Gender and the Family

Some Theoretical Considerations

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Gender and the Family: Some Theoretical Considerations. (1998) In Gender and the Family in the Caribbean. Editor: Wilma Bailey. Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. Pp 1-31

Gender and the Family attempts to set out an appropriate theoretical framework in which to interpret and explain data and research findings on gender and the family, with special reference to shortcomings of existing theories as applied to Caribbean data. Patriarchy is defined in terms of genealogy, generation, and gender. Genealogy establishes the external boundaries of patriarchal collectives. Generation and gender establish internal rank within the kinship collective. Family is identified historically as one variety of patriarchal kinship collectives. Gender is defined principally in terms of the sexual division of power and not of labour. From this perspective gender issues are shown as not restricted solely to women’s issues but also includes marginalisation of alien men, that is, men outside of the covenant of kinship.

The position is taken that the nation-state organized on the basis of the individual as the unit of organisation and the transcendental values of equality, individual constitutional rights and social justice is in fundamental conflict with civil society structure on the basis of the family as the unit of organisation and patriarchal roles, authority and obligations as the foundation of action. This dialectic combined with the conflict and contest between groups for power and position in the nation are shown to be the major sources of transformation in the structure of the society including gender and family relations.

Two processes are identified. One is partnership between the men and women of dominant groups to advance or maintain the interests and position of their group. The other is a partial exclusion of males of the subordinate groups from the mainstream of upward social mobility opportunities in preference for the females of this group. The societal outcomes are the phenomena of feminization and male marginalisation within the nation-state.

The framework constructed is then used to explain examples of seemingly contradictory research findings concerning the family and gender that have been reported in research on these topics and themes in the Caribbean.

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