Gender, Families, and Social Policy
This chapter summarizes the state of research and theory on how social policies related to family life in the United States reflect and reinforce the gender structure. First, I discuss how feminist theories of social policy explain how gender ideologies and inequalities influence the policy-making process and policy implementation. I then summarize theorizing on dominant gender paradigms of policy and how they have shaped family members’ abilities to utilize and benefit from social provisions. Contemporary U.S. family policies reinforce the gender structure largely through legislation that still assumes a married male breadwinner/female caregiver family model. I offer critiques of each paradigm and discuss how gendered assumptions of family life embedded in social policies limit our political abilities to help family members balance their care and paid work responsibilities. This discussion highlights how policies perpetuate the gender structure by not accounting for women’s and men’s overall different socioeconomic and political positions, especially as they intersect with class and race inequalities. This pretext of gender neutrality is a policy problem that points to necessary directions for future research by gender scholars, particularly empirical and theoretical work on the gendered and heteronormative effects of social policies.
KeywordsGender Policy Family Marriage
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