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Family Roles

Personal Identity And Roles

People may advocate that married roles ought not to be gender distinctive at all (androgyny) (Singer 1976). Two individuals in a close relationship may have mutual understandings about their responsibilities and privileges, but not base them on gender. This is theoretically possible in all but specific reproductive activities. Females continue to become pregnant and have babies, and males do not. Hence, one may think of cultures aligned along a continuum with one wife and husband role at one end and no gender-based family roles at the other. Role conflict occurs in a single gender role system because of limited role options. However, a lack of clear roles creates role ambiguity. When roles are not clearly delineated, but gender distinctions continue to be made, roles become ambiguous. People respond either by developing new roles or having a confused identity. This latter condition occurs in China where the older Confucian ideals are supplanted by more equalitarian family codes of the Chinese national government (Pimentel 2000).

Elaborate sets of norms, or role prescriptions, delineate behavior appropriate to gender role status. Depending on gender and age, the child differentially defers to the father, mother, or some other designated relative such as an uncle. In the family setting, daughters expect to imitate activities reflecting the mother's status, and sons, the father's. A family often experiences role conflict when children do not conform to their gender status, as occurs in societies undergoing rapid social change, as in Korea (Chun and MacDermid 1997).

Self-identity is an important dimension of social role. Another kind of conflict occurs when cultural norms strictly enforce gender roles that do not match gender identity. Resolution commonly includes finding ways around these prescriptions. In the family setting, the mother or father may reject aspects of their role assignment, as for instance, the father accepting the mother as being a better provider. An extreme resolution includes surgical intervention changing the body's morphology to conform to the self's gender identity, a medical procedure begun in Sweden. Self-identity conflicts arise when a person is unable or unwilling to fulfill societal norms or their partner's expectations. Societies often have a double standard or different sets of norms for females and males, with the female's behavior usually being more restricted.

Role stereotypes introduce another source of role conflict. Stereotypes are shorthand assumptions about how husbands and wives behave in different social categories. Conflict occurs in the failure to distinguish between stereotypical assumptions and actual behavior, causing misunderstanding and misinterpretation between men and women. An example of such a stereotype is machismo, which refers to Latin male forcefulness, vigor, and strength, and which requires deference and obedience. It may be viewed positively or negatively depending on its cultural and gender reference. Machismo may be used to describe emergent behavior in other cultures, such as among the Tewa Pueblo where it is applied to young males ( Jacobs 1995). Much literature discusses communication used to diminish marital conflict derived from gender stereotypes.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesFamily Roles - Cultures And Role Restriction, Personal Identity And Roles, Role Expectations And Demands