This chapter explores how gender equality is related to the relationship processes that construct two different models of motherhood. It examines how the experiences and meanings of motherhood are created and maintained within the context of ongoing interactions among mothers, fathers, and children. The idea of “mother” was frequently raised by both women and men in interviews in the Contemporary Couples Study (CCS), even though interview questions did not specifically ask about motherhood. Mothering is inextricably linked with ideas of femininity and gender which vary across history and cultures. Our goal was to accurately understand how our interviewees viewed mothering and to identify the interpersonal processes that account for variations in meanings as they relate to gender equality in couple relationships. Traditional couples consciously believe that mothering young children is a gendered talent and deliberately divide family responsibilities following the model of separate-sphere parenting.
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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.
Risman posits a tension between an individual’s interest in relationship equality and a social system still imbued with gender expectations and assumptions. Given the growing evidence that equality enhances relationship satisfaction and stability, the author’s are interested in what processes or situations help couples move in the direction of greater equality. Couples vary widely in the extent to which gender is central to their family organization, but three fairly distinct patterns emerge: postgender, gender legacy, and traditional. The institutional tensions between gender hierarchy and the ideal of marital equality described in the scholarly literature on family are articulated frequently by couples. Three factors stimulate a move toward equality in couples are awareness of gender issues, dual commitments to family and work, and situational pressures. Traditional couples need help in defining the meaning of relational equality for themselves within external definitions of male and female roles.
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.
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.