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Beyond Separate Spheres: Feminism and Family Research

Myra Marx Ferree
Journal of Marriage and Family
Vol. 52, No. 4, Family Research in the 1980s: The Decade in Review (Nov., 1990), pp. 866-884
DOI: 10.2307/353307
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/353307
Page Count: 19
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Beyond Separate Spheres: Feminism and Family Research
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Abstract

Feminist scholars continue to stress that families are neither separate from wider systems of male domination nor automatically solidary and altruistic in their own right. However, feminist explanations of how families operate and contribute to maintaining women's subordination have shifted in the past decade from those that emphasize sex roles and socialization to those that describe processes of categorization and stratification by gender. This latter approach, called gender theory, is the central concern of this review. In the first portion of the essay, the premises of sex role theory and of gender theory are described and contrasted, and the uses of gender theory for understanding a variety of family roles are outlined. In the second section, the focus shifts to the ways that families operate to construct gender through the symbolic and structural dimensions of labor, both paid and unpaid, and through the control over income within the family. Gender models move theorizing about families away from the emphasis on dichotomies such as public or private, love or money, traditional or modern, and toward recognition of the diverse and contested nature of gender conventions both today and in the past. Rather than positing two opposite, comprehensive, consistent, and exclusive "sex roles," the new feminist theory identifies a variety of actively gendered roles that link families with other social institutions, offer rewards and costs to both women and men, and are both controversial and internally contradictory.

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