The Good Enough Family
The families of the not too distant past were oriented along four axes. These axes were not mutually exclusive. Some overlapped, all of them enhanced each other.
People got married because of social pressure and social norms (the Social Dyad), to form a more efficient or synergetic economic unit (the Economic Dyad), in pursuit of psychosexual fulfilment (the Psychosexual Dyad), to secure a long term companionship (the Companionship Dyad). Thus, we can talk about the following four axes: Social-Economic, Emotional, Utilitarian (Rational), Private-Familial.
To illustrate how these axes were intertwined, let us consider the Emotional one. People got married because they felt very strongly about living alone. But they felt so also because of social pressures. Some of them subscribed to ideologies which promoted the family as a pillar of society, the basic cell of the national organism, a hothouse in which to breed children to empower the nation and so on. These ideologies of personal contributions to collectives had a strong emotional dimension and provided impetus to a host of behaviour patterns. The emotional investment in today's individualistic-capitalist ideologies is no smaller. Technological developments rendered past thinking obsolete and dysfunctional but did not quench Man's thirst for guidance and a worldview.
Still, as technology evolved, it became more and more disruptive in so far as families were concerned. Increased mobility, a decentralization of information sources, the transfers of the traditional functions of the family to societal and private sector establishments, the increased incidence of interactions, safer sex with lesser consequences to those who engage in it ? all assisted the disintegration of the traditional family. Consider the trends that affected women, for instance:
1. The emergence of common marital property and of laws for its equal distribution in case of divorce constituted a shift in legal philosophy in most societies. The result was a major (and on going) distribution of wealth and its transfer from men to women. Add to this the disparities in life expectancy between the two genders and the magnitude of the redistribution of economic resources becomes evident. Women are becoming richer at the expense of men because they live long enough to inherit them and because they get a share of the marital property when they divorce them. These "endowments" are larger than their quantifiable contribution to the formation of the wealth thus redistributed. Women still earn less than men, for instance.
2. An increase in economic opportunities. Social and ethical mores changed, technology allowed for increased mobility, wars and economic upheavals led to the forced introduction of women into the labour markets.
3. The result of their enhanced economic clout was a more egalitarian social and legal system. Women's rights were legally as well as informally secured in an evolutionary process, punctuated by minor legal revolutions. This reflected reality ? rather than created it.
4. While securing equality in opportunities and fighting for it in other domains of life (representation, taxation, education, property rights and so on) ? women still enjoy a discrimination in their favour regarding their obligations. It is rare for a man to complain of sexual harassment or to receive alimony or custody of his children or, in many countries, to be the beneficiary of family related welfare benefits. This discrepancy works in women's favour.
5. The emergence of single parent and non-nuclear families and their social acceptance helped women to shape their lives as they saw fit. Most single parent families are headed by women. Women single parents are severely penalized economically, though (their median income is very low even when adjusted to reflect transfer payments).
6. Thus, gradually, the shaping of future generations will become the exclusive domain of women. Even today, one third of all children in developed countries grow in single parent families with no male figure around to serve as a role model. This exclusivity has tremendous social and economic implications. Gradually and subtly the balance of power will shift as society becomes matriarchal.
7. The invention of the pill and other contraceptives liberated women as far as sex was concerned. The resulting sexual revolution engulfed and affected both sexes but the main beneficiaries were women whose sexuality was in the process of being legitimized. Not under the cloud of unwanted pregnancy any longer