One truth that has pride of place in the progressive pantheon is that the traditional family is a source of oppression for women and children. Paradoxically, women and children, however, are less likely than ever to have to endure the strictures of family. According to author Danielle Crittenden, women today are more likely to be divorced, never married, or to bear children out of wedlock.
Unencumbered by the oppressive effects of marriage, women are also more likely to be poor and to suffer from addictions and sexually transmitted diseases. And their children, a third of whom are being “raised in households headed only by a mother,” are paying the price for this emancipation. These children have higher dropout, addiction and crime rates and are more likely to live in poverty. Having survived the perils of slavery, the black family, in particular, was still going strong until the 1930s. Then the Welfare State took over and the rest is history. The black American family as a social unit has, to all intents and purposes, been decimated.
What remains of the unit that was once the transmitter of values in society cannot possibly pose a threat to its enemies. Depicted so delightfully in the film “A Christmas Story,” the traditional family has metamorphosed into what Charles Sykes calls the “Therapeutic Family.” Having “adjusted itself to the new demands of the social contract with the Self,” explains Sykes in A Nation of Victims, the modern family has ceased to inculcate values. Instead, it exists exclusively for the ostensible unleashing of “self-expression and creativity” in its members.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., always a diligent underwriter of all forms of cohabitation that deviate from the traditional family, must have slipped up when it screened “A Christmas Story.” The film, set in the 1950s, depicts a series of family vignettes through the eyes of nine-year-old Ralphie, who, for the Christmas, yearns for that gift of all gifts, the BB gun.
Mother is a homemaker, father is a regular working stiff, and between them they have no repertoire of psychobabble to rub together. No one implores Ralphie to express his feelings, or engage in any form of abreaction. In fact, he is urged to show restraint and is disciplined when naughty. But he sure is not put on Ritalin for day dreaming in class, nor is he diverted into life skills and anger-management curricula when he gets into a fistfight. Despite the dearth of therapeutic comfort-speak in his life, Ralphie is a happy little boy.
Maybe the first to have helped conflate the values of the middle class bourgeois family with pathological authoritarianism was psychologist Theodor Adorno. Certainly, the literal punishment Ralphie receives for uttering the “F” word, and the ubiquitous reminders he gets of starving children when he refuses his food, fail every New Age psychological commandment. By today’s parenting standards, Ralphie would be doomed to an emotional abyss.
Progressives can rest assured: This bete noire of a family, with its oppressed mother, therapeutically-challenged father and firm discipline, is being reined in. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has trounced the Bill of Rights on issues of human rights, has deleted reference to the family. Coupled with the omission of any mention of the family, the Charter includes “age as a prohibited ground for discrimination.” With this, writes lawyer Cindy Silver of the Center for Renewal in Public Policy, the Charter “effectively changed the constitutional status of children to one of prima facie equality with adults.”
The legacy of the Adorno construct has been carried over into the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Here the consensus among rights advocates is that, due to its authoritarian structure, the traditional family is oppressive to women and children. “The solution,” explains Silver, “has been for the State to shift the balance in the parent-child relationship through policies that would define and limit the power of the parent while increasing the power of the child.”
Fulfilling the promise of “Hitler’s Youth” doesn’t seem to be at the top of the list for kids. Despite what the State has done to usurp family autonomy and parental rights, children still place family above all else, something that was self evident from the results of an exercise Elections Canada undertook in the public schools. Despite the attempt to inculcate them into the culture of state-enforced rights and entitlements, kids overwhelmingly expressed a preference for the traditional family.
If children could choose their families, most would opt for the kind of family depicted in “A Christmas Story.”
©2000 By ILANA MERCER
A version of this article was first published in The Calgary Herald