For being unemployed, I’ve been strangely busy lately. I have several thoughts swirling around my head, so let’s see if I can arrange some of them in at least a semi-articulate way.
I was having a conversation with a friend earlier today and at some point we ended up on the topic of marriage and family. She was telling me about a conversation she had with her dad about how the value society places on family has shifted over the years. And there has been definite shifts, I don’t think there’s any denying that.
If we look back at say the 1950s, the ideal was a nuclear family. A woman’s end goal a lot of the time was to get married and have children. The husband was the one with the career who supported his family financially. Enter the 1960s, with all sorts of interesting cultural shifts, including the sexual revolution. Things begin to change, but for the most part, women who are getting married are still doing so at a fairly young age. Having children is still the norm. Flash forward a few more decades, to the 1990s. Now the average marriage age is significantly higher. More and more women are career-focused. The concept of the family has changed. If a woman gets married and wants to have kids, cool. If she doesn’t, that’s cool too. Different types of families are now more prevalent – same-sex couples, single moms, single dads, varying assortments of relatives living in one household, etc. And family isn’t just biological relatives anymore – family is whoever an individual values the most, cares for the most, goes through the most with.
Now let’s consider things today. The average age of marriage is still higher, the concept of family has a continually expanding range of meanings, gender is more fluid and more obviously a construct, and female empowerment and supporting women’s rights is now a global goal. Things are considerably different now than in the 1950s. In some ways, more complicated and confusing. Personally, I no longer feel the same need to get married that I did when I was younger. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. And I am well aware that this is far from every woman’s reality. The concepts of sex and gender vary so greatly dependent on culture, environment, religion, society, economics and politics – that it’s impossible to ever describe the full reality of what it means to be female. However, if I am to generalize the reality I am most familiar with, I do have to agree with my friend’s dad – the concept of the individual now seems to take precedence over the concept of family. I see examples of this everyday, even within my own household. The environment my youngest brother, who is 11 years younger than me, is growing up in is seemingly more individualistic than my own. And yes there are certain negatives to this, but I do not see this shift as all bad. I like to think that decent people will always invest time and energy into the people who mean the most to them, biological family or otherwise. In some ways, this is a definite departure from traditional family values. The individual first concept is a product of world with less boundaries in all senses of the word – social constructs mean less, open-mindedness means more and the globe is more interconnected than ever.
So yes, as a society, I think we are more individually-focused now than in the past. We are also more globally focused. The concept of family might sometimes be outweighed by the concept of what it means to be human. We live in an increasingly complex, terrifying and amazing world. We never have complete control, so I think it makes sense to value most what we do have control over: how we live our own lives and who we keep close to us while we live our lives.