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Anarchism and the Family Structure
-Bill Burns

Anarchism and its value can best be understood, I believe, by comparing it with those institutions in contemporary society ­ the family, the schools, the workplace and the State ­ which attempt to deny us our individual freedom and sense of community with each other. Each of us has had experiences in relation to these oppressive institutions, which have opened us to anarchism. Because of my experiences (good and bad) my anarchism is personal, playful, and spontaneous, an outpouring of the joy and pain of living.

The purpose of this article is to explore the Family and to take a look at our experiences so that we can feel our anarchism. How many of us have a sense of who we really are and what we could be? Try to find a quiet moment and think about this.

In our lives we fill or try on different roles: male, female, mother, father, black, white, daughter, son, brother, sister, businessperson, worker, student, et cetera. But each of these roles is defined and structured in some way by the society we live in. We don't own these roles ­ they often own us. Even when we are rebelling against these roles our very rebellion is often pre-determined by society.

As Max Stirner, a 19th Century German anarchist, points out in his book The Ego and Its Own, we have "wheels in our head." We are driven from the time we are born by values and thoughts that are so often imposed on us. Who am I? As Stirner points out, where is my "ownership of self"? A role, baby. Do we own our thoughts or do they own us? Sometimes I feel like a dog chasing his tail in my attempts to find my own sense of freedom in this society.

READ THIS ARTICLE!! BELIEVE WHAT I SAY!! NOW!! Sound familiar? Perhaps your stomach tightens and twists when you read a statement like this. I know mine does. When I hear shit like this ­ and we get it in a thousand and one ways in our daily lives ­ I want to rebel, fight back, be lazy, anything but go along with the program.

Sometimes, like so many others, I want to stop feeling. And some of us, sometimes, repress our anger and let it out later on someone we love. To know how you want to be with others but to be caught in this institutional authoritarian sewer-society is enough to make one scream in pain and explode.Where do we get the pattern of our thinking? Where do the "oughts" and the "shoulds" that we lay on ourselves and others come from?

Certainly in the "WASP" socialization process, which many of us know most intimately; it starts with the nuclear family. The WASP nuclear family could be defined as a social unit of a parent or parents and their children living in one household. In African-American or Latina families the parenting is often extended to other relatives who sometimes live in the household, but not necessarily. Both the nuclear and extended family provide us with our oughts and shoulds. To do so they fulfill tremendous responsibilities.They carry out these responsibilities in several ways: by defining gender roles; by socializing children; through intra-family relations; and through the reasons for the family structure.

I believe that the "family" in our society is by nature hierarchical, patriarchal (or influenced by patriarchy), and authoritarian. It is, therefore, a perfect vehicle for the needs of capitalism. But it is a totally inappropriate vehicle for educating each of us to be loving, caring, cooperative free human beings!

The processes of role defining, socialization, and forming relationships within the family are known as "kinship activity." By this I am referring not only to those systems within the entire family that focus on the socialization of children, but also those that deal with sexuality, procreation, child rearing, maturation and aging. These kinship activities define sexual norms and also determine the way children are to become adult lovers, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, uncles, aunts.

In order to make sure that these activities within the family and within the larger society are harmonious to "societal values," folks within the family must take on certain roles. These roles are most often defined by gender. And in our society these gender roles and relations are often structured in a patriarchal way to a high degree.

Why patriarchy? People-societies have not always been dominated by males. For example, at various times in ancient Egypt, power was strongly matriarchal. Various Native American groups through their kinship systems have also distributed power through womyn. But on the whole for the last few thousand years much of society has been dominated by males. Since most cultures are aggressive, competitive, and authoritarian, and since males are generally physically stronger, "might usually makes right." Does it have to be so? At what point in time did people-societies change from cooperative agricultural societies to largely warrior-military dominated ones? Can males be gentle, cooperative, and liberating in their relationships?

Certainly as a male I want to answer yes I can be different. But then I look at my own aggressive dominating tendencies, and history, and I wonder.Let's look at the point of view of the authors of the book Liberating Theory as regards gender roles. "The point is that sexual biology dictates a particular division of labor in only two regards: giving birth and breast-feeding. All other gender relations are socially established."

What's more in every case where differences exist between what men and womyn do, including the bearing of children, the meanings given these differences are socially defined. How people interact with one another in kinship activity is established by the kinship institutions of the institutional boundary and the patterns developed in the human the power of the fathers: a familial social, ideological, political system in which men by force, direct pressure, or through ritual, tradition, law and language, customs, etiquette, education, and the division of labor determine what part women shall or shall not play, and where the female everywhere is subsumed under the male.

I live under the powers of the fathers and I have access only to so much of privilege or influence as the patriarchy is willing to accede to me and only for so long as I will pay the price for male approval.

Sounds real familiar doesn't it? Naw, not in the great old USA. I mean, we have had 25 years of feminism and womyn are now in positions of power.


Illustration by Luís Rolón

Yet somehow I get the feeling that it's still the same old ball game. Power dominance relationships are still pervasive. Some women have put on pants suits, aping men. But it's still the same old putrid patriarchy of dominance, hierarchy, and control by white males and their minions.

Let's be clear about what patriarchy is. It is dominance of males over females, but it is also dominance of males over males. It is very important that we not paint patriarchy with broad brush strokes. Oftentimes it can be subtle.

For example, an individual family might be dominated by a woman. Her male child is buffeted by the enormous passions of fear and insecurity that she feels for him because he must enter a world of dominance and competition. She is afraid for herself and her child. But does her dominance make this patriarchy? Or are the dynamics of this individual family a result of the insidious effects of patriarchy and its twin, capitalism?

Each of us have pain that we carry from childhood and anarchism is a way of fighting back. As a person and an anarchist communist, I will not be dominated by males or by persons referring to themselves as females!

What is mothering and fathering in our society? What are the values and traits associated with each? What does it mean to be masculine? To be feminine? Inherent in patriarchy ­ in the roles for each of us within the kinship system of family ­ are a lot of supposed-to's, shoulds, and oughts. "A man does not cry and if he does it must be seldom." "Women are nurturing, men are tough." What a bunch of crap! Who the fuck says? Or, could it be that each of us, with our socially prescribed roles, facilitates the smooth running of the "pecking order" of capitalism, which requires New World Order for it to survive.

Viva La Resistance! Liberty to all those who choose what they are and feel what they feel!


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