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The family is the smallest unit of society. It is also said to be a part of what makes us human. Throughout all of history across each of the many cultures of the world, the meaning of family was always variable. To the anthropologist, a broad definition would describe a family as a group of at least two people related through marriage (affinal), blood (consanguineal), or adoption.[1][2]

There are many variations of family in structure such as the nuclear family describing parents and their children in a culturally-sanctioned relationship; the extended family entailing at least three generations in a household; the stem family, a multigenerational family with an older couple and their adult offspring and their spouse and children in a household; the joint family, a large and extended multigenerational family with two or more married children; polygamous families, describing those in plural marriages entailing multiple spouses; step/blended families, describing a family widowed or divorced adults that marry, bringing with them offspring from a previous relationship.[3][4]

Because of its multifaceted and inextricable link with human life, the concept of family influences and is influenced in turn by other related concepts such as marriage, reproduction, immigration, colonialism, capitalism, and queer and trans persons. Marriage influences family as it shapes the structure of society’s smallest unit. Reproduction follows marriage as the often implicit heteronormative goal of families. Families may choose immigration, leading to familial separation and the setting of new familial roots. Colonialism forcibly displaces families and sustains certain ideas of how family ought to be. Capitalism grows from colonialism, using families to fuel the economy. Finally, queer and trans persons pave new ways to conceptualize the family. Thus, it is important to explore how each of these dimensions interact with the institution of family.[5]

Marriage and Family

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Marriage and family are two interconnected institutions that play large roles in shaping individuals and society at large. This intricate relationship between marriage practices and familial structures leads to either exerting influence on the other and with interrelated social, cultural, legal, economic, and gendered dimensions in addition to reproductive, immigratory, colonial, capitalist, and queer elements.

Marriage is a socially-sanctioned union that is regulated by culture and law and is often said to be the foundation of family, society’s smallest unit consisting of two or more people related by blood, marriage, or adoption.[1][2][3] Though an individual person living alone may be the head of a household and is born to a family, they would not, under popular definitions, be considered a family by themselves.[1] This individual, however, would likely possess a family of orientation, the family one is raised in. Should they marry, this individual would make a family of procreation, the family created through marriage or adoption.[3][4]

Many cultures implicitly see marriage as a long-lasting relationship, entailing sexual relations, reproduction, child-rearing, socialization, economic management, and emotional support, all often understood as the functions of a marriage.[3] Marriage regulates sexual relations by prescribing rules such as who can have sex, when can they have sex, and what is considered real and proper sex.[2] In Canada's colonial days, the sexual activity of Asian, Indigenous, and white men and women were regulated so as to prevent inter-racial and inter-ethnic relationships in order to promote white colonial supremacy.[6][7] In addition, due to religious, cultural, and colonial factors, contemporary North American societies tend to reinforce heteronormative and patriarchal beliefs about sex, such as sex being between a man and a woman and that real sex describes penile-vaginal penetration only.[6] These regulations also influence American college students into believing oral sex to be a less real or true form of sex.[8] Additionally, reproduction, child-rearing, and socialization are implicit goals in heterosexual marriages. Reproduction at a practical level continues the family line as well as the human race; child-rearing promotes the growth of children; socialization sets roles for family members in order to become competent members of society by adhering to the norms.[2][5]

Notably, the main legal function of marriage is to ensure the rights of each spouse with respect to the other as well as to ensure the rights of children in a given society. Historically, marriage also legally conferred legitimacy to offspring, granting them privileges as outlined by a given society.[2] In a similar vein, in colonial Canada, people considered illegitimate, as well as mixed-race individuals, were subject to poor treatment due to colonial beliefs of mixed-race "mongrels" tainting a "white" Canada, despite white people being a minority at the time.[6][7]

As mentioned, families can have a variety of arrangements that include nuclear and extended families, couples without children, single-parent families, families living apart, same-sex families, or couples with any combination of sexual orientation and gender identities.[2][4] In Western countries, while nuclear families are the norm, extended family households are actually the most common and normative arrangement globally.[1][9]

Marriage influences the family in patterns of residence and power. Regarding familial patterns of residence, married people may have a residence that is patrilocal (married couple living with the husband’s family), matrilocal (married couple living with the wife’s family), neolocal (married couple living away from either spouse’s family), avunculocal (married couple living with or near the groom's mother's brother) or ambilocal (married couple chooses which spouse's family to live with or near).[4] Regarding familial patterns of power, historical and contemporary families tend to be matriarchal (power concentrated in the eldest woman) or patriarchal (power concentrated in the eldest man), however, contemporary North American families are now seeing fathers as more equal partners by sharing responsibilities in rearing the children and taking care of domestic duties.[3] This gendered division of labour is often present in marriages, with fathers traditionally seen as the breadwinners and mothers as domestic caretakers. Some Marxist theories assert capitalism to be the root of female oppression due to the gendered division of labour as women are expected to engage in unpaid and overlooked domestic and emotional labour, fuelling the father to support the family by going to work while others say female oppression in capitalism is simply an artifact from previous societal power imbalances. However, some feminist scholars like Gayle Rubin assert that capitalism alone cannot explain women's oppression because arguing why women are useful in capitalism does not explain where women's oppression comes from[1][10]

Marriage also influences the family in the exclusivity of the spouses. Monogamy referring to an exclusive marriage of two individuals. Polygamy, or a plural marriage, refers to a marriage with multiple partners. Polygyny describes a husband with multiple wives while polyandry describes a wife with multiple husbands.[1][11] In North America, monogamous relationships are considered the norm and are reinforced by historical colonial, social, cultural, religious, and legal factors, with only about 2% of the global population living in polygamous households, most of them in West and Central Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia, with the practice of polygamy mostly occurring in the form of polygyny.[11] Additionally, endogamy describes a marriage between those in the same social category as defined by ethnicity, race, religion, location, caste, etc, whereas exogamy describes a marriage between those of different social categories.[3]

Marriage and family also interact in terms of who gets to decide who marries. In an arranged marriage, parties other than the people to be wed organize and set up marriages. Arranged marriages entailing the decision-making of the spousal families, the organization of matchmaking events, and sometimes even the opinion of a professional matchmaker. [3] In contrast, a forced marriage, sometimes confused with arranged marriage, refers to a marriage where one or both parties do not give their full and free consent due to coercion with violence, grooming, fraud, and other similar reasons. A marriage can also be considered forced even if both parties initially give their full and free consent should one party be later coerced into staying.[12] In free-choice marriage cultures such as North America, marriage is something determined by individuals, reflecting individual desires as opposed to the desires of an external group. Additionally, free-choice cultures tend to view arranged marriages as a lesser and backwards form of marriage, often overlooking it as a complex tradition and thinking it to be a cultural quirk.[13][14] Some scholars warn against viewing things such as arranged and forced marriages as "strange" cultural products for one can fail to see the factors making it seem necessary to some people. It is also important to note the term "forced marriage" can be problematic as it reinforces a binary of consent/coercion, assuming all individuals fully and freely make self-determined choices, failing to see how external and internal variables in any situation can influence one's actions.[13][14]

Reproduction and Family

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Reproduction is the process of making offspring, not only biologically but also systematically. It can be a biological process – including sexual intercourse, third-party reproduction, or supported reproduction – or a systematic process – including adoption or joint parenting. [15][16]

Reproduction ritually creates a form of family and gives kinship structure. It can give family members social roles such as mother, father, sister, or brother. Kinship is the term explaining culturally recognized connections between members of a family society. Kinship is a given title to each member of the society that explains legal or linear relationships with a particular family member.[17] It indicates the legal right or responsibility associated with a particular family member and expected behavior regarding their kinship title.[17] For example, the mother is expected to work inside the household and engage in household jobs such as cleaning, maintaining the household, or childrearing.[17] Meanwhile, the father is expected to engage less in housekeeping or child-rearing regularly.[17] These expectations regarding kinship status can be called gender division of labor.

Gender division of labor or gender roles in the family have been strongly influenced by reproduction. Due to the different reproductive functions between the two biological sexes, these functions give foundation to emphasized femininity and hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is a type of masculinity that is based on the idea of heteronormativity. It is often highly valued in society and explains the rooted concept of male dominant society over women and non-hegemonic men, particularly gay men).[8] Heteronormativity is an idea and assumption that everyone is born with heterosexuality.[18] Emphasized femininity is a pattern of femininity that is a response to hegemonic masculinity. In this ideology, women are expected to be opponents who act as the ideal women figure that hegemonic masculinity has, such as downplaying their own desires and subordinating themselves to serve men to fulfill men’s desires including those sexual ones.[8] Gender division labors based on these ideologies – emphasized femininity and hegemonic masculinity —, are constantly encouraged by capitalist societies. In a society which is embedded in these gendered ideologies, capitalists gain benefits by accumulating capital surplus. For instance, since women’s labor work in households are unrecognized or devalued, capitalists can pay very few fees to them.[19] Gender division labor is a socially constructed idea surrounding the biological function of reproduction in the human body rather than a byproduct of biological function.

As gender roles regarding reproduction are highly manipulated by broader society, reproduction itself is also controlled. To pursue its capitalist and racial interests, and give emphasis on traditional gender values, the government often manipulates reproductive policies, such as anti-abortion. Eugenics is an ideology that societies purposefully encourage certain people to reproduce while discouraging others.[20] Stratified reproductionalso explains how society manipulates reproduction to achieve a eugenic society. Stratified reproduction is a theory that explains this status that one experiences or practices different reproduction based on social class, ethnicity, gender identity, and other axes of identity. It also explains the influence of reproductive policy which supports certain families in having children over others.[20] Strategied reproduction includes infertility, sterilization, and birth control.[21] For example, marginalized women (such as Black or Hispanic women) are more likely to receive medical care that impedes fertility, such as sterilization (a permanent pregnancy procedure surgery[22]), rather than those facilitate fertility.[21] Even though Black or Hispanic women are overrepresented as hyper-fertile than white women, most U.S. infertility clinics have primarily white patients. [21]

Abortion is also a targeted reproductive right in stratified reproduction. Abortion is one of the reproductive rights that allow autonomy of whether one becomes a parent or not.[23] The anti-abortion policy is one of the major stratified reproduction strategies. In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court Case released a decision in the case of Dubbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which processed anti-abortion law.[24] In other words, any aspect of abortion is no longer protected legally. While this law successfully secures legal status for embryos and fetuses, [24] it does harm pregnant people, including those with disability and people who want to get pregnant. [25] People with chronic illnesses or disabilities, even though their right to have abortion surgery in case of emergency is legally secured, face difficulties in finding an accessible medical facility. For example, these people might face a lack of basic accessible equipment and respect from the medical profession, especially in terms of sexual health, in shrinking abortion networks. [25] For people who want to have children, they face insufficient prenatal care. The medications and surgeries used to end miscarriage – which prevent the adverse outcomes of miscarriage including diabetes or intellectual and developmental disabilities – are identical to those used in abortions, so doctors hesitate treating miscarriages.[25] As a result, many pregnant women with deceased fetuses were forced to carry their deceased embryos [25] This law indirectly targets marginalized women such as Black and Hispanic mothers since they face racialized health disparities and a higher likelihood of miscarriage. In addition, generally, Black people are more likely to be disabled. [25]Anti-abortion is a great example of how eugenic stratified reproduction is performed indirectly.

Reproduction can be performed in other ways than sexual intercourse, such as by using Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTS) – including donated eggs or surrogacy.[26] Adoption or co-parenting and other forms of alternative kin ties are another way to pursue motherhood or fatherhood through securing parents’ legal rights over their children.[16] These new technologies or systems enable people, who have difficulties in biological reproduction due to their body condition, to have children. For example, lesbian couples can use low-tech methods including self-insemination of sperm from donors at home to pursue motherhood.[26] Gay couples might rely on medicalized third-party reproduction, such as the use of donated eggs or surrogacy services, to pursue fatherhood.[26] However, they still face multiple social inequalities including barriers depending on social status, class inequality, and lack of legal protection. For example, because these ARTs which are served by private companies can often be costly, access to these technologies are highly restricted to specific upper or upper-middle class citizens.[26]

Adoption or joint parenting is a way to form a family for parents by obtaining a legal connection over their children. Adoption, even though it allows same-sex couples or couples who cannot reproduce their offspring biologically to have children, is another system that works unequally depending on one’s social status including gender or ethnicity. As an example, same-sex parents require a higher standard than heterosexual parents in terms of mental health, parenting skills, relationship quality or stability between couples, and more.[16] Sometimes, a person who works in child welfare can be homophobic and set even higher standards for these couples. Even after adaptation, there is limited social support for them. Joint foster care is a way for some same-sex couples to have legal rights over children.[16] In this case, one parent becomes a primary parent and the other becomes a secondary parent regardless of the couple’s marital status. However, only the primary parent is often listed as a legal parent since the secondary parent adoption is not an option. Outside of state marriage or civil union is often not recognized. [27]

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Immigration and Family

Immigration has been used to affect the family structure in a number of different ways. It is very common for nation-states, especially when they are emerging, to use immigration as a tool to control family structures of non-immigrant natives. In this context, family is functioning as a tool to control immigration into countries. Reasons for family being used as a tool to control immigration are numerous, but historically it has been due to racial anxieties. Reasons for these racial anxieties is that colonial states were built on the false notion that racial structure of the colonies was made up of easily identifiable biological and social traits.[6] There are other ways in which immigration affects the family structure, such as in cases when families are afraid to report crimes in fear of deportation.

In Canada specifically, immigration of East Asian women was used as a tool to control the racial demographics of families at the time. In the early days of the Canadian government, politicians were worried that by bringing over so many Asian men for cheap labor, they were going to see a change in the racial structure of the ‘normal’ family at the time. Initially, only Asian men were allowed to immigrate over. This affected their family structure, as back home they had left their spouse and children behind.  What was interesting was that politicians then decided to let Asian women come over to Canada as well, in an attempt to “protect the untrustworthy white women.” This was done as a new efficient way of regulating the racial dynamic of the family structure. This demonstrates the ways in which racialized politics of nationalism work to exclude those racialized as different.[7] Immigration was used by the government in this context to control racial structure of said country. Here, we can see how the family structure is an important tool in controlling a racial structure of a settler nation. This perspective has not entirely shifted over, as in recent decades Canada has followed other nations in the global trend to add more restrictions on immigration. Currently, Canada has a ‘nothing but the best and the brightest’ attitude when it comes to immigration, which in turn means higher levels of eligibility. Families can apply as whole units for immigration, with only one member of the family needing to make the application. The Canadian Border Services Agency defines family as spouse or common law partner, dependent child under the age of 22, spouse or common-law partner’s dependent child, and a dependent child of a dependent child.[28]

In Australia, controlled immigration is used to manage the social engineering aspect of family structure. In the wake of global events from the past few decades, Australian started to see forced marriage as an imperative issue worth tackling. The fear that the Australian government had at the time was that Australian-Afghan women were being taken overseas by their family and forcefully married. In this scenario, it is with the intention of the husband to apply for citizenship. Around 2013, Australia imposed a new law that specifically targeted this behavior, labeling it as criminal. The social services implemented by the Australian government were a domain in which to control fears surrounding incoming cultural customs through immigration. [13] Immigration in this sense was threatening the family structure in Australia. To control this, the Australian government started investing into social programs meant to combat this issue of forced marriage, as well, they also heavily criminalized forced marriages. Interestingly, these programs seemed to be targeted and directed to people of Afghan descent, despite the fact that there was not disproportionate data suggesting Afghans were being forcibly married at a higher rate comparatively. What becomes apparent through examination is that these policies were being put in place to control racial anxieties surrounding immigration. In this specific interaction, we can see how gender plays a part in this issue, as these social programs were all targeted towards women. There is a suggestion at play, almost positioning it as a women’s job to stop this issue of being trafficked.  

Given that family immigration is heavily regulated in nation states, a great deal of effort has gone into structuring the legality surrounding border crossing. Due to dangerous and precarious circumstances in other countries, many family units are forced to flee their home countries seeking to immigrate to other countries, typically nation states. Immigration processes are long and drawn out, due to this fact families are quite often pressured into crossing international borders without going through the full process of immigration. Recently, some nation states, such as Canada, have even made reunification policies more restrictive.[29] In almost all cases, the nation states’ response is to detain these family units indefinitely in detention centres. This obviously causes many psychological issues to the members of the family unit detained. Parents are rendered helpless and valuable in the eyes of their children, which in turn causes destabilization for said children. In typical family units, the parent is a role that functions to provide security for the family unit. In turn, this provided security allows for stable, healthy environments for the children to be raised in. Specifically, families have been documented suffering severe mental health deterioration when being detained. Screenings for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder were done multiple times, with families reporting worsening symptoms for all these diagnoses.[30]

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Colonialism and Family

Colonialism refers to the use of power to establish control over people and resources in a foreign land. Settler colonialism is a form of colonization with the intention of long-term settlement through immigration. This type of colonialism has far-reaching impacts on the families of the colony, reshaping fundamental aspects of family life and structure.

One of the fundamental functions of a family is the expansion of family membership through adoption and biological reproduction, particularly within the framework of the Western gender binary view prevalent in heterosexual households. This perspective often places significant reproductive pressures on females and assigns them primary responsibility for emotional labor within the family unit. The process of colonization involves a complex reconstruction of power dynamics, which can lead to significant shifts of power dynamics within and among families. Colonizers often perceive themselves as adventurers or saviours, particularly when it comes to liberating women, as in the trope of "white men saving brown women from brown men." underscoring a racialized hierarchy that shapes ethnic identities and power structures, particularly in terms of access to and control over female sexuality. This perspective is exemplified by practices such as concubinage[6], where European colonizers (predominantly men) cohabited with colonized women (often of Asian or Middle Eastern descent). In such relationships, the colonizer exerted control over the woman's sexuality, labor, and even rights to her children, all within the context of a non-marital union. Another contributor to this is the media influence. The intertwining of colonialism and media presentation is a pervasive phenomenon throughout all phases of colonization. The portrayal of Muslim women in media often features scenes where their face coverings[31] are removed or where they are depicted in intimate, private settings such as dressing rooms or bathrooms. These depictions, marked by acts of violation, suggest a false notion that these women exist in a state of anticipation, awaiting revelation by men—an erroneous stereotype perpetuated in foreign narratives. The visual and narrative framing within media thus reinforces and promotes the colonizers in exploring the women in a foreign land, in unrevealing the myth.

Another strauctural change example can be found in Canada where the indigenous view and Western view had disagreement in 16th century, imposition of the nuclear family model in colonial settings happened and served to support the formation of small parents-children-based family units while simultaneously disrupting traditional family structures prevalent in the colonies. Indigenous people in Canada, who were used to community-based or land-based family structures, faced significant challenges and disintegration due to this impact of colonization.

Colonization profoundly transformed the dynamics of family life within colonial contexts, reflecting broader power dynamics and social hierarchies inherent in colonial projects. The restructuring of family units, along with the exploitation and marginalization of certain family members, exemplifies the complex interplay between colonial power structures and familial relationships in these historical and sociopolitical settings.

Families and communities in colonized areas often undergo profound challenges, including identity confusion, assimilation, and cultural loss, as a result of long-term colonization. The process of colonization typically involves institutional interference in people's daily lives, leading to the replacement of native languages with the language of the colonizers[32], the prohibition of traditional holiday celebrations, and the imposition of colonist beliefs and customs.The impact of colonization extends to multigenerational households, where a cultural gap emerges due to varying levels of exposure to and immersion in the colonist culture over time. For instance, in Canada, European colonists established residential schools[33] aimed at assimilating indigenous populations. Children sent to these schools were compelled to learn English or French, adopt Western values, and conform to colonist understandings of gender, which often differed starkly from indigenous gender practice such as two-spirit[34] identities. The inexistence of gender rigidity before colonisation in India[35] states similar: in serving the European patriarchal system, colonial powers enforced Western views of gender roles, binary constructs, and white supremacy, curtailing diverse gender expressions and constricting identity exploration.

Capitalism and Family

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Capitalism refers to the mentality of seeking profit through commodity production, and capitalist systems and economies denote the distribution-economic organizations where commodity production takes place under such an attitude. Therefore, capitalism is based on private property, with prices established for all goods. Production occurs with the aim of profit acquisition, labor is commodified, and production is characterized by its overall unplanned nature. The capitalist system is relatively recent in human history, with its roots tracing back to around the 16th century within the feudal system. It gradually developed from the mid-18th century, mainly in Britain and France, solidifying with the Industrial Revolution, and spreading to Germany and the United States in the 19th century. [36]

Capitalism can be summarized as "an economic system characterized by private ownership of the means of production, with labor solely paid wages." [37] The most crucial aspect here is the emergence of 'wage labor.' The change in the conditions of production under capitalism moved “work” from the household to the factory. Then the distinction between “market production” (earning income on the market) and “household production” (the products generated in the household such as cooked meals, cleaned rooms, child care, and the like) was created by wage labor. As a result, wage labor separated “work” and “home” for the first time in human history, and the consequences for families were enormous. [38]

The profound impact of capitalism on the family is vividly evident in the phenomenon of ‘nuclearization’ of families. The development of capitalism separated material production from the family unit, establishing a market for goods and fostering a tendency towards individual-centric societies. Nuclear family, in sociology and anthropology, is a group of people who are united by ties of partnership and parenthood and consisting of a pair of adults and their socially recognized children. [39] Unlike agricultural-based societies when children were considered assets as laborers, they came to be viewed as liabilities as the costs of education, reproduction, and socialization increased.

Under capitalism, the human production activity continues within the family, but the task of securing income to purchase goods becomes a new challenge. Thus, families were burdened with the dual responsibilities of labor for human production and labor for material production. As a result, ‘gendered divisions of labor’ were intensified. When distinguishing income-generating activities from livelihood activities, a tendency emerged to assign men to the former and women to the latter. Moreover, livelihood activities carried out within the family continued without wage payments. Household labor was essential for maintaining the capitalist order. It involved feeding, clothing, and caring for men’s labor power so that it could be traded freely in the market. However, the household labor was not included in the ‘wage labor’, thus women’s household labor became invisible. Isolating themselves within the household, full-time housewives became economic dependents who were undervalued compared to income laborers, taking on the role of livelihood laborers, which was often perceived as less significant. Consequently, husbands as income earners gained comprehensive control over the family based on their economic power, while housewives as livelihood workers held delegated instrumental authority, resulting in an unfair differentiation within the family. [40]

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The labor of housewives serves as a structural prototype of exploitation and plunder, enabling capitalism to accumulate capital at a frightening pace. Maria Mies introduced the concept of 'housewifization,' which extends beyond just housewives to encompass all production relations created by capitalist patriarchy. Housewifized labor remains unprotected by labor laws, invisible, and becomes part of the "underground economy," characterized by flexible labor.[41]The framework of housewifization analysis can be expanded to include colonial exploitation and natural plunder. It shares historical context with the encouragement of concubinage during the colonial era. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, salaries of European recruits to the colonial armies, bureaucracies, plantation companies and trading enterprises were kept artificially low because local women provided domestic services for which new European recruits would otherwise have had to pay.[6] Just as colonizer men exploited domestic labor through concubinage to build colonies and pursue profits, similarly, under capitalist systems, the cheap labor of women has been essential for capital accumulation and profit pursuit.

Gendered division of labor in this process have resulted in the reinforcement of patriarchy under capitalism. While women engage in unrecognized labor, men strengthen the hierarchical order within the household based on their economic power. This differs from the pre-capitalist era of communal production. The concept of the 'family wage' emerged, which, while sustaining families, also disadvantaged women's social advancement. A notable example is the prevalence of 'women-first layoffs' during the late 1990s foreign exchange crisis in South Korea. As companies faced operational crises due to the exchange crisis, many women were prioritized for layoffs under the pretext that "men who need to support their families cannot be laid off," exposing women to the detrimental effects of the societal economic crisis.

The concept of the family wage also contributed to the oppression of women, working in tandem with the ideology of the ideal family. This ideology became entrenched through the development of capitalism. The ideal family consists of an economically competent father who earns the family wage, a full-time housewife mother dedicated to household labor, and well-behaved children, embodying a typical nuclear family structure. This strict gender division of labor within the ideal family ideology has taught people the desirable family structure and gender roles. The image of the housewife who supports her husband while frugally managing the household embodies emphasized femininity, which emphasizes sociability, compliance, and sexual receptivity to men.[8] On the other hand, the father who assumes the position of head of the household based on his economic ability reinforces hegemonic masculinity, rooted in the social dominance of men over women. This family structure has been promoted as desirable and legitimate, serving the maintenance and advancement of the capitalist system. As a result, it has been encouraged as the preferred and lawful form of family.

Indeed, the emergence and development of capitalism have had a significant impact on the form and dynamics of families, as well as the roles of their members. However, sometimes things that seem obvious, universal, and unchangeable really aren't. For example, today we consider pink as a color for women and blue for men, but historically, this was not always the case. Pink was considered "a more decided and stronger color... more suitable for the boy, while blue... is more delicate and dainty... prettier for the girl." [42] Similarly, society under capitalist systems is also evolving. Women's social advancement is increasing, and household labor is gradually becoming commodified. With the increasing importance of material prosperity under capitalism, family prefer dual-income households, and there is a tendency towards having fewer or no children. These changes differ from those of the traditional capitalist era. Gender divisions of labor are weakening, and the trend of low birth rates is strengthening, leading to the erosion of the ideal family ideology and the myth of the nuclear family. Therefore, it is important to observe how families will further evolve if the traditional ideologies continue to diminish according to the change of the ongoing capitalism society.

Queer, Trans and Family

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Traditionally, a family like a nuclear family and biological family is defined as a form of heterosexual parents with or without a child, which excludes queer and trans people who can be also referred to as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, agender and other queer identities.[43] However, family is not only biologically associated but also can be non-biologically interconnected. Chosen family is a term used by queer and transgender communities to describe families that are consisted of choice rather than biological relationships.[44] Individuals can construct various forms of family, including lesbian and gay parents with biological or non-biological children, transwomen and transmen parents with biological or non-biological children, and other forms of family. Therefore, the form of queer and trans family implies an alternative form of relationships that rejects and subverts to the idea of heteronormativity, which refers to an idea that takes heterosexuality as the norm and nature, thinks of it as the idea and healthy sexuality for everybody, rooted in our society.[8]

Heteronormativity creates a sense of discrimination, exclusion and pressure on queer and trans people that significantly impacts their decision-making of disclosing themselves to the public or hiding their identities to avoid being stigmatized and accepted by mainstream society.[43] Hence, queer and trans people have different ways to navigate with their identities and the formation of families, which varies across cultures. Queer and trans who want to disclose their sexual orientations and have autonomy to form family with their partners legally, live in countries such as China, Japan and Korea, where same-sex marriage is not legally constituted and socially rejected, choose to migrate to countries such as Canada and the United States.[45] Migrating to these countries allows them to have a sense of belonging and inclusion as a queer or trans identity. Moreover, the older generations, who are queer and trans people who have formed heterosexual relationships, choose to maintain their marriage and have their partners due to the pressure and expectations raised by heterosexual society.[46] This is also because of the insecurity of being rejected by their family and stigmatized by society.

Trans and queer people who live in countries that promote their legal rights also face pressure and difficulties when it comes to reproduction. They face pressure from people’s concern about reproduction, which is the question that heterosexual families are asked.[46] However, even though reproductive technologies and adoption are more accessible for them, experts reported that a quarter of pregnancies were miscarried, and many transgender people experienced difficult reproductive decisions associated with their transition. Significantly, in the US, queer and trans parents experience isolation and invisibility when their reproduction is unsuccessful. People who support LGBTQ+ families kept political silence.[46] LGBTQ+ parents receive little attention without corresponding support for their reproductive loss, especially after the US elections in 2016.[46] The restrictive laws of their adoption and family recognition have been exacerbated, which create barriers to gaining recognition as families. LGBTQ+ parents’ rights are targeted and weakened, as their nonconformity resists the power of the system.


Gender nonconformity challenges the power of heterosexual systems that emphasize the idea of men holding power.[47] Queer and trans people disrupt the normative and hegemonic kinship structures. Their ways of forming kinships and family also differ from the heterosexual family, as they face different barriers and pressures to constitute a family and navigate relationships with family. For example, in Taiwanese society, where Chinese parents and society value boys over girls, queer and trans face different degrees of pressure depending on the conventions embedded in society or family,[48] which could be gendered.

Queer sons, including gay, bisexual men and transwomen, who are raised as boys in their families face financial pressure and the pressure to have a child.[48] This is because family for men is a way to link ancestors to descendants in an unbroken chain. Men are responsible for carrying on the family name, which means they must have a child. They are always the ones to provide financial support to their families. Therefore, many gay men report that they face more pressure than lesbians under the social and family expectations to have a child. Many of them choose to marry an opposite gender to have a child to accomplish the task of carrying the family’s name and be filial to their parents. Some gay men only consider marriage when they find a stable partner and a surrogate mother in another country (this is illegal in Taiwan). They need to navigate the complex relationships with their male partners, as they need to ask consent if their male partners and male partners’ side parents and grandparents agree to rear a child belonging to their bloodline, not their male partners’ bloodline. This is how gay men overcome subordinated masculinity, which refers to a form of masculinity that men who are oppressed by definitions of hegemonic masculinity.[49] The chauvinistic elements still exist in Asian societies, which makes it difficult for society to accept two men being in romantic relationships and not having a child carrying their family names. This is not only happening in Taiwan but also in many other Asian countries.[48]

Lesbians experience family pressure differently from men, as they, identified as feminine identity, are usually not qualified to give their fathers posterity. Lesbians are exploited in the patriarchal society that they need to be responsible for all the unpaid family work in whatever the family structure, including taking care of the aging and sick and preparing for family rituals.[48] If they are married and live with their husband’s parents or live close to them, their unpaid workload increase and their decision-making power decrease, as they need to navigate more family obligations, including giving birth, taking care of children and their husband’s family. For example, Yijun, a lesbian, married a male to escape from her natal family as she received no care from her parents and bore the burdens, which was unequal treatment from her male siblings.

Trans people redefine the meaning of being in specific roles as they need to navigate family relationships through their various performances in different roles. For example, a transman plays the role of a son, a husband or a father based on his current identity and image presented as a man to the public. He also plays the role of being in charge of a woman's responsibility internally in the family. For example, Zhixiong, a transman, who changed his legal gender from female to male starting from his thirty-six years old, plays both convention­ally masculine and conventionally feminine roles, such as caring for her physical body and being in charge of housework and providing financial support for his mother.[48] He is responsible for managing funerals that are traditionally reserved for men, and he has increased the role of praying to his paternal ancestors, which he was not in charge of before presenting as a male.

The construction of gender roles within families is significantly impacted by social and ritualistic norms. Acceptance or rejection of queer and trans individuals by their families and society affects their family relationships and social interactions. The societal expectations of different roles often impose barriers and challenges on queer and trans individuals as they navigate various roles and responsibilities within their families and broader communities.


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