We are socialized to devalue male and female influences unless they come from our biological parents. Anything else, we’re told, is deficient.
However, it’s not that kids lack male and female influences, but rather society only values this influence in the context of two-parent heterosexual homes.
Many children don’t realize they are lacking a male or female influence until someone else points it out by labeling them deficient. I am reminded of a recent episode of the reality show “Basketball Wives” where Evelyn Lazado suggests that her poor life choices were a result of her not growing up with a father–in other words lacking a male influence.
I had to ask myself from where does this narrative arise? I would suggest that at some point children are taught to feel less than because they lack a parent in the home, and we don’t give them the space to appreciate that influence in other forms such as grandparents or aunts and uncles. A kid can stay with a grandparent, male or female, and society labels them as lacking male and female influence. Where is the father or mother? We write kids off, when one or both parents aren’t present in their lives, implying that they cannot know masculine or feminine influence. Oftentimes children fulfill the narratives expected of them, and act out precisely because we have told them that they are deficient.
Extended families, biological or self assembled, should be the sites of male and female influence in children’s lives, not just parents. As Toni Morrison wisely stated, “Two parents can’t raise a child any more than one. You need a community–everybody–to raise a child.”
My own sister is a single mother raising two children. Society would have you to believe that my niece and nephew lack male influence in their lives because their fathers do not live with their mother, but that is not the case. My father and I both provide my niece and nephew with male influence in their lives on a day-to-day basis. While their fathers aren’t as present as they could be, my niece and nephew do not lack male influence in their lives.
As we move towards including gay people into the privileged institution of marriage, let us be mindful that male and female influence are not only found in parents. We must also analyze the role heterosexism plays in suggesting that male and female influence can only come from two parent heterosexual homes. We have a wealth of kinship and family ties that we can draw upon as we go about providing influences in our children’s lives. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and family friends can all be called upon to ensure that children know male and female influence in their lives. It is time that we do away with the myth that male and female influence can only be rendered unto children by parents in two-parent heterosexual homes. An even loftier idea will be to envision a future like writer Melissa Devlin, “when society is focused on providing kids with a positive and supportive influence not based on gender.”