Going Towards a Postpatriarchal Family

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Going Towards a Postpatriarchal Family

Ours is a time of dramatic and confusing transformations in everyday life, many of them originating in the social enfranchisement of women that has occurred over the past twenty-five years. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild demonstrates a widespread phenomenon of work-family imbalance in our society, experienced by people in terms of a time bind, and a devaluation of familial relationships. As large numbers of women have moved into the workplace, familial relations of all sorts have been colonized by what Virginia Held critically refers to as the contractual paradigm. Even the mother/child relationship, representing for Held an alternative feminist paradigm of selfhood and agency, has been in large part "outsourced." I believe that an Arendtian conception of speech and action might enable us to assert anew the grounds for familial relations. If we require a new site upon which to address our human plurality and natality, the postpatriarchal family may provide that new site upon which individuals can freely act to recreate the fabric of human relationships. It would seem to be our moral and political responsibility as social philosophers today to speculatively contribute to the difficult yet imperative task of reconfiguring the family. In this paper, I attempt to articulate the basic assumptions from which such a reconfiguration must begin.

I. Some Ironies of Our Current Moment

While motherhood represented women's primary opportunity for achievement and respect within previous societies, second-wave feminism critically explored the lived reality of women as mothers within our middle-class American society. Betty Friedan's influential The Feminine Mystique, published in 1965, indicted the deadly boredom of the suburban home, while later works such as Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born, articulated with devastating incisiveness the oppressive qualities of the contemporary institution of motherhood. According to Rich, the intense joys of mothering children were embedded in a patriarchal structure that created agonizing conflicts for any woman who saw herself as more than merely a nurturer of her spouse and children. As feminists, we believed that the institutions of family and motherhood would change quite radically as women entered the workplace.

And they have. Our lives have been dramatically transformed over the last twenty-five years, through a process I refer to as "the social enfranchisement of women." (1) As large numbers of women have entered the public workforce and contraception has become widely available, women have come to be seen as possessing the same economic and political rights and responsibilities as men.

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