Why Are Families Under Attack?
by John Spritzler
The cover of the March 1997 Fortune magazine asks, "Is Your Family Wrecking Your Career?" Inside is an article headed "Oh, Quit Whining and Get Back to Work! It's heresy to say so, but let's say it anyway: Sometimes your job is more important than your kid's Kodak moment." The article describes the demands that top-ranked corporations place on working couples trying to raise children and make time for their families. The culture of the most successful corporations, according to the article, is one in which devotion to the company comes first, before family. The message to Fortune's CEO readers seems to be that successful corporations must be anti-family.
The anti-family culture reflected in this pro-business magazine is something that millions of people must buck everyday as they work to make their families healthy and keep them intact. In spite of politicians' talk about "family values," the pressures on working families have grown more intense in the last decade in many different ways.
Capitalists would have us believe that the pressures on families result from economic necessity. This is not true. From 1947 to 2000 the productivity of American workers has almost quadrupled. (http://www.bls.gov/opub/rtaw/pdf/table24.pdf). We could produce more now than we did then if our families sent only one parent to work for twenty hours a week or each parent to work for ten hours. The "Leisure Society" that was foreseen in the '60s is just as feasible economically as the massive "downsizing" and overtime work that capitalists prefer. The necessity driving the attacks on the family is not economic but political. It results from capital's need to control working people by attacking the most fundamental bonds of solidarity among human beings.
Why is Capitalism Hostile to Families?
Families are a social institution within which the values of selfishness and competition--the bedrock values of capitalism--are not viewed as appropriate. In healthy families, the important things like emotional support, shelter, medical care and food, are shared according to need: not sold, but given freely. People work hard in families, not for pay but out of love and solidarity. The self-serving values and behavior that are viewed as normal when engaged in by corporations, if practiced inside a family are seen as sick. Corporations are built on greed and competition: buy low and sell dear, move the factory to where labor is cheaper, bring in scabs to break strikes, pit people against each other, sell tobacco to kids. To capitalists, anything is OK as long as it makes money. The corporate leaders who engage in the most vicious practices are frequently rewarded with the highest salaries. Healthy families are a challenge to capitalism. The countless things we do as family members, caring and providing for one another, making family events from an evening meal to a large family reunion, helping each other in an emergency, giving advice and hugs, listening sympathetically, enjoying each others' company, and even squabbling and arguing to resolve conflicts or giving valuable negative feedback - all these things we do everyday in our families have a significance which often goes unnoticed. They are efforts to make our little corner of the world the opposite of the world of buying and selling. Capital's hostility to families is part of a broader hostility to the values of working people generally. Working class culture values solidarity and equality over selfishness and greed. It's a culture that says you shouldn't cross a picket line and if you do you're a scab. Working class struggles have always drawn much of their strength from family ties. Working class family values are an active force against capitalist power. The great sit-down strikes of the '30s, the valiant struggles of Hormel meatpackers and Staley workers and Detroit newspaper strikers in the 80's and 90's, and the strikes by janitors and grocery store workers in more recent times, have all depended on family ties and values of solidarity and equality forged in the families of working people.
How Capitalism Attacks Families
One key form of capitalist attack on the family lies in a process called "commodification," in which capital seeks to undermine the natural forms of human interaction in all spheres of life and replace them with commercial relations. In particular, capital strives to turn loving family relations into mere "commodities"- services bought and sold in the marketplace. By reducing important aspects of our humanity to commodities, capital creates an image of human "freedom" in which people are "freed" of all social commitments and all social norms and morality. The ruling elite hope in this way to undermine bonds of solidarity and reduce people to solitary individuals, isolated and powerless. The owning class is trying to do more thoroughly to the family what it has long done to people at work. Corporate owners don't want labor to be a social activity that people engage in collectively for shared goals--a process which makes people very conscious of their power--but rather a commodity the owners can purchase by the hour. By purchasing our labor, capital seeks to take control of the labor process and product out of our hands. Capital tries to chop working people up into pieces of "usefulness"--our ability to turn a screw or punch a number or fry a hamburger--so that we ourselves can be treated like commodities: cheap and easy to replace. In recent years the impact of this process on specifically family-related aspects of our lives has been accelerating.
Corporations used to hire only men for jobs that paid enough to support a family. This demeaned women and undermined family solidarity by making it impossible for husbands and wives meaningfully to share outside work, child-raising, and housework. But capital's "reform" of the unequal roles of men and women in the family is a further attack. In the last 30 years, capital has outsourced or automated millions of "family wage" industrial jobs and cut the pay of others, thereby forcing working class wives into the labor market to compete for the remaining low-paid jobs, all in the name of "freedom for women." Now families are stressed even more, since both parents typically have to work at least one job, and sometimes two or three, leaving little time to devote to children or relaxation, to community service, or to anything else. Additionally, capital is attacking mothers by trying to commodify everything about them that makes them valuable members of a family.
Capital is challenging the simple truth that a child's relation with his or her biological father is valuable. The image of fathers has come under increasing attack, as more TV sit-coms feature fathers as incompetents ("The Simpsons" and "King of Queens" are current examples) and movie plots involve abusive fathers (The Breakfast Club, Affliction, and Daredevil to name only a few.) Many courageous women have long been forced by circumstances to raise their children alone. Now, however, as celebrities like Camryn Manheim (Ellenor of TV's hit lawyer show, "The Practice") choose to have and raise babies without a father (both in real life and as her fictional character, in the case of Manheim), Hollywood sends the message, "Who needs a father?" Academics deride fatherhood in books like Feminism, Children, and The New Families, in which Susan E. Krantz dismisses the notion that "two parents are necessary for the well-being of a child" and argues that "the role of the father is overemphasized." Academic "experts" are trying to split off Dad's "male presence" from the rest of him and make it just another commodity. Writing in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, Alan J. Hawkins and David J. Eggenbeen state, "Men may be important to children's healthy development, but biological fathers can readily be replaced by other adult men." (Cited in David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America, p. 80) Stepfathers may be nice people, but the claim that children have no need for a close relation with their biological father cannot bear the weight of common sense or scientific scrutiny.(For example, a study of 17,000 British children born in 1958 showed that children in step-families "experienced far worse outcomes than did children who grew up with their two biological parents." Blankenhorn, p. 191). The "any male will do" notion is ideologically driven by capital's desire to commodify men. This commodification of men is quite apparent in states like Massachusetts, where the "progressive" agenda is well advanced, and divorce courts aggressively separate fathers from their children. (The author has personal experience with Massachusetts' family courts.) Courts routinely restrain fathers from seeing their children, sometimes for years, without due process, evidentiary hearings, or the rules of evidence that are accorded accused criminals. The courts' attitude is that a father's only important relationship to his children is financial, so there's no real loss if a loving father is barred from seeing his children.
Splitting Up Mom and Dad
Liberal politicians and advocacy organizations have increased the rate of divorce in the United States enormously by enacting policies based on the premise that fatherhood is not important. The result has been a host of social, psychological and economic problems suffered by children and caused by their fatherlessness. [http://www.childrensjustice.org/fatherlessness1.htm] A major cause of the increased divorce rate has been the introduction of "no-fault" divorce coupled with the policy of family courts of awarding the mother solely, instead of both parents jointly, exclusive physical custody of the children (unless the mother is grossly unfit) and requiring the father to pay child support sufficient for the mother and children to maintain their former standard of living, even though it impoverishes him (courts often garnish the man's paycheck directly.) Once rare, divorce is now common and two thirds of divorces in the U.S. are initiated by women. [http://health.discovery.com/centers/loverelationships/articles/divorce.html ] The state has essentially told women, "Feel free to leave your husband whenever you feel like it, no matter how trivial the reason, because the state will make sure you keep your children and your husband's income." The result is that in millions of broken families the state has moved in to assume the role of head of the family and "parent" to both the mother and father. All concerned--the mother, the children and the father--have become more directly controlled by and, in the case of the mother and children, more dependent upon the state, and therefore less able to stand up against the capitalist class. It would be difficult to imagine a policy better suited to covertly undermine marriages and families.
The liberal attack on marriages would not be able to succeed, however, were it not for the helpful role of the right-wing "pro-family" and pro-capitalist religious leaders and their ilk. Together these groups play a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" routine that makes people feel hopeless about improving the situation. The right-wing religious leaders point to the evils of the liberal agenda on families but they insist that the only alternative is a patriarchal society where women must submit to men. Some women and some men may support this view but most men and women want relationships based on equality. But no mainstream leadership articulates what most people want in this regard. Although it is economically perfectly feasible, what leader today calls for all wages to be raised enough, and corporate practices to be changed, so that a mother and father can each work a half-time job (or only one parent work outside the home full time, if they prefer) and raise their children comfortably on the income? With no opposition except from the right wing, which calls for a patriarchal nightmare for women, the elite get a free pass to carry out their liberal attack on our families.
Making Childhood "Lean and Mean"
In healthy families, parents love and protect their children as special people. They value them for themselves, not as a means to an end. Capitalism, in contrast, uses children as little workers and consumers, and tries to replace relations of love with marketplace transactions. Corporations flood Saturday morning TV with shows designed to manipulate children to measure their parents' love by the toys and "Happy Meals" they buy. For capitalism, parental love is a cash transaction that passes through the Toys 'R Us cash register. Millions of children overseas work in factories preparing goods for the U.S. market. In the U.S., children are increasingly told that childhood is a time to prepare themselves to meet the needs of corporations. Corporate leaders call for increased standardized testing in public schools, so that we can "better compete with Germany and Japan." Capital insists that children be graded from "A" through "F" - to teach them to compete against each other, and to sort them like cuts of beef so that corporations in the market for labor will know what "grade" of employee they're hiring. Corporate "education reformers" view our children not as people who should receive a well-rounded education, but rather as commodities to be sorted, graded, and prepared for sale to corporations.
Homosexual Families and the New World Order
In recent years the capitalist class has aggressively promoted the idea that homosexuality is as good and natural and moral a basis for a family as heterosexuality, and that anyone who disagrees with this view is a bigoted "homophobe." Television promotes homosexual families with lesbian characters like Carol and Susan on "Friends," Melanie and Lindsay on "Queer as Folk," and the characters on Showtime's lesbian series "The L Word." Judges in Massachusetts have legalized homosexual marriage. While they attack traditional families, corporations increasingly treat homosexual couples as if they were married. The Massachusetts Department of Education encourages students to form "Gay-Straight Alliances" [http://www.doe.mass.edu/hssss/GSA/Intro.html] to eliminate any stigma associated with homosexuality, despite the fact that the current Republican governor, Mitt Romney, purports to be a solid "conservative" on the issue.
Marriage and sexuality are not just about procreation, and to the extent that children are not involved there would be no reason for legislation to meddle in these private affairs between individuals. But since marriage and sexuality do often lead to procreation, society has a responsibility to decide what to promote and what to discourage in this otherwise private sphere of life. The concerns that people have about laws regarding marriage and society's attitude towards homosexuality are largely related to the impact of these things on children. Most people believe that the best thing for children is to be raised by their real mother and father in a strong and loving family. An important reason people disapprove of homosexuality is because it is impossible for a gay couple to make this kind of family. This is why parents don't want the schools teaching their children that it makes no difference if they marry someone of the same sex or the opposite sex. Most people rightly believe in tolerance when it comes to civil rights for homosexuals, but they don't believe that society should endorse the idea that a homosexual relationship is just as good or healthy a basis for a family as a heterosexual one.
Capital attacks people for feeling this way, and calls them bigots, because it likes the direction in which homosexuality moves society. In capital's ideal world where everyone is an isolated individual, sexuality is not a social relationship connecting parents with children, but just a way people use each other, and children are just something you buy. If two men want a child, then they can rent a womb and buy an egg from a surrogate mother. Why not? It's just a business transaction the way all human relationships ought to be. Or if two women want a baby, just buy some sperm. Why not? Fatherhood is just a commodity like toothpaste or clothing. A professor of law testifying before Congress described sperm donors as "providers of gametes," and offered the legal opinion that "A consumer's right 'to make contracts with providers of gametes' cannot be prohibited or limited except to assure that such contracts 'are knowingly and freely entered into.'" (Blankenhorn, p. 179) This is the capitalist idea of Paradise, in which people are no more than their constituent parts: a womb, a source of sperm, a "male presence," a child support check, a "day care provider." No longer will children's mothers and fathers be unique and beyond price.
How Can We Defend Our Families?
The media are full of very sophisticated anti-family messages, which can come from both the right and the left. Liberals denigrate the value of families in which children are raised by their real mother and father, and they sometimes suggest that such families are often patriarchies with abusive fathers. Conservatives often call for "family values" in which women are subordinate to men and inequality prevails. Neither liberal nor conservative views reflect true family values of equality and commitment to each other. There are immediate steps we can take to defend families. One step is to reject anti-family propaganda for what it is. Another is to recognize the attack families are under and to see that it is part of capital's attempt to control ordinary people. Fully to defeat the attack on our families, and to create a truly pro-family society, we need to build a revolutionary movement that challenges capitalism, its values, and its right to rule society. The revolution we need is one which aims to extend to all of society the kind of relationships we work so hard to build within our families.
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