Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China

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Judith Stacey, 2012 winner of the Simon and Gagnon Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the American Sociological Association.

A leading expert on the family, Judith Stacey is known for her provocative research on mainstream issues. Finding herself impatient with increasingly calcified positions taken in the interminable wars over same-sex marriage, divorce, fatherlessness, marital fidelity, and the like, she struck out to profile unfamiliar cultures of contemporary love, marriage, and family values from around the world.

Built on bracing original research that spans gay men’s intimacies and parenting in America to plural and non-marital forms of family in South Africa and China, Unhitched decouples the taken for granted relationships between love, marriage, and parenthood. Countering the one-size-fits-all vision of family values, Stacey offers readers a lively, in-person introduction to these less familiar varieties of intimacy and family and to the social, political, and economic conditions that buttress and batter them.

Through compelling stories of real families navigating inescapable personal and political trade-offs between desire and domesticity, the book undermines popular convictions about family, gender, and sexuality held on the left, right, and center. Taking on prejudices of both conservatives and feminists, Unhitched poses a powerful empirical challenge to the belief that the nuclear family—whether straight or gay—is the single, best way to meet our needs for intimacy and care. Stacey calls on citizens and policy-makers to make their peace with the fact that family diversity is here to stay.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stacey (In the Name of the Family), a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, spent over a decade interviewing and observing families in California, South Africa, and China for this scrupulously researched and moving portrait of family diversity across three continents and cultures. The first section is devoted to gay men living, loving, and parenting in tony West Hollywood. Stacey uses the experiences of her 50 subjects to examine both sides of the gay-marriage debate. The theory that legalizing gay marriage will lead to the legalization of polygamy takes Stacey to South Africa, where both same-sex and plural marriages are legal. She examines the history and modern interpretation of polygamy and asks if the practice might not offer some potential benefits to women and their children. Finally, Stacey turns her keen analysis on the Mosuo people of southwest China, who have rejected marriage for multigenerational households in which children are raised by their mothers and maternal family. Throughout her travels and exhaustive research, Stacey pokes and prods, and eagerly calls into question everything we think we know about love, marriage, and the baby in the baby carriage. Photos. (May)
From the Publisher
"The book is thought provoking, engaging, and makes important contributions to the study of families."-Joya Misra,International Journal of Comparative Sociology

"Judith Stacey's Unhitched...successfully demystif[ies] aspects of modern marriage and its attendant real and imagined crises...[she] is a senior scholar on top of her game...her book makes you want to discuss her ideas with others."-Kristin Celello,Women's Review of Books

“With clear-cut, modern prose, (Stacey) infuses her commentary and details her investigation from all sides of the aisle with well-researched facts and figures… Clever and practical blend of research, history and anecdote.” -Kirkus Reviews

“Throughout her travels and exhaustive research, Stacey pokes and prods, and eagerly calls into question everything we think we know about love, marriage, and the baby in the baby carriage.”-Publishers Weekly

“An engagingly written and highly readable book that deals with a crucial and controversial related set of issues: the nature of contemporary family life, kinship, love, parenting, intimacy, and how to live with diversity. No one is better qualified to take this on than Judith Stacey. She manages to combine the commitment of the serious ethnographer with the enthusiasm and insight of the eager traveler. This is an essential book.”-Jeffrey Weeks,author of The World We Have Won

"Judith Stacey is a great writer, whose clear style and provocative arguments make her one of the most compelling and most engaging feminist writers of our time."-Social Forces

Unhitched is Judith Stacey's richest and most provocative work to date. Tirelessly championing diverse varieties of intimate life, she has long refused to succumb to simplistic, homogenizing notions of ‘the family.’ Unhitched continues in this vein, bringing together a fascinating mix of ethnographic research on same-sex intimacies in this country, and plural and non-marital family forms in South Africa and China. It poses a powerful empirical challenge to the belief that the nuclear family—in both its hetero and homo variants—best fulfills our needs for intimacy and security."-Arlene Stein,author of The Stranger Next Door

Library Journal
Stacey (sociology, New York Univ; In the Name of the Family: Rethinking Family Values in the Postmodern Age) presents three ethnographic portraits—gays in L.A., polygamists in South Africa, and the matrilineal, nonmarital Mosuo people of southwestern China—to demonstrate that the Ozzie and Harriet family ideal is not normal, natural, or universal. She criticizes that model's failures, gender and sexual disparities, and hypocrisy, provocatively urging us to "unhitch" ourselves from the unsubstantiated belief that the model's decline has caused our modern social ills. She advocates the acceptance of imaginative, diverse, flexible, equitable, and reasoned patterns of dedicated and responsible love, domesticity, and parenting, divorced from legal control. Extensively documented, the book consists of revisions of previous articles, now with interconnected arguments that are adequately woven together into a distinct and accessible work. The cultural examples highlighted are thought-provoking but fringe and disparate, and they somewhat force the argument. VERDICT The book will fuel the ongoing family values/marriage discourse by challenging conservatives, feminists, and proponents of same-sex marriage (about which Stacey has shifted her views). Recommended for academic and interested general readers.—Marge Kappanadze, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY
Kirkus Reviews

A candid unearthing of veiled and inviolable topics related to relationships and marriage.

When considering the pros and cons of entering into a marital bond these days, one must recognize the progression and, in many cases, regression of society regarding relationships. For 10 years, Stacey has conducted research based on this rationale, and her captivating results form the basis of a book that unravels the mysteries behind marital—and nonmarital—relationships of all shapes, sizes and colors. With clear-cut, modern prose, the author infuses hercommentary and details her investigation from all sides of the aisle with well-researched facts and figures. Stacey uses gay marriage and polyandrous relationships as a springboard for readers to reflect on the traditional marriage system of one man, one woman, and she turns controversial cultural issues into divisive conjectures. With powerful recognition of "Gay Parenthood and the End of Paternity as We Knew It," the author directly confronts the taboo subject that can be same-sex relationships and their take on parenthood, running the gamut from gay men desperate to adopt, to those who decline, whom she refers to as "refuseniks." Stacey provides acomprehensive look at the varying nature of family structures spanning from the United States to southwest China, and she suggests love and marriage are not necessarily blissfully united.

Clever and practical blend of research, history and anecdote.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Judith Stacey is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and Sociology at NYU. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including In the Name of the Family: Rethinking Family Values in the Postmodern Age (1996), Brave New Families: Stories of Domestic Upheaval in Late Twentieth-Century America (1990) and Patriarchy and Socialist Revolution in China (1983).

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Tolstoy Was Wrong 1

1 Love, Sex, and Kinship in Gay El Lay 13

2 Gay Parenthood and the End of Paternity as We Knew It 49

3 A South African Slant on the Slippery Slope 89

4 Paradoxes of Polygamy and Modernity 122

5 Unhitching the Horse from the Carriage: Love without Marriage among the Mosuo 152

Conclusion: Forsaking No Others 188

Appendix: A Co-parenting Agreement 209

Notes 211

Bibliography 235

Index 261

About the Author 275

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