IN THE CONTEXT of present-day concerns with the family, the critical theory of the family must contribute to answering the following questions. When did the modern family emerge and what is its historical significance? What family structures predominated in society before the modern family? In my response to each question, the issue at hand is the psychological pattern of the family. In order to evaluate the modern family, which is praised for the emotional solace it promises, social scientists must examine its original psychological pattern, is well as changes in this pattern up to the present. One can then raise the question of the desirability of the modern family. In order to indicate how the critical theory of the family can contribute to illuminating these questions, the critical theory will be used to generate four models of family structure. The four models are the bourgeois family in the mid-nineteenth century, the aristocratic family of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the peasant family of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the working-class family of the early industr-
167 Models of Family Structure
ial revolution. These models have been selected because they contribute best toward comprehending the situation of the family today. The four models are also presented here because they illustrate the use to which the critical theory of the family can be put. Other models could just as well be developed, based, for example, on ethnic differences. But these would not serve as well in illuminating the fundamental issues of the fate of the family today.
The data used to outline the four models comes primarily from the history of the European family. Data could be drawn from other sources, like American history, Chinese history, anthropology and so forth. My knowledge of European history is the limiting factor here. Family history, in any case, is a relatively new field of empirical study, and the body of data for Europe is still small. Generalizations offered about the four models must necessarily be taken as most tentative. The four models are offered heuristically, to provide a concrete guide for further research. This chapter is presented in a spirit of intellectual conjecture: If the four models are accurate, what can be said about the fate of the contemporary family?
The argument of the chapter presupposes that the modern family arose among the bourgeoisie in Europe around 1750, later in some places, earlier in others. The bourgeoisie developed a family form in sharp contrast to that of the aristocracy and the peasantry, indeed, in sharp contrast to what this group itself experienced before the eighteenth century. During the early stages of the industrial revolution the working class had a unique family structure which, in the course of the next two centuries, became more and more like that of the bourgeoisie. During the same time period, much of the old bourgeoisie lost its control of property, becoming skilled salaried labor and hence resembling the working class. Thus, in the present conjuncture, the family presents a blend of historical elements. This encapsulated history of the European family suggests why the four models are necessary for understanding the modern family.
The bourgeois (nuclear) family affords, thanks to Freud, the clearest picture of an
168 Critical Theory of the Family
emotional structure. Emerging as the dominant family structure in twentieth-century, advanced capitalist society, the bourgeois family also raises the most pressing historical questions. In the literature of family history the bourgeois family is frequently taken as the norm for all other family structures. One of the chief goals of my model will be to avoid this faulty practice.
The bourgeois family by definition is located in urban areas. From the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance until the mid-eighteenth century (for France, but a little earlier for England and later for central Europe), it is not essentially different from contemporaneous family forms. Evidence for a history of the emergence of the bourgeois family is thin. It is known that from I750 to the present the bourgeois family's demographic pattern moved progressively toward a pattern of low fertility, low mortality. Family planning on a large scale first began in this group. In everyday life, relations among the members of the bourgeois family took on a distinct pattern of emotional intensity and privacy. Marriage entailed a conflict for this group between the needs of parents, not so much to uphold traditional customs or lineage but to preserve their capital accumulation and the value of individual choice. Selection of partners over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries more and more became the choice of the young themselves, but only as the bourgeoisie was progressively proletarianized into white-collar jobs based on salaried labor.
Sexuality among this class, until recent changes, is one of the more
astonishing features of modern history. Like no other class before,
the bourgeoisie made a systematic effort to delay gratification.
This led to sexual incapacities for both men and women. Freud called
this the "high watermark" of sexual repression. Among the bourgeoisie,
women were viewed as asexual beings, as angelic creatures beyond animal
lust. When internalized, this image of women led to profound emotional
conflicts. In 1850 the Westminister Review recommended an ideal
of asexuality for women; they should, it said, go through life without
ever being aware of "the promptings of the senses." For men of this
class, sex was divorced from feelings of ten-
senses." For men of this class, sex was divorced from feelings of tenderness and perforated as a conquest of lower-class women. Prostitution was required by bourgeois males, as Keith Thomas has shown, because the "double standard," which originated with this class, made sexual fulfillment impossible for both spouses. Literary evidence points consistently to the view that sex was the model of impulsive, incautious action to the Victorian businessman. A gospel of thrift was applied to semen as well as to money. The act of sex, with its connotations of lust, rapture and uncontrolled passion, was the epitome of unbusinesslike behavior. The bourgeoisie defined itself morally against the promiscuous proletariat and the sensual nobility as the class with virtuous self-denial. Bourgeois respectability led to a most unique separation of marriage and love on the one hand, from sexuality on the other.
Bourgeois marriage bound the couple forever. Social and financial interests tended to predominate in these alliances, especially in the earl part of the period, as the soundest reason for marriage. Almost from the beginning, however, bourgeois youth was impelled by a drive of romantic love. The couple was smitten from the first moment of meeting with deep feelings of attachment. As the nineteenth century wore on, romantic love became the purest reason for marriage. The strange thing about the sentimental pattern of the middle class is that romantic love rarely outlasted the first few years, or even months, of the union. "Happily ever after" meant living together not with intense passion but with restrained respectability.
Relations within the bourgeois family were regulated by strict sex-role
divisions. The husband was the dominant authority over the family
and he provided for the family by work in the factory or market.
The wife, considered less rational and less capable, concerned herself
exclusively with the home, which she cleaned and decorated, sometimes with
the aid of servants, to suit the social status of the husband. The
husband was considered an autonomous being, a free citizen, upon whom the
was dependent. Bourgeois women were relative, creatures whose sense of self was derived from their husbands' place in the world. The major interest of the wife for a good part of the marriage concerned the children: she was to raise them with the utmost attention, a degree of care new in family history. Children were re-evaluated by the bourgeoisie becoming important beings for the parents. A new degree of intimacy and emotional depth characterized the relations between parents and children of this class. A novel form of maternal love was thought natural to women. Women were not simply to tend to the survival of their children, but to train them for a respectable place in society. More than that, they were encouraged to create a bond between themselves and the children so deep that the child's inner life could be shaped to moral perfection. Thus for a large part of their lives bourgeois women were confined to the home as never before; they were to nurture their children, maintain the home, and cater to their husbands, leaving aside the great transformations of politics and economics going on around them.
Internal relations of the bourgeois family were regarded as beyond the
province of society. The family was a private micro-world, a sanctum
into whose hallowed chambers no outsider had a right of entry. The
privacy of the bourgeois family, however, depended on the capitalist economy
in two important ways. In quest for profit, the bourgeois needed
to devote his entire attention to economic affairs. The early modern
household, where family and economy were fused in one location was inadequate
in this situation. Men had to leave their homes and establish separate,
functionally differentiated places of business. Aries describes how
this process took place even among professional men like lawyers, and not
only among merchants and craftsmen. The home was no longer a place
of production, but one of leisure, of time outside the work world.
Second, activity in the market was carried out "at arm's length," on the
basis of written contracts, as if total anonymity existed. Men treated
others as things, each calculating his own self-interest. The hostile
tone of competitive
capitalism defined the family as a negative opposite, as a place of close, warm, emotive relations. The shop was now a place of reason and action and the home a place of feeling, with a segmented personality required to go from one to the other.
As it eschewed the productive function, the bourgeois home also divorced itself from external authority. Within the family's clearly defined boundaries, authority over the relations of parents and children was now limited to the parents alone. Bourgeois children of pre-school age would often encounter no other children and few adults besides their parents. The power of parents over children rose considerably as other authority figures in the community lost the ability to intervene in family relations. What happened in the family was no one else's concern. From 1830 onward the liberal state began to formulate policy on family matters, but generally it intervened only in the affairs of proletarian families; no one monitored the treatment of bourgeois children. Similarly, no youth groups were available to chastise the adults if any aspect of family life went astray. Norms for family relations no longer were set in the context of community traditions. The emergence of books and journals devoted to defining family relations was an index of the collapse of traditional norms.
The rise of private authority within the family is usually applauded by liberal writers as a contribution to the emancipation of the individual from social constraint. While the liberating aspect of the bourgeois family cannot be ignored, one must also assess its limitations, especially as they affected women (who thereby lost the support of the community in relations with their husbands, since women's networks no longer operated) and children. The cozy domestic nest of the bourgeois family forms in addition the structure without which one cannot analyze the emotional configuration of the modern psyche. It provides just that social context absent in Freud's thought.
With new forms of love and authority, the bourgeois family generated
a new emotional structure. Child-rearing methods of this family were
sharply different from those of the earlier aristocracy and peasantry.
During the oral stage the mother was
172 Critical Theory of the Family
deeply involved with the child, probably breast-feeding it herself. She was deeply committed to giving her infant all the tenderness and attention she could muster. Swaddling was now out of the question, and constant attention, regular feeding and meticulous cleaning were the rule. In the oral stage, the child was immersed in a heaven of sensual and emotional gratification as compared with anything that went before. Yet along with these beneficent practices came new sources of anxiety and tension. Increasingly isolated and without support from a community of women, bourgeois women were burdened by considerable pressures. Whatever befell the infant was considered the fault of the mother. God's will and blind fate could no longer be held responsible for any inadvertence, either physical or moral. In this context, the interactions between mother and infant were found to be fraught with anxiety.
During the anal phase the same constant attention continued accompanied by a sharp element of denial, like rigid schedules during the oral stage. Along with higher levels of cleanliness in bourgeois apartments went a new dread of human wastes. The child was compelled to exchange anal gratification for maternal love, denying radically the pleasure of the body in favor of sublime forms of parental affection. Some indication of the severity of bourgeois toilet-training practices is provided by Friedrich Scholz, writing in 1891:
Toilet training should be carried out in such a way that the child cannot bear to have any dirt on his body or dress or in his surroundings for even the briefest time. It should be instilled in his unconscious that dirt is improper and that the lack of it is the most natural and most desirable condition. The child's physical sensibility show be heightened so that dirt on or about him causes discomfort.Reasons of health were no doubt prominent in the minds of bourgeois parents and medical advisers, with good reason. Yet the emotional burden on the child of severe bodily denial was present as well. Furthermore, toilet training was begun at a very
early age before the child could control its sphincters. Strapping the child to the potty was not uncommon. The child was asked to master ruthlessly its own body and to regard its body as a container and producer of filth. Bourgeois parents in the Victorian era treated their children with empathy, as de Mause contends; equally one could characterize this treatment as persecutory.
Freud considered emotional ambivalence, so crucial for the whole of psychic development, as resting on the foundation of opposing cosmic forces, eros and thanatos. Whatever value this mythology might have in other respects, for family history it serves only to obscure what is happening. Far from depending on cosmic forces, ambivalence must be seen as a direct creation of the bourgeois family structure. Ambivalence is the central emotional context of the bourgeois child. Physical punishment for signs of autonomy by the child were absent, or tended to diminish; indeed, autonomy was encouraged and not seen as a threat b bourgeois parents. But in the context of the mother's ever watchful and deeply concerned eye the child had to learn the difficult emotional lesson that its own body was disgusting.
The third, genital stage saw equally profound innovations in child-rearing
methods. Concern with childhood genital play was minimal, as far
as historians can tell, in earlier family forms. In the middle
of the eighteenth century there was a sudden and profound awareness and
horror of childhood masturbation. If early modern aristocrats were
amused b precocious childhood sex play, the Victorian middle classes could
not tolerate it. The phrases about cutting off "widdlers" found in
Freud's reports of case studies are accurate evidence, by no means the
most bizarre or telling, of a new effort to desexualize children.
In the nineteenth century, medical opinion unequivocably warned parents
of the dangers of self-abuse, which included acne, mental torpor, hemorrhoids,
tumors, homosexuality, insanity and, finally, death. Inventions were
developed and sold on the market designed to aid parents in their war on
child masturbation. There were sharp-toothed rings to prevent erection
and devices that are
toothed rings to prevent erection and devices that set off in alarm when the penis hardened. The final solution in this mad politics of repression was surgery. Doctors in the United States, France, Germany and England, at least for a short time, performed on boys and girls circumcisions, cauterizations, infibulations of the labia majora, all to curtail masturbation. Again the child was caught in a deeply ambivalent situation: he had to give up bodily pleasure in favor of parental affection.
During the anal, oral and genital stages, the bourgeois child experienced a new emotional configuration in which a sharp choice was presented between its body and parental love. It is not a matter of simple repression, because surely early modern family structures brutalized children and dominated them as much or even more than the bourgeois family. Instead it is question of a new emotional structure with its own characteristics. What made the bourgeois structure so unique for the child was that the ambivalent pulls of body and parental love were so absolute so inescapable. One can only comprehend the bourgeois child's emotional plight when one remembers the general structure of love and authority in the privatized family. Parental authority was absolute for the child and equally parental love was deep. The child had to give up bodily gratification to an extreme degree but at the same time it enjoyed much affection. There was a double-bind situation here. The child could not question or rebel overtly against parental strictures because their authority was unlimited, indeed, terrifying to a small child. If the child insisted upon bodily pleasure it would be tormented continuously with threats of castration. If it relinquished bodily pleasure, it found itself accepting the love of someone who controlled k completely, surely not a "free" choice for the child.
In fact Freud noted bourgeois children reared in such a context developed
extraordinarily aggressive impulses. When a child was denied genital
pleasure it responded with anger. But the anger could not be acted out
in the situation because the denial was commanded out of love. So
the child was force to suppress its anger; it could not face hating someone
who loved it and whom loved so deeply. Where did the
the anger go? Freud provided the answer:-it was internalized (as the superego) and directed against the child itself, so that when the child felt anger at its mother, who so obviously felt such deep love for it, the child could only regard itself as worthless and evil, in short, as guilty. Hence the important result of the child's drama of ambivalence was that it internalized deeply a pattern of rules which summed up its authority-love relation with its parents. The secret of the bourgeois family structure was that, without conscious intention on the part of the parents, it played with intense feelings of love and hate which the child felt both for its body and for its parents in such a way that parental rules became internalized and cemented in the unconscious on the strength of both feelings, love and hate, each working to support and reinforce the other. Love (as ego-ideal) and hate (as super-ego) both worked to foster the attitudes of bourgeois respectability. In this way the family generated an "autonomous" bourgeois, a modern citizen who needed no external sanctions or supports but was self-motivated to confront a competitive world, make independent decisions and battle for capital.
The emotional structure of the bourgeois family helps explain how a
psychic structure can be implanted which enables individuals to act on
their own authority. With Freud's help this new level of "individualization"
is revealed not as a triumph of a better morality, but as the product of
the bourgeois family structure. However, even the ambivalent condition
of the child and its presence in a unique context of love and authority
is not enough to explain what happens. In addition, it must be noted
that the bourgeois family structure restricted as never before the sources
of identification for the child. The child's parents alone were available
as adult models, so that emotional structure took on an added and crucial
intensity. Because the child tended to take as itself (or identify
with) adult figures, whatever went on between parents and children became
all the more important. The child took the adult of the some sex as its
ego-ideal, providing positive values and directions for later life.
But with only two sources
of identification (really only one, since there was sexual specialization) the child was dependent on the parents to an extraordinary degree. The dependence of the child in bourgeois families was not a natural consequence of biology or social life, as many writers assume. All people depend on others in many ways, so children are not the only beings who are dependent. Dependence must be studied not as an inevitability but in terms of its concrete, distinguishing features in different situations. Dependence of children in bourgeois families was heightened by the family's isolation. Children had fewer figures for identification and were therefore dependent in a new way.
Finally, the psychic structure must be differentiated by sex. At the same time that sexuality was denied to children, they were confronted by the parents' attitude toward the two genital types. Encouraged to identify with the parent of the same sex, the child already learned its boyness or girlness. It also learned that the distinction was based on the presence or absence of the penis, since female genital and reproductive organs were unmentionable secrets. Moreover, it learned that the penis was a sign of power, since father had one and father was all powerful. The role of the bourgeois father in child rearing was minimal: he was the last resort, the reference point anchoring the mother's authority, the highest power the child experienced. It was not Freud who diminished the value of female reproductive organs; he was simply complicit with his time and class, registering and exploring the consequences of the sex division in the bourgeois family.
In sum, the attributes of the bourgeois family structure were for the
child the conditions for the development of the type of psychic structure
which Freud was the first to articulate. The specificity of his notion
of the Oedipus complex becomes truly intelligible only when seen in terms
of the family structure outlined above. To be caught up in an emotional
dynamic (for boys) of loving one's mother and resenting father's interference,
of resolving the resentment by developing an unconscious need to imitate
the father and find a replacement-substitute for the mother all at the
of an internalized authority was the special consequence of the bourgeois family. Aristocratic sons may have had hostile feelings toward their fathers but without the same intensity, without the same play of love against the body, without the same reliance on the father for support and identification, without the same value to the mother, without her deep concern and tenderness, without therefore needing to internalize the father as deeply. Surely peasants and aristocrats had unconscious structures, but only the bourgeoisie generated an unconscious that was defined in terms of the denial of the body.
To recapitulate my argument, I have attempted to set Freud's insights into the context of the emergence of the bourgeois family, and I have come up with the peculiar mixture of social and psychic elements that characterized this family structure. The bourgeois family should be understood not simply as a progressive, morally beneficial nest of love, domesticity, the "wish to be free" and individualism, but as constituting a particular emotional pattern which served to promote the interests of the new dominant class and to register in a unique way the conflicts of age and sex. In the bourgeois family, new forms of the oppression of children and women arose which were dependent upon critical mechanisms of authority and love, of intense ambivalent emotions.
Stated succinctly, the emotional pattern of the bourgeois family is
defined by authority restricted to parents, deep parental love for children
and a tendency to employ threats of the withdrawal of love rather than
physical punishment as a sanction. This pattern applied to the oral,
anal and genital stages, results in a systematic exchange on the child's
part of bodily gratification for parental love, which, in turn, produces
a deep internalization of the parent of the same sex. Sexual differences
become sharp personality differences. Masculinity is defined as the
capacity to sublimate, to be aggressive, rational and active; femininity
is defined as the capacity to express emotions, to be weak, irrational
and passive. Age difference; become internalized patterns of submission.
Childhood is a unique but inferior condi-
tion. Childhood dependency is the basis for learning to love one's superiors. Passage to adulthood requires the internalization of authority. Individuality is gained at the price of unconsciously incorporating parental norms.
I have attempted to cover only the main outlines of an adequate treatment of the bourgeois family. One must study the extent of applicability of this structure, how low in the social hierarchy it descended and how high it went, how it changed. I offer only a static, synchronic summary. The bourgeois family structure is suited preeminently to generate people with ego structures that foster the illusion that they are autonomous beings. Having internalized love-authority patterns to an unprecedented degree by anchoring displaced body energy in a super-ego, the bourgeois sees himself as his own self-creation, as the captain of his soul, when in fact he is the result of complex psycho-social processes. One can appreciate the political and social importance of this phenomenon when one realizes that the proletariat eventually adopts this same family structure.
The second model of family structure is drawn from the European aristocracy. Aristocratic households of the old regime included a mixture of kin, servants, retainers and clients. They could consist Of 40 to upwards of 200 people. Demographers have found that aristocrats tended to have more children than the lower classes and a slightly lower infant mortality rate. Yet the demographic pattern of the pre-industrial era applied to them as well as to the peasants: high fertility, high mortality. II Aristocrats saw themselves as part of a network of kin relations or lineage whose preservation was of paramount importance. The composition of the household was far from stable: servants and clients came and went; children of both sexes were sent to other aristocratic houses to be reared.
The great chateaux were public and political places. They symbolized
in their material grandeur the power of the lord over the surrounding peasantry.
No privacy was possible in the chateaux. The buildings had no corridors;
to get from one place to
another one had to walk through rooms, disturbing the occupants. There was ,little functional differentiation of rooms until the end of the period. People slept everywhere using trundle beds. The furniture also tended to be multiple in function. Relations among members of the household were exceedingly hierarchical, and roles were fixed by rigid traditions.
Marriage was a political act of the highest order. The fate of the line depended on marriages which kept the family holdings intact. Matches were the parents' decision and marrying off daughters was expensive. Dowries at certain periods involved small fortunes. Marriage therefore had little to do with love, or, in fact, with sex. Lawrence Stone refers to the sexual pattern of the English nobility before the seventeenth century as "serial polygamy." Aristocrats made love with servants and with other aristocrats. Concubines were accepted publicly. In general the attitude of the nobility was that women were as much sexual creatures as men and that love and sex were not secret, private affairs. James I was known to ask his courtiers, especially newlyweds, about their sex lives in full view of his entire court. In sum, the daily life in aristocratic families was a bustling, public round of exchanges, whose center was the status of the house, not the conjugal unit.
The opulence of this small elite (about 1.5 % of the population in eighteenth-century
France) was based on control of the land and to some degree on the favor
of the monarch. Land was the chief property of the aristocracy, and
in general it was seen not as capital to be invested and exploited but
as under the stewardship of the family line. Wealth was to be inherited
and passed on, not earned or accumulated. During the transition from
feudalism to capitalism, only a minority of nobles behaved as capitalists.
The work of the nobles was in war, in serving the king and in maintaining
order in their domains. Wives were equally lofty figures, but their
functions were primarily to bear sons and arrange the social life.
Generally they were concerned neither with management of the house nor
with child rearing.
Authority in the household was arranged hierarchically and was relatively independent of outside interference. The monarch sought to control his nobles but not, except in rare cases, at the local level of family affairs. Given the transportation facilities of the time, aristocrats, when not at court, lived far from their nearest equals. The chateau was autonomous in its domain, limited only by the power of the centralized state.
The emotional structure of the aristocratic home has been analyzed only by a few historians. Children were in the hands of servants from the moment they came into the world. Fathers and mothers rarely bothered with their children, especially during the early, formative years. Child care was considered beneath the dignity of an aristocratic woman. Children were thought of as little animals, not as objects of love and affection. The essayist Montaigne quipped, "We have loved infants for our own amusement, like monkeys, not like human beings." In this and every other way, the aristocracy presents a marked contrast with the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie.
Noble infants were breast-fed by nurses. Little is known about
the care they received. The few hints historians have uncovered indicate
a bleak picture. Women's milk was thought to be a form of blood.
Babies therefore were in the unwelcome role of vampires. Death at
the hands of the nurse was not uncommon, and some nurses were known as
"killing nurses." Unwanted children surely found their way to these women.
In any case children formed their first attachment to someone outside the
family. Aristocratic families did not attempt to focus the child's
emotions exclusively on the family. A psychoanalytically informed
interpreter might consider nurses to be mother-substitutes. This
would be a mistake. Theoretically, the position is reductionist since it
takes the bourgeois mother as the norm, discounting alternate emotional
configurations where other adults predominate in the child's life.
In the case of aristocratic child rearing, neither the nurses nor the mothers
themselves related to the child bourgeois fashion. The emotional
pattern of these families can only be comprehended by recognizing the diffusion
of love objects which it instituted.
If the oral stage in aristocratic families bears little resemblance to that of the bourgeoisie, the anal stage is perhaps even less similar. Toilet training was minimal, since sanitation standards were low. Adults urinated just about everywhere in the house, so children were not carefully controlled. The main interest of adults in the child's toilet habits was not in demanding self-control but in examining the feces for signs of humors or demons, which were thought to indicate personality traits and moods. Toilet training was hence carried out with laxity and had an entirely different emotional meaning from that of the modern period. During the anal stage, however, nobles were concerned that the child learn obedience to the social hierarchy. Since children tended to be defiant at this stage, aristocrats responded by attempting to beat humility into the child. Whippings were as normal to these children as forced sitting on the potty was for bourgeois children. Using Erikson's theory, David Hunt, a historian of aristocratic families, discerns in these beatings signs of the inability of adults to cope with the child's striving for autonomy. In this hierarchical social world, adults felt threatened by the willfulness and obstinacy of two-year-olds. Since adults had little sense of the child's needs or stage of growth, they responded to children as they would to any person. When authority was challenged it was met with force. According to Hunt, the consequence of the whippings was to erase all traces of autonomy in the child.
This interpretation of the anal stage among the nobility requires further
elaboration in accordance with the theory presented here. Unlike
the bourgeois child, the young aristocrat was not required to exchange
bodily gratification for parental love. The issue in the bourgeois
home was toilet training; the issue in the chateau was obedience to authority.
In one case, the child was required to control its body; in the other,
to respect social hierarchy. For the aristocratic child, parental
love was not at stake in the emotional drama. Although Hunt may be
right in maintaining that the result of the whipping was the squelching
of autonomy and the weakening of the ego, the Eriksonian model misses other
aspects of the emotional pattern. This model does not account for
the way in which the aristocratic case fails to strengthen the bond between
parent and child. The beatings did not result in the internalization of the parent by the child. Instead they reinforced the social norm of hierarchy. The aristocratic anus was not the locus of pleasure denied. Beatings on the backside contributed not to a secret sense of guilt, not to traits of cleanliness, order and punctuality. Instead, the psychic residue of the whip was a sense of shame at transgressing community norms. The direction of the emotional trauma was not from deep family bonds toward individualism but from public punishment to social obedience.
Equally different from modern practices was the aristocratic training
at the genital period. Sexuality was not kept hidden from the child,
who was viewed as a sexual pet to be played with for adult amusement.
Childhood masturbation was not forbidden or regarded as unusual.
It was not uncommon for nurses and other adults to fondle the child's genitalia,
to encourage five-year-olds to imitate adult sex acts and to acknowledge
publicly childhood sexuality. One of the nurses of the future Louis
XIII disapproved of the way adults fooled with her charge. She warned
the Dauphin, "Monsieur, do not let anyone touch your nipples or your cock;
they'll cut them off." This "castration threat" may be contrasted with
that of the mother of Little Hans. In the case of Little Hans the
threat was made because he masturbated. In the case of the Dauphin,
where powerful aristocratic figures amused themselves at the child's expense
and against his will in this instance, the nurse was urging the child not
to curtail his masturbation but to insist on treatment due his rank.
The "castration threat" was made neither by the Dauphin's parents nor by
the nurse. It was presented as a general social threat. The
moral and emotional lesson for the Dauphin was to be on guard because powerful
but inferior political forces might undercut his authority and position.
Hence the emotional tension for the child during the genital stage did
not concern profound relations with his parents; nor was there the need
to exchange bodily pleasure for love. Instead the noble child was
inserted into a complex, public world where the basic less-
on concerned knowing one's place.
Through the first three stages the psychic structure of aristocrats was quite divergent from the bourgeois pattern. No sharp antagonism was found between the body and the social world, or between the id and internalized morality. No deep internalizations resulted from an ambivalent play of love and authority. Identifications were not made with parents or with an individuals, but with the family line. Hence, instead of a severe super-ego, the child would develop a keen sense of external, social norms. Rather than a guilt mentality based on internal self-criticism, the likely form of conscience was a shame mentality based on public condemnation of improper acts, on rebukes by the community.
The main interest in the aristocratic family structure derives from its radical difference from the later ones. Even with the same general norms of patriarchy and monogamy, there is enormous variety in family structure. Was there an aristocratic Oedipus complex? Surely there was antagonism between fathers and sons, parents and children, but it took a form so different from that described by Freud that it would be misleading to give it the same name. Indeed the mother symbolized a political alliance rather than a conquest of romantic love and was not the same personage as the bourgeois mother. The struggles between the generations concerned social power rather than sexuality. The body was marked not by sexual ambivalence (pleasure vs. virtue) but by political power: bodies were subject to ordering according to the social hierarchy.
Given the scanty nature of the evidence, a detailed model of aristocratic
family structure is not possible. Even so, it can be concluded that
aristocratic families placed little value on privacy, domesticity, maternal
care, romantic love and intimate relations with children. The emotional
life of children was not centered on their parents but was diffused over
a wide range of adult figures. One can speculate that the egos of
aristocrats were not as strong as those of the bourgeoisie,
since self-control was not a
goal of child rearing. Perhaps the success of the bourgeoisie in gaining control of the means of production during the early stages of industrialization can be accounted for in part by this difference in ego strength.
Peasant family structure in the old regime was different from that of the ruling class, although it probably had more in common with the aristocracy than with the modern bourgeoisie. The peasantry of Europe included large disparities in economic position and wealth, from sharecroppers and day laborers to independent farmers. It encompassed different modes of production: two- and three-field systems; dispersed and clustered settlements. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, peasants in some areas were influenced profoundly by modernizing trends like the enclosures and scientific farming. In other areas peasant life went on relatively unchanged. Indeed, pockets of traditionalism still persist in some places, and anthropologists have begun employing ethnographic methods to study these peasants. Since so little is known of the daily life of the peasantry under the old regime, the anthropological evidence, even though it is taken from the twentieth century, is invaluable. For the purpose of a general model of family structure, this study will assume a peasantry living in villages.
Demographers have learned that Old Regime peasants married very late (in their late twenties) and had few children (four or five) alive at any given time. Although there were numerous births, only about one-half survived to adulthood. Over the cycle of the family there was a period when three generations lived in the same house--at least this was so in many areas studied. Yet the norm, demographers have shown, was not an extended family, but a small conjugal family.
This statistical conclusion is misleading for several reasons.
First, peasants lived in close proximity to other villagers, and there
were numerous relatives close at hand. Second, the family (parents
and children) was not a particularly significant social group. The
ties of dependence-with the village were so strong that survival was not
possible at the household level. Third, daily interactions involved
the whole village or
large parts of it, and the family was not closed off from society as a private world. Hence the impression of statistical similarity with bourgeois families is controverted by the force of collective dependence. European peasant families of the old regime were not nuclear families. Although their numbers were small, the family was intermeshed in a wide circle of sociability. In fact, the basic unit of early modern peasant life was not the conjugal family at all but the village. The village was the peasant's "family."
Social authority was invested not in the father of the house but in the village itself. In some places the lord and the priest were effective authorities. But in the day-to-day regulation of life, the customs and traditions of the village prevailed.24 Nothing could occur in individual families of any importance that was not known by the village and supervised by it. Marriages, relations between husbands and wives and parents and children were all scrutinized by the villagers and it was they who imposed sanctions. A wife who behaved in a manner not approved by tradition would be ridiculed by other women. Unmarried young people were organized into youth groups which policed the rites of courtship. Since daily interactions, even nightly interactions, were acted out in the presence of the community or a relevant section of it, privacy was unknown and not valued.
Peasant men and women had separate functions to perform and in general women were subordinate, although in their own sphere they had considerable power. Women's work was vital to the survival of the family and the community, and women worked hard and long. Peasant women cooked, cared for children, tended domestic animals and gardens and joined the village in the fields at crucial times, like the harvest. Women regulated births and supervised courtship at evening gatherings. In short, peasant patriarchy was different from aristocratic and bourgeois patriarchy. Its mechanisms need to be studied carefully to avoid the incorrect characterization, by Reich and some feminists, of a blanket, uniform patriarchal pattern in European history.
Emotionally significant events in the villages did not take place in
the conjugal fami-
ly but in the community as a whole. Festivals (pagan and Christian), patterns of worship and play were all affairs of the community. Every member of the village had a right to attend all weddings, for example. Death also was an event engaging the community. Although in some places parents made the decisions about their children's marriages, most communities had collective forms of courtship in which appropriate matches were made. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the state intervened in marriages, attempting to reinforce patriarchal authority. The rights of parents over their children were increased considerably as the ideology of patriarchalism viewed parental authority as crucial for monarchical authority. Governments attempted to eradicate the peasant practice of marriage based on consent of the partners. The success of state policy is difficult to estimate, although clandestine marriages continued throughout the old regime.
Symbolic and religious life were dominated by public worship of sacred Christian figures. Although the quality of religiosity varied considerably from the Middle Ages to the modern period, and from village to village, in general there was an acceptance of Christian myths as part of a wider set of traditions. Groethuysen writes of a priest who compared the Christianity of a bourgeois, who wrestled with his conscience over the irrationality of certain doctrines and worried about orthodoxy, with that of a peasant, who proclaimed simply but in complete heresy that he liked the Virgin better than Christ. The interest here is not with religiosity per se but with underscoring the communal nature of moral, psychic and emotional life among the peasantry.
The dominance of the village over kinship and the family, even in
the context of monogamous marriage, affected the relations of parents and
children. Peasant mothers were assisted in child-care duties by relatives,
old people, and young women. Women in the village passed on to young
mothers traditional knowledge about breast-feeding, swaddling, curing infant
maladies, and so forth. Along with this assistance went supervision.
Villagers made sure that customs and traditions were upheld in the rear-
ing of the young. The conjugal family was not a privileged and private space, but was integrated into larger networks of sociability. Children were not possessed and controlled by peasant parents as exclusively as they were by bourgeois parents in the modern period.
Within the conjugal family, children were not regarded as the center of life. They were not brought up by parents with devoted attention or shaped by them for moral perfection. Perhaps the high infant and child mortality rates curbed parental affection. In any case, the bonds between parents and children among the peasantry of early modern Europe had none of the intensity and intimacy of the later period. Rather than limited to parents and children, emotional attachments extended outward to the village and backward to earlier generations. The dead were still part of the community, part of the stories and oral traditions of the village. Historians of childhood bemoan the peasant's indifference to his children. Children would be left all day, at early ages, to fend for themselves when matters of survival demanded the women's presence in the fields. People who could afford it sent their babies out to wet nurses, and very poor women sent their children away to free themselves for remunerating work. Babies were swaddled, freeing mothers for the vitally important work of the day. Children were probably undernourished, and they emerged from the first stage of life in all likelihood without much basic trust. Breast-feeding was performed by the mother with little emotional involvement as an annoying and time consuming burden. Toilet training was also supervised with little of that tense, nervous concern of modern mothers. The control of sexual life during the genital phase was also light. Like young aristocrats, peasant children bore little pressure to repress bodily pleasure in favor of winning parental approval. Although some historians view these peasant practices with concern, there is no conclusive evidence that they were any more deleterious to psychic life than the practices of the bourgeoisie.
In yet other ways childhood for the peasant differed from that of the
tury bourgeois. At an early age (from seven to ten) the child would usually be sent away to another peasant's home for a period of apprenticeship. There was a circulation of children  in which young people learned to depend not on their parents but on the community. The psychic structure of the child was undoubtedly shame-oriented, not guilt-oriented. Approval for actions was external, based on public sanctions by the whole community. There were numerous sources of identification, since the child from its earliest moments would be present in the wider community. Authority and love did not exist in violent opposition and ambivalence, following instead the aristocratic pattern of submission to hierarchy and communal tradition. The child was not trained to defer its gratification, to accustom itself to a clock-like schedule of rewards, to face the world alone and be prepared to make autonomous decisions, to regulate emotional energy for a competitive struggle against others. Life for peasants had a fixed pattern, governed by innumerable traditions which were not even to be questioned by individuals. Well-being was regulated more by the inexorable cycle of nature than by individual initiative. The picture of the bourgeois psyche presented by Freud does not capture the dynamics of the peasant's emotional life.
Some historians maintain that the sexual life of the peasants was more
repressive than that of modern times, that it was instrumental and not
expressive, based on calculations of interest and not spontaneous empathy.
I find this position inaccurate. It forgets the important considerations
that peasant wives were not sex objects, nor were they intimate companions.
They were workmates, judged by their skills and strength and not by the
shape of their nose. Furthermore, if child-rearing practices are
an indication of sexual norms, acts were not sexually restrictive.
As we have seen, peasants made little effort to curtail childhood forms
of bodily gratification through the first three stages. Since peasants
lived in one-or two-room dwellings, children became familiar with sexual
acts early in life. Often children and adults slept in the same bed.
Bourgeois observers, such as folklorists in the nineteenth century, condemned peasant life as promiscuous. Peasant courtship practices, like the maraichinage and bundling, permitted numerous forms of sexual activity short of intercourse which were prohibited among the urban bourgeoisie. Still, it must be admitted that late marriages and hostility to sex in the Christian Church leave the impression that peasant life was far from ribald and licentious.
Direct evidence on peasant sexuality is difficult to find. In the case of the peasant novelist Restif de la Bretonne, however, evidence is given of loose and frequent sexual practices in a Burgundian village in the eighteenth century. In his autobiography, Restif related the story of his sexual initiation at an early adolescent age by a young woman from the village. The promiscuity of day laborers was dwelt upon by Restif in great detail. He also described the sensuous practices of young women placed in charge of small children. When he was but four years old Restif was seduced by Marie, a babysitter:
I used to be fondled and very ardently by Marie, and carried in her arms to Vespers. I am forced to describe her caresses . . . Marie used to kiss me on the cheek, and upon my lips . . . She went further, though in all innocence on her part; she put her hand under my little petticoats and amused herself by gently slapping and tickling me. She went further yet and then she would devour me with kisses.Restifís experience, if his memory was faithful, matched that of young Louis XIII rather than Little Hans. Given the present state of research, however, one cannot draw solid conclusions about peasant sexuality in the early modern period.
In sum, the peasant family structure appears, however indistinctly,
to have been very different from that of the bourgeoisie. Authority
was diffused throughout the village, with numerous adults participating
in the child's life. This authority was likely to be harsh and indifferent
to the child's needs. The pattern of love confronting the child was
also spread over a wide variety of relatives and villagers, although nowhere
did it resemble the deep maternal concern of the nineteenth-century middle
Aries points out, the peasant child participated from a very early age in the entire round of village life. The child enjoyed, therefore, the emotional configuration of the whole village. Through the first three stages of development, the child was cared for in an expedient, perhaps offhand, yet traditional way. The condition of his soul was not considered the charge of his mother, but of God or fate. Relations between parents and children were not characterized by intimacy or emotional intensity. Sanctions were enforced with physical punishment rather than with threats of the withdrawal of love. The peasant child probably did not internalize deeply parental figures. Nor was it likely that he built up a strong ego. Instead the child's emotional life had to be geared to the rhythms of the village, with its extensive traditions and customs.
Models of aristocratic and peasant family structure of early modern
Europe serve to highlight the uniqueness of the bourgeois family structure.
A model of the family structure of the working class during the early stages
of industrialization can serve the same end. But in the case of the
working class, family structure has undergone dramatic transformations
in a period of less than two centuries. Recruited from the dislocated
peasantry and the lowest levels of urban society, the industrial working
class developed a family structure under conditions of social and economic
distress. Yet in the course of a century the working-class family
began to resemble closely that of the bourgeoisie. This important
change in family structure must be taken into account.
During the early period of industrialization, demographic data on the working class indicates a continuation of the pre-industrial pattern of high fertility, high mortality. Another demographic indicator, life expectancy, was much lower among factory workers than among gentry or tradesmen in England in the mid-nineteenth century. In addition, factory wages were so low that typically the entire family had to work in order to maintain subsistence. Very young children worked in the mines and mills in many instances with their parents. For this proletariat something like the old domestic
economy existed, except that work took place not around the home and farmland but in the factory and mine. Living conditions among the workers were notoriously bad. Historians present a dreadful picture for England, France and Germany. Sanitation facilities were appalling, with only one toilet for 200 people in parts of Manchester. Rooms were often without windows and running water. In the worst cases one room was inhabited by three to eight people, as workers often took in lodgers to help pay the rent. Garbage was thrown into the street or was disposed of only by open sewers. In Liverpool one-sixth of the population lived in dingy cellars accompanied by rats, lice, roaches and bedbugs, the pets of the working class. Add to that the long working hours, at times from 14 to 17 hours a day, and the gloominess of these early industrial cities and one can easily see that the proletarian home was not a nest of domesticity.
Sexual patterns among the workers have scarcely been studied. Shorter argues that a rise in illegitimacy figures for the workers indicates a new, modern rush to sexual emancipation, while other scholars have presented statistics in refutation of this claim. Bourgeois moralists thought that workers were indecently promiscuous. One form of employment available for women coming into the cities from the countryside was prostitution. Studies of workers' autobiographies tend to confirm a continuation of pre-bourgeois sexual patterns along with a lessening of community controls. In the factories and cities many opportunities for sexual encounters outside and before marriage existed both in an offhand way and by the sexual exploitation of working women by foremen and bosses. Masturbation also seems not to have been a great concern. All in all, the sexual pattern does not seem to match that of the bourgeoisie.
Judged by standards of bourgeois respectability and intimacy, the proletarian
family did not come off well. The property base, of course, was different,
with the father having no capital upon which to base his authority.
Also, children could, once in their
192 Critical Theory of the Family
teens, go off and find work. Young men and women alike asserted early an independence from their parents. Youth groups developed by proletarian teenagers be came a. great concern of the liberal wing of the ruling class, who invented the term "juvenile delinquency" to define and control them. Workers also tended to marry earlier than the bourgeoisie, with no concern for property to delay their inclinations. Relations between men and women within the family tended to upset patriarchal patterns, since women both earned money outside the home and did housework. Many new jobs were provided for women by the industrial process, from mill work at the beginning of the century to office work later on. Nevertheless, male dominance in the home and factory continued, but it took on new forms.
Industrialization did not produce the private bourgeois family among the working class, at least not in the beginning. Instead the workers attempted to resist capitalist domination by preserving older community ties. The cases that have been studied show that factory workers, whenever feasible, clutched at community forms of dependence and mutual aid in order to ameliorate their harsh conditions of life. In addition to alienation and exploitation at work, the proletariat had to contend with fragmentation and atomization, as the old rural forms of collective life were threatened in the cities. The strike and machine burning were, in their early manifestations, extensions of older forms of communal solidarity to oppressive factory conditions. While the economic structure certainly influenced the structure of the proletarian family it did not do so in any direct way and it certainly did not lea with the force of a law of nature, to the bourgeois family. Old values, especially that of woman as a productive worker rather than as a genteel guardian of virtue, continued under industrialization.
The emotional pattern of the working-class family in the first half
of the nineteenth century, in no way resembled that of the bourgeoisie.
Children were raised in the older, informal way, without constant attention
and supervision by the mother. Child-
ren were breast-fed from necessity by undernourished, exhausted and preoccupied mothers. Both toilet training and genital control were undoubtedly lax. Proletarian children, as it was often said, were raised by the street, not by the family. Left alone much of the time or in the easygoing care of a relative or neighbor, these street urchins learned about life under capitalism quickly and surely. They were confronted not so much by the ever-present authority of parents concerned only with shaping their moral nature, but rather by an indifferent society which treated them roughly and promised them little if anything in return. One cannot expect a strong super-ego, a compulsive anal personality and a repressed body to develop among this generation of working class youth. Nor, probably, can one expect to find among them the shame-oriented super-ego of the peasantry. Proletarian youths were confronted less by multiple agents of socialization than by an anonymous, cruel world.
Compared to bourgeois children, however, proletarian children faced
a wider network of adults. The pattern of authority and love confronting
working-class children resembled more the community of the peasants than
the private family of the bourgeoisie. Unlike the rural village,
however, working-class communities were not self-contained social islands.
At least to some degree, forms of authority that emanated from industrial
capitalism must have impinged on working-class children. In all likelihood,
the relatively stable patriarchal authority of the peasants was not reproduced
perfectly among industrial workers. Working-class men were less in
control of their lives than their peasant counterparts. Working-class
children were in a modern situation where traditional forms of authority
were being undermined by the process of industrialization. Hence
the process of socializing these children for the discipline of the factory
was probably not accomplished in the home, but in the factory itself.
The capitalists, then, were not figures with whom the working class could
identify. The authority of factory owners must have appeared foreign
to these youths. Perhaps the gap between
authority in the working-class family and authority in
family and authority in the factory helps to account for the rebellious disposition Of the proletariat in the first half of the nineteenth century. At stake in this issue is the way in which the family served to mediate responses to authority during the early stages of industrialization. When the cases of Western Europe and the United States are compared, it appears that the experience of emigration to the United States from peasant societies in southern and eastern Europe paradoxically may have increased paternal authority and family ties and served to mollify the rebelliousness of working-class children. Needless to say, this question requires further study.
In the last decades of the nineteenth century, a working-class "aristocracy"
emerged from among the most skilled male workers, such as lathe operators.
A family wage was at last achieved by a minority of workers. Bourgeois
philanthropists were simultaneously seeking to better the workers' lives
by imposing their moral standards upon the lower class. Liberals
attempted to limit the working hours of women and children, in part with
the intention of securing a proper home environment for children.
In Britain, middle-class women visited working-class mothers to instruct
them in modern child-rearing techniques. The philanthropic zeal of
these liberals needs to be studied as part of an effort to bring aspects
of the bourgeois family structure--maternal-care domesticity, privacy to
the working class. In some cases this inter-class activity brought
quite peculiar results. Prime Minister William Gladstone for example,
was a great advocate of the reform of prostitutes. He would bring
prostitutes to his home, give them a stern lecture on morality, and then
offer to help them financially if they had the courage for self-reform.
At other times, however he would visit prostitutes for different and not
at all respectable reasons. Masochistic flagellation was his passion.
The fascinating history remains to be written of the effort of the philanthropic
bourgeoisie to reform working-class morality by integrating the lower classes
into the bourgeois family model. Perhaps the greatest influence on
the living conditions of the working class was the trade-union movement
in which work-
ers struggled collectively for better wages and conditions. A detailed history of these interrelated developments and their impact on the proletarian family structure remains to be written.
One can see, however, on the basis of a few pioneering studies that this second stage of the proletarian family saw the wife more and more at home with the children. The bourgeois pattern of sex-role differentiation began to take effect. Complete bourgeois domesticity, however, had not yet reached the working class. During this phase, working men tended to form a male society centered around work and the pub, while women established their own community based on the residence. In England, a matriarchal kinship system extending beyond the nuclear family was the norm, with "mum" or the grandmother at the center. Mum arranged for an apartment for her daughter close to her own when her daughter married, and the daughter became integrated into women's social life, which was quite extensive. In the working-class ghettos of East London the women all knew each other, and their daily lives manifested not the isolated bourgeois pattern but something resembling the older village community. A new concern for the fate of the children began to emerge in this setting, but still not to the extent of the bourgeoisie. The children had too much independence for that.
Only during a third stage when the couple moved into the suburbs (in
the 1950s for the London group studied by Wilmott and Young) were ties
broken somewhat with mum and the community. At this point the proletarian
wife was isolated in the home, her husband gave up the pub for domesticity
and the children became a prime center of attention. The future of
the children was now of utmost concern both to father and mother.
Only at this third stage did the working class fully adopt the bourgeois
family pattern. The upper levels of the working class began raising
their children in the bourgeois pattern, with the same structure of authority
and love during the early stages of the child's development. Psychologically,
the working-class family resembled closely that of their social superiors.
Workers thought of their family as a refuge from
society. Working-class wives adopted the values of maternalism and domesticity. Even in the leadership of European communist parties, attitudes toward the family and women were carbon copies of the nineteenth-century bourgeois model. The conservatism of the working class in the twentieth century can be attributed, in part, to the attraction of the bourgeois family model. Unlike the liberal bourgeoisie of an earlier day, which rose up against the aristocracy in part from disgust at its promiscuous family life, the working class, at least important sections of it, acknowledged the moral legitimacy of the bourgeoisie by adopting its family structure. The European and American working class found no better way to raise children, share affection and sexuality between the sexes, and enjoy leisure time than to imitate or aspire to bourgeois patterns. The transformation of working-class family structure is one of the unwritten aspects of the political success of bourgeois democracy.
One significant conclusion that can be drawn from the examination of
four models of family structure is that the bourgeois model is decisively
distinct from the others. Neither the aristocratic and peasant families
of the old regime nor the working-class family of the early industrial
period included the limitation of authority over children to the parents,
the intense concern and love of the parents for the children, and the systematic
attempt by the parents to substitute their love for the child's bodily
gratification. Even though the non-bourgeois models remain somewhat
indistinct due to the lack of empirical data, the bourgeois family does
emerge from this analysis as a historically distinct phenomenon.
Thus the critical theory of the family renders the bourgeois model intelligible
at the emotional level. It does so without privileging the bourgeois
family over all others, and without reducing the intelligibility of the
family to other levels of society. With the family presented as a
distinct unit of investigation, further studies can explore how the family
was intertwined with the economy and with politics. In this way the
question of the relationship between the modern family
and industrialization can be answered rigorously.
A second conclusion suggested by the four models concerns the assumption of continuity in family history. Most family historians presuppose that there has been one overall pattern, one linear development of the family in time. The Laslett group, studying the quantity of people in the family, concludes that there has been little change in family size over the past four centuries in England. Aries, looking at France, sees one basic change, occurring in the mid-eighteenth century, in which the family moved from village sociability to isolated privacy. Historians who use modernization theory, like Shorter, try to correlate family change directly with the movement toward modernity. Psychohistorians, like de Mause, see a linear progress toward empathy. All these positions suffer from a fundamental bias of presenting the family as a unitary phenomenon with a continuous, homogeneous pattern of change. The critical theory of the family enables social scientists to reject that false assumption. Family history is now conceptualized as discontinuous, non-linear and non-homogeneous. The four models outlined above suggest that family history consists of distinct family patterns, each with its own history, each requiring its own set of explanations of origin and change. The family in Europe has included multiple forms, distinct structures, and particular histories.
With the four models before us, it is now possible to turn to the contemporary period and examine the question of the fate of the bourgeois model.
Recent developments in advanced capitalism have brought about a fusion
between the old factory working class and the new "white-collar" proletariat.
A true bourgeois pattern, with the father owning means of production that
could be passed on to his children, has become typical only of a tiny minority.
Small factories and retail shops have given way to large corporations.
The overwhelming majority of the population in advanced industrial society
does not control capital. Hence a vast, heterogeneous working population
has emerged which tends to follow the bourgeois family pattern.
Only racial minorities living in ghettos and islands of severe white poverty, perhaps as much as 25% of the population in the United States, can be said to retain older working-class family patterns. Differences certainly remain in the child-rearing patterns of the white-collar middle class and the blue-collar working class. Nevertheless it is fair to say that large sectors of the traditional working class live in families that resemble the bourgeois model in fundamental ways.
In the new context, certain needs of the capitalist economy have brought about changes in the family. First, the family has become a unit of consumption. A new ideology of leisure encourages the family to consume more and more.48 As the primary need of capitalism shifted increasingly to problems of re-investing excess capital, managers responded by attempting to stimulate higher levels of consumption. New products, rapid style changes, built-in obsolescence, product differentiation through advertising--all fostered an ideology of consumerism with profound effects on the home. The automobile and the TV also served to isolate an already privatized family and even to isolate members within the family. It has been shown that a new indifference to children is emerging among some parents, a so-called "Parent Gap," with American fathers spending, on the average, less than twenty minutes a day with their children.
At the same time, through several interrelated influences, sexual patterns
have been changing. Originating among the middle class, the old repressive
bourgeois ideology has collapsed in favor of a new acceptance of sexual
gratification. With wealthier families leading the way, a reversal
of sexual patterns has occurred. The factory workers, now integrated
into bourgeois family norms, tend to resist the new sexual ethos. In
a strange reversal of nineteenth-century positions, the middle class today
is the more promiscuous group. Since consumerism implies impulsive
buying and instant gratification, it follows that impulsive sexuality or
sexual liberation fits well with the psychological trends. New
contraceptive devices and legalized abortion fur-
ther the tendency toward easing sexual restraints. Along with consumerism and the new sexuality, "permissive" child-rearing practices have spread. Psychoanalysis itself, at least in the United States, has influenced child-rearing patterns, discouraging castration threats and rigid anal discipline. In the context of advanced capitalism, parents are increasingly unwilling to uphold Victorian constraints on children's bodily enjoyment. Many parents consider unnecessary or harmful methods of child rearing which prepare the child for a life of deferred gratification. The consequence of these practices on personality formation remains in dispute.
The women's movement may be seen as a response to the pressures placed on the family by late capitalism. Resisting traditional forms of sex-role differentiation which restricted the wife to the home and to subservience to men in general, women have begun to demand an equal chance to work for equal pay. Such a demand threatens patriarchy, especially in the home. Assuming that capitalism can survive a general employment of women on an equal basis with men, the bourgeois family probably cannot survive a threat to sex-role differentiation. The feminist movement has challenged the basic components of the role of women in the family. Among the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, women were considered asexual; feminists now contend, with the support of medical opinion, that women have sexual drives that are as deep as men's. In the nineteenth century, respectable bourgeois women avoided politics and business; such reticence is now held in disrepute. In the nineteenth century, domestic tranquillity and maternal care were women's responsibility; now these are increasingly considered the tasks of both mates. When men share housework and child care with women, important mechanisms of patriarchy are threatened.
Evidence appears as frequently as the daily newspaper that the bourgeois
family structure is on shaky ground. The rise in divorce rates and
in extra-marital sex bespeak an unwillingness of marriage partners
to stay together and remain faithful for a life-
time. And once a variety of love objects is demanded, the bourgeois family appears too constraining. In the same vein, children now seek friendships outside the home in peer groups and school.
But one must not forget that this general drift away from the exclusive domesticity of the home has followed a deep undermining of the economic power of the father. No longer a proprietor with significant property to pass on to his children, the father does not even have skills to teach them, since each generation must adapt to a rapidly changing technology. In substance, the principles of companionship, intimacy and love among marriage partners in the bourgeois family are being questioned as never before.
Nevertheless, in the United States more people marry than ever before and more and more divorced people are remarrying. The ideology of "happily ever after" exerts an enormous attraction. Outside the reified, commodity relations of work, people desperately seek emotional fulfillment, the only avenue for which continues to be the family. In fact a counter-movement to the collapse of the family has arisen. Many couples see their parents quite often, even though more and more move away from relatives. The Total Woman movement stresses the old family virtues. Although the youth culture of the sixties sought alternatives to the bourgeois family in communes and although many people continue to experiment with non-bourgeois family patterns, it cannot be said that the bourgeois family has been abolished.
To what extent, it may be asked, does the nineteenth-century bourgeois
family structure persist? The privacy and isolation of the family
unit continues, perhaps to a greater degree than before. Romantic
love is more than ever the single legitimate ground for marriage.
Intimate relations between parents and children, concern for the children's
future and recognition of their special needs has, if anything, been intensified.
Even though wife beating and child abuse are being recognized in the United
States as widespread social problems, bourgeois forms of enforcing parental
authority have replaced earlier and more brutal types of domination.
authority of parents over children remains the social ideal, even if the state increasingly intervenes to curb parental excesses. In the first three stages of development, aspects of the nineteenth-century pattern persist as well. Feeding by mothers, mostly with bottles rather than breasts, remains the norm. Toilet training is still attempted early and is done with scrupulous attention to remove wastes from the child's body. In all of these ways, the bourgeois family remains the norm.
Structural changes have also occurred. Demands made by spouses on each other for emotional and sexual fulfillment have risen dramatically. Husbands and wives are often not willing, as their nineteenth-century predecessors were, to hide their emotional problems in the closet in order to maintain harmony and respectability in the marriage. Increased demands for psychic fulfillment have placed a heavy burden on marriage. The result is that marriage is no longer viewed as an exclusive relationship or a lifetime partnership. This situation leads to great unhappiness both for those who undergo the trauma of divorce and for those who maintain the marriage but feel unsatisfied and frustrated in it. The hesitancy with which marriage is undertaken and the ambivalence that is felt about it is generated perhaps by the unhappy combination of deep needs for emotional fulfillment along with equally deep needs for exclusive relationships. This combination of demands, generated during childhood, today seems to create a contradiction within the family.
In the first three stages of development, partial changes have occurred.
The middle class has experimented with LaMaze and Leboyer methods of childbirth.
Some people have reintroduced midwives and home births. The birth
rate continues to decline, with many couples deciding not to have children
at all. This option certainly goes against nineteenth-century attitudes
toward women's procreative function. Many parents send their children
out of the home to schools and day-care centers at an early age, exposing
them to their peers sooner than was common in the nineteenth century.
Child-rearing methods have become more "permissive," more "empathic," allowing
the child to develop at its own rate more than in the past. Above all, the war against childhood sexuality is slowing down. Less demands are placed on children to deny the pleasure of their bodies in exchange for parental love. Nevertheless, even with these changes, the basic structural features of the bourgeois family persist: the child is confronted by two adults from whom it must obtain satisfaction for all its needs for love and nurturance. In this context, the child must learn to love people who appear far more powerful than it. Children must seek sources of identification from a narrow range of adults, one male and the other female. Sexual stereotyping and internalized authority are built firmly into this family structure.
Although the neo-bourgeois family provides many benefits, it also sustains certain forms of oppression which are being felt with particular intensity and are being challenged politically. The domination of women and especially children, the limited sources for identification for children, the limited sources of love objects for all family members, the restriction of the satisfaction of all emotional and sexual needs to the couple, the peculiar combination of total parental authority and intense love for children, the absence of community dependence and sociability--all these structural features of the bourgeois family produce emotional effects which undermine the mutual recognition of people in the process of regulating their own affairs. These are contradictions in the structure of the family, dependent on hierarchies of age and sex, which enter into the wider social conflicts of today.
Opinions are sharply divided over the ultimate worth of the contemporary family. The optimistic note, which tends to be heard among historians, sociologists of the family and family therapists, is sounded by William Goode:
I see in [the family] and in the industrial system that accompanies it the hope of greater freedom: from the domination of elders, from caste and racial restrictions, from class rigidities. Freedom is for something as well: the unleashing of personal potentials, the right
to love, to equality within the family, to the establishment of a new marriage when the old has failed. I see the world revolution in family patterns as part of a still more important revolution that is sweeping the world in our time, the aspiration on the part of billions of people to have the right for the first time to choose for themselves-an aspiration that has toppled governments both old and new, and created new societies and social movements.Goode's hopes for the bourgeois family coincide with his advocacy of liberal forms of modernization. The opposite, critical stance is taken by Simone de Beauvoir, a feminist and a socialist:
I think that if people put so much emphasis on family and children, it is because generally they live in great isolation; they have no friends, no love, no affection, nobody. They are alone; therefore they have children in order to have somebody. De Beauvoir condemns the bourgeois family as a poor solution to problems generated by an evil society. Both positions contain merits. Given the present structure of advanced capitalism the family does offer escape from elders, individual choice of partners, and so forth. At the same time, the family generates hierarchies of age and sex which undercut the prospects of social democracy.
In the context of such disagreements over the contemporary family, one
must recognize that family structure, in Western Europe and the United
States, has never been the object of intentional social reform. Changes
in family structure have come about in indirect, unconscious ways.
Current efforts to politicize issues of family structure, such as the rights
of gays to marry, the rights of women to control their reproductive capabilities,
and so forth, open up for the first time new levels of social reform.
In the past, experiments with family structure have been limited in their
appeal to small, sectarian groups. In the present conjuncture, these
issues are reaching a wide popular base. It is appropriate, then,
for the critical theory of the family to propose a utopian model which
eliminates the mechanisms that reproduce age and sex
hierarchies and therefore points to directions for change. A democratic ordering of authority and love through the first three stages presupposes the disappearance of class and sex as determinants of social status and power. With this goal in mind, the isolation of the family from other families and from the work structure needs to be reformed. A democratic community is called for in which family relationships can find wide sources of support. Relations between husband and wife and parent and child must be rid of their possessive and devouring character. Multiple patterns of marital relations must be recognized, so that feelings of affection can expand throughout the community. The ideology of romantic love has become a heavy chain around the neck of marriage partners, weighing them down with expectations that are difficult to fulfill. The ideology of domesticity deprives the couple of necessary support from the community and shackles women to the chores of housework. The ideology of maternal care compels women to surrender their own needs in service to their children, discourages men from engaging in the humanizing activity of child rearing, and confronts children with a pattern of intrusive authority. Love, domesticity and empathetic child-care are in themselves unobjectionable. When restricted to the contemporary family they work to undermine sociability and distort relations within the family. A democratic community must avoid the terrifying choice confronting people today of commitment to the, family or complete loneliness.
Students of child development remain in disagreement about child-rearing
practices. If the goal, however, is to diminish hierarchy and augment
individual development, it would appear that methods of child rearing instituted
by the Kibbutzim are desirable. When children are raised together
with their cohorts in separate dwellings they can select figures for identification
from a wide group of adults. Family is no longer segmented from society,
and children can find love objects throughout the community. In this
situation, parents are in a position to enjoy their children without becoming
the sole authority figures. Parents can share affection and
love with their children without intruding upon the independent psychic life of the younger generation. The utopian model calls for the loosening of parent-child relations so that the dependence of each upon the other becomes less total, extending to wider social networks. The rigid age hierarchy of the current family form would become softened, as both children and adults would have their own peer group. Specific practices concerning the oral, anal and genital stages would be designed to eliminate Oedipal feelings. With the utopian family model the structural limitations of the bourgeois model could be eliminated or reduced.
The critical theory of the family indicates that the bourgeois model
is not the only possible family type. It also indicates that age
and sex hierarchies can be reduced by alternate family structures.
The goal of this book, however, is not to present detailed proposals for
reform. Instead, it is to argue that the family has a relatively
autonomous history, one which for the most part remains to be written:
that this history concerns mechanisms of instituting age and sex hierarchies
at the psychological level; and that these hierarchies are found in different
forms in all past family structures. The heuristic aim of the critical
theory of the family then is to make the family intelligible as a field
for research by defining the categories through which it may be studied
empirically. It remains for other researchers to test the value of
the critical theory in concrete studies of the family.