Images, Ideals, and Myths

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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
commonplace
• 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
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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
history
• 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
institutions
– “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
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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
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Focuses on the structural sources of family life
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Examine how changes in society affect family formation & relational dynamics
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There is a close relationship between families and the larger society that shapes them
•
Macro & micro level analysis
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Social inequality is a key determinant of family diversity
The Changing Functionalist Model
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The dominant approach for understanding families has been a functionalist model.
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This model placed the nuclear family as the basis of social organization and cohesion in
society.
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New ideas about pluralism, diversity, and social context have challenged that model and
caused a paradigm shift.
The Structural Diversity Approach
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Family forms are socially constructed and historically changing.
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Family diversity is produced by the very structures that organize society as a whole.
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The social locations in which families are embedded are not the product of a single power
system, but are shaped by intersecting hierarchies.
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Family diversity is constructed through social structure and human agency.
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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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