Thoughts re: The Kids Are All Right

3 Aug

There are already myriad reviews of this movie floating through the internet, including this one by Daisy Hernandez at Colorlines: News for Action. She speaks to the racial component of the movie, and the fact that, even in a movie which breaks some boundaries (there are two moms in this family, instead of a mom and a dad), there are still troubling statements being made about “where the gay movement has been headed for some time now: white suburbia, Mexican gardener included.” Read more of her thoughts at the link above.

What I’d like to touch on, however, has less to do with the movie on its own, and more to do with the way I (and the friend who accompanied me) interacted with the movie.

My first instinct, as the movie started, was to characterize one of the women as the “mom” and one of the women as the “dad.” It’s pretty obvious how those characterizations are troubling, which I realized right away. Although I come from a family with a mom and a dad, mine is still less than “conventional,” as my parents are divorced, my dad remarried, and before he died, my dog was considered an active and important member in my household with my mom, brother, and I. But, the bottom line is: I don’t have parents of the same sex, and I can’t necessarily relate to what it’s like to have parents whose relationships (and sexualities) are anything but cis- and hetero-sexual. This means that, upon viewing a family, I tend to automatically pick who I think fills the “mom” role best, and who fills the “dad” role best.

Although most people who know me and are reading this already know this, I’d like to say that I am fully supportive of relationships between members of the same sex, different sexes, trans people, intersex people, whatever kind of people. As long as the relationship makes both people happier and healthier, and does not contain any kind of abuse, I believe it is a beautiful thing.

With that said, I’d like to acknowledge my tendency (despite my feelings about the legitimacy of any kind of relationship) to assign people the roles with which I am most familiar. Because a family with a mom and a dad is most familiar to me, it is my instinct to assess other families in the same way, and to attempt to determine who fills what roles in each family. This is ignorant for multiple reasons.

First, no family is exactly the same. My friends’ moms act and are completely different than my mom. My friends’ dads act and are completely different than my dad. And the relationships between each of my friends’ parents are different than the relationship between my parents. So there’s no way that I can possibly assign roles to families that aren’t mine. They will never be the same.

The second reason my assessment of other families is ignorant is because not every family will have a “mom” and a “dad”. Sometimes, there are two moms; sometimes, there are two dads; sometimes there is just one parent; the possibilities for families and caregivers go on and on. Choosing to push the heteronormative standard of a (married) family with one mom and one dad on every family marginalizes those that are different. The idea that every relationship has to have a man and a woman, and that the man and the woman must fill specific, inflexible roles, is homophobic and oppositionally sexist (the belief that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive categories, each possessing a unique and nonoverlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires, as defined by Julia Serano in Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity).

I think I, the friend who accompanied me, and many other people need to break the habit of presuming that every relationship needs a man to fill a stereotypically male role and a woman to fill a stereotypically female role. It’s pretty obvious to me, given the friends I have, and the variety of their sexual orientations and gender roles, that not every relationship (and not every person) fits the molds society has made for them.

I liked The Kids Are All Right. I thought the movie was thoughtful and funny, if a bit predictable. I liked even more that watching it helped me recognize my (heteronormative family) privilege.

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2 Responses to “Thoughts re: The Kids Are All Right”

  1. Molly August 3, 2010 at 10:58 pm #

    So. I just got back from this movie, and I really wanted to comment before but having not seen it when this was originally posted I was not sure what I could say. But, now I have thoughts.
    First off, if Jules and Nic had actually made a baby together it would probably be your mom. That is what I kept thinking throughout the whole thing.
    Second, I don’t think assigning male and female roles to people is a bad thing. In fact, without assigning these roles we would not be able to recognize or avoid them. Does that make sense? I guess what I mean is that if we did not know blue was associated with boy and pink was usually associated with girl, then how would we know to use green or yellow to make some ambiguity.
    And, in all fairness, we need these divisions in our families, but not just because society tells us to. I think assigning things like pink and floral designs, etc. to femininity allows me to basically piss them all over the place when I want to show that I am proud to be a woman. I am not sure if that makes sense though. It does to me for some reason, and I do not think my brain is completing its thoughts clearly right now because it is almost 11, and I IZ TIRED.

    But, I love reading your thoughts. And I love you!

    • annanettie August 4, 2010 at 9:08 am #

      I think what you’re saying about associating certain things with femininity makes sense, but I take issue with the idea that women must be feminine and men must be masculine. So, assigning pink to femininity is fine, as long as men are allowed to like pink just as much as you, and spew it all over the place to show that they are proud to be (feminine) men.

      I also think that assigning roles to people is okay, as long as they accept and embrace those roles. However, I would argue that not every relationship has such simple divisions of roles. This is becoming more clear, even in heterosexual relationships, as men begin to stay home more with the children while women work. That’s what some might call a role-reversal, and the possibility of things like that happening might be ignored if we try to fit people in relationships into two narrowly defined categories.

      Regarding ambiguity, I’m wondering why you would need to avoid anything? Since the entire idea is that we avoid arbitrarily assigning roles based on what we percieve someone’s gender to be, then does it really matter if we put blue things on a girl or pink things on a boy? Because eventually, they are going to identify however they identify, regardless of the colors we put them in. By dressing them whatever colors (maybe colors that look best, or that are our favorite colors?), we can avoid characterizing people (including our children) as one gender or the other without their consent. In the same sense, wouldn’t putting a boy in pink create just as much ambiguity as putting him in green? Am I making sense? I don’t know.

      Also, just to throw you off: in the early 1900s, pink was more commonly associated with boys, and blue with girls.

      I also agree that we need division of roles in our families, as it is difficult for both people to do and be everything all the time. My problem is with the idea that the division of roles should be based on gender, rather than on the individual people in the relationship. Perhaps they will split the roles in entirely different ways than most couples do? That does not make their relationship any less valid or effective. It is not my place to judge which person should fill which roles, just because my dad fills one role and my mom fills another.

      Finally (and I’m backtracking here), the issue you bring up about avoiding pink and blue in favor of more gender-neutral colors like yellow and green is interesting, and (whether you realize it or not) ties into the bigger idea of eliminating the gender binary (i.e. the idea that there are only two genders: man and woman). If you want, I can recommend some stuff for you to read re: the gender binary, etc. Actually, I will probably recommend that stuff even if you don’t want me to! 🙂

      ❤ Thanks for reading

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