Images, Ideals, and Myths Images and Ideals The Family as Haven



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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

  • A negative image of the family in which components of family life are viewed as inhibiting self-expression 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

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



  • 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

  • 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

  • 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 society.

  • 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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