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I want you to pause for a while and imagine what a family is composed of.

Now, I assume that most would probably describe family as a unit which consist of a male husband, female wife, and possibly, children. I’m not going to be surprised because this ideology is widespread throughout the world, which is known as “universal human institution” or The Family.

Take for instance, if you’re watching Mawaru Penguindrum, you may have noticed that the family pictures were always with dad, mom, and kids. In contrary, the argument that I’m trying to convey here—supported by realistic portrayal of single parenting in Usagi Drop—is that the notion of family’s universal existence is nothing but a misconceived idea construed by the functionalists and eventually largely accepted by the society.

Bronislaw Malinowski, a social anthropologist, is accountable for today’s popular misconception of the family as a “universal phenomenon.” In his ethnography, The Family Among The Australian Aborigines, he argued that The Family, had to be universal because it fulfilled a universal human need, especially the nurturing of the children. Wherein the family unit was preserved and sheltered by the obligation of its members to one another, by the established roles of husband (father), wife (mother) and children with a particular set of emotions or “family love”, and by the society recognition of those within the unit as a family.

Later on, modern anthropologists challenged this notion. Some even argued that a unit can be a family even without having a father, since the mother is the natural nurturer as defined by her supposed gender role. However, we know that this is not true for all cases. As exemplified in Usagi Drop, there are units that are composed of a father and a child, in which the mother is irrelevant in nurturing a child.

For instance, Rin never see Masako—her supposed birth mom—as her mother, but rather only as a maid that she had always feared of. Although in some cases, as illustrated by Daikichi’s mother, women were viewed and bounded as “mothers” first as defined by “nurturant” concerns. Thus, women are often excluded from the business competition, social ordering, and social change propelled and are dominated by their male counterparts.

In addition, Daikichi’s sacrifice—job demotion, loss of bachelor’s life, and sleep interruption (Rin’s pee issues) epitomized that one doesn’t need to be labeled or called as “dad,” in order to function as what a father can do for a child. Hence, if we are going to stick with the notion of Malinowski’s The Family, then surely Daikichi and Rin are disqualified based from the definition. But, it’s undeniable that they too function and serve as a family.

Truly, The Family is not a concrete “thing” that fulfills concrete “needs” but an ideological construct. In functionalist narrative, The Family and its constituent members “adapt” to fulfill functional requirements shaped for it by the industrialization of production—provision of food, clothing, and shelter essential for biological survival. However, it is important for us to recognize that while families represent deep and salient modern themes, for some scenarios contemporary families are unlikely to fulfill the likewise modern “nurturant” needs. As shown in Usagi Drop, family isn’t necessarily composed of father, mother, and child, but rather a certain type of relationship that involves affection and love that is based on enduring rather than temporary—something that a person is willing to sacrifice for.

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Side Remarks:

  • Rin’s Cat’s Cradle’s skills amazed me. I wish I’m as good as Rin.

  • I just noticed that this salary woman always has her own a train moment, and her reactions are so funny.
  • References:
  1. The Family Among The Australian Aborigines by B. Malinowski
  2. Is there a Family? New Anthropological Views by J. Collier, M.Z Rosaldo & S.Yanagisako
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