Saturday, August 20, 2011

Read On! Unhitched: Love, Marriage, Family Values

(Read On! ... occasional posts on writing worth reading)

While my children read numerous required books over the summer, I was fortunate enough to read Judith Stacey's new book, Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China (NYU Press, 2011).
Judith (left), who is a Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and Sociology at New York University, spent more than a decade interviewing and observing different types of families in California, South Africa, and China. This book compellingly (and wittily) draws together her ethnographic analysis of the various types of families with which she spent time: gay men in California, polygynous families in South Africa, and the matrilineal, matrilocal Mosuo families in China.
She is straightforward about her goals in exploring these families. She seeks to show the need to value sexual and family diversity, asserting,

'A democratic state has no business dictating or even favoring any particular brand of intimacy or family life.'

(p. 200) Indeed, she suggests parallels between the histories of monogamous and plural marriages, and she challenges feministspp. 205-06) to respect

'the intimate choices of women who do not share feminist desires.'

In questioning unitary definitions of the family and marriage, Stacey uses these diverse family forms to illuminate contemporary cultural clashes over the future of the family. Covering issues arising from the 1965 Moynihan Report to President Obama’s support for marriage-promotion, Stacey urges skepticism not only about the conventional marriage model of one man for one woman but also about popular notions concerning the family and sexuality held by conservatives and feminists.

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