previous sub-section
10 A Wife is Clothes Family Politics, Cultural Organization, and Social Structure
next sub-section

Relations with Close Kin: Warmth for Women, Restrictions for Men

The general differences between relations involving men and those involving women are as characteristic of relations among close kin as they are elsewhere. Relations among brothers are generally polite but in most cases distant. Informants explain that this is due to the fact that each may be reluctant to discuss the details of his private life with the other lest there be some shame involved. Also brothers may and often do see one another as potential rivals for their father's estate or, should one die with minor children, as the steward of the other's estate who may use it to benefit his own children rather than his nephews and nieces.

Women are less concerned with honor, shame, and matters of inheritance, and it is not unusual for women, especially sisters, to be mutually supportive confidantes. Women compete with one another for prestige, but sisters are generally allies rather than rivals. The concern for honor and the avoidance of shame that restricts relations even between brothers is mainly absent between women in general and especially between sisters. It is fairly common, women report, for women neighbors to be like sisters, including having the closeness and mutual support characteristic of that relationship.

As with siblings, men's relationships with their children do not involve the warmth and mutual support women often have in theirs. A father can express love and warmth for his very young children, but it is difficult for him to do this when the children are older. Daughters are said to occupy a special place in their fathers' affections, but after the girl begins to show physical signs of puberty, it is difficult for the father and daughter to be alone together. In conservative families, the girl does not even stay in the same room with her father, going so far as to speak to him from a hallway or adjoining room rather than face to face.

Although sons are not expected to avoid being in the same room as their mothers, the segregation of the sexes does divide them. The mother and daughter are both assigned to the home by the segregation of the sexes, and they spend most of every day cooking and doing household tasks together. The mother's relations with her unmarried daughters are close and emotionally labile (see Swartz 1990b ), and the tie between them is a strong one in many families.


The mother's realtions with her sons are quite different. She sees them only at mealtimes and in the evenings when the men return to the home, and the freedom of emotional expression in relations with daughters is mostly absent with sons. Although there can be little doubt that the survey data are accurate in reporting the tie between mothers and sons as closer than that between fathers and sons, the mother-son relationship is nevertheless far more restricted than that between mothers and daughters. It is important to note that widows live with their daughters rather more often than with their sons, despite the fact that this puts them in the houses of their sons-in-law who will be mainly responsible for their support even though they have sons with houses of their own.

The restrictions in the mother-son relationship that stem from the segregation of the sexes obviously do not apply to fathers and sons, but the father-son relationship is said to be the most tense and full of conflict in the family. Although some boys and young men obviously admire and even like their fathers and some fathers show considerable love for their sons, the majority of the boys and young men willing to discuss such things freely reported strained relations with their fathers.[7] In a group of eight young men not yet married but living away from their parents, four were living elsewhere because of quarrels with their fathers and three reported trouble living with their stepfathers. In the more usual situation where the son remains in the family home until marriage, the respect in which a father is to be held dampens emotional expression even when the relationship between father and son is relatively free of conflict.

Further data on the emotional character of relations involving fathers, mothers, and their children can be seen in table 16. It is notable that more than a third of both sons and daughters say that children should love their mothers more than their fathers, while none of the sons and less than 10 percent of the daughters say that the father should be loved more. Twenty percent of the mothers say that mothers should be loved more than fathers, but none of the fathers say that fathers should be loved more. All of the fathers say that children should love both parents the same.

One interpretation of this surprisingly unanimous response by fathers is that they really believe that children should love both parents equally. Another, and equally plausible one, is that the real alternatives fathers see for themselves are limited to two: being loved the same as mothers or being loved less. In either interpretation, there is no basis for believing that fathers see themselves as being the rightful or likely favored parent as contrasted with a fifth of the mothers who seem to. That both parents are realistic in this is indicated by interviews with young people about their actual family showing that fathers are, in fact, loved less than mothers in a majority of families.

Given fathers' common and expected conflict with their sons and their distant relations with their daughters as contrasted with the loving and close relations between mothers and children, it is clear that fathers' relations with


Table 16. "Should children love their parents the same, their mothers a little more, or their fathers a little more?" (n = 51*)


The same

Mothers more

Fathers more

Informants' status




















* The sample for these tables is the same one used in chap. 5. See table 3 for a description of the sample.

the children are cooler and more isolated than the mothers'. Add to this the fact that a third of the offspring interviewed believe that mothers should be loved more than fathers and the effects of father's emotional limitations in relations with his children become quite clear.

previous sub-section
10 A Wife is Clothes Family Politics, Cultural Organization, and Social Structure
next sub-section