Marriage And Family In America Essays

Marriage And Family In America Essays-38
Finally, “family” invites consideration of words such as “marriage,” “wife,” “husband,” “patriarchy,” and “property.” The man of the family acquires and controls property, while his wife ensures the orderly transmission of both estate and blood by producing legitimate heirs.

These processes of inclusion and exclusion have frequently been rearticulated as a tension between “norm” and “deviance.” Family, it turns out, is not a private, but very much a public, affair. Working on topics ranging from gender and slavery to sentimentality and nationhood, they mined the archives—notably John Locke’s (1884/1972)—to trace the evolution of the family from the North American colonial period onward.

In the 1970s and 1980s, feminist historians, anthropologists, and literary critics embarked on the critical process of questioning traditional norms by exposing the bourgeois family as a nineteenth-century invention (Coontz 1988; M. In the earlier periods, domestic home and workplace formed a single economic unit located in the household; whether working on farms or in trades, all of a family’s members—father, mother, and children—contributed to its sustenance.

From a more class-based perspective, the family has been seen as a social structure whose “happiness” (in the Beechers’ words) depends on the labor of servants; in direct contradiction to Williams’s , however, these servants are prohibited from establishing “relations of private intimacy” with their employers’ families (Beecher and Stowe 1869, 326).

The nineteenth-century invention of the bourgeois family has obscured the history of other familial formations. “Family,” here and elsewhere, often functions as a code word intended to stigmatize the deviant, those who are placed beyond the norm by virtue of their race, sexuality, class, or other social identities.

By the early nineteenth century, work became increasingly separated from household as fathers engaged in “out-door” labor, and the domestic work of mothers became privatized.

This division of labor gave rise to the ideology of separate spheres.As inventions, definitions of family serve ideological purposes and often contradict historical reality. In line with Williams but contrary to the Beechers, family is not a “state” but a malleable process; its connotations range from a delimited social practice involving specific persons and spaces to broader notions of feeling and experience and finally to metaphor.For instance, the term has routinely been extended to demarcate national boundaries.In (1914), social reformer Margaret Sanger promoted birth control as a means of relieving poor women burdened with children.But she came to envision it as a tool of eugenics meant to ensure that the “unfit”—poor immigrants and African Americans—would not reproduce.“Family” derives from the Latin , either in the sense of a group of servants or a group of blood-relations and servants living together in one house” (108).By extension, “familiar” connoted feelings of friendship and intimacy born of “the experience of people living together in a household, in close relations with each other and well used to each other’s ways” (109).Fifty years later, ignoring both past and present social history, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1965) issued a report that reduced the African American family to one single structure—the female-headed household—and classified it, in an uncanny echo of Jacobs’s language, as a “tangle of pathology” (29–45).The word “household” returns us to Williams’s concept of .Yet once again this family structure may be seen as deviant in its application to African Americans.In diminishing differences between whites and blacks, black families proved a powerful threat to the norms of white supremacy, premised on the assumption that families were normally white.


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