Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Conducting Multiracial Feminist Family Research: Challenges and Rewards of Recruiting a Diverse Sample

Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Conducting Multiracial Feminist Family Research: Challenges and Rewards of Recruiting a Diverse Sample

Article excerpt

In order to fully understand families, sociologists must place race, class, gender, and sexuality at the center of their research. My graduate training in sociology guided me toward a feminist analysis of the intersections of race, class, and gender--what Baca Zinn and Dill (1996) referred to as "multiracial feminism." Multiracial feminism is a social structural and social constructionist approach that "challenge[s] the hegemony of feminisms constructed primarily around the lives of white middle-class women" (Baca Zinn & Dill, 1996, p. 323). Rather than thinking about women as a cohesive group, multiracial feminism places difference at the center of its analysis to examine how women are dissimilar from one another based on race and class. Just as feminists critique non-feminists for marginalizing women, multiracial feminism critiques earlier feminisms for making invisible and distorting the lives of women of color (Baca Zinn & Dill, 1996).

Many sociologists agree that theory drives method (Deem, 2002; Harding, 1991; Thompson, 1992). A commitment to multiracial feminism, therefore, suggests that researchers must conduct studies focusing on how people's experiences differ based on their specific race, class, gender, and sexual locations. For this study, I researched the lesbian baby boom (Lewin, 1993; O'Sullivan, 1995; Weston, 1991), focusing on lesbians' decisions to become mothers or remain childfree. The lesbian baby boom has been forming over the past 20 to 30 years. It started with women who became mothers within heterosexual identities and then later identified as lesbians, a group that I refer to as first-generation lesbian mothers. More recently, there has been an increase in second-generation lesbian mothers, that is, lesbians within their identities as lesbians who have been choosing motherhood by adopting, birthing children, and becoming foster parents (Lewin 1993; Silber 1991). At the turn of the millennium, an estimated 22 percent of partnered lesbians had children in their homes (Black, Gates, Sanders, & Taylor 2000). Furthermore, somewhere between 780,000 and 9 million children live in lesbian and gay families (Stacey & Biblarz 2001).

While lesbians have been forming families both with and without children over the past 20 to 30 years, they have been doing so within a rocky and often contradictory social and cultural climate. Despite this trend, the few studies conducted on children of lesbian families show that these children are at least as "normal" and "healthy" as children raised in heterosexual families (Stacey & Biblarz, 2001). Children of lesbians show no more psychotic disorders, anxiety levels, depression, emotional, or behavioral problems than those raised in heterosexual families. Furthermore, children of lesbian parents have the same quality of peer relationships as children of heterosexual parents (Golombok & Tasker, 1997; Mooney-Somers & Golombok, 2000; Patterson, 1996; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001).

Because much of the literature on lesbian families to date has focused on lesbian mothers from White, middle-class backgrounds (Demo & Allen, 1996; Morningstar, 1999), one of my major research questions was how race, class, gender, and sexuality shape lesbians' decision-making processes. Based on these research questions, my study required that I recruit a diverse sample of lesbians.

Although there are existing debates as to whether or not there is a feminist methodology (e.g., Allen, 2004; Baber, 2004; Chafetz, 2004; Gorelick, 1991; Stacey, 1988, Thompson, 1992), I take the position that feminist methodology does exist. In this article, I discuss the importance of conducting feminist family research guided by multiracial feminism and describe the challenges, ways of surmounting those challenges, and rewards of recruiting a diverse sample. My premise is that despite the difficulties of recruiting a diverse sample, the rich findings such a sample produces makes the recruiting effort worthwhile because it expands our understanding of families. …

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