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KathleenGerson - Gerson MORAL DILEMMAS GENDER SOCIETY...

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GENDER & SOCIETY / February 2002 Gerson / MORAL DILEMMAS 1998 Sociologists for Women in Society Feminist Lecture MORAL DILEMMAS, MORAL STRATEGIES, AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF GENDER Lessons from Two Generations of Work and Family Change 1 Kathleen Gerson New York University Modern societies have reconciled the dilemma between self-interest and caring for others by dividing women and men into different moral categories. Women have been expected to seek personal develop- ment by caring for others, while men care for others by sharing the rewards of their independent work achievements. Changes in work and family life have undermined this framework but have failed to offer a clear avenue for creating new resolutions. Instead contradictory social changes have produced new moral dilemmas. Women must now seek economic self-sufficiency even as they continue to bear respon- sibility for the care of others. Men can reject the obligation to provide for others, but they face new pres- sures to become more involved fathers and partners. Facing these dilemmas, young women and men must develop innovative moral strategies to renegotiate work-family conflicts and transform traditional views of gender, but persisting institutional obstacles thwart their emerging aspirations to balance per- sonal autonomy with caring for others. To overcome these obstacles, we need to create more humane, less gendered theoretical and social frameworks for understanding and apportioning moral obligation. C hoosing between self-interest and caring for others is one of the most fundamen- tal dilemmas facing all of us. To reconcile this dilemma, modern societies in gen- eral—and American society in particular—have tried to divide women and men into different moral categories. Since the rise of industrialism, the social organiza- tion of moral responsibility has expected women to seek personal development by caring for others and men to care for others by sharing the rewards of independent achievement. Although labeled “traditional,” this gendered division of moral labor represents a social form and cultural mandate that rose to prominence in the mid-twentieth century but reached an impasse as the postindustrial era opened new avenues for work and family life. (Among the voluminous works on this subject, see Kimmel 1996; Ryan 1981; Welter 1966.) At the outset of the twenty-first century, women 8 REPRINT REQUESTS: Kathleen Gerson, Department of Sociology, New York University, 269 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10003; e-mail: [email protected] GENDER & SOCIETY, Vol. 16 No. 1, February 2002 8-28 © 2002 Sociologists for Women in Society
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and men face rising conflicts over how to resolve the basic tensions between family and work, public and private, autonomy and commitment. They are searching for new strategies for reconciling an “independent self” with commitment to others.
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