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Gender and Families: Feminist Perspectives and Family Research

Author(s): Greer Litton Fox and Velma McBride Murry

Reviewed work(s):
Source: Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 62, No. 4 (Nov., 2000), pp. 1160-1172
Published by: National Council on Family Relations
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1566729 .
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LITrrrON Universityof Tennessee,Knoxville
of Georgia*


Thisreviewprovidesa selectiveoverviewof schol- view, we use the labelsfeminism,genderperspec-

arshipon genderandfamiliesoverthepast decade. tive,feministperspective,orfeministapproachin-
First, we discussfour characteristicsof feminist terchangeablyto refer in the most generalterms
perspectivesto theoreticaland methodologicalis- to an intellectualorientationto scholarshipthat
sues in social science. Then we describe briefly makes certainassumptionsaboutthe importance
howfeministsensibilityhas beenreflectedinfamily of men and women to social life, the connected-
scholarshipover the past decade. We conclude ness of structuresand processes found in macro
withbriefobservationson the disjuncturebetween and micro settings, and the interdependenceof
academicworkon gender and thefeministback- one's personalorientationand professionalcon-
lash apparentin the contemporary culture. cerns.Specifically,feminismassumesthatwomen
and men are of equalimportancein social action,
thatstructuresand processesat workin the larger
In family studies,as in manyotherscholarlydis- social arenahave impacton relationsin intimate
ciplines, feministperspectiveshave reshapedtra- environmentsand vice versa, and that one's per-
ditionalapproachesto theorizingabout and con- sonal experiencesand sensibilitiesare not sepa-
ductingand interpretingresearch.In this review, rablefrom the conductof one's professionallife.
we describeseveralcharacteristics of feministap- Across varieddisciplinaryfields, feminismas an
proaches to scholarshipand then suggest how intellectualorientationhas takena criticaleye to
feministsensibilitiesarereflectedin contemporary received traditionsof scholarshipand epistemol-
researchwith families. ogy (Reinharz,1992). Wood (1995) furtherde-
Many labels have been used to depictthe ori- fines feministapproachesas follows:
entationto socialthoughtthatwe referto as "fem-
inism," includingfeminism,feministperspective, Encompassing diverse,sometimes in-
gender lens, and gender perspective.In this re- tellectualtraditions,
feministenquiryis unified
by the belief thatfemalesand males, femininity
and masculinity are equally valuable. Feminist
Department of Child and Family Studies, University of scholarsseek to identify,critiqueandalterstruc-
Tennessee, 1215 W. CumberlandAvenue, #115, Knoxville, tures and practices that actively or passively hin-
TN 37996-1900 (glfox@utk.edu). der equality.Participating
in a broadlybasedcri-
tique of received notions of knowledge and
*Departmentof Family and Human Development, Univer- cultural life, feminist enquiry typically supplants
sity of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602 grandtheorywithtentative,situatedandinter-
.. . Theaxisof feministenquiry
Key Words:feminist perspectives,feminist research,gender is gender,which consists of deeply ensconced
and families. social meaningsand theirderivative,power.Not

1160 Journalof Marriageand the Family62 (November2000): 1160-1172

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Gender and Families 1161

a codewordforwomen,genderis a cultural support research) can foster and perpetuatea
betweenthem.(p. 104)
andrelationships knowledge-basedhierarchyin which the voices
and views of some participants(the researchers)
are valued more highly than those of the re-
searchedor in which the researchedmay be val-
TO ued only as objectsof study.
SCHOLARSHIP Reflexivityis notableas well in the self con-
sciousness of feminist researchersin relationto
Despite the varietyof feministtraditions(for ex- their researchparticipants.Feminists take issue
ample, Marxist feminism, radical lesbian femi- with the concept of the researcheras somehow
nism, neotraditionalistfeminism, Black femi- standingbeyondthe perimeterof the researchare-
nism),it is possibleto isolateseveralelementsthat na, apartfromthe researchframe.Insteadof con-
arecommonlycharacteristic of feministapproach- ceptualizingresearchas somethingdone to (or
es to scholarship.We discuss four of these: re- for) researchsubjects by an objective observer
flexivity,the centralityof practice,a focus on so- outside the researchsetting, feminists acknowl-
cial processes, and a critical stance toward edge that their orientations,actions, interpreta-
traditionalparadigmsand theories. tions, biases, andinterestswill becomeintegralto
the researchprocess and its outcomes, and they
seek to understandhow it happensas it is hap-
Reflexivityin Scholarship
peningduringthe processof theirresearch.
Reflexivity refers to a self-conscious reflection We makeno claim thatfeministscholarshipis
about the part one plays in the generationof the only place one finds self-criticalsensitivityin
knowledge(Gouldner,1970;Mills, 1959). One of the conductof scholarship.Indeed,it has been the
the hallmarksof reflexivityis recognitionby the searingcritiquesof the scholarshipof White,mid-
scholarthat he or she is an actor intimatelyin- dle-class feminists by women of color that has
volved in the generationof knowledge,ratherthan fostered an awarenessof what has been labeled
simply a recorderand reporterof what is seen "academic colonialism" (Collins, 1986). Aca-
outside oneself. Such a self-awarestance on the demic colonialismis a referenceto the potential
partof a researcherfosters a criticalapproachto for the academic researchenterpriseto exploit
epistemology.For example,reflexivitycalls into ratherthanto empowerthose who are the subject
questionthe notionthatobjectivityis the only ori- of study(BacaZinn & Dill, 1994). In responseto
entationa scholarmay legitimatelytake to his or suchcritiques,feministscholarshave attemptedto
her study. Thus, it opens the door to the recog- be more deliberatelyconscious of how scholarly
nition that subjectivitynot only is a valid and practicesaffect those whose lives are studiedand
valuableorientationto researchbut may also be a to attendto patternsof inclusion and exclusion.
necessary stance for good research.An example One of the implicationsfor family researchhas
of the impactof a researcher'sawarenessof self been to broadenthe base of researchwith families
on the researchprocess and productcomes from of color, as will be describedin a later section.
Stacey's(1990) ethnographyof two SiliconValley This has also renewedattentionto one of the cen-
familiesin which she describesher struggleswith tral characteristicsof feminist approaches,and
her own biases aboutevangelicalChristiangroups thatis an emphasison praxis.
as an impedimentto her ability to hear,see, in-
terpret,and reflect-in other words, conductac- The Centralityof Practice
curateresearchwith-her primaryrespondents.
Anotherhallmarkof reflexivityas a research Wood (1995) describes a "vibrantdialectic" in
orientationis the willingnessto engage in contin- feministscholarshipbetweentheorizingandprac-
uous self-criticism,that is, a conscious second tice, a dialecticaltensionthatarisesfromthe rec-
guessingof one's expertness,a questioningof the ognitionthat scholarshipaboutthe structuresand
traditionalpostureof the researcheras the "know- processesthatgive rise to inequalityis inherently
er," apartfrom and unrelatedto those whom he political.The knowledgegainedfromfeministre-
or she is studying.This kind of self-criticalori- searchmustbe appliednot solely in the reshaping
entation opens the doors to recognitionof the of theory but also in arenasof social change so
ways in which scholarsand the productsof their as to reshape existing social conditions toward
research(as well as the institutionalstructuresthat greaterequalityfor men and women. Some fem-

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1162 Journal of Marriage and the Family

inists arguethat the feminist scholarhas a com- of racismand sexism on classroomenvironments

pelling involvementin implementationof his or (Jarrettet al., 1999). The attentiongiven by fem-
her researchand suggest a seamlessnessbetween inist scholars to the practice of the profession,
research and practice, including advocacy for with the correlativeplacementof the self in both
change (Allen & Baber,1992a;Reinharz,1992). researchand teaching activities, legitimatesthis
areaof the professionalliterature.It also illustrates
Researchfor what? The concern with practice, a centralcomponentof feminist thoughton the
thatis, with the applicationandimplementation of artificialityof role segregationinto professional
researchfindingsbeyond the academicenviron- and personalspheres.
ment, promotesa consciousattentionto the rela-
tive importanceof researchquestionsand topics.
A CentralFocus on Process
Feministscholarsvalue the lives of women, and
this concernis reflectedin theirchoices of topics, A third characteristicof feminist researchis its
settings,andapproachesfor study.Feministschol- concernwith process,as reflectedboth in the fo-
arshiphas illuminatedthe dynamicsof inequality cus andconductof research.Feministresearchin-
and power throughstudies that have focused on terest lies not solely in describingand analyzing
the mundaneaspectsof women'severydayrouti- currentempiricalrealitiesin the lives of women
nes, includinghousework,caregiving,servingand and men and the associated inequalities,con-
allocating food, and balancingwork and home straints,and privilegesthat accompanytheir dif-
(Hertz, 1997; Marks, 1998; Ribbens, 1994). Re- ferentstatuses.A feministapproachtakesas cen-
searchthatfocuseson the physical,economic,and trally problematicthe social processes through
legal vulnerabilitiesof womenhas also been char- which the describedpatternsare generated,sus-
acteristicof choices of feminist scholars(Jarrett, tained over time, and come to reproducethem-
1994; Johnson, 1995; Konradi,1996; Margolin, selves. A focus on the centralityof studyingpro-
1992; McCloskey,1996). cess is exemplifiedby Chafetz's(1991) work on
the persistenceof genderstratification.The choice
Teaching.Duringthe early years of this decade, to focus on understandingprocess is a strategic
attentionturnedto the incorporationof feminist one. Knowledgeof processesof genderdifferen-
perspectives and sensibilities into conventional tiationand stratificationcan be used for interven-
materials on "the traditionalfamily" and into tion in and change of those processesand the in-
conventionalclassroomteachingstyles. One finds equalitiesthey produce.
concernnot only with whatto teach(Allen & Ba- The focus on processalso growsout of a sense
ber,1992b;Dilworth-Anderson, Burton,& Turner, that life, more particularlythe lives of men and
1993;Walker,1993) but how (Lewis, 1995).Both women,may be more adequatelycapturedwith a
contentand practiceconcernsare reflectedin ar- sense of time thatis ongoingand seamlessrather
ticles that discuss the need for sensitivityto di- thandividedinto intervalsor stagesor markedby
verse studentexperiencesand the value in build- discreteevents, roles, and achievements.Thereis
ing connectionsamongand empoweringstudents interestin the unfoldingof the processes them-
(MacDermid,Jurich,Myers-Walls,& Pelo, 1992), selves as objects of study. Thus, feminist ap-
the planned use of reflexivity (Allen & Farns- proachesto parenting,for example,have focused
worth, 1993), empathy (Thompson & Walker, on the myriadprocesses involved in caregiving
1995), self-disclosure(Allen, 1995), and restraint (Cowan& Cowan, 1990), the unfoldingnatureof
(Marks,1995). Othersfocusedbeyondthe content a parent'ssense of himself or herself as part of
andpedagogyin familystudiescoursesto address and distinct from parenting activities (Cohen,
feministpedagogyin family therapytrainingpro- 1987), and the processesthroughwhich a parent
grams(Leslie & Clossick, 1992). incorporatesothersinto a scaffoldof care for the
As the decadehas progressed,attentioncontin- child (Ribbens,1994).
ues to be given to sexist practicesin theclassroom A thirdway in whichprocessis centralto fem-
andtheireffects on bothwomenandmen students inist researchis in the conductof the researchit-
and faculty (Maher& Tetrault,1994; Myers & self, regardlessof the particularmethodological
Dugan,1996).In addition,new concernshave sur- approachtakenby theresearcher. Emphasison the
facedaboutstudenthostilitytowardwomenteach- processof researchis consistentwith and partof
ers and facultyin both secondaryand highered- a broaderquestioningof the natureand conduct
ucationclassroomsandwith the combinedeffects of research,fueled by postmodernistand antipos-

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Gender and Families 1163

itivist trendsin social philosophy(Lemert,1999). underlinesthe concern that the canon is partial
Along with reflexivity,characteristicsof feminist and thatunderstandings of the natureof the phe-
researchpracticesinclude the conscious articula- nomena we study are incompleteand therefore
tion of values, awarenessof and attendanceto the need careful reassessment (Allen, 2000; Baca
sensibilitiesof researchparticipants,attentionto Zinn & Dill, 1994; Lemert).
the ethics of research,especiallythe linkagesbe- Fosteringthe critical stance towardthe social
tween the purposeof the basic researchand its science canonis the articulationof standpointthe-
applicationto humanneed and the groundingof ory. Standpointtheoryis succinctlyexpressedby
researchquestionsand insightsin humanexperi- Gubriumand Holstein (1990) in their aphorism,
ence (Reinharz,1992; Thompson,1992; Thomp- "truth= fact + perspective."That is, what is
son & Walker,1995). seen or experiencedas authenticandreal depends
Small(1995) considersfeministresearchas ac- upon one's standpoint,one's perspective(Hara-
tion researchandcomparesfeministmethodswith way, 1999). Acknowledgmentof the centralityof
three otherforms of action-orientedresearch.He gender to perspectiveand incorporationinto re-
notes particularlythe concernof feministresearch searchdesignsof the ideathatgendershapesone's
with advocacyon behalf of women (see Allen & realityare two of the signal contributionsof fem-
Baber,1992b).By contrast,in an extensivereview inist scholarshipto family researchover the past
of feminist methodsin social research,Reinharz decade.
(1992) notes that althoughfeminist researchis
concernedultimatelywith change in inequitable
GenderRoles and "DoingGender"
structures,not all feministresearchersareactivists
or advocates.Moreover,the earlierdebatesabout Two formulationsof the nature of gender are
whether qualitative or quantitativeapproaches dominant,the genderroles perspectiveandthe so-
were able not only to capturemore faithfullythe cial constructionistapproach.Stemmingfromrole
voices of researchparticipantsbut also to reflect theory and with linkages to structure-functional-
the values and orientationsof feminist scholars ism, the first approachtreats gender as a social
have been largely supersededby the publication role, characterizedby a distinctandwell integrat-
of Reinharz'sencyclopedicassessmentof the di- ed set of attitudesandbehaviors.Viewed as a so-
versity of researchtechniquesemployedby fem- cial role, genderis enactedor played out accord-
inist scholarsacrossthe social sciences.Reinharz ing to scripts that are carefully taught and
observes that feminist scholars work simulta- repeatedlyrehearseduntil behaviorgovernedby
neously from two vantagepoints-their discipli- one's genderrole scriptbecomes so naturalas to
nary methodologyplus the insightsof feminism. be seen as an integralpartof oneself-second na-
ture,as it were.
This taken-for-granted quality,the impercepti-
RethinkingReceivedParadigms ble slide from gender as role into gender as the
A fourthcharacteristicof feminist scholarshipis essence of the self, has given rise to critiquesof
the questioningof received disciplinarywisdom, the role approachto gender.The role perspective
includingprevailingepistemologies(Ferree,1990; encouragesthe social analystto ignorethe differ-
Thompson& Walker,1995). It is of concern to ence betweenthe sex of the personplayinga role
feminist scholars that the accepted canon has and the genderednature of the role, a critical
largely been producedin an academyheretofore omissionif the goal is to understandhow gender
dominatedby men and by masculinistideologies can shapeperspective,structuresocial action,and
aboutwhat is of importance.Scholarshipthathas expressculturalvalues.
been conductedoutsidea feministperspectivebe- Whengenderis conceptualizedas a role, wom-
comes suspect, given the understandingthat en and men are seen as enacting roles that are
knowledgeis a productof the producerand that separable,oftencomplementary, andnecessaryel-
values about what to study and how have been ements to the integrityof the social settings or
determinedby those in positionsof power,thatis, structuresin which the roles are embedded.The
predominantlyby men (Lemert, 1999; Wood, role perspectiveon gender,with an emphasison
1995). Moreover,the realizationthatthe worksof the content of roles and the processesby which
women and of men of color have largely been they are learnedand expressed,continuesto char-
ignoredand omittedfrom the acceptedbodies of acterizemuch contemporarywork on gender in
classic knowledgein the social sciencedisciplines families, perhapsfindingits fullest expressionin

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1164 Journal of Marriage and the Family

textbooks on marriage and family relations freedomof actionand expressionwas allowedto

(Glenn, 1997). boys than to girls. These practiceswere then in-
The secondapproachviews genderas a social corporatedby the childrento providea gendered
constructembodyingculturalmeaningsof mas- structureto their subsequentinteractions.Heimer
culinityandfemininity.Here,genderis definedas andStaffen(1995) describehow nursingpractices
a constituentelement of social structures,intri- in newbornintensivecareunitsresultin gendered
cately interwovenwith other elements of social parenting.Specifically,young unwed fathersbe-
structuressuch as class andrace. Gendernot only come left out of the newbornbaby'scircle of care
expresses culturalvalues but-as do class and by both intentionaland unintentionalacts of hos-
race-also organizesthe social distributionof so- pital staff. McGuffeyand Rich (1999) used eth-
cietal resources.Gender,then, is centrallytied to nographicproceduresto analyze the strategies
distributionsof merit,privilege,power,autonomy, used by boys and girls in middle childhoodto
and the resourcesthey command.Ferree's(1990) markand maintaingenderboundariesin both so-
descriptionof the social constructionistperspec- cial andphysicalplaygroundspace.Theirworkis
tive on genderappearedearly in this decade and especiallynotablefor the incorporationof social
continuesto standas an excellentaccountof this class andrace into theiranalysesof children'sco-
approach. alitionsand behaviors.
This perspectivespecificallydirects attention Thompsonand Walker(1995) concludedthat
to the covertandovertprocessesthatdifferentiate researchersand practitionersin the family field
and then assign value and privilege on the basis have yet to appreciatefully the power of this ap-
of sex. This perspectivereveals the systematic proachto gender.Relative to the more common
privilegingof men relativeto women, or less of- role perspective,social constructionismremains
ten, of womenrelativeto men.Differentialgender on the marginsof mainstreamwork on families
privilege,in turn,reinforcesthe establishmentand and is used moreoften as a sensitizingframework
maintenanceof a culturallyconstructed,shared ratherthanas a guidefor researchon familiesand
understandingof the differentnessof men from family processes.Nonetheless,the impactof both
women. This perspectiveon genderthus attends this and the role perspectiveon gender can be
to processesin ongoingsocialinteractions,as well tracedin familyresearchover the decade.
as the resultingmicrostructuresof powerandpriv-
ilege thatresultfrom those social interactions. REFLECTIONSOF FEMINISTSENSITIVITIESIN
The social constructionistperspectiveon gen-
der suggeststhatdespitegenderrole socialization
and because genderis not synonymouswith the
DistinctionbetweenSex and Gender
self, men andwomennot only varyin theirdegree
of masculinityandfemininitybut have to be con- One of the most importantreflectionsof feminist
stantlypersuadedor remindedto be masculineand sensitivitiesin family researchis the distinction
feminine.Thatis, men and womenhave to "do" between sex and gender.When genderis under-
genderratherthan "be" a gender.WestandZim- stood as the productof social processes and as
merman(1987) providedone of the first uses of embodyingculturalmeaningsof masculinityand
this perspectivein theiranalysisof the ways that femininity,thenit becomespossibleto distinguish
individualsconstructgendercontinuouslyin their a person'sgenderfromhis or her sex. The former
ongoingsocial interactions.Morerecentworkthat can be understoodas sociocultural,the latteras
follows in this traditionwould include Martin's biological;and while the two are correlated,they
study(1998) of the creationof genderedchildren. are not synonymousor isomorphic.This distinc-
Throughcarefulethnographicwork in preschool tion offers clarity on often-confusingmattersof
settings,the authorshows how child careperson- measurementandinterpretation of databy sex and
nel create children'sidentitiesas genderedboys gender.
and girls throughtypicalpreschoolpractices.Ex- Relativeto measurement,one implicationis to
amplesincludedteachers'disciplininggirls' voic- questionthe unexamined,often unstated,assump-
es differentlythan boys' voices. The boys were tion that the meaningsof attitudinaland behav-
allowed to be louder,and teachers' instructions ioral measurementitems (such as Likert-type
were given to boys in groupsratherthanindivid- questions)are the same for all male and female
ually directed,as they were towardgirls. Chil- respondents.In otherwords,genderneutralityand
dren'sbodieswere also disciplinedsuchthatmore within-genderhomogeneityare assumedin much

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Gender and Families 1165

familystudiesresearch.Withfew exceptions,little collar felonies showed that women described

attentionhas been given to the validity of the themselves as motivatedby family need. They
same measuresfor women and men. Notableex- minimizedtheir criminalityby referencesto the
ceptions are efforts to explore the differential smallsumsof moneyinvolvedandits use for fam-
meaningsattachedto fertilityintentions(Thomson ily necessities, such as groceries.Men, by con-
& Brandreth,1995), money (Zelizer, 1989) and trast,describedthemselvesas motivatedby high
breadwinning(Potuchek,1997). Far more com- achievementgoals andfelt theirdesirefor a faster
mon is researchthat employs measureswithout trackto success justified embezzlinglarge sums
regardto the potentialfor differentialmeaningto of money. There are sharp differencesbetween
men, and women. For example, Sabatelli and men and womenin the narrativeaccountsof their
Waldron(1995) provide an otherwise excellent crimes, despite conspicuoussimilaritiesin their
discussion of issues in the measurementof par- actual family situationsand class backgrounds.
enting, but they do not discuss the problemof One might interpretthe empiricaldifferencesin
gendervalidity.Likewise,the conflicttacticsscale theirstoriesas reflectiveof an essentialdifference
(Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, between men and women, or, alternatively,as a
1996), widely used in studies of domestic vio- reflectionof the different(gendered)culturalma-
lence, assumesthat such termsas conflict,argue, terials availableto men and women from which
andhit areinterpretedin similarways by men and they constructedtheir accounts. Similarly, one
women. To assume cross-gender validity and mightinterpretthe differencein the economicval-
within-genderhomogeneityignoresthe impactof ue of their crimes as reflectiveof some kind of
social position on social perception,which the essential sex difference in criminal expression,
feminist perspectivewould hold to be an inade- such as a greatercapacityof men for risk taking,
quaterepresentation of social reality. or, alternatively,as an artifactof the gendered
The conventionsof social survey researchre- structureof corporatehierarchiesthat give more
quire that researchersmeasureattitudes,beliefs, men than women unscrutinizedaccess to large
values, or behaviorsby exposing all respondents sums of money.The choice amongthese interpre-
to the same stimuli,thatis, by askingthemall the tations is less importantthan that they illustrate
same questions.When both partnersin a couple the interpretiverichnessthatbecomesavailableby
dyad are included,it is possible to comparetheir viewing empiricaldifferencesbetween men and
responsesanddeterminethe degreeof couplecon- women not solely as evidence of biological or
sistencyin responsepatternsas well as patternsof "essential"differencesbetweenthe sexes but also
under-and overreporting(Melby,Ge, Conger,& as reflectiveof socioculturalandpoliticalprocess-
Warner,1995; Svinovacz & Egley, 1995). But it es of gender.
is not possibleto assertthatthe meaningsattached
to the items (thatis, the subjectivecontextout of
which the respondentsresponded to the same Recognitionof GenderedStandpoints
items) were invariantacross gender.Indeed, the The sensitivityof feministscholarshipto gendered
recognitionof genderbias in measuresdeserves standpointsis also reflectedin familyresearch.Saf-
the kind of attentionthat race and class bias has ilios-Rothschild(1969), in the now-classicarticle
received (McGuire& Earls, 1993). To the extent entitled "Familysociology or wives' family so-
that the empiricalbase in family studiesincreas- ciology?", three decades ago called attentionof
ingly comes to rest on analysesof large-scale,na- family researchersto the importanceof stand-
tional-sample,survey data sets, which presume point. Subsequentscholarshiphas continuedto
gender,class, and race neutralityin their mea- emphasizethe influenceof the researcher'sstand-
sures, then to that extent, our knowledgebase is point on research.Wood(1995, pp. 111-112) sug-
problematic. gests, "Scholarswho rely on any single stand-
A second implication of distinguishingbe- point risk (mis)interpretingdata in ways that
tween sex and gendercan be seen in the interpre- overlookand therefore,distortsome participants'
tation of data that demonstrateattitudinalor be- motives and meanings...." Wood continues,
havioral differences between men and women. "BecauseWesternculturedefines men and mas-
How one interpretssuch empiricaldifferencesde- culine perspectivesas normative,an androcentric
pends to some extenton one's perspectivetoward point of view is often assumedand imposed,yet
gender. For example, Mason's (1999) narrative not acknowledgedin eithersocial life or research
analysis of men and women convictedof white- practice"(p. 112).

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1166 Journal of Marriage and the Family

Interpretationsof researchfindings.We highlight stress from work and family. Androcentricideol-

three examples in which scholarsused multiple ogies of caregivingsuggestthatprovidingdepen-
standpointsto advantagein interpretingtheir re- dent care is a family domain in which women
searchon one of the most persistentwork-family dominatebecause of their greatercapacitiesfor
issues over the decade,the managementof depen- nurturanceand self-sacrificeandthe lowermarket
dent care. Recent family researchrecognizesthat value of their time relativeto that of otheradult
the way in which family membersprovide care family members.Amongthe outcomesof Marks'
for one anotheris a politicalissue withinthe fam- study is evidence that men are more involved in
ily. Hertz's(1997) analysisof the managementof caregivingthansuchideologiesmightsuggestand
child care in dual-earnerfamilies is exemplary. that men are neitherill-equippedemotionallyto
Approachesused by couplesin her studyto con- care nor unable to gain satisfactionfrom caring
structtheirfamilylives includedmothering,which for others.
maximized the working mother'stime spent in
parenting;parenting,in which the couplerestruc- Omissionin problemdefinition.The use of gen-
tured their jobs to maximize both parents' in- dered standpointscan cause researchersto over-
volvementwith parenting;anda marketapproach, look certain issues as researchproblems.Such
in which couplesallocatedeconomicresourcesto was the case with family violence,which was not
replacethe mother-as-parent by professionalcare- systematicallystudied until the 1970s (Gelles,
givers and left intact the father'slimitedrole in 1980).We wouldarguethatfamilysecurityis also
family work. By viewing both employmentand an issue thathas been overlookedin partbecause
parentingas functionsthat could vary in the de- of genderedstandpoints.Ensuringthe safety of
gree to which the couples gendered the roles, family membersfrom externalthreatsis only oc-
Hertz was able to discover a complex arrayof casionallystudiedandprimarilyonly amongfam-
outcomesresultingfrom couplenegotiations. ilies living in extremeenvironments.Researchat-
Thatnegotiationswithinthe family abouthow tentionto family safetyover the past two decades
to providecarearecentrallyaffectedby largerso- has given priorityto recognitionof the threatthat
cietal trendsandconditionshas receivedsome at- family membersthemselvespose to one another.
tention.Withinthe contextof cultureconflictsthat Thus, studiesof intrafamilialviolence, especially
impingeupon the availabilityof optionsfor child the seriousviolence of men againstwomen,have
care, Ross and VanWilligen(1996) trackthe im- appropriatelydominatedthe focus of studies of
pact of such societalinconsistenciesin theiranal- family security,and genderand genderstratifica-
ysis of gender, parenthood,and anger. In this tion are centrallyinvolvedin these patternsof in-
study,the higherlevels of angeramong mothers trafamilialviolence.However,given the high lev-
thanfathersandnonparentswereaccountedfor by els of concern with crime, family, and personal
a combinationof economic strain,status as the safety voiced in nationalopinionsurveys,the rel-
primarycareprovider,and the difficultiesof find- ative lack of attentionto ensuringfamily safety
ing, arranging,and paying for child care outside from externalthreatsis surprising.
the home. In other words, the heightenedlevels Family security is stereotypicallygendered
of anger among motherswere not seen as char- work, and the male as family protectorhas been
acterologicalflawsor as personalweaknessbut as describedas an enduringgender myth. Indeed,
an outgrowthof situationaldemandsand structur- there is evidence to suggest that both men and
al constraintsthat themselveswere differentially womentake seriouslyand supportthe assignment
distributedby gender. of family security to men. The male protector
Marks(1998) comparedthe impactof depen- mythis mythicalonly in thatit obscuresthe work
dent-careproviding,including the provision of thatwomendo to securethe safetyof theirhomes
care at home for a disabledchild, spouse,or par- andchildrenand in thatit fails to suggestthatthe
ent andcarefor neighborsor friends,on indicators work that most men do to secure their families
of emotionalwell-beingof middle-agedmen and often endangersratherthanprotectsthem.
women. In general, more men than women re- The work women do to protecttheir children
portedreapinglargebenefitsfromprovidingcare. from harmtakes on heroicproportionsin certain
The one exception was that men who provided circumstances(Fox, Von Bargen,& Jester,1996;
care for a spouse reportedexperiencingsignifi- Garbarino,Dubrow,Kostelney,& Pardo, 1992).
cantly more hostility than women who provided More commonly,family securityis a byproduct
spousal care, even after controllingfor spillover of women'scommon,daily communityactivities

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Gender and Families 1167

(Hunter,Pearson,Ialongo,& Kellam, 1998). Rib- area of family violence. Further,takinga gender

bens (1994) describesin detailhow motherscare- perspectiveto the studyof family securitywould
fully constructa web of social relationshipsin help make explicit how women and men can be
their neighborhoods,primarilyto providea base differentiallysteeredinto the use of strategiesthat
of friendshipsfor theirchildrenandin partto scaf- play out gendered stereotypicalbehaviors and,
fold their children'ssecurity.Furstenberget al. similarly,are steered away from strategiesthat
(1993) describe how the social relationshipsin could prove to be more effective approachesto
which women envelop their childrenvary from ensuringfamily safety.
one communityto another,so thatdependingupon
the characteristicsof the community,those social Model misspecification.The use of gendered,an-
relationshipscan complement,compensatefor,or drocentricstandpointscan also fostermodel mis-
detract from the resources-including safety- specification.The increasinglywidespreaduse of
that motherson their own provide. Others,too, the conceptof social capitalin familystudiespro-
have found stark social class differencesin the vides an example.Social capitalas articulatedby
safetystrategieswomenteachto theirchildrenand Coleman(1988) refersto the ways that social re-
in the extentto which womencan drawon neigh- lationshipsare cumulated,stored,and utilized in
borhoodresourcesto help secure their children's the serviceof one's ends or goals, muchas human
safety (Brodsky,1996; Fox, 2000; Hunteret al.; capital,financialcapital,and physicalcapital.So-
Jarrett,1994). cial capitalinheresin social relationshipscharac-
In contrastto securitystrategiesembeddedin terized by ties of obligation, expectation,and
community-based socialrelationships,whichhave trustworthinessand that serve as information
been uncoveredin studies of mothers, there is channels. Coleman suggested that social norms
much less evidence that fathers are involved in thatcarryeffective sanctionswithina community
family safetyworkbeyondthe confinesof the pri- arealso a formof social capital.Interestingly,Co-
vatized household.In their own homes, men are leman drew on family examplesfor both his ab-
more likely thanwomen to purchaseguns and to stract and empiricalillustrationsof the concept,
justify gun ownershipin termsof family security showinghow parentscan build social capitaland
needs and self-defense(Reiss & Roth, 1993).That expendit in the service of theirchildren'shuman
such weapons-basedfamily securitystrategiesare capitalaccumulation.
often counterproductive is suggested by studies Social capital conceptualizesthe work that
thatshow thatbothhomicideandsuicidearemore membersof familiesdo in buildingandusing ties
likely in homes with guns than in comparable of mutualobligation,expectation,and trustwith
gun-free homes (Kellermanet al., 1992, 1993). one anotherand with others in their neighbor-
The NationalCrimeVictimizationsurveyssuggest hoods and communities.It also conceptualizes
that victims rarelydefend themselveswith guns. how social relationsin communitiesand neigh-
In fewer than 5% of residentialburglariesdid borhoodscan facilitate or hamperfamily work
homeownersdefendthemselveswithfirearms,and (Furstenberg & Hughes,1995;Hunteret al., 1998;
self-defenserates were even lower for othercat- Murry & Brody, 1999; Sampson,Morenoff, &
egories of personalcrime (Reiss & Roth). In ad- Earls, 1999). Thus,the conceptstandsas a useful
dition to posing inadvertentthreatsto theirfami- additionto the theoreticalwork on the family-
lies, thereis plentifulevidencethatmen aremore communityinterfacebecauseit makes visible the
likely to use firearmsto kill family membersin- workthatmen and womendo to build social sup-
tentionallythanto be similarlyvictimizedby fam- portsaroundtheirfamiliesin orderto accomplish
ily members (Daly & Wilson, 1988; Reiss & or secure certainends. By conceptualizingsuch
Roth). Finally, there is evidence that unrelated family work within a broaderset of microecon-
men in the household, such as boyfriendsand omic theoriesthathave credencewith those in the
stepfathers,may expose women and childrento disciplinarymainstreams,it links the analysisof
special risk (Margolin, 1992); and that fathers, this kind of family work with centraltheoretical
when asked,give voice to concernsaboutthe po- concernsof the field.
tentialrisk that other men pose to their children At the same time, the conceptof social capital
(Fox & Bruce, 1999). In sum, we suggest that has been used withoutregardto its genderimpli-
family safety,as a topic of study,meritsmoreex- cations.A genderperspectiveraises severalques-
plicit attentionfrom family scholars,particularly tions that need to be addressedby those who
as it relates to the well-researchedand theorized would use the conceptof social capital.First,the

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1168 Journal of Marriage and the Family

implicit presumptionof symmetryin the ties of of the challengeposed by Collins' (1986) articu-
mutualobligationand expectation(the social re- lation of the matrixof dominationas the context
lationsin which social capitalinheres)may be in- out of which family life is constructed.That is,
appropriateand misleading.Blumbergand Cole- race, class, andgenderarerelationalcategoriesof
man's (1989) concept of net economic value, domination.To understandhow family life is
whichtakesinto accounta varietyof discountfac- structured,each mustbe studiedin relationto the
tors that enhanceor diminishthe value of wom- others,not alone. Studieshave emergedthatseek
en's contributions,is relevanthere.As with wom- the sourceof differencesin familypatternswithin
en's financialand humancapital,it is likely that the structuralmatrixformedby these three axes
women'sactivitiesin the generationof socialcap- of hierarchy(Baca Zinn, 1994;Dill, 1994;Glenn,
ital are subjectto discountingor devaluation(for 1992; Segura,1994).
example,women'sinformational channelsaredis- Finally, family scholars have contextualized
paragedas "meregossip"). It is likely thatwom- their researchon family relationshipsby recog-
en must expendor cash in relativelymore social nition of the myriadways in whichintimatefam-
capital than men in transactionsto accomplish ily interactionsare shapedby broadersocial cur-
similarends. It is likely thatmen will tend to un- rents, prevailingpower relations, and dominant
derinvestin social relationswith women,both in ideologies (Komter,1989; Mullings, 1994). Ex-
the family and the community,becauseof the de- amples include studies of men's decisions about
valuationor underestimation of the capitalvalue time allocation between work and parentroles
of such social relations.Finally, women may be (Berry& Rao, 1997;Daly, 1996),decisionsabout
as likely as men to devaluetheir social relations marriage timing and family formation (Adler,
with other women and to discountor underesti- 1997;Albrecht,Fossett,Cready,& Kiecolt, 1997;
mate the power and effectivenessof theirneigh- Koball, 1998), husband-to-wifeviolence (Mac-
borly ties with women to secure valued social millan& Gartner,1999),the use of money (Treas,
ends (Komter,1989). 1991), andhouseholddivisionof labor(Gallagher
& Smith, 1999;Hossain& Roopnarine,1993;Or-
buch & Eyster,1997).
Contextualizing FamilyRelationships
Sensitizingfamily scholarsto the importanceof
Attendingto Power Processes
placing their studiesof families withina broader
social contexthas been one of the most important Attendingto the importanceof processis one of
influencesof feminist perspectivesin family re- the sensitizinginfluencesof feminist scholarship
search.This has been reflectedin family scholar- in family research.Power processes, both overt
ship over the decadein severalways. First,there andcovert,havebeen an importantfocus of study.
is greatersensitivityto the inclusionof people of Kudson-Martinand Mahoney (1998) sought to
colorin studysamples.Theincreaseduse of large- identify maritalprocesses that foster equal mar-
scale nationalsamplesurveysrelevantto family- riages,which they definedas those in whicheach
relatedphenomena,such as the NationalSurvey partnerheld equal status,in which accommoda-
of Families and Households,that include suffi- tion in the relationshipwas mutual,in which at-
cient numbersof families of color to allow for tentionto the otherin the relationshipwas mutual,
both within-groupand cross-groupanalyses has and in which therewas mutualwell-beingof part-
facilitatedattentionto familiesof color.Likewise, ners.In equalmarriages,each spousehas roughly
smaller surveys and ethnographiesfocused on the same capacityto get the otherto cooperatein
specific ethnic family groupshave increasedun- attaininggoals and attendingto his or her needs,
derstandingof contextualinfluenceson families desires, and wants. Couples were selected for
(Murry& Brody, 1999). Moreover,the increased study who viewed themselves as having a mar-
emphasison ethnicdiversityacrossthe academic riage they characterizedas equal and who de-
curriculum,including the emergenceof courses scribedtheir roles as non-genderspecific. They
andtextsfocusedon familydiversity,has also fos- found,however,that despitethe couples' self-de-
tered, indeed necessitated,new researchon un- scriptions as egalitarian,gender inequalitywas
derrepresentedethnic groups (McAdoo, 1993; perpetuatedby subtle power processesthat were
Mindel,Habenstein,& Wright,1999; Pedraza& both visible and latent. Wives were more likely
Rumbaut,1996). than husbands to accommodatetheir partners'
Second,thereis recognitionof the importance needs or desiresand to speakof fittingtheirlives

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Gender and Families 1169

aroundtheirpartner'sschedule.In addition,wives tivity of researchon race reportedmore than a

were more likely than husbandsto describe at- decade ago (Baptiste,1986). Gamson(1999) has
tending to their partners'needs, worryingabout spoken of the social knowledgeprocess of "fac-
upsettingor offending their partners,and doing ticity;" that is, the validationof certaininforma-
what their partnerwanted or needed. Other re- tion as "factual."Informationthat is consistent
searchershavereportedsimilargenderinequalities with hegemonicstory-linesis privileged,and al-
in marriagesin terms of the subtle power pro- ternativeinformationis ignored,suppressed,un-
cesses involved in determiningthe directionof seen, and unheard.
conversationsand problemsthat get discussedin Familyscholarsneed to exerciseoversightand
marriages(Ball, Cowan, & Cowan, 1995; Zvon- caution about the knowledge processes in our
kovic, Schmiege, & Hall, 1994). Viewing one's field, and we would suggest that a study of the
marriageas equal and family roles as egalitarian, typical career of feminist scholarshipin family
despite experiencing marital inequality, serves studies might be timely. For example, rates of
several functions in preservingmarriages(Gal- fundingof research,presentationand publication
lagher& Smith, 1999;Rosenbluth,Steil, & Whit- of family scholarshiputilizing feministperspec-
comb, 1998). It conceals the existence of male tives might be trackedover time. Beyond acade-
domination and female submission in modem mia, we suggestthatthe growingantifeministsen-
couple relationshipsand keeps partnersfromrec- sibilityin the cultureat largedeservesstudyin its
ognizing the existence of covert power,which if own right,especiallyas the organizationsthatgive
acknowledgedcould createmaritalconflict(Hare- voice to it claim to speak in the best interestsof
Mustin,1991; Komter,1989). families.It also meritsattentionbecauseit will be
partof the socioculturalcontextout of whichnew
socialtheoriesof familiesandgenderwill be born.
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