Report back from the Annual Conference of the Council on Contemporary Families

A guest post from Stephanie Coontz, a renowned author of many books, most recently A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s and teacher of family studies at The Evergreen State College. You can read our Feministing Five with her and Courtney’s review of her new book.

I just returned from the annual conference of the Council on Contemporary Families, a group that is a terrific resource for the latest research on gender, sexuality, family trends, and race, ethnic, and class diversity.

“Tipping Point? What Minority Families Become the Majority” was the theme of the April 8-9 Conference at the University of Illinois Chicago. Highlights included an evaluation of the interpersonal implications of new racial and ethnic data from the US census, an in-depth discussion of multiracial identity, a fascinating panel on sexual diversity, a discussion of the racial and ethnic tensions surrounding paid and unpaid caregiving, and a riveting series of reports on the challenges of raising children who can thrive — from the differences in the gestural communications between mothers and babies in various racial and income groups, to understanding the high suicide rates of Latina teens, to the efforts of Chicago Ceasefire to reduce violence in Chicago’s streets using the same methods that epidemiologists use to interrupt the spread of contagious diseases.

  • By 2042 we will be a majority minority nation. Because of my own recent research on what a huge transformation there has been in the social roles of and cultural attitudes toward women since the publication of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963, I was struck by the specificity of the date: 2042 is only 31 years from now – less time than it took to achieve tremendous changes in the social mores and cultural values about gender. Is it possible that we will experience a similar revolution in racial-ethnic roles and values?
  • Or are some barriers to acceptance of racial differences even more intractable than opposition to gender equality? By 2050, more than 20 percent of Americans will be able to claim a multiracial identity. But Jennifer Lee, author of The Diversity Paradox, noted the continuing cultural salience of the old “One Drop” rule of segregationist states — that one drop of black blood makes you black. Multiracial and biracial individuals have considerable flexibility in how they identify racially, but people with a black parent, regardless of their skin tone, are far more likely to be labeled black and to self-identify as black.  And black-white integration and intermarriage is far less advanced than other racial-ethnic combinations.
  • For more than 15 years, family researchers have believed that gender trumps money when it comes to dividing household labor. Several large-scale studies seemed to show that when wives earned more than their husbands, the men actually started doing LESS housework to compensate for the threat to their masculine ego. But Oriel Sullivan of Oxford reported that those studies were flawed. Men’s housework increases year by year as their partner’s resources increase.  For a collation of other reports prepared for the conference, see here.
  • For the first time more, reported sociologist Brian Powell, more people support than oppose same-sex marriage. And many people who say they oppose same-sex marriage but support same-sex unions define such unions as marriages that don’t take place in a church, meaning that they actually support same-sex marriage, they just don’t know it yet. To see the latest figures on support for same sex marriage and other power points from the conference, go here.
  • But Judith Stacey argued that marriage exacerbates inequality and that we should not focus on increasing rates of marriage, either for heterosexual or same-sex couples. She discussed her just-released new book, Unhitched, challenging assumptions about the “natural” connections between love, desire, sex, marriage, and domesticity. She also suggested that feminists rethink their traditional opposition to polygamy.

Join the Conversation