Images, Ideals, and Myths

Images, Ideals, and Myths
Images and Ideals
• The Family as Haven
– The family provides a safe haven from the threats and dangers of the modern world
• Love, protection
• Emerged during industrialization
• The Family as Fulfillment
– The family provides satisfactions unattainable through other social arrangements
• Compensatory rather than protective
• The Family as Encumbrance
– A negative image of the family in which components of family life are viewed as inhibiting selfexpression and personal freedom
• Monogamy, child-rearing responsibilities
Images and Reality
Image: family represents symbolic separation from, or opposition to, work & business
Reality: outside circumstances increasingly produce inner family conflicts
Image: husband-wife, parent-child relationships viewed as overwhelmingly positive
Reality: emotional conflict, generational differences, sibling rivalries, tensions, & ambivalence are
• Image: “Standard North American Family” (SNAF) used to evaluate ways of living together
• Reality: such images are misleading when used to evaluate our own family interactions and when
used as a model for social legislation
– Relations among family members are highly idealized and can lead to guilt, anger, or
disappointment when reality falls short of expectations
The Mythical American Family
• Myth of a Stable and Harmonious Family of the Past
– Families of the past are idealized as being more stable and happier than today’s families.
• The family has faced adverse problems (outside pressures & internal conflicts) throughout
• Anxiety about the family is not new
• We expect more from marriage & family than in the past
• Myth of Separate Worlds
– The image of the family as haven emerged out of the belief that work and family roles were
mutually exclusive.
• The family is deeply embedded in social and economic structures
– Families shape themselves in response to demands of jobs, careers, schools, & other social
– “Family Darwinism” blames individual families for structural failure, ignores economic
conditions & social inequalities
– Social institutions have taken oven many functions once performed by families & weakened
parents’ authority
– Globalization and the changes it produces in the economy and the workplace have
transformed families by moving women out of the home & into the labor force, increasing
mobility in search of work, and increasing work hours & nonstandard work schedules
Myth of the Monolithic Family Form
– Alleged “typical” family: 1) a nuclear unit, 2) consisting of a mother, father, and children, 3) has
a sexual division of labor with a breadwinner father and full-time wife and mother.
• In reality, this describes only 7% of American families.
• Family (kinship group) vs. household (residence group): not always the same
• Proliferation of diverse family types is the result of: globalization & economic transformation,
new work patterns for men & women, new patterns in marriage & divorce, decline in number
of children women bear
• Myth of a Unified Family Experience
– Assumes that all family members have common needs, interests, and experiences
• In reality, each member experiences the family differently.
• Families produce divergent experiences based on gender & age
• Gendered institution based on patriarchy
• Myth of Family Consensus
– Idealized image of the family that assumes families always operate on the principles of
harmony and love
• Family life is contentious due to: power relations within the family, competitive aspects of
family relations, new patterns of work & leisure, & the intense emotional quality of intimate
relationships (which can generate violence)
• Love & conflict exist together
• Families are paradoxical, full of disparities
• Family Decline as the Cause of Social Problems
– The suggestion that recent changes in family patterns is a primary cause of contemporary
social problems
• Family is the product of social conditions, not the building block of society
• Ignores structural reasons for family breakdown
• Divorce & single parenthood are the consequences of social & economic problems, not the
cause of them
A New Framework for Understanding Families
The Sociological Perspective
Focuses on the structural sources of family life
Examine how changes in society affect family formation & relational dynamics
There is a close relationship between families and the larger society that shapes them
Macro & micro level analysis
Social inequality is a key determinant of family diversity
The Changing Functionalist Model
The dominant approach for understanding families has been a functionalist model.
This model placed the nuclear family as the basis of social organization and cohesion in
New ideas about pluralism, diversity, and social context have challenged that model and
caused a paradigm shift.
The Structural Diversity Approach
Family forms are socially constructed and historically changing.
Family diversity is produced by the very structures that organize society as a whole.
The social locations in which families are embedded are not the product of a single power
system, but are shaped by intersecting hierarchies.
Family diversity is constructed through social structure and human agency.
The structural diversity model draws from many scholarly fields including history, economics,
anthropology, women’s studies, African American studies, and psychology.
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