Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Men's Orientation toward Marriage and Family Roles

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Men's Orientation toward Marriage and Family Roles

Article excerpt

Given the visibility of the change in women's roles, especially in terms of labour force participation, many studies of gender-roles orientation focus exclusively on women, or on how women and men differ. Less attention is paid to the diversity among men and the determinants of men's gender-role orientation. Gerson (1993) argues that the assumption of homogeneity among men effectively reinforces the stereotypical notions of the "typical man."

The purpose of this paper is to identify differing types of male orientations toward marriage and family, along with the similarities and differences across these alternative orientations. The content of these orientations is taken from open ended questions that asked respondents to elaborate their views on a range of questions related to marriage, childbearing and families. The interviews specifically sought to have people explicate the rationale underlying a given view or attitude.

We can start with the theoretical notion that in most cultures gender is a schema that organizes and guides salient aspects of an individual's perception (Lipsitz Bem, 1995: 8388). This schema, or network of associations, imposes structure and meaning onto a vast array of incoming stimuli. Stated differently, gender is a salient organizing construct despite the existence of other dimensions that could serve equally well to organize and guide perceptions. A gender schema therefore spontaneously sorts attributes and behaviours into masculine and feminine categories or "equivalence classes", regardless of their differences on a variety of dimensions unrelated to gender.

Gender schema theory therefore proposes that gender-role orientations are largely derived from gender-schematic processing; that is, from an individual's readiness to process information on the basis of the sex-linked associations that constitute the gender schema. The gender schema further becomes an internalized motivational factor that prompts an individual to regulate his or her behaviour so that it conforms to cultural definitions of femaleness and maleness.

The transformation of a given social category into the core of a cognitive schema is seen to be dependent upon two factors: that the ideology and/or the practices of the culture construct an association between that category and a wide range of other attributes, behaviours, concepts and categories; and that the social context assigns the category broad functional significance. That is, the culture's insistence on the importance of the social category transforms a passive network of associations into an active schema for interpreting reality (Lipsitz Bem, 1995: 90-91). The theory also proposes that individuals are not passive, but rather active organizers of their perceptions.

The theory focuses on the process of dividing the world into gendered categories rather than on the contents of these categories. However, it is not hard to reference the importance of gender-schematic processing and some of the core meanings attributed to gender in our society. Various authors have argued that the industrial revolution brought about a greater separation of home and work, and in turn fostered the ideology of different spheres for men and women (Hamilton, 1978, Seccombe, 1986; Bernard, 1995; Scanzoni, 1995). Parsons and Bales (1955) even saw the differentiation of women into "expressive" and men into "instrumental" roles as part of basic family structure. Becker (1991) concludes that this is an efficient means to separate the broad activities of production and reproduction. However, as aptly noted by Thorne (1982: 7-8), this framework "glosses over the complexity of behaviour in actual families". For instance, Oppenheimer (1994) argues that both individuals and families are less vulnerable if they avoid excessive specialization in productive and reproductive roles. Similarly, Goldscheider and Waite (1991) propose that unless a "new family" emerges with more egalitarian roles, many women will prefer to have "no family". …

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