Judith Stacey, a Social and Cultural analysis and Sociology professor from the New York University, is famous for her provoking way of researching mainstream issues (Anderson, Browning, and Boyer 2002). Due to the increasing cases of divorce, same-sex marriage and fatherlessness in the modern world, Stacey decided to conduct a research on family diversity in three cultures and continents: China, California and South Africa. She spent more than a decade observing and interviewing families in these three countries. From parenting and intimacies among gays in California, to non-marital and plural family forms in China and South Africa, Unhitched decouples the association amongst marriage, love and parenthood that is often taken for granted (Stacy 2011). Counteracting the family values’ vision of one-size fits-all, the author provides readers with a dynamic, personal introduction to the less common arrays of family and intimacy, as well as the economic, social, political conditions that support and better them. Via compelling narratives of actual families navigating the inevitable political and personal trade-offs between domesticity and desire, Unhitched challenges the popular convictions regarding sexuality, gender and family. Taking on both feminists and conservatives’ prejudices, this book poses a practical challenge to the notion that the nuclear family (whether gay or straight), is the only best way of meeting people’s needs for care and intimacy. Stacey appeals to policy makers and citizens to reconcile with the issue of family diversity, which according to her, is part of the society and is here to stay (Stacy 2011). Therefore, the author’s purpose for writing this book is to express her disapproval for the society’s preference of monogamy and to bring to the reader’s attention the reality of the diverse family structures, that though are unacceptable by some societies, have become part of our society (Anderson, Browning, and Boyer 2002). This paper presents a review of Unhitched, but first we’ll look at a summary of the main points discussed in the book.
In the Unhitched, Stacey describes three dissimilar cultures i.e. the gay relationships in Los Angeles, the considerably less liberal South Africa (post-apartheid), as well as, the China’s Mosuo culture. She compares and contrasts these cultures with the aid of numerous lively case-studies and interviews. The first section of the book, which talks about gays residing in Los Angeles, is empowering. It tells the story of numerous people who have made a family structure that suits them from scratch (Stacy 2011). For instance, there are gay spouses who allow each other to cruise around under some stringent conditions. There are also lesbian-gay intersect spouses who share their children’s custody, but have no romantic relationship. In certain cases, couples have written down contracts that explain the rights and responsibilities of each party. A sample of such a contract is incorporated in the book’s appendix.
It is vital to point out that even though the author does not give so much attention to the other two cultures; they both contribute to the overall purpose of the book of highlighting the varied family structures existing around the world. According to this book, "32% of male youths did not consider it rape if a man forces a woman he knows to have sex; and almost as many female youth agreed" (Stacy 2011: 115). Similarly, "49% [of South Africans] believed women did not have a right to refuse sex with their partners" (Stacy 2011: 116). Polygyny is widespread in South Africa; in fact, the SA’s constitution gives men the right to marry numerous wives. Homosexuality is viewed as un-African and is strongly countered by traditional groups.
The study of the China’s Mosuo people, offers certain truly remarkable materials to reflect on. These people have a matrilineal system, in which children live with their mothers even in adulthood (Clark-Flory 2011). The sons have the freedom to chase sexual relations with any woman they desire, provided that they get back to their mothers’ homes by the following morning, as well as, help in bringing up the children of their sisters. Similarly, daughters are totally free to pursue relations with any man, although they ought to remain in the homes of their mothers and raise any kids that they may have with their biological family, as opposed to their romantic partner. The Mosuo people have broken the link between love and domesticity by assuring women of domestic stability in case they get pregnant. The consequence of such an arrangement is a society where there is very little parental or cultural meddling in personal relationships, which results in real sexual liberty (Clark-Flory 2011).
Unhitched is an amazingly fascinating book. As a prominent family scholar, the author has done well in debunking certain myths surrounding family life such as the idea that children require both parents to turn out well, or the fact that marriage, particularly the nuclear family is the most basic structure for taking care of the people we love (Ganly 2011). It cannot go unnoticed the way Stacey discusses the various issues in this book with an open mind, for instance, the various forms of the modern family. It is also worth noting the author’s engaging and original approach in the way she investigates the strain between domesticity and desire and the shocking kinds that commitment and intimacy can assume. The way she takes the reader through the journey of the three distinct cultures of the gay relationships in Los Angeles, the different families in South Africa who emphasize on polygamy as well as the non-marrying Mosuo people in China, is creative and interesting. Though she is a scholar of New York University who have spent over ten years researching the facts in the book, Stacy, however, wears lightly, her education and writes with wit and dynamism.
This book overturned numerous of my assumptions regarding plural marriage, monogamy, as well as gay fatherhood. For example, I did not know that gays readily adopt kids from an ethnic group, class, race and health status, which is different from theirs. This is also true regarding their intimate relationships. Stacey defines polygyny as "a patriarchal bargain offered to and by men who are willing to accept social and economic responsibility for their sexual urges and privileges". In this description, the author bucks the doctrine of feminists of wanting to make fathers, plural husbands, as well as lovers to stick around, as opposed to being driven underground. To Stacey, encouraging men to stick around may be uncomfortable for the women involved, but it is in everyone’s interest.
Though this book is very fascinating and enlightening, it has its fair share of flaws. For instance, while the author does a good job in presenting case studies to better illustrate her points, I think that she ought to have provided a wide variety of them, including statistical analysis, so as to truly back up her positions regarding the various issues she talks about in the book ( Kirkus’ Reviews 2011). In addition, I believe that the author went a little too far in her argument that children, particularly boys, do not need a father. It is vital to mention that though Musuo children have no acknowledged fathers, they have their maternal uncles living with them to offer substitute live-in male examples. Supposedly, Stacey is recommending this type of family structure to the public, it may be difficult to have stable arrangements of live-in males to assume the role of the father especially, in the current individualistic society that is very mobile. In conclusion, Unhitched is very interesting and enlightening book that I would not hesitate to recommend to any person with interest in learning about the different family structures.
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