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The Impact Of Gender On Family Life

2345 words - 9 pages

Conceiving of gender as a social construction rather than a biologically assigned identity helps explain historical fluctuations in men’s and women’s practices and in culturally bound definitions of appropriate male and female behavior. Hansen argues that an individual’s gendered behavior is influenced by culturally constructed notions of what is appropriate for good mothers or good fathers or good people to do when caring for children (Hansen 7). The perception of American families as “small, self-reliant units headed by a breadwinning father and cared for by a stay-at-home mother” (1) has considerable influence over family life. This cultural construction affects everything from childrearing to networking to the workplace and individuals must consciously strive to break away from these roles. Both clinging too and attempting to break from these roles can have significant effects on one’s family experience.

For the past two centuries at least, the tasks of child rearing and caregiving have been assigned primarily, though not exclusively to women (Hansen 6). Arlie Hochschild presents the idea of a gender strategy as “a plan of action through which a person tries to solve problems at hand, given the cultural notions of gender at play” (7). This is something that is necessary for “not-so-nuclear” families in order to function and get by. Women are “located at the structural nexus of domestic work, child rearing, and paid labor, they nonetheless exercise some discretion about how they act on and interpret their situations” (7). Many women take into consideration where it is appropriate to take a stand for a equality or when they should back down for the sake of a marriage or to prevent fighting within the family. Men and women rely disproportionately on women as network members, perhaps working off the belief that women are better at caring for children (7). Men strategize to be involved in the lives of their children, niece, nephews, and grandchildren and, importantly, to support the women who are mothers. Historically men are presented as workers and breadwinners and therefore must consciously strive to break from this role in order to provide care for their family (7). The idea of an involved father has only recently become something to aspire to, where before it was not a social expectation.

When a man’s unemployment problems are chronic-when he is unable or unwilling to find steady employment over many years-he may be viewed and may view himself, as having failed to fulfill a central role in his life (Cherlin 122). The general expectation is for men to be employed while women are expected to care for the children and elderly. Though these social expectation stands, over half of all households in the United States with young children have two employed parents (Hansen 1). A situation like this is when a gender strategy must be employed. Women interpret these cultural notions and strategize to mobilize help from the fathers of...

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