The Patriarchal Family

For the purposes of this blog entry I will define family as a heterosexual couple inhabiting the same abode with one or more children. This definition in no way invalidates the different forms of families that are in existence today. The family is important to study because it is the first site of socialization. It is where we first learn about patriarchal authoritarian power. Just as power relations in the public sector are male run similarly the family is male run. The hierarchal nature of marriage necessarily means that his needs, desires and whims are first to be catered to resulting in a high level of satisfaction with the relationship. (Bernard 1982) The subservience of the female partner equates to a higher quality of life for men, better mental health and professional opportunities. (Steil 1997)

This is evidenced from the very beginning of the family. Consider the wedding ceremony. Even though today the woman no longer promises to obey the symbolism that is part of a wedding ceremony is necessarily linked to male dominance and female submission. The man gives a woman an engagement ring, which historically represents his ability to support a family. Today we know that most nuclear families are dependent on dual incomes and yet this practice still exists. The woman wears a white wedding dress to symbolize her purity. The genesis of female virginity stems from the desire to ascertain the paternity of any children she may produce. The father or male head of the family gives the bride away, thus transferring ownership of the bride from the father to the husband. Finally she (the bride) relinquishes her identity and takes the last name of her new husband. Some would argue that the aforementioned aspects of the wedding ceremony are meaningless. If they are meaningless then why do continue to perform them? The answer is that it institutionalizes male power. As a society we have normalized female submission.

The maintenance of power structure within the family comes at a cost to women. According to Stats Can (2003c:17) 21% of women devote more that 30 hours per week compared to 8% for men on unpaid labour; 16% of women devoted 30 hours or more on childcare in a week compared with 15% of men; and 20% of women compared with 15% of men reported taking care of a senior generally for less than 10 hours per week. It is clear that there is an unequal division of labour. Not only do individual men profit but society as whole profits from the nature of women’s work. As western economies continue to privatize the burdens of women will continue to increase. It is quite evident that a reduction in services will increase the “double day” that women already perform. Women must juggle to try and balance labour between the private and public sphere. Yet the economy is dependent on the free labour of women (Waring) Consider that women’s work in the maintenance of the family is not counted in the GDP and or GNP of any nation and yet if it were not “freely” performed the cost would have to be covered by the ruling capitalist class. Discounting the value of this labour helps to insure that women are not able to assume positions of power. The work that counts is the work that produces a product that may be sold on the market for a profit. According to Levi Strauss “exchange itself is not constitutive of the subordination of women; women are not subordinate because of the fact of exchange, but because of the modes of exchange instituted, and the values attached to these modes.

It is under these conditions that women must try and raise their children. The rate of reproduction in the industrialized west is declining. Women are no longer bearing 2.1 children. As services that were previously provided by the state or extended families in a communal setting are increasingly “downloaded” to nuclear families women are choosing to reduce their burdens by having less children. The cost or raising a child from infancy to adulthood is prohibitive and yet no national daycare plan exists in Canada. The 100 dollars of taxable income offered by the state does not even cover the cost of one week of daycare. When women “opt” to stay home rather than seeing their income devoured by the cost of daycare they are penalized in the employment sphere. They experience a loss of marketability and are often unable to re-enter equivalent to the level at which they were when they left. Leaving the public sphere to attend to the needs of the family further affects their retirement benefits and leaves them wholly dependent on male financial support. These are sacrifices by enlarged assumed by women. Though there are instances of stay at home dads, by enlarged this role falls to women. Housework is tedious and when women are forced into the position of being a stay at home mother and or caregiver there is never a separation from work and pleasure. From the moment they arise in the morning all of their energies will be devoted to the work that they perform. There is an unspoken need to justify this work as labour in relation to the mans as it does not produce a visible profit. The male breadwinner model ensures that he will have more power in the relationship, as he that earns necessarily assumes the privilege of deciding how they families income is spent.Thus while there are certain intrinsic rewards to the modern nuclear family it is clear that it is fettered with female oppression. Equality that has been proclaimed is not lived.

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