If there are two words in the English language that terrify me, they are ‘family values.’ This is down to the number of utterly bizarre statements that I have heard being said by people associated with, or in support of ‘family values.’ What precisely these ‘values’ are, is a subject entirely up for debate. What they promote is, most of the time, defined by what they oppose.
Before I push that argument too far, however, I think it is worth remembering that defining what you’re not is the basis of defining ultimately what you are. I was listening to a radio debate in which a supporter of multiculturalism argued that the British needed to develop a positive notion of identity, as opposed to the negative one of defining it against others. Whatever your views on multiculturalism, and Lord knows its not a subject I think about when not arsing about on wikipedia or reading about how the early modern French liked to kill each other, the woman’s fundamental point was, in short; a bit silly. How do you define yourself? You’re British because you’re not French, German or Estonian. You’re from the North because you’re not from the South. How we define ourselves is fundamentally linked to how we define others.
Anyway, back to family values. We can’t ignore them simply because an element of their description is based upon what they oppose. That said, what exactly does it stand for? Answer, the family. Fair enough, it’s exactly what it says on the tin, though the question still stands of what the family needs protecting from. I’m not aware of any political party or movement that seeks to destroy the family unit and/or possibly consume the first born of their enemies, but you never know, somewhere on the internet there probably is. I suppose the real answer, as a supporter would see it, would be from the insidious effects of society. The pressures of modern life destroy the family and eliminates the best environment for the production of kiddies. Divorce rates seem to grow year on year, and this is an area of which I have experience. Needless to say, Mr. Davies Senior and Mrs. Davies are no longer in a state of matrimonial union; so maybe family values do have a point, and the current state of affairs is, well, poo.
The problem as I see it is that having torn down the old conventions we seem to be having difficulties creating new ones. Once upon a time, if you kissed a girl, that either meant you were married, going to get married or were going to be forced to get married. Now this is not the case at all. Here, I think, is where the dangers of family values can creep in. In our listless world, it can be tempting to simply turn the clock back to a nostalgic past. I mean, there were no single mothers in the past, or homosexuals, so their removal should right the problem.
It’s this extremely mad wing that interests me most, for they say some very odd things. The main one in my mind was an interesting discussion I heard between a Labour MP and an author on family values. A group of Labour MPs had petitioned the then Home Secretary David Blunkett, oh how the tables turn, to pardon the suffragettes for the crimes they committed in getting women the vote. Nothing particularly controversial here, especially if you’re a woman, which the author was. However, she argued that they were all upper-class aristocrats who didn’t want the servants to get the vote and the MP was left rather bemused that a woman should argue against the people who campaigned for her to vote. The closing comment, however, was the real pearl of wisdom. “Yes”, she said as the announcer prepared to move on, “women have the vote, and look at the state of Britain today!’”
Were this a radio programme itself, I would allow a few moments of silence in order for that comment to sink in. I, myself, am not convinced that the divorce levels are due to women having the choice to vote every few years. Should this right be taken away, such a world would be one where women had to remain in the home and have their lives dictated by men. The sort of world, if memory serves, created by the Taliban.
The answer, as I see it, is not to revert to the world of our great-grandparents but instead to attempt to adopt new solutions to the problems that we face. If that involves some of the old conventions then it only goes to prove that we were fools to tear them down in the first place. The new conventions, however, have to accept that the family unit as we know it might not be the only way of bringing up kiddies. What I’m trying to say, with my traditional twenty words to say something that could be expressed with three, is that we have to accept the position of both homosexuals and of ‘singles’. I’ll not say single mothers, because I think both genders should have the same rights. We do need to strengthen the family, and to reduce the pressures that cause so many to collapse under the strain, but we also need to strengthen other types of relationships. I’ll not propose a new set of conventions, I can barely write a column let alone a new framework, but I am sure we do need to think of some, and soon.