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Chapter One The Modernization of Friendship and Marriage
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Affective Individualism and the Family

Students of the rise of the companionate marriage hold that the spread of individualism and democratic values were and continue to be central forces of family change. Individualism, they maintain, decreases the authority of kin. Individual rights encourage individual choices and so marriages are contracted on the basis of affection rather than calculation. Family life becomes conjugally centered. Democracy in the family accompanies democracy in society. The equality of husband and wife promotes their empathy and friendship. Their conjugal isolation makes their communication and companionship unique and precious.[9]

William Goode and Gary Lee, among others, argue that exposure to individualistic ideas changes marital patterns; these ideas are so powerful that people who are exposed to them in education or travel incorporate them into family life even before they learn them in the marketplace or polity.[10] Edward Shorter writes, "Once the rules of marketplace individualism had been learned, they easily took control of the whole arena of conscious attitudes."[11] A clear account of how individualism "took control" of the family is hard to find, however. Sociological writers rarely tell the story. It appears


rather as an assumption or as simple assertions of macrocauses and microeffects, as if some sociological classic had exhaustively explained how individualism altered family life and now only brief notes on that transformation were needed.

The emphasis on individualism in family sociology is not amiss. It is clear that over the past two or three centuries the family has been changing—leveling authority and favoring individual autonomy and other relational changes that are rooted in individualism. In our statements about individualism and the family, however, we must avoid a mechanistic view of ideological diffusion that obscures the ways that ideological changes in public life influence private life. Ideas that originate as market principles or civic ideals of political participation do not submerge old ideas and practices. Individualism and democracy did not simply or progressively replace communal and hierarchical traditions in family life. For the most part, they slowly, indirectly, and unevenly permeated family life and took diverse meanings there as they were mediated by religion, class, and gender.[12]

Writers who treat individualism in the family tend to focus on ways that individualism shaped the lives of men and women; but they pay little attention to the reverse process. By exploring how women and men have altered individualism as they adopted it, we can learn how communal and patriarchal ideologies found their last safe refuge in the modernizing family and how they bear today on companionship in marriage.

To revise the story of individualism and the family, I have adapted historian Lawrence Stone's concept of affective individualism. Stone holds that in sixteenth-century England, before the spread of individualism, "the family was an open-ended, low-keyed, unemotional, authoritarian institution," essentially an economic unit, short-lived because parents died early and children were fostered out in apprenticeship. Relations within all social strata were plagued with distrust, intolerance, habitual violence, and mutual litigation.[13] The affective chill of these times was a residue of harsh childrearing.

As the characteristic mentalité of modern culture, affective individualism changed relations of authority, thinking, and feeling among people. Awareness and expression of individuality, rights of autonomy, and emotional and personal intimacy replaced "dis-


tance, deference, and patriarchy" as the ethos of relations newly marked off as "personal life." The new, eighteenth-century family featured an "intensified affective bonding at the nuclear core," emphasized the pursuit of individual happiness, and valued sexual pleasure and privacy.[14] How affective individualism operated on wider social relations is less clear to Stone, but he finds evidence that people became more tolerant, sentimental, and distressed by cruelty and violence.

Economic, political, and psychodynamic influences combined to spread affective individualism among the eighteenth-century upper bourgeoisie and squirearchy.[15] Protestantism intensified the nascent individualism in Christian thought and undermined the patriarchal authority of husbands; the Renaissance and Calvinism diffused self-awareness. Capitalist markets and libertarianism augmented secularism, rationalism, and autonomy. The decline of patriarchy and repressive childrearing unleashed affection. A "complex of semi-independent developments, spread out over more than a century" initiated a "transformation of human consciousness" among the English elite, epitomized by these couplets from Pope's Essay on Man (1733):

Thus God and Nature link'd the general frame
And bade self-love and social be the same.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ...
That Reason, Passion answer one great aim
That true self-love and Social are the same.[16]

Stone finds the central themes of individualism in these couplets: self-awareness and the autonomous pursuit of self-interest advance the social good; love and reason can reconcile (in marriage). He maintains that the social and familial changes that produced and responded to individualism evoked capacities for warm and intimate personal relations. People developed self-conscious, self-expressive forms of intimacy, and with introspection they found and expressed sentiment. Affective individualism thus appears as a coherent ethos.[17]

Like others who write about individualism in the family, Stone documents its appearance in the personal lives of men and women without noting how differently they adapted its ideas. Evidence from the past decade of social history suggests, however, that dif-


ferent patterns of affective individualism filtered through the differently cut prisms of gender. Self-consciousness and orientation toward self-interest advanced by political and economic individualism took different shape in the thought and relations of women, because women's identities formed within the small, separate world of the family. Much more so than men's, women's affective individualism developed within the communal constraints of family responsibility and collective gender identification. In formulating a gendered ideal-type, I refer to men and women of the middle classes (primarily in the nineteenth-century American Northeast), both because they are the subjects of most available data and because they were the avant-garde of individualism.

Colonial America, although never quite fitting the mold of traditional community, restrained the expression of individualism. In Puritan communities, for example, thorough authoritative regulation of family, work, and cultural life left little room for the elaboration of individual themes inherent in Puritan theology. Private life, as a realm distinguished from public life by uniquely personal and private relations, did not yet exist. Their boundaries vague, families were units of economic production—and thus work, play, childrearing, courtship, government, gossip, and mutual aid intermingled through time and space. In the course of these activities, people passed through one another's households—trading, visiting, boarding, apprenticing—and when residing there, they were considered family.[18]

Patriarchal authority, vested in the father, unified the government of family and society. Women and children contributed substantially to family and thus to social production; yet they had few individual rights and no formal political power. Centrality in production and social intercourse yielded a measure of respectful recognition and, very likely, informal sources of power as well. Nonetheless, colonial family and community allocated and enforced social roles that ceded little to individual rights and self-exploration.

In postrevolutionary America, waves of social change favored adaptations of affective individualism within an emerging realm of personal life. By the early nineteenth century, commercial capitalism and regional agricultural trade had vastly extended the reach of market relations. Many Americans, at least in the Northeast, had encountered the ideas of market individualism and the ideological


currents of a centralizing national state. Although local communities continued to bound the moral space of social and communal ties, commerce and politics were conduits of Enlightenment and republican ideas of libertarian rights and the pursuit of happiness.[19]

Expanding commerce and factories fragmented the integrated world of family, work, and community. As men followed work out of the home, they entered the emergent public sphere of work and politics as access to wages became the measure of general value and status. Women continued their precapitalist domestic work, but now it became private, marginal to the dynamics of social reward in a cash economy.

While working-class and farm women continued to produce the goods and services of family subsistence, women of more prosperous classes were increasingly freed from activities of economic production. These middle-class women progressively enlarged their role in family nurturance and religious and moral tutelage. They did so with the blessing of religious authorities whose own public influence had been diminished by secular forces and who were glad to focus on regulating sexual and family relations. These newly allied middle-class women and ministers, joined by male veterans from the arduous public world of commerce, elaborated a new doctrine of separate spheres. They attributed a natural order and a moral equality to the responsibilities each gender would discharge in his or her own sphere. Men—tamers of nature, producers of value, warriors in the competition of each against all, providers of family material life, and citizens of public life—thereby rightfully governed families. Women—teachers of children, producers of domestic comfort, exemplars of purity and piety, providers of respite and consolation, and conservators of the values jostled out of public life—represented the heart of both society and family. In their separate spheres of endeavor, men and women adapted new relations of individualism.

Men of different classes were exposed and disposed to different degrees of configurations of individualism. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most men—merchants, laborers, farmers— found their work integrated into larger and larger markets that made the relation of self to work increasingly abstract and fragmented.[20] For men, autonomy became the salient aspect of af-


fective individualism. Despite his brief cultural elevation in the eighteenth century, the "man of sentiment," whose moral self-awareness and humanist sensibilities imbued his participation in both private and civic life, had to step aside.[21] The eighteenth-century European bourgeois and, even more, the nineteenth-century American businessman were men of the market. Their self-interest, self-reliance, and competitiveness were core characteristics of the individualism formed in market relations. For husbands and fathers, their market self was reinforced in private life, as "provider" became men's central family role.

Good providers properly subordinated the affective self to the market self. Tocqueville, impressed with how the marketplace pervaded the thinking of nineteenth-century American men, pronounced, "Few of them are ever known to give way to those idle and solitary meditations which commonly precede and produce the great emotions of the heart."[22] For men, autonomy subsumed self-exploration and self-development. Men developed self-consciousness in terms of self-interest and expressed individuality primarily in autonomous achievement. They restrained emotional intimacy to give rein to independence. Thus, Georg Simmel characterized affective individualistic modern men as "differentiated" men of "secrets," who limited access to their whole selves even in the closest of friendships.[23]

For women, self-awareness and emotional intimacy became the salient aspects of affective individualism. Women's lives did not encourage independence and autonomy. Although liberty and equality were widespread themes of civic life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, deference and the subordination of wives to husbands sustained less damage than other hierarchical social relations. Furthermore, the growing idealization of motherhood in these centuries and the barriers to participation in public life outside the newly separate "women's sphere" severely limited the possibilities of autonomy for women.

Individualism was a theme of the elevation of women's moral position in the family. Each woman was responsible for ensuring her family's piety and moral conduct; this calling encouraged her to claim she was the moral equal—at times the superior—of her husband. The moral equality attributed to women and men in the nineteenth-century gender ideal of separate spheres represented


an increase in female stature over patriarchal ideals. Yet the new ideal by no means repudiated paternal authority. Barbara Welter, documenting the American cult of domestic "true womanhood," quotes a nineteenth-century women's magazine: "The man bears rule over his wife's person and conduct. She bears rule over his inclinations: he governs by law; she by persuasion."[24] In terms of individualism, this arrangement left women far more room for self-examination than it did for autonomy.

Similarly, the sentimental ideals of motherhood and childhood that diffused at this time promoted serf-awareness and emotionality without increasing women's autonomy. As "angels of love and fidelity who first opened our senses to behold God in his works and word," mothers were increasingly viewed as forming their children's later character as well. And the most effective influence was now tender rather than repressive, as it had been in previous eras. In floods of diaries, magazines, and maternal associations, mothers examined their motivations and achievements. "It seems to me at times as if the weight of responsibility connected with these little immortal beings would prove too much for me," writes one very modern-sounding anxious mother. "Am I doing what is right? Am I doing enough?"[25]

If maternal responsibility was more exacting, it was also more engaging. In the daily care and tutelage of children, for whom mothers were now the primary parents, women developed intense emotions and relational capacities. Expressions of passionate attachment to children replaced the emotional reserve of previous eras. Mothers vicariously experienced self-interest, autonomy, and competition, nurturing husbands and rearing children to their proper place in the world. They tasted "the glory of victory, without suffering the dangers of the battle."[26] In short, women developed self primarily by self-consciously developing moral children. In this context they developed a less differentiated individualism than did men, whose context was contractual relations. Women's individualism tended to emerge communally, and it developed integrally with communal identification and responsibility for others. Their adaptation of individualism blunted themes of autonomy but sharpened those of self-awareness and emotional self-expression.

Women conducted self-exploration in a social world far more homogenous than that of men. Women lived in private worlds popu-


lated by family, kin, neighbors, friends, and fellow parishioners— people of similar social status whose parallel endeavors built a solidarity of resemblance and whose bonds were explicitly communal. There is evidence that women's public demeanor in the uneasy nineteenth century, like men's, revealed a concern for status—for example, in rigorous customs of dress and speech.[27] Women's daily lives were, nonetheless, far more private than public. Intimacy in this homogenous private world required less reserve than intimacy constructed amid difference, competition, and threat. In accessible intimacy, the elaboration of sentiment also came easier. The man of sentiment, horrified by cruelty and moved by deep feeling, was a brief literary vogue that the market culture instantly ridiculed. The woman of sentiment was a new social person. Her private world of family and friends welcomed empathy and feeling, apart from the harsh exigencies of the market. Her sentimental culture fortified the nineteenth-century woman to carry out a redemptive public mission in suffrage, moral reform, and charity.

Collective identifications, the sense of fundamental belonging and identification within groups, created distinct arenas of self-awareness for men and women as differences between their social lives sharpened. Affective individualism flourished amid the social changes that separated public from private life. Men's individualism involved constructing identities that bridged their public and private spheres of life. As they individuated, men identified themselves in contrast to other men within the collective identifications of class and stratum. Gender, for them, was a less complex identification.[*]

For women, gender emerged as a more important collective identification. Nancy Cott persuasively argues that for sectors of


nineteenth-century American middle-class women, gender was at least as important as class.[28] Women's individualism developed as part of a new ideology of gender. The materials of unique self-definition and expression were drawn from within the sharply etched gender culture of women's sphere, where the possible "others" for adult women were husband and children. In previous eras, women might have perceived the interests of children in competition with those of parents.[29] But under the emerging ideology of a paramount mother-child bond, wherein women's social and moral achievements were largely tied to mothering, women perceived their interests allied with those of their children.

Women's relationships to their husbands were an entirely different story. Although nineteenth-century women's economic interests depended more than ever on those of their husbands, a new female individualism nonetheless evolved. The antipatriarchal impact of Protestant marital values and the increasing secular veneration of women's moral role in the family favored an individualism in which wives defined their collective interests in opposition to their husbands'.[30]

These themes of gender opposition are most evident in nineteenth-century American writing on "true womanhood,"[31] in passages favorably contrasting women's values to men's. "Our men are sufficiently moneymaking. Let us keep our women and children from the contagion as long as possible." Women would counter male mercenary values with "purity of mind, simplicity and frankness of heart, benevolence,, . . . forbearance and selfdenial."[32]

Women's new moral stature allowed them room for independent judgment and activity. In advocating a negative strategy toward men's sexual demands, they offered female purity as an antidote to male sinfulness. They effected increased birth control by asserting the right to refuse sex. Daniel Scott Smith labels this strategy "domestic feminism"—the flowering of women's individualism in the private sphere.[33] True womanhood themes featured a protofeminist ideology in which the interests of women were defined partly in opposition to those of men. This gender-identified individualism—in which women identified themselves in relation to children and family and in opposition to the interests of men as a gender— shaped the content of the most popular forms of early feminism.


Movements for social purity and temperance, and to expand education for effective motherhood all asserted women's familistic values in the political arena and often attempted to control the public and private behavior of men.[34] (It is not surprising that feminist activity was directed against the public contexts, like the tavern, which had become the main arenas for male friendship and sociability. And even though capitalist urbanization and consumerism were clearly working toward the same effect, and with considerably more force, Christopher Lasch correctly places feminism [more accurately, wives and mothers] among the antagonists of nineteenth-century male public sociality.)

In sum, individualism and democratic ideas did not submerge communal and patriarchal family values. Men and women adapted individualism and democratic ideas differently. In the late nineteenth century, many women who aspired to autonomous public endeavor did not marry.[35] But even in this era, when the number of never-marrying women temporarily increased, most women married and spent most of their adult life rearing children. Once they married, they encountered individualism as mothers. Because eighteenth- and nineteenth-century social developments elevated the moral stature, affective qualities, and domestic influence of mothers, women developed a consciousness of self and of self-interest indissolubly bound to others. Maternal responsibility would thereafter figure in strategies of self-interest in both marriage dynamics and politics. Affective individualism—self-awareness and expression, strivings toward autonomy, and emotional intimacy—would develop for women within the constraints of familial commitment and gender-based consciousness. The ideology of separate spheres and its associated gender identifications limited the scope of women's individualism, but they also provided the cultural materials for constructing individuality.

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Chapter One The Modernization of Friendship and Marriage
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