By Marissa Luna
I went and saw Inside Out a couple weeks ago. It’s a new movie about a girl named Riley who moves with her family from the Midwest to the West Coast and her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness – figuring out how best to navigate her new life situation.
It was a cute movie, not my favorite from Disney Pixar though. It got me thinking about how we define families in mainstream media and in public discourse. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this since I returned from Netroots Nation, a national progressive conference, in July. At the conference, I attended an interesting panel called “The Untapped Power of Unmarried America” where I learned about how, by 2016, for the first time ever, a majority of women are projected to be unmarried.
Unmarried women like me are becoming the new majority, but I still can’t help but feel that unmarried women and women without children are undervalued and underrepresented in our society, both in the media and in decisions being made by our elected officials.
Consider media portrayals of families like the one in Inside Out – a white, heteronormative, nuclear family. Even in 2015, when the nuclear family is certainly no longer the norm, we’re still seeing this type of family representation portrayed as mainstream.
More women in the U.S. are childless than at any other time since the government began keeping track. Yet, consider how women without children are still portrayed in society – as selfish, decadent, and undeserving of things like vacations or any sort of self-care.
Worse yet, policy decisions being made by our elected leaders don’t take into account the fact that “family” reflects a different reality than it did in 1950. The word “family” doesn’t automatically mean a husband (breadwinner), wife, and kids anymore.
We need to redefine family to better reflect the ever-changing reality of our lives: who you care for and who cares for you. We need to make sure that working women earn equal pay to men for the same work and that companies start opening up opportunities to women at all levels. We need to ensure that mothers have access to affordable childcare. We need to implement policies that can be applied to all types of “families.”
Unmarried women shouldn’t be treated any differently than married women. Single mothers shouldn’t be stigmatized and ridiculed. Women who don’t have children shouldn’t be told that they’re selfish or less than. We need to detach a woman’s value from her child bearing and marriage choices. And the mainstream media needs to embrace the dignity and value of a wider range of family structures.