Montclair University  
11/13/02- The Family as a gendered institution
Kimmel The traditional family, a normative ideal when it was invented, has never been the reality for all American families. And it is even less so today. It represents the last outpost of traditional gender relations - gender differences created through gender inequality - that are being challenged in every observable arena. Families are gendered institutions; they reproduce gender differences and gender inequalities among adults and children alike. Families raises children as gendered actors, and remind parents to perform appropriate gender behaviors.

Each specific aspect of family life - marriage, child rearing, housework, divorce - expresses the differences and the inequalities of gender.

Gendered Marriage - Marriage benefits men. All psychological measures of indices of happiness and depression suggest that married men are much happier than unmarried men are, while unmarried women are somewhat happier than married women are. A greater proportion of men than women eventually marry; husbands report being more satisfied than wives with their marriages; husbands live longer and enjoy better health benefits than unmarried men, as well as better health than women; and, fewer men than women try to get out of marriage by initiating divorce. After divorce, men remarry much more quickly than women do and widowers die sooner after the death of a spouse than widows do.

Given the traditional division of labor in the family (she works, he doesn't) and the nontraditional division of labor outside the family (he works, and she probably does, too), the husband who works outside the home receives the emotional and social and sexual services that he needs to feel comfortable in the world.

“Differences in His Marriage and Her Marriage” Orbuch and Timmer say that gender develops from early childhood experiences, is shaped through the structural distribution of power and resources, and is constructed within the social context of marriage.

Couples need to negotiate 3 critical issues in their marriage:
Work and family spheres
Kin and relationship ties
Parental responsibilities

Orbuch and Timmer look at three models: socialization, social-construction, and structural-theoretical approaches to look at these 3 issues.  They stress the immediate social context of behavior for the individual, a somewhat broader, view of the social-construction approach.

Theoretical perspectives:
Socialization – boys and girls are socialized differently.  Boys are taught and encouraged to be competitive and aggressive.  Girls are socialized to exhibit caring and nurturing behaviors.

In contrast, structural theorists state that the different positions that women and men hold in society are connected with different resources, opportunities, and constraints.

Three kinds of power in the marital relationship – manifest, latent and invisible power – all of which favor men.
Manifest power is detected through visible outcomes – who makes decisions.

Latent power surfaces when less powerful partners are silent about their wants and desires because of the anticipated reactions of the powerful partner and fear of jeopardizing the relationship.

Invisible power is the kind of power that biases and legitimates men’s and women’s perceptions of the gender inequities in marriage.  Invisible power is one of the products of masculine hegemony in society.  Men have the ability to dominate without deliberately trying to do so. 

The lack of power external to the family influences the woman’s power within the family.

Lastly a social constructionist would argue that the ongoing interaction within the social context of the marriage and family is what becomes important in determining what role gender plays in marital and family relationships.    People combine their own views and propensities with the environments in which they find themselves. 

For example, black coups have more egalitarian attitudes and behaviors regarding gendered tasks around the home than white couples.  The gendered experience is filtered through a cultural perspective.

3 issues –
Spheres of employment and family.  The marital partner with the greater structural resources has more power internally within the relationship.  When women are economically and interpersonally dependent on men, they are less likely to be critical of gender inequality.   

Working is good for women.  Although research has demonstrated that married women’s employment outside the home can have positive physical and mental effects for wives, the findings are inconclusive about whether these benefits come at the expense of the husband’s well-being.  Some studies suggest that it also has benefits for husbands.  For husbands, the degree to which they believe they are to be the family provider relates positively to their individual sense of well-being in marriage.

Maintenance of Kin and Relationship Ties.Although women’s greater involvement in the workplace outside the home has changed their expectations about working and how best to incorporate work into their family and household responsibilities, their marital and family roles have not changed dramatically.  Men still retain the bulk of the social and economic power in the family, and women retain the bulk of the relationship-regulating power, controlling the quality of the relationships for the family both inside the family and with extended kin. 

Even dual-career couples are quite traditional with respect to gender roles in the home.  Women are the kin-keepers.  The importance of wives’ integration and connection to the husband’s family for the well-being and stability of the marital relationship in the early years of marriage is documented.  Research shows that women devote more effort than men to maintaining relationships.  Women are the makers and breakers of relationships.  One predictor of divorce was the way the wife generally felt about intimate relationships, such as whether she felt comfortable or uncomfortable sharing thoughts and feelings and whether she worried about being left by her partner.

Responsibilities of Parenthood – Studies continue to find that women do much more with children than fathers do, even when both have full-time paid work.  Some additional findings fathers spend relatively more time with their children, as they get older, particularly if they are sons.  African American husbands are much more likely to participate in child care than white husbands.  Fathers are more involved with their children if they perceive themselves as successful “breadwinners” irrespective of their actual earnings. 

The effects of parental marital unhappiness and divorce on parent-child relations are substantially different depending on the gender of the parent and child.  Research consistently finds that marital unhappiness and disruption are associated with more distant father-child relations as well as negative styles off interacting between fathers and children.  The negative influence of divorce on father-child relationships is likely exacerbated by the fact that most children live with their mothers following divorce.

Gendered Parents Gendering Children. If one of the chief purposes of the family is to maintain both gender inequality and gender difference between the parents, then its other chief purpose is to ensure that those gendered identities are imparted to the next generation.

During infancy, expectations about how each gender ought to be treated lead to different behaviors by parents and other adults. Boys receive more touching, holding rocking and kissing than do girls in the first few months, but the situation is reversed by age six months.

Parents' early treatment of their infant is usually not a deliberate effort to teach the child a "proper" gender role, but rather reflects the fact that the parents themselves accept the general societal roles for men and women.

Other adults reinforce these different parental behaviors. Researchers have found that people interact with infants based more on their assumptions about what is appropriate for the gender than on the characteristics of the child itself. As the child moves form the infant to the toddler stage, somewhere around age two, research shows that gender-typing increases, e.g. "Big boys don't cry." Boys are urged away from "girls" toys.

In general, boys tend to acquire masculinity as much by avoiding anything feminine as by imitating men directly. By contrast, girls' activities and identities seem to be more directly modeled on imitation than on repudiation or avoidance of masculinity. (see Nancy Chodorow, lecture on psychological dimensions of gender)

This asymmetry in crossing over to the other gender's play style also indicates the way that masculinity is far more rigid a role construction than femininity, and how that rigidity is also part of the coercive mechanism of gender role socialization.

The Gendered Politics of Housework and Child care. Working mothers report higher levels of self-esteem and are less depressed than full-time housewives. Yet they also report lower levels of marital satisfaction than do their husbands, who are happier than the husbands of traditional housewives.
Men who wives' work outside the home have the additional income as well as the same amount of work done for them at home.

Women do the second shift.

Men's participation in family work has been "surprisingly resistant to change." – About 1/5 of what women do in the household. The type of work they do is very different. His and her work. . Even when couples share more equitably in the work at home, women do two-thirds of the daily jobs at home. What’s more, men tend to see their participation in housework in relation to their wives’ housework; women tend to see their wok as necessary for family maintenance. Men “pitch” in or “help.”

Some men are doing more than others. For example African-American men do significantly more housework than white men. Working class men do more than middle-class men (blue vs. white collar)

The presence of children increases the gender gap. Mothers spend far more time with children than fathers do especially when children are infants and about 50% more time with children in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Children learn the gender expectations that their parents teach them. One 1991 study found that daughters of women working full time did more than ten hours a week of housework; sons did less than three hours a week.

In other industrial countries, men’s rate of childcare are double than in the US, while in Britain the rates were about 40% higher.

Men who do more housework are better fathers and better husbands  according to Kimmel.

His and Her Divorce -
The problem with divorce is more accurately linked to the constructed problem of fatherlessness and the real problem of gender inequality. Feminist women promoted divorce reform at the turn of the century to provide some legal recourse to women who wanted to escape marriages that were unhappy or violent. Like birth control and abortion, divorce undermined men’s power over women and reduced gender inequality n the family.

Although liberalizing divorce laws may have reduced gender inequality within marriage, they seem either to have reduced it entirely nor reduced it after the marriage is dissolved. One recent study found that three of four women listed pathological behaviors by male partners: adultery, violence, substance abuse, abandonment) as their reason for divorce. …The greater the inequality between men and women in a given society, the more detrimental the impact of divorce on women.”

Divorce has different impacts on women and on men. Divorce seems to affect women more adversely in material and financial terms and men more adversely in emotional and psychological terms.

Most children recover from the stress of divorce and show no adverse signs a few years later if they have adequate psychological supports and economic resources.

The level of conflict before the divorce is the key factor. It is better for children for parents to divorce when there is a high level of conflict. .

Scott Coltrane. -
Social construction of shared parenting. All couples described flexible and practical task-allocation procedures that were responses to shortages of time. All families were child-centered in that they placed a high value on their children's well-being, defining parenting as an important and serious undertaking, and organized most of their nonemployed time around their children.

Characteristics - well-educated and delaying childbearing until their late twenties or early thirties, couple who shared most of their responsibility for household labor tended to involve father in routine child are from the children's early infancy.

When domestic activities are equally shared, "maternal thinking" develops in fathers, too, and the social meaning of gender begins to change. This deemphasizes notions of gender as personality and locates it in social interaction. To treat gender as the "cause" of household division of labor overlooks its emergent character and fails to acknowledge how it is in fact implicated in precisely such routine practices.

Some characteristics
Mothers performed much more of the early infant care. All of the mothers and only about half of the fathers reported that they initially reduced their hours of employment after having children. About a third of the fathers said they increased their employment hours to compensate for the loss of income that resulted from their wives taking time off work before or after the births of their children.

Underlying ideology - child-centeredness and equity ideals.

Divisions of household labor - Nevertheless, almost a quarter of the tasks were performed principally by the mothers, including most clothes care, meal planning, kin-keeping and some of the more onerous repetitive housecleaning. Just under one-fifth of the tasks were performed principally by the fathers. These included the majority of the occasional outside chores such as home repair, car maintenance lawn care, and taking out the trash. As a group, sample couples can thus be characterized as sharing an unusually high proportion of housework and child care, but still partially conforming to a traditional division of household labor.

Managing versus helping - Household divisions of labor in these families also can be described in terms of who takes responsibility for planning and initiating various tasks. Responsibility for managing child care was more likely to be shared. Planning and initiating "direct" child care, including supervision, discipline and play, was typically an equal enterprise. Sharing responsibility for "indirect" child care, including clothing, cleaning, and feeding was less common, but was still shared in over half of the families.

Mothers felt more accountable for the cleanliness of the house and children.

Adult socialization through childrearing - Increased sensitivity on the part of the fathers, and their enhanced competence as parents, was typically evaluated by adopting a vocabulary of motives and feelings similar to the mothers,' created and sustained through an ongoing dialogue about the children: a dialogue that grew out of the routine child care practices.

Greater parental competence was also reported to enhance marital interaction. Fathers were often characterized as paying increased attention to emotional cues from their wives and engaging in more reciprocal communication. Husbands felt pride as well as understand the drudgery in sharing child care and housework.

Gender attributions - Approximately half of both mothers and fathers volunteered that men and women bought something unique to child care, and many stressed that they did not consider their own parenting skills to be identical to those of their spouses.

Many of the manager-helper couples legitimated their divisions of labor and reaffirmed the "naturalness" of essential gender differences. Parents who equally shared the responsibility for direct and indirect child care, on the other hand, were more likely to see similarities in their relationships with their children.
The central feature of these and other parental accounts is that shared activities formed an emotional connection between parent and child. Shared activities were also instrumental in constructing images of fathers as competent, nurturing care gives.

However, the parents who were the most successful at sharing child care were the most likely to claim that men could nurture like women. Those who sustained manager-helper dynamics in child care tended to invoke the images of "maternal instincts" and alluded to natural differences between men and women. In contrast, more equal divisions of household labor were typically accompanied by an ideology of gender similarity rather than gender difference. The direction of causality is twofold: 1. Those who believed that men could nurture like women seriously attempted to share all aspects of child care, and 2. The successful practice of sharing child care facilitated the development of beliefs that men could nurture like women.

Normalizing atypical behavior. Bother mothers and fathers said that the father receive more credit for his family involvement than the mother did, because it was expected that she would perform child care and housework. Since parenting is assumed to be "only natural" for women, fathers were frequently praised for performing a task that would go unnoticed if a mother had performed it.

One mother commented on a pattern that was typically mentioned by both parents: domestic divisions of labor were "normal" to those who were attempting something similar, and "amazing" to those who were not.

Men were often discouraged from talking about family or children in the work setting.

Some fathers said their talk of spending time with their children was perceived by coworkers as indicating they were not "serious" about their work. They reported receiving indirect messages that providing for the family was primary and being with the family was secondary. Fathers avoided negative workplace sanctions by selectively revealing the extent of their family involvement.

Men reports that their own mothers and fathers reacted negatively to their divisions of labor. This changed over time.

Another mother note that parental acceptance of shared parenting did not necessarily entail acceptance of the woman as provide. Here again, the "essential nature" of men is taken to be that of provider.

David Popenoe
Popenoe argues that we damage families by encouraging men and women to adopt interchangeable family roles. Social androgyny

He uses a sociobiolgical argument to reason that the instability of contemporary family life is attributable to social norms pressuring men to adopt the same family roles as women.

Popenoe's argument:

Children need regular interaction and a relationship that develops a strong, mutual, irrational attachment to that child. (Urie Brofenbrenner) The unstated assumption is that working parents don't have this attachment to their child or that the child does not have an attachment to the parents. Research does not support this.

Cites Belsky saying –negative effects of placing infants in group day care. However, more research does not support this.

Others points – Dads can be trained but most dads do not want to be mom, and they do not feel comfortable being mom.

Also – this new type of father actually leads to risk of divorce. He uses Sweden as the comparison. (Although Sweden does not have the high divorce rate of the US)

According to Popenoe, the basis of sexual and emotional attraction between men and women is based not on sameness but on differences. Childrearing couples who have been able to stay together and remain interested in each other for a long period of time are not likely to be couples who are relentlessly pursuing the ideal of social androgyny. Again, not supported by research.

He argues that there are biological and sociological reasons why some gender differentiation of roles within childrearing families is necessary for the good of society. Gender differentiation is important for child development, and probably important for marital stability. While the fully equal participation of both parents in childrearing is essential, fathers are not the same as mothers, nor should they be. Rather than strive for parental androgyny in the home, and be continuously frustrated, we would do many betters to acknowledge, accommodate, and appreciate the very different needs, sexual interests, values, and goals of each sex.

Differentiation of roles by gender, however, is now mainly of importance in only one institutional sphere of society – the family – and even there for only the relatively short phase of life when young children are being reared. Gender differentiation no long applies to life in its entirety, as once was the case. This leaves adults (read women) abundant time, in the non-childrearing phases of their lives, for the pursuit of self-fulfillment through social roles of their own choosing.

His seven tenets for establishing new marital norms - "modified traditional nuclear family."

Girls should be trained according to their abilities for a socially useful paid job or career.

Young people should grow up with the expectation that they will marry, only once and for a lifetime, and that they will have e children.

Young adults should be encouraged to marry later in life than is common now, with an average age at time of marriage in the late twenties or early thirties.

From the perspective of promoting eventual family life, however, the downside to late age of marriage is that people live for about a decade or more in a non-family, "singles" environment which reinforces their personal drive for expressive individualism and conceivably reduces their impulse toward carrying out eventual family obligations, thus making the transition to marriage and childrearing more difficult. So they should save for a "family fund."

Once children are born, wives should be encourage to leave the labor market and become substantially full-time mothers for a period of at least a year to eighteen months per child.


We should encourage parental leave and child allowance programs.

According to this proposal, the mother and not the father ordinarily would be the primary caretaker of infants. This because of fundamental biological differences between the sexes that assume great importance in childrearing.

It should be noted that there is some balancing out of domestic and paid-work roles between men and women over the course of life, Under current socioeconomic conditions husband, being older, retire sooner than their wives. So things will balance out.

In a much modified form, then, traditional marital gender roles are necessary if the good of society - and of individuals - is to be advanced. But the period of time in which these gender roles till apply has become a relatively short phase of life, and not adult life in its entirety as once was the case. This leaves individuals (he is really saying females) abundant time for the pursuit of self-fulfillment through social roles of their own choosing.

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Last updated  2017/05/12 10:31:09 EDTHits  1130