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Family, how’s yours?

(14 Posts)
queenbathsheba Wed 29-Jun-11 17:23:41

Well not literally!

Is yours a haven and a safe place to escape a hostile world or is it an instrument of control that imprisons it's adults and harms it's children?
(Andre Gide 1897)

I don't mean yours or mine, just in general, although some families may really be toxic institutions to which you wish you had never had membership.

The word family comes from the word famel, used by an ancient people (the Oscans, who ever they are!) for slaves. In Roman times the word Familia was used, meaning a group of slaves. It was written in the middle ages that "15 slaves make a family"

I have often pondered the question, are families bad for women? If so in what way are women harmed as well as and apart from the most obvious? By their very nature and structure can they ever offer freedom or is it just a continual round of meeting needs, usually someone elses?

alexpolismum Wed 29-Jun-11 19:53:42

hmm, interesting question. I think that in the family unit of parents and children women are most often worst off. But a lot of families aren't like that. There are extended families all living together, single parent families (women often suffer here too, as they can be left to pick up the pieces and struggle financially).

alexpolismum Wed 29-Jun-11 19:59:18

Thinking about it again, in extended families the structure can be harmful to women too. They might feel that they have "help" with the chores, but it's still generally the case that household chores are seen as being women's work. Younger women may be kept in their places by older MILs or their mothers who make it clear that they are in charge. The MIL tends to have the dh's ear, and very often in cultures where this set up is the norm women tend to have little recourse to divorce and few chances of escape.

I don't know if it is family as such that is to blame or this compartmentalising of society into small groups. Perhaps if we lived as larger communities it might be better for women.

alexpolismum Wed 29-Jun-11 20:01:51

Me again!

My favourite example of how a family can work differently is the Mosuo people in China

Much better for women there!

Firkytoodle Wed 29-Jun-11 21:18:32

The Mosuo culture is fascinating, definitely something I'd like to know more about.

I think in a patriarchal society in general families are bad for women unless they are extremely lucky. There are so many societal expectations and norms based around the family it is very hard to escape from them. If society was more equal in terms of its expectations towards both genders I think the family would be a greater source of freedom and support.

(Incidentally familia in Ancient Rome means all that was under the power of the pater familias or 'father of the family' e.g children, property, slaves, freedmen etc. This didnt necessarily include the wife-it depended on the type of marriage that had taken place as to whether she was classed as under her father or husband's familia)

queenbathsheba Wed 29-Jun-11 21:32:11

I'm thinking that the small nuclear family is a fairly modern construct which has had implications for women. Where we tend to have few support networks and little help.

On the other hand where extended families are the norm in some cultures the older women seem to act as "agents" to the men within the family. So that younger women are both dominated by men and have to learn the rules and meet the expectations of older women.

I'm thinking too about the barbaric practices in some countries of female genital mutilation, that practice seems to be kept alive by the beliefs of the older women in those cultures.

GunsAndRoses Wed 16-Jan-13 11:44:33

Interesting thread!

Kiwiinkits Tue 22-Jan-13 00:00:42

As an economist, I see family as a vehicle for sharing labour, according to specialization. Family is just a way to organise the task of growing children and feeding adults in such a way that everyone's needs are met. I don't necessarily think women are consistently worse off in a family unit - if that were the case then if women were rational they wouldn't agree to be part of a family. Instead, the reality seems to be that women all around the world seek out marriage and family life. Why? Must be something in it. Marriage and family is hard for men too: plenty of men find that the expectations that fall on them when they become husbands and fathers are overwhelming. Family life is hard. That's why a lot of men and women opt out after giving it a try. Most don't, though, most stay in families.
The reality of family life is different when the power dynamics change. In the modern, western world women increasingly have skills and wherewithal to bring earnings into the family unit. This means that the mode of sharing labour is changing: increasingly the task of raising children and feeding adults is being sub-contracted to "specialists": childcare centres, food outlets, tutors. Again, if these things weren't deemed useful ways to organise one's life you wouldn't see the trend.

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 22-Jan-13 00:07:48

Interesting question.

I think that the nuclearisation (is that a word?!) of the family that coincides with the industrial revolution, is not great for women. I've heard that female networks of support can be really important in terms of outcomes for women with PND, or who're grieving. It seems true to me from what I've seen. I think that focussing on the kind of family where a woman is isolated from other women is a problem. IMO it goes together with the minimizing of women-only spaces and the dismissal of women's social networks as 'gossip' or 'bitching'. Or with the way people see things like baby showers as purely money-grabbing, and not an opportunity for women in a community to support each other.

That said, my birth family was a bit of a mess and DH is my family now, and he's great. He has his faults, but he's great. I do feel very glad I get to construct a new family, and move away from the old one!

Kiwiinkits Tue 22-Jan-13 03:03:01

so-called nuclear families probably coincided with the industrial revolution because due to mechanisation fewer units of labour were needed to do the tasks for mere subsistence: gathering water, farming, washing, hunting, cooking bread/gruel etc. That meant that the tasks of growing children and feeding adults could be done by the women that were closest to the children and men instead of divvied up amongst the wider community. Again, this is specialisation of labour: the person best able to do the task generally ends up doing it.
Don't blame the industrial revolution for women's position in society: it's due to the fact we have ovens, washing machines and vacuum cleaners that these tasks became less draining on female labour, spurring (you guessed it), the feminist revolution.

Kiwiinkits Tue 22-Jan-13 03:07:11

One of the great things about the nuclear family is that fabulous, supportive husbands like LRD's and like mine are being made. The role of supporting is falling on wonderful men instead of wide networks of women. Not sure if that's a bad thing? Men are great supporters, generally. Some aren't, but hey, don't breed with those ones.

Kiwiinkits Tue 22-Jan-13 03:08:46

(I'd much rather share the housework with DH than with my MIL and a few other wives... which is the alternative in countries that haven't got the nuclear family model).

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Tue 22-Jan-13 10:02:30

Marking place to read later.

AbigailAdams Tue 22-Jan-13 10:48:27

"I think that focussing on the kind of family where a woman is isolated from other women is a problem. IMO it goes together with the minimizing of women-only spaces and the dismissal of women's social networks as 'gossip' or 'bitching'." << This

I think considering different options for "family" is the way to go to gain liberation. And that would include extended family, friends etc. Certainly more woman-centric to avoid the issues mentioned above.

However, apparently that wouldn't be as easy as you might think as there are, in fact, laws in place to stop women living together (not necessarily in the UK). Because obviously women living together only ever means they will be providing sex for men Sigh

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