Title: Family Values or Fantasy Values? Credit: Craig Young Comment Friday 28th November 2003 - 12:00pm1069974000 Article: 129 Rights
Wellington researcher Craig Young looks back to times when father ruled the roost and everyone else suffered. Is the Christian Right's notion of a male-dominated heterosexual nuclear family a permanent fixture of Western history? Not according to one prominent British family historian, it isn't. Lawrence Stone wrote a history of British marriage and families over three centuries twenty five years ago, but his observations are at odds with the conservative "think-tank" Maxim Institute's fantasies about marriage and nuclear families. According to Stone, nuclear families evolved in the eighteenth century. Before that happened, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was absolutely right - it DID "take a village to raise a family." The open lineage family structure wasn't a very happy one, either. Women were subjected to multiple pregnancies and died early from childbirth, and domestic violence was commonplace. One thinks of the seventeenth century indictment of male familial tyranny in the anonymous "A Yorkshire Tragedy" and a violent father's murder of his two toddler sons (c1612). Given this petty tyranny, any surviving children left the household early, due to apprenticeship, and wider kinship bonds and neighbourhoods played a stronger role in child socialisation. However, this model of the heterosexual family is obviously at odds with the romanticised and ahistorical view of the past promulgated from the perspective of the Maxim Institute. Moreover, romantic love and companionship replaced enforced arranged marriages and kinship alliances in the seventeenth century, and as it did so, middle-class nuclear families came to wall themselves off from the rest of the world. Therefore, heterosexual nuclear families contributed to the decline of wider social networks or civil society, not the growth of such networks as the Maxim Institute misrepresents. Given the changes in family type, formation and composition over the centuries, it should come as no surprise that the twentieth century saw a series of further transformations. Working class families were stabilised through provision of better housing, sanitation, government welfare and public health services as the welfare states of the last seventy years coalesced during the thirties. In the sixties, new feminist movements campaigned for an end to tolerance of domestic violence, spousal rape and child sexual abuse, while widespread improved contraception meant heterosexuals could plan their families more effectively. After the seventies, conservative governments attacked the welfare state and heterosexuals had to make more pragmatic judgements about family formation and child rearing, while child rearing became unmoored from necessary marital or de facto heterosexual family contexts. Solo motherhood and same-sex-led families entered public policy calculations as a result. The Christian Right is in two minds about solo mums - they shouldn't be outside nuclear families, but they didn't have abortions, which leads to confusion about what an appropriate policy should be. Happily, they haven't been able to stop steady pluralist developments in family policy within Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand over the last decade or so. We have won access to assisted reproductive technologies, fostering and are about to acquire guardianship rights and responsibilities under the Care of Children Bill. Family values? No, the Christian Right voices fantasy values about happy families and social participation that never really existed. Family historians contradict their ideology-driven distortion of the past, however. Source: Lawrence Stone: Family, Sex and Marriage in England: 1500-1800: London: Weidenfield and Nicolson: 1977 Craig Young - 28th November 2003    
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