I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the analysis we’re seeing here. Back in the days when marriage was about children, it was mainly about insuring that the children born to a man’s wife would be his children and not some other guy’s. And, back before DNA was invented, the cheapest and most effective way to do that was to control the wife in question. No doubt that was good for the family and good for the community. But it wasn’t good for women. It led to purdah, honor killings, and a lot of other bad stuff. As well as a bonanza for the textile industry, given how much more fabric it takes to veil a woman than to blindfold a man.
If, OTOH, marriage is just about sex, well, shoot, all that matters is that your partner has sex with you more or less when you’re in the mood. What s/he does the rest of the time is no big deal.
Which is not how Mr. Wired and I live our lives, of course. For 44 years, we have done the monogamy thing. Which has been good for our families and our community, no doubt. We have maintained a household which has provided care for a child and help for several other children, as well as for each other in illness and injury.
But we made the choice to do so. It was about each of us as an individual.
I’m of two minds (at least) about this. Or maybe each of the Wired Sisters should speak in turn:
Red Emma—The communitarian nostalgiacs tell us that the family does, efficiently and at no cost, things for its members that the market economy and the state do only badly and at huge expense. The family maximizes the range of choices for its members in ways that the market and the state cannot possibly do. But, in the process, it discounts completely the value of female labor and loss of choices. Yes, the result may well be a better society than what we have now, for men and male children. Similarly, classical Athens was a wonderful place to live, if you were free and male. Probably the ante-bellum Southern US was pretty good too, if you happened to own a plantation and the people who kept it running. But any society which can maintain its advantages for some of its members only at the cost of some other members’ freedom does not deserve to survive. Whether we like it or not, if we cannot devise a good society, based on good families, without returning women to servitude, all we have a right to do is muddle along until we figure out how to. Remember those family comedies in the ‘50s, in which Mama was called out of town for some emergency and the family suddenly had to survive without her and discover just how crucial her work really was, now that they didn’t have it? Well, folks, that’s where we are right now. And just demanding that Mama come home won’t cut it any more. She may not want to, and she may not even be able to.
Jane Grey—The family maximizes choices for its members in ways the market economy and the state cannot possibly match. Barbara Ehrenreich refers to the family as a “socialism of two” (or, presumably, three or four or more.) Within and because of the family, individuals can choose to take part in the market economy or not; to work for a corporation or run a small business or be an independent artisan. The family can choose to support one or more of its members in the arts, countercultural politics, or community service. Nobody else is going to pay people to do that. If we allow the family to shrink and disappear, we will have nothing left to support individual choices except the market and the state, which have both, over the millennia, done a really poor job of it.
CynThesis—We may not even be able to make this discussion fruitful any more. Whether we like it or not, the market has already come pretty close to destroying the family. An increasing number of our families are formed when young people go away to college or the military, marry other young people they meet there, and then settle down in the first place they find jobs afterwards. In the meantime, their respective parents move someplace else for their jobs, and then, ultimately, some other place for their respective retirements, until the families in question have one end in Florida, one end in Boston, and one end in Chicago, and, if they’re lucky, can make enough money between them all to see each other once a year at most. If we can’t find a way to create families where people actually live, there just plain won’t be any. It doesn’t matter whether a couple moves for her job or his job (or, for that matter, for her job or her job.) The market will determine where and for how long they will sink roots, and who their neighbors will be. If they cannot form a community with those neighbors, there will be no communities.
Sorry to be so gloomy. Happy New Year, and peace and light to you all.
The Wired Sisters