Ideology attempts to explain and justify a particular view of some aspect of perceived reality and present it as the only legitimate understanding of that reality. What you should remember is that ideology is principally a set of beliefs about what ought to be the case - they are standards we are taught to try and achieve.
The ideology of the family consists of all those values and norms that instruct us on how 'ideal' family life should be lived.
Ideology provides a justification for the type of institution the family is seen to be in our culture.
Most of the time this ideology is 'hidden' in that it is there in our unconscious, but not often brought to consciousness and seriously questioned.
Most of the time the ideology assumes the status of 'common sense' or what is 'natural'.
One way in which family ideology is exposed, is when the institution supported by a particular ideology is seen to be at a point of crisis.
The family is currently very much the focus of great concern, and it is precisely at times like this that the gap between ideology and lived experience becomes uncomfortably wide and causes strain. A consequence of this is that the ideology itself may come under attack. It is then defended by the status quo against those who wish to dismantle it.
- The concept of the family dominant at the present time is a relatively recent creation; it arose during the late 18th century, and then, as now, the ideology describes what 'ought' to be the case and not necessarily what 'is' the case.
- The ideology is patriarchal, justified by reference to what is seen as 'natural' and in part to scriptural authority. The ideology was devised by and served to mark the middle class off from the decadence of the upper class and the immorality of the working class.
- With the rise to political power of the middle class it became held up as an ideal to which all, no matter from what class, should aspire, and indeed it became enshrined in state policies. Although this ideology has a clear middle class pedigree it is presented as universal.
- It is clearly founded on authority, deference and dependence, which are by their very nature unequal. Since it is a conservative ideology, radical movements are seen as both a threat to the family and to have been a consequence of the crisis in the family.
Through motherhood, a woman expresses her natural maternal instincts.
Only a stable family can ensure the successful upbringing of children.
The predominant family type in western society is the nuclear family.
The family is, or should be, warm, intimate and satisfying.
Marriage is a companionship, but men are head of household.
Women are responsible for domesticity and childcare.
Childhood is different from adulthood and children require special care and consideration.
Clearly, ideology is socially constructedand subject to continual evolution, rather than being 'natural' and this is also reflected in the changes below:
- Women are increasingly seen as 'interested' in heterosexual sex.
Men are now encouraged to participate in domestic life.
Working women are now seen as quite normal.
Cohabitation is now generally acceptable.
Far many traditionalists, the family is often viewed as an institution that is naturally given, and thus is automatically viewed as socially and morally desirable, and something that you mess with at your peril. The realms of the natural and the social are fused. The family, and the gender roles within it, is seen as a biological unit rather than as a social arrangement.
The areas of gender, sexuality and marriage and the family are those most often appealed to on grounds of the 'natural'. Hence motherhood is endowed with connotations of self-sacrifice, propagation of the species and maternal instinct. We all 'know' what makes a 'good' mother.
Traditional family ideology gains support from the fact that family life does indeed have attractions:
Investment in a family is, in our society, a rational choice given its stature. There is first the offer of emotional security and satisfaction not experienced elsewhere given our present social relations.
- The family permits the opportunity for the expression of emotional needs not legitimately expressed elsewhere.
- Relations between kin retain elements of rights and obligations not present elsewhere.
- There is a general attitude of taking for granted the security generated within a family. This concentration of such needs within a marriage/partnership can lead to overload due to high expectations, and it has lessened the importance of emotional relationships outside of the family.
Another appeal of the family is children. The family is claimed by some to be the most supportive and rewarding means of bringing up children.
At the material level a couple can provide a quality of life for their children far higher than that available to most single parents.
And it is an often openly expressed view that children need two parents. The strength of this sentiment can be gauged by the attempt made to remedy situations where this lack is apparent. For example, the organization of many institutions such as schools and children's homes, mirror a 'family' atmosphere.
Although far less than 50% of British households are based on nuclear households of parents and children and even fewer have the traditional male 'breadwinner' and female 'housewife', we continue to live in a society where the 'average' family is continually evoked.
With the institution of the family, the link to nature is invoked because the family is so closely allied to the undeniably natural process of biological reproduction. Yet eating is natural, but we would not consider restaurants or groceries as natural. Appeals to nature are often made in resistance to social change.
It is transparent that the political 'right' seeks to maintain what are argued to be both traditional and 'right' values as regards the family. Indeed, there has been a harking back to earlier apparent 'golden ages' of family life.
The Victorian family, for example, is held up as a paragon of virtue with stricter morals, less likelihood of divorce and more caring in its attitude to children and the old.
Family ideology has been a vital means of holding together and legitimating the existing social, economic, political and gender systems. Challenging the ideology thus means challenging the whole social system. So fears about a crisis in the family are really fears about challenges to the system.
The main crisis points in traditional family ideology are:
These are the points at which ideology most obviously conflicts with many people's lived reality of family life.