CHAPTER XII VANTAGE POINTS FEMINIST THOUGHTS ON THE FAMILY

 
"And Now - To Rescue Wendy!"

One of our favorite stories from childhood has become mere fodder for the popular self-help press. All men are Peter Pan - refusing to grow up, living in Neverland, and cocky enough to crow, strut about, and beat our chests. Women are, of course, Wendy Darling -  sitting and waiting for Peter to have needs they can meet, and getting in big trouble so Peter can rescue them from the clutches of the likes of Captain Hook.  There's also Tinkerbell - the other woman -  jealous and conniving.

After the first wave of Feminism - the Women's Sufferage Movement in the early part of the 20th century, Feminism enjoyed a rebirth in the early 1970s, during which the National Organization for Women was formed.  Were times just right for a revolution? Or were there other factors that helped an old reform philosophy find a new audience?

ORIGIN: All of social science has been effected and has effected the growth of feminism as a political perspective. The Feminist Movement dates prior to the turn of the century.  Early feminists were involved in establishing SOCIAL REFORMS - coming from service orientations and occupations.

FOCUS:   Critical analyses of the family.
                 Efforts to change traditional family arrangements.
                 Legitimizing alternative sexual and household roles.
                 Challenging comprehensive male authority.
                 Challenging exclusive responsibility of child rearing.

Basic Assumptions of Feminist Thinking

  1. The traditional family arrangement is a social invention, with no substantive biological, natural, or timelessly functional basis.
  2. Analysis of gender differences should be done in terms of ability, division of labor, and distribution of wealth and power in order to yield identification of the family's underlying structure.
  3. The glorification of motherhood, love and images of the family as a domestic haven (in other words the cultural ideal of the family) have actually served (as it turns out) to subordinate and oppress women as a group.  Women experience the family differently from men.
  4. Traditional definitions of family boundaries - private vs. public, family vs. society, have served to isolate women and children form healthful social contact and support.
  5. The concepts of individualism and equality are not consistent with the real application of capitalistic ideals.
Concepts:   patriarchy, sexual stratification, economic determinism, androcentrism, equality of the sexes, dialectic of gender,
gender differences/biological determinism, nuclear family myth.

Methodologies: Feminists use the standard social science techniques of research--psychological protocols, personality profiles, survey research, case studies, and so on.  The value of the feminist orientation is not that new theories have been generated, but that the perspective adds a new dimension to any existing theory to which it is applied.  Thus, feminism is an important addition to family theory--almost a new world view--that can yield surprising results.

People sometimes have a tough time understanding that the truth of science could somehow be influenced by the gender of the researchers.  After all, the truth is, by definition, the truth.  But it isn't really that simple.   Feminists would remind us all that psychiatric practices from the 1940s through the late 1960s, a time when the professions were dominated by male practitioners, had women as a vast majority as their clientele.  Male physicians were prescribing dangerous amounts of sedative drugs to sick women.  After women began to pursue careers in mental health fields, the number of women under treatment, and severity of diagnoses declined dramatically.   The truths that we hold in sociology, psychology, political science, even family studies, are being redefined by new professionals with feminist points of view.

We have seen the rise of women's awareness in our own time, although the roots of the women's movement extend back into the 19th century.  Today's high divorce rate, difficulties in raising children, failed parenting, the "man/woman" crisis, are all symptoms of a changing social and political structure in world society.  These problems aren't particular to U.S. culture.   They are easily detectable around the world, in industrialized and third world countries alike.  The rise of awareness of women's issues, which are really human issues since they affect all of us, have at least four root causes:

The Women's Suffrage Movement (circa 1890) began in England, with such luminaries as John Stuart Mill, and others.  The movement extended to the U.S. with the Right to Vote earned by women in 1909.  After this victory, efforts in the areas of rights to work, management of finances and property, and birth control were made by people such as Ellen Richards, Anna Freud, Margaret Sanger, and many others.  The period from 1916 until 1945 was punctuated by world wars (feminists
sometimes refer to war as diversions from primary goals), where women took their place in defense plants and war support areas.  Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the American civil rights movement and the social upheavals surrounding the Viet Nam War took energy away from feminists, who remained relatively quiet.  These efforts (i.e., Civil Rights & Anti-War movements) contributed to the
revival of feminism during the 1970s.

Another factor seldom mentioned, but much more important to the "woman on the street" was the introduction of reliable, though not necessarily safe, birth control.  The "pill", first introduced on a wide scale in 1964 allowed women to entertain thoughts of escaping the biological determinism of motherhood.  Feminists were charged with rejecting the notion of motherhood and family, rejecting their very womanhood, but nothing could have been further from the truth.  Despite misunderstandings, feminists were not fighting to keep women from becoming mothers, but to simply inform women of their choices!  Even women who denied their feminist leanings were voting pro-choice by exercising their option to reduce the number of children they would bear, and to choose when their children would be born.  The development of a new class of women, bright and credentialled and unencumbered with several children, who would be willing to think and write about women's issues was a natural progression.

Another factor, a latent function according to Merton, is the character of the economy after Viet Nam and a wartime economy, which moved from a labor intensive to an information management intensive mode.  This evolution of the economy discounted  male superior muscle tone in favor of anyone who was willing to think things through. This opened the labor market to everyone willing or able to go to college and get some credentials.

So we arrived at a set of social circumstances that were in conflict with relationship conditions.  Women have always had the bottom line choice to follow their own creative urges.  However, social conditions made the choice toward achievement outside of marriage and family less easily chosen and more costly to choose.  Suddenly women have more real choices than they have ever had. Before it was chocolate or vanilla--marriage to somebody--stay at home, and maybe work a little.  Today,  women are expected to stay at home and work outside the home at the same time. Their options are a virtual Baskin-Robbins of options.  With my daughter's birth in 1976 came a new dawn in social science.  Feminist perspectives on the family now occupy a positive force for changing some of the ways in which individuals think about their children, and possibly improving  the way their lives will progress.

The idea behind Feminism has always been the improvement of living conditions for 75% of the population (children and women).  Feminism has little or nothing to do with the way men and women relate to each other in any truly intimate way.   It has to do with Big Picture ideas, such as:

Sexist thinking on a personal level is obsolete, and while women bristle at being called "sweetheart" by their superiors, they enjoy terms of endearment from their sweetie pies just like they always did.  Raising up a family is very serious business.  The chances for failure are sometimes much more likely than the chances for success.  The traditional American Family, especially as it was portrayed on television, never really existed at all in the United States.

Women Working Outside the Home
Since the turn of the century (particularly since 1940), women (particularly married women) have  gone into the paid labor force in increasing numbers.  While women have always worked outside the home for pay, the numbers of working women with children at home has increased dramatically:

          All Women over 16 years old  All Men over 16 years old
 1940                     27%                                57%
 1988                     56%                                57%   (Lauer & Lauer, 1992)

Today half of  all the employment slots in the U.S. are held by women.  Obviously women's increased employment has effected a reduction in their family roles with little or no increase in husband's family roles. You would think that because women are working more,  men would be likely to pick up their slack regarding domestic chores and parenting of children. This doesn't usually happen unless a husband is laid off from work.  No real trade off is ever made, unless:

Studies consistently show that 75% of  wives who work do all or most of the housework too. Additionally, women who work and do the housework are less satisfied with marriage, children, and life, and are less confident of their abilities.

Husbands have TRADITONALLY been marginal figures in the traditional American Family Ideal. He has never been as emotionally involved in his family as the wife/mother.  So - employed wives (upwards of 70% of all married women with children) face considerable strain and exhaustion in both their work and family roles and will continue to be overloaded until husbands catch up on their equal part of the family commitments. Researcher/theorists have posited a "psychosocial lag" between changes in women's lives and changes in the lives of men. Why do women work?  For some because of a need for fulfillment, others because home life doesn't fill up their time, still others work because they enjoy their jobs.   Most women work outside the home for the same reasons most men work--because they and their families need the money.  Here are some statistics:

In other words, wives have OUT OF NECESSITY gone to work for pay, while husbands have not changed their minds or habits regarding their part in the marriage and family.  Actually, this one change--women going to work--occurred because of an entire change in the American Economic System.  Remember the Functional Model of Society?  American Society is made up of Institutions,
each one dependent on the others for its "behavior", all blending their effects to make up the American Way of Life.

 When a change occurs in one of the institutions, that causes changes throughout the entire social system.  So, when the economy changes from a labor intensive, industry driven, manufacturing based economy to something else--like an information age, service-oriented economy--then we don't need as many big strong men with sweaty upper bodies to work.  Soft, round, demure people
can think through tough management problems in the new order just as well.  Muscle development has little to do with computer operation, telephone business, or office work.

Status Quo politics maintain traditional norms and values that are not necessarily good for the people inside families. For example, President Nixon, in 1972 vetoed the National Child Care Bill making it harder for women to work. Women still went to work, because their families needed the money, and family members all suffered the consequences.

The American Woman was squeezed between the cultural ideal of motherhood and the economic reality that she must work to live.  So, without realizing the national crisis, individual families began to fizzle out, break up, dissolve under the pressure. Most of those families understand that they failed--it was their fault.  They live with the dissatisfaction that they feel with life, but with no understanding of the near global nature of the problem.

They don't know, for example, that high divorce rates are part of every modernized country - Canada, all over Europe, the former Soviet Union, every place where women work as much as men, and men don't perceive their family role as a nurturant one. That, as I see it is the problem in a rather large nutshell.  What looks like disorganized family structures is really an unresponsive government that has decreased economic opportunities across the country.

Feminists would agree that the problems of a disorganized family system are results of men and women working long hours for little pay in situations of  underemployment or unemployment.  These are poverty issues, and people are afraid of becoming poor and homeless.  To maintain adequate parenting of children when nobody is home for them requires some kind of substitute parents.  Quality child care is expensive, and  people don't see it as an investment in their children.

Notes on Nonconscious Ideology of Patriarchy

Sandra and Daryl Bem, authors of the Bem Sex Role Inventory, have given social science a term,  nonconscious ideology, which means we have our thoughts, attitudes, and values determined before we've had a chance to think about them ourselves.  Social ideology preempts the realization of our individuality (i.e., "Little ladies don't get dirty.", and "Big boys play through the pain.").

Differential socialization based on gender, coupled with antiquated values of the larger society are the causes.  That is, we socialized boys and girls differently, based on our nonconscious (not thoughtful) allegiances to sexist values.  Taking only one cultural imperative as an example, here are some notes on Biblical references to marriage & the role of women in the world.  These are references from the King James Version of the Christian Bible, but similar passages exist in every holy book:

 I Corinthians 7th Chapter.  1) Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me:  It is good for a man not to touch a woman.  2) Nevertheless to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own   husband. . . . 8) I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for   them if they abide even as I. 9) But if they cannot contain, let them marry;   for it is better to marry than to burn. 10) And unto the married I command, yet   not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband. 11) But if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife.

 I Corinthians 11th Chapter.  7) For a man indeed ought not to cover his head,  forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of  the man. 8) For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. 9) Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

 I Timothy 2nd Chapter.  11) Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12) But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

Strong, literal interpretations of these and other moral codes will, according to the Bems, lead to a homogenization of women and men into traditional roles. This is fine as long as traditional roles serve the interests of those performing them.  What happens, however, when traditional roles do not serve the lives of men and women?  The traditional view of wife and mother kept her home and safe and responsible for the development of her home and children.  These roles were defined as only performable by women and the only roles women were capable of performing.  When these roles proved unfulfilling, women were viewed as mentally impaired and in need of psychiatric assistance to get back on the track. So it comes down to our own identities, and the freedom we have to define ourselves given our experiences.

 Here's a little test.  On a sheet of paper, write a list of numbers from 1 to 60 and rate yourself on each of the descriptive words listed.  Mark your score beside number  using the Likert 1-7 scale.  Directions for assessing your self image follow the test sheet.

Figure 19. The BEM Sex Role Inventory.

Rate yourself on each of the descriptive words listed using the 1-7 scale below.
Mark your score for each word to the right of each word.

Never True                                          to                                      Usually Always True

       1 -------- 2 --------- 3 --------- 4 ---------- 5 ----------- 6 ------------ 7

                    |                 |                 |
              score v           score v           score v

Self-reliant            Reliable                 Warm
Yielding                Analytical               Solemn
Helpful                  Sympathetic           Takes a stand
Defends beliefs      Jealous                  Tender
Cheerful                Leadership            Friendly
Moody                  Sensitive               Aggressive
Independent           Truthful                Gullible
Shy                        Take risks            Inefficient
Conscientious         Understanding      Leads others
Athletic                   Secretive             Childlike
Affectionate            Decisive              Adaptable
Theatrical               Compassionate    Individualistic
Assertive                Sincere                Never swears
Flatterable              Self-sufficient       Unsystematic
Happy                    Soothes hurts      Competitive
Strong Personality  Conceited            Loves kids
Loyal                     Dominant             Tactful
Unpredictable        Soft-spoken         Ambitious
Forceful                 Likable                Gentle
Feminine                Masculine            Conventional


You have just completed the BEM Sex Role Inventory.
If you didn't cheat by reading the instructions for assessment, you may now figure your sex role orientation score.

Scoring:
 The first item (self-reliant) and every third item after that is masculine  (i.e., defends own beliefs, independent, etc).

 The second item (yielding) and every third item after that is feminine  (i.e., cheerful, shy, affectionate, etc).

 The third item (helpful) and every third one after that is omitted from the scoring   (i.e., moody, conscientious, etc).

The score on all twenty male items is added and divided by 20 to result in your Masculine Score.
The score on all twenty female items is added and divided by 20 to result in your Feminine Score.

Based on college population norms, if your scores are:

 above 4.3 on both masculine and feminine means you are  Androgynous.
 above 4.3 on masculine, below 4.3 on feminine means you are Traditionally Masculine.
 above 4.3 on feminine, below 4.3 on masculine means you are   Traditionally Feminine.
 below 4.3 on both feminine and masculine means you are Undifferentiated.

Research using the BSRI tends to support the hypothesis that the Androgynous personality type is the preferred type of friend, lover, and confidant among women with both tradtionally feminine and androgynous gender role orientations and among androgynous men.
Tradtionally masculine males prefer traditionally feminine females as marriage partners, lovers, and confidants.
Traditionally masculine males tend to disregard the notion of having women as friends.
Persons possessing a majority of Androgynous characteristics seem to be healthier, have higher self-esteem, and a higher need to achieve.
Boys who have an androgynous father tend to have high levels of ambition (compared to boys with traditionally masculine fathers).
 

If you emerged from the scale as undifferentiated, take heart.  It simply means you still have some gender identity issues to resolve (in Eriksonian terms, you are still struggling with gender role identity).
You may retake the scale with the knowledge that you probably made a few mistakes the first time
or just to make it work out the way you want it to.


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