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Litton Fox, Greer; Mcbride Murry, Velma
In family studies, as in many other scholarly disciplines, feminist perspectives have reshaped traditional
approaches to theorizing about and conducting and interpreting research. In this review, we describe
several characteristics of feminist approaches to scholarship and then suggest how feminist
sensibilities are reflected in contemporary research with families.
Many labels have been used to depict the orientation to social thought that we refer to as "feminism,''
including feminism, feminist perspective, gender lens, and gender perspective. In this review, we use
the labels feminism, gender perspective, feminist perspective, or feminist approach interchangeably to
refer in the most general terms to an intellectual orientation to scholarship that makes certain
assumptions about the importance of men and women to social life, the connectedness of structures
and processes found in macro and micro settings, and the interdependence of one's personal
orientation and professional concerns. Specifically, feminism assumes that women and men are of
equal importance in social action, that structures and processes at work in the larger social arena have
impact on relations in intimate environments and vice versa, and that one's personal experiences and
sensibilities are not separable from the conduct of one's professional life. Across varied disciplinary
fields, feminism as an intellectual orientation has taken a critical eye to received traditions of
scholarship and epistemology (Reinharz, 1992). Wood (1995) further defines feminist approaches as
Encompassing diverse, sometimes conflicting intellectual traditions, feminist enquiry is unified by the
belief that females and males, femininity and masculinity are equally valuable. Feminist scholars seek
to identify, critique and alter structures and practices that actively or passively hinder equality.
Participating in a broadly based critique of received notions of knowledge and cultural life, feminist
enquiry typically supplants grand theory with tentative, situated and interpretive analyses .... The axis of
feminist enquiry is gender, which consists of deeply ensconced social meanings and their derivative,
power. Not a code word for women, gender is a cultural construction that profoundly affects women,
men, and relationships between them. (p. 104)
Despite the variety of feminist traditions (for example, Marxist feminism, radical lesbian feminism,
neotraditionalist feminism, Black feminism), it is possible to isolate several elements that are commonly
characteristic of feminist approaches to scholarship. We discuss four of these: reflexivity, the centrality
of practice, a focus on social processes, and a critical stance toward traditional paradigms and theories.
Reflexivity in Scholarship
Reflexivity refers to a self-conscious reflection about the part one plays in the generation of knowledge
(Gouldner, 1970; Mills, 1959). One of the hallmarks of reflexivity is recognition by the scholar that he or
she is an actor intimately involved in the generation of knowledge, rather than simply a recorder and
reporter of what is seen outside oneself. Such a self-aware stance on the part of a researcher fosters a
critical approach to epistemology. For example, reflexivity calls into question the notion that objectivity
is the only orientation a scholar may legitimately take to his or her study. Thus, it opens the door to the
recognition that subjectivity not only is a valid and valuable orientation to research but may also be a
necessary stance for good research. An example of the impact of a researcher's awareness of self on
the research process and product comes from Stacey's (1990) ethnography of two Silicon Valley
families in which she describes her struggles with her own biases about evangelical Christian groups
as an impediment to her ability to hear, see, interpret, and reflect--in other words, conduct accurate
research with--her primary respondents.
Another hallmark of reflexivity as a research orientation is the willingness to engage in continuous
self-criticism, that is, a conscious second guessing of one's expertness, a questioning of the traditional
posture of the researcher as the "knower,'' apart from and unrelated to those whom he or she is
studying. This kind of self-critical orientation opens the doors to recognition of the ways in which
scholars and the products of their research (as well as the institutional structures that support research)
can foster and perpetuate a knowledge-based hierarchy in which the voices and views of some
participants (the researchers) are valued more highly than those of the researched or in which the
researched may be valued only as objects of study.
Reflexivity is notable as well in the self consciousness of feminist researchers in relation to their
research participants. Feminists take issue with the concept of the researcher as somehow standing
beyond the perimeter of the research arena, apart from the research frame. Instead of conceptualizing
research as something done to (or for) research subjects by an objective observer outside the research
setting, feminists acknowledge that their orientations, actions, interpretations, biases, and interests will
become integral to the research process and its outcomes, and they seek to understand how it
happens as it is happening during the process of their research.
We make no claim that feminist scholarship is the only place one finds self-critical sensitivity in the
conduct of scholarship. Indeed, it has been the searing critiques of the scholarship of White,
middle-class feminists by women of color that has fostered an awareness of what has been labeled
"academic colonialism" (Collins, 1986). Academic colonialism is a reference to the potential for the
academic research enterprise to exploit rather than'to empower those who are the subject of study
(Baca Zinn & Dill, 1994). In response to such critiques, feminist scholars have attempted to be more
deliberately conscious of how scholarly practices affect those whose lives are studied and to attend to
patterns of inclusion and exclusion. One of the implications for family research has been to broaden the
base of research with families of color, as will be described in a later section. This has also renewed
attention to one of the central characteristics of feminist approaches, and that is an emphasis on praxis.
The Centrality of Practice
Wood (1995) describes a "vibrant dialectic" in feminist scholarship between theorizing and practice, a
dialectical tension that arises from the recognition that scholarship about the structures and processes
that give rise to inequality is inherently political. The knowledge gained from feminist research must be
applied not solely in the reshaping of theory but also in arenas of social change so as to reshape
existing social conditions toward greater equality for men and women. Some feminists argue that the
feminist scholar has a compelling involvement in implementation of his or her research and suggest a
seamlessness between research and practice, including advocacy for change (Allen & Baber, 1992a;
Reinharz, 1992).
Research for what? The concern with practice, that is, with the application and implementation of
research findings beyond the academic environment, promotes a conscious attention to the relative
importance of research questions and topics. Feminist scholars value the lives of women, and this
concern is reflected in their choices of topics, settings, and approaches for study. Feminist scholarship
has illuminated the dynamics of inequality and power through studies that have focused on the
mundane aspects of women's everyday routines, including housework, caregiving, serving and
allocating food, and balancing work and home (Hertz, 1997; Marks, 1998; Ribbens, 1994). Research
that focuses on the physical, economic, and legal vulnerabilities of women has also been characteristic
of choices of feminist scholars (Jarrett, 1994; Johnson, 1995; Konradi, 1996; Margolin, 1992;
McCloskey, 1996).
Teaching. During the early years of this decade, attention turned to the incorporation of feminist
perspectives and sensibilities into conventional materials on "the traditional family" and into
conventional classroom teaching styles. One finds concern not only with what to teach (Allen & Baber,
1992b; Dilworth-Anderson, Burton, & Turner, 1993; Walker, 1993) but how (Lewis, 1995). Both content
and practice concerns are reflected in articles that discuss the need for sensitivity to diverse student
experiences and the value in building connections among and empowering students (MacDermid,
Jurich, Myers-Walls, & Pelo, 1992), the planned use of reflexivity (Allen & Faresworth, 1993), empathy
(Thompson & Walker, 1995), self-disclosure (Allen, 1995), and restraint (Marks, 1995). Others focused
beyond the content and pedagogy in family studies courses to address feminist pedagogy in family
therapy training programs (Leslie & Clossick, 1992).
As the decade has progressed, attention continues to be given to sexist practices in the classroom and
their effects on both women and men students and faculty (Maher & Tetrault, 1994; Myers & Dugan,
1996). In addition, new concerns have surfaced about student hostility toward women teachers and
faculty in both secondary and higher education classrooms and with the combined effects of racism
and sexism on classroom environments (Jarrett et al., 1999). The attention given by feminist scholars
to the practice of the profession, with the correlative placement of the self in both research and teaching
activities, legitimates this area of the professional literature. It also illustrates a central component of
feminist thought on the artificiality of role segregation into professional and personal spheres.
A Central Focus on Process
A third characteristic of feminist research is its concern with process, as reflected both in the focus and
conduct of research. Feminist research interest lies not solely in describing and analyzing current
empirical realities in the lives of women and men and the associated inequalities, constraints, and
privileges that accompany their different statuses. A feminist approach takes as centrally problematic
the social processes through which the described patterns are generated, sustained over time, and
come to reproduce themselves. A focus on the centrality of studying process is exemplified by
Chafetz's (1991) work on the persistence of gender stratification. The choice to focus on understanding
process is a strategic one. Knowledge of processes of gender differentiation and stratification can be
used for intervention in and change of those processes and the inequalities they produce.
The focus on process also grows out of a sense that life, more particularly the lives of men and women,
may be more adequately captured with a sense of time that is ongoing and seamless rather than
divided into intervals or stages or marked by discrete events, roles, and achievements. There is interest
in the unfolding of the processes themselves as objects of study. Thus, feminist approaches to
parenting, for example, have focused on the myriad processes involved in caregiving (Cowan & Cowan,
1990), the unfolding nature of a parent's sense of himself or herself as part of and distinct from
parenting activities (Cohen, 1987), and the processes through which a parent incorporates others into a
scaffold of care for the child (Ribbens, 1994).
A third way in which process is central to feminist research is in the conduct of the research itself,
regardless of the particular methodological approach taken by the researcher. Emphasis on the
process of research is consistent with and part of a broader questioning of the nature and conduct of
research, fueled by postmodernist and antipositivist trends in social philosophy (Lemert, 1999). Along
with reflexivity, characteristics of feminist research practices include the conscious articulation of values,
awareness of and attendance to the sensibilities of research participants, attention to the ethics of
research, especially the linkages between the purpose of the basic research and its application to
human need and the grounding of research questions and insights in human experience (Reinharz,
1992; Thompson, 1992; Thompson & Walker, 1995).
Small (1995) considers feminist research as action research and compares feminist methods with three
other forms of action-oriented research. He notes particularly the concern of feminist research with
advocacy on behalf of women (see Allen & Baber, 1992b). By contrast, in an extensive review of
feminist methods in social research, Reinharz (1992) notes that although feminist research is
concerned ultimately with change in inequitable structures, not all feminist researchers are activists or
advocates. Moreover, the earlier debates about whether qualitative or quantitative approaches were
able not only to capture more faithfully the voices of research participants but also to reflect the values
and orientations of feminist scholars have been largely superseded by the publication of Reinharz's
encyclopedic assessment of the diversity of research techniques employed by feminist scholars across
the social sciences. Reinharz observes that feminist scholars work simultaneously from two vantage
points--their disciplinary methodology plus the insights of feminism.
Re&inking Received Paradigms
A fourth characteristic of feminist scholarship is the questioning of received disciplinary wisdom,
including prevailing epistemologies (Ferree, 1990; Thompson & Walker, 1995). It is of concern to
feminist scholars that the accepted canon has largely been produced in an academy heretofore
dominated by men and by masculinist ideologies about what is of importance. Scholarship that has
been conducted outside a feminist perspective becomes suspect, given the understanding that
knowledge is a product of the producer and that values about what to study and how have been
determined by those in positions of power, that is, predominantly by men (Lemert, 1999; Wood, 1995).
Moreover, the realization that the works of women and of men of color have largely been ignored and
omitted from the accepted bodies of classic knowledge in the social science disciplines underlines the
concern that the canon is partial and that understandings of the nature of the phenomena we study are
incomplete and therefore need careful reassessment (Allen, 2000; Baca Zinn & Dill, 1994; Lemert).
Fostering the critical stance toward the social science canon is the articulation of standpoint theory.
Standpoint theory is succinctly expressed by Gubrium and Holstein (1990) in their aphorism, "truth =
fact + perspective." That is, what is seen or experienced as authentic and real depends upon one's
standpoint, one's perspective (Haraway, 1999). Acknowledgment of the centrality of gender to
perspective and incorporation into research designs of the idea that gender shapes one's reality are
two of the signal contributions of feminist scholarship to family research over the past decade.
Gender Roles and "Doing Gender
Two formulations of the nature of gender are dominant, the gender roles perspective and the social
constructionist approach. Stemming from role theory and with linkages to structure-functionalism, the
first approach treats gender as a social role, characterized by a distinct and well integrated set of
attitudes and behaviors. Viewed as a social role, gender is enacted or played out according to scripts
that are carefully taught and repeatedly rehearsed until behavior govemed by one's gender role script
becomes so natural as to be seen as an integral part of oneself--second nature, as it were.
This taken-for-granted quality, the imperceptible slide from gender as role into gender as the essence
of the self, has given rise to critiques of the role approach to gender. The role perspective encourages
the social analyst to ignore the difference between the sex of the person playing a role and the
gendered nature of the role, a critical omission if the goal is to understand how gender can shape
perspective, structure social action, and express cultural values.
When gender is conceptualized as a role, women and men are seen as enacting roles that are
separable, often complementary, and necessary elements to the integrity of the social settings or
structures in which the roles are embedded. The role perspective on gender, with an emphasis on the
content of roles and the processes by which they are learned and expressed, continues to characterize
much contemporary work on gender in families, perhaps finding its fullest expression in textbooks on
marriage and family relations (Glenn, 1997).
The second approach views gender as a social construct embodying cultural meanings of masculinity
and femininity. Here, gender is defined as a constituent element of social structures, intricately
interwoven with other elements of social structures such as class and race. Gender not only expresses
cultural values but--as do class and race--also organizes the social distribution of societal resources.
Gender, then, is centrally tied to distributions of merit, privilege, power, autonomy, and the resources
they command. Ferree's (1990) description of the social constructionist perspective on gender
appeared early in this decade and continues to stand as an excellent account of this approach.
This perspective specifically directs attention to the covert and overt processes that differentiate and
then assign value and privilege on the basis of sex. This perspective reveals the systematic privileging
of men relative to women, or less often, of women relative to men. Differential gender privilege, in turn,
reinforces the establishment and maintenance of a culturally constructed, shared understanding of the
differentness of men from women. This perspective on gender thus attends to processes in ongoing
social interactions, as well as the resulting microstmctures of power and privilege that result from those
social interactions.
The social constructionist perspective on gender suggests that despite gender role socialization and
because gender is not synonymous with the self, men and women not only vary in their degree of
masculinity and femininity but have to be constantly persuaded or reminded to be masculine and
feminine. That is, men and women have to "do" gender rather than "be" a gender. West and
Zimmerman (1987) provided one of the first uses of this perspective in their analysis of the ways that
individuals construct gender continuously in their ongoing social interactions. More recent work that
follows in this tradition would include Martin's study (1998) of the creation of gendered children.
Through careful ethnographic work in preschool settings, the author shows how child care personnel
create children's identities as gendered boys and girls through typical preschool practices. Examples
included teachers' disciplining girls' voices differently than boys' voices. The boys were allowed to be
louder, and teachers' instructions were given to boys in groups rather than individually directed, as they
were toward girls. Children's bodies were also disciplined such that more freedom of action and
expression was allowed to boys than to girls. These practices were then incorporated by the children to
provide a gendered structure to their subsequent interactions. Heimer and Staffen (1995) describe how
nursing practices in newborn intensive care units result in gendered parenting. Specifically, young
unwed fathers become left out of the newborn baby's circle of care by both intentional and unintentional
acts of hospital staff. McGuffey and Rich (1999) used ethnographic procedures to analyze the
strategies used by boys and girls in middle childhood to mark and maintain gender boundaries in both
social and physical playground space. Their work is especially notable for the incorporation of social
class and race into their analyses of children's coalitions and behaviors.
Thompson and Walker (1995) concluded that researchers and practitioners in the family field have yet
to appreciate fully the power of this approach to gender. Relative to the more common role perspective,
social constructionism remains on the margins of mainstream work on families and is used more often
as a sensitizing framework rather than as a guide for research on families and family processes.
Nonetheless, the impact of both this and the role perspective on gender can be traced in family
research over the decade.
Distinction between Sex and Gender
One of the most important reflections of feminist sensitivities in family research is the distinction
between sex and gender. When gender is understood as the product of social processes and as
embodying cultural meanings of masculinity and femininity, then it becomes possible to distinguish a
person's gender from his or her sex. The former can be understood as sociocultural, the latter as
biological; and while the two are correlated, they are not synonymous or isomorphic. This distinction
offers clarity on often-confusing matters of measurement and interpretation of data by sex and gender
Relative to measurement, one implication is to question the unexamined, often unstated, assumption
that the meanings of attitudinal and behavioral measurement items (such as Likert-type questions) are
the same for all male and female respondents. In other words, gender neutrality and within-gender
homogeneity are assumed in much family studies research. With few exceptions, little attention has
been given to the validity of the same measures for women and men. Notable exceptions are efforts to
explore the differential meanings attached to fertility intentions (Thomson & Brandreth, 1995), money
(Zelizer, 1989) and breadwinning (Potuchek, 1997). Far more common is research that employs
measures without regard to the potential for differential meaning to men. and women. For example,
Sabatelli and Waldron (1995) provide an otherwise excellent discussion of issues in the measurement
of parenting, but they do not discuss the problem of gender validity. Likewise, the conflict tactics scale
(Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996), widely used in studies of domestic violence,
assumes that such terms as conflict, argue, and hit are interpreted in similar ways by men and women.
To assume cross-gender validity and within-gender homogeneity ignores the impact of social position
on social perception, which the feminist perspective would hold to be an inadequate representation of
social reality.
The conventions of social survey research require that researchers measure attitudes, beliefs, values,
or behaviors by exposing all respondents to the same stimuli, that is, by asking them all the same
questions. When both partners in a couple dyad are included, it is possible to compare their responses
and determine the degree of couple consistency in response patterns as well as patterns of under- and
overreporting (Melby, Ge, Conger, & Warner, 1995; Svinovacz & Egley, 1995). But it is not possible to
assert that the meanings attached to the items (that is, the subjective context out of which the
respondents responded to the same items) were invariant across gender. Indeed, the recognition of
gender bias in measures deserves the kind of attention that race and class bias has received (McGuire
& Earls, 1993). To the extent that the empirical base in family studies increasingly comes to rest on
analyses of large-scale, national-sample, survey data sets, which presume gender, class, and race
neutrality in their measures, then to that extent, our knowledge base is problematic.
A second implication of distinguishing between sex and gender can be seen in the interpretation of data
that demonstrate attitudinal or behavioral differences between men and women. How one interprets
such empirical differences depends to some extent on one's perspective toward gender. For example,
Mason's (1999) narrative analysis of men and women convicted of white-collar felonies showed that
women described themselves as motivated by family need. They minimized their criminality by
references to the small sums of money involved and its use for family necessities, such as groceries.
Men, by contrast, described themselves as motivated by high achievement goals and felt their desire
for a faster track to success justified embezzling large sums of money. There are sharp differences
between men and women in the narrative accounts of their crimes, despite conspicuous similarities in
their actual family situations and class backgrounds. One might interpret the empirical differences in
their stories as reflective of an essential difference between men and women, or, alternatively, as a
reflection of the different (gendered) cultural materials available to men and women from which they
constructed their accounts. Similarly, one might interpret the difference in the economic value of their
crimes as reflective of some kind of essential sex difference in criminal expression, such as a greater
capacity of men for risk taking, or, alternatively, as an artifact of the gendered structure of corporate
hierarchies that give more men than women unscrutinized access to large sums of money. The choice
among these interpretations is less important than that they illustrate the interpretive richness that
becomes available by viewing empirical differences between men and women not solely as evidence of
biological or "essential'" differences between the sexes but also as reflective of sociocultural and
political processes of gender.
Recognition of Gendered Standpoints
The sensitivity of feminist scholarship to gendered standpoints is also reflected in family research.
Safilios-Rothschild (1969), in the now-classic article entitled "Family sociology or wives' family
sociology?'', three decades ago called attention of family researchers to the importance of standpoint.
Subsequent scholarship has continued to emphasize the influence of the researcher's standpoint on
research. Wood (1995,pp. 111-112) suggests, "Scholars who rely on any single standpoint risk
(mis)interpreting data in ways that overlook and therefore, distort some participants' motives and
meanings .... "Wood continues, "Because Western culture defines men and masculine perspectives as
normative, an androcentric point of view is often assumed and imposed, yet not acknowledged in either
social life or research practice".
Interpretations of research findings. We highlight three examples in which scholars used multiple
standpoints to advantage in interpreting their research on one of the most persistent work-family issues
over the decade, the management of dependent care. Recent family research recognizes that the way
in which family members provide care for one another is a political issue within the family. Hertz's (1997)
analysis of the management of child care in dual-earner families is exemplary. Approaches used by
couples in her study to construct their family lives included mothering, which maximized the working
mother's time spent in parenting; parenting, in which the couple restructured their jobs to maximize both
parents' involvement with parenting; and a market approach, in which couples allocated economic
resources to replace the mother-as-parent by professional caregivers and left intact the father's limited
role in family work. By viewing both employment and parenting as functions that could vary in the
degree to which the couples gendered the roles, Hertz was able to discover a complex array of
outcomes resulting from couple negotiations.
That negotiations within the family about how to provide care are centrally affected by larger societal
trends and conditions has received some attention. Within the context of culture conflicts that impinge
upon the availability of options for child care, Ross and Van Willigen (1996) track the impact of such
societal inconsistencies in their analysis of gender, parenthood, and anger. In this study, the higher
levels of anger among mothers than fathers and nonparents were accounted for by a combination of
economic strain, status as the primary care provider, and the difficulties of finding, arranging, and
paying for child care outside the home. In other words, the heightened levels of anger among mothers
were not seen as characterological flaws or as personal weakness but as an outgrowth of situational
demands and structural constraints that themselves were differentially distributed by gender.
Marks (1998) compared the impact of dependent-care providing, including the provision of care at
home for a disabled child, spouse, or parent and care for neighbors or friends, on indicators of
emotional well-being of middle-aged men and women. In general, more men than women reported
reaping large benefits from providing care. The one exception was that men who provided care for a
spouse reported experiencing significantly more hostility than women who provided spousal care, even
after controlling for spillover stress from work and family. Androcentric ideologies of caregiving suggest
that providing dependent care is a family domain in which women dominate because of their greater
capacities for nurturance and self-sacrifice and the lower market value of their time relative to that of
other adult family members. Among the outcomes of Marks' study is evidence that men are more
involved in caregiving than such ideologies might suggest and that men are neither ill-equipped
emotionally to care nor unable to gain satisfaction from caring for others.
Omission in problem definition. The use of gendered standpoints can cause researchers to overlook
certain issues as research problems. Such was the case with family violence, which was not
systematically studied until the 1970s (Gelles, 1980). We would argue that family security is also an
issue that has been overlooked in part because of gendered standpoints. Ensuring the safety of family
members from external threats is only occasionally studied and primarily only among families living in
extreme environments. Research attention to family safety over the past two decades has given priority
to recognition of the threat that family members themselves pose to one another. Thus, studies of
intrafamilial violence, especially the serious violence of men against women, have appropriately
dominated the focus of studies of family security, and gender and gender stratification are centrally
involved in these patterns of intrafamilial violence. However, given the high levels of concern with crime,
family, and personal safety voiced in national opinion surveys, the relative lack of attention to ensuring
family safety from external threats is surprising.
Family security is stereotypically gendered work, and the male as family protector has been described
as an enduring gender myth. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that both men and women take
seriously and support the assignment of family security to men. The male protector myth is mythical
only in that it obscures the work that women do to secure the safety of their homes and children and in
that it fails to suggest that the work that most men do to secure their families often endangers rather
than protects them.
The work women do to protect their children from harm takes on heroic proportions in certain
circumstances (Fox, Von Bargen, & Jester, 1996; Garbarino, Dubrow, Kostelney, & Pardo, 1992). More
commonly, family security is a byproduct of women's common, daily community activities (Hunter,
Pearson, Ialongo, & Kellam, 1998). Ribbens (1994) describes in detail how mothers carefully construct
a web of social relationships in their neighborhoods, primarily to provide a base of friendships for their
children and in part to scaffold their children's security. Furstenberg et al. (1993) describe how the
social relationships in which women envelop their children vary from one community to another, so that
depending upon the characteristics of the community, those social relationships can complement,
compensate for, or detract from the resources--including safety-that mothers on their own provide.
Others, too, have found stark social class differences in the safety strategies women teach to their
children and in the extent to which women can draw on neighborhood resources to help secure their
children's safety (Brodsky, 1996; Fox, 2000; Hunter et al.; Jarrett, 1994).
In contrast to security strategies embedded in community-based social relationships, which have been
uncovered in studies of mothers, there is much less evidence that fathers are involved in family safety
work beyond the confines of the privatized household. In their own homes, men are more likely than
women to purchase guns and to justify gun ownership in terms of family security needs and
self-defense (Reiss & Roth, 1993). That such weapons-based family security strategies are often
counterproductive is suggested by studies that show that both homicide and suicide are more likely in
homes with guns than in comparable gun-free homes (Kellerman et al., 1992, 1993). The National
Crime Victimization surveys suggest that victims rarely defend themselves with guns. In fewer than 5%
of residential burglaries did homeowners defend themselves with firearms, and self-defense rates were
even lower for other categories of personal crime (Reiss & Roth). In addition to posing inadvertent
threats to their families, there is plentiful evidence that men are more likely to use firearms to kill family
members intentionally than to be similarly victimized by family members (Daly & Wilson, 1988; Reiss &
Roth). Finally, there is evidence that unrelated men in the household, such as boyfriends and
stepfathers, may expose women and children to special risk (Margolin, 1992); and that fathers, when
asked, give voice to concerns about the potential risk that other men pose to their children (Fox &
Bruce, 1999). In sum, we suggest that family safety, as a topic of study, merits more explicit attention
from family scholars, particularly as it relates to the well-researched and theorized area of family
violence. Further, taking a gender perspective to the study of family security would help make explicit
how women and men can be differentially steered into the use of strategies that play out gendered
stereotypical behaviors and, similarly, are steered away from strategies that could prove to be more
effective approaches to ensuring family safety.
Model misspecification. The use of gendered, androcentric standpoints can also foster model
misspecification. The increasingly widespread use of the concept of social capital in family studies
provides an example. Social capital as articulated by Coleman (1988) refers to the ways that social
relationships are cumulated, stored, and utilized in the service of one's ends or goals, much as human
capital, financial capital, and physical capital. Social capital inheres in social relationships characterized
by ties of obligation, expectation, and trustworthiness and that serve as information channels. Coleman
suggested that social norms that carry effective sanctions within a community are also a form of social
capital. Interestingly, Coleman drew on family examples for both his abstract and empirical illustrations
of the concept, showing how parents can build social capital and expend it in the service of their
children's human capital accumulation.
Social capital conceptualizes the work that members of families do in building and using ties of mutual
obligation, expectation, and trust with one another and with others in their neighborhoods and
communities. It also conceptualizes how social relations in communities and neighborhoods can
facilitate or hamper family work (Furstenberg & Hughes, 1995; Hunter et al., 1998; Murry & Brody, 1999;
Sampson, Morenoff, & Earls, 1999). Thus, the concept stands as a useful addition to the theoretical
work on the familycommunity interface because it makes visible the work that men and women do to
build social supports around their families in order to accomplish or secure certain ends. By
conceptualizing such family work within a broader set of microeconomic theories that have credence
with those in the disciplinary mainstreams, it links the analysis of this kind of family work with central
theoretical concerns of the field.
At the same time, the concept of social capital has been used without regard to its gender implications.
A gender perspective raises several questions that need to be addressed by those who would use the
concept of social capital. First, the implicit presumption of symmetry in the ties of mutual obligation and
expectation (the social relations in which social capital inheres) may be inappropriate and misleading.
Blumberg and Coleman's (1989) concept of net economic value, which takes into account a variety of
discount factors that enhance or diminish the value of women's contributions, is relevant here. As with
women's financial and human capital, it is likely that women's activities in the generation of social
capital are subject to discounting or devaluation (for example, women's informational channels are
disparaged as "mere gossip"). It is likely that women must expend or cash in relatively more social
capital than men in transactions to accomplish similar ends. It is likely that men will tend to underinvest
in social relations with women, both in the family and the community, because of the devaluation or
underestimation of the capital value of such social relations. Finally, women may be as likely as men to
devalue their social relations with other women and to discount or underestimate the power and
effectiveness of their neighbody ties with women to secure valued social ends (Komter, 1989).
Contextualizing Family Relationships
Sensitizing family scholars to the importance of placing their studies of families within a broader social
context has been one of the most important influences of feminist perspectives in family research. This
has been reflected in family scholarship over the decade in several ways. First, there is greater
sensitivity to the inclusion of people of color in study samples. The increased use of largescale national
sample surveys relevant to familyrelated phenomena, such as the National Survey of Families and
Households, that include sufficient numbers of families of color to allow for both within-group and
cross-group analyses has facilitated attention to families of color. Likewise, smaller surveys and
ethnographies focused on specific ethnic family groups have increased understanding of contextual
influences on families (Murry & Brody, 1999). Moreover, the increased emphasis on ethnic diversity
across the academic curriculum, including the emergence of courses and texts focused on family
diversity, has also fostered, indeed necessitated, new research on underrepresented ethnic groups
(McAdoo, 1993; Mindel, Habenstein, & Wright, 1999; Pedraza & Rumbaut, 1996).
Second, there is recognition of the importance of the challenge posed by Collins' (1986) articulation of
the matrix of domination as the context out of which family life is constructed. That is, race, class, and
gender are relational categories of domination. To understand how family life is structured, each must
be studied in relation to the others, not alone. Studies have emerged that seek the source of
differences in family patterns within the structural matrix formed by these three axes of hierarchy (Baca
Zinn, 1994; Dill, 1994; Glenn, 1992; Segura, 1994).
Finally, family scholars have contextualized their research on family relationships by recognition of the
myriad ways in which intimate family interactions are shaped by broader social currents, prevailing
power relations, and dominant ideologies (Komter, 1989; Mullings, 1994). Examples include studies of
men's decisions about time allocation between work and parent roles (Berry & Rao, 1997; Daly, 1996),
decisions about marriage timing and family formation (Adler, 1997; Albrecht, Fossett, Cready, & Kiecolt,
1997; Koball, 1998), husband-to-wife violence (Macmillan & Gartner, 1999), the use of money (Treas,
1991), and household division of labor (Gallagher & Smith, 1999; Hossain & Roopnarine, 1993; Orbuch
& Eyster, 1997).
Attending to Power Processes
Attending to the importance of process is one of the sensitizing influences of feminist scholarship in
family research. Power processes, both oven and coven, have been an important focus of study.
Kudson-Martin and Mahoney (1998) sought to identify marital processes that foster equal marriages,
which they defined as those in which each partner held equal status, in which accommodation in the
relationship was mutual, in which attention to the other in the relationship was mutual, and in which
there was mutual well-being of partners. In equal marriages, each spouse has roughly the same
capacity to get the other to cooperate in attaining goals and attending to his or her needs, desires, and
wants. Couples were selected for study who viewed themselves as having a marriage they
characterized as equal and who described their roles as non-gender specific. They found, however,
that despite the couples' self-descriptions as egalitarian, gender inequality was perpetuated by subtle
power processes that were both visible and latent. Wives were more likely than husbands to
accommodate their partners' needs or desires and to speak of fitting their lives around their partner's
schedule. In addition, wives were more likely than husbands to describe attending to their partners'
needs, worrying about upsetting or offending their partners, and doing what their partner wanted or
needed. Other researchers have reported similar gender inequalities in marriages in terms of the subtle
power processes involved in determining the direction of conversations and problems that get
discussed in marriages (Ball, Cowan, & Cowan, 1995; Zvonkovic, Schmiege, & Hall, 1994). Viewing
one's marriage as equal and family roles as egalitarian, despite experiencing marital inequality, serves
several functions in preserving marriages (Gallagher & Smith, 1999; Rosenbluth, Steil, & Whitcomb,
1998). It conceals the existence of male domination and female submission in modem couple
relationships and keeps partners from recognizing the existence of covert power, which if
acknowledged could create marital conflict (HareMustin, 1991; Komter, 1989).
In this review, we have outlined four characteristics of feminist scholarship and have suggested how
each is reflected in contemporary research in family studies. Throughout the review, we have tried to
suggest areas of continuity with earlier work on gender--specifically, in the work that focuses on division
of labor, work-family issues, and providing care for family members. We have also suggested areas
that merit continued exploration through the perspective of gender, such as validity assessments of
measures, the conceptualization of social capital, and family safety.
We choose to close with our vague sense of discomfort with the seeming disjuncture between the body
of work on family and gender as represented in some areas of academic study of the family and
evidence of a strong antifeminism, antiwoman backlash that has surfaced in many parts of the
contemporary U.S. culture. Both overt and covert expressions that in the quest for gender equality,
women have stepped beyond their proper place can be found among religious activist groups, privately
funded think tanks, and even in academia and academic and professional organizations. Anecdotal
reports of suspected censorship of feminist scholarship by journal reviewers, editors, and funding
agencies circulate in the informal information channels of academia (e.g., listservs, newsletters,
e-mails). The concerns are reminiscent of a similar concern about the selectivity of research on race
reported more than a decade ago (Baptiste, 1986). Gamson (1999) has spoken of the social knowledge
process of "facticity;" that is, the validation of certain information as "factual." Information that is
consistent with hegemonic story-lines is privileged, and alternative information is ignored, suppressed,
unseen, and unheard.
Family scholars need to exercise oversight and caution about the knowledge processes in our field,
and we would suggest that a study of the typical career of feminist scholarship in family studies might
be timely. For example, rates of funding of research, presentation and publication of family scholarship
utilizing feminist perspectives might be tracked over time. Beyond academia, we suggest that the
growing antifeminist sensibility in the culture at large deserves study in its own fight, especially as the
organizations that give voice to it claim to speak in the best interests of families. It also merits attention
because it will be part of the sociocultural context out of which new social theories of families and
gender will be born.
文章来源:Journal of Marriage & Family, Nov2000, Vol. 62 Issue 4, p1160, 13p