Amid lockdowns and “shelter-in-place” orders and social distancing from strangers and even friends, the coronavirus pandemic has been a time, for many of us, of reaffirming the centrality of family in our lives. For utopians of the radical left, though, the pandemic is an opportunity to deconstruct flawed, traditional familial bonds and remake the world along the lines of new-and-improved, collectivist possibilities. As author Sophie Lewis (pictured above) puts it bluntly in a recent opinion piece at Open Democracy: “We deserve better than the family. And the time of corona is an excellent time to practice abolishing it.”
The author of Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, Sophie Lewis’ academic work “focuses on eugenic, bioconservative and imperial feminism, queer and trans social reproduction, Black feminist family abolitionism, hydrofeminism, postgenomics, and Marxist-feminist accounts of care,” which seems like a lot to fit on a business card.
Writing in her article titled, “The coronavirus crisis shows it's time to abolish the family,” Lewis addresses what she calls “the unspoken and mostly unquestioned crux of the prescribed response to the pandemic: private homes.” She criticizes the assumption that we should all “stay at home” to contain the spread of the virus, arguing that 1) not everybody has a home, and 2) private property is already a “fundamentally unsafe space.”
“How can a zone defined by the power asymmetries of housework (reproductive labor being so gendered), of renting and mortgage debt, land and deed ownership, of patriarchal parenting and (often) the institution of marriage, benefit health?” she asks. “Such standard homes are where, after all, everyone secretly knows the majority of earthly violence goes down… A quarantine is, in effect, an abuser’s dream – a situation that hands near-infinite power to those with the upper hand over a home.”
Lewis approvingly quotes feminist Madeline Lane-McKinley, who had this to say in a tweet about the shelter-in-place imperative: “Households are capitalism’s pressure cookers. This crisis will see a surge in housework – cleaning, cooking, caretaking, but also child abuse, molestation, intimate partner rape, psychological torture, and more.”