11 June 2006

don't forget polyandry

I've been musing on the discussion over at FFB regarding gay marriage. I too think family is important. I just have no stake in assuming that Man + Woman + (kid)x = family. The argument that this is the ideal is far from universally true, and it's far from true even in the so-called western tradition. family can often be Crone + daughter-in-law + daughter-in-law + daughter-in-law + (auntie)x + (kids)x. Those several adults might (or will almost certainly) provide an even greater variety of role models than two people, usually from the same class background, often with slightly divergent but more or less similar value systems, who tend to kinda look the same too. the crone-daughter-in-laws are usually from the same cultural/class grouping as well, but at least there are more of them. and if you don't know a grandma that's tougher than nails, you don't know true masculinity. the fact that in our heterosexist and sexist society the only diversity valued is the gender one strikes me as extremely narrow-minded and short-sighted.

I think that even within the seemingly narrow western context we already have these families. they are networks of friends who support one another's kids. they are groups of single moms and their mothers who manage to work things out together. they are from different class and ethnic backgrounds than the 'ideal type' usually is. they are urban and rural. they are already happening. they are limited in producing stable families by both societal stricture and law.

the 'norm' is produced by tax law and other legislation that bars more than two, different-gender adults from living in the same house. why not three? why not four? especially with house-prices through the roof in some of our urban areas, wouldn't it be best to encourage group-arrangements that allow everyone to participate in property ownership and the privileges that accord to that in our culture?

when people ask me if I 'have a family' I say yes: my partner, my dog Luke, and my world-scattered friends and blood relatives are my family. it's not the answer they were looking for. marriage might be fine for some people. if you've got a religion that privileges it, for example. but shouldn't we be allowing people to make unions that produce stable families, so that we can all have some sort of foundation for our lives, not just to produce healthy children?


Tarn said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your commentary and have also many of the same opinions. What I would like to question is the why of the ideal? That is, though there is an abundance of non-conservative familial structures in the west, why is the nuclear family still the ideal? Single moms are still faced with the stigma of such roles (and still search for a "good husband/father". Young adults who live in communal settings (i.e. group purchases of homes) are still extricating themselves if/when marriage allows. And my pet peeve, this question still arises constantly: "so, do you plan on having children?" My new answer is going to be -- I already do: I take care of three cats, a dog, a step-daughter in Australia, a 3-yo niece, a sister in Baltimore, AND my partner! Who cares if I didn't give birth to them -- I still love them and feel responsibility toward them.

I recently attended a catholic wedding and all the scripture that was being quoted was all about how the purpose of marriage was to make babies. And that's the only definition of family that a lot of people hold. It's so... BLOODLINE. It's all about property and lineage and individuality-ownership. Communal family goes against all of these issues. Blame it on capital?

Rebecca said...

I wonder if we might find the source of the myth of the nuclear family sometime just after WWII? The impetus to get women having babies again (after they worked in the factories through the war) and get men settling down led to tax reform and to folks valuing the suburban, isolated lifestyle.

But maybe it also has to do with the valuing of wealth, and the housing of that wealth in the single-family home separate from your parents. Multi-generational households are now seen as 'poor households' and so upward mobility dictates one eschews any kind of group living. Autonomy over interdependence. Capital is certainly a huge part of the culprit. As is, sadly, the reputation of the 'free love' movement in the 60s and 70s, which I think led to an elision of certain kinds of living situations into orgaistic spaces. It doesn't have to be that way.

but these are just guesses. and, some of these non-conservative families are, in fact, extremely old school. as in older than the nuclear family institution of marriage old school. that's what always gets me about the 'marriage from time immemorial' argument. it's a recent, geographically limited phenomenon in its guise as man + woman + kids.