July 18, 2019 | 85° F

Value of both traditional, non-traditional families

Opinion Column: Mangoes and Revolution

Back again, with this bitter cold we welcome the spring semester. For so many people, Winter Break symbolizes a major holiday season with day after day of family gatherings and different interactions with family members. Even for those who do not consider this season holy, they undoubtedly spent a lot of time with their family or thinking about people who were spending time with their family.

My own parents recently separated after years of miscommunication, fights, differences and yes, happy times, particularly when on vacation and out of the day-to-day. I have a small family and we always had to travel to see either of my parents' parents. They were never part of the routine. This was the first break navigating the new separation changes, including spending varying amounts of time with people.

When I was younger, playing and cooking kept me occupied, but the gradual transition into adulthood is strange. Somewhere along the way I started to become my own person, an individual, my self and expressing my opinions with my family felt odd. My family was in a separate bubble where we had to mean more to each other than anyone else, yet they seemed so disconnected from who I really was. We know each other’s medical history, we share meals and occasionally sleep under the same roof. Somehow, regardless of what you may or may not share with these individuals you have greater obligations towards them than to other people in your circle.

Film, commercials, politicians, news, books — everywhere we turn there are depictions of perfect families. Representation of large, happy family gatherings where drama and gossip are often simply part of the way things are, invading nearly every public and private space we inhabit. So much so that despite all the “unconventional” family formations that people experience, everyone seems to aspire to the same thing — or so media would have us believe.

Most people grow up with one very rigid normative model of sexual behavior, rendering anything outside of those socially constructed rules abnormal and unnatural. Normal, natural and acceptable is most commonly the hetero, marital, monogamous, reproductive, non-commercial, coupled, relational, same-generation, at home, non-fetishized sexual relationship. Deviant, unnatural and stigmatized then becomes the homo/queer, unmarried, promiscuous, non-reproductive, commercial, masturbatory, casual, cross-generation, public, kinky (etc.) forms of sexual relationship.

Despite being in a so-called “liberal” college setting where many of these rules do not immediately apply — studies show that class can also influence the perception of these aspects, but that’s another story for another day — generally they do. Yes, “even” in the Northeast.

On the one hand we have these ideas of normal versus abnormal sexual behaviors, tied together with notions of reproductive relationships. These concepts are directly correlated with the utility in society of the family unit. Families serve the purpose of passing down the family name and class standing (the word “family” itself coming from the Latin word for a group of servants or slaves). They become particularly useful in capitalist societies in the production of labor force and in their consumption of services and material goods. They are also systems of care-giving. For generations of people all around the world, families become a method for survival, even in the most adverse conditions.

Nevertheless, for so many people today, family does not fall under the “norm.” Families where there has been sexual, physical, verbal or other forms of abuse, people within families that do not get along or even can’t be in the same room together, families with honorary aunts, uncles or cousins, families that are missing people, families estranged because of money, families thousands of miles apart … Systems of economic and emotional dependence that can have all sorts of outcomes for groups or individuals. Families carry in their midst countless situations that tear people apart or bring people together, oftentimes regardless of whether or not they have common genes.

None of this is meant to tell you how to live your life. Romantic/sexual relationship goals are usually present in our minds, in the back if not at the forefront. Popular media and personal conversations have led me to the conclusion that most people’s end objective is to have a typical, striving-to-be-happy, with-kids, in-a-home family relationship. But, and there is a “but,” some questions remain unanswered. Why is this the case? If it has not always been the case, when and why did it change? Furthermore, if we do understand family as a capitalist endeavor with a capitalist intention, what other social organizations have there been or could there be in the future of organizing society? Are our wishes our own or are they conditioned by the way we’ve been taught and raised, and by the environment we inhabit?

Regardless of your experience or your opinion on family-related questions, some of these concepts raise food for thought. I would say that regardless of the type of family you come from or the type of family you strive to be a part of, family comes in many different ways and it can prove worthwhile to branch out and create different relationships of trust and care.

Becky Ratero is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in women's gender studies and history. Her column, "Mangoes and Revolution," runs monthly on Thursdays.


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Becky Ratero

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