It never ceases to baffle me how differently people use the same words. The current administration has demonstrated this with painstaking clarity. However, when it comes to personal liberties and the pursuit of happiness, confusion around the word freedom goes back centuries. The founding fathers wanted freedom from the monarchy, specifically for themselves and other white, land-owning males like them.
The rest of us have been fighting them ever since the revolution for the rights they said were inherent. Victories have been won, some at great costs. Now everyone more or less agrees you shouldn’t own other people or beat your wife. Women and minority groups should have equal access to education and employment opportunities.
However, this is where the consensus ends and heated debate begins. All you have to do is mention gun ownership at any party, and I guarantee you tempers will flare like the fireworks. Bring up reproductive rights at a family gathering and blood will boil hotter than the Irish coffee you’re drinking to get you through said gathering. Men can run shirtless in the park, but some people play blame the victim when a woman is raped and say her scandalous clothes indicate she was asking for it.
I could go on. Apparently, freedom is relative. For those of us who do not subscribe to heteronormative monogamy, there are finally glimpses of hope. Much to the dismay of those of certain thought processes, gay marriage is legal in the United States. There are a few stragglers who continue to fight it, but at this point, it is a losing battle. In 1996, 27% of Americans supported gay marriage. Now, that number has almost tripled to 64%. Slowly but surely, attitudes have shifted, and the results are palpable.
There are still strides to be made, as evidenced by the need for many people in the kink scene to use aliases and secret locations for parties. The ghosts of Puritan’s past still manage to influence our ideas about sex even though church attendance has been declining. This is where idea about freedom become especially frustrating for me. Forms of kink play such as spanking are technically illegal in many states. You can’t marry more than one person consensually. While laws like this were initially intended to protect women from abusive situations, they now prohibit certain forms of sexual expression.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how far we’ve come from married couples sleeping in separate beds in 50s sitcoms. Television shows like Orange is the New Black, Sense8, and Broad City and the movie Deadpool all have scenes with a strap-on. You have to revel in the momentary pleasure of small wins before you remember there are still states that teach abstinence-only sex ed. Let’s not forget transgender individuals face significantly higher risk of violence and poverty.
There’s no getting around the fact people have different strong opinions about what constitutes freedom, and for some reason, who and how you love ranks among the most fiercely debated. Why are people so threatened by polyamory but enamored by stories of betrayal? The Office is loved by millions, and the story of Pam and Jim is central to the plot. Pam is engaged the first several times they kiss. Jack and Rose captured the hearts of countless viewers. Rose’s betrothed was on the same ship when they made passionate love to each other.
We grow up learning about love and sex from multiple sources. Parents, schools, and the media all influence what you think is right, which unfortunately translates directly into what you think should be right for others. This is how you decide what should be part of the freedom you are celebrating today. It’s my hope that quality sexual education becomes available for everyone, parents stop being afraid of talking about sex with kids, and television shows continue to push limits of what is normal. This is how we move forward.