sex) taught me that I am a Woman by dint of my relationships to men and nothing else.

Of course, there is another way to view this: If we legalise same sex marriage, they’ll be no more sexism! No more glass ceiling, no more gendered toys, no more casual harassment. We will all just be people. Sounds marvellous!

Point 5: Marriage won’t be about commitment to bearing and raising children.

My husband and I aren’t having children. We got married because we wanted to, but having kids was never on our agenda. We know lots of married couples who have similarly decided to remain child-free. Marriage isn’t about a commitment to bearing and raising children now. Legalising same sex marriage makes no difference to this.

Point 6: Marriage will be reduced to gratifying your own personal desires.

In a lot of cases, marriage is about gratifying your own desires: the desire to tick the Married box on forms, the desire to have a big white wedding, even, in my opinion, the above commitment to bearing and raising children is a personal desire to be gratified (although not necessarily in partnership with a spouse). Less cynically, the desire to make a public declaration of love for your soulmate is also a personal desire, and that was the one and only reason I got married. In fact the only times I can think of where marriage is not about gratifying one’s own personal desires, is when it is about gratifying someone else’s. For money, power, reputation, honour, prestige or protection. Out of fear, out of jealousy, out of laziness, out of spite. Or simply to keep someone else happy. Marriage, along with the rest of all conceivable human actions, is always about gratifying some desire on some level.

Point 7: Children will lose out, because society will no longer prioritise their main need, which is to be brought up by the people who conceive them.

As stated above, I have no intention to ever have children, which is just as well, as I’ve been labouring under the delusion that the main need of children is to be raised by a person or persons who love them, and make them feel safe, secure and happy. Clearly that is secondary to the fact of whether or not the parents are genetically linked to the child.

Gay couples can’t have children anyway without some kind of intervention, typically adoption, artificial insemination or surrogacy. The process for a gay couple proving themselves worthy of parenthood, particularly regarding adoption is rigorous (although really not my area of expertise so sincere apologies for any misconceptions here – no pun intended!!) On the other hand the most casual of heterosexual encounters can result in an unintended bun in the oven (perhaps as a result of neglecting those NHS-endorsed websites!) Yet ‘society’ tends not to intervene in these pregnancies except in very extreme situations.

Gay couples already can, and do, adopt or by other means start a family. So how would legalising gay marriage change this?

Point 8: Traditional family networks, which bind society together, will be fractured.

Er, what? Seriously, what does that actually mean? I mean I get that for most people their immediate family are among the most important people to them: partners, parents, siblings, children, possibly Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and cousins etc. I understand that these ‘loved ones’ tend to be at the heart of our most precious relationships. But I’m not sure that I’d describe such as dynamic as ‘binding society together.’ I mean after all, isn’t that ‘blood is thicker than water’ crap basically about dividing society up into Us and Them. Family and Not Family. The societal expectation is that at times of difficulty one will prioritise one’s own kin ahead of strangers. I’m not saying that’s a necessarily a bad thing, but surely that’s not binding the whole of society together. Binding the whole of society together would be treating everyone equally, regardless of your personal connection. Let’s say there was an earthquake: a truly bound-together society would be populated with people who would rescue the first person they came across, trusting that another stranger would do the same for them or their family. Not clamber over the bodies of dead and dying human beings they didn’t know, looking for their wife, or child, or brother.

I’m not saying family isn’t important. As above I believe that raising children in loving, secure, happy homes is the paramount responsibility of parents, and family can play an important role in that endeavour. But our society teaches us to stratify our relationships, and so we learn to regard certain people, such as those related to us, as more precious than others.

So having entirely rejected the premise that family relationships bind society together I am unconcerned as to how same sex marriage might fracture these non-existent bonds.

Point 9: Motherless and Fatherless families will be institutionalised.

Given the tone of this whole piece, I am deeply concerned that this is actually a threat, as opposed to a warning of what may come to pass. But even as a threat it is entirely incoherent. Straight, ‘nuclear’ families can be rendered either Mother or Fatherless through tragedy, irreconcilable differences or something else. Yet again, legalising same sex marriage seems to have no discernible impact on this situation.

The whole point about gay marriage is that two people of the same sex who love each other can, if they wish, formalise that love the same way straight people do. Ultimately the objections all come to down to the entirely irrational fear that by redefining marriage to include same sex relationships, somehow existing straight relationships will be devalued. If your relationship is really that fragile, perhaps your time would be better put to use trying to strengthen it.

Female on male sexual coercion in The Big Bang Theory isn’t funny

I’m going to (try to) tread lightly on this, as I am neither male, nor thankfully have any substantial experience of sexual coercion.

Also spoiler-alert: the below contains plot points for episodes of The Big Bang Theory and Glee which have aired in the US, but haven’t made it to UK screens yet.

Shamy

I’m quite fond of the TV show The Big Bang Theory. However there is a particular running ‘joke’ which is starting to make me feel rather uncomfortable.

The character of Amy Farrah Fowler was introduced a few years ago, as a potential girlfriend for the intellectually brilliant but emotionally challenged Sheldon Cooper. At the start, Amy was clearly being portrayed as ‘The Female Sheldon’. She is his intellectual equal (although Sheldon himself would probably not accept that), a renowned academic in her field of Neuroscience, and her social skills are somewhat lacking.

Over the seasons both the character of Amy and her relationship with Sheldon has developed. The romantic dynamic between them is rather one-sided. Amy is head-over-heels in love with Sheldon; she would very much like their relationship to become more physical, and she is frustrated by Sheldon’s apparent lack of interest in sex.

At the start, this seemed like the kind of classic role-reversal with which TBBT likes to play. You can imagine the writers’ meeting where they decide it would be really funny to have the female ‘gagging for it’ and the male ‘not putting out’. And earlier on, this premise was a rich minefield of genuine humour. But more recently, I’m starting to feel increasingly uneasy about how this is portrayed.

Amy has been shown manipulating Sheldon into situations where she can derive some sexual satisfaction, while he is clearly oblivious as to what is really going on.

A few episodes later, Sheldon has a rare moment of true vulnerability, where he acknowledges that Amy and his pairing is probably headed for a full-blown sexual relationship, and he appears daunted by this prospect. In short: he is starting to feel pressured into having sex, both by his girlfriend and by societal expectations, and it’s quite scary for him.

It’s one of those odd moments you get in comedy shows, where the tone seems to be more dramatic than comedic, and I was left genuinely confused as to whether Sheldon is at this point a figure of fun, or of pathos.

At which point I thought to myself: if the gender roles here were reversed and the male was pressurising the female that wouldn’t be funny at all – at least to a reasonably enlightened 21st Century audience. But surely it’s the behaviour itself that is abhorrent, not the genders of the actors. Whether you are male or female, gay or straight – pressuring, manipulating or in any other way coercing someone into having sex is a horrible thing to do.

Compare and contrast Amy’s behaviour with that of Raj and Howard. Howard, prior to his marriage to Bernadette, was the archetypal sleazebag. He would hit on any woman he could find, his bravado and swagger clearly masked his insecurities, and he treats women with very little respect. Raj is equally messed-up with regard to women, unable to talk to them unless he has been drinking (or thinks he has been drinking), but nonetheless desperate for a romantic relationship.

Sidebar – quite what the writers are doing with Raj’s sexuality is anyone’s guess. One moment they are portraying him as a straight metro-sexual, the next playing up his effeminate qualities and implying that the bromance between him and Howard is a frustrated homosexual affair. More annoyingly, this is always done as an object of humour, so I’ve now lost track of whether we are pointing and laughing because Raj might be gay, or because Raj might not be gay. At such times I think Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood put it best when he sighed disdainfully “You people and your quaint little categories!”

I digress – what Raj and Howard have in common is a sickening sense of entitlement. In the most recent episode Raj and Howard comment on how ‘unfair’ it is that women like “confident normal guys more than nervous weirdos!” Immediately I recalled reading this excellent post last year, about how feelings aren’t fair, and you are not entitled to have someone like you.

So how does that map onto Amy’s behaviour? She is, at times, undeniably ‘creepy’ towards Sheldon. She’s frustrated at being in a relationship which isn’t going at the speed she wants, but, presumably, is still in love with him and doesn’t want to leave. Her own feelings of frustration are intrinsically valid, but she’s not entitled to use those feelings to justify trying to make Sheldon do something for which he doesn’t feel ready.

Had this been an isolated event I probably wouldn’t have bothered commenting on it, but as it turns out, I saw something pretty similar on the latest episode of Glee a few days later. One of the male characters, Ryder, has a rather intense moment where he reveals that he was molested as a child by an older female who was babysitting him. Unlike with TBBT, Glee was playing this scene absolutely straight – there was no indication that the audience was meant to find this funny. I expected that, in typical Glee style, this revelation would be greeted with sympathy, hugs and then they would all sing a song about it.

What actually happened made my jaw drop. While the females in the group express support, Ryder’s male friends ask him what his problem is & doesn’t he realise how lucky he was to be getting some action. Ryder awkwardly realises that he has to show a bit of machismo, so he laughs it off, but clearly still feels unhappy. The whole scene is laid on with a trowel (Glee doesn’t really do subtle) so I assumed that they would come back to it later on, and the male Glee-Clubbers would learn a valuable life-lesson about how all sexual abuse is wrong, regardless of the genders of the perpetrator or victim. Instead, there’s a short scene where a female character, Kitty, confides in Ryder that something similar happened to her once, and she understands his pain. Which is fine as far as it goes. But it left me screaming at the TV: What about everyone else? Are you really going to just leave this with a bunch of boys thinking that female on male rape ‘doesn’t count?’

Glee will, I fervently hope, come back to this later, neatly signposting it with a repeat of the revelation scene in the recap at the top of the show. Because surely they can’t just let this hang there? I guess from my privileged, liberal mindset, I was genuinely surprised that the attitude that ‘female on male rape doesn’t count’ is prevalent enough to be shown on a TV show as a first response to a young person sharing that it had happened to them. I know you get characters in fiction (and regrettably reality) who don’t believe rape is a problem full stop, but surely we are supposed to disagree with them.

I noticed on Facebook that the anti-feminist bingo card is doing the rounds again. Generally I agree with this, but I have always been baffled by the hating on the term “Equalist”. As I said earlier, shouldn’t it be the behaviour we abhor, more than the genders of the actors? If it would be bad for a man to do something to a woman, why would it be acceptable for a woman to do it to a man? I accept that the power dynamics (physical, emotional, mental) between men and women are sometimes unequal, so a male acting upon a female may have a disproportionately worse effect on the female, than if the female were to act upon a male in the same way. But I would strongly contend that even where that is the case (which I would also contend is the exception rather than the rule) just because the total effect is ‘less bad’ that doesn’t make it ‘good.’

As a female I have no idea what it is like to be a man, and as someone who has thankfully never been sexually assaulted I have no idea what that is like either. So I am doubly ignorant as to what a male who has been molested by a female might feel afterwards. But as a human capable of empathy, I can imagine that any kind of sexual violation and betrayal of trust must be horrific.

Returning to The Big Bang Theory – to be absolutely clear I am not implying that Amy wants to rape Sheldon. But depicting her desperate attempts to get Sheldon to sleep with her as ‘funny’ leaves me with the feeling that the writers are, to some extent, subscribing to this idea that because Amy is a woman and Sheldon is a man, her coercive behaviour is more socially acceptable, and therefore fair game for comedy.

Listen to the dialogue in this scene. Sheldon is explicitly saying “Stop.” He asks his partner for help, and she responds by joining in. Imagine if this depicted a woman pinned down by 2 men. Still funny?