Barbara Eliman and

Morris Taggart

A son in all sorts of trouble finally seeks out his father for advice during a particularly bad crisis. But when he finds his father wearing an apron while washing dishes in the kitchen, the son recoils in disgust.’

The parents of an 18-year-old girl describe their fear that their daughter will be an old maid because she is so terribly bright and independent. They decide that the mother will have a "talk with her."



We suspect that the exhibits above have a quaint, if not bizarre, ring to them, especially For those who have no direct experience of living in the United States during the 1950s. Their inclusion at the beginning of this chapter reminds us that gender norms are hardly forever, no matter how eternal they seem to be at the apex of their influence. Only recently, however, has this lack of permanence been recognized as, not the result of shortcomings in our ability to discern true femininity and masculinity, but rather our coming to see that gender itself is socially constructed: historically, politically, and economically. Consequently, there is no attempt in this chapter to provide a compendium of current gender norms complete with predictions as to those that will still be around 5 years from now. Instead, we try to establish gender, particularly in the form of "gender relations," as an indispensable category in exploring, understanding, and even changing, human experience and behavior.

We acknowledge that gender norms, as we have come to understand them in predominantly white American culture, have been changing in the last 30 years with unprecedented speed and reach. At the same time we recognize the need for more radical change as we continue to challenge ourselves and our cultural presuppositions about gender and other far-reaching cultural distinctions. We interweave both meanings of the term changing. Therefore, our title, "Changing Gender Norms," is about what is and what still needs to be.

Talking about gender reminds us of other categories of difference, such as race, ethnicity, and class that punctuate our discourse and our lives (Hooks, 1990). Our emphasis on gender is not to say that it is more important than these others, but that an analysis of gender–its presence m every aspect of our lives–is indispensable to understanding who we are and hope to become. There are some problems here. In attempting to talk about gender we tend to universalize, as if gender means the same thing cross-culturally. It does not (McGoldrick, Garcia-Preto, Hines, & Lee, 1989; Webb-Watson, 1991). There is a tendency to treat the subject out of its historical context, and yet it is this particular historical moment that has given weight to the concept of gender (Nicholson, 1990).

We are mindful of our biases. Our own clinical work is principally with white, middle-class to upper-middle-class, educated heterosexual couples. However, since this is the population most directly challenging gender norms in their family and work life, we have access to the issues as they effect and are worked out in these families. Finally, the overwhelming majority of membership in both the Women’s Movement as well as the neophyte Men’s Movement is white, educated, and middle class.



Nothing has transformed our view of what are "normal family processes more than the changes that have come about in how we think about gender. Initiated by the feminist critique, appreciation for the importance of gender has spawned a rich body of interdisciplinary studies that has challenged all the traditional academic and practical disciplines. Feminist theory now plays a critical role in fields as diverse as physics, biology, law, philosophy, and literary studies. Nowhere has its challenge been greater than in the social sciences–anthropology, political science, history, sociology, and psychology–and their clinical applications (psychotherapy, social work, and family therapy).

Traditionally, gender has not been considered problematic. "Becoming a woman or "becoming a man" has been understood as a natural process grounded firmly in biology and in the essential masculine and feminine attributes that God-given biological differences have been assumed co entail. If culture played a role, it was primarily to protect, then to give shape to, what was already given in nature. Social science’s exploration of gender in the years after World War II scarcely challenged this view, doing little more than provide a scientific gloss to conventional language and beliefs. Instead of speaking of a "woman’s place," there was now the more scientific-sounding "female role."

In this "sex-role" model as it came to be called, there was always a measure of ambivalence about the distinction between descriptive norms (the characteristics men and women are perceived as having) and sociocultural norms (the characteristics a society prescribes for women and men). Empirical researchers tended to insist that their concern was always the former, but, since sex roles are operationalized by the latter, empirical research reflects the manifestations of sociocultural norms (Thompson & Pleck, 1987). Thus, gender norms are actually the culture’s list of prescriptions and proscriptions considered appropriate to that sex, and individuals are assessed as properly "feminine" or "masculine" in terms of their attitude toward, and degree of compliance with, these social expectations.

The family has been the primary arena for the socialization of each generation toward their gender- specific roles and behaviors by treating boys and girls differently, holding different expectations, and employing different social pressures toward them (Goodrich, Rampage, Ellman, & Halstead, 1988). Father, mother, sister, and brother predictably play the same roles and functions in each household. The ideology of the "normal family" demands its enactment and reenactment: father as head of household; mother as caretaker. Additionally, women, in their role as mothers, are charged with executing the particular gender demands required by the culture and are the ones blamed when children do not behave in their assigned gender roles.

The deficiencies of sex-role theory are now so apparent that we forget that this paradigm dominated the social sciences for decades after World War II. Its earliest critics were feminists (Ellmann, 1968; Friedan, 1963) who were quick to discern the theory’s functions in maintaining social control by pathologizing women’s attempts to question the roles assigned them (Broverman, Broverman, Clarkson, Rosencrantz, & Vogel, 1970). The endorsement, indeed promotion, of "female roles" by social science "served to give a spurious modernity to the old conservatism" (Rowbotham, 1973, pp. 6–7). More recently, Kimmel (1987b) has pointed to the crucial distinction that the sex-role paradigm is based on traits associated with "female" and "male" roles rather than their enactments in real life. This, he argues, leads to traits being idealized and "essentialized" as either masculine or feminine without the slightest reference to how women and men actually behave. Thus masculinity is associated a priori with traits implying autonomy and authority, and femininity is associated with those suggesting dependency and passivity.

Sex-role theory’s essentialist descriptions of femininity and masculinity obscure that these are relational constructs. By "relational," we mean that "female" and "male" are constructed such that the definition of one can only be understood in light of the other. This brings us to the most serious defect in the sex-role paradigm–its failure to recognize that gender relations are based on power. "Not only do men as a group exert power over women as a group, but the socially derived definitions of masculinity and femininity reproduce those power relations" (Kimmel, 1987b, pp. 12–13). Thus, the power differential between women and men is institutionalized by the culture and finds expression in the everyday relations of men and women. It is in the everyday life of the family "that women’s oppression and men’s power are enacted most plainly and personally" (Goodrich, 1991, p. 11). Consequently, it is in the discourse on family and family relations that an understanding of power and most specifically power differential must be included. Without an analysis of power, issues of inequity in decision making through wife battering and incest are never confronted (Avis, 1991). Romanticized notions of family life as a safe haven deny the all too common reality of abuse and violence. Clinical interventions with families and couples must begin with an active inquiry around how power is specifically allocated and experienced in order to make inequities visible and create the possibility of change.

It does not follow however that, since male and female roles are socioculturally defined and mediated, they are easily changed. Despite having noted at the beginning of the chapter that some elements of what is considered appropriate behavior can change appreciably within a generation, there are many more aspects of "male" and "female" roles that are far less malleable. Some (Paglia, 1990) have taken this to support the view that sex differences are primarily biological and that there is truth in sexual stereotypes. Such arguments seriously underestimate the power of the sociohistorical discourse to define not only behavior and its relationship to gender but how we think about behavior and its relationship to gender.

The feminist refusal to accept the definition of female that was reflected in sex-role theory gave the feminist movement its distinctive character in the 1960s and 1970s. This was a time in which it became absolutely essential that women leave the conversation with men and speak with each other. This experience was vital to women because for the first time they could experience themselves with a different mirror than the ones that men in their relationships with women had shown them. They began to articulate a set of common themes that in their separation from each other and reliance on men had eluded them.

One powerful theme for women was that of femininity itself. Women began to understand that femininity is a demand that always demands more. "It must constantly reassure its audience by a willing demonstration of difference, even when one does not exist in nature, or it must seize and embrace a natural variation and compose a rhapsodic symphony upon the notes.. To fail at the feminine difference is to appear not to care about men, and to risk the loss of their attention and approval" (Brownmiller 1984, p. 15). Why else would women risk their health as well as their lives with experimental breast implants, if the breast were not the embodiment of their sex and sexuality, and painfully for many, their self-esteem (Hilts, 1992). They understood that, in this culture, when women disliked their bodies, it was difficult for them to like themselves. Women realized they had been taught that to be insufficiently feminine was a failure of core sexual identity and a demonstration of how little a woman cared for herself. They began to be aware how powerful the requirement of femininity was and how essential the need to challenge it. For these women a confidence born of shared identity with a voice and definition began to replace the damning objectification of woman as the Other (Beauvoir, 1974). A flurry of activity took place that produced women’s history, women’s literature, women’s music, and feminist criticism. In turn, the larger culture was also enriched by the introduction of what had been buried under the dominant one.

As a byproduct, the study of gender involving both women and men, began in the early 1980s in such disciplines as history, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, and natural science. Fields involving family studies, particularly family therapy, came late to an appreciation of the feminist critique, and the shift toward an interest in gender as involving men as well as women is not as advanced as in, say, literary studies (Boone and Cadden, 1990; Jardine and Smith, 1987) or natural science (Harding, 1986; Keller, 1985). Thus, when feminist criticism in family therapy is directed toward men, it tends to deal with them as if they were outside the topic of gender altogether, for example, as "sexist" or "patriarchal" Ironically, this recapitulates an important patriarchal theme: that it is women (and gay men) who have "gender," whereas heterosexual men’s view of themselves and the world represent the unproblematic norm against which others are judged and found wanting. Within the dominant culture it has seemed natural at times to question whether women as a class are qualified to own property, vote, aspire to a profession, or political office. But few have wondered if it is proper for men to become priests or presidents unless they happen to be gay, black, or have some other impediment to "real" manhood.

Not insisting that men’s lives too are gendered encourages men’s invisibility to themselves and, for men, reduces the feminist critique to something merely to be defended against. This allows men to be content with their self-definition as a negative identity, as not-female (Chodorow 1978; Seidler, 1989; Thompson & Pleck, 1987). The challenge here is for men to abandon their absurd genderless and transhistorical status as "the measure of all things" and move on to explore critically how "masculinity" shapes and directs their lives. However, the structure of masculinity prohibits this kind of self-reflection by men. As Schwenger (1989, p. 110) puts it, for a man "to think about masculinity is to become less masculine oneself. - . . Self-consciousness is a crack in the wholeness of his nature." To hear a father justifying his participation in childcare as "helping out the wife" is to see the prohibition at work.

Men’s reluctance to tell other men their self-doubts and fears while expecting their wives to know and give comfort is an example of how the culture of masculinity works. In turn, of course, femininity requires that the wife carry out his expectation graciously, that is, without discussion, so that his vulnerability remains concealed. Masculinity keeps him appearing strong and needless. Femininity keeps her powerless, yet responsible to respond. The husband, whose dissatisfactions with the relationship depend entirely on his wife’s articulation of the problems in effect avoids asking himself what he wants. Leaving to the woman the work necessary to stay connected, he remains invisible to himself and avoids the possible discovery that masculinity is problematic for him also.

To explore the meaning of "masculinity" is a far more radical challenge to a man than having to respond to the charge of being sexist, especially when the latter can simply be denied or agreed to with relative impunity. Implicit in men’s study of themselves as gendered is to "make their own oppressive structures (ideological, social, psychological) present for critique.. " (Boone, 1990, pp. 23–24). Men can begin to take initiatives in critically assessing their family roles and relationships. Rather than accept, for example, their traditional position on the periphery of the family as "natural," men might explore the costs of marginality to themselves as well as to their wives and children. How does a man’s role as provider affect his sense of self, his health, his well-being, and his relations within the family? If masculinity requires of a man a certain impenetrability, lack of awareness of bodily sensation, indifference to his affective processes, obtuseness about the role of desire in his life, what are the consequences of all this for him? For his partner? For his children? For his relationships with other men and the community at large?

Men’s resolve to explore their own pain depends on their willingness to give up cherished habits in relation to gender difference. As they struggle to change, can men any longer hold on to their difference from women as signifying more than just difference?


How we think about difference will make all the difference. Do we approach the world the way the geneticist Barbara McClintock suggests: that an understanding of nature comes to rest with difference? Commenting on McClintock’s views, Keller states that:

. . . difference constitutes a principle for ordering the world radically unlike the principle of division of dichotomization (subject–object, mind–matter, feeling– reason, disorder–law). Whereas these oppositions are directed toward a cosmic unity typically excluding or devouring one of the pair, toward a unified, all-encompassing law, respect for difference remains content with multiplicity as an end in itself. (Keller, 1985, p. 163)

We attach hierarchical value to our claim of difference; valuing one forces us to devalue the other. In relationships, our sense of completion appears contingent on finding our different and essential Other, with two incomplete and different halves making a whole. Men, the dominant group, use difference as a way to project onto women all that is unacceptable in themselves; namely, dependency, emotionality, subjectivity. Women, the subordinate group, are left experiencing differences between themselves and men as meaning that they are somehow "wrong," inferior, less worthy. Gender relations have been about valuing the male over the female; men claiming objectivity and rationality as their own but needing the Female as the embodiment of emotions.

The fears and aspirations one holds about the future of relationships (and the world) are a consequence of how one thinks about difference. Although several other essential themes would also influence how one thinks about the future of heterosexual relations, (e.g., power, love, intimacy, sex) the issue of how one understands and experiences difference holds primacy. Can we tolerate differences without dividing them into categories of good and bad, hierarchies connoting greater and lesser power and value? Whereas, division splits off connection and inflicts distance, "the recognition of difference provides a starting point for relatedness" (Keller, 1985, p. 163). There is no comparable equivalent where one group is contrasted with another in which difference is in and of itself so highly valued. Nowhere except in the comparison of genders is difference itself held as a sine qua non of the comparison.

To speak of heterosexual couples is to speak about difference as the absolutely indispensable category of description. It has been argued that it is heterosexuality, whether described as "compulsory" (Rich, 1980) or "contractual" (Wittig, 1992) that characterizes "a hegemonic discursive/epistemic model of gender intelligibility that assumes that for bodies to cohere and make sense there must be a stable sex expressed through a stable gender (masculine expresses male, feminine expresses female) that is oppositionally and hierarchically defined through the compulsory practice of heterosexuality" (Butler, 1990, p. 151).

For these theorists, gender is derivative of heterosexuality. They view heterosexuality as a cultural demand that necessitates opposing, and therefore gendered, individuals. Gender comes on the scene as the requirement (as well as the necessary acquirement) of the social construction, not simply of difference, but of dichotomization. Gender identity becomes the primary dichotomizing category among human beings, wherein what one is said to have, the other cannot. Consequently, heterosexual couples find themselves expecting and often demanding that their partner exhibit qualities that they themselves are not permitted. For example, women often desire men for their rationality and authority; whereas men often desire women for their emotionality and dependency. Except in very circumscribed ways in their relationship to each other, women are not permitted to exhibit rationality and authority, and men are not permitted to exhibit emotionality and dependency. When men and women do exhibit these behaviors, they risk serious disjunction to their sense of self and their desirability, since gender norms plays such an important part in shaping who we are and what makes us attractive.

For heterosexuals, differences between men and women have been the essential ingredient explaining attraction and need as well as repulsion and fear. What is it about the way the relationship between men and women is constructed that locates their experiences, feelings, and behaviors in gender? If gender is understood as being a socially constructed category, then gender itself is normative–a prescriptive, indoctrinating, idealizing category. However isn’t it redundant to speak of gender norms? Isn’t gender the norm? Hasn’t human behavior in all its diversity been forced into dichotomized categorizes as male or female, masculine or feminine, manly or womanly?

In families, husbands and wives are responsible for demonstrating prescribed gender roles and behaviors so their sons and daughters will be able to demonstrate appropriate gender behavior. These roles have, until the appearance of the feminist critique, been viewed as corn complementary a system of balance suggesting how behaviors, roles, or emotions of each person induce the other into behaviors, roles, or emotions that complement the other.

The need to maintain complementarity or balance in the family is used as a reason to assign roles to women that complement the roles chosen by men. In this way, women perform those tasks that men prefer not to do, for example, housework and child care, and do not compete in those areas that men select as their domains, namely achievement, work, finances, and the like. (Walters, Carter, Papp, & Silverstein, 1988, p. 23)

Human capacities have been divided up, split off from each other, and relegated as if they were the natural and rightful property of one gender, not the other. This division is not natural and accidental, nor is the booty equal (cf. Goldner, 1991; Hare-Mustin, 1991; Walsh, 1989). Who could possibly argue that household tasks (the traditional and on-going domain of women) are equivalent in value and esteem to the rewards of career– money, authority, and power (the traditional and on-going domain of men)? Yet, this obvious disparity in power and value is rarely confronted in family life because it so perfectly mirrors the disparity between men and women in the culture. "Father as the ‘head’ of the family supports the notion of ‘father’ as head of the country, leader of the people, and recognized authority in the world. Mother as the ‘caretaker’ of the family supports the stereotype of woman as nurturer, harmonizer, peacekeeper of the world" (Goodrich et al., 1988, p. 6). Masculinity and femininity are cultural constructs rooted in a caste system in which femininity is relegated all that is less valued by the dominant culture. The feminist position argues that this is accomplished by the cultural hegemony that the male position has had in our society. Miller describes it as follows:

A dominant group, inevitably, has the greatest influence in determining a culture’s overall outlook–its philosophy, morality, social theory, even its science.

The dominant group, thus, legitimizes the unequal relationship and incorporates it into society’s guiding concepts. The social outlook, then, obscures the true nature of this relationship–that is, the very existence of inequality. The culture explains the events that take place in terms of other premises, premises that are inevitably ably false, such as racial or sexual inferiority. (Miller, 1986, p. 8)


Feminist psychological theorists have responded to the issue of gender difference in primarily two ways. The first approach has been to deemphasize differences between men and women. These theorists are located in the liberal or modern tradition of individual capacities and rights. They employ empirical research to show that women’s capacities are not demonstratively different than those of men, thereby paving the way for women’s equality via similarity. This work is best exemplified by Maccoby and Jacklin in their study, The Psychology of Sex Differences (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). The second approach, represented by Chodorow (1978), Miller (1986), the Stone Center’s "Works in Progress" (Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991), and Gilligan (1982) not only reaffirms gender differences but valorizes the female.

The first position, that of minimizing difference, has unquestionably contributed to improving the status of women by demonstrating similarities with men. Maccoby and Jacklin are most often cited by feminists as researchers proving the corrective stance of equality between men and women. Although acknowledging the contribution that this kind of research has made in facilitating correcting perceptions about women’s ability as compared to that of men, Hare-Mustin and Marecek (1990, p. 44) caution us that:

"Arguing for no differences between women and men.... draws attention away from women’s special needs and from differences in power and resources between women and men." As marriage and family therapists, we know that treating the couple as if they were equal partners leads us to ignore the reality of unequal power and economic resources and has us participating in maintaining the status quo. Family therapy, traditionally sensitive to the function of generational issues, needs to be informed by the recognition that gender is often the determining variable in how heterosexual couples and families go about their daily lives (Goldner, 1989; Goodrich et al., 1988; Walsh & Scheinkman, 1989; Walters et al., 1988).

The second approach, with its emphasis on difference in its contemporary feminist cast, highlights the female as essentially a relational being. The slim volume that set off a stream of other feminist writers highlighting difference (e.g., Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986) is Jean Baker Miller’s (1986) Toward a New Psychology of Women. Miller persuasively claims that connection and relatedness, assigned to women and forever judged in Western societies as demonstrating weakness and dependency, are strength and competency. Miller takes every characteristic attributed to the female (vulnerability, dependency, caregiving) and demonstrates not only its essential worth and its inherent goodness, but she makes a strong case for men as well as women to embrace these "female" qualities for their own good as well as the world’s. The distinctive language of Jean Baker Miller and others at Wellesley’s Stone Center honors women as "relational selves" in contrast to men’s positioning of themselves as autonomous selves. They see women’s contribution as holding more promise for a qualitatively better life. Their contribution to women’s self-esteem has been enormous. Women, who had felt apologetic, ashamed, and subordinate to men in virtually every way were helped to feel that their way of perceiving and being in the world was not only honorable but potentially healing.

The danger inherent in such theories, (Chodorow, 1978; Gilligan, 1982; Miller, 1986), is that they can be exploited to "emphasize the essential nature of men and women rather than the social context that shapes them" (HareMustin, 1991, p. 70). Although, the "feminine" attributes are refrained as highly preferable, the discourse about gender–as dichotomous, oppositional, and ultimately hierarchical–is basically unchanged.

Even where psychology addresses "categories" rather than "essential natures," interrelationships between categories have been overlooked. For example, Block (1976, p. 297) points out that Maccoby and Jacklin’s concentration on sex differences in the performance of tasks ignores the interrelationships between intellectual performance and personality characteristics, thereby leaving out an important gender difference. It is in the area of motivation that these interrelationships become critical. Girls’ achievement motivation brings out the importance of this point. Girls have been shown to be conflicted between their need to be dose or connected (a need that does not appear to be as great in boys) and their need to achieve. Another researcher claims that even at younger ages when girls’ achievement is the same or higher than boys’, "it appears that female achievement behavior . . . is motivated by a desire for love rather than mastery" Holmstron, 1986, p. 54).

Additionally, the empirical evidence supports what we’ve observed for years, that with increasing age girls seem to compromise personal success for what appears to be a more highly valued desire for connection and love (Gilligan, Lyons, & Hammer, 1990). How we understand difference proves particularly revelatory. Is this a particular manifestation of the essential and immutable difference between men and women where men are intrinsically motivated by mastery and women by love? Is this an example of a relational and contextual difference, whereby men are taught to aspire for mastery and women are taught to aspire for love? Is this an indication of how women, the subordinate class, must concern themselves with connection in order to survive and prosper in a social environment that makes it difficult for them to master much of anything?

The complexity of human thought, feeling, and behavior cannot be reduced to simple categories, particularly the dichotomizing category of gender. Too often gender difference has obscured other, perhaps more salient, differences. Holstrom (1986) reports, one piece of research shows that black males and white females, different biologically but with similar social handicaps, are similar in their fear of success, conformity, and perceptual judgment. She describes another study demonstrating that Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic women experience significant differences in menstrual discomfort.

Psychological discourse, whether emphasizing difference or minimizing difference, has tended to be ahistorical, essentialistic, and universalistic. In their comparisons of boys and girls, or men and women, ethnicity, class, race, region of the world, and recognition of the particular moment in social history have too often been ignored. Finally, the researchers’ goal of documenting the differences between the genders uncritically accepts the social categories that shape their inquiry as if they were dealing with categories belonging to science. And science itself is not free from social constructions.

The feminist challenges reveal that the questions that are asked–and, even more significantly, those that are not asked–are at least as determinative of the adequacy of our total picture as are any answers that we can discover" (Harding, 1987, p. 7).


An "answer" that has emerged recently is the idealization of "the feminine," looked upon as the necessary panacea to our ailing, wounded culture. Woman as cultural healer is not a new role for women. Sufficiently outside the sphere of power, Woman has often been called upon to heal wounds, nurture broken souls, revive crushed spirits. The spiritual hunger of the 80s and 90s and its attendant goddess literature have exalted the feminine as that which will save our own lost soul as well as our planet. This literature selects out what certain theorists find admirable about women and asserts these as the predominant characteristics of being female, locating the quality "inside" the female sex.

A related phenomena for men is the rise of the men’s movement as personified by Robert Bly, poet and lecturer, who encourages men to find themselves through a relationship (a distinctly "feminine" path) with a male mentor, who is not merely a mentor but a "Mother–Man" (Bly & Moyers, 1989). He describes the relationship as mutually enhancing–whereby the younger man honors the elder for his years and his wisdom, and the elder, the Mother–Man, actively admires the younger for traits, talents, and aspirations that the elder encourages him to manifest in the world. This is a very different story than Oedipus. Singularly missing is the Biological Mother. She is replaced by the Mother–Man who does not compete, ward off, or feel threatened by the younger one, but wants what every Mother wants– what is best for his son. The male appropriation of the feminine may be somewhat of an acknowledgment to women, however leaving the mother" – the necessary step in the boy’s journey toward finding himself–does little to change either attitudes toward women, the view of the self as autonomous, or the dichotomization of gender. In effect, Bly is appropriating "the good mother" in the Mother-Man and "the bad mother" in the biological one who must be left.

Another form of appropriation are the accoutrements of the men’s movement taken, ironically, from the very people that the white man attempted to destroy, the American Indian (Mander, 1991). This movement, so overwhelmingly comprised of white, educated, middle-class men drumming and passing the talking stick, earnestly seeks to find something good, something healing, in something male. As with women in relation to the goddess material, such approaches may indeed help men recover a sense of honor and wholeness, but they do little to change the oppressive structures that inevitably advantage them. The cultures of women and Native Americans, both subordinated by white male culture, are borrowed from in an attempt to construct a new mythic masculinity. Significantly, these appropriations rarely express any identification with the social needs or the political aspirations of either Native Americans or women and do little to assist men in coming to terms with the problem of masculinity.

What is it about being white, middle class, heterosexual in the America of the 1990s that has us, women and men, turning toward myths, goddesses, and tribal rituals? What are we trying to correct, change, or challenge about ourselves that seems so connected to our gender?


There is growing awareness of the gross exaggeration of gender in our culture. What function has traditional gender served, or simply, gender itself served? In whose interest? How does it function? Who and what suffers as a consequence? What exactly are we changing when we consider changing this norm called gender? Are we the agents of change? The subjects? The objects?

Gender, the dichotomizing category, to the extent that it has served anyone, has served white men in access to resources and power. It has functioned by virtue of white male dominance over our theories, institutions, language, social structure, and values. It has been maintained by the unchallenged belief in the natural superiority of men (over the inherent inferiority of women) and their unwillingness to relinquish control. Men and women suffer as a consequence by not being able to fully develop their human capacities and by becoming almost caricatures to each other. But, as it has been persuasively argued for over two generations in the struggle for equality, women suffer greater harm than men. Women are the ones restricted, held back from positions of power and influence, they are the ones made dependent so that survival takes prominence over aspiration, and women are the all too common victims of male violence: sexual harassment, rape, battering, and incest.

Humor has been used as a way to deflect from the seriousness of "the war between the sexes." The audience’s (men and women) responsive laughter to "wife" jokes in the 1950s and 1960s and to "PMS–bitch" jokes in the 90s make us feel that we are in on something we all understand–that there is a familiar, cultural bond between us. (The fact that wives and women are the predominant butt of the joke serves to highlight the intentional derision.) This is precisely what is so compelling about exaggerated gender difference. It gives us the feeling that we have an immutable connection to the natural order of things. It gives us comfort in knowing our place. It may limit us as individuals and as a culture, indeed create caricatures of us all, yet we cleave to it as if it were life itself. It unites the men around their self-righteous and disingenuous question: "Why can’t a woman be more like a man?" (Lerner & Loewe, 1956). It bonds women ever closer in sisterhood against a common enemy m search of empathy and empowerment. And all the while, amidst the anger and despair, we hold on to the stranglehold of gender.

To add to our own perversity, we neutralize gender by speaking and acting as if power plays no part. We speak of love between a man and a woman as transcending power differences. Yet, power and the balance of power run throughout a love relationship. The psychoanalyst Ethel Person, in her impressive analysis of love, power, and gender, summarizes it well:

By and large there is a gender difference in the techniques of control that each sex favors, though these are by no means invariable. Woman often exerts her control through either a dependent or caretaking modality. As the submissive one, eager to do her lover’s bidding, she manifests her moral superiority, and manipulates by eliciting guilt in the beloved. She ensnares and manipulates the beloved through her submission and her high moral standards, through her self

sacrifice and faithfulness . . . . Man, on the other hand, generally opts for dominance, coercing and manipulating more directly by physical or verbal abuse, economic, social, or other kinds of sanction. These differences reflect both gender socialization and a real difference in the power positions of men and women in our society. (1989, pp. 178–179)

In the last decade, couples and families have been challenged to confront the power differences between men and women. The two factors most responsible for the public challenge have been the women’s movement (including the burgeoning prochoice agenda, equal pay, sexual harassment, violence against women, women’s health issues) and the economic necessity of two-paycheck families. The combination of the women’s movement and economic necessity makes, possibly for the first time, a majority of women working outside the home a permanent reality. In time, women’s presence at work will not only transform her, but work itself will be transformed. It has been working-women, after all, who have raised the issues of family leave, flex time, and child care.

What had once been a mysterious male domain, the world of work, is no longer quite so mysterious. And with that comes an inevitable demystification of men. All the qualities that had once been the exclusive property of men–recognition, competition, acknowledgment, financial reward, and status are now possible for women to experience and evaluate for themselves. In fact, as the last decade has brought more women into competitive work and fields traditionally blocked From them, their relationship to men has changed. The motivation of finding a man who will be a good provider has begun to be superseded by wanting a man who will be a good partner.

What happens when a heterosexual couple purposefully lessens the grip of exaggerated gender and confronts power differences directly? What challenges meet them both in their relationship and as individuals that are not confronted within the borders of traditional/exaggerated gender?

We need to ask questions of the couple with an eye on the prevailing reality of gender-based expectations, behaviors, and responsibilities as they are played out. Questions proposed by Goodrich et al. (1988, pp. 24–25) serve as points of analysis as the therapist works with couples and families:

- How does gender affect the allocation of labor, power, and rewards in this family?

- How do the stereotypes and the consequent allocations of labor, power, and rewards interact with the presenting problem?

- What do the family members believe about male and female labor that distributes labor in the specific manner that it does and prevents its distribution in some other way? (This question refers to parenting and nurturing functions, as well as household chores, financial control, and breadwinning.)

- What do family members believe about male and female power that distributes power the way that it does and prevents its distribution some other way?

- What do family members believe about male and female desires, worth, values, and entitlement that makes rewards be distributed the way they are and prevents their distribution some other way?

This perspective clearly takes the position that gender plays an all too vital role in the daily existence of family life to be ignored or minimized by therapists who might like to believe that difference (particularly regarding power) is minimal, complementary, or irrelevant.

Case Study: Mark and Donna

This is the second marriage for both Mark and Donna. Their conversation is filled with words of intent, boundary setting, language of perspective, labeling of feelings, and assuring the other of nonblame. They are both highly inspired by the notion that caring is a mutual responsibility.

Donna is in a position of management with an appreciable amount of responsibility. Mark has a technical position without a college degree. Donna’s salary is higher and her professional responsibilities are greater than Mark’s. Donna does considerably more domestic tasks than Mark (caring for the children, cooking, cleaning, etc.). She has been confused about her right to bring these issues up and fearful about overwhelming Mark.

In therapy she is confirmed on both counts. The therapist tells Donna that her confusion about what is "right" to want regarding domestic responsibility is not only about her particular family history but the particular transitional moment between men and women today. Her fear of overwhelming Mark is confirmed by Mark’s highly defensive and reactive response that he "can’t ever do enough." Donna becomes upset and confused that her complaint has hurt Mark, causing him to feel inadequate, and she starts to back off. The therapist encourages Donna to face her wishes honestly as well as the effect of Mark’s response on her thoughts and feelings. She is surprised to discover that beyond her confusion is tremendous despair about this aspect of their relationship. She wishes that she had never raised the complaint, since it feels irreconcilable. Her solution is to just "do more" herself rather than make Mark upset and create a conflict.

The therapist acknowledges Donna’s dilemma. She is then told that it is a loss to her and the children that Mark does not participate more in the daily patterns of family life. She is reassured that it is apparent that she has no interest in hurting her husband. She is also encouraged not to feel responsible for Mark’s reaction and assured that her raising the issue of greater participation on Mark’s part is an acknowledgment of an inequity that must be addressed. For his part, Mark is encouraged to face his fears and sense of being overwhelmed and begin confronting his notion of masculinity that seems to suggest some kind of entitlement on his part. With the therapist’s help, he is able to delineate the stressors in his life: a possible corporate layoff, going back to college, and lack of male support. After Mark is able

to express his feelings on each of these issues and receive Donna’s honest empathy, the couple is directed to return to the unresolved issue of inequity of domestic tasks in their family. The couple’s near derailment of the inequity issue is an illustration of women’s overresponsibility for the relationship and for men’s feelings and men’s inexperience with working through feelings and staying through a negotiation as an equal.

Case Study: Suzanne and James

Suzanne and James are also in their second marriages. They are in their late 40s, with grown children. In the first session, they each presented absolute failure on their partner’s part to live up to their expected gender roles. James described Suzanne as woefully inadequate as a supportive and nurturing wife, whereas Suzanne described James as failing her in not allowing her to be free of economic responsibility by providing sufficiently for both of them.

By the second session, fearing that the marriage was about to end, James proposed that he would be the sole provider for the couple’s financial wellbeing in exchange for Suzanne’s support of his emotional well-being. By the third session, Suzanne recognized that this was inherently a dangerous deal for her to agree to; servicing another's emotional well-being has no boundaries. James recognized that if he followed through on his proposal he would never know why Suzanne chose to stay with him beyond her need for financial security. By the fourth session they began to look at what they needed to address in themselves. Suzanne decided to move Out (the only way she could be less reactive) while continuing in couple therapy. She committed to becoming more financially responsible and began job interviews. Once Suzanne moved out, James committed to becoming responsible for his own emotional well-being for the first time in his life: he joined a men s group and began letting his friends and adult sons support him emotionally.

James and Suzanne are not sure whether they will now stay together. Without the gender ideals and accompanying expectations they projected on each other (he supports financially, she supports emotionally), it is not clear what they really think and feel about each other. It will take some time for them to know. In the meantime, however, they are learning more about themselves and are able to be more interested and curious about the other than they ever were when gender dominated.

Husbands, by virtue of their manhood, are presumed to be rational, objective, independent, and dominant. Wives, by virtue of their womanhood, are presumed to be emotional, subjective, dependent, and subordinate. These presumptions not only obscure and deny the possibility of each finding his or her unique voice, proclivity, and task, but the range of permissible forms that a marital relationship or a family may properly assume is restricted. Immutable gender norms may indeed construct the family as a "natural" coherent structure, but only at the cost of much pain and confusion for countless families and family members who experience themselves as failures in their prescribed gender identities.


As they came into the therapist’s office it was clear that both spouses were upset. The husband launched into an appeal for the male therapist to support him in what was, to him, a perfectly reasonable judgment. "It is obvious that she shouldn’t go out of the house alone at night; the city is a jungle at the best of times, and after 9:00 it is doubly so. She doesn’t realize how dangerous it is, how foolish she is to take such unnecessary risks." The wife then expressed her resentment at what she described was her husband’s patronizing attitude and attempts to control her. "I’m sick of you talking down to me as if I were an irresponsible child who can’t take care of herself. How dare you judge my reasons for doing anything as unnecessary!"

The argument continued along predictable lines for most of the session. He accused her of being too sensitive and of hearing criticism where none was intended. She complained of his total and long-standing lack of interest in what was important to her. He wonders why they cannot talk about their differences in reasonable tones. She marvels at his ability to discern what is best for everyone around him but never even seems to know what movie he wants to see.

The excerpt captures only too well the generic conversation between women and men in recent years, and highlights how differently men and women converse (Tannen, 1990). Whereas the wife appears to value her feelings as a source of information about a situation and a basis for behavior, her husband seems oblivious not only to her feelings but to his own as well. Rather than state what he would like, the man speaks as if he were the representative of some essential state of affairs or general truth. When the woman resents (what she attributes to him as) his attempts to control her, he is bewildered by her attribution and may fall back on some stereotype about how emotional women are.

"Why can’t he share what he’s feeling?" is the universal grievance of women about male partners, colleagues, and friends. And men’s response is an equally frustrated "I don’t ever know what she wants; and when I think I do, it’s never enough!"

There was a time, prior to the feminist critique, when an interaction such as that above would have led almost automatically to a therapeutic effort designed to deal with the wife’s "excess" of emotions and neediness. The idea that the husband’s apparent lack of emotion could be a contribution to the conflict would have seemed very strange. Feminist contributions to psychotherapy make it easier to understand how a man’s not being in touch with his feelings, and his consequent inability to ask clearly for what he wants, helps maintain the communicational impasse (McGoldrick, 1989; Walsh, 1989; Walters et al., 1988).

The man in this case was able eventually to fed what he was feeling and communicate it: "When you go out alone in the evenings, I fear for your safety. If something were to happen to you, I would blame myself because, for whatever reason, I feel responsible for protecting you. In addition, especially when you don’t come home till bedtime, I get afraid that you might be seeing another man." He discovered that, painful and risky though this way of stating his concerns were, his partner was now more willing to discuss them.

The apparent success of this kind of clinical intervention might lead us to conclude that men’s relationship to their feelings is best thought of in purely psychological terms–as a personal deficit or some failure of socialization to be handled through psychotherapy or some other form of broadly therapeutic instruction. Such approaches tend to locate men’s difficulties (as well as their cures) within individuals, never quite challenging the cultural demands that shape men’s sense of themselves, and certainly never confronting the culture itself as a masculinist construction (Taggart, 1992). Male authors of books on psychotherapy with men (cf. Meth & Pasick, 1990; Osherson, 1992) thus far are less likely to explore the social and cultural origins of masculinity than are their female counterparts (cf. Bograd, 1991).


Men’s estrangement from their feelings is only one aspect of a deep cultural inheritance affecting men, yet, still largely invisible. The challenge is to be able to comprehend the dominant images and guiding metaphors of masculinity in ways that make visible its social and historical formation. There is a sense in which masculinity is "the great unsaid" (Rutherford & Chapman, 1988, p. P1). The vast majority of news reports, articles, and essays addressing sex and gender talk about women, gays, and lesbians, as if heterosexual males had neither sex nor gender! Thus, the standard by which all sexuality is judged, white, heterosexual masculinity, itself stands outside the realm of judgment. Thus, "heterosexual men have inherited a language which [sic] can define the lives and sexualities of others, but fails us when we have to deal with our own heterosexuality and masculine identities" (Rutherford and Chapman, 1988, p. 22).

What is called for is something over and above becoming more sensitive to the social expectations placed on men by the culture and seeking to ameliorate their consequences through psychotherapy. It is, rather, to come to grips with the realization that the very components with which we image masculinity–history, language, concepts, categories of behavior, experience, and so forth–are themselves gendered in ways that we have not yet imagined, and that making masculinity more visible will require men ". .. to get down to serious work. And.., that involves struggle and pain" (Jardine, 1987, p. 60).

The paths by which feminism has, over the past three decades, helped women to understand their lives as gendered provide markers to men as they set out on similar journeys. As Kimmel (1987b) points out, changes in how masculinity gets constructed are often historically responsive to changes in femininity. Social changes reverberate to alter the family’s structure and especially its relation to economy and society. This in turn creates shifts in gender relations as women begin to move from domestic to public spheres and construct an ideology to account for such movement. As women thus define themselves differently, given that the two are relational constructions, the definition of masculinity is necessarily called into question. But no matter how one punctuates social changes of this kind, it is men’s work on themselves that will be crucial in the reconstruction of men’s lives.

Important beginnings of this work have already appeared (Abbot, 1987; Absher, 1990; Bly, 1990; Boone & Cadden, 1990; Chapman & Rutherford, 1988; Gerzon, 1982; Jardine & Smith, 1987; Kaufman, 1987; Keen, 1991; Kimmel, 1987a; Kimmel, 1990; Meth & Pasick, 1990; Nelson, 1988; Osherson, 1992; Segal, 1990; Seidler, 1989, 1991; Stoltenberg, 1989; Taggart, 1985, 1989). We stand at the very beginning of what hopefully will be a radical change in men’s relationship to what defines them as men and consequently, how they relate to women and children. Only the barest outlines of the task have appeared thus far.

Where the task will take men is unclear. However, it is useful as we consider the evolution of masculinity to keep in mind the connection between the emergent identification of masculinity with a particular conception of Reason as both ideas coevolve as anchors of the 17th century Enlightenment (Seidler, 1989). Seidler explores how the overwhelming commitment to the Enlightenment’s conception of Reason has shaped men’s experience of themselves and their world. Men’s power and their propensity to impersonalize and universalize their own particular experience have made the fact of men’s gendered subjectivity invisible. This is demonstrated daily by men, typically out of touch with their own needs, but speaking for others while presenting themselves as the neutral voice of reason. Furthermore, the culture of rationalism defines freedom as the exercise of rational choice unhampered by emotions and desire. Thus, autonomy becomes the absence of connectedness, reason the negation of desire. Seidler traces how men’s denial of their emotional selves legitimates a culture of self-denial and self-rejection in which it is hard for men to ask for what they need to nourish themselves. It is at this point that the cultural imperative laid on women to nourish men emotionally emerges. This is not a request by a man who knows what he needs and asks for it. It appears as an imperative for the woman because it is deemed to be in her nature to nourish and in his to expect it from her. Perhaps this is another aspect of men bypassing the whole notion of need altogether by taking what they want as their due in a world they dominate.

The cultural legacy that has come down from the Enlightenment, though still vigorous, is increasingly being challenged by postmodernist critiques.4 Our inherited conceptions of masculinity are part and parcel of the modem world, and as modernity itself comes into question, so masculinity has to revision itself in radical new terms.


As men begin to envision and live their lives differently, we can expect the changes to reverberate through their marital and family relationships. We should expect that reactions to the changes will be mixed. Some women will feel relief when husbands, accustomed to relying solely on them for emotional support, enter nurturing relationships with other men. Other women may feel deprived of the only role that is truly theirs in relation to their husbands.

It is well known that complementary gender roles, and the separate spheres they presume, act to obscure conflict in a marriage (Walters et al., 1988). Even when the change from a complementary to a symmetrical pattern comes about by mutual agreement, conflict between partners will often escalate. The woman who has always wanted her husband to be more involved in childcare now finds herself having to resolve parenting differences with him. Similarly, the man who has fervently wished that his wife be more involved in the family’s long-term financial planning now has to justify his investment strategies to someone who has ideas of her own.

Most challenging are the changes that bring family members directly up against a society still organized along rigid gender lines. It is one thing for parents to encourage a seven-year-old boy to follow up his interest in ballet by taking dance lessons. It is quite another for them to prepare him (and themselves) to cope with the inevitable cruelty of peers and the questions of adults. Rigidity is often expressed institutionally. Flex time and family leave for working mothers are still controversial ideas even when political rhetoric extols the family. Extending such options to fathers, lesbian co-mothers, or gay co-fathers meets progressively stiffer resistance the more the parenting unit differs from that of the "traditional" family.

Working couples often have difficulty negotiating how to balance work and childcare responsibilities. After the birth or their baby, a young professional couple had arranged excellent live-in help, leaving only the evenings and weekends for them to be directly involved in childcare. The father resented that his position in the family’s economy meant that he worked much longer hours than his wife, thus cutting into his parenting time. When he suggested cutting back at work to spend more time with the baby, his wife was doubly upset. Not only was her already limited time with the baby threatened by his proposal, but the additional expense of a baby and live-in help suggested to her that he needed to spend more time at work, not less. To make things worse, the father’s business partners were critical of his shift in energy from work toward his family. Business, and the acquisitive culture that values material success above everything, make it difficult for families to put changing values into practice.

Transitions with respect to values are difficult. As patterns shift, traditional and nontraditional roles may be combined in complex and confusing ways. The social and economic challenges associated with social change are often unprecedented. Another professional couple resolved similar issues by each working half-time and sharing childcare and domestic tasks equally. Their decision to settle for a lower economic standard of living seemed to them to be the best way to shape the family’s structure in ways that pleased them both. This couple clearly valued active involvement as a family over the broader culture’s definition of success–increased professional responsibilities, larger house, and more possessions.

Such remedies, even the problems that evoke them, are restricted to families with the economic resources to consider them in the first place. Most families cannot afford live-in (nor much of any) help, nor can they reduce their incomes even marginally and survive. The emergence of new options for men will mean very little to these families unless the new versions of what it means to be a man are accompanied by a new politics. Issues such as childcare, flex time, family leave, health care, reproductive rights, economic and social justice are not the exclusive province of women. Unless men join women in securing a truly pro-family social and economic environment in this society, other changes will count for little.



In order to change, or more radically challenge, gender we need to change how we raise our children. However, the solution is not as simple as it might have initially appeared when books like Selma Greenberg’s Right from the Start: A Guide to Nonsexist Child Rearing (Greenberg, 1978) first appeared. In fact, even as she set out to inform parents how they could change their stereotypic behavior toward their boy and girl children, Greenberg recognized that it was "simplistic and unhelpful to discuss mothering and fathering as if women and men’s relation to each other, to the world, and to their children are the same. It is nonproductive to write about equal child-caring independent of the inequality that exists in two-parent families because one is female and one is male" (Greenberg, 1978, p. 10). She pointed out that our efforts would be misdirected if we attempted to speak of parenting before we spoke of two equal people in a relationship of equality.

Ten years later we learn from Arlie Hochschild’s (1989) study, aptly named The Second Shift, that women who work outside the home come home in the evening to yet another job, whereas their husbands continue to view the domestic sphere as still primarily hers. She found that, on the average, women work an additional month every year because or the second shift’s demands. Her interviews with the men and women (well distributed across class and ideological differences) found that over half the working mothers had tried in various ways to alter the pattern of domestic responsibilities, since they were the ones who bore "the weight of the contradiction between traditional ideology and modern circumstances" (Hochschild, 1989, p. 194). These women had to assume the additional task of changing the division of labor. "If women lived in a culture that presumed active fatherhood, they wouldn’t need to devise personal strategies to bring it about" (Hochschild, 1989, p. 194).

We are not yet at the point of "presumed active fatherhood." Although there are individual men who are active fathers, the social context has changed very little regarding making father’s involvement a given. Men who are deeply aware of their wish to be actively involved with their children must manage the predominant culture’s interpretation that they are probably not very serious about their work. (Similarly, women with children who work have been relegated to what has been pejoratively called "the mommy track.") No matter how in vogue it might be for a man to give dissertations on the joy of fatherhood, his and other men’s judgment of him are still based on \ part of him remaining on the periphery. In our society, salaried employment and advancement in the workplace are valued over domestic (family) responsibility and participation. Men’s identity and self-esteem have traditionally been tied to job performance, financial success, and status. Parenting and homemaking have been designated women’s work and consequently devalued.

The dichotomization of work and family hurts women too. Working mothers, (the vast majority who work because of economic necessity) often report reeling tremendous guilt about not being home more with their children. But, guilt is only one aspect of the situation. The more poignant facet is the sadness and pain that some women describe as they have to manage the loss of a part of themselves, the part that they have been conditioned toward desiring all their lives–Motherhood (Braverman, 1989). Adrienne Rich (1976) may be correct that Motherhood as an institution may itself be a historical and cultural construct shaped out of industrialization and patriarchy, having little to do with the actual and natural experience women have of being mothers. But working mothers today who are white and middle to upper-middle class (black mothers have always had to work) are caught between the popular culture they were raised on (television shows like "Donna Reed," "Leave It to Beaver," "Father Knows Best"), their experience of their own mothers, and their feminist-informed critique. The syndicated political cartoonist Gary Trudeau portrayed the gender difference brilliantly. The new mother shares her upset about feeling that she is not doing enough for her child, asking her spouse if he, too, ever feels this way. In one cartoon frame he lays out the truth of the gender difference in contemporary parenting: "No matter what I do it will always be more than my father did, and no matter what you do it will always be less than your mother."

Are the other institutions that raise and shape our children doing any better regarding gender? How are our schools doing in expanding what little boys and girls can feel, think, and become? School texts below college level remain woefully inadequate in reporting women’s contributions. In fields such as the sciences, where women’s contribution has been sparse, texts do not educate children to understand the reasons for women’s near absence. Recently, the American Association or University Women (Editorial, 1992) released a study ("How Schools Shortchange Girls") documenting how girls and boys are treated differently in the classroom. It notes that, although girls and boys enter school with equal abilities, girls’ performance declines steadily from the earliest grades all the way through to the end of high school. The research noted a pattern in which girls receive consistently less encouragement than boys. When, for example, boys call out answers in class (which they do eight times more often than girls), teachers are apt to respond supportively. On the other hand, when girls call out answers, teachers are likely to instruct them to raise their hands if they wish to speak. Compared with boys, girls are not encouraged to take advanced courses in math and science. Furthermore, girls will encounter few positive female role models in textbooks and other instructional media over the course of their schooling. The report concludes that schools actually interfere with girls’ educational advancement.

And what of the popular media? These have shaped and invaded our images of gender and male–female relationships. Precisely at this time in history, when women are demonstrating their abilities in fields traditionally closed off to them, the media, particularly film, have depicted independent, competent women as treacherous, murderous, and malevolent. The timing is hardly coincidental in that, with the infusion of women in more positions of power, there should appear this cautionary subtext in film: Beware! Women are not just interested in equality (Faludi, 1991).

Saturday-morning cartoon shows are still dominated by heroic males, animal or human, accompanied by adoring, secondary female characters. The weekly television sit-coins, current in their inclusion of contemporary male–female challenges and social issues (working mothers, gender-sensitive boyfriends, little girls who aspire to greatness) continue to promote the traditional male–female paradigm in most of their scripts. Girls and women are still required to devote slavish attention to their looks and their ability to "catch the guy." A New York Times article (Garter, 1991) reports a media representative admitting that the under representation of girls as the central character in children’s television programming is clearly because girls will watch shows that have a boy as the protagonist, but boys will not watch shows with girls in the lead. Finally, media images of women as sex objects, victims of violence, and co-participants in their own subordination are still more often the rule than the exception.

Children will only be free of gender bias and domination in homes where their mother and father actively demonstrate mutual respect, have equal responsibility for domestic tasks as well as care-giving, openly discuss gender issues, find texts (stories, books, articles) that challenge gender outright, and can tolerate and support their children in thinking, feeling, or behaving outside traditional gender roles. This will not be easy. Social pressure comes down very hard on children, especially adolescents, who do not conform to stereotypic gender behavior. Parents and children will need supportive peers, teachers, counselors, as well as balanced media representations, if the family is to be encouraged in its goal of gender-neutral child rearing.

This is a transitional time regarding gender. Many of us no longer feel comfortable with what has shaped us as men and women. At the same time, what is familiar is powerful, and gender habits die hard. Will we be willing to challenge culturally prescribed beliefs and behavior? Will we be tolerant of our own and others’ awkwardness as we change? To inspire and facilitate us on our journey we take some liberty with the epilogue that ends Evelyn Fox Keller’s Reflections on Gender and Science:

My vision of a gender-free.. . [society] is not a juxtaposition or complementarity of male and female perspectives, nor is it the substitution of one form of parochiality for another. Rather, it is premised on a transformation of the very categories of male and female and correspondingly, of mind and nature.

A healthy.. . [culture] is one that allows for the productive survival of diverse conceptions of mind and nature, and of correspondingly diverse strategies.

To know. . . history.. .is to recognize the mortality of any claim to universal truth. Every past vision of., . . . .has proved in time to be more limited than its adherents claimed. The survival of productive difference... requires that we put all claims for intellectual hegemony in their proper place– that we understand that such claims are, by their very nature, political rather than scientific. (Keller, 1985, pp. 178–179)