Three of my FaceBook friends posted an article about a Disney Channel sitcom, Good Luck Charlie, whose last episode is airing in February. In the penultimate show, a same-sex couple will be introduced, apparently Disney’s first. Two of my friends found the article appalling, and the other included no additional comment. (See it here.)
I’ve seen the show before; I have a 10-year-old daughter-by-marriage. She’ll make up her own mind about same-sex couples soon enough. Some of her friends, acquaintances, and favorite celebrities will come out while she’s in high school and college. She’ll hear her parents’, friends’, and pastor’s opinions about homosexuality. She’ll see it in the media. Something that she feels or sees will resonate with her, and she’ll decide which of the many sides of the issue she wants to be on. Most children watching Good Luck Charlie will be in the same situation.
What is much more appalling to me is something insidiously quiet in our culture: the treatment of the title character’s (straight) father. He is a buffoon character, speaking, gesturing, and coming to realizations much more slowly than his wife. She has made plans for the family without consulting him and steamrolls over his disinterest. The first time we see him in the scene, he is in front of the television, ignoring his daughter playing a few feet away. When there’s a disagreement over who’s coming to their house, he says, “Are you sure [that’s her name]?” His wife replies, “Am I sure that I’m right and you’re wrong? Always.” And when the door closes behind the couple in question, Dad pops his forehead with his palm and says, “Taylor has two moms.” His wife again ridicules him: “Wow. Nothing gets past you, Bob.” This is the wretched part of the scene; forget the lesbian couple with a few seconds of the sitcom’s hours and hours of airtime over the past few years. The problem is that my 10-year-old and others like her are learning that dads are lazy, moms are allowed to be rude, and women are smarter than men. The beliefs are so accepted that canned laughter fills the air after the mom’s snarky comments. I’d wager my 10-year-old isn’t learning much about same-sex couples in the scene, but she’s learning a lot about heterosexual ones.
If we want to argue about relationships, marriages, and the business of who’s-romantically-involved-with-whom, perhaps we should notice the unfortunate and detrimental ways heterosexual marriages are depicted onscreen. What has “traditional marriage” come to mean in our culture? I wonder how my daughter would define it.
If my daughters learn one thing about marriage from me, I hope it’s this: build one that belongs to you and your husband alone. Structure it the way that works for you. Find out what respect means to him and how to show it. Tell him how you want to be treated. Help each other see more clearly and love life more rigorously. Don’t let anyone condemn you for being unprogressive if you want to stay home with the children, or have no children, or have twenty children, or have a husband who stays home with the children. It’s your game, your rules. Be traditional. Be untraditional. Be semi-traditional. But for God’s sake, be careful what you teach. Dads are not dolts. Moms are not dictators. If “traditional marriage” amounts to anything like that, let’s throw it out and try again.