Family is basic to social life, demanding equity and reciprocity between man and woman. Even if there may not be a universal norm for family, its functions and rules, its dynamism is universally recognized.
About two decade ago we celebrated the ‘International Year of the Family’ which the U N had conceived as a global event to support families “as the basic unit of societies” (Boutros Boutros Ghali). It was also an opportunity for us to review the various threads of socio-sexual life, “building the smallest democracy at the heart of the society” in a “confused, confusing, materialistic, hedonistic, conflictual, internecine, and antifamilisitc world.”
I am convinced world peace is not possible without peace in society, in family, in man and woman relationship. The misogynous outlook, as promoted from the classical through the early church and middle ages, cannot be relevant now; the traditional patriarchal biases cannot be perpetuated; the call of the time is – promotion of equality between males and females. When I say this, I have India uppermost in my mind because it is here that the contradictions and sex biases are very strong, whatever one’s caste or religious affiliation.
A woman’s sexuality is valued for non-sexual concepts like virginity and her ability to bear male children. She is denied her own freedom, howsoever logical and legitimate. She has to accept her lower status in the society: She cannot make her own sexual choices nor can she express her sexuality; the stigma of rape and prostitution affects her rather than man who forcibly initiates the act; it is she who is devalued socially and the society condemns man only for namesake; it is man who thrives multi-billion dollar sex-trade and rarely shares profit with woman.
Despite the female/male sex ratio of 927:1000 (as per the 1991 census), there has been a growing tendency among rich rural and urban women to go in for amniocentesis, followed by the abortion of female foetuses. And, there are thousands of cases of “dowry murders”, sexual harassment and forced suicides by young brides whose parents cannot meet dowry demands of the husband’s family (Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulations on a World Scale. London: Zed Books, 1986, pp.146-160) in India, a country where babies, barely days old, are engaged and girls are made to believe that their goal in life is matrimony.
The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage” (Luke 20:34) and “whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord” (Pro.18:22). Thus, marriage is not only physical union but also a God-ordained, divine institution: husband and wife are conceived as one flesh (Mk 10:6-8; Eph. 5:28-31) and are expected to stay together, love each other as their own flesh.
Because God created human beings as male and female. He created sex and ordained the institution of marriage to bind man and woman together as husband and wife, not necessarily to procreate (there is plenty of procreation without marriage!) but to lead a family life, to make a home, through love and sex (Matt. 19:4-5).
It is God’s design that we enjoy life, be happy, be one flesh in coitus, and thus, glorify Him in the body. Sex is the source of happiness in equality. Sex makes husband and wife dear to each other in the privacy of marital togetherness:
the drawing room
and every little
place and spot
where we prayed
or sexed together
we glorified our house
and declared His mysteries
R. K. Singh. Memories Unmemoried (1988)
It was Euripides who said: “Man’s best possession is a sympathetic wife” (Antigone, 164). Aeschylus the tragedian observed: “Married love between man and woman is bigger than oaths guarded by right of nature” (Eumenides). In modern times, Martin Luther (Table Talk, 1569) notes, “There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.” And, Goethe: “The sum which tho married people owe to one another defies cancellation. It is an infinite debt, which can only be discharged through all eternity” (Elective Affinities, 9-1809).
Familistic bonds tend to promote marital joy.
But marriage and fulfillment in life do not come for free: it needs caring, loving, sharing, and extending commitment to each other within the context of family.
Sexuality is at the very core of family relations despite differences among cultures. It is in the family one learns to understand one’s body and practice socially acceptable sexual relations; the family determines one’s expectations about sexual relations in society as an individual; the family teaches one to see oneself as a sexually responsive person. While commitment to sexuality is a key to successful married life, it’s regulation (or discussion) in family is not a vulgarization.
Today we live in a mixed world that has lost its way, particularly in matter of sex and marriage that are central to family structure. Today every teenager has a greater sex consciousness than ever before and yet there is increasing unhappiness, multiplying divorces, rising juvenile delinquents, and mounting AIDS: A sheer drop from frying pan to fire!
We cannot, therefore, ignore sexuality or dismiss it as a mere feminist concept. It is indeed very necessary to break the taboos that prevent discussion on sexuality in the family and help gendered individuals understand their own bodies and social identity beyond what is determined by the traditional male dominated family/society.
Isn’t it height of coercive control that every 18 seconds, a woman is battered by her husband or boyfriend in the USA and at least four women die everyday? There has been a 200% growth in single-parent households since 1970, from four million to eight million houses. Pope John Paul was right in his Easter message to the world (on April 3, 1994) that the family was under threat “at the very roots of its existence.”
Panos D. Bardis raises a serious debate on family related issues in ‘Wedding wonders’ (International Journal of World Peace, X, 1, March 1993) and asks parents some plain questions: “Do you know about your teenage children are doing?” “Do you know about the fruits of sex delinquency?” “Do you know how difficult it is to participate in their ‘shotgun’ wedding?” He has tried to probe the very basis of the sexual answer to loneliness which leads to the loneliest of lives, devoid of the security and warmth of home, as it is.
The Western society, riddled with ‘nuclear’ family and ‘traditional’ family norms as also with norms of single parents and male/male or female/female couples (who may or may not be homosexual), is now facing both an economic and moral crisis. Its search for legitimacy vis-à-vis the visible deviations in socio-cultural norms of family and sex (such as the emergence of the gay community) has thrown up new challenges in countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and the USA that have already yielded to their demands. Pansos D. Bardis seems right when he reflects on the homosexuals and lesbians’ coexistence in their “families of choice” vis-à-vis their “homophobia” (thanks to the spread of HIV-AIDS epidemic) which virtually means ‘denial of the rights of empowerment’.