Book Reviews -- Women and Families: Feminist Reconstructions by Kristine M. Baber and Katherine R. Allen

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New York: Guilford. 276 pp. Hardcover ISBN 0-89862-082-1, price $40.00.

The most exciting aspect of Baber and Allen's book is that they go beyond describing the reality of women in families in the 1990s to challenging themselves and their audience to envision what families "could be." Using a postmodern feminist perspective to guide their thinking, the authors address aspects of women's intimate relationships, sexuality, reproduction, caregiving, work, and power, both within the family and in society. They reconstruct the meaning of these dimensions in women's lives while placing the needs and rights of women at the forefront of their analysis.

This book makes a number of significant contributions to the family literature. By acknowledging that there is no monolithic "women's experience," the authors direct us to examine the multiple experiences of women in families as they differ for lesbians and heterosexuals, for women of color, and for women of different social classes. For example, the politics of reproduction both within the family and in society at large differ dramatically for married women and for lesbian couples. For the former group, family preservation and motherhood reigns supreme, whereas lesbian mothers often face the societal threat of having their children taken away. Baber and Allen repeatedly demonstrate the ways in which women's experiences within families are often a function of the values and rules handed down by a patriarchal society.

I found the chapter on "Women and Caregiving" to be the most compelling in the book because it examines the contradictions inherent in women's caregiving, an activity that is "both tension filled and pleasure giving." They question the myth of women's biological disposition to care for children and elderly parents, and in so doing, they point to ways that caregiving has been used to keep women in subordinate positions in families. However, Baber and Allen push us to think beyond "what is" and "what has been" to imagine "what can be. …