Reading Response Essay #1

I’m going to admit to being a little nervous about this.

The assignment says, in part (I’ve left out the insignificant details),  “each student will maintain a weekly reading response journal that is based on the reading response questions that are posted on BlackBoard… Students should respond using examples from the readings to illustrate your points.  The format of the response should include the following: 1) date and response question, 2) discussion and response of the question using at least two examples from the assigned readings to illustrate points, 3) response and discussion of the question based on your personal opinion/experience, and 4) demonstrated critical analysis of the question and integration of the assigned readings into your opinion/experience.

Since I’m still not sure about what the expectations are for written assignments beyond what I’ve got there, I’m not sure that I’ve met them. Regardless, here’s what I’ve come up with for the first attempt.  Critique the hell out of it, wouldja?


Reading Response Question
September 1, 2012

In reading #1, Diana Gittins asks “what is a family and is it universal?”  Based on all of the Ferguson readings for 9/7/12, how would you answer Gittins’ questions?  Finally, define traditional notions of “the family” and discuss why we cling to traditional notions of family if, in reality, they represent such a small percentage of families today in the US?

The readings from Ferguson make clear that the notion of “family” is, at best, nearly impossible to define.  While it is true that every culture has an expression of “family,” no single, coherent definition can be applied to the structure that can be expected to encompass every permutation of family; there are simply too many factors to consider that make the composition a universal definition impossible.

The “traditional” notion of family, at least in this country and at this moment in time, is a heteronormative, male-dominated structure consisting of a bread-winning father, a caretaker mother, and the natural children of that couple’s state- and church-sanctioned marital union.  Seen from the outside, it could be argued that my family is the white, Western archetype; my husband (though not always the primary decision-maker) is currently the primary breadwinner; I left my job teaching high school to pursue a post-graduate certificate and, as a consequence, am only working part-time.  We were legally wed in a church, though neither of us subscribes to an organized faith.  Our two daughters were conceived and borne in wedlock.  For all intents and purposes, my husband and I are representative of the “perfect” middle class American family.

There are a number of ways in which the day-to-day of our family differs, though, from what I understand the “conservative” narrative concerning families should be.  Our division of labor isn’t based on traditional gender roles; though it’s true that my husband mows the lawn and snow-blows the driveway, he does those things not because I’m not able to or because he thinks I can’t, but rather because he’s the only one of us who can finesse those machines to do his bidding.  He is just as likely as I am to do dishes or run a few loads of laundry.  I see to the care and keeping of the vehicles and often execute home repairs myself.  We saw – and continue to see – equally to both the emotional and physical care of our children; we each bathed and diapered the babies, we each help with homework, we each provide for the varying needs of our growing children (in fact, my husband is the one who cares for the girls when they’re vomiting; I simply haven’t the stomach for that kind of sickness).  Decisions about household expenses are shared between us, as are the continuing demands of parenting teenage daughters.  While there’s a lot about our family that looks “traditional,” there is much about our relationships that deviate from that idea (at least, as I understand the current conservative narrative).

Ours is a unique situation, though, and there are as many expressions of family as there are individuals who make them.  Considering the components of race, class, sexual orientation, educational level, profession, and physical surroundings and the effect that these influences have on the ways in which domestic arrangements are made and maintained, one needs also to take into account the impacts of faith, “traditional” definitions, social expectations, and governmental policies on the ways in which we arrange ourselves into family units.

My sister and her wife are an excellent example of a family that finds itself outside the sanctioned definition of “family,” though admittedly that definition is changing.  I find it interesting that even those who are accepting of their union as a marriage will still ask them when they plan to have children (and the more bold will ask how they plan to have them); the expectations placed on even non-traditional families to adhere to a socially acceptable pattern of behavior is pervasive.

In her article, Gittins makes the argument that while we may think we have a working definition of “family,” the reality of the various lives that people lead renders that definition unworkable.  She argues that the standards for behavior change with time and situation, that any number of forces affect the customs and social acceptability of certain practices, and that marriage and family customs have been fluid throughout human history.  To try to apply one rigid definition of family leaves out all but a wrenchingly narrow representation of people and, further, denigrates and marginalizes nearly everyone.

As to the claim that we cling to a narrow definition of family despite evidence that so few people actually live in conditions that would be recognized as meeting that definition, I’m not entirely certain that we do.  As our nation becomes more diverse, as children grow up in a more accepting and tolerant environment, and as culture and customs continue to evolve – however slowly that may be happening – so, too, do our definitions of “normal” change and adapt.  My husband and I are raising our daughters to both accept and understand that there are a number of different ways to express love and care, and that no one way is the “right” way.

I understand, because I am reasonably conscious and attentive to the political environment, that there are an alarming number of people who do cling desperately to a codified and proscribed definition of family, and who are at best deeply suspicious of and, at worst, outright hostile to people whose practices do not meet with that standard.  My thinking is that these people are either afraid of losing their privileged position as members of sanctioned institutions – and whatever control or influence that position grants them, whether real or perceived – or they are operating under the mistaken belief that allowing other ways of being to be officially condoned and recognized will somehow threaten their own rights to live as they please.  Sadly, I do know of people who genuinely believe that the acceptance of homosexual marriage will, in fact, threaten hetero marriage, and it seems that no amount of logic or placating will allay their fears.  Fortunately, these are not fears that I or my family share.


1 Comment

Filed under composition, critical thinking, Mrs. Chili as Student, writing

One response to “Reading Response Essay #1

  1. I am still amazed how the general population defines family. Crap, sociologists have long moved beyond the traditional thinking of family. We have families that are comprised of people from different races, cultures, etc. Gays and lesbians now and have been adopting kids who may be of a different race. This holds true for heteros too. Folks have married, divorced, remarried bringing kids from on relationship to the next. Family is about love and support. I love the essay.

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