Post-Bush America: A Site of Family Disintegration and Revolutionary Personal Change
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 05:04PM
Dr. Harriet Fraad

First published in The Socialist March 2010 Issue 2.

Post-Bush America is a land of personal suffering, family disintegration, and desperation for women and children. The US family has experienced a class revolution in family and personal life. In fact, that revolution in family and personal life is the only class revolution happening now. It is not recognized as such because class is the most repressed discourse in America. Race, gender and ethnicity are recognized, class is repressed.

What Happened?

Conditions for US women and families began deteriorating in 1970 when real wages froze for the first time in more than a century. For the previous 150 years, between 1820 and 1970, even in the Great Depression, every generation benefitted from higher wages than the previous generation. That was the basis of the “American Dream.” That stopped in 1970. From that time forward, workers’ productivity kept rising while real wages froze (1). The American family wage for white male workers had basically supported dependent wives and children until 1970 (2). Before 1970, every generation was able to increase their consumption. Americans sense of self-worth was, in large part, dependent on their increased ability to consume. By the time Bush took over in the year 2000, Americans had become increasingly desperate. Their sense of personal value was cut along with their salaries. Consumption was undermined and with it self worth.

What Produced the Crisis in Personal and Family Life?

Family desperation pushed women into the labor force to increase money for the household. Adolescents began to work to afford the ever increasing consumption pushed by American culture. In 1970, 40% of US women were in the labor force, many part time (3). By the year 2000, 77 % of US women were in the labor force, mostly full-time, with dwindling governmental supports for daycare, after school programs, elder care social programs (4).

Women’s work outside of the home helped, but it could not make up for what was lost. Women’s work has its own costs, not only the obvious expense of additional clothing and transportation, but also the costs of purchasing some of the goods and services that women had produced at home, free of charge, The latest figures indicate that if a stay at home mother in the US were replaced by paid services the cost would be $116,805 a year. The domestic services provided by a mom who works outside of the home would cost $68,406 per year (CNN, 2008, CBC News, 2008). Families were still financially hurting. Many families became dependent on credit card debt in order to live.

Since productivity increased sharply while wages froze, the wealthiest Americans were appropriating vast amounts of surplus labor for themselves. As one illustration of what that means, Americans went from being the Western nation with the most equal distribution of wealth in 1970 to the Western nation with the least equal distribution of wealth in 2008 (5). The wealthy then issued credit cards in order to loan to the workers the money appropriated from their surplus labor (6).

By the time Bush took power in 2000 there was a crisis of the volatile combination of reduced salaries and accelerated debt. Bush won the elections of 2000 and 2004 in part by selling the fantasy that the US was king of the world and the US male was king of his household. This fantasy was offered when the US economy was no longer singularly dominant and the family was already falling apart. These fantasies are more difficult to sustain after many of the already hobbled social programs that allowed families to survive were cut.

Now, families are in trouble. US family life depended on women’s full time domestic labor to physically maintain home life and on women’s emotional labor to emotionally sustain family security and emotional well being. Women return from work in the paid labor force to work a “second shift” of emotional and domestic labor (7). Sixty percent of American women with children under two are in the paid labor force. Women with children under one who work full time are twice the number of those working part time (US Department of Labor, Bureau of labor Statistics, 2005). Almost 80 percent of mothers with children from 6 to 11 years old are in the labor force.

Because there is no governmental support for American working mothers, 85% of US infants are in substandard daycare while their mothers work. During these formative years the children may spend their days crowded into small spaces sitting in front of televisions in soiled diapers. They may have neither adequate toys nor play space nor supervision. The years from 0 to 2 are crucial years for brain formation (8). Despite this, there is no federal regulation of US daycare centers. Only 15% of US children receive quality childcare. Quality care is very expensive.

Eighty-two percent of childcare and 70% of housework is still done by women alone. Because of their work at home, married women’s work week is 7 hours longer than their husbands. Married women who are employed outside of the home do, on average, more household labor than their unemployed husbands (9). Married women are now the most depressed people in America (10).

The family as we knew it is over. American men cannot and do not sufficiently support their wives and children. Women are overworked and miserable. In a new development US women are now rejecting marriage. For the first time in American history, the majority of women are single (11). Two thirds of divorces are now initiated by women (12). Half of first marriages and 60% of second marriages end in legal separation or divorce. This does not take into account all of the people who end their marriages outside of the legal system. Now 44% of US children are born outside of a marriage (13).

In fact, now women are willing to take a financial hit in order to escape exploitation in the home. US women without children earn as much or more money than their husbands. They can and do leave marriages without financial privation. Women with children suffer financially. Alimony payments are rarely granted and full child support payments are not delivered in full.

What Does This Have to Do With A Class Revolution?

Such changes in households and family life represent a class revolution in the US, the only class revolution that is currently underway. The celebrated and ostensibly “traditional” nuclear family consisted of a feudal arrangement. The woman produced domestic use values, cooked food, order, cleanliness, and use value services such as childcare, care for the sick, emotional services, and sexual services. Her husband, by virtue of his birth right as a male, had the obligation to financially support his wife and children in this feudal household. The man, by virtue of maleness had the right to appropriate and distribute the domestic use values and emotional use value services his wife produced. These patterns have changed.

The women’s liberation movement has eroded the legal basis of men’s rights in the household. For example, spousal violence is no longer legally tolerated. However, male feudal privilege lingers. Domestic violence is still the leading cause of injury and homicide for women between the ages of 15 and 44 (14). Spousal rape is now illegal in all 50 states. However, even today there are lighter penalties for spousal rape than for stranger rape. In 20 states it is still legal for a man to have non- consensual sex with his wife if she is mentally ill or physically incapacitated (15). The feudal family is dying but its male privileges linger on.

As the feudal family slowly withers, it is replaced by other family forms with other prominent class processes. The fastest growing family form is Marx’s “ancient” form of household, which I call the individual form, which an individual, a man, a woman or a person with dependent children, or unrelated individuals live in a household where each individual produces, appropriates and distributes her/his own domestic surplus. Twenty percent of Americans never marry. Individual households are America’s fastest growing family form. Most children will spend at least part of their childhood outside of a family with their two biological parents. The individual family form is fast becoming the dominant form of US household. This form is encouraged by American individualistic ideology, feminists stressing female independence and males who want an escape from financial obligations to women and children.

Two other class forms of households are emerging. One is a communist household of adults and or adults and children. These households operate according to the communist precept “from each according to his/her abilities, to each according to his/her needs.” Domestic tasks and emotional work are shared as is work outside of the home when appropriate. This family form is encouraged by many family therapists, feminists, progressive people, and working couples without children, as well as some with children. It is a slowly growing family form.

There is another form proselytized and reinforced by forces that vigorously deny the collapse of the feudal household. This is the family of the religious right, which captures around 40% of Americans. It is what I call the fascist feudal family. So named, because of its similarity to families in the Third Reich. In the family of the Third Reich, women were to preoccupy themselves with kirche, kuche and kinde, kitchen, church and children. They were denied control over their own bodies through forbidding the use of birth control and abortion. Der Fuhrer was the leader of the man and the man was the leader of the woman (16). Women were to remain as subordinate as they are within the Southern Baptist Convention on men and women in which God is the leader of men who ordains males to lead females. Women are in charge of hearth and home (17). This model is difficult to maintain in today’s world, which is why the divorce rate in red states and amongst fundamentalists is even higher than it is in the less fundamentalist blue states (18). American women are less likely to remain submissive while working to support themselves and their children and a man who cannot alone provide for them.

Secure marriages are a thing of the past. Families and individuals are fracturing under the pressures of transformed landscapes of economic and intimate life. Secure families have been a basic personal support system for all Americans, particularly women. Women’s emotional labor connecting with children, relatives and friends has meant emotional survival and sustenance for children, men and other women. It was these networks of women at home that allowed families in hard times to take care of an extra child when a woman went to work or to move in together in hard times, or bring over extra food when a neighbor friend or relative lost a job or was ill. All of these primary crucial networks are breaking.

American women who try to keep their families happy and healthy must now work outside the home while there is criminally inadequate childcare for their children. Exhausted women return from their jobs to households needing domestic labor and both men and children desperately needing attention. Men, whose working conditions and salaries have deteriorated, want women to take care of them when they return. They are reluctant to help with childcare. They want to be cared for as their fathers were, which may explain why 70% of housework is still done by women. Women’s lives are ever more demanding, exhausting and lonely.

The American Left is not a unified vital alternative force. It presents nothing but action around particular feminist issues. It lacks a revolutionary program addressing the interconnected issues of national priorities and family disintegration. The family and personal life, which are central parts of people’s and particularly women’s lives are parts of life that the Left has left alone.

Designing a Left program that addresses the issues created by the conservative class revolution needs to begin by elaborating the skills and knowledge involved in emotional labor. At present women’s emotional labor is so undervalued that it is unrecognized. There is no vocabulary to define the knowledge and name the skills that enable women to anticipate and meet people’s emotional needs from infancy through adulthood. There are no accessible definitions of that body of knowledge that emerges from attuning oneself to meeting other’s needs, and caring for them physically while letting them know that they are valued and loved (19). The Left needs to explain and design a way to reward skills of empathy and connection. We should also elaborate the jobs that domestic work involves, cite their crucial importance, and then create programs to ease women’s domestic labor burden.

A few ideas for platforms that stem from recognizing and ameliorating women’s exploitation in domestic labor are providing: low cost nutritious family restaurants, options for healthy nutritious take out food, subsidized house cleaning and laundry services, child care provision modeled on the French child care system, quality after school programs in education, sports and the arts.

We also need programs that could help ameliorate women’s burdens of emotional labor, in addition to acknowledging all the skills and labor involved in the emotional labor of caring for others such as:

Providing extra income for jobs that require emotional labor and explicitly rewarding the emotional services provided. These are usually lower paid, female jobs such as nursing, social work, and teaching infants, toddlers, and children from 5 to 8 years old.

Creating an explicitly acknowledged financial incentive to compensate service workers for the part of their jobs that requires emotional effort towards the customer . These incentives might operate for such jobs as health care personnel, social workers, counselors, early childhood educators, secretaries, receptionists, waiters and waitresses, etc.. Emotional helpers would earn a supplement for providing emotional caring on the job.

Creating free counseling centers for couples and families where the explicit labor of understanding and emotionally serving others is valued and taught.

Mandating that ubiquitous, popular 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and others all include a 13th step which looks at the conditions of existence of addictions in oppressive, authoritarian families and profit hungry corporations such as the liquor interests, the diet and fashion industries, the pharmaceutical industry., the pornography industry, and the industries producing junk food.

Other parts of a Left program built on the analysis above could be;

It is crucial for the Left to create a language for and an appreciation of women’s domestic labor, our emotional labor and our labor in caring for other people. An explanation of what that labor entails is a crucial step in enhancing women’s positions at home and in the workplace. The class analysis above is a basis on which to create such a language and awareness and action. America is a land of personal crisis and family disaster. It is time for the Left to address the problems literally, where we live.

1 Resnick, S. and Wolff, R. 2003. “Exploitation, Consumption, and the Uniqueness of U.S. Capitalism. Historical Materialism V.11 N.4.p.209-226
2 Minority males never earned a family wage that could support dependent wives and children.
3 Lee, M. and Mather, M. 2008. “U.S. Labor Force Trends.” Figure 1. “U.S. Labor Force Participation of Men and Women 1970-2007. 5. Population Bulletin. V.63 N.2.2008. Population Reference Bureau.
4 Babcock, L. and Laschever, S. 2003. Women Don’t Ask. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press X1-X111, 41-62.)
6 Wolff, , R. 2008. “When Capitalism Hits the Fan.” Lecture video.
7 Arlie Hochschild. “Second Shift” (1989, New York: Viking.)
8 Fraad, H. 2008. “American Children- Who Cares?” The Journal of Psychohistory . p. 394-399
9 Uchitelle, l. and Leonhardt, D. 2006. “Men Not Working and Not Wanting Just Any Job.” The New York Times, July 31, 2006. p.D1.
10 More than 11% of women and 5% of men are taking antidepressants, Barber, C. 2008. Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating A Nation New York:Panthon Books. Twice as many women as men are desperate enough to seek psychiatric help.
11 Roberts, S. January 16, 2007. “Most Women Now Live Without A Husband.” The New York Times.
12 Brinig, M. and Allen, D. 2000 “’These Boots Are Made For Walking”: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women” American Law and Economics Review 2-1 (2000): p.126-169.
13 Forum on Child and Family Statistics 2007 4 . Hamilton, B. and Ventura S. 2007. “Births: Preliminary Data for 2006.” National Vital Statistics Reports. V. 56 N.7 . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health.
14 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Committee on Violence Against Women. 2000. “Findings from the National Committee on Violence Against Women Survey, July, 2000.” US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. NCJ 181867 p.97.
15 Stritof, S., and Stritof, B. 2008. “An Evolution of Law: Spousal Rape Recently Prosecutable.” Times Standard. March 23, 2008. p.101.
16 Koontz, C. 1987. Mothers in the Fatherland. New York: Saint Martins Press.
17 Baptist Faith and Message. June 13-14, 2000. “Southern Baptist Convention on Men and Women. Orlando, Florida.
18 Belluck, P. November 14, 2004. “ To Avoid Divorce Move to Massachusetts. The New York Times Week in Review.
19 Daniel Stern 2004. Th Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. New York: W.W. Norton, and John Cacioppo and William Patrick.2008. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. New York: W.W. Norton

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