Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s box-fresh, righter-than-right soon-to-be prime minister, has claimed in a speech that is going around Twitter like wildfire that the left sees the family unit as a frightening enemy. The left, says the leader of the Brothers of Italy, is attacking national, religious, gender and family identity because these are things that define Italy. She asserts that she can no longer define herself as Italian, Christian, woman and mother, which seems odd given that she’s just run an election campaign and won using those very identities for political capital. She claims she is reduced to a number – “gender x, parent 2”. I assume this is because now sometimes at schools they refer to “parents and caregivers” to include those children who are raised by grandparents or foster parents, and at hospitals they might say “women and other birth-givers” to include those who give birth while having the temerity to be non-binary or trans masculine.
Right-wingers, she asserts, are looking at the demise of the family unit unless they assert themselves and bring back the hetero-normative, gender-conforming nuclear family with all its “Hi Honey, I’m home” joys. This is what I think of as the Ghostbusters Effect: “If you add a new thing (female Ghostbusters), I have effectively lost my existing thing (male Ghostbusters) because you have implied that it is now somehow not enough.”
I would suggest to Meloni that no one has taken the normcore family away, rather that it did not fit some or even most people. While it is right for some, alone it is not enough. In 1996 a 19-year-old Meloni fan-girled on TV about the fascist dictator Mussolini, who once said, “Women are angels or demons, born to take care of the household, bear children and to make cuckolds.” His idea of the traditional Italian family didn’t include anyone called Giorgia running the country. “Giorgios only need apply”, because angelic women are bearing children and managing households.
I believe that those who want progress want progress for all. Women who want leadership roles and children. Women who want one of those or neither. Men who want to be primary or sole caregivers. People who are in same-sex relationships who want support with surrogacy or adoption and those who prefer white sofas and lots of sleep. Gender non-conforming people who want protection and respect for themselves and their families, however they’re made up. I just want more people who don’t fit into anyone else’s idea of a “2.4 children, two up/two down, Daddy works/Mummy cooks” lifestyle to be as well supported and happy as possibly. “Alternative” families exist. Do they defy tradition? No. Not really. The nuclear family is a 20th-century invention and it’s kind of a drag that drained mothers, alienated fathers and traumatised kids who knew they’d never fit into the model and had to hide who they were from those who loved them the most.
You want tradition? Let’s look at indigenous societies that have survived (in some cases) for tens of thousands of years. In the First Nations Cheyenne tradition, for example, paternal uncles and maternal aunts are responsible for their nephews and nieces as though they were their parents. In fact the word náhko’e (mother) is used when addressing your maternal aunt and the words for paternal uncle and father have a similar relationship. The same kinship tradition exists in Australian aboriginal cultures, which would indicate that this is a deeply human model. So too the concept of gender fluidity and the acceptance of a spectrum of sexual orientations, which exists in most indigenous cultures.
We should get back to traditional human family values, along with the very natural warm acceptance and celebration of gender and sexual diversity that is most authentic to human beings. Families should have the opportunity to come in all of their various, beautiful human shapes and sizes. Let’s not get stuck in the suburban alienation of the mid 20th century, as if a washer/drier makes up for extended family, lots of wonderfully individual role models and plentiful childcare. Let’s get really traditional. Let’s make families about kinship again.
Deborah Frances-White is hosting The Guilty Feminist podcast’s 7th Birthday Show – a night of comedy, music & conversation – live at The Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday 1 October 2022. Tickets at guiltyfeminist.com
[See also: The making and meaning of Giorgia Meloni]