The “nuclear family” is a family set-up that consists of a married, typically heterosexual, couple and their children under their care, all living in the same residence. This type of family gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of capitalism. Today, we are going to be discussing the ties between capitalism, the nuclear family, and heteronormativity.
According to Friedrich Engels, the nuclear familial pattern emerged with capitalism as the system was based on private ownership and at the core, competition within the market (including the labor market).
The transition between the different modes of production transformed community family relations and relations between the sexes. During the Industrial Revolution, improvements were made in technology and the massive growth of factories and industry also had put forth capitalism. The bourgeoisie require a sufficient supply of workers willing to sell their labor in order to accumulate profit. The nuclear family structure allowed families flexibility in the terms of career moves and at the same time, kept adults within the pool of exploitable workers in the capitalist workforce for as long as possible. This structure proved to serve capitalism well
In addition to ensuring a sufficient supply of the exploitable, this structure avoided the undesirable task to industrialize and socialize domestic labor such as child-raising and nursing because it is unprofitable for capitalists. This material basis caused the nuclear family structure to be firmly established. Generational wealth, wealth accumulated and passed down from one generation of a family to the next, emphasized wealth inequality and carved further definition into class disparity.
This family structure worked as an ideological apparatus for capitalism to enforce gender roles and promote passive submissiveness to hierarchy. Women were painted as subordinates through the image of the “housewife” (which, despite being heavily rooted in the conditions of the white upper middle classes, was used to depict all women) as domestic labor and reproductive labor went unrecognized. Under capitalism, you are valued according to how productive you are. As tasks defined as “women’s work” were behind-the-scenes compared to the ongoing wage slavery, this labor was never acknowledged, all the while women work to produce more workers for the labor market.
The man, painted as the breadwinner of the family (who was demeaned and exploited at work!), was the “boss” within the realms of the household and had full right to access a woman’s body. This perpetuated the notion of submitting to oppressive hierarchical structure, which shaped generations of workers to fit the capitalist mold. Along with enforcing capitalist culture, this structure was successful at gearing working-class young men with male-supremacist rhetoric. The institution clearly encourages the presence of sexism and strict gender roles.
Adding on to this, capitalism and the nuclear family structure undoubtedly reinforces cis-heternormativity. The bourgeois “ideal” hetero family displayed the image of success and desire for the working class, quickly gaining acceptance en masse. By the late 1800s, homosexuality received widespread demonization and passionate scrutiny. This was partially to suppress any alternatives to the “ideal” nuclear family norm that could have been counterproductive to capitalism.
Reproductive work, used to oppress women, was also a mechanism to justify LGBTQ+ oppression. The idea of the “perfect worker” (white, straight, male) must be sustained for competition, profit margins, and the pool of laborers to expand. This then perpetuates the concept of assigning gender roles defined in a biological sense (i.e. genitalia) to reproduce. As a result, the concept of gender and the concept of biological sex become inseparable and interchangeable under capitalism and heternormativity, asserting the notion of the gender binary. Sex, seen as the means of reproduction, becomes defined as between a male and a female, the “ideal norm”.
The hetero-nuclear family becomes what society sees as the “normal” family. Homophobic narratives were created with great enthusiasm, the rapid dogs benefiting white people, men, the cishet, and the bourgeoisie while suppressing, exploiting, and incarcerating working class individuals of color and LGBTQ+ identity.
CAPITALISM — A political and economical system in which the means of productions can be owned and controlled privately by individuals. Presence of two distinct classes: Bourgeoisie (the wealthy few individuals who own the means of production) and the proletariat (the masses; workers who sell their labor in exchange for a wage).
MEANS OF PRODUCTION — Facilities, machinery, raw materials or other resources needed to produce goods.
MODES OF PRODUCTION — Everything that goes into production including labor, the means of production, and relation between humans
HETERONORMATIVITY — The idea that heterosexuality and the gender binary is the norm
How capitalism enforces gender binary
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