CHAPTER ONE

MARRIAGES AND FAMILIES OVER TIME

 

CHAPTER OUTLINE


  1. CONTEMPORARY DEFINITIONS OF MARRIAGES AND FAMILIES

    Marriages and families are among the oldest human social institutions. They exist in some form in all societies. Many definitions and images of marriages and families are based on the myth of the white middle-class family of husband, wife, and 2.2 children. There are, and always have been, many different forms of marriages and families in both this and other cultures.

    1. What Is Marriage?

      1. Legally, marriage is defined as a contract between a woman and a man who are at or above a specified age and who are not already legally married to someone else.

    2. Types of Marriages.

      1. Monogamous: Involves one person married to a person of the opposite sex. Legally refers to heterosexual relationships but may refer to any exclusive, committed relationship. Monogamy is the only legally recognized marriage structure in the United States.

      2. Serial Monogamy: A more accurate classification of the United States marriage pattern, due to the fact that over half of all marriages end in divorce and over three-fourths of divorced people remarry.

      3. Polygamy: One person of one sex married to several people of the other sex.

      4. Polygyny: One male has several wives (still practiced illegally in some parts of the United States).

      5. Polyandry: One female has several husbands.

      6. Cenogamy (or group marriage): All of the men and women in a group are simultaneously married to each other.

    3. What Is a Family?

      1. United States Bureau of the Census Definition: Two or more persons living together and related by blood, marriage, or adoption.

      2. Broader Definition: Any relatively stable group of people who are related to one another through blood, marriage, or adoption, or who simply live together, and who provide one another with economic and emotional support. Also defined as a group of people who simply define themselves as family based on feelings of love, respect, commitment, and responsibility to and identification with one another. Most Americans define a family as any group of people who love and care for one another.

    4. Types of Families.

      1. Family of Orientation: The family into which a person is born and raised.

      2. Family of Procreation: When we marry or have an intimate relationship with someone or have children.

      3. Nuclear Family: Mother, father, and siblings.

      4. Extended Family: One or both parents, siblings (if any), and other relatives. This type of family is found in both urban and rural areas of the United States.

      5. Modified Extended Family: As above, but where relatives live in close proximity although not necessarily in the same home, interact frequently and provide emotional and/or financial support.

      6. Other Types of Families: Voluntarily child-free families, single-parent families, female or male-headed families, reconstituted (blended- or step-) families, lesbian or gay families.

      7. Patriarchal Families: A family in which the male is the authoritative head of the family. Traditionally, families in the United States have had a patriarchal structure.

    5. Race, Class, and Gender.

      1. Family experiences are shaped by choices that individual members make. However, the options that families have are shaped by the ways in which race, class, and gender are organized.

      2. Historically, some families in the United States have experienced social, political, and economic inequalities as a consequence of their race, ethnicity, ancestry, social class, sex, or gender.

  2. FAMILY FUNCTIONS AND THE DEBATE OVER FAMILY VALUES

    1. Social Functions of Families.

      1. Regulation of Sexual Behavior: Every society is concerned about the sexual behavior of its members, and most societies regulate sexual behavior via the family. There is no known society in which people are free to have sexual relations with whomever they please.

        1. Norms: Cultural guidelines or rules of conduct. Norms vary among societies.

        2. Incest Taboo: All societies prohibit sex between blood or close relatives, however, the set of relatives subject to the taboo varies across societies.

        3. In most societies, sexual relations are linked with marriage.

        4. Sexual behavior is regulated so that it reinforces the social order.

      2. Reproduction: In order to survive, a society must produce new members to replace those who die or move away.

        1. The reproduction function of the family is considered to be so important that many societies try to motivate married couples to have children (in the United States with tax exemptions).

        2. In some countries incentives are given to those who limit reproduction.

      3. Social Placement: When new members are born into society they must be placed within the social structure with a minimum of confusion and in a way that preserves order and stability.

        1. The social structure of society refers to the recurrent, patterned ways that people relate to one another.

        2. Social status is an individual's position in a group or society. It influences almost every aspect of our lives. Being born or raised in a particular family, we automatically inherit membership in certain basic groups (racial, ethnic, class, and nationality).

        3. Roles are a set of behaviors associated with a particular status.

      4. Socialization: A lifetime of social interaction through which people learn those elements of their culture that are essential for effective participation in social life (ways of acting, thinking, feeling). Families are the primary transmitters of culture to each new generation. Today, educators, child-care workers, and the mass media have become important agents of socialization.

      5. Economic Cooperation: Families are responsible for the physical and economic well-being of children and all members of the family.

      6. Care, Protection, and Intimacy: From birth onward, human beings need intimacy, warmth, and affection in addition to the basic necessities of life. Ideally, but not always, families function to provide these needs throughout our lives.

    2. Contrasting Views of Families.

      1. Some people see the loss of family functions as a contributing factor to a variety of social ills that beset modern families. Even the socialization function, which had been a primary function of families, has been largely taken over by an educational system that communicates a set of values and behaviors that may conflict with the realities of some families. Family values and morals are said to be collapsing, as evidenced by the visibility of lesbian and gay lifestyles, the high rate of welfare dependency, the high divorce rate, and the increasing number of children experiencing poverty and neglect. Trends, such as the tendency to delay marriage or not marry at all, and the apparent popularity of extramarital relationships are interpreted as signs of a general disregard for marriage.

      2. On the other side of the debate are those who are equally concerned about the problems of modern families but who view current events and trends in marriage and family life as indicative of the redefinition of marriages and families in the context of changing social, economic, and political circumstances in United States society.

  3. DEBUNKING MYTHS ABOUT MARRIAGES AND FAMILIES

    A myth is a false, fictitious, imaginary, or exaggerated belief about someone or something. Myths are generally assumed to be true and in fact most myths do contain some elements of truth.

    1. Myth 1: The Universal Nuclear Family: While some form of marriage and family is found in all human societies, the idea that there is a universal, or single, marriage and family pattern blinds us to the historical reality of diversity in terms of marriages and families.

    2. Myth 2: The Self-Reliant Traditional Family: Assumes that families were held together by hard work, family loyalty and a fierce determination not to be beholden to anyone, especially the state (charity). In fact, United States families have always depended to some degree on other institutions and networks, churches, neighbors, courts, government officials, legislative bodies, as well as African American slaves and Native Americans.

    3. Myth 3: The Naturalness of Different Spheres for Wives and Husbands: This myth dates to the nineteenth century when economic changes led to the development of separate spheres for women and men. Wives and mothers became caregivers and the moral guardians of the family, while husbands and fathers provided economic support and protection and represented their families to the outside world.

    4. Myth 4: The Unstable African-American Family: Is fueled by racist stereotypes and media exaggerations and distortions that overlook the diversity of African American life. This myth draws on some real trends that affect the African American community. Many sociologists today argue that there is no one family type, and African American families, like other families, should not be viewed as deviant departures from white middle-class forms.

    5. Myth 5: The Idealized Nuclear Family of the 1950s: Consisted of a wise father who worked outside the home; a mother who stayed home to care for husband, children, and home; and well-behaved, obedient children. Compared to the 1990s, the 1950s were characterized by younger age at marriage, higher birth rates, and lower divorce and premarital pregnancy rates. However, those rates represented an all-time high for the United States, and are attributed to reaction to the hardships of the Depression and WWII.

  4. FAMILIES IN EARLY AMERICA

    When the English and Dutch settlers arrived in the early seventeenth century there were already between one and two million people living here, composing more than 240 distinct groups, each with its own history, culture, family, and kinship (people who are related by blood, marriage, adoption or who consider one another family) patterns.

    1. Colonial Families.

      1. Our knowledge of colonial families comes from 1) surviving physical objects such as furniture, tools, and utensils, 2) personal diaries, letters, sermons, literary works, and wills, and 3) census data and other public records.

        1. Household Composition: Early colonial families were nuclear (not extended) family units. They differed in at least three major respects from modern nuclear families: 1) "Servants" (orphans, apprentices, hired laborers, unmarried individuals, and children from other families) often lived and worked as regular members of the household. Sometimes criminals and poor families were placed in households to provide service in return for care and rehabilitation; 2) women, men, and children combined their labor to meet the subsistence needs of the family. The family formed the basic economic unit of the colonial society, and the family was synonymous with whoever lived and worked within the household rather than by blood and marital ties; and 3) the functions of the colonial family and the larger community were deeply intertwined as life was highly regulated and there was little privacy.

        2. Marital Roles: The colonial family was a patriarchy, however, fathers without property came under the rule of the propertied class. The ownership of property gave men considerable power in their family and in the community. Legally, a father could determine who courted and married his daughter. His decision was based largely on economics and/or politics, with an assumption that affection would develop after marriage. Wives were expected to be submissive and obedient, and the wife's legal identity was subsumed in her husband's, giving him the authority to make decisions for her. Single women could own property, enter into contracts, and represent themselves in court. Division of labor was based on sex, however, women often performed traditional male tasks (men rarely performed women's domestic chores). Child rearing was mainly the task of fathers.

        3. Childhood: Death rates among children were very high. Child-rearing practices were designed to break down the willful nature of children. Childhood was short. By age 6 or 7 both boys and girls assumed productive roles - girls were taught domestic skills and assisted their fathers in the fields or in the shops; and boys worked small looms, weeded fields, and learned a craft. At the age of 14, many colonial children from all social classes were "put out" to other families to learn a trade, work as servants or to receive proper discipline.

    2. African American Families Under Slavery.

      Billingsley (1968) stated that three important elements distinguished the experience of African Americans from other groups in the United States: 1) they came from Africa, not Europe; 2) they were brought as slaves; and 3) they were systematically excluded from participation in the major institutions of United States society.

      1. Slave Marriages: Although Southern laws prohibited slaves from contracting legal marriages, some slaveholders allowed their slaves to marry and even provided separate living quarters and household goods for the new couple. Between 1841 and 1860, half of the marriages in South Carolina Episcopal's churches were between slaves.

      2. Childhood: Nineteenth-century census data show that both before and after slavery, most African Americans lived in two parent households.

      3. Extended Kinship Patterns: Gutman (1976) stated that strong kinship feelings among slaves are evident from the naming practices of slave families. Slave children were taught to call all adult slaves "aunt" or "uncle" and younger slaves "sister" and "brother," a practice that created a sense of mutual obligation and responsibility among the broader slave population.

    3. Free African American Families.

      Prior to the Civil War there were approximately 250,000 free African- Americans in the United States (150,000 in the South and 100,000 in the North). They attained their freedom by running away, buying their freedom, or by being freed by slave holders after the American Revolution. Most lived in poverty and in many communities were not allowed to vote, hold public meetings, purchase liquor, marry whites, or attend white churches and schools. Most free African American families were structured around two parent households, but the figures for female-headed households were higher than those for other urban groups. Two factors explain this difference. First, women were more likely to be freed than men, and when they were they could often find jobs in urban areas. Second, life expectancy was low for males. Then, as now, economic factors impacted significantly on family stability.

    4. Slavery's Hidden Legacy: Racial Mixing

      Recent DNA tests performed on the descendants of the families of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings have illuminated a hidden legacy of slavery: the common biological heritage of many whites and African Americans. As more historians trace African American and white families across time, the more likely are we to discover common biological roots. What the DNA tests can't answer, and what is frequently missing from narratives of biological mixing, is the nature of the intimate relationship between the races.

    5. Native-American Families.

      No one description adequately covers all Native-American families. Prior to the European settlement of North America, Native-American peoples were widely dispersed geographically, so they each had different economic systems, styles of housing and kinship systems. Even groups living in the same region were likely to develop different organizational patterns. Among those living in the Southeast, social life centered around the extended family. For many tribes living in the far West the pattern was reversed. The basic economic unit for the Eskimos was either a family composed of a wife, husband and children, or a household with two such families.

    6. Rules of Marriage.

      Varied from one group to another, and although most people practiced monogamy, some were polygamous. Women married early (12-15 years), usually to older males. Some were permitted free choice, others practiced arranged marriages.

    7. Childhood.

      Rules of descent also varied among Native American societies. Some, like the Cheyenne, were patrilineal, whereby property and status came via the father. Others, like the Pueblos, were matrilineal, whereby membership in the group was determined by the mother. Families were generally small, and infant and child mortality were high. Physical punishment was rarely used. Children learned adult skills at an early age.

    8. Consequences of European Contact.

      After contact with Europeans, Native-Americans experienced a sharp increase in mortality rates due to diseases for which they had no natural immunity. Because of ethnocentrism, the belief that one's own culture is superior to others, Europeans denigrated the lifestyles of Native Americans. The introduction of firearms and alcohol and the competition for land led to violent clashes. Many Native-Americans were sent to reservations where their cultural values and practices were systematically undermined.

  5. FAMILIES IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

    New technology brought about the creation of a factory system. The patriarchal preindustrial household no longer functioned as a unit of economic productivity. Work and family became separated, leading to the development of a division of family labor that divided the sexes and generations.

    1. The Emergence of the Good Provider Role: Initially women and children worked in the factories, but later men became the predominant workers in factories, mines, and businesses. According to Jessie Bernard, a specialized male role known as the "good provider role" emerged around 1830. This meant that a man's major contribution to his family was economic and he became, emotionally as well as physically, distant from his family. Status became dependent on the breadwinner's occupation.

    2. The Cult of Domesticity: Women were expected to stay home, have children, and be the moral guardians of the family, and they were mostly excluded from most institutional life outside the family.

    3. Changing Views of Childhood: Childhood came to be seen as a distinct period, a time of innocence and play without adult responsibility.

    4. The Impact of Class and Ethnicity: Working-class families did not embrace the ideal of privacy and separate spheres of a nuclear unit because it was often impossible for males to support their families alone. There was no simple or rigid gender differentiation.

    5. Immigration and Family Life: Between 1830 and 1930, over 30 million immigrants came to the United States. The first to come were from Northern and Western Europe, next came Southern and Eastern Europeans. Economic and political upheaval led to the decision to emigrate. Some immigrants came to the United States alone and planned to return for their families, some planned to send for their families later, and some arrived with families. Almost all sought out families, friends, or neighbors from their native lands who were already settled here. Language barriers, periodic unemployment, housing, low incomes, hostility from native born workers, and a need to have more than one income in order to make ends meet were problems faced by immigrants.

    6. The Economic Roles of Females and Children: Overall, a working-class wife did not work outside the home unless her spouse lost his job. Maintaining a household was a full-time job (growing some food, carrying water and wood for cooking, baking bread, managing finances, etc.). Women did supplement income by taking in boarders, laundry, or sewing. First generation immigrant females did work outside the home and the choice of occupations varied among ethnic groups (Polish women preferred domestic work and Jewish women preferred factory work). Children were employed in factories by the age of 8. Their wages, and those of the women, were much lower than those of the men.

    7. Ethnic and Racial Family Patterns: Racism and discrimination had a profound effect on how work and family roles were constructed. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricted Chinese immigration. Chinese men were used to build railroads, but few Chinese women were allowed into the country. As the Chinese were forbidden to marry whites, most remained bachelors. Some married men sent money home to their families in China, a pattern of maintenance named the "split-household family system." In 1900, approximately 41 percent of black females were in the labor force compared to 16 percent of white females.

    8. Mexican-American Families: A distinctive feature of the Chicano family was the emphasis on familism, "a constellation of values which give overriding importance to the family and the needs of the collective as opposed to individual and personal needs." The primary family unit was nuclear and patriarchal, with a heavy emphasis on extended kinship networks.

      1. Family and Kinship: Madrinos and padrinos (godparents) were carefully chosen from outside the kinship circle to become members of the extended family. They assumed the role of compadres (co-parents).

      2. Marital Roles: Chicano households tended to be large, due to a high fertility rate and to the inclusion of unrelated individuals. There was a rigid division of labor based on gender. Wives had responsibility for domestic chores. Husbands were expected to protect and control their families and perform productive work outside the home - known as machismo.

      3. Signs of Change: When white settlers bought up huge tracts of land in the Southwest and began commercial agriculture production, the displaced Chicanos became a source of cheap labor. This work was seasonal and men migrated in search of other jobs. As a result, their wives became heads of the family. Women joined the work force in order to support their families and that, together with frequent migration, weakened kinship structures and the patriarchal family structure began to erode.

  6. FAMILIES IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY

    Technological innovations led to mass production of goods and the development of large corporations. The demand for child labor declined and school became more important and involved. Young working-class women left domestic service for better jobs in industry and expanding clerical fields, which led to more social contacts. Young adults dated without chaperones. Women began to demand rights, particularly the right to vote.

    1. The Emergence of the Companionate Family.

      A shift toward a more personal and compassionate model for heterosexual relationships based on mutual affection, sexual fulfillment, and sharing of domestic tasks and child rearing occurred. Personal happiness became the primary goal of marriage. Life expectancy increased and contraceptives allowed planned parenthood, and more sexual enjoyment. As more people came to expect companionship and emotional fulfillment in marriage, they also became more willing to terminate an unhappy relationship. In the 1920s and 1930s, some people saw the increase in the divorce rate, the decline in birthrate, the increase in the numbers of unmarried female workers, and the change in sexual behavior as a sign of family disintegration and a breakdown of moral values. Others interpreted the changes as signs of greater freedom of choice.

    2. The Great Depression. In the 1930s, millions of workers were unemployed for periods of one to three years or longer. Some families became homeless and wandered from city to city to find work, food, or shelter. Young adults delayed marriage, couples postponed having children, and the number of desertions increased. All members of the family were affected, but especially the male breadwinner. The government responded by creating a series of social programs, known collectively as the New Deal, to aid distressed workers and their families.

    3. World War II and its Aftermath. Following the Depression, World War II brought numerous changes. Between 1940 and 1946 it is estimated that three million more Americans married than would have been expected to do so. War time disruptions resulted in changes in family roles and functioning, with women taking over the traditional men's jobs in war related industries. Problems emerged when the war ended and the men came home to find independent wives and children who resented attempts to force them back into prewar roles. Divorce rates soared.

    4. New Immigration in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century. After World War II, political and economic turmoil around the world led many other groups to leave their homelands in search of a better life. The frequent discrimination experienced by these newcomers forced many of them to adopt new survival strategies.

    5. Lessons From History: Although families have changed continuously over time, this change has not been in any single direction and each change brings with it gains and losses. There has never been a perfect family form or a model which would work for all families. Families have always had to adapt to economic and social changes, and that is what they are faced with today. The more we understand the impact of these changes on families, the more likely it is that we can develop social policies to assist families to adapt to the changes.

  7. CONTEMPORARY PATTERNS IN MARRIAGES AND FAMILIES

    According to the United States Bureau of the Census, a household is defined as all persons who occupy a housing unit, such as a house, apartment, single room, or other space intended to be living quarters. Between 1970 and 1997, one of the most significant changes was the increase in nonfamily households.

  8. LOOKING AHEAD: MARRIAGES AND FAMILIES IN THE FUTURE

    Between 1970 and 1990, traditional families--married couples with children--declined from 50 percent to 37 percent of all families, and single-parent families doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent. Family composition began to stabilize in the 1990s, but the concerns that many people raised about the viability and future of families remain on the public agenda. Much of the debate centers on questions regarding the form that families should take.

  9. THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION

    In 1959, C. Wright Mills wrote about the sociological imagination. He described how, in this world of rapid change, ordinary people often feel overwhelmed by events confronting them, feeling that their private lives are a series of traps over which they have little control. Cherished values are being undermined and replaced with ambiguity and uncertainty. He felt that we must view our lives within the context of our historical period and a "sociological imagination." In order to do this we must ask three questions: 1) What is the structure of a particular society and how does it differ from other varieties of social order? 2) Where does this society stand in human history, and what are its essential features? and 3) What varieties of women and men live in this society and in this period, and what is happening to them? The sociological imagination allows us to distinguish between "personal troubles of milieu" and "public issues of social structural."

  10. WRITING YOUR OWN SCRIPT

    Writing your own script is simply an exercise that utilizes an everyday-life approach to the study of marriages and families, encouraging direct involvement in the learning process by using personal experiences.

 

LEARNING OBJECTIVES


After reading Chapter One, students should be able to:

  1. understand contemporary definitions of marriage and families.

  2. define marriages and discuss the various types of marriage.

  3. define family and discuss the types of family.

  4. describe how family life is shaped by race, class, and gender.

  5. identify the social functions of families, including regulation of sexual behavior, reproduction, social placement, socialization, economic cooperation, and care, protection, and intimacy.

  6. discuss the contrasting view of families.

  7. list and discuss the five popular myths about family life.

  8. describe families in early America, to include life in colonial times, as an African American slave, as a free African American, and as a Native-American.

  9. discuss the major changes which occurred in the United States at the beginning of the nineteenth century and their effects on family life.

  10. identify the changes in marriages and families which were brought about by the Depression, World War II, and its aftermath.

  11. understand contemporary patterns in marriages and families.

  12. utilize the sociological imagination.

  13. understand the concept of "writing your own script."

 

KEY TERMS


institution
marriage
monogamy
serial monogamy
polygamy
polygyny
polyandry
cenogamy (group marriage)
family
family of orientation
family of procreation
nuclear family
extended multigenerational family
modified extended family
patriarchal family
norms
social structure
status
role
socialization
myth
institutional racism
kinship
patrilineal
matrilineal
households
sociological imagination

 

TEACHING SUGGESTIONS/DISCUSSION QUESTIONS/CLASS EXERCISES


  1. The text points out that academic definitions of the family are broadening to include the growing number of nontraditional families. Ask your students to think about what THE family means to them. Pose the question, "What is required to have a family?" Must people be legally related in order to constitute a family? Do families have to include children? By encouraging class discussion along these lines, your students should come to appreciate the many different conceptions of the family in modern society.

  2. In the spirit of our increasingly "cybernetic" society, Sara C. Hare has devised an interesting strategy for using electronic mail to develop a more complete cross-cultural understanding of families ("Using E-Mail to Promote Cross-Cultural Understanding of Families," Teaching Sociology, 27, 1999: 67-73). Hare's method consists of matching students with international students on campus who have signed up for an email "pen pal." The students are then encouraged to describe their families of origin and provide an "insider's" view of their experiences with family life. The instructor receives a copy of each message in order to monitor the exercise. Hare points out that students are more likely to be candid using e-mail than they would be in a conventional class discussion. The results of these communications can be shared with the class, anonymously, of course.

  3. Our lives are often shaped by statuses beyond our control. Sometimes our options are widened and sometimes they are limited due to the social category in which we may have been placed. Ask the members of the class to discuss any times when race, class, or gender have had an impact, positive or negative, on their lives.

  4. Monogamy is the only legally recognized marriage structure in the United States, although a few religious groups still practice polygamy. Ask the class for their opinions on the relevancy of monogamy in society today. Would any members of the class be interested in living in any of the other types of marriages discussed in this chapter (polygyny, polyandry, cenogamy)? Expect some jocularity from some students at first, but if someone wants two or three spouses, ask him/her to consider the practical aspects of such relationships.

  5. The text makes it clear that one of the acknowledged functions of marriage and family is the provision of intimacy. Sociologists have observed that this function of family has become even more important in modern society than it was in the past, while the other functions have been "replaced" by other social institutions. Have your students address the question of why the emotional support function has become more important in contemporary society.

  6. Discuss how external institutions like the police, fire departments, schools, church schools and day camps, and nursing homes have taken over in place of family in performing social functions. Have your students consider how these changes have altered the character and quality of intrafamily relationships -- e.g., families are together less due to outside activities, fast food, television, etc.

  7. Students who have never studied marriage and the family are likely to view kinship in terms of consanguineal and legal relationships, rather than as sociologically significant relationships. You can enhance students' understanding of kinship by emphasizing that consanguineal ties are usually created through legal arrangements (principally marriage). The concept of "fictive kin" ("She's like a sister to me"; "Uncle Harry," etc.) can be employed to advantage in illustrating how the most important dimension of kinship lies in the importance that we assign to such arrangements.

  8. Schwartz and Scott make the classic distinction between families of orientation and families of procreation. This presents an excellent opportunity to illustrate how rapid social change can affect the viability of such concepts: Men and women who elect to remain single may never have families of procreation; in fact, we could even say that married couples who elect to remain childless technically fail to qualify for this title. Ask your students whether this means that these people's lives are devoid of "family" with the exception of their experiences in their families of orientation? If such non-family-of-orientation associations do, indeed, reflect family relationships, what should sociologists call them?

  9. The text presents a list of myths about family life and their potential dangers. This topic is fertile ground for class discussion and you should have little difficulty engaging your students in discussion about the various myths that surround marriage and family. Ask them to list their three favorite television shows (not counting sports or shows that would not include a portrayal of marriages or families). Second, tell them to make note of how family issues are portrayed in these shows. Ask them to vocalize how their own families are similar to or different from what they see on television. Finally, pose the question: "How do television images contribute to myths about the family?" You may also wish to provide some history about previous television programs that contributed to various myths about the family during their periods of popularity: Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, The Cosby Show, Three's Company, Married With Children, etc.

  10. Divide your class into two groups; have one group take the "optimistic" perspective and the other the "pessimistic" perspective, as discussed in the text. Each group should discuss the components of the perspective in detail and then make a brief, joint presentation to the entire class about that approach.

  11. Encourage your students to think about how the traditional and stereotypic image of family life in history is still romanticized in the media today (Coontz: The Way We Never Were). Have them give examples of how Americans are led to regard early family life as "better." Then, have them contrast this "classical family of Western nostalgia" with reality.

  12. It is generally recognized that a spirit of "familism" prevailed in the colonial period and continued up until the industrial revolution, where individual decisions were based upon the family's welfare. This trend was replaced with a spirit of "individualism," where young people began to make decisions based upon their own self-interest (e.g., career choice, whether to marry or not, etc.). Encourage your students to think about how their lives would be affected if certain personal decisions that they have made recently were based upon how these choices would directly affect their families.

  13. Schwartz and Scott's description of the colonial family will strike most students as humorous, especially in terms of the prescriptions concerning sexuality and the "proper" relationships between children and their parents. In devil's advocate fashion, encourage your students to think about whether any of these prescriptions have value; whether the absence of these principles today may help to explain some of our social problems. For example, does the current high divorce rate have anything to do with how modern Americans are raised to have very high expectations? Or, do modern children have sufficient respect for their elders? Or, if norms surrounding premarital sex were adhered to more strictly, would we have the same teen pregnancy problem in our society?

  14. Discuss the "sociological imagination" in terms of childhood socialization. For instance, there are individual differences as to how and when children learn various skills, values, etc., but because they live in a certain culture and time they will almost all learn the same skills, values, etc.

 

FILMS AND VIDEOS


Family, 1996, 52 min. (Films for the Humanities and Sciences). In the animal world, as in our own, the family unit and social structure are crucial to survival. Animal alliances are as important for caring and sharing as for hunting and killing. Like animals, humans depend on social groups, including the family. By comparing human relationships with perceived animal parallels, this program offers an interesting insight into our shared world.

 

Straight Talk with Derek McGinty: The American Family, 1994, 60 min. (PBS Video). In this presentation, a panel of distinguished experts and moderator Derek McGinty explore some fundamental questions about families: What is a "family?" What type of family is best for children? What role should government play in helping families? Among the panelists are sociologists David Popenoe and Arlene Skolnick.

 

Families, 1993, 60 min. (Insight Media). This presentation looks at families in the context of culture and political economy, examining gender issues and how changes in social policies and practices affect women's roles in the family. The program is "well matched" to the perspective taken in the text.

 

Values and the Traditional Family, 1994, 15 min. (Insight Media). Historian Stephanie Coontz is interviewed about her contention that the idealized "traditional" family never existed, arguing that families have always been diverse and fragile. Again, this program fits well with the text's perspective.

 

A Family To Me, 1986, 28 min. (New Day Films). Less than 7 percent of American families fit the description: "Dad works, Mom stays home, there are two children." This film moves beyond this stereotype to unveil positive and realistic portrayals of four unique families: two brothers who discovered new identities as househusbands, a black single parent and her philosophy of child rearing and being on her own, a lesbian couple and their experiences mothering twin boys, and a divorced couple, each of whom has created a joint custody arrangement congruent with their Jewish values.

 

Families Matter, 1993, 60 min. (Films for the Humanities and Sciences). This program with Bill Moyers examines why America has become an unfriendly culture for families and children and explores ways to rebuild a web of support for families. A panel of expert commentators discuss some of the practical steps needed to create a more hospitable social climate for families.

 

The Changing Family and Its Implications, 1994, 50 min. (Films for the Humanities and Sciences). In this program, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton turns his attention to the problems and challenges of working parents, expressing concern about the way the marketplace is treating families. Brazelton believes that something precious is being compromised. Along with host Bill Moyers, Brazelton discusses the changing American family and its implications for the future.

 

On Values: Family in America, 1994, 60 min. (Films for the Humanities and Sciences). This program examines the cultural forces at work on the family, the changing structure of families in America today and its consequences for our children.

 

"The Family" Phil Donahue's THE HUMAN ANIMAL, 1987, 52 min. (Films for the Humanities and Sciences). In the late 1980s, less than five percent of American households fit the profile of the traditional nuclear family, and broken homes, battered wives, estranged children, corporate nomads, and the like, are commonplace. In this segment of a popular series, Phil Donahue explores the many social changes that have affected the institution of the family.

 

Race and Ethnicity, 1991, 30 min. (Insight Media). This program defines minority groups sociologically, and explains the significance of race, racism, and ethnicity. Using historical and current examples, the presentation differentiates between prejudice, discrimination, and racism, and explores their effects. Various theories of race and ethnic inequality are presented.

 

Race: The World's Most Dangerous Myth, 1992, 60 min. (RMI Media Productions). The concept of race is examined from a scientific and cultural perspective; includes commentary by psychologists and sociologists from the University of Illinois and Western Illinois University.

 

Throwaway People, 1990, 60 min. (PBS Video). Frontline investigates the economic and social roots of the black underclass, focusing on the struggles of young black men in the Shaw district of Washington, D.C.

 

The Color Purple, 1985, 154 min. (rental video). Based on the novel by Alice Walker, this film looks at the life of a black woman whose inner strength and spirit help her overcome the oppression and obstacles that limit her life. The film can stimulate discussion on interfamily relationships in poor families, the relationship between blacks and whites in the south over the decades, and the ways in which individuals cope with adversity and racial discrimination.

 

Two Families: African and American, 1973, 22 min. (Comparative Cultures and Geography Series [LCA]). Depicts two family structures--one in Central West Africa and one in New York City--exploring the differences between them. This film includes an insightful analysis of future implications of extended family organization in comparison to the nuclear family.

 

Family Ties, 1982, 58 min. (VATV, Kufic Films, Landmark Films). This film focuses on the changing of women in Arab societies. Historically, Arab women were the center of domestic family life and were not educated. As Arab women are becoming educated and working outside of the home, the large, extended family in Arab societies has begun to change. The film considers different views of the traditional role of wives and mothers in the family, and helps the viewer to understand how family structure varies from society to society.

 

Are You A Racist?, 1985, 49 min. (U. of Minnesota Films and Video). Depicts an "experiment" in which eight volunteers are sequestered in an isolated house, where they share each other's company and explore the issue of racism by talking together about their own feelings and experiences.

 

Kids And Race: Working It Out, 1987, 52 min. (Films for the Humanities and Sciences). This program depicts a weekend encounter group in which nine young people of varied backgrounds explore painful and poignant feelings about stereotypes and prejudice.

 

The Vanishing Family: Crisis In Black America, 1986, 60 min. (CBS; CARSL). Narrated by Bill Moyers, this film is an investigation of the black family in America today, in which 60 percent of the children are growing up without their fathers. Explores some very basic race and ethnic relations issues.

 

Racism in America, 1985, 26 min. (Currents Television Programs, Jane Petroff, FFH). Discusses the state of racism in America. Examines the resurgence of racial violence and vandalism; the reasons why people vent anger against minorities; the social and economic implications of racist acts; and how communities can respond to racial problems.

 

Salt of the Earth, 1987, 94 min. (Independent Productions; MPI Home Video). A semidocumentary of the year-long struggle by Mexican-American zinc miners in New Mexico. When an injunction is issued against the workers, the wives take up the battle with a fury, leaving the husbands to care for home and children.

 

The American Experience: Becoming an American, 1975, 23 min. (Forum Productions; CBS, Inc.; BFA). Presents the experiences of an Italian-American, Chinese-American, and Mexican-American family, and illustrates the process of assimilation and change which immigrants face in becoming members of American society.

 

The Immigrant Experience: The Long, Long Journey, 1972, 28 min. (LCA). The problems and dreams of new immigrants coming to America are dramatized through this story of one turn-of-the-century Polish family. Through the eyes of the youngest boy in the family, the saga of his uprooted parents, grandmother, and sister is presented as contemporary history.

 

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