What is the first thing that comes into our mind when we think about family?
Doesn’t an image of a father, mother and their children pop up into our mind? This is how we have known the structure of a family for ages. The heterosexual construction of family with the male breadwinner and female as the reproductive laborer has been prevalent in the society for time immemorial. This construction of family is also in accordance with the patriarchal norms of the society.
The patriarchal construction of society dates back to the origins of society where men lived as hunters and gathers. Friedrich Engels in his book ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State’ tries to trace the origins of the family as we know it. In this book, he traces the history of the structure of family to early men and the advent of domestication. He believes that domestication of animals led to the settlement of people which in turn created a division of labor amongst men and women. Since men were involved in hunting they started sustaining the animals whereas the women stayed back at home and looked after the household.
Today we can see a shift in this structure of the family. With the rise of the LGBTQ community, the structure of the family is changing and the notion of family as we know it is phasing out. There is a rise in homosexual parents and single mothers. The notions of sexuality, gender, and family life have started to change. There is a decline in the notion of the male breadwinner family. Some countries have accepted it and have also tried to promote it by bringing about a change in their policies. For example, Countries like Norway and Sweden provide 90% pay for a year of child care leave- irrespective of the gender, and for male, an additional month is provided.
Moreover, the workers also enjoy various other family related support like sick leave, allowances, health care and much more. While Scandinavian countries are promoting the new notions of family, US have not done much to support it. It is the only developed nation that does not provide universal family healthcare or paternal leave to its citizens. The family support policies here are extremely poor. Due to the weak response of the state for the decline of the modern family, the social movements in the country have been extremely militant. This is also the reason why feminism, gay liberation, and backlash on the pro-family movements are so vocal.
In ‘The Family is Dead, Long Live our Families’ Judith Stacey mentions how the modern family which consists of the male breadwinner and female homemaker is dead but this idea still survives and forces everyone to conform to it. The family has always been patriarchal. The capitalization of society helped in bringing about variations in the notion of the family but the society still remained patriarchal.
It is important that we understand that there is more than just the heterosexual couple with children as a family. There are single mothers or fathers and homosexuals who could also have a family. It is necessary to broaden our perspective about these groups to recognize their household as a ‘family’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This article is written by Manjulika Chellappan, our intern.