Nuclear families and jargon.

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures with my phone since I upgraded to the 21st century and acquired a droid.  I haven’t been uploading these photos with regularity yet, so no pictures to add to this post.  (Next time I’ll stop being lazy….probably….maybe….).

School has started – only one class on 19th/20th century European historiography and then my thesis.  The thesis is all up to me, which is great and scary.  The thesis therapy group I have with a grad school friend has so far appeared to be a great help.  Thanks to that and going to a metropolian history writers group at USC I’ve finally gotten the motivation to really get a move on with my reading/writing.

One book in particular really sang for me.  Not sure if I mentioned it on this blog, but awhile back I wrote a response to an opinion letter in the Denver Post.  Some dude was going off on how wonderful Focus on the Family is, and how all the press promoting same sex marriages was going to ruin society.  The writer linked his assertions to historical concepts and events, and the misuse/misinterpretation of such events REALLY got my blood boiling.

One of the worst conceptions Americans (in general) have about the structure of the family is that the nuclear family is the one, true, traditional family structure that everyone conformed to/aspired to back in the day.  The nuclear family, however, was only really an achievable concept in the 1950s, due to the post-war economic boom.  And despite the prominance of nuclear families during this period, many housewives were drugged up on tranquilizers to deal with the type of restrictive house-life this nuclear family structure placed them in.  So, to say that the nuclear family is an ideal and traditional American family is off the mark in several areas.

The response I wrote was published (yipee!).  That was exciting.  And then I read Mary E. Triece’s On the Picket Line: Strategies of Working-Class Women during the Depression, and boy did the conclusion just knock my socks off.  The first part of the book gives the background of the 19th century evolution of the separate spheres ideology (men = work/public, women = home/private).  The meat of the text discusses the ways in which women were labor activists in the Depression.  Then the conclusion brings the separate spheres and the subsequent idea of the nuclear family up to contemporary times by discussing the rise in “marriage promotion discourse” which she identifies as “simply one manifestation in a long history of familialist discourses that espouses values of domesticity in an attempt to assuage public anxiety and unrest in an unstable economic context.”

She continues by highlighting the utopian element in dominant familialist discourses, which gives the discourse its hegemonic power.  (Lots of hifaultin’ jargon in the argument, but there are some great thought nibblets in it.)  “In short, the vision of a happy and stable nuclear family reinforces the capitalist patriarchal status quo by obscuring the need for collective action to disrupt broad-based discriminatory institutions and practices.”

I’ve tried to explain the book, and particularly the conclusion, to two different people, but the issues are very complicated and rooted in a historical viewpoint that I’ve found difficult to sum up in a 5 minute intro.  I’ve been unsuccessful in really conveying much about the book at all.  I’m not even sure if the above is very sufficient, but there it is.

Now back to reading – I’m tying up Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure by Nan Enstad at the moment.  It looks at the ways in which working class women engaged popular culture to their advantage.  A much easier read than Triece, though a lot of the bits on film are sourced from books I’ve already read (Steven Ross’ scholarship on the working class relationship with film in particular).  At least it is getting my brain going again!


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