Why I Hate Family Values

Pollitt, Katha

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Annotated by:
Wear, Delese
  • Date of entry: Mar-21-1997


This essay is found in her collection, Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism. In this particular chapter she rips apart the contemporary fetish of family values and the cult of the nuclear family, exposing these arbitrary socio-political constructions for what they are: "just another way to bash women, especially poor women."


I have used this essay (and others from her collection) in literature classes focusing on women, women's health, abortion, divorce, and so on. Students, like the faculty who teach them, are products of a particular historical moment; Pollitt uncovers assumptions underlying the current constructions of family values.

Pollitt maintains that the troubles connected with the breakdown of the "family" are not a problem of values but rather a problem of money. That is, when jobs don't exist and the poor are left to their own devices, people are unable to display a "work ethic" like the rest of us blessed with jobs; people don't feel good about themselves; people don't marry or stay married. Moreover, girls don't have a good reason to postpone motherhood and boys don't have much in the way of economic prospects that would make them wise marriage prospects anyway.

Pollitt maintains that "instead of moaning about 'family values' we should be thinking about how to provide the poor with decent jobs and social services, and about how to insure economic justice for working women. And let marriage take care of itself." Such changes would acknowledge and adjust our changing social relations, instead of continuing a commiseration on the moral collapse of the U.S., or laying the blame for all our social problems on poor unmarried mothers.

This essay is useful to read as an accompaniment to Lucille Clifton's the lost baby poem (see this database) and Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina (see this database). The critical edge to Pollitt's essay provides students with an additional way to read these authors.


Pollitt's work appears regularly in the New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Nation

Primary Source

Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism



Place Published

New York