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Social Philosophy

Towards a Postpatriarchal Family

Patricia S. Mann

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ABSTRACT: Ours is a time of dramatic and confusing transformations in everyday life, many of them originating in the social enfranchisement of women that has occurred over the past twenty-five years. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild demonstrates a widespread phenomenon of work-family imbalance in our society, experienced by people in terms of a time bind, and a devaluation of familial relationships. As large numbers of women have moved into the workplace, familial relations of all sorts have been colonized by what Virginia Held critically refers to as the contractual paradigm. Even the mother/child relationship, representing for Held an alternative feminist paradigm of selfhood and agency, has been in large part "outsourced." I believe that an Arendtian conception of speech and action might enable us to assert anew the grounds for familial relations. If we require a new site upon which to address our human plurality and natality, the postpatriarchal family may provide that new site upon which individuals can freely act to recreate the fabric of human relationships. It would seem to be our moral and political responsibility as social philosophers today to speculatively contribute to the difficult yet imperative task of reconfiguring the family. In this paper, I attempt to articulate the basic assumptions from which such a reconfiguration must begin.

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I. Some Ironies of Our Current Moment

While motherhood represented women's primary opportunity for achievement and respect within previous societies, second-wave feminism critically explored the lived reality of women as mothers within our middle-class American society. Betty Friedan's influential The Feminine Mystique, published in 1965, indicted the deadly boredom of the suburban home, while later works such as Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born, articulated with devastating incisiveness the oppressive qualities of the contemporary institution of motherhood. According to Rich, the intense joys of mothering children were embedded in a patriarchal structure that created agonizing conflicts for any woman who saw herself as more than merely a nurturer of her spouse and children. As feminists, we believed that the institutions of family and motherhood would change quite radically as women entered the workplace.

And they have. Our lives have been dramatically transformed over the last twenty-five years, through a process I refer to as "the social enfranchisement of women." (1) As large numbers of women have entered the public workforce and contraception has become widely available, women have come to be seen as possessing the same economic and political rights and responsibilities as men. The lives of women have changed dramatically in concrete terms, as well. In all earlier generations, women's lives were defined primarily in terms of their role as wives and mothers, workplace participation a matter of dire economic necessity; male wages, not to mention careers, were denied to women for the most part. By contrast, one third of all women in my generation (born in the early to mid 50s and coming of age in the early 70s) have not had children. And regardless of whether we have had children or not, we have come to take equal workplace participation as our right, as well as our responsibility.

As feminists first analyzed women's large-scale entry into the workforce, one major question was how this would impact on relations within the family. It seemed obvious and fair that insofar as women were leaving the home each morning alongside men to work and contribute to the economic maintenance of the family, when women and men returned home at night they should share the various domestic and childcare responsibilities, as well. This did not happen, for the most part. What did happen was that women worked all day in the public workforce, and returned each night to what sociologist Arlie Hochshild labelled a "second shift" in the home. (2)

This reality of women's social enfranchisement encouraged a second vision of emancipated womanhood: the Superwoman who could perform highly in a career as well as being a wonderful mother. Super or not, most women who are mothers today are faced with this challenge of performing what were considered a generation ago two full-time jobs in the space of each day. And to intensify the challenge, as corporate down-sizing has occurred, working hours on the first shift have increased for everyone. (3) Indeed, men are gradually taking on more domestic and childcare responsibilities, insofar as women are simply not physically present in the home to accomplish all of them. Arlie Hochschild has again supplied an insightful term to capture what seems to be a widely shared experience in the lives of contemporary women and men, what she calls "the time bind." For a great proportion of women and men, as well, it seems that there are not enough hours in the day to satisfactorily fulfill both workplace and familial obligations. (4)

Seeking to better understand how women and men are currently managing competing family and work commitments, Hochschild recently investigated the lives of 130 people who work at a Fortune 500 company she calls Amerco. This company has been ranked among the ten most "family friendly" corporations due to its policies for accommodating the needs of working parents. Amerco's Work-Family Balance Program was aimed at allowing workers more unworried time at work, and it consisted of various childcare programs, as well as referral services for elder care. A second part was intended to allow workers more unconflicted time at home, and consisted of various plans for flexible or shorter workdays, maternity and paternity leave policies. Hochschild found that both male and female workers at all levels of the job hierarchy utilized the family friendly policies to help them increase the hours they spent at work. Men and women with young children worked even longer hours than those with older children, averaging well over 40 hours in the workplace each week. And Hochschild cites studies showing comparable figures at workplaces nationwide and in jobs across the economic spectrum. (5)

Many people would simply attribute this behavior to economic forces, more and more individuals forced to work longer hours simply to maintain a viable income, or to protect their job in an era of downsizing. Hochschild argues that even after accounting for these very real economic pressures, we must appeal to other factors in order to explain current choices by individuals, particularly women, to spend longer and longer hours in the workplace. To put Hochschild's radical thesis quite simply, she believes that for many people, the home has ceased to provide a haven of peace and security in a heartless world. (6) And correspondingly, she argues that the workplace has become for many individuals at all levels of the economic hierarchy a more enjoyable, fulfilling, even relaxing place to spend one's waking hours. (7)

Before discussing Hochschild's subtle analysis of this surprising workplace phenomenon, I want to consider the overt implications in terms of feminist values and aspirations. Philosopher, Virginia Held theorized an opposition between the contractual paradigm and the mother/child paradigm, highlighting the hopes of many second-wave feminists that the empowerment of women would involve a society-wide change in values. (8) Women's traditional lives had been devalued. Insofar as society came to recognize the value of women, it would also come to recognize and be transformed by the different models of selfhood and interaction evident in women's familial roles and practices. In concrete terms, these feminists predicted that there would be a general shift towards valuing personal and familial relations more highly, and a pulling back from competitive, contractual public activities.

Quite the opposite trend has been developing, if we believe the picture Hochschild presents. Hochschild demonstrates quite persuasively that women have begun to take flight from the family and the mother/child paradigm just as men always have. And like men, they have fled into the arms of corporate America, embracing the contractual system of work whole-heartedly. Not only that, after bearing children, these mothers are contracting with other women to care for their children while they spend ever-longer days in the public workplace. (9) Such mothers are not only acceding to the competitive values of the labor market in remaking their own work lives, but they are allowing the contractual system to penetrate into the very heart of their family lives. In allowing their own relationship with their children to be diminished to a few hours a day and hiring caretakers for their children, they are fundamentally altering the paradigm of mother/child relations that philosophers such as Held celebrated. Frankfurt School critical theorist, Herbert Marcuse judged the happiness of workers under capitalism to involve a large element of false consciousness. There are surely feminists - joined by various traditionalists and conservatives - who will argue that women today have been deluded by the blandishments of patriarchal capitalism into sacrificing a uniquely valuable maternal experience for monetary or career benefits. (10)

Virginia Held might well suggest that this is but an intermediate stage in the process of social transformation initiated by women's social enfranchisement. It is certainly a potent demonstration of what she diagnosed a decade ago as "the imperialism of the model of economic man," and it provides a real test of her conviction that "there are at least some domains where this model is definitely not appropriate." (Feminist Morality, 196) In a sense, the contractual system is being pushed to a limit few of us could have imagined, challenged to prove its ability to take on a whole new range of personal relationships. Surely there are many aspects of women's traditional role that can legitimately be contracted out: housecleaning, cooking, laundry, some childcare time. But what was the relationship between such caretaking tasks and the affective mother/child relationship? If we could learn to distinguish between the significant and not so significant aspects of a woman's traditional role, we might be capable of specifying the elements of the mother/child paradigm that should be generalized to other relationships.

II. Hochschild's Challenge: From Family Ties to Time Binds

In addition to the admittedly great economic pressures for longer working hours, Hochschild offers three additional ways of understanding the willingness of workers at every level of the economic ladder to spend ever larger portions of their waking ours in the workplace. In the first place, Hochschild declares that "'Women's work' has always been devalued..and under the pressure of the new time-math of corporate America its value is sinking lower still." (Time Bind, 192) Only twenty-five years after women first entered the workplace in large numbers, motherhood has ceased to be regarded as a legitimate primary occupation. We expect women to do "real work for real wages." With its recent decision to end welfare support of single mothers caring for children - a policy extending back to the 1930s - the government demonstrates this new attitude; motherhood is no longer a legitimate primary occupation even for women with many children who are ill-prepared to do anything else. The social ethic for the twenty-first century is that every able-bodied man and woman must be capable of economically maintaining themselves and any dependents. Whatever motherhood once consisted of, it is now subject to a curiously patriarchal translation in terms of economic obligations for one's offspring. Non-contractual work in the home has no clear social value.

Not only women's work, but family life and private social relations more generally are being devalued, Hochschild believes. "The more women and men do what they do in exchange for money and the more their work in the public realm is valued or honored, the more, almost by definition, private life is devalued and its boundaries shrink. For women as well as men, work in the marketplace is less often a simple economic fact than a complex cultural value." (Time Bind, 198) What Hochschild identifies as our "time bind" springs from the fact that we still gesture towards traditional private social relations, dinners and whole evenings spent with family or friends, weekends with children, spouses, friends, but our actual priorities tend to leave us little time for such frivolous activities. More and more of us center our lives around our work in the public workplace, and even when we are married or have children, the home no longer provides much ballast for personal social relations. Women's traditional role seems to have anchored significant aspects of life which are now rapidly slipping away from us.

Closely related to the heightened devaluation of women's labor in the home, is what Hochschild identifies as the reversal between home and workplace such that the workplace takes on positive characteristics once associated with the home and the home takes on negative characteristics previously associated with the workplace. Hochschild says that workplaces like Amerco's are consciously responding to the large influx of women and "feminizing" their management philosophies. They are building on women's interpersonal skills and emphasizing "trust, team-building, and courtesy to the internal customer (the co-worker)." (TB, 168)

By contrast, family life is becoming Taylorized, Hochschild finds. Faced with the need to fit familial obligations into an increasingly cramped "second shift," parents and particularly mothers are becoming efficiency experts in the home, calibrating the exact amounts of time and input required to accomplish basic tasks such as mealtimes and baths. Not only might a parent designate 6:30 -7PM as the "dinner hour," with bathtime allotted a 7PM -7:30 slot, but it is increasingly common to set aside specific time periods devoted to personal relationships, designating these as "quality time" between parents and children, or between adult partners. As Hochschild points out, in designating, for example, the time between 9:30 and 10:15PM as "relaxed time" and in struggling not to let all the other elements of the day intrude on this particular time period, one adopts the same regimented - contractual, in Held's terminology - orientation towards personal relations as one adopts to impersonal tasks.(TB, 49-51, 209-212). In attempting to collapse activities that were previously spread over a whole day into a few short hours, family relations become impersonal and instrumentalized. In addition, Hochschild found a high degree of frustration in relation to domestic and childcare responsibilities that were not readily accomplished in the times allotted. By contrast with manageable assignments and a sense of competence in the workplace, parents felt themselves subject to relentless and uncontrollable demands in the home. Hochschild's comparative analyses of workplace and home make it easy to comprehend why these same parents are not demanding shorter working hours, and so are in a sense complicit in their own time binds.

In addition, Hochschild found a third factor motivating women to spend longer hours in the workplace. At all levels of the job hierarchy, she found women concerned with issues of gender equality, using the workplace to engage in struggles for greater amounts of recognition, both from co-workers and from domestic partners. (TB,132,73-76, 175-192)

Hochschild only discusses the time binds experienced by working parents, but the insightful quality of this concept is such that it seems to describe a feature of contemporary lives more generally. We all know couples without children, gay couples, even single people who seem perpetually pressed for time in response to their commitments to careers and money-making.

Hochschild explains strategies people use to cope with the time binds they experience, and these too seem immediately applicable to a large circle of acquaintances. Many people, she reports, downsize their emotional lives. That is, they redefine in the most minimal terms the amount of care required by a child, a partner, or themselves. For example, she cites an Amerco study showing that 27% of employees with children between six ant thirteen years of age listed the primary type of childcare as "stays alone." She is shocked that 61% of fathers with top managerial ranking listed this as their form of childcare, offering this as an example of the "care deficit" that is increasingly common as a response to the time bind of parents. Since these fathers could obviously have afforded childcare, she sees this practice as an example of the "emotional asceticism" whereby individuals redefine downwards children's as well as their own personal needs so as to accommodate their time binds.(TB, 220-9)

A second strategy for dealing with a time bind in the home is to contract with others to perform one's familial obligations. Hochschild believes that because women are the ones who shoulder most of the workload at home, they are much less able to simply deny the needs of other family members than are men. Instead, women are becoming masters of what she calls "outsourcing," buying goods and services that free them from their traditional duties as wives and mothers. We now take for granted many substitutes for the interpersonal labor of women within families: from childcare and domestic help to summer camps and retirement homes, from pre-cooked meals to psychotherapy, we have outsourced many traditional interpersonal obligations of wives and mothers. The commodification of home life is expanding rapidly. While Hochschild suggests that there is some limit on how much we can outsource personal needs and relationships and still maintain a meaningful family relationship, she does not suggest where to draw the line.(TB, 229-35)

Hochschild makes such a convincing case for the time bind as an over-determined phenomenon within contemporary lives that it seems incongruous when in the last chapter of her book she talks about overcoming it, or "making time." Its hard to know exactly what that would mean. Women and men's lives are increasingly centered around their work, and Hochschild explores with great insight the difficulties many people are experiencing in finding sufficient additional time to spend with their families. There is in some real sense a work-family imbalance in many people's lives, experienced as a time-bind or deficit in relation to familial responsibilities. And yet it is hard to know exactly what a work-family balance would consist of. Despite the fact that the imbalance is experienced as a lack of time for family relations, I suspect that a work-family balance would not be achieved through any simple redistribution of time between workplace and home. Paradoxically, while Hochshild has diagnosed a problem that manifests itself in terms of time, her own analysis suggests that it cannot be resolved merely through alterations in time allotments.

III. Unto a Postpatriarchal Family?

The time bind is a consequence of the fact that women are spending long hours in the public workplace, alongside men. As a consequence, all the tangible and intangible things that women did when hearth and home were the primary site of female labor are now collapsed into a few hours before the workday begins or at its end, or they are out-sourced, accomplished by others for a fee. Hochschild's research suggests that a great many people experience this new way of life in terms of a time bind; they say they are starved for time to spend with their families. Hochschild, herself, judges that this new organization of life results in a "care deficit," an insufficient amount of time and concern devoted to what she terms "the work of tending to family relationships [which] calls for noticing, acknowledging and empathizing with the feelings of family members."(TB,210) She is most concerned about children in what she calls the new "parent free home," recounting examples of children whose behavior she interprets as signalling a need for more parental attention.(TB,243, 258)

Some part of the problems identified by Hochschild can be addressed by better outsourcing, investing a lot more money in high quality childcare and educational services. If Hochschild is correct, however, in pointing to a general contraction and degradation of our personal lives, then the problem is a more complicated one. We are back on Virginia Held's turf, faced with the need to articulate the different quality of life in a familial context of love and care, as well as its intrinsic value. But with the massive movement of women into the workplace the structure of our private lives has been altered fundamentally, and the mother/child paradigm itself is no longer a societal given.

How has this situation come about? To answer this question we must recognize that personal relationships have been embedded within a largely involuntary patriarchal structure of male and female roles within our society. With the social enfranchisement of women, a woman's decision to become a wife or mother is newly voluntary, as is a man's decision to become a husband or father. For the first time, a woman's workplace role is in direct competition with her familial role. This competition occurs in very general instances - some women today forego familial responsibilities altogether. And it occurs in very specific instances - women with families must constantly negotiate between competing familial and workplace obligations. Insofar as men are beginning to share familial roles, this competition affects them as well.

As Hochschild emphasizes, the workplace has, for the moment, won out quite dramatically. Which is hardly surprising if we notice the odd way in which the competition has evolved. Home and workplace were, as Held's contrast of the two paradigms emphasized, two very different sorts of places, encouraging different qualities of selfhood and agency. But each traditional family and home was anchored by a woman who considered this her primary commitment in life. With the social enfranchisement of women, such a primary commitment is not possible or expected and our conceptions of home and family life have been greatly diminished. Having struggled to cast aside patriarchal family roles and relationships, our workplace selves return home each night to what has come to seem merely a more demanding, less rewarding workplace.

In our society, voluntary interpersonal relations are primarily understood according to a contractual model, as Held maintained. With the social enfranchisement of women, familial relations were quite readily translated into these contractual terms. While culturally devalued, the traditional family had been quite literally unvalued in market terms. Once it was forced to compete with the public sphere on the terms set by the public sphere, however, it soon became devalued. Moreover, its intangible relationships have been problematically translated into tangible contractual terms. Hochschild points out that mothers as well as fathers now evaluate their relations with their children in terms of how well the child is performing or "turning out." The child, along with other tasks in the taylorized home, has been turned into a product. Parents accept an explicitly goal-oriented relationship with the child, outsourcing the most tangible personal needs, as they do their own. There is simply no currency for measuring many intangible personal needs previously addressed by the involuntary if loving interpersonal labor of women, so these are ignored or devalued.

But if Held was right in insisting on the qualitative difference, as well as the intrinsic value, in our notions of selfhood and agency within personal relations as exemplified by the mother/child relational paradigm there would seem to be important grounds for attempting to re-think the basis for familial and personal relations. Surely there are grounds for believing that lives wholly immersed within even very fulfilling workplace relations are lacking in important human features; but apart from the banalities of New Age psychobabble, it is not clear what they are. Having struggled to free ourselves from patriarchal kinship relationships, we need to articulate fresh grounds for attempting to reconstitute postpatriarchal familial and personal relationships. The challenge will be to illuminate the intrinsic value of personal relations that are voluntary but explicitly non-contractual in their configuration.


Ours is a time of dramatic and confusing transformations in everyday life, many of them originating in the social enfranchisement of women that has occurred over the past twenty-five years. One of the only things we can pronounce with certainty is that current relations of work and family are in a state of flux. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild persuasively demonstrates a widespread phenomenon of work-family imbalance in our society, experienced by many people in terms of a time bind, and a devaluation of familial relationships. As large numbers of women have moved into the workplace, the surprising result has been that familial relations of all sorts have been colonized by what Virginia Held critically refers to as the contractual paradigm. Even the mother/child relationship, representing for Held an alternative feminist paradigm of selfhood and agency, has been in large part "outsourced."

In a longer version of this paper, I have suggested that an Arendtian conception of speech and action might enable us to assert anew the grounds for familial relations. If we require a new site upon which to address our human plurality and natality, as Arendt believes, the postpatriarchal family may provide that new site upon which individuals can freely act to recreate the fabric of human relationships.

Philosophers are, as Hegel remarked, more comfortable flying at dusk than at dawn, but it would seem to be our moral and political responsibility as social philosophers today to speculatively contribute to the difficult yet imperative task of reconfiguring the family.

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(1) See Patricia S. Mann, Micro-Politics: Agency in a Postfeminist Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994)

(2) Arlie Hochschild, The Second Shift (New York: Avon, 1989).

(3) Hochschild cites Juliet Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (New York: Basic Books,1991), p.32, who claims that over the last two decades the average worker has added a month of work, 164 hours, to his or her work year. Hochschild points out that there are disagreements over this figure, but cites Bureau of labor statistics to support it. See Arlie Hochschild, The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1997) pp. 6, 268-9.

(4) Arlie Hochschild, The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1997). In one study of approximately 1500 parents, 89% reported experiencing a problem of "time famine." (p.199)

(5) Hochschild, pp.26-7. She finds that 99% of Amerco workers work full-time, which means averaging 47 hours per week. Of workers with children under 12, only 4% of men and 13% of women worked less than 40 hours per week.

Hochschild also cites a 1985 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey reporting that at every age group more women wanted a longer workweek than wanted a shorter one. (p.34)

(6) See Christopher Lasch's Haven in a Heartless World (New York: Basic Books, 1977) for the classic statement of this vision of the home as a refuge from a difficult and dangerous public world.

(7) Hochschild, Chapter Four, "Family Values and Reversed Worlds," pp.35-52.

(8) See Virginia Held, Feminist Morality: Tranforming Culture, Society, and Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), particularly the penultimate chapter, "Noncontractual Society: The Postpatriarchal Family as Model."

(9) Hochschild quotes the director of the Amerco childcare as saying: "Most of our Amerco parents work from 8AM to 5 PM. They bring their children in half an hour ahead of time...It's a nine-or ten-hour day for most of the children." (Hochschild, p. 10) She also polls almost 1,500 middle-or upper-middle class parents who leave their children at company based childcare centers nation-wide. She finds that a third of parents had their children in childcare forty hours a week or more. (Hochschild, 199)

(10) See Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964)

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