Aspects Of The Contemporary Family
The dominant social representation of family in Brazil is the traditional family, comprised of a couple and their children, with an emphasis on the psychological and emotional bond (Bruschini and Ridenti 1994). Another important characteristic is the connection with extended families: Although the individuality of the couple is respected, spouses are expected to maintain close ties with families of origin. The degree of closeness, as well as the amount of participation of the extended family in the couple's daily life, varies with social, economical, and relational factors.
Family life in Brazil underwent major changes during the last three decades of the twentieth century. More diverse and complex forms emerged. The number of dual-worker, single-parent, and remarried families increased. Regardless of social class, families became smaller (Goldani 1994).
On the political level, movements to increase democracy and build citizenship raised feminist consciousness. Women have entered the work force and are seeking better education and equality in the workplace. Dual-career and dual-worker marriages have become common in urban areas. In the capital city, Brasilia, a vast number of man and women are employed full-time in public offices and in the administrative service sector.
Approximately five hundred men and women living in this area participated in a study regarding dual-career/dual-worker marriages (Diniz 1999). Men and women in the study agreed that work allows women to enjoy greater independence and freedom. Work, besides a source of financial success, is valued as a means to obtain personal and relational benefits, an increased sense of competency and self-esteem, and a social network. Discrimination in payment and sexual harassment were mentioned as disadvantages for women. Women felt that the burden of traditional role expectations exacerbated work stress; they continue to be responsible for the majority of domestic activities. However, 35 percent of the men said that they perform approximately half or more of the household tasks. A cultural factor—easy access to hired help—probably mitigates role overload for women. Men and women are happy with their marriages and are willing to make efforts for the relationship to work (Diniz 1999).
The number of families living in poverty has increased dramatically. The main reasons for this are decreased spending power due to high inflation rates, increased unemployment rates, and political and economic policies that deprive access to social benefits. Many male and female heads of households have resorted to an informal job market and now depend on unstable income (Carvalho 1995).
Women have had a major role in guaranteeing the maintenance of the family. In an informal economy it is easier for them to become nannies, maids, and house cleaners. They also perform in-home activities such as sewing, embroidery, and handcrafting. Many have started small businesses, absorbing other family members' labor. Minors commonly quit school to help support the family. Family roles and distribution of power have been reorganized. Many men, ashamed with the inversion of roles flee their homes. Excessive idle time boosts alcoholism, often precipitating the woman or the rest of the family to expel the alcohol-dependent man. Due to the mobility of the male population, women have become the stable reference around which family life revolves.
Massive migration from rural to urban areas has also influenced poverty levels. Lack of formal education, poor job skills, and inadequate governmental support make everyday living a challenge for migrant families, who largely dwell in urban slums. Leaning on group resources is a major survival strategy for this population. Many share their small houses or lots with extended family members or acquaintances from their places of origin. Their lives are bound together by mutual dependency, solidarity, and a shared value in family and friendship ties (Mello 1995).
Silvia L. de Mello (1995) and Maria do Carmo B. de Carvalho (1995) call attention to the process of deprivation and discrimination imposed by the larger society upon impoverished families. The enormous difficulties these families face are often underestimated and attributed to personality deformities or characteristics such as laziness or incompetence. These families are also seen as disorganized, an idea based on myths of how a normal or good family should live. The gravity of their social situation defies simplistic normative explanations of a psychological, sociological, or political nature. Jerusa V. Gomes (1995) proposes a larger concept—abandoned families—rather than abandoned children, irresponsible parents, or other similar classifications. She calls for an awareness of the social violence and institutionalization enforced upon the unprivileged.
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