What exactly does it mean to be ‘traditional’ or more to the point, what does it mean to have a traditional family? Most anti-gay activists will say it is a husband, a wife and children. But is that a traditional family? I suppose in one sense it is if you mean a man, a woman and the children they share. But what about a man, his second wife, her children, his children and their children. Is that a traditional family? In the U.S. it is–not only now but in the colonial days when people did not live that long. But maybe a better question is when was the family traditional? I remember having a conversation at the University of Michigan with some group that was handing out flyers. They talked about the golden age of the U.S. and I asked them when that was. They weren’t able to give a date, or at least one they were willing to stick with if questioned. So when was the timeframe of when the traditional family existed? in the 50s or 60s, with June Cleaver as the wife? If that is the traditional family, then people who want the traditional family back had better not be women, because women were expected to stay at home and take care of the children and if they didn’t, they were considered to be bra-burning feminists. And if this is the timeframe, then I can’t imagine any of these women (like the women at Concerned Women for America) telling me they want the traditional family back, since they are not living the life of a traditional wife. So clearly it isn’t in the 50s or the 60s. How about the 40s? Women were getting involved in the workforce during WWII and that really helped launch a lot of the women’s right to work movement. But is that traditional that a woman work outside of the home? For some it was, but in general no. So the traditional part of family doesn’t come from the 40’s. And if you keep moving back far enough, you get to the traditional family of the 1910s and early 1920s when the woman in the family could not even vote. Is that when the traditional family people think the traditional family existed? If so, then these women today who want the traditional family should be encouraging their fellow women to not vote and stay out home and out of politics.
Before that, the woman, although a partner to her husband, certainly had less and less rights and was more a piece of property to the husband. Is that when the traditional family existed? Certainly from the 1970s onward you don’t find these ‘traditional family’ groups pushing for a family of the last 40 years as being traditional, especially with the divorce rate at 50% and multiple marriages.
We could also look at the tradition of marriage. Some women were transferred from the power of their fathers to the power of their husbands, or if they didn’t have a husband and their father was dead, they were transferred to the power of their brothers. Is this a traditional time that these people harken back to? I somehow doubt it. During the 1600s, here in the U.S. the male was the sole legal guardian of the children–was that the traditional family? We are, of course, only referring to white families since slaves really didn’t have families that were recognized by the law…
And the process of getting married changes over time. Up through the Reformation people could get married by just exchanging vows between themselves and everyone recognized that they were married. The Catholic Church, however, changed this so that people could only get married in front of a witness–a priest, or witnesses–a priest and family/friends. So which type of marriage is traditional? A private marriage or a marriage in front of witnesses? Where do we decide that tradition starts?
My take on this? There is no such thing as a traditional family, unless of course you are arguing for the traditional family. Again, people will pick and choose what fits their beliefs, but in almost all cases you find groups talking about traditional families without giving specifics. Stacy Harp and her blurb on Anita Bryant is a good case. Anita Bryant was married and with children. But she gets divorced and then remarries. Stacy states that Anita Bryant is now defending the traditional family–but as I asked the other day, which traditional family is Anita Bryant doing to defend? Her first family? Her second family? Or some amorphous family that doesn’t exist? Or just a husband, a wife and children, regardless of whether it is the first husband/wife or the 8th?