Symbolic Interventionist Perspectives
Early symbolic interactionists such as Charles Horton Cooley and George Herbert Mead provided key insights on the roles we play as family members and how we modify or adapt our roles to the expectations of others-especially significant others such as parents. grandparents, siblings, and other relatives. How does the family influence the individual's self-concept and identity? Contemporary symbolic interventionist perspectives examine the roles of husbands. wives, and children as they act out their own part and react to the actions of others. From such a perspective. what people think, as well as what they say and do. is very important in understanding family dynamics. According to the sociologists Peter Berger and Hansfried Kellner (1964). interaction between marital partners contributes to a shared reality. Although newlyweds bring separate identities to a marriage, over time they construct a shared reality as 11 couple. In the process, the partners redefine their past identities to be consistent with new realities. Development of a shared reality is a continuous process, taking place not only in the family but in any group in which the couple participates together. Divorce is the reverse of this process; couples may start with a shared reality and, in the process of uncoupling. gradually develop separate realities (Vaughan, 1985). Symbolic interactionists explain family relationships in terms of the subjective meanings and everyday interpretations that people give to their lives. As the sociologist Jessie Bernard (1982/1973) pointed out. women ~d men experience marriage differently. Although the husband may see his marriage very positively, the wife may feel less positive about her marriage, and vice versa. Researchers have found that husbands and wives may give very different accounts of the same event and that their "two realities" frequently do not coincide (Safilios-Rothschild, 1969). How do symbolic internationalists view problems within the family? Some focus on the terminology used to describe these problems. examining the extent to which words convey assumptions or "realities" about the nature of the problem. For example, violence between men and women in the home is often referred to as "spouse abuse" or "domestic violence," However. these terms imply that women and men play equal
roles in perpetrating violence in families, overlooking the more active part that men usually play in such aggression. In addition, the term domestic violence suggests that this is the "kind of violence that women volunteer for, or inspire, or provoke" (Jacobs, 1994: 56). Some scholars and activists use terms such as wife battering or wife abuse to highlight the gender ed nature of such behavior (see Bograd, 1988). However, others argue that battered woman suggests a "woman who is more or less permanently black and blue and helpless" (Jacobs, 1994: 56). Other symbolic internationalists have examined ways in which individuals communicate with one another and interpret these interactions. According to Lenore Walker (1979), females are socialized to be passive and males are socialized to be aggressive long before they take on the adult roles of battered and batterer. However, even women who have not been socialized by their parents to be helpless and passive may be socialized into this behavior by abusive husbands. Three factors contribute to the acceptance of the roles of batterer and battered: (I) low self-esteem on the part of both people involved. (2) a limited range of behaviors (he only knows how to be jealous and possessive/she only knows how to be dependent and anxious to make
everyone happy), and (3) a belief by both ill stereo- Iyar gender roles (she should be feminine.'nnd pampered/ he should he aggressive and dominant) Other analysts suggest that this pattern is changing as more women are gaining paid employment and conning less dependent on their husbands or male companions for economic support.