Transformations of Gender and Race: Family and Developmental Perspectives

Jenny Coleman (School of Sociology and Women’s Studies, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand)

Women in Management Review

ISSN: 0964-9425

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




Coleman, J. (2000), "Transformations of Gender and Race: Family and Developmental Perspectives", Women in Management Review, Vol. 15 No. 5/6, pp. 303-307.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Transformations of Gender and Race: Family and Developmental Perspectives originated as a special thematic issue of the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy and is essentially aimed at offering a range of contemporary feminist perspectives on issues relating to the theory and practice of family therapy. The book is a slim volume comprising six essays and one interview. It offers a range of perspectives on the ethics and morality of feminist family therapy practice, the implications of constructions of masculinity for clinical practice, the ways therapists replicate and reinforce socially prescribed norms within the therapy session, and the impact of feminist thought on clinical practice.

The opening article, “The dislocation of women’s experience in family therapy”, offers an analysis of articles published in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy with respect to gender, race, class, culture and sexual orientation as a means to analyse how feminism within the field of family therapy continues to privilege gender oppression over other dimensions of oppression. The central premise of this article is the need to move away from a predominant focus on gender oppression to an acknowledgment and consideration of other axes of oppression. The author, Rhea V. Almeida, argues for a gender discourse that is inclusive of race, class, culture and sexual orientation. To achieve this, she urges for a continuation of progressive shifts in inclusiveness in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy at the levels of the editorial board, the perspectives published and the systems of accountability within the journal.

“Child development: intersectionality of race, gender, class, and culture” by Rhea V. Almeida, Rosemary Woods and Theresa Messineo offers a theoretical reworking of child development which integrates race, class, gender and culture as central fundamental factors which structure development. In contrast to traditional theories of child development which tend to focus on discrete tasks and stages in the evolution of a child’s self‐development, the authors argue for a definition of maturity which focuses on the ability to live in respectful relation to others and to a complex and multifaceted world. Such a conceptualisation of maturity requires the ability to communicate, collaborate, respect difference and negotiate interdependence with one’s social and physical communities in non‐exploitative ways.

The following two articles contribute to the emerging field of masculinity studies. “Evolving constructs of masculinity” is based on interviews with three male family therapists of differing cultural and racial backgrounds and is part of a study on assumptions and constructions of masculinity and the problems these pose for men. The interviews centre on the impact of evolving notions of masculinity and their intersections with race, sexual orientation and culture, on the approaches taken in clinical practice. “Traditional norms of masculinity” summarises ideas from profeminist men’s studies literature in the form of an appendix listing ten traditional normative pressures associated with dominant constructions of masculinity. The list is intended as a resource for professionals and as a tool for self‐assessment and goal‐setting with participants in therapy‐based men’s groups. Several references are offered for further reading in this area.

The central concern of “Finding the words: instruments for a therapy of liberation” is providing a model of therapy which locates the individual and their behaviour within wider social and cultural contexts and attends to the hierarchies of power and privilege in which the individual is positioned. This “cultural context model” attempts to provide a conceptual frame and language for understanding and describing daily experiences that derive from our social locations within these hierarchies of power and privilege as an antidote to the silencing of those in subordinate and oppressive situations. The authors offer diagrammatic “power and control wheels” which systematically delineate the ways that differences of gender, race, and sexual orientation contribute to predictable and patterned differences in access to power and privileges at both the private/couple systems level and at the public/communal systems level. These power and control wheels, along with a list of expanded norms of the male role, are offered as therapeutic tools for individuals, couples, families and groups. A detailed bibliography of readings on masculinities is also provided.

“Dialogue: transformations of race and gender” offers perspectives from three practicing family therapists regarding current power politics in the field of family therapy. Each were asked to locate themselves in relation to feminist discourses and to consider the impact of feminist thought on women’s lives, on practice and in academia. The collection closes with an interview with Lillian Comas‐Diaz, founder and editor of the journal Culture, Diversity and Mental Health and co‐editor of Women of Colour: Integrating Ethnic and Gender Identities into Psychotherapy, who reflects on a diversity of issues ranging from manifestations of sexism in the Latin American context to critiques of non‐inclusive feminisms and the clinical implications of a practice based on the politics of difference.

The collection is influenced by theoretical perspectives often referred to in contemporary feminist discourses as the politics of difference and the politics of location. These discourses emerged in the 1980s as feminists and feminisms began to respond to challenges made by various groups of women regarding the universalising and homogenising tendencies in white “western” feminism. Contemporary theorising around difference considers how difference has been constructed in ways which set up groups and individuals in oppositional contrasts to each other and analyses the meanings and significances that are attached to differences. Two important themes which have emerged within these theoretical debates are that first, difference is often constructed in terms of dualities without any understanding of how those dualities operate in relation to each other, and second, difference is also closely associated with the absences that groups and individuals are purported to have. The political implication of such assumptions are important, for if one group unquestionably occupies the position of norm against which all others are measured, difference becomes exclusion.

It is notable that none of the perspectives offered in these articles make reference to these debates, particularly given the importance of concepts of “norms”, “lack” and “exclusions” within psychological discourses. Rather than questioning the complex interplay of differences, the articles in this collection simply list differences on the basis of gender, class, culture and sexuality as if the meanings and implications of these were self‐explanatory. As a result, the publisher’s enthusiastic marketing of the book as “superb contemporary thinking in cultural studies, post‐colonial theory, gender theory, queer theory and clinical research work with numerous populations who have been overlooked and undertheorized”, appears somewhat inflated. However, while it is difficult to agree that the collection constitutes a “radically unsettling volume” as asserted in the foreword, it possibly does represent an overdue paradigm shift in its attempts to take into account how individuals are positioned within linguistic and behavioural systems of meaning and how this impacts on their differential access to social and political power and privileges. It is in this sense that this book is valuable in offering some practical strategies for incorporating such an analysis into clinical practice.

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