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Sociology Asian Family sample essay

Myths about the Family Ever since the 1950s to this day, common discourse regarding the family, especially in the United States, has been based on Talcott Parsons’ (Parsons & Bales, 1955) functionalism views. According to Parsons, the contemporary family form is the nuclear family composed of a breadwinner husband and a homemaker wife with their children. This particular family form emerged as a result of modernization and industrialization and displaced the extended family.

This contemporary nuclear family is unctional in that the breadwinner provides for the instrumental needs of the family unit (food and shelter as well as other material needs) whereas the housewife provides for the expressive needs of the family unit (affective and emotional needs as well as socialization). As long as individuals perform their instrumental or expressive roles, the family is a functional unit that contributes to the stability of society as a whole. This gendered division of labor is therefore viewed as essential for the harmonious and orderly functioning of society. This view of the family is also called the male breadwinner model.

This theoretical view became the dominant way of examining the family and family life and any deviation from the male breadwinner model is usually labeled a dysfunctional deviation. This is especially the case in the United States where Talcott Parsons’ brand of functionalism dominated social research until the 1960s. Social policies regarding the family are still designed with an eye to what is now considered the “traditional family,” such as policies encouraging single mothers to marry in order to get out of poverty through the re-creation of an intact nuclear family.

Moreover, this model was not only generalized in the United States, it became the prism through which families around the world were seen as well. This view was especially promoted by William Goode (1963). In line with modernization theory, Goode postulated that as countries develop, extended families would be discarded to be replaced by the functional nuclear family, essential to modern society. The major problem with these functionalist views is that they are ideologies rather than derived from observable realities.

The so-called traditional family, defined as the male breadwinner model, was an exceptional occurrence in the Western world after the Second World War, and it lasted only a few decades. In this sense, it is a socially invented tradition. Moreover, one of the main functions of ideologies is to maintain the status quo, thereby preserving privileges and maintaining oppressive social mechanisms. In this case, of course, the functional ideal is based on relegating women to the domestic sphere while proclaiming at the same time that expressive roles come more naturally to women and instrument roles more naturally to men.

We have already examined how gender roles are socially constructed in our chapter on gender stratification. Also, the male breadwinner model of the family was only available to certain social classes (upper middle and above) as well as to the dominant racial group (whites). Finally, this ideological view of the family ignores cultural variations in family structures as well as the impact of changing socio-economic structures. This is what we turn to now. Family Systems

Further evidence of the misleading and ideological nature of the functionalist the breadwinner model of the family is revealed by the variations in family structures across the globe. Using worldwide data, sociologist Goran Therborn (2004) identifies seven family systems, each with their specific regional social and cultural characteristics. According to Therborn, these different family systems do not have dynamics of their own but change based on external factors, such as modernization and globalization.

Their inherent characteristics then make them more receptive or resistant to social change. * Sub-Saharan Africa Sub-Saharan Africa (map source) comprises all the countries south of the Sahara desert and that are not considered part of North Africa. As previously mentioned, European colonization had a strong impact of African family structures. Nevertheless, the African family was always strongly based on kinship ties. Depending on the regions, the family structure may patrilineal or matrilineal but in any cases, male relatives exercise authority.

According to Therborn (2004), a specific African norm is that of substitutability: in the context of mass polygyny, if a wife does not bear heirs or simply becomes undesirable to the lineage, she can be easily replaced or substituted by the husband taking another wife. Similarly, if a husband dies, he can be replaced by his brother. Another norm that involves fluidity in kinship structure is the mass practice of fostering, lending and borrowing children among kin when necessity demands it. This practice also underlines the idea that individuals belong to a wide kinship network and not a narrow-based family structure. * East Asia

The East Asian family system (map source) includes Mongolia, China and Japan. The Chinese society is still dominated by Confucian beliefs. Such beliefs involve a concern for social order and stability through the subordination of individual wishes to collective and familial interests. Central to the Confucian view is the notion of filial piety, that is, the respect for elders as pillars of childrearing. In other words, the typical Chinese family is a strongly patriarchal and hierarchical arrangement based on the three rules of obedience: a daughter obeys her father, a married woman her husband, and a widow her son (Chen and He, 2005).

As part of the collective outlook based on Confucianism, there are still a considerable number of households comprising three generations based on patrilineality (parents of the husband, husband and wife, and usually, one child). There is a strong emphasis on family interdependence which maintains the divorce rate at a low level. These traditional patterns are mixed, and sometimes conflict, with the Communist regime’s law mandating equality between men and women as well as with the rapid urbanization and modernization of the Chinese society and the import of western influence on intimate relationships.

South Asia The South Asian family pattern (map source) – geographically including countries such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma – involves high fertility as well as extended family networks as well as strong religious influence (Laungani, 2005). Although not all family members live under the same roof, the Indian family system is extended in the sense that most social relationships and decisions take place within the network of relatives in the context of mostly Hindu religious norms.

For instance, in India, the sacred nature of marriage creates a low divorce rate based on the economic and financial dependence of women as well as the strong social stigma associated with divorce, especially for women. The Indian family system is therefore strongly patriarchal supported by strong social norms that may cover up dreadful domestic situations. The Indian family is strictly hierarchical along age and gender lines. The caste system is still pervasive so that endogamy is still the norm, especially in rural areas (over 70% of Indians still live in villages).

In order to preserve such endogamy, arranged marriages are still practiced whereby marriages are negotiated between the parents of the potential husband and wife. As with other family systems, the impact of globalization and the massive urbanization has strongly impacted the traditional South Asian system. * West Asia / North Africa The West Asia – North Africa system (map source) covers countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt in Africa, as well as the Middle East in Asia. This is the area commonly called the Muslim world because this is where Islam seems to exercise the most influence.

In this system as well, collective family interests take precedence over personal preferences. Moreover, the concept of family honor is particularly strong. The behavior of each individual in a family reflects on the family honor and its standing in the community. It is in this family system that we find the practice of honor killing: the murder of female family members who are seen as having shamed the family and tarnished its honor, by being raped for instance or by not conforming to the dictates of family, tradition or religion.

The fact that the victims of honor killings are women is another indicator of the extreme patriarchal nature of this family system which is centered on the strict control over the sexuality of women. This control can take the form of body cover, such as veiling, or of seclusion, whereby women are not allowed to interact with other men except under very restrictive conditions. This system also emphasizes high fertility with a strong preference for boys, especially in rural areas. The value of a woman is often based on her virginity prior to marriage and her fertility once married. Southeast Asia The Southeast Asian system (map source) – which includes countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Malaysia – enjoys religious diversity that comprises Muslim and Confucian populations whose marital and sexual norms have been relaxed under Buddhist influence and Malay customs (Therborn, 2004). For instance, in parts of Indonesia, Muslims do not follow the usual patriarchal family patterns. On the contrary, they observe matrilinearity.

However, the great ethnic diversity of the Indonesian population generates some degree of extended family-enforced endogamy. Decisions on who can marry whom are made collectively (Sarwono, 2005). Similarly, Indonesia has a strong family planning program that emphasizes smaller families and the health of women through education and improvements in quality of life thanks to reproductive health clinics. In this sense, the status of Indonesian women is very advanced compared to other non-western family systems even though Indonesia is a largely Muslim country. * Creole America

The Creole American system originated in the European colonization of the Americas and the Caribbean (which includes countries such as Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobaggo) and the development of the plantation economy largely based on slavery. This estate system of stratification involved a white European dominant culture with a patriarchal family system alongside black African, mulatto, and mestizo family patterns. The Creole family pattern is present throughout the Americas, including African American ghettos in the United States.

According to Jaipaul Roopnarine et al. (2005), the Creole system in the Caribbean is characterized by a large number of nonmarital unions where fathers and husbands are largely absent and women assume the most responsibility in childrearing. Such marital patterns come from the colonial economic system whereby African Caribbean men were forced to leave their families to work in mines or plantations. A value system developed whereby African masculinity was based on successive but temporary sexual relationships and motherhood became the utmost form of femininity. When men and women live together, it is usually in cohabiting or common law relationships that reproduce the traditional patriarchal division of labor.

This family system is also characterized by child-shifting, that is, the passing of children to other relatives or acquaintances if the parents find themselves unable to take care of them. As a result, multiple women are involved in childhood socialization. * European And New World Settlements The Western European system and its New World Settlements (such as the United States and Canada, as well as some parts of Central and South America) has always been the least patriarchal of all family systems.

Apart from the European monarchies and nobility where marriage was strictly family-controlled with limited individual choice, this system has been based on marriage by consent, supported by the Catholic Church (family pressure was not absent, to be sure, but it was not enshrined into the law). Neolocal pattern has prevented the practice of child marriage: newlyweds were expected to create their own household, something that required financial means.

As a result, people tended to marry later and to decide on their own fertility within monogamous arrangements. The Western system is also the one characterized by dramatic changes over the past centuries, changes that are still going on today and define the contemporary supposed marriage and family “crisis. ” Before industrialization, as in other parts of the world, marriage and family formation patterns were patriarchal and fulfilled economic (production) and political (alliance making) functions.

With industrialization, families were stripped of these functions taken over by the market and the state. What were left to the families were emotional and social functions. This became known as the love-based male breadwinner model that persisted until the late 1960s. Since then, cultural and economic factors, such as increased women’s independence and entry into the workforce have shattered that model to replace it with a more egalitarian one, with a progressive acceptance of different family forms.

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