The traditional nuclear family is regarded as one of the most important foundations in human society, signs of some sort a family structure can be found almost everywhere in the world as seen by George Murdock’s sociological study of 250 societies and his argument holds that there must be something so formidable in the family structure for it to have survived as an institution for so long.
For it is within the family that children receive their primary socialization which enables them to become useful and stable members of that particular society, the family also is responsible for the regulation of an individual’s sexual urges and most importantly aids the process of sexual reproduction, without which society cannot function. On the surface these functions present a very rosy picture of family life as the family is supposed to provide a continuous supply of emotional and even financial support especially for dependent members such as children but as you probe deeper you come to realize that the truth is far more sinister.
It is true that the family as an institution indeed shapes individuals into the active and contributing members it so desperately needs, it is also a way to instill in them the shared norm and values of their parents which include religion and class. And although it provides an outlet for individuals, preferably married individuals, to engage in socially acceptable acts of sexual activity but the homogenized nuclear family representations we see on television aim to benefit a very small and privileged group in society. The question then arises as to who this group might be.
In simple Marxist terms this would be the capitalist bourgeoisie that has only one objective; reaping in as much profit as possible. They achieve this bottom line by brutally exploiting the proletariat; since they hold the means of production, they hold power over the masses. In feminism, this power belongs to the patriarchy where men are superior to women and hold power over them but this is no longer done by force and that is where the mass media steps in as it is used by the people in power as a sort of ideological state apparatus.
Support for this can be found everywhere in society today, especially in the case of the family. Ann Oakley speaks of a cereal packet nuclear family with two parents of the opposite sex and one or more children and this “ideal” image is strongly promoted in advertisements and is increasingly replacing our own traditional Pakistani extended family system, this is important to note since the nuclear family structure aids geographical mobility, it is more effective for the capitalist economy. The extended family is portrayed as a thing of the past now, with greater emphasis on individuality and freedom which can only be enjoyed if both the parents work outside the home while the children are at school. The focus now is on materialism, competitive possessiveness and more and more consumption.
This also creates problems within the family structure, in a nuclear family setup the wife is much easier to exploit as hers is the expressive role whereby she is expected to be nurturing and timid and totally in charge of the housework whereas the husband has the instrumental role in which he is the head of the household, is the main breadwinner and therefore holds authority over the rest of the members. However most working women today work the triple shift; they go out to their jobs where they face gender discrimination and are paid less as compared to men, they return home to countless household chores and on the arrival of their husbands and children, they are required to also put in the emotional work.
This unequal distribution of work is justified by the fact that the woman receives some sort of compensation in the form of gifts or vacations from time to time from her husband but that does not change the fact that this is unpaid labor which women all over the world engage in on a daily basis. The worst part being that they have internalized this as their solemn duty as mothers, wives and daughters, an idea that is thoroughly inculcated within our drama serials and shows.
The media therefore not only helps cement the patriarchal roles into place but also makes sure that any attempts to evade this system’s clutches be made futile. Women are shown that their primary purpose in life is to get married, have kids and that this is their only chance at attaining real happiness. A widowed or divorced woman rarely is seen playing an active role in society and this utilitarian viewpoint confirms women’s role merely as appendages to “their” men.
Portrayals of women in the media have been and are increasingly becoming more and more sexist in nature with entire products being promoted off of the sexual objectification of women, this in turn not only dehumanizes and alienates women but also sets impossible standards of beauty and ideals which women must aspire to achieve. The most common example of this type of thought control is done by the fashion and cosmetic industries that play on both men and women’s insecurities, exalting some traits like fairer skin and youth for example, ostracizing others like being overweight and even equating them to an individual’s success or failure e.g. Forhans formenz had a well-known cricketer exclaiming out “For success fairness is a must”.
It is extremely important to critically analyze the content of our media because it holds a great amount of power over our lives and our minds, and Hollywood in particular because their techniques and methods have become a standard for every other media industry in the world. This “Hollywood-ization” then leads to the destruction of our own cultural values and traditions by portraying them as lowly and this is extremely dangerous and deteriorating to an individual’s psychological and social well-being.
The idea of a well-endowed, scantily clad female has become the norm in the media industry now with huge franchises such as Fast and the furious and James Bond backing these stereotypes. These directly affect the types of relationships people have that are built on appearances rather than intellect or personality. The ingenious partnership between capitalism, media and the patriarchy enslaves us all in a vicious cycle where women are told by the media that they need to lose weight or look like a model in order to get a man interested, that they are inherently flawed but should not despair since they have products to fix all these imperfections.
This is also internalized by men who define women by their appearance and so basically create the need for these products which benefits the capitalistic elite. In return they give men power over women by putting them in a perpetual box of self-loathing, self-hate and an unhealthy obsession with looks. Women are so caught up in this web of deception, they start believing that they are to blame and apart from doing it themselves also let others inflict violence upon them. This does not only affect women who become emotional wrecks but also affects men who become this typical macho character who revels in his authority and superiority.
The allocation of gender roles during primary socialization can also be seen as a way for the family to keep its members in place. Girls are taught to be gentle and nurturing, as they are given dolls and kitchen utensils to play with and boys are taught to be aggressive and more mechanical with toys such as fire trucks and puzzles. Even seemingly innocent endearments like “my big strong boy” or “my little princess” help in the internalization of these gender roles, and this role-play is preparing children for their apparent parts with boys going out to earn and girls being responsible for the home.
In Albert Bandura’s social learning experiment on media effects on the level of aggression in children, the female model’s aggression was met with disdain and disapproval by the children who claimed it was not right for a lady to be physically aggressive but accepted her verbal aggression. Little boys are taught to be more violent through video games that also sexualize women and cartoons like Tom and Jerry for example. It has always confused me how a cartoon so filled with violence is considered appropriate for children who are so vulnerable to what they view.
However it should also be pointed out that from the postmodern perspective, society is viewed as way more diverse and fluid than just these old notions of traditional gender roles, due to the fragmentation and rise of new family forms because of higher divorce rates, an increase in secularization (debatable but still valid) and the integration of more and more women into the labor force.
People now can choose to simply co habit and even have children out of wedlock, women can choose to have children using IVF or adoption, the social acceptance of gay and lesbian families and the rise in single parenthood is evidence of a move away from traditional family structures, although contemporary feminists still claim that the emergent forms of family still exploit and disadvantage women and our own society still holds strong to its patriarchal values.