This chapter describes the current trends toward greater gender equality in couple relationships, what keeps old patterns of gendered power alive, and why equality is so important for successful relationships. Relationship vignettes like the ones just described are common. Sharing family and outside work more equitably is only part of the gender-equality story. Gender ideologies are replicated in the way men and women communicate with each other and influence the kind of emotional and relational symptoms men and women present in therapy. Stereotypic gender patterns and power differences between partners work against the shared worlds and egalitarian ideals that women and men increasingly seek. The concept of relationship equality rests on the ideology of equality articulated in philosophical, legal, psychological, and social standards present today in American and world cultures. The four dimensions of the relationship equality model are relative status, attention to the other, accommodation patterns, and well-being.
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This chapter explores the relationship between gender and power. Gendered power in couple relationships arises from a social context that has given men power over women for centuries. When practitioners fail to take account of social context, however, they may run the risk of inadvertently pathologizing clients for legitimate responses to oppressive experiences. The term gender is a socially created concept that consists of expectations, characteristics, and behaviors that members of a culture consider appropriate for males or females. Consequently, an individual’s ideas about gender may feel deeply personal even though they are a product of social relationships and structures. Strong social forces work to keep social power structures, including gender inequality, in place. The continued presence of gendered power structures in economic, social, and political institutions still limits how far many couples can move toward equality. Today, ideals of equality compete with the institutional practices that maintain gender inequality.
This chapter examines the cultural and relational contexts of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a debilitating, multidimensional mental health problem that affects 10"-15” of new mothers and has serious consequences for women, children, families, and marriages. Although women’s experience of postpartum depression has been the subject of considerable recent study, nearly all of this work has been interpreted within a medical or psychological frame. The chapter looks at a social constructionist lens to this body of research through a meta-data-analysis of recent qualitative studies of PPD. Though hormonal changes as a result of childbirth are related to depressive symptoms after childbirth, biological explanations alone cannot explain postpartum depression. A social constructionist approach to postpartum depression focuses on how the condition arises in the context of ongoing interpersonal and societal interaction. Climbing out of postpartum depression is an interpersonal experience that requires reconnection with others.
This chapter explains a set of guidelines to help mental health professionals and clients move away from the gender stereotypes that perpetuate inequality and illness. Identifying dominance requires conscious awareness and understanding of how gender mediates between mental health and relationship issues. An understanding of what limits equality is significantly increased when we examine how gendered power plays out in a particular relationship and consider how it intersects with other social positions such as socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. To contextualize emotion, the therapist draws on knowledge of societal and cultural patterns, such as gendered power structures and ideals for masculinity and femininity that touch all people’s lives in a particular society. Therapists who seek to support women and men equally take an active position that allows the non-neutral aspects of gendered lives to become visible.
This chapter provides insight into the dilemmas couples face when ideals of equality intersect with societal structures that maintain gendered power. It examines how Iranian couples construct gender and negotiate power within their culture, political structure, and Islamic values. Gender equality may express itself differently in a culture such as Iran that not only emphasizes collective goals and achievements, strong feelings of interdependence, and social harmony. Collectivism typically maintains social order through a gender hierarchy. Contemporary Iranian couples draw from diverse cultural legacies. Although some couples seemed to accept the traditional gender hierarchy and a few others appeared to manage relatively equally within it, other couples were quite aware of gendered-power issues and attempted to address them in their personal lives. Some couples describe trying to maintain an equal relationship in their personal lives despite men’s greater legal authority.
This chapter examines how 12 White, middle-class couples negotiated the issue of equality in their relationships during their first year of marriage. The social context both supports and inhibits the development of marital equality. To be included in the present study, complete transcripts with both the husband and wife present had to be available, both members of the couple had to express ideals of gender equality, and both had to express commitment to careers for wives as well as husbands. Most of the couples classified as creating a myth of equality, spoke as though their relationships were equal but described unequal relationship conditions. The other couples classified in the myth-of-equality category described similar contradictions between their ideals of gender equality and their behavior. Gender-equality issues raise political and ethical concerns for all of us who are family practitioners and teachers.
This chapter demonstrates how transforming gendered power helps couples experience new, more egalitarian possibilities that support the well-being of each partner. Although gender equality is seldom the only important issue in couple therapy, it can be a fundamental basis from which other change can be mobilized. The chapter explores the essential elements of mutually supportive relationships and shows how unequal power derails them. It focuses on an in-depth case example to illustrate how gendered power differences can damage the emotional foundation of intimate relationships. Gendered power differences come into couple relationships in very subtle ways. Both women and men may fear that expressing aspects of self not consistent with gender stereotypes may be unacceptable and result in not being loved. Cultural gender expectations have left many men without good relationship skills. Stepping beyond gender stereotypes can make both partners feel uncomfortable.
This chapter presents a framework from which to assess how individuals approach relationships based on power, gender, and the social context. It addresses how to conceptualize individuals in terms of their orientations to relationship. Four relational orientations are described: position directed, rule directed, individuality directed, and relationship directed. Relational orientations are internal ways of experiencing oneself in relation to others. Relational Assessment demonstrates how relational orientations are context-specific and also shows that it can be valuable to help clients distinguish between their preferred orientations and what may actually be happening. The Contextual framework can also help family therapists keep relationships central and bridge the gap between individual and systems/relational assessments. The framework raises issues regarding our ethical responsibility when gender and power push relationships out of balance. Another set of ethical concerns involves who does the assessment and who sets the clinical goals.
This chapter examines how emotions related to romantic attraction evolve out of specific cultural discourses about gender differences, male dominance, individuality, and equal partnership. It explores cultural discourses in the attraction stories as told by young heterosexual couples in Orange County, California. Attraction lies within cultural discourses of gender difference in which men are attracted to women who fit feminine stereotypes, and women are drawn to “masculine” men who provide strength and security. Discourses of gender create circumstances in which women and men are attracted by complementary gender discourses. When couples organize their attraction experience around the gender-difference discourse, they see their partners as essentially different from themselves. The couple does not recognize or attend to implicit power differences in what they consider natural gender behavior. Practitioners will need research on and models of equality to guide them as they work with couples whose goals include mutual well-being.
Qualitative methods help researchers examine the nuances and complexities in relationship processes. In developing grounded theory, researchers are able to explore the systemic interactions between partners and identify and explain variations in the ways in which couples respond to each other and to the larger society. Grounded theory researchers begin with sensitivity to the research topic, but start with no predetermined hypotheses. Using gender equality as a sensitizing lens provides a framework through which to address this question, helps explain the meaning and nuance underneath the surface of couple interaction, and helps us explore the link between what couples do in their lives together and the larger social context. The lens of gender equality that we bring to our studies of couple life involves the four interrelated aspects of relationships such as relative status, attention to the other, accommodation patterns, and well-being.