Blame austerity economics, not gay marriage

Conservatives lamenting the collapse of the traditional American household have only their fiscal policies to blame

Topics: Jacobin, Supreme Court, Gay Marriage, drudge report, Samuel Alito, Golden Girls, U.S. Census, ,

Blame austerity economics, not gay marriage (Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)
This article originally appeared on Jacobin.

Jacobin
 A curious thing happened in the Beltway last week: for the 48 hours surrounding two landmark gay marriage Supreme Court oral arguments, the millennial political class’ collective Facebook feed blushed bright red. Obama-handshake profile pictures gave way to a sharp crimson square designed by the Human Rights Campaign’s marketing department.

Between torrents of memes and legal commentary on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s skim milk analogy, Samuel Alito’s rusting Burkeanism, and Elena Kagan’s “batting average,” another item, a report about adults turning to cooperative households to save money, passed without remark in liberal circles.        

Two million Americans over the age of 30 now live with a housemate or roommate, and shared households make up 18 percent of U.S. households – a 17 percent increase since 2007.

One group of women sold their homes and bought a house together in Mount Lebanon, Pa., after they all got divorced.

“It made amazing economic sense,” said one of the women, Jean McQuillin. McQuillin, Louise Machinist and Karen Bush call their home a “cooperative household.” Each woman has her own bedroom and bathroom, and they share the common areas of the house, chores and expenses.

The suspicion of a generation of queer leftists is at last confirmed: the lifestyle upending Western Civilization’s social cornerstone looks less like committed gay and lesbian families and more like the Golden Girls.

Tellingly, the piece went viral on the Drudge Report. Just one reason to think that petit bourgeois paranoiacs have better eyes for social decline than the average Tumblring anthropology major.



Reactionary as it is, reading the original article is a useful exercise. It emphasizes the women’s dire financial straits, ensuring us that they are normal, monogamous schoolteacher-types who’ve just happened upon bad times — and not, God forbid, the sort of Wiccan lesbian coven that keeps a herd of cats in common. We’re told that they are “really busy,” “hardly ever [at home] at the same time” and that they, “share values in order to make things work.” The single advocate cited makes her argument in language that wouldn’t be out of place in a Family Research Council pamphlet: “Taking the stress off of parents in having to do everything for their kids and not sharing the load is really to me the heart of the American dream.”

As one might expect from a CBS news affiliate, the overall impression is hardly one of imminent social catastrophe,but this is a matter of framing. By emphasizing continuities with nuclear family life, the story undersells the subtle, progressive breaks with traditional home life that become possible in group living. And by focusing on baby boomers making tough domestic choices late in their careers, it eschews a much more interesting and potentially unsettling pattern: young, recession-wracked twenty-somethings, fresh into the labor force, foregoing solitary living completely.

And this is a trend borne out more by empirical fact than Williamsburg-based sociological speculation. The U.S. Census tracks the numbers and ages of those “living in non-family groups,” including both “householders” and “non-householders” (The terms have nothing to do with property-owning; an all-rental grouphouse would have exactly one “householder,” designated at the time of the census, even if she had nothing to do with the mortgage.)

In 2010, the 20 to 29 cohort living in non-spouse, non-kin shared living situations numbered 8,742,000: more than four times the number cited by the CBS piece for all adults over 30 last yearand nearly a 33% increase over the year 2000. Granted these numbers don’t resolve finely enough to tell us much about the size, shape, and endurance of group living arrangements. They do, however, give us some impression of how a generation with especially bleak fiscal horizons is managing its day-to-day material reproduction — by socializing part of it.

Of course there’s nothing new to this stuff. Shaker colonies, hippie communes, and other variants of group living have occupied a special place in the American left’s imagination for some time. But we 21st century socialists should be less interested in “intentional communities”- –  those Fourierist bastions dotting the fringes of our Greenpoints and Petworths – and more interested in the unintentional ones.

A dozen ultraleft voluntarists arguing about shower schedules is a noise complaint; 120,000 downwardly mobile yuppies doing it out of necessity is a substratum. The material realities of declining wages, ballooning debt, and skyrocketing rents at the core of the neoliberal city have conspired to herd young people into unprecedentedly dense, poor, and precarious kinds of living arrangements. In renovated townhouses built for the Victorian and Edwardian elite they eat, drink, fight, love, party, and (sometimes) clean, improvising social structures and moral economies some distance outside the white picket fence of postwar consumer individualism. It’s enough to make the average Gen-X condo owner wrinkle her nose, to say nothing of the midcentury Levittown company man.

Of course, there’s nothing about Americans living poorly and in close quarters that’s inherently progressive. No amount of communal toilet paper buying, however rigorously documented in Googledocs, will usher in global participatory planning. But it is worth noting how the cozy spaces where we brush our teeth and cook our meals are themselves conditioned by the macroeconomic forces from which we seek refuge. We do even better to imagine ways in which the new forms of living and relating into which we find ourselves thrown might, in turn, undermine those very forces.

The Mietskaserne of industrial Berlin were by all accounts drearier places than the average Prussian cottage, but it was exactly their crushing density that made mass German proletarian organization first possible. The post-1968 subdivision of DC’s rowhouse stock forever walled off the high-ceilinged grandeur of the Talented Tenth’s drawing rooms, just as it reconfigured working class black social infrastructure to produce new, radical forms of analysis and mutual aid.

Group living could well be pinned down in the language of capitalist realism: just one more generational bump on the way to white collar job security, or a long logistical hangover from the increasingly quaint custom of undergraduate education. But a number of things make the site especially ripe for antagonism.

First: it’s a way of life that puts lie to the bourgeois private-public distinction, forcing people to be mindful about the kinds of labor and resource distribution traditionally swept under the domestic carpet. Non-family group living compels people to work out rational arrangements for cleaning, cooking, and paying bills that can’t piggyback on old gendered or filiated divisions of labor. In the common space of a group house, legal strangers confront one another as formal equals off the slanted field of civil society. Tactically speaking, five or six legally distinct twentysomethings are harder to litigate and evict than one.

The lace bonds of bourgeois matrimony — that hallowed relationship between one man, one woman, and one mortgage — continue to yellow and fray. But we don’t need the acid bath of homosexual libido to dissolve them altogether and free up space for something new; austerity seems to be doing that just fine.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>