Women and the Family

Women in Society Series

The roles of men and women at home and in the family have changed over the years, and women face different stereotypes and challenges. Women and the Family explores the history behind these issues, the effects of these issues on women and society, and ongoing efforts toward gender equality.

Excerpt From Introduction

The Evolution of Women and the Family

Fourteen years after the first Incredibles movie, its sequel, Incredibles 2, picks up right where the last one left off. But in terms of depicting women and men’s roles within the family, it’s a whole new era.

This time it’s mom Helen Parr, aka Elastigirl, who has to step up and fight crime as part of a plan to help restore the reputation of superheroes. While mom is off saving the world, dad Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) stays home to take care of the kids: teenager Violet, pre-teen Dash, and baby Jack-Jack. While dad struggles in the beginning, he is determined to make it work for the sake of the whole family. “I have to succeed so she can succeed … so we can succeed,” Bob says. It’s a notable moment because it delivers an important message about how families can thrive. By providing mutual support and respect for each other, in whatever role they are playing, everybody benefits. Elastigirl emphasizes this point when she tells Bob, “I couldn’t do this if you hadn’t taken over so well.”[1]

Is this a fanciful fantasy about where women and the family are headed?

A woman’s relationship to her family has become increasingly complex over the past 150 years. While women don’t actually have superhuman powers, sometimes it can look and feel that way. Today, women are business executives and homemakers, political leaders and bakers of cookies, celebrity artists and nurturers, professionals and volunteers, entrepreneurs and family schedulers—all at the same time.

The family and women have always been closely intertwined. Women are the bearers of children and often their caregivers. Between mothers and fathers, mothers generally carry a larger piece of the household tasks. But more fathers are being just like Bob Parr and embracing the role of stay-at-home-dad. The Pew Research Center estimated about 2 million fathers were not working outside the home in 2012.[2]

While women and the family are inseparable, they are often in conflict with one another. Women’s quest for self-determination over the last 200 years has continually clashed with their efforts to also be mom-in-chief.

Until the twentieth century, the options available to women were very limited. Laws and customs all served to force women into unequal, subservient, and dependent positions. Much of their identity was based on their relationship to others: first as daughters, later as wives, and finally as mothers. Upon marriage women gave up many civil and property rights.

A women’s position in the family and society was mostly defined by her role as a wife and mother.  It was said that “a woman’s place is in the home.”

But women were not happy being confined to only one life path. Women increasingly sought to redefine their role in the family and in society. As the women’s movement pushed for more opportunities and equal treatment for women, women began to find fulfillment beyond their roles as homemakers.

Now women can no longer be defined in a one-dimensional way. Today women make up almost half of the labor force, more women than men have four-year college degrees, and women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households (42 percent of women vs. 22 percent of men).[3] Women are starting their own businesses, which have grown by 114 percent over the period from 1997 to 2017.[4]

[1] “’The Incredibles 2′ A Modern Movie.” AMC Stubs – Collect Memories. Get Rewards., 2018, www.amctheatres.com/amc-scene/the-incredibles-2-a-modern-movie.

[2] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/06/05/growing-number-of-dads-home-with-the-kids/

[3] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/15/for-womens-history-month-a-look-at-gender-gains-and-gaps-in-the-u-s/

[4] “The 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.” American Express, American Express OPEN, 2017, about.americanexpress.com/news/docs/2017-State-of-Women-Owned-Businesses-Report.pdf.