The Emergence of the Democratic Brazilian Middle-Class Family: A Mosaic of Contrasts with the American Family (1960-1994)

By Westfried, Alex Huxley | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

The Emergence of the Democratic Brazilian Middle-Class Family: A Mosaic of Contrasts with the American Family (1960-1994)


Westfried, Alex Huxley, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


The primary purpose of this paper is to show the process of the democratization of the family in Brazil, which has occurred in a rather short time (1960 to 1995), and to compare it with the same development in the American family, focusing on key issues. In both countries a democratic family can be described in its simplest form as a growing egalitarian relationship. However, as this paper will show, this relationship is manifested in different ways in each country.

Considering that the American nuclear family has undergone many changes in the last 25 years, particularly changes in structure (i.e. single-parent families, step-parenting families and homosexual families), and in the nature of marital relations, it is not possible to do a detailed comparison in the space allowed. Therefore, major differences with the Brazilian family have been carefully selected and discussed.

In both cases the written documentation comes through Brazilian and American authorities on the family in a variety of disciplines: sociology, psychology with reference to female/male sexual relations,-anthropology, authorities on issues like feminism, specialists on family problems and political science. The limited length of this article requires that far more attention be given to Brazilian aspects than to American society.

In the case of Brazil there is a very close relationship between the emergence of the democratic family and the recent - since 1960 o development of a new generation of emancipated and independent women. For this reason it was necessary to study carefully the empowerment of women in every aspect of Brazilian society, and to review statistical data (from an outside source) on this phenomenon along with qualitative data on the lives of Brazilian women that would reflect in substantial detail how female/male relations have changed, and simultaneously how family relations have evolved.

This is not a scientific project, but statistics were used, especially in the case of Bernard Rosen and Mita La Raia who in 1971 conducted a study on modernization in five cities and communities in South Central Brazil. This study documented how women in middle - class families were now involved in family decision-making, and were independent in their thinking, as the result of Brazilian industrialization and by their gaining economic power as professional women.

The evolution of the Brazilian family, its historical ideology, and the major changes in the roles of women - from being fixed and rigid to being flexible and open - are best evaluated by Servulo Figueira 1986. Nicolaci da-Costa (1985) and Maria da Cunha (1988) have also made important observations in this area.

Changes in female sexuality and changes in attitudes toward marriage and male/female relations were carefully evaluated by Rose Marie Muraro in her study of female sexuality in Rio de Janeiro (1983. See Family Theory).

The special problems of husband / wife sexual relations are examined very thoroughly by Carmine Martuscello (1992).

There are additional documents on Brazil which are presented under the topic of family theory. The above only serve to illustrate some of the documentation used. The criterion for selection of documents is that they give an excellent explanation for the major changes in Brazilian society (i.e., the emergence of family democracy).

The research design of the comparison of American and Brazilian families takes into account cultural values and meanings as well as personal understandings.

Brazil, even more than the United States, has valorized "an exciting masculinity which in the past led girls and women to idealize men and devalue women" (Chodorow 1995:539).

Chodorow (1995:540) has suggested that gender is "an emotional creation, an intrapsychic interpretation of cultural meanings, of bodily, emotional and self other experiences... entangled with imagery of particular families and particular cultural contexts. …

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