Look around, and you’ll see.
When we think of a family, we often picture the same structure: mother, father, little boy and tiny girl. It’s sad, but for most of us, that’s how our brain is wired, and I am not talking in a biological sense; I am talking in an ideological sense.
I am going to start by saying that capitalism has offered many things to humanity; there is no questioning that. We also sense, or know, that its time has come to an end. And as usually happens in the final chapters, we are here to reflect on the past and learn from it.
Family is a construct that bends according to culture. Capitalist lifestyle is a culture so well spread that we don’t even notice how far its impact goes. We get our traditions confused with it because the economic system adapts to any beliefs turning them into products, and we are happy they look good on us. That’s exactly what we have done with our families; we “build” them to look good.
But that’s not why capitalism broke “the family”. It goes beyond that. It is not only a matter of looks, not even a matter of status. It is a matter of control. Before the last feminist revolution, we were infused with the idea that women should stay home taking care of the house and delivering babies to fuel the working force. We stopped questioning it, mainly because the materialistic standard of living was improving for everyone. Yes, maybe thanks to destroying the planet and creating huge future debt, but it seemed to improve consistently.
Until now, people didn’t really have to ask themselves what their future would be like. Work was always available, and labour was fairly paid. The salary of one man could support a family with three or four children easily. We were told that every generation would live better and better, and we believed it.
Today it sounds almost crazy, but before, we had a world where companies needed an increment of the labour force so badly that they paid enough to feed a decent family. Did you ever wonder why?
Back then, the world population had much smaller numbers. The industries were growing, and they didn’t have the advantages of our present technology, so men’s power was really important to have. They could have exploited their workers like they do now and like they did before with plain slavery, but that didn’t look good, especially when you are criticizing communism and other government systems. Also, it wouldn’t help in the situation they were in. In addition, the demand was high, so the profits came easily as long as they had people working. The wheel was spinning fast and furious. Companies didn’t have to worry about many regulations because, at that time, very few people cared about the climate, which also added to their financial gain. You can say they could afford to pay good salaries, and not only that, they needed employees to be overproductive because they didn’t have enough workers to fulfil their future projections. To motivate their workforce to perform more and better and even more to the point of exhaustion, the powerful class introduced the culture of effort.
“If you go the extra mile, you’ll get the extra dime.”
Literally, companies through money to their problem, the shortage of manpower.
During this period it’s when today’s manufactured idea of a family came into play. The fast-growing industry was craving more heads, more hands, more legs; more bodies to build the modern version of the Egyptian pyramids. Women were then encouraged to stay at home, both to show their husbands were able to support their families and to take care of their springs. Even though contraceptive methods were already available, they were not widely used. Having many children was a blessing. More hands to work! About this time it is when the housewife term was “invented”. These wives were at home all the time, and any activity they did, according to society, should be related to their homes. But it is not like these women weren’t doing any work for the industry (and society). They were actually doing the most important one. Women were literally creating the substitution of the always exhausted workforce. They were educating them about the capitalist system, just like the upper class needed them to do. And the best thing of all, they were doing this job at no cost to the owners of the industry. The reproductive labour, the caring labour, and the education labour were totally free. So much it was that we stopped to consider it a job altogether. As if looking after someone supposes no effort, as if the physical work put into creating a life and breastfeeding had no meaning in this world.
For a while, it didn’t matter. People were happy enough in economic terms because the men were getting enough money to cover all the expenses and therefore, women were “indirectly” paid. Of course, this meant that many women started to suffer financial abuse, but that’s not the main subject of this article. The perfect family had a hardworking husband, a loving wife, and at least one smart boy and a pretty girl. The couple would become independent from their parents as soon as they got married because, back then, you could easily afford a house. Capitalism had created the perfect family.
This perfect family was never perfect. Maybe from a materialistic point of view, it was. But when we approach it from an emotional and mental perspective, we find many issues. Domestic violence was highly common, LGBT people were pushed out of society as they weren’t able to create their own perfect family, working women were seen as odd and unworthy, a single mum couldn’t access well-paid jobs… But leaving this crucial matter aside, those who fell into the “perfect family” structure had quite a gracious life. Why don’t we have it nowadays?
Today, not even the whole salary of two people is enough to support a family. We are asked to give 200% at our jobs as if the future of the company had anything to do with our personal future. We complain and demand dignity for everybody, but as a result, we are told that we are lazy because we don’t want to spend our lives working to destroy a planet that already sees us as a plague. When women were going out of their homes to work, we were told that it would make them free. They were joining the workforce to be at the same level as men. What actually happened is that the average salary started to decrease as the total number of the workforce increased. Women remained in charge of reproductive labour, but they also had to handle a regular job, often worse paid than men. No compensation for agreeing to put your body through pregnancy and delivery, nor for taking care of the dependent members of the family. Did you know that pregnancy can shorten a woman’s lifespan? A soldier goes to war, and since it is a risky situation, they get extra paid for that. A miner who works extracting toxic materials gets health compensation. But women creating the future workforce are punished because they need time to recover from labour and to comply with breastfeeding. Note that delivering a baby is called labour, though it is not financially compensated by society.
Both men and women, members of the working class, are feeling powerless towards the notion of creating a family simply because the idea seems like a titanic project. If you want to have, not only the time to be with your child, but the energy, too, you are left with no options. Women need to fulfil their intellectual passions, so the answer doesn’t come from sacrificing our freedom. I don’t often see men willing to stay at home to care for their children, but even those that would like to do it don’t have the opportunity as we still require at least two salaries to raise a child. Elon Musk can criticize the common people for not having children. I understand his point of view as a businessman. However, deliberately having them without the means and time to give them is reckless and egoistic. Here, of course, I am not counting those people who unexpectedly see themselves facing pregnancy and have to make a subjective decision. That is a moral question that each of us should answer independently.
As a consequence of this difficult milieu, people are isolating themselves as their lives only spin around work in order to survive, which leaves them with no energy to invest in a relationship. Many women are so afraid of being financially abused like their mothers or simply losing their freedom that they fear men altogether. Men have always been isolated within themselves, unable to share any discomforting feelings, and now, with the level of competition that we find in the labour market, even friendship seems controversial. I don’t know how many times I heard, even used, the famous quote that says: “We are born alone, we live alone, and we die alone.” We usually say it as justification for disappointment after our heart has been broken by a lover or a friend. We forget that Orson Welles’s quote didn’t end there.
“Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
Belonging might be an illusion, but since our minds are no reality, loneliness is an illusion too.
A family is often the easiest way of getting that belonging feeling, an accessible reason for happiness. Though with the current challenges youth is facing, a family it’s now a responsibility that we are not ready to take. We aren’t ready, not because we are not brave. We are not ready because we have no stability at all. Nor economically, socially, mentally, or environmentally. Even in old rich countries like European ones, we are relying upon the cruel and vice decisions of a few delusional men. If you want to get depressed in no time, listen to a political scientist or an expert in geopolitics.
It seems that the later generations have only one hope for happiness. People need to start thinking about other family options, other forms of social organization and community. This means that we are going to have to challenge the system as this “manufactured family” is the base of the current system. The are many questions to answer, like who are we going to manage the inheritance of capital. Though I believe we have greater problems than the obstacles that a new type of family can bring.
If we are fair, the future has no relevance in our current life because we lack any interventional power over it. Of course, we can concern ourselves with it in a political way, but in our daily lives, it makes no sense to think much about it. We are left with the present, which is actually quite a nice gift. But we have to learn to unwrap it and enjoy it. Human beings need relationships based on emotional connection, not only acquaintances that you wave at in the street. Not those colleagues with who you talk politely but only about the weather. Real human connections that only a family can provide. The good news is that, as I said before, family is a construct, a concept that is uniquely subjected to yourself. A family doesn’t have to involve a husband or a wife or even children. Frequently, it is integrated by friends. A family can be only one person who makes you feel comfortable with yourself. A family only entails love and respect.
Do you dare to disappoint capitalism?
Do you dare to design your own “perfect family”?
Do you dare to confront social uniformity?
And if so, what is your master plan?
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