Defamilialisation: an ideology that shapes our lives

The Economist magazine is perhaps the most influential publication on earth. One of its pet projects is promoting an ideology known as defamilialization, also known as post-familialism and post-maternalism. Though these unmarketable terms are kept to academic publications and out of the media, they have, without a doubt, impacted our lives.

In its January 2010 cover feature, We did it!, announcing that women would soon be 50 percent of the US labour force, the libertarian magazine summarized this global mega-project: “Welfare states were designed when most women stayed at home. They need to change the way they operate.” [1]

Of course, women have never simply “stayed at home”. They have always done essential work for their families and communities. The welfare state was created to support unwaged family care work. Defamilialization erodes the system that ensures care for the vulnerable, especially children.

In a more recent dossier, The Weaker Sex, The Economist tells us about weak men, and strong single mothers, employed and raising their kids without fathers. The mothers are “far from rich, but they are getting by,” and “Few women in rich countries need a man’s support to raise a family. (They might want it but they don’t need it.)”

The article suggests men will turn out better with “early childhood education” — state-funded daycare — as boys. The fact that “a Chinese steelworker is cheaper than an American” is mentioned, but without questioning the ethics or wisdom of politicians who approve trade laws that facilitate maximizing corporate profits at the cost of male unemployment.

Being a low-income single mother myself I know that the happy story of independent, low-income single motherhood is spin. It promotes a family situation that no one wants for themselves but which some policy-shapers see as an ideal type.

‘We did it!’ Keeping women at work

In the “We Did It!” feature, articles gushed about women’s “dramatic progress” and “empowerment”. Being dependent on an employer apparently gives women “more control over their own lives”. Women’s productivity outside the GDP is only mentioned in misogynistic insults: “the loss” and “wasted talent” until “millions of brains have been put to more productive use”.

Despite its libertarian posture of disdain for state intervention, The Economist believes that the “issue” of motherhood can somehow be resolved with state funded daycare. As for “benefits for parents”, “the answer is no.” The problem of “too little time for their children” is merely a “middle class couples” complaint. Poor children suffer most, not from lack of parental time (which apparently they don’t need), but lack of daycare so mums can get jobs — however “low-paying”.

Back in 1998 the magazine was frank about the motivations behind employing women: “It is perfectly possible to devise a system that will produce more children and still keep women at work”. Subsidized daycare increases the labour pool with mothers, a “godsend to employers [because it] …raises demand, not least for goods and services that will make a working woman’s life easier: labour-saving devices, convenience foods, meals out, child care….”

Even better for profits, “[W]omen usually cost less to employ than men, are more prepared to be flexible and less inclined to kick up a fuss if working conditions are poor. Far fewer of them are members of trade unions.”

Disregard for parental choice or evidence supporting defamilialism

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