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'Gender relations are the axis around which family life is organized.' Why might the perspectives of social psychology / sociology and psychoanalysis interpret this statement in different ways?

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Introduction

'Gender relations are the axis around which family life is organized.' Why might the perspectives of social psychology / sociology and psychoanalysis interpret this statement in different ways? Whilst gender relations are fundamental to any understanding of family life, this essay will focus on the perspectives alluded to in the question, those of social psychology/ sociology and psychoanalysis. However, it must be noted that within each perspective there are a number of theories, each with differing views on the topics of gender and gender relations. For purposes of clarity and concision, this argument will focus on particular aspects of these perspectives, namely role theory and object relations theory, although where appropriate, other aspects within the social psychological/sociological and psychoanalytic accounts will be examined. It must also be noted that the essay will assume that the 'family' includes parents and children, since '...in common sense ideology, the transition to parenthood is seen...as the moment when new families are created.' (Wetherell, 1997, p.214) It will become clear that while each perspective does indeed view gender relations as pivotal to the process of the creation and maintenance of family life, each stems from very different understandings as to how gender relations are constituted. ...read more.

Middle

Indeed, many feminists condemn this role as particularly oppressive for women, since it is characterised by repetition and isolation. In contrast, a study by Russell (1983) found that the role of 'father' gives men several models, ranging from 'distant' to 'highly involved', all of which are accepted modes of behaviour in fathering. Despite the unequal power relations within the family, its popularity is seen by some as evidence that many women derive enjoyment from their roles within it. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, feminists point to the constraints of social scripts, and the fact that many people have internalized the beliefs and values of the predominant ideologies to such a degree, that alternative ways of organizing gender relations are simply not considered (Wetherell, 1997). To summarize, the social/psychological perspective involves claims that gender relations within families reflect those of the wider social structure. This then effectively subordinates women through their inferior position within the sexual division of labour, which in turn constructs differential gender roles. Although this approach is useful in identifying connections between the family and the social world, and sheds some light on why power relations within families seem inherently unequal, it has been criticized in that it fails to deal effectively with the ethnic and cultural diversity prevalent in society. ...read more.

Conclusion

As Spelman (1988) argues '...do families have no racial or class or ethnic identity?'. In more recent work, Chodorow acknowledges this criticism, suggesting that whilst the form of the human mind is as psychoanalysis claims, the content is likely to vary with culture. However, this criticism is not unique to psychoanalysis, since both approaches tend towards assuming commonality, perceiving social groups to be homogeneous in their experiences and beliefs. This aside, it would seem, given the critiques of both the social/psychological and the psychoanalytic approaches, that although both acknowledge the importance of gender and gender relations to family life, it would be beneficial to consider aspects of both perspectives to gain a fuller understanding. It is true that families, whatever their form, both reflect and help to maintain the social order. Indeed, the Freudian concept of the unconscious, created through repression must inevitably be the product of culture, since what is repressed is taboo, and taboos are social phenomena. As Goldner et al (1990) argue the construction of gender is not simply a psychological process, nor merely a product of society, it is '...a universal principle of cultural life...' incorporated within both the individual psyche and the ideologies of society. ...read more.

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