INST 205 - Review Sheet - Section Six: Families

Learning Objectives

  • To understand how families contribute to gender socialization and gender inequality.
  • To recognize how a person’s experience in a family is affected by her or his gender, race, sexuality, and class.
  • To be aware of the differences in family structures that exist and of how these structures are different and similar.
  • To be conscious of how families can be a woman’s source of strength or resistance.
  • To be aware of how public discourse and the media frame our understanding of families.

Section Summary

The institution of the family contributes to gender socialization and is often the site of gender inequality. Families vary considerably in their make-up (sexuality of the members, number of parents, etc.) and by race/ethnicity and class.

  • Families provide people with the first sense of themselves as gendered beings.
  • People spend much of their adult lives in families.
  • Women and men have different experiences and duties in many families.
  • Public discourse and the media shape how we understand various aspects of the family.
  • Families can be a women’s source of strength or resistance, as well as of their subordination.

Boxed Insert: Mary-Jane Wagle,“Abstinence-only: Breeding Ignorance”

The majority of abstinence-only sexual education courses use materials that contain falsehoods and present gender stereotypes as facts. Favored by President Bush and other conservatives, these programs are funded instead of other programs that actually help students.

  • Abstinence-only programs attempt to scare and shame children into not having sex.
  • Abstinence-only materials present false information that downplays the effectiveness of contraception and overstates the risks of abortion.
  • Programs with comprehensive sexual education, like California’s, have led to reduced teen pregnancy. However, many teens who are taught the abstinence-only doctrine and who sign virginity pledges still have premarital sex.
  • Abstinence-only programs take funding away from other sexual education programs and put children at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

Reading 24: Kathleen Gerson,“Moral Dilemmas, Moral Strategies, and the Transformation of Gender: Lessons From Two Generations of Work and Family Change”

Women’s increased entry into the workforce has altered the traditional model that divided men’s and women’s work into different categories with husbands contributing to the family by working and wives caring for the family. These changes have produced moral dilemmas for balancing individualism and commitment. While most young people espouse equality, men and women tend to pursue different strategies when egalitarian relationships are impossible.

  • The new social conditions of a changed economy and changed ideas about gender, particularly about femininity, have undermined the link between gender and moral obligation. Women are now expected to perform both paid work and the majority of family work. Men now have more opportunities to abandon family obligations and more pressure to be actively involved with the family.
  • Most spouses feel that they do not have enough time to care for their families and to pursue their own self-sufficiency.
  • Gerson performed 120 life-history interviews with a racially diverse sample of New Yorkers aged 18-32 to understand how young men and women are handling these dilemmas.
  • The young New Yorkers felt that a lasting relationship was an ideal that was hard to reach and should be based on the quality of the relationship. Many of these people wondered if it would be possible to balance commitment and self-affirmation.
  • The majority of young people whose mother worked supported the idea of two-person careers as good for the family, and half of the young people whose mother stayed home wished she had worked for pay.
  • Most of the young people also felt that a good father not only worked to financially support the family, but also spent time with the children and was emotionally present.
  • In this context, a good parent is conceived of as someone who cares for the family both economically and emotionally.
  • Most of the men and women felt that self-interest, too, could not be limited to work alone or to the family. However, significantly more men than women preferred the traditional gender order in the family.
  • Few young people believe they will be able to integrate work and family, and most jobs make it difficult to do so.
  • Men and women differed in how they would respond if their egalitarian ideals proved unmanageable. Women would prefer to remain autonomous if they are not able to achieve egalitarian family structures, while men would prefer a “modified traditionalism” where they remain the primary or sole breadwinner and their partners perform most of the domestic labor.
  • Some young people are waiting to marry or have children, and thus feel that autonomy and individualism are prerequisites to commitment.

Reading 25: Denise Segura, “Working at Motherhood: Chicana and Mexicana Immigrant Mothers and Employment”

From her interviews with Chicanas and Mexicanas, Segura describes how ideas concerning motherhood are culturally formed. Immigrant Mexicana women see paid labor as a duty of motherhood, while many Chicana women feel guilty about working rather than staying home with their children.

  • Chicana women tended to be voluntarily unemployed or ambivalently employed mothers. Mexicanas tended to be involuntarily unemployed or nonambivalently employed mothers.
  • Mexicanas see paid labor and domestic or childcare work as intertwined with motherhood, because they were raised in Mexico where women’s labor is not considered separate from motherhood. This allows these women to feel less ambivalence and less guilt about their work.
  • Chicanas experience greater guilt and ambivalence because they have been raised in the United States, where the productive labor of the family is seen as separate from the expressive functions of the family. These women tended to see paid labor as distinct from their roles as mothers.
  • These findings contradict theories that suggested that more recent immigrant women would tend to experience greater guilt and ambivalence about paid work. Rather, Mexican immigrant culture places a stronger emphasis on the importance of employment as part of motherhood than American culture does.
  • Neither of these forms of motherhood challenged male privilege in the family and many of these women spoke of being pressured by their husbands regarding their work situations.

Reading 26: Hung Cam Thai, “For Better or Worse: Gender Allures in the Vietnamese Global Marriage Market”

Thai uses the example of the couple Minh and Thanh to demonstrate how the decisions of Vietnamese women and Vietnamese-American men to engage in transnational marriages are based on a need for respect and global class relations.

  • The men are unable to marry because they have low class status in the United States, while the women are unable to marry because of their higher class and education level in Vietnam.
  • Both of these statuses are considered unattractive to prospective marriage partners based on the intersection of class and gender ideology.
  • These Vietnamese men and women attempt to improve their marriage statuses through marriage migration. In the global marriage market, Vietnamese-American men receive status because they are living in the United States. The Vietnamese women are seen to be in a lower position because of their location in Vietnam.
  • The women expect that their husbands in the U.S. will have a more egalitarian gender ideology than the men in Vietnam do, while the men expect that the women from Vietnam will respect traditional gender roles.
  • These gender ideologies are likely to clash during the marriage when the women come to the United States; this could place the women in danger or force them to lose their own egalitarian ideology.

Reading 27: Nancy Naples, “Queer Parenting in the New Millennium”

Naplesdiscusses the queer communities’ various opinions regarding the GLBT movement’s focus on same-sex marriage rights. Many efforts are needed to expand conceptions of the family and to challenge heteronormativity.

  • Conservatives have focused much money and attention on traditional marriage. The Bush administration has funded programs to promote marriage among low-income people, and Senate conservatives have unsuccessfully attempted to bring about an amendment that would limit marriage to heterosexuals.
  • Although much of the mainstream GLBT movement has focused on opening up marriage to gays and lesbians, many in the GLBT movement are skeptical of this direction. They fear that the focus on marriage would assimilate queers into a heterosexist regime, undermine radical queer politics, and further marginalize those in non-monogamous relationships. Others suggest that the tremendous energy within the same-sex marriage movement can be harnessed to achieve other goals of the GLBT movement.
  • While some have argued that marriage is only an issue for white gays and lesbians, recent research suggests that many GLBT persons of color desire same-sex unions, too.
  • Under the current laws, gays and lesbians are denied many opportunities and benefits including access to adopting or having children. Many gays and lesbians must go through expensive legal processes to obtain only some of the rights.
  • Queer parents like Nancy Naples pose a challenge to various assumptions about families,gender and sexuality. However, the prevalence of heteronormativity causes many problems for the non-biological gay parent. The non-biological parent must constantly explain his/her relationship to the child. Moreover—though this sounds rather strange—he/she may even need to adopt his/her own child!

Reading 24: Kathleen Gerson, “Moral Dilemmas, Moral Strategies, and the Transformation of Gender: Lessons from Two Generations of Work and Family Change”

  1. What is the moral dilemma facing men and women according to Gerson? How have things changed regarding this dilemma?
  2. How do young people feel about their mothers having worked or stayed home? Why might the children of working mothers be happier with the idea of the working mother? Why did some whose mothers stayed home wish their mothers had worked?
  3. According to Gerson, what do young people hope for when arranging their own families? What might get in the way of these aspirations?
  4. How do men and women differ in the way they intend to handle the demands of work and family? What does Gerson suggest can be done to make this easier?

Reading 25: Denise Segura, “Working at Motherhood: Chicana and Mexicana Immigrant Mothers and Employment”

  1. Discuss the differences between Chicana and Mexicana mothers regarding work and motherhood. Why are they different?
  2. How do husbands factor into Chicana and Mexican women’s decisions regarding work and motherhood? How does class status make a difference in these decisions?
  3. Why does Segura’s research on Chicana and Mexicana mothers differ from what was expected relative to current understandings of immigrants? Do Mexican immigrant women experience greater gender equality?

Reading 26: Hung Cam Thai, “For Better or Worse: Gender Allures in the Vietnamese Global Marriage Market”

  1. Why are Minh and Thanh unable to find spouses in their home countries? How is the idea of respect linked to Minh and Thanh’s decision to marry a person so far away?
  2. What are the social-structural reasons why people like Minh and Thanh decide to participate in marriage migration? What are the demographic reasons?
  3. How are Minh and Thanh’s gender ideologies likely to clash when they are married? What do you think will happen to couples like this?

Reading 27: Nancy Naples, “Queer Parenting in the New Millennium”

  1. Why are many queer scholars and activists concerned with the GLBT movement’s focus on same-sex marriage? Do you think their concerns are justified? Why or why not?
  2. What benefits might gays and lesbians receive from the legalization of gay marriage?
  3. According to Naples, what are conservatives doing to promote heteronormativity? Can you think of other laws and monies that are used to promote heteronormativity?
  4. What effect does queer marriage or parenting have on heteronormativity and traditional gender relations?

Web Links

Alternatives to Marriage Project

Many couples (e.g., gays and lesbians) can’t get married; others choose not to get married. This site explores some of the various “alternatives to marriage” that couples pursue. This organization seeks validation and support for unmarried relationships.

Asian Americans and Interracial Dating and Marriage

Social norms, mores, values, and laws regulating families have been organized around sex, sexuality, and property concerns, and also around racial hierarchies that make “marrying outside one’s race” a threat to the existing structures of social organization. The Asian-American experience in the United States has been shaped by pressures against out-marriage (or “exogamy”) both within Asian-American communities and from white-dominated society. Learn more at the Asian-Nation website.

Dual-Science-Career Couples

How does “family” relate to “career” in the lives of women? Do women in professional positions have more power in their relationships? What happens when both partners work in the same profession—and it’s a non-traditional field for women? These are some of the questions facing women in the male-dominated field of physics, and thisinformation is relevant to people in careers besides physics. One strategy physicists have used to explore this issue is to share their concerns with others facing similar challenges. This website introduces some of their concerns, strategies, and triumphs.

Feminist Perspectives on Reproduction and the Family

Many feminists and other philosophers and theorists see equality in the family as intrinsically linked to gender equality in society. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explores feminist ideas of equality in the family and in society on this website.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC): Families

Nancy Naples describes the mainstream GLBT movement’s focus on same-sex marriage rights and this difficulty of social acceptance for GLBT families. The Human Rights Campaign Fund is at the forefront of the mainstream GLBT movement for equal rights. In this section of the HRC website there are stories describing the struggle to have queer families accepted. This site also provides links to information on relevant legislation and goals.

Juggling Work and Family

As Kathleen Gerson describes, many families have struggled with balancing the demands of work and family, and most young men and women worry about how this balancing act will take place. This site provides numerous links to information for employers who are trying to structure a family-friendly workplace and for families who are trying to work out a balance. There are additional links to organizations and other information that may be helpful to families seeking to be egalitarian.

Mixed-Race Families

What is it like to be in a mixed-race family? What issues do children and parents face? What are the special strengths and benefits of families that include people of more than one race? This website presents a timeline concerning various milestones in interracial relationships and explores some of the familial and personal-identity issues people encounter in mixed-race families.

Sex Education in America

Mary-Jane Wagle describes what is and what should be taught in sex education programs in the United States. Recent research by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government looks at what parents and educators want in today’s sex education programs.