I’m feeling tired and headachey and frustrated. I don’t think I’m getting enough sleep, with the new puppy and John’s schedule changes and taking 20 credits. My Saturday class starting at 9 am isn’t exactly helping this whole shebang.
I’m supposed to be working on a 3-4 page paper that summarizes the, “the main variations and changes in American family life from colonial times to the late 19th century, including some consideration of the patterns, causes or implications of the changes and paying attention to variations by class and race.” I’m not really sure where to start.
I mean, in class we’ve looked at the familial structures of European immigrants, African immigrants, and Native Americans in the 16th century. We’ve examined how colonial legislations were enacted to extend indentured servitude contracts and to require the children of black indentured women to also be subject to the contract, until this racialized system of working class control that we now know as slavery was created.
We’ve also looked at the role of community in the family, and how over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, marriage transitioned from a concept of community, familial, and godly duty to a partnership that would ideally be based in affection.
Like, when I say community/ familial/ godly, it’s almost foreign how completely different the mindset and attitude was. For example, it was totally cool for someone to spy into your house, into your bedroom even, and tattle on you if you were cheating on your spouse. Like absolutely no-one would respond to that situation by saying, “Uh, what were you doing looking into their house, you creepy peeping Tom?”
Instead, the eyewitness evidence would be entered into the record all bland and factual — “Mistress Jones did observe Prentice Smith with her hand inside Jonathan Miller’s codpiece, and did Jonathan Miller kiss Prentice Smith in her nether regions, though he knew her to be married,” type deal.
What’s even more fascinating is that back then, their concept of sin was completely different. It kind of related to how they fit into society as a whole — they had this whole concept that basically everything had a place ordained by god, and if you were born a peasant that sucked, but that was god’s role for you in the machinery that is life. And their concept of sin was basically that man was debased and sin was the default — that our earthly lives were striving to escape the muck of sin, so if you caught someone, say, masturbating in the churchyard (actual example in our books), it wasn’t necessarily a reflection of their character or failings as an individual — it was much more, “Well, what are you gonna do. We’re all debased beings here, amirite? Flog ’em and fine ’em.”
Then, after they repented/ paid their dues through the flogging and fining, it was done, and they were reintegrated back into society. In fact, the masturbating churchyard guy? According to primary documents of the time, he was caught sinning a few more times (same sex acts, an orgy, etc.), and he was fined and punished and whatnot … but he also became a city Alderman, which is a pretty respectable position.
Nowadays, of course, we see “sin” as a personal, individual moral failing — no politician today could jack off in the parking lot of a church and later have an orgy, then have those events become public record and still ascend to a respected public office.
And their concept of family was just … wow. I mean, nowdays if a parent doesn’t like the person their child is dating or married to, it’s like, well tough luck. But back then, if a parent didn’t approve of a potential suitor for their son or daughter, they could reject them. I guess the best way to illustrate it is Romeo & Juliet. In modern times, we read this play as a love story between two teens who were willing to give up everything to be together. Their families are read as hard-hearted and selfishly materialistic.
A more accurate 16th century reading of this play, apparently, would view the kids as selfish for putting their own desires above that which would benefit their family — and the priest is dangerously ungodly, a rogue element who undermines the community by undermining the family decrees.
It’s not until several generations later, approaching the Revolutionary War, that this colonial ideal of duty-based family-centric communities begins to be overtaken by a more modern shift toward affection-based nuclear families isolated from the community.
And it’s interesting, because the enslaved community held similar transitioning ideals — from a marriages of necessity to marriages based in affection — despite the fact that their owners had the ability to break apart their family at any point through the use of the auction block. In fact, one of our books says the affection and kinship ties formed by Black Americans during American slavery was one of the most effective tools at a Plantation owners disposal, because tearing apart families was more psychologically scarring than any whipping.
Even Native Americans eventually transitioned their attitudes and experiences of family and marriage to better fit the colonizing notions that prevailed and became normative. For instance, the Iroqious used to have a more matriarchal lineage, with female chiefs and the husband’s moving into the mother-in-law’s home, a practice they stopped several generations after Euro colonization in order to basically fit in better and not be completely annihiliated by these strangely murderous invaders.
Many tribes also had ideas like gender roles within the household/ community, but biological sex was not necessarily associated with those roles — for example, a woman could marry a man, and she would perform her typical gender role of keeping the house while the man performed his typical gender role of hunting. But the woman could also marry a woman, or a man a man, so long as they each performed one of the necessary gender roles for a household or community to run smoothly. It wasn’t so much about what the people did in the bedroom as it was how they interacted in the community — as long as the hunt was getting tracked/ killed by one spouse and skinned/ cooked by the other, nobody really cared what the biological sex of the parties involved or their bedroom activities were.
It’s fascinating and awesome, but I just don’t know where to begin the paper. And I don’t know when/ how to write it, with all the scheduling changes and someone always being home. Just now, when I was writing that bit up there (which I’ll probably cut and paste into Word and expand into my paper) I got distracted by our dog Sirius blowing up at our cat Dmitri and knocking over the baby gate, and then all four cats running in here with the puppy on their tails, followed by Kidling running in to try and capture his puppy.
And ever since that happened, one of the cats (I can’t tell which one) has been yowling sadly outside my door, but when I went to open the door and let the noisy little fucker in, whichever one it is ran off. Is it Dmitri? Is he injured? Don’t know. Can’t find him. Is it Eragon or Flufflepuff, howling for their trapped brother? Arwen, wanting to come in and cuddle? I can’t tell. And now it’s Kidling’s bedtime, and John will be home soon.