Mothers versus Fathers
All of the data presented in this chapter support, or at least are not incompatible with, the idea that the initial identification of children of both genders is with the mother and that both girls and boys develop their generically human qualities in connection with a maternal figure. The maternal aspect of women may be seen as generic and as symbolizing the common humanity of both males and females. Males to some extent are constrained to establish their own identity in partial conflict with this maternal principle and, as a countermeasure, to stress the "difference," "dominance," and a perception of women as sex objects for men. The father in the nuclear family is partly a representative of the male peer group and partly a protector of his wife and children from the male peer group. Either way, the father seems to be the focus of a second differentiation that occurs, a differentiation that turns the tables on girls and makes boys superior. Girls add another identification to their maternal identification and become "male-identified" in the sense of learning to please and play up to males, whereas boys abandon their mothers in order to identify as males and join their male peers. Fathers may indeed reinforce what we may think of as "femininity" in women, but that father-oriented "femininity" is an overlay that may not be in a woman's best interests because it is a stance that makes a woman dependent and childlike.
To the extent that women's attitudes as mothers rather than male peer group attitudes prevail in the society, it is likely that the society will move away from a focus on gender conformity, compulsory heterosexuality, and male-dominated heterosexual relationships. My emphasis on the mother, however, does not mean that I consider lesbianism or male homosexuality as solutions to male dominance. Certainly, heterosexuality as it is institutionalized in
marriage implies dominance for the husband and secondary status for the wife. Taken alone, this argument might imply that heterosexuality must go if male dominance is to go, and some feminists have taken this position. Although marriage today clearly does involve expectations of male dominance, the relations between women and men in marriage are at least potentially equalitarian, however, and they are already more equalitarian than the relations between women and men as defined by the male peer group. As we have seen, it is within male peer groups that women tend to be sex-objectified and that male dominance finds its most exaggerated expression. Male attitudes toward females in the context of the male peer group, whether homosexual or heterosexual in orientation, often embody male dominance to its greatest extent. The attitudes of males as "fathers" toward daughters may be less sexist than their attitudes as "one of the boys."
Thus, even though marriage still involves secondary status for the woman, marriage or heterosexual relationships in the context of commitment can work against male dominance by mitigating the views of women fostered in the male peer group. Since marriage constrains and limits women more than it does men, however, it may not be so salubrious for the individual woman who participates in it. In short, those of us committed to more equal gender relations may applaud some of the consequences of long-term heterosexual commitments for men, but until marriage itself becomes more genuinely a coalition of equals, heterosexuality for women seeking equality must remain problematic.