IDENTIFYING POWER DIFFERENTIALS IN NONVIOLENT HETEROSEXUAL
COUPLES IN COUNSELING THROUGH DISCOURSE ANALYSIS
KAREN STE. CLAIRE SPICER
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
TflCTOR OF PT-TIT OfnPI--V
Karen Ste. Claire Spicer
This dissertation is dedicated to my daughter,
Kelsey Alexandria Ste.Claire Spicer,
who is deeply loved in this lifetime and others. She is a natural environmentalist and
existential thinker who communes with nature and her creatures. She is a child well
beyond her years with natural leadership skills, intuition, and wisdom that can only
benefit others. She represents all the children whose lives will be enriched when society
dismantles the socially constructed patriarchal hierarchy. Only then will children grow to
reach their highest self and create a more peaceful way of living and relating.
a visionary, an
for a very long
To the memory of my father,
Denver Simon Ste.Claire,
environmental activist, a professor, and a writer, who guided
time. Surely, his work influenced me in more ways than one
I am sure that he is very proud of this accomplishment.
me from afar
To the memory of my grandmother/mother,
Corinne Elizabeth Erikson Nebil,
an established portraiture artist (Smithsonian) and fashion illustrator in N.Y.C., a woman
ahead of her time. She touched my life with color, creativity, celebration, and a whole lot
of love. She influenced me more than any other person that has been a part of my life;
my heart fills with warmth and love when I think of her and all the good times we shared.
You, too, were the sunshine in my life.
The doctoral studies journey is a labyrinth of intricate passages to navigate.
Although I was the one who did the work; drove
Vz hours one way for class and
commuted for 3 years; and paid for the degree while working and managing a private
practice, running a household, and raising a child, I had many friends and family
cheering for me and offering healing services along the way.
My precious and adorable child, Kelsey, was patient many nights when her
mother was "working"
on the computer.
It has been my greatest joy to watch her grow
and share her life all the while I am sad that she is growing up so fast. Although I took
every summer off from my studies to spend time together, she suggested that I work
through this past summer in order to finish the study and to graduate.
We were both
ready for this to occur. It is my hope that my work will make her life better. I love her
more than words can say.
First and foremost, I want to thank Dr. Ana Puig who was one step ahead of me in
the doctoral process and shone the light before me so that I could
I had many phone
conferences in which she held me up and offered words of wisdom to help me make it
through the next turn.
She is also a great editor, eloquent speaker, and writer; I am sure
that we will see numerous emerging publications and contributions to the field that will
be everlasting. Most of all, I am blessed to know and love such a wonderfully kind and
Dr. Jimmy and Kris Gallagher, distant cousins but close in heart, provided me a
home away from home while I pursued coursework. I will always be grateful for their
generosity, love, and support. All the while, being one of the funniest couples that I
know, they provided respite from the intensity of my studies. It was quite entertaining to
watch them, although they misconstrued my fond observations as data collection for my
couples' research! We shared many events that will provide lasting memories: a shooting
star exhibit in freezing weather, the first news of unfolding 9/11 events, and discussions
about extended family. Kris is the essence of optimism and only allowed perhaps 30
seconds of moroseness before positively reframining my experience. I will love them for a
The three main men in my life influenced me in ways that made this entire
My husband, Bud Spicer, suggested that I get my Ph.D. several years
ago. I don't think he knew what he was getting himself into when he made this
suggestion. Bud spent
years in public education and supported this cause. Although he
is proud of my degree accomplishment, he doesn't necessarily like what I write. I
suppose part of this degree is to document with "evidence" my position in the gendered
power struggle that we naturally encompass since we live in a patriarchal world.
older brothers and only siblings are Denver Rene Ste.Claire, lieutenant fireman and
contractor, and Dana Michael Ste.Claire, anthropologist, lecturer, and author of four
My brothers were my support people during my childhood and adolescence and
empowered me since we were comrades together.
My sister in law Carol Ste.Claire
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acknowledge my other sister in law, Brenda Ste.Claire; my niece Ashlyn, who I deeply
love; my nephew Matthew, who is quite a remarkable young man; and Taylor. I want to
acknowledge my stepson Justin Spicer, also an avid angler, who kept my husband fishing
so that I could work.
His very sweet wife, Michelle, has remained supportive of this
We are often amazed at the similarities between Bud and Justin, mostly in their
unwavering gendered positions.
Sunny and Jimmy Simmons are another very special couple whose help with my
daughter made this degree possible.
They "adopted" Kelsey as their granddaughter since
the day she was born and helped raise her when I could not be there during class time.
They celebrated her accomplishments and growth with selfless, unconditional love. I am
truly blessed to have them in my life.
In addition, it was Jimmy, a former math teacher,
who endured math exercises with me while preparing for the GRE test before admission
to the Ph.D. program. Sunny is surely an angel from heaven; there is no soul as giving
and kind to so many.
My dear friends and cheerleaders have been many.
could not have stood up
without them. Shirley Henning kept me laughing along the way, provided a deep and
loving friendship and rescued me, along with my research materials, from three
uncanny how similar we are to each other, but I am unable to get enough
Mary Anne James let me lean on her shoulder and cry many times and
reminded me of my strength, while delighting my spirit with her unbelievable artistic
creations of the Goddess spirit.
Schumann, who has known me since I was a
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field" for the first 2 years.
was "psychobabble." Sur
Being the lawyer that she is, she thought most of my writing
ely, she rejoices in my accomplishment simply because she is
so sick of all of the doctorate discourse. I guess it is her turn now to return to school.
Deborah Freeland has been a faithful friend and cheerleader for 26 years and puts me on
a pedestal for this accomplishment; she forgets she was the one who suggested a Ph.D.
She is the one so strong and smart and with a heart of gold.
Alma Smith, a colleague and
friend, has remained tried and true; no matter how much time we spend together we just
never have enough time to catch up, ever.
Jayne Erika Dell Dillon and I met in first
grade; we never lost touch, and our childhood spirits continue to giggle whenever we get
together by phone or in person. She is a lifelong friend and supporter. Kim Pollock, out
of the kindness of her heart, helped me with childcare and school transportation for the
first 2 years in the program during class days. Lynn Conrad offered her continual support
and celebrated my accomplishments.
Candy Spires, executive administrative assistant
extraordinaire, is the one who knows everything about everything and help make this
She went way beyond her duties to be helpful. I tried to bribe her for a
degree without a dissertation, but she could never find the paper work!
The healers so important in this process, who nurtured me in different ways,
include Dr. Penny Norton, an incredible psychologist who touched my heart and my
mind and took me where I needed to go; Sarah Hauer, my acupuncturist who taught me
more about self-love; June Sitler, the best massage therapist I have ever known; Ninette
Ste.Claire (mother), craniosacral energy specialist with magical healing hands and who
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specialist and friend who is still having a difficult time learning that the customer should
always have the final say.
I cannot name the names of the participating therapists, but I want to
acknowledge them and share my deepest gratitude; without them, there would be no
study. I respect their work, and I appreciate their vulnerability.
anonymous couples who participated.
I also want to thank the
Their contribution to the research process was
essential and will live on through future research launched from this study.
Last, but not least, I want to thank my doctoral committee.
Dr. Silvia Echevarria-Doan, stayed the course throughout this process and successfully
mentored me whenever needed.
We share many everlasting memories over the past
years. My qualitative methodologist, Dr. Mirka Koro-Ljungberg, is the best of the best.
will always have the utmost respect for her.
Not only is she incredibly knowledgeable
but she is an empowering teacher, helping to frame and support my subjective positions,
sharing her understanding, and subsequently guiding me through relevant qualitative
paths. She worked with me laboriously in completing such a lengthy discourse analysis
and results. I also thank Mirka for encouraging me and facilitating my presentation at the
national QUIG conference, where I first made my debut on gender research.
Shehan, sociologist and representative for the Woman Studies and Gender Research
Program, stood by me and my feminist framework while I paved new territory, this being
no easy task.
Dr. Ellen Amatea, who has such a brilliant mind, stretched me more than
any other professor in class.
Her students made sure that there were enough "easy"
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABSTRACT .. .. .. .. xii
. 9 . . .. . . . . . . . 1
Evolving Focus/Subjectivity. ... ........ .... ...
Conceptualizing the Problem and Rationale for the Study .....
How the Study Was Conducted .. .. ...... . . . .
Theoretical Constructs ...........e ..................
General Orientation to the Contents and Organization of the Study
A REVIEW OF THE DISCOURSES
. . . 22
S S S 5 5 5 5 5 5 9 5 5 9 5 S S S S S S S S S S 9 9 2 6
Setting the St
ents ......... .... .
age . . . .
* 9 5
*. 9 5 .S. .. .S
. .. 26
Feminist Critique of the Marriage and Family Therapy Field
Marriage, Power, and Control .. . . . . .
Sociolinguistic Focus on Power . .
. . . . . . 6 2
. . S . . . .9 9 9 .. ....... 7 2
Statement of Purpose .
Research Questions .
Discourse Analysis ..
Participants . . .
Data Collection . .
* S S C 5 5 5 .
* S S S 9 9 5 5
* *. S S
. . 72
. . 76
S S S S S 5 5 S 5 5 5 9 9 9 9 5 5 C S 5 5 5 S S 5 S S 9 S iiA j
4 R SULTS: PART I . . . .. . . . . 114
Overlaps . . .
Minimal Responses .
Use of Questions ..
Hedges . .. . . .
Control and Development of Topics
. . . . . . . . . . 142
. . . . . . . . . . 150
* C S 9 9 9 9 S C S S C C C C C a S
* 9 C C C a C C C C a a C C C C C C a
. . . . . 15 1
. . . . . 15 8
. . . . . 173
. . . . . . . 1 8 1
RESUL S: PART II . . . . . . 192
Case of "Much Ado About Nothing" ......... ... .. ... .
Interesting Observations in the Case of "Much Ado About Nothing"
Case of "One More Degree in the Bedroom" ............ ....
. . . 192
. . . .193
. . . 204
Interesting Observations in the Case of "One More Degree in the Bedroom"
Case of "Stepping Out for Power" . . . . . .
Interesting Observations in the Case of "Stepping Out for Power"
. . . 215
. . 217
6 IMPLICATIONS FOR THE PROFESSION ... .... ..... ........ 226
Socioeconomic Status (SES), Gender and Power
Marriage Counselors Are Not Aware of Their Participation
. . . 235
Impotence or Not . . . . .... . . .
Language Is a Reflection of Our Cultural Rules ....
Feminist Research Not Informing Topic Development
Giving the Wrong Direction . .. . .
* C C C 4 C C C C C 9 C
* 9 C C 4 C S S C C C C S C
S. . 236
. . 237
Professional Directives Ignored or Short-term Behavior Changes in Male
Exposing Privileged Talk Rules ....
Conclusions/Summary .......... ...
Improvements or Future Research Needed
. . . . . . . 2 5 4
A IRB APPLICATION
B INFORMED CONSENT FORM .. ... ..*.. ....... 262
C RELEASE OF INFORMATION ................ ...... 264
D TRANSCRIPTION NOTATIONS
C C C S C C S S C C S C a C C S C C C 2 6 5
E TRANSCRIPTION CONVENTIONS ...... . . .... 266
. . 253
H DEMOGRAPHIC DATA FORM FOR THE THERAPIST ...... ...... 270
I FOLLOW UP QUESTION FORM ..... ....... ................... 271
J TABLE OF SESSION TIME AND SEGMENT ANALYZED.. .... .. 272
K TABLES FOR THE CASE OF "WHAT ABOUT HER NEEDS"
. ... 273
L TABLES FOR THE CASE OF "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING". .. . 274
M TABLES FOR THE CASE OF "ONE MORE DEGREE IN THE BEDROOM"
N TABLES FOR THE CASE OF "STEPPING OUT FOR POWER"
O TABLES FOR THE SUMMARY OF ALL FOUR SESSIONS ..
. . .. 276
. . . . 277
P LETTER TO THE PARTICIPATING THERAPISTS THAT WAS ATTACHED
TO THEIR COPY OF THE TRANSCRIPT
. S S S S S S S S S U S S U S S
Q LEGEND FOR TRANSCRIPTION ......... .. .......... 280
R SUMMARY OF RESULTS PROVIDED TO THE PARTICIPATING
Purpose of the Study ......
Research Questions .......
Linguistic Behaviors Studied
Summary of Results .......
S. . . . . . . 282
. . .. 283
. . . . . 28 5
. . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 9 2
. . .. .. .. . .U U S U U S S U 2 9 7
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
IDENTIFYING POWER DIFFERENTIALS IN NONVIOLENT HETEROSEXUAL
COUPLES IN COUNSELING THROUGH DISCOURSE ANALYSIS
Karen Ste. Claire Spicer
Major Department: Counselor Education
Gender based power differentials continue to plague nonviolent heterosexual
couples as highlighted by feminist research. Through the application of feminist theory
and the dominant theory of language to the practice of marriage and family counseling,
this study identified dominant linguistic behaviors in couples engaged in couples
counseling with experienced licensed marriage and family therapists. The purpose of this
study was to identify gendered oppressive situational talk between male and female
partners in counseling sessions through discourse analysis. Attempts by the therapist to
intervene in the dominant speech behaviors and their contribution to the power dynamics
of the speech were also assessed.
Four therapists (two females and two males) agreed to participate in this study
and to audio tape a typical counseling session of the couple. Each therapist selected a
free of major psychopathology. Eight dominant linguistic features were chosen and
identified using discourse analysis; they included talk time, interruptions, collaborative
talk, use of minimal responses, use of questions, control of topic, overlaps, and the use of
hedges. Averages of 36 minutes of session were selected for analyses.
This study revealed the prevalence of male dominant linguistic behaviors entering
the counseling room and that the counseling setting cannot be separated from the
sociocultural rules of a patriarchal society. The participating therapists did not intervene
in the dominant linguistic behaviors and appeared to be more supportive of the male
partner's talk than the female partner's talk. Thus, the study illustrated that the power of
the hegemonic system not only affects our institutions but also impacts the profession of
marriage and family counseling.
This introduction chapter aims to accomplish two goals. The first goal is to frame
the study by providing an overall sense of what it is about, why it is significant and how
it was conducted. I will define important terms and concepts throughout the introduction.
I will frame the study by providing a contextual background from my personal
perspective and address the following questions: "What brought me to this study?" and
"Why do I find it compelling?" The second goal of this chapter is to provide a general
orientation to the contents and organization of the research.
if I had an invisibility cloak like Harry Potter, I would not be so
noticeable when I stared at people and observed their interactions. My earliest memories
bring to mind an increasing sense of curiosity about people and how they behave. To this
day, one of my favorite pastimes is to study people and their behaviors and theorize
reasons they act and speak as they do. I remember imagining what it would be like to
walk in other's
shoes. I wondered about their life and their thoughts. In undergraduate
school at the University of Florida, in 1978, I watched classmates show different
reactions to tripping on a permanently fixed,
single red brick in the sidewalk that stuck
up awkwardly on one end. Note that I reported this to a professor so that proper steps
in contact with this lone brick. Many responses that I recall include looking around first
in embarrassment to see if anyone witnessed their stumble, looking at the bottom of their
shoe to act as if something was wrong with their shoe instead of themselves, turning
flush in the face, looking down with signs of anger such as cursing or kicking the brick.
No one ever fell down but this brick was quite disruptive. It interrupted conversations
with fellow students as well as adding more self-consciousness for new freshmen and
other students at the school. There were many students hanging around this area between
classes so that there was always a rather large audience about. I was one of them. I took
the same seat on the planter's
edge, in the shade. Sometimes I would burst out laughing. I
personally knew of this red brick for I also had stumbled at one time, probably twice,
until I committed its location to memory. It is funny that I did not remember my own
reaction when I tripped. Perhaps, someone was watching me. It appears that this natural
curiosity of watching human behavior, combined with my professional experiences,
evolved into my dissertation topic.
With two older brothers and no sisters, my sibling position of being the youngest
in my family of origin influenced my perspective. I learned well how to compete in a
"man's world." The training ground was my family. I noticed when I was edged out and
my voice was ignored, not because of being the youngest, but because I was "just a girl."
I was told that I couldn't play "cowboys and Indians" with my brothers because I was
"just a girl." Their rebuffs notwithstanding, I was adamant that I could play and would
follow them around anyway. This, of course, ruined their game, especially when they
were hiding and I was hanging around, unintentionally exposing their whereabouts.
example, when she told me that I needed to do the dishes every night because I was a
girl, I negotiated that I would take every third night, the same schedule as my brothers.
She agreed but she was not able to enforce this rule. I think she really did not know how
to raise a daughter like me. I questioned everything that I thought was unfair, although
ultimately I did as I was told. Eventually, my mother's best coping strategy was to
silence me. The "good girl" script was given to me, to be quiet and shy and not cause
problems. I followed the script outwardly for many years, but inwardly I took heed of my
discontent with the gender-based unfairness. I never blamed my brothers for the unfair
rules, but I held my mother responsible. It was all so illogical and oppressive. My father
was chronically sick for 10 years before he died when I was 13\/ years old. He was a
very intelligent man who was kind and sensitive and was not gender oppressive. Through
my interactions with my brothers and their friends, I learned to compete with males on
their turf and became an outstanding athlete, competing in swimming, racquet ball, and
triathlons. I loved the look on the boys' faces when "a girl" beat them. This competitive
nature was what brought my husband and me together; he challenged me to a game of
tennis and racquet ball played on the same day. He beat me in both games, and every
game since then I have been trying to beat him for the past 19 years. He was an Olympic
athlete. I am waiting until he is old and worn down enough so that I can manage to win.
By the time I was in middle school, I began to notice that for a girl to be attractive
was more important than anything else. By high school, I knew that I had the preferred
look and experienced the advantages that this bestowed. I was still hooked into this script
in college, with sorority life and the University of Florida homecoming pageant. I wanted
I found my voice again after graduating in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science in
Nursing from the University of Florida. I was living alone, away from any superimposed
dysfunctional family of origin rules. I was introduced to Bowenian Family Systems
theory in nursing school; this had a lasting imprint. At
25 years old, I consciously sought
out counseling for a period of time in order to deconstruct, to the best of my ability, the
negative family of origin imprints. Meanwhile, I practiced hospital nursing, specializing
at different times in pediatric/adolescent (Shands), cardiovascular nursing (North Florida
Regional Hospital), and community home health care (Atlanta/Daytona Beach). It was
clear to me that there was a link between the body's
physical health and emotional
health. It seemed that many of my patients neglected nurturing their emotional health. I
decided that a counseling degree would bring me closer to the source of the patient'
physical health problems. I returned to school for a graduate degree, this time at Stetson
University. In December of 1988 I received a master's degree in marriage and family
About 6 years into my career as a psychotherapist, Karl Tomm, a Canadian
psychiatrist and therapist, spoke at an annual American Association of Marriage and
conference in Orlando, Florida. During his opening session he stated
that it is the counselor's professional obligation to be socially responsible and become
activists if groupings of inequalities are noted in the counselor's clients. I understood his
message, at this point in my professional development, because I had become dissatisfied
with simply noting, without further action, the existing power differences and oppression
of women. I felt he was talking to me. I had heard the collective voice of the women that
and time again, I experienced the commonality of couples struggling with lopsided power
differences and the problems that it created. It was frustrating that my training, as well as
the required educational workshops, including state and national conferences in my field,
did not address these issues of gendered power differentials.
I found validation with other like-minded professionals when I joined a group of
five women for
years, called the Stone Center Group of Daytona Beach. I was a
member for about 2 years before starting the doctoral program in Gainesville. This group
consisted of feminist psychotherapists and met monthly to discuss "working papers"
originating from the Stone Center. During this time, I also attended the Stone Center at
Wellesley College in the Boston area to complete the advanced training workshop for
therapists. There was a clear message from this group that more feminist researchers
were needed in the field of psychotherapy. This call fit my professional developmental
needs as well as my personal goals.
Since the start of my doctoral studies, I have spent the past
years immersed in
literature reviews, readings, writings, and discourse about the applications of feminist
theory. I have piloted research in gender based dominant language using discourse
analysis. I have applied feminist theory to my course work and completed all course
requirements for the certificate in women's
studies and gender research (WSGR). I
presented "Exploring Power Differentials in Nonviolent Couples in Counseling Through
at The Conference for Interdisciplinary Qualitative Studies in
Athens, Georgia, in January 2004. All of these experiences have been crucial to my
ongoing development as a scholar-oractitioner and the ultimate focus on Dower
My personal experience as a wife further emphasized the awareness of the
gendered hierarchy. The gender issues that I read about in the professional journals and
continue to witness in my professional practice are the same issues that I experienced in
my family life. The salient issues are money and negotiation of access to that money, the
ways in which the decision-making process unfolds for important issues, methods of
negotiation for completion of household chores and child care, and acknowledgment and
valuation of nonwaged work. I have witnessed the difference in how male clients and
female clients talk in therapy, such as their talk time, interruptions, and control of topic.
have also witnessed how often "her" issues do not get resolved when it comes to "him"
giving up his privileges on the prominent areas presented in relationship counseling. I
have witnessed "her"
attempts to influence "him" from a subservient position in which
"he" could pull rank at any time and deny her access to money and resources. For most
couples, this dominant construction of gender, including our language, is part of the
"normal" heterosexual relationship.
My ultimate personal awareness of this reinforcement process of gendered
socialization involved raising a daughter who is almost 13 years old. Many factors have
made it difficult for me, as a mother, to help my daughter understand her world and feel
valued as a girl: from not being able to locate an important mother figure in a children's
story to watching movies or television shows depicting the female as crazy, sexualized,
dead, sick, stupid, incompetent, or mean. I ran interference as much as possible, but with
great difficulty since our culture saturates us with these gendered messages, highlighting
the female's lower status. Before my daughter could read I changed the words in her
she said to me,
"Mommy, I know that you change the words to a girl when you read to
I knew at this point that it was time for a new strategy, one of deconstruction.
Ultimately, I believe that if counselors can learn to turn their attention to power
differences and detect the language that exposes them, then counselors can begin to
address this fundamental and critical issue in couple's
counseling. My ultimate goal is to
facilitate this process through my research.
Conceptualizing the Problem and Rationale for the Study
Feminists have widely demonstrated the problematic nature of marital and family
life for women (Blaisure & Allen, 1995; Fishman, 1978; Thompson & Walker, 1989).
There is an overwhelming cost to women financially, emotionally, and physically.
Women are the marital partners responsible for a family's emotional intimacy, for
adapting their sexual desires to their husbands'
, for monitoring the relationship and
resolving conflict from a subordinate position, and for being as independent as possible
without threatening their husbands'
status (Fishman; Thompson & Walker). Typically,
these women show up as the identified patient in therapy and are depressed, stressed, and
exhausted (Blaisure & Allen). The core marital problem is identified as the patriarchal
hierarchy and the resulting devaluation of women's
work. There are many factors that
contribute to obscuring women's entitlement to relational equality (Blaisure & Allen).
The ability to recognize the marital collusion of equality presented by some
couples is an important skill for the marriage and family therapist. That couples create
marital myths of equality serves the purpose of preserving marriages. Couples are not
aware of the discrepancy between what they espouse as equality and what they actually
recognizing the existence of covert power (Fox & Murry, 2000).
When a woman in a
traditional marriage begins to assume feminist ideas (having equal power), her husband
has little interest in changing his beliefs and behaviors (Blaisure & Allen, 1995).
The research supports the feminist position that in a heterosexual couple, a
hierarchy is established based on gender (Fox & Murry, 2000). This position of power
to resources and privileges that results in the wife negotiating from a
subservient position (Goldner, 1985). Currently, the focus of the feminist evaluation of
family therapy is on power inequality demonstrated through the negotiation process of
household chores, childcare, and control of money (Blaisure & Allen, 1995; Ferree,
1990; Fox & Murry
Haddock, Zimmerman, & MacPhee, 2000; Thompson & Walker,
1989). Feminist scholars have reported research about the gaps in marriage and family
therapy and have consistently documented this since the 1980s.
They have challenged the
inequity of the gendered roles and power in the family. This feedback, however, was
largely ignored. Rampage (2002) reports that the field of couples therapy "has avoided
fully embracing the principles of feminism that generated the social changes in gender
and marital roles, settling instead for a more token acknowledgment that gender means
something, without wanting to specify what that something is" (p. 261). She further
stipulates that the "connection between gender and power in marriage needs to be more
fully integrated in the theory, research, and treatment of couples" (p. 261).
When power differentials of couples are acknowledged, it challenges the
traditional family system model that insisted adult family roles were interchangeable and
equal (Goldner, 1985; Knudson-Martin, 2002). Family therapy emerged out of the
at the time. However, feminists noted that by mainstream family therapy standards,
women were often blamed for the family's
dysfunction (Goldner, 1985). Another
feminist criticism is that the family system model failed to expand the systemic idea by
not linking itself to the larger macrocosm of our culture. The feminist always links the
family system to the larger society because of the belief that the personal life is a
reflection of our political life. It is impossible for families to not be affected by our
sociopolitical environment. The family reflects the same power differentials as those seen
in our environment. The feminists are critical of the family counselor who pretends that
the family is sheltered and is unaffected by the outside world (Carter, 1992).
In spite all of the research and literature documenting these very serious concerns
about the marriage and family therapy field, the feminist critique has not been fully
embraced and integrated into the mainstream of counseling.
"Feminists could easily
agree that women are disadvantaged by the structure of heterosexual marriage, and that
couple therapy has done little to address that disadvantage; but specifying how to redress
gender inequities in marriage and other committed relationships has proven to be a
thornier problem, about which there is still no universal agreement"
p. 263). A number of researchers have been offering suggestions about how to apply
feminist principles to the practice of marriage counseling in order to create
transformations in those relationships rather than just merely helping the couple fit into
the prevailing paradigm of marriage (p. 261). Rampage states that there are several
factors that have contributed to the feminist revisionism losing its momentum. One is that
a number of the earlv voices have left the field: sender has been subsumed under the
variable have been eager to define the problem as solved, and therapists as well as clients
have been willing to accept the tiniest of token changes. For example, if her male partner
talks to her for a few minutes each day, helps with child care or household chores, or she
opens a new checking account: all of these could be enough of a change for some
The issue of gender and power seems to evoke an emotionally charged reaction in
others that interferes with a rational and thoughtful integration of the feminist critique.
believe it is time for the discourse to evolve so that we can integrate the crucial feminist
feedback into the counseling field in a professional manner, one that is not blocked by
the patriarchal gatekeepers in positions of power or by the ignorance brought about by
hegemony. This remains a difficult task if those in power choose to remain blinded by
their own power differentials and defensiveness and maintain an unwillingness to
incorporate the feminist research, including publishing findings in the mainstream
journals. Of course, it makes sense that those who are most likely to lose privileges and
resources would be most likely to participate in the denial or the feminist backlash in the
profession (Carter, 1992). The task is further complicated if the oppressed continue to be
unaware of their immersion in the sea of hegemony. Gramsci (1988), known for his
writing on the hegemonic system, said that "hegemony is coercion wearing the velvet
glove of consent" (cited in Artz & Murphy, 2000, p. 185).
I believe that the impact of gendered hierarchy is so penetrating and powerful it
affects everyone's emotional health in negative ways, including men. Men are also
constrained by the very narrow cultural definition of masculinity. The cycle of power
and the other dominant. Couples often create the myth of equality, which prevents a real
look into the dynamics of their relationship; to look closer at the lopsided power
differences would compromise the stability of the dyadic system.
If anyone is to be held accountable for understanding the power dynamics of
couples in relationships, it must be the relationship specialist: the marriage and family
Yet, research documents that they are not trained in understanding gendered
power differences and, therefore, are not intervening according to the feminist critique of
the field (Fox & Murray, 2000; Haddock et al., 2000). One speculation about why there
has been such a resistance to understand and intervene in power differentials in couples is
that the feminist feedback about heterosexual relationships also challenges therapists to
the power dynamics in their personal relationships. It is quite difficult to help
others with these issues if we are blind to our own. In addition, a female therapist may
not be valued by the male client and he may dismiss her invitation to evaluate his part in
the problem, which may include giving up culturally sanctioned marital privileges.
In addition, therapists are not trained in detecting the dominant characteristics in
our language and do not hold their couples accountable for the perpetuation of the
patriarchal rules of the relationship through talk. Language encapsulates our culture and,
as such, is an ideal instrument to study when wanting to capture the power differentials in
couples reflecting the macrocosm in which we live (Coates, 1993; Gee, 1999).
Ultimately, I believe that if counselors can learn to focus their attention on power
differences and detect the language that exposes them, then counselors can begin to
address this fundamental and critical issue in couple's counseling. Other issues will only
How the Study Was Conducted
The purpose of this study was to identify, through discourse analysis, gendered,
oppressive situational talk between nonviolent male and female partners in counseling
sessions. Feminist theory and the dominant theory of language were applied to the
practice of marriage and family counseling. The research questions were formulated in
association with the theoretical constructs, feminist theory of gender and power and
dominant theory of language. The research question was how does the language between
nonviolent heterosexual couples reflect power differentials between them during a
couple's counseling session? Subthemes to this question included how is language used
during the counseling sessions? How is clients' use of language influenced by their
gender? How does language in use affect the equity in the session? How does the
therapist respond to the language inequity in the session, if present? Do the therapists
contribute to the inequity? These questions guided the data analysis and were generated
around the themes of gender, power, and language.
Discourse analysis was the method used to evaluate the language spoken during
four different marriage counseling sessions. I applied the dominant theory of gendered
language differences and identified eight different characteristics that translate into
power dynamics in language.
The eight different characteristics included talk time,
number of overlaps, number of interruptions, use of minimal responses, use of hedges,
control of topic, use of questions, and collaborative talk (Coates, 1993). These eight
linguistic characteristics have been associated with dominant language used by males in
mixed gender talk. People who have more power in a relationship will talk more; overlap
would control the topic more including ignoring or not developing her/his topic; they
would not use questions as frequently as her/him, which demands a response; and their
talk would be more competitive rather than collaborative.
Two female and two male licensed marriage and family therapists participated in
the study, and they each selected and audio taped a couple from their private practice
clientele. The couple's
criteria were heterosexual, nonviolent, and free from major
psychopathology. The time frames chosen were that the couple had been in counseling at
least four sessions and that the therapist had at least 7 years of clinical experience.
Nonviolent heterosexual couples were chosen to participate in this study because the
majority of couples would define themselves as such. Additionally, I wanted to evaluate
mainstream couples and identify the power differentials that are often, unbeknownst to
them, a part of their relationships. In this study, linguistic behaviors were identified and
related to gender differences and power. The participating therapists' linguistic behaviors
were also included in the analyses.
The guiding premise in this dissertation is feminist theory
. Dialogue with other
traditions of social and political theory has been fundamental to the development of
feminist theory (Osmond & Thorne, 1993). There are myriad categories of feminism, and
various authors categorize them differently. However, there are common themes to
feminist theory. In general, the different categories reflect various understandings of the
meaning of women's
lace in culture and the change process necessary to achieve the
by its major assumptions and finally the specific categories of feminism with its specific
History of feminist theory
Feminist theories emerged from and continue to have strong ties with political
movements to end women's subordination within families and other institutions
(Osmond & Thome, 1993) Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the major theorists of the
's movement, offered a critique of marriage and family customs and advocated for
divorce reform, birth control, and labor unions for women workers. Suffragists feared
that she was too radical and thus elected Susan B. Anthony as their leader instead. By the
1880s, the women's rights movement had gained widespread support but mostly around
the limited goal of voting rights. The battle to win the right to vote was finally passed in
1920, which took 52 years and exhausted the women's movement at this point in time.
Toward the end of the 1920s there was growing fear of communism and radicalism,
which expanded into an attack on the women's movement. The media began to declare
that the family would disintegrate if women abandoned their domestic roles. The Great
Depression of the 1930s further obscured the movement. More than 40 years passed
before women organized and again became committed to their collective emancipation
from oppression (Osmond & Thorne, 1993).
The 19th century women's
rights movement encouraged more women to seek
Women social scientists began to enter sociology and psychology
professions during the late 1800s. Over time, an institutionalized schism emerged in the
social sciences between the more theoretical, which was associated with "male,"
between the domestic domain and women's
subordination (Osmond & Thome, 1993).
Gillman argued that marriage controlled women because of men's
family and that wage work is essential for women's
economic power in the
self-esteem. She led groups of
feminists who demanded wages for housework, housewives' cooperatives, day-care
centers, and community dining clubs (Osmond & Thomrne, 1993). Margaret Mead, a
second generation female social scientist, was a pioneer in arguing that families would
have fewer arguments and be less emotionally stressed if the job of mothering was shared
by many people. She also suggested that sexuality could be more casual and open and
that there should be early socialization of girls in the work place (Osmond & Thorne,
There was a reemergence of feminism in the 1960s, which grew out of a
movement for the rights of African Americans (Osmond & Thorne, 1993). This period of
time is called the second wave of feminism; its focus and concerns were broader, vis-a-
vis the first wave, which focused more on the right to vote. The central themes in the
second wave became oppression and liberation. The oppression of women was perceived
to be the result of active subordination of women and it was understood that
emancipation required political changes (Osmond & Thorne, 1993).
Sociologists dominated the academic writing on the family during the late 1960s
and the 1970s. They assumed that the family was separate and different from other
institutions. The goal of the sociological research and writing was consistently supportive
of strengthening marriage and the family rather than questioning or criticizing the
institution of the family itself and its gendered division of labor. It was men who
Major assumptions of feminist theory
There are five general assumptions of feminist theory (Osmond & Thorne, 1993).
The first is the assumption that a woman's/girl's experiences are valuable and have been
underrepresented or totally ignored in the past with the majority of "knowledge"
reflecting a Euro-American class-privileged [white], heterosexual man (Osmond &
Thorne, 1993). The second assumption is that gender is the basic organizing concept and
gender is socially constructed. Gender is seen as a primary category in which power
dynamics operate (Brown, 1994). The differences between women and men are
exaggerated. The purpose of this focus is to legitimize and perpetuate power relations
between women and men. Like race and social class, gender is a basic fundamental
building block for inequality (Brown, 1994; Osmond & Thorne, 1993).
A third assumption of feminist theory is that gender must be connected to the
larger macrocosm of our society. Feminist research and writing must reflect a
sociocultural perspective since the entire culture reflects and supports existing gender
inequities. A fourth assumption is that "the family" supports the oppression of women
and should not be shielded from analysis. There are inherent rules of oppression
embedded within the institution of marriage. The fifth assumption is that, since the major
institutions of our culture support patriarchal inscriptions and devalue women and their
experience, feminist research must also call for a political change (Brown, 1994; Osmond
& Thorne, 1993). The personal is political; therefore, in essence, to study feminism is to
study gendered politics (Brown, 1994). A feminist also understands that feminist theory
assumes that we live in patriarchal cultures that are damaging to human existence and
More specifically, feminist theory as applied to therapy focuses on the role of
society in creating problems for the individual (Sharf, 2000). Feminist theory takes a
sociological as well as a psychological view that centers on gender and power differences
and on multicultural issues. The goals of feminist therapy are characterized by an
emphasis on appreciating the impact of political and social forces on women, an open
and egalitarian relationship between client and therapist, and an appreciation of the
female perspective on life (Sharf, 2000), together with recognition that we are part of a
larger political system (Avis & Turner, 1996). Feminist theory also holds family
therapists accountable for understanding their own gender values and beliefs and
achieving sensitivity to gender as a social category. The therapist is thus able to avoid
unconscious gender bias with the subsequent replication of dominant ideas about women
and men (Avis & Turner, 1996).
Violence and nonviolence
Power is the infrastructure of the sex-gendered system.
"Power is the process
whereby individuals (or groups) gain or maintain the capacity to impose their will on
others despite opposition.
Involving or threatening punishment, as well as offering or
withholding rewards, is also a part of this dynamic" (Robinson & Howard-Hamilton,
). It is interesting to note that in societies that are rape-free, and
battering-free, there is a different structural system in which women are not socially and
economically dependent on men; instead, they have control over resources and make the
same important decisions as men. This is in contrast to the American structural power
system where women are most likely to be economically dependent on men (Robinson &
In general terms, domestic violence is defined as any kind of aggressive, abusive
or violent behavior of one family or household member (present or former) toward
another. Robinson and Howard-Hamilton (2000) state that it is estimated that
million women each year are abused by their partners and that domestic abuse is a
national phenomenon that crosses all socioeconomic lines.
Violence is defined as "an act
carried out with the intention or perceived intention of causing physical pain or injury to
another person" (Straus & Gelles, 1988, p. 15). Physical abuse can range from threats of
violence, pushing, shoving, or slapping to restraining, beating, kidnapping, raping, and
using a weapon or even murder. The following statistics originated from the Florida
Department of Law Enforcement, Domestic Violence Data Resource Center for the year
2004 for the state of Florida.
Of Florida's murders, 26.6% were domestic violence
19,021 persons were arrested for domestic violence related offenses. Of the
total domestic violence related offenses, 21,494 (18.0%) were arrested for aggravated
assault and 90,079 (75.2%) were arrested for simple assault. Other domestic violence
cases included 14 for manslaughter, 1,146 for forcible rape, 407 for sodomy, 1,146 for
for aggravated stalking,
4,551 for threat/intimidation, and 496 for
simple stalking. These statistics indicate that domestic violence continues to be a major
societal problem in victimizing women and supporting male dominance. Not all abuse is
physical in nature. According to the power and control wheel (Pence & Paymar, 1993) a
partner can gain power and control over another by using more subtle forms of abuse
such as: intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming,
using male privilege, using economic abuse and using coercion and threats. It is beyond
has not been a history of physical abuse, as defined herein, in the couple that is receiving
There is an abundance of literature on domestic violence and yet many different
definitions can be identified. The overwhelming number of domestic violence incidents
in which men batter women is astounding (Jacobson & Gottman, 1998). This is a clear
demonstration of the oppression of women by their husbands and boyfriends and the
cultural epidemic that it reflects. I have chosen to not focus on how violent couples
interact and talk with each other because so much has already been written on this and
still a consensus of definition and treatment has not been reached. In addition, I wish to
bring the research to the majority and expose the patriarchal power exercised through
nonviolent language. Most couples would define their relationship as nonviolent and
because of this it is my intention to draw attention to research of nonviolent couples.
intersection of feminist theory and domestic violence is the assumption that the
prevalence of violence against women is part of the culturally sanctioned patriarchal
system in which women are controlled through physical power. I focused attention on
how women are oppressed through language.
An additional reason that I have selected nonviolent couples to study is that in the
area of violence prevention and treatment, the treatment literature has not kept pace with
the nontreatment related research. Many treatment approaches acknowledge the larger
social problems that contribute to increased violence and interfere with successful
outcomes (Busby, 1996).
"Addressing violence at the familial, societal and cultural levels
may promote a lessening of intergenerational violence" (Busby, 1996, p. 19).
It is very
world cultures and religion.
In order for a second order change to occur, the violence
inherent in our very existence must be addressed (Almeida & Durkin, 1999; Busby,
Bograd (1992) states that therapists minimize the overwhelming social realities
and manifestations of power in couple's counseling. I believe the use of dominant
language by men when communicating with women is a form of control and acts to
oppress them. Thus, how gendered power is played out in non-violent relationships needs
to be researched in greater depth. Shedding
ght upon this issue is the ultimate aim of my
From a feminist perspective, intimate violence is a criminal act. It is an effort
made by a male perpetrator to control, intimidate and inflict harm on his partner-victim
(Goldner, 1999). Many feminists want this kind of behavior punished within the criminal
"If our culture did not in some sense sanction wife abuse, it would occur
much less frequently than it does" (Jacobson, 1994, p. 20). Beyond physical and sexual
assault, women in our society also endure subtler, more insidious forms of oppression
and dominance; verbal aggression being one of them:
Verbal aggression is a form of communication, either verbal or nonverbal,
intended to cause psychological pain to another person, or perceived as having
that intent. Examples include name calling or nasty remarks (active, verbal),
slamming a door or smashing something (active, nonverbal),
sulking (passive, nonverbal). (Straus & Sweet, 1992, p. 35)
and stony silence or
Connecting Power to Language
Speaking has been analyzed as a social act in a social context since 1962
(Troemel-Ploetz, 1991). However, there has been only scattered research in the field of
marriage and family therapy connecting power and language; linguistic and sociology
in language does not exist in a vacuum. To separate theories about language and gender
as distinct issues is misleading (Coates, 1993). Coates found that,
As children, we become language users and, through using language, become
gender members of the community: both language and gender are developed
through our participation in everyday social practice. In other words, language
and gender are inextricably linked. But the fact that gender is accomplished
through talk is only now being addressed seriously by sociolinguistics. (Coates,
1993, p. 204)
Gee (1999), a linguist, provides the framework for analysis of language. His focus
is on how "language in use" reflects our social practices (p. 36). Language is universal. It
carries the richness of our culture, including our gendered culture. Gee is more concerned
with a theory and a method for how the details of language get recruited at a particular
site and how the language will "pull off" specific social activities and identities.
According to Gee (1999), language-in-use is everywhere and is always political and
"politics is part and parcel of using language" (p. 2). Gee's use of the term "political"
means anything and anyplace where human social interactions and relationships have
implications for how "social goods" are or ought to be distributed. Social goods are
anything that a group of people believe to be a source of power, status or worth.
fact that people have differential access to different identities and activities, connected to
different sorts of status and social goods, is a root source of inequality in society" (Gee,
1999, p. 13). Intervening in such matters can be a contribution to social justice. As Gee
"since different identities and activities are enacted in and through language, the
study of language is integrally connected to matters of equity and justice"
Feminist theory and the study of language were integrated in this research to uncover the
This study's focus on sociolinguistics and power dynamics in relationships was
essentially informed by Coates'
(1993) research on women, men and language. She
highlights that although there are two different theories of male and female language
differences, one focusing on dominance and the other focusing on difference, women are
always in the oppressive position (Coates, 1993). Therefore, based on my feminist
theoretical position and understanding, I have chosen the dominant theory of language
and its characteristics to
the gendered differences in talking styles of couples in
marriage counseling. I have conducted an extensive review of the professional literature
and immersed myself in the discourses of feminist critique, sociolinguistics, and power
dynamics. After critically analyzing the results of this study
it is my contention and the
position I intend to further expound upon, that marriage and family therapists must
further explore and seriously consider integrating the feminist critique into their clinical
practice: learning to appropriately and effectively attend to power differentials,
highlighted in language, in the course of couples'
General Orientation to the Contents and Organization of the Study
Chapter 1, the introduction, situates the research within the parameter of both
personal and professional life. First, the evolving focus and subjectivity of the research
was discussed. Next, conceptualization of the problem and rationale for the study were
defined important terms and how I conceptualized critical processes like
relational power and nonviolent relationships. The theoretical constructs were covered at
length, including feminist history, major assumptions of feminist theory, categories of
feminist theory, and finally details of the radical feminist theory to which I subscribe.
chose the dominant theory and how merely describing "differences
" in our language
eliminates associating power with language. I described discourse analysis and the
position that I assumed was borrowed from Gee's
(1999) work in which he connects
language to our culture and describes situational talk. The analytical steps of combining
discourse analysis and dominant theory of language from the sociolinguistics field were
2 contains most of the relevant review of the discourses; however, the
methodology chapter also contains some of the discourse review on feminism and
discourse analysis from a methodological point of view. Discourses were selectively
presented throughout the dissertation to support various aspects of the study (Piantanida
& Garman, 1999). Hegemony and the sociolinguistic focus on power were discussed.
The sociolinguistic focus on power included language being about difference or
dominance: language and power, gender differences in language, and other discourse
analyses of power and gender. The feminist critique of the marriage and family therapy
was traced over time. This critique included subthemes of
sex role versus gender theory;
marriage, power and control; power and physical violence; lopsided marital
responsibilities; housework and waged work; parenting the children; money and power;
and marital myths of equality. It was important to situate the reader in a full
understanding of the hegemonic system that we are all a part of, male and female alike. I
concluded the review of discourses by including two powerful feminist research studies,
done in 1978 and 1979, that effectively connected language and power to gender: one by
Fishmen (1978) and the other by West and Zimmerman (1979).
questions. The second part includes the theoretical perspective that includes a summary
of radical feminism, how this theory affected the perception of truth and knowledge, and
how radical feminism shaped my study including how it guided my research questions.
Part three of Chapter 3 is the methodology section with subheadings of data
participants/setting, sampling criteria, data collection methods, subjectivity, data
analysis, validity, and limitations of the study.
Chapters 4 and
represent the results of the analysis. Chapter 4 is an exhaustive
analysis of one case. Chapter 5 includes the analysis of the remaining three
significant segments of talk were chosen and elaborated upon in this chapter. The
organization and presentation of results were primarily related to underlying theoretical
The final chapter, Chapter 6, outlines the implications of the study to the field of
marriage and family therapy. This chapter includes a discussion of socioeconomic status
gender, and power. This study integrates a discussion of the role that marriage and
family therapists play in the reproduction of our cultural rules of power through
language. Common themes found in all the cases are discussed, and their impact and
application on the field of marriage and family therapy are explored. There is a
discussion of how feminist research was not informing topic development in the
counseling sessions; how the therapist attempted to manage a male client who refused
influence from the therapist, as evidenced by his dominant linguistic behaviors, and its
implications; how there was so much focus on his needs and not her needs; and
privileged talk rules were illuminated and discussed. Finally, this section discusses how
Following the implications chapter, the reader will locate the reference section
and the appendix. The appendices will include the release of information form, IRB
application, informed consent form, transcription convictions, transcription notations,
copy of the letter sent to the participating therapists that accompanied their transcriptions,
a legend for the transcriptions given to the participating therapists, summary of the
results provided to the participating therapists, and methodology tables. The
methodology tables include Appendices J, K, L, M, N, and O.
A REVIEW OF THE DISCOURSES
Feminist researchers often integrate and draw on methods and ideas from other
disciplines beside their own (Avis & Turner, 1996). The research involved in this
dissertation will reflect this notion. I will integrate the feminist critique of marriage and
family therapy practice, particularly regarding gender and power, with the dominant
theory of language from the sociolinguistics field, and discourse analysis, particularly
identifying language as carrier of our cultural history and rules.
As a feminist marriage and family therapist, I am equally concerned for both the
female and male client. The lopsided power differentials in couples create obstacles in
reaching meaningful emotional intimacy and connection. It is difficult for any couple to
reach conflict negotiation of presenting problems in therapy when power differentials
exist and are not addressed. Language is a crucial variable of power that encapsulates our
social cultural environment, even in the therapist's office. It is important to continuously
uncover covert power relations that operate between heterosexual couples that are
constantly enacted and reproduced in marriages and also within the therapeutic system. I
took a closer look at the couple's language situated in a therapy room as well as the
therapist contribution to this discourse.
I nm nartirlnlrl\t int~rpvtpA in h'tirz cxnAir rnltf rl rnirir mmlhnl'anrc ar= rrart
use during a professional therapy session can capture the power dynamics of a
heterosexual nonviolent couple through discourse analysis. As a feminist researcher, I am
interested in raising questions that challenge dominant constructions of gender and
exposing the invisible dominant language that is part of the "normal" heterosexual
relationship. I am also curious as to whether or not a licensed marriage and family
therapist notices and address the powered language dynamics of the couple in a therapy
setting. I asked the question,
"How is powered language minimized in family therapy
There are three guiding theoretical components of this research. They are
discourse analysis, sociolinguistic theory of dominant language, and feminist theory.
(1999) approach to discourse analysis includes his connection of language being
the carrier of our history. Humans carry our history through language. The discourses
that we enact existed long before we participated in it and most will exist long after us
"Discourses, through our words and deeds, carry on conversations with each
other through history, and in doing so, form human history" (Gee, 1999, p. 18). Mostly,
humans are very unaware of the history of these conversations.
"In the end a discourse is
that exists in the abstract as a coordinated pattern of words, deeds, values,
beliefs, symbols, tools, objects, times, and places" (Gee, 1999, p. 19).
Sociolinguistics is the study of language in its social context. Specifically, this
includes analyzing both stylistic and social variations in language. Stylistic variations are
about how the individual will speak in different ways in different social contexts. Social
i/Qaratnrn ;c ahnM^iit un^it; ;nAix;;Aiialc tib xrbffrv nT~--m tkrc oi-o i tanc, nfi *ona naon/^or cnrarol
context in which this variation occurs but also want to demonstrate the interrelationship
of language and society. Sociolinguists analyze speech in order to show that linguistic
variation does not occur randomly, but rather is structured in nature (Coates, 1993).
structured variation in language by gender can be interpreted as differences between
women as a social group from men or it can be interpreted as representing being
oppressed and marginalized. Researchers using the dominant model are concerned to
show how male dominance is enacted through linguistic practice. This research supports
the dominant model.
see as their dual responsibility to contribute to greater
gender equality as well as expand knowledge (Avis & Turner, 1996).
"An explicit goal of
much feminist research is to promote social change leading to the transformation of
gender relations, both through the consciousness raising impact of findings and through
policy recommendations and practical applications of the research" (Avis & Turner,
1996, p. 153). Feminist theory researchers share with critical theory researchers that both
view inquiry as inherently political and commit to work toward social change and
liberation from oppressive ideologies (Avis & Turner, 1996; Rediger, 1996). It is my
hope that bringing attention to power differentials between couples in counseling.
demonstrated through language, that the field of marriage and family therapy will have to
pay attention to this core component of couples and that this research will contribute to
the further evolution of gender equality in the profession as well as the society at large.
Central to the ideas presented herein are the works of a number of the foremost
Martin and Mahoney (1996); Haddock, Zimmerman, and MacPhee (2000); and
Thompson and Walker (1989). It will highlight the developments in the feminist critique
of marriage and family therapy since 1980 as they relate to power. This chapter will
underline the definition of power and the characteristics of the more powerful and the
less powerful. In addition, this chapter will examine a sociolinguistic perspective of
power and language. Key articles were chosen to highlight the development of the
feminist perspective, which demonstrates the lack of its implementation in the field of
marriage and family therapy. They further exhibit the potential contribution, when
implemented, to the mainstream framework of marriage and family therapy. The focus of
this research is on nonviolent heterosexual couples in order to expose the often hidden
and unspoken power differentials of "normal" couples, although the basic intersection of
power and violence will be addressed.
The feminist critique of marriage and family therapy includes a look at how the
profession's systems theory does not connect itself to the larger sociopolitical world; the
sex role theory and gender theory; a closer look at the intersection of
marriage, power, and control, including power and physical violence in intimate
relationships; lopsided marital responsibility, including housework, parenting, and access
to money; as well as describing the marital myths of equality that are created due to the
nonsupportming patriarchal institutions that render it impossible to have true equality min
Coates' research in Women, Men and Language (1993) was the necessary and
essential contribution when focusing on sociolinguistics and power dynamics in
classroom talk will be highlighted as well as two other qualitative studies in discourse
analysis of power and gender. Sociolinguistic research connecting power and language is
in its infancy while few current studies have been done in the field of marriage and
family therapy (Coates, 1993).
Setting the Stage
Categories of Feminist Theory
There are many different categories of feminism that reflect several ideas of how
to change women's oppression. They have variously focused on individual political
rights, economic or sexual freedom, women's interpersonal and psychological
experience, and culture or labor (Osmond & Thorne, 1993). Osmond and Thorne tie
feminist theory together in proposing that all the categories of feminist theory place an
emphasis on valuing women's experiences and supporting protest against women's
subordination. Enns (1992) lists twelve different categories of feminism including career
feminism, liberal feminism, existential feminism, psychoanalytic feminism, Marxist
feminism, postmodern feminism, cultural feminism, lesbian feminism, radical feminism,
socialist feminism, Black feminism, and radical women-of-color feminism. However, she
groups these into "four influential and enduring approaches to feminist philosophy that
have significant implications for the practice of psychotherapy" (Enns, 1992, p. 454).
These four are liberal, cultural, radical, and socialist feminism. Similarly, Brown (1994)
identified three main categories of feminism: reformist feminism, postmodern feminism,
and radical feminism.
Liberal feminism, according to Enns (1992) is sometimes called "mainstream"
They seek to reform legal and political systems that limit this access. Liberal feminism
women's oppression as caused by rigid sex-roles conditioning and irrational
prejudices that women are less capable than men. They believe that solutions to these
problems can be found through rational argument, the transcendence of cultural
conditions, and the legislation of laws that allow for equal opportunities (Enns, 1992).
Choices in personal relationships should be based on personal preferences and should not
be externally imposed. Some advocate for androgyny. Liberal feminists focus on
redistributing power within power structures but have not questioned the basic
assumptions of major social institutions (Enns, 1992).
Brown (1994) describes the same liberal feminism as a reformist political
feminism. Brown's focus on reformist political feminism is primarily about the ways in
which women have been denied equal rights and equal access. They are usually not
critical of the system and the institutions of dominant culture but, rather, of the
discrimination against women within that system. Brown views this theoretical base as a
problem because of its subtle tendencies to shape women to fit within the structures of
the status quo with little questioning of the values of those structures. Therefore, it does
not meet the criterion of subverting patriarchy that Brown submits as a necessary
ingredient of feminist action. On the other hand, Brown states that all feminism is
political and that there are different forms of political feminism that reflect varied
understandings of the meaning of women's place in culture and the nature of the change
process necessary to achieve feminist goals.
Cultural feminism envisions cultural transformations based on honoring
uncovering the dominant cultural assumptions regarding gender. They define women's
experience as distinctly different and highlight this rather than minimize the differences.
Cultural feminism places less emphasis on political change but instead attempts to
achieve broader cultural change by infusing the larger society with female values.
Feminizing our culture with revaluing the emotional, nonrational, intuitive, and holistic
elements of women's experience is a way to restore balance and harmony in our culture.
Minority cultural feminists fall within the broad domain of cultural feminism, and have
identified ways in which their particular culture is influenced and modified by racism and
ethnicity (Enns, 1992).
Osmond and Thomre (1993) define another feminist theory as socialist feminism.
Socialist feminists draw upon Marxist frameworks and stress the material base of
women's oppression including the exploitation of women's work. Marxist feminists
believe that equal opportunity is impossible in a class-based society. Socialist feminists
focus their attention on the variety of types of women's work, waged and unwaged. The
more modem socialist feminist view is to focus on the interaction of capitalism and
patriarchy, as opposed to Marxist theory which is strictly about oppression due to
Socialist feminists also draw from Marxist theory because they stress the
power relations within an oppressive framework. There are certain behaviors indicative
of oppressed groups and women share these characteristics (Osmond, 1993).
Radical feminism takes a perspective that woman's oppression and inequality
results in living in a culturally sanctioned world. Radical feminism focuses on analyzing
women's inequality as one of many forms of oppression within a dominant patriarchal
need of radical transformation. Radical feminism maintains that this oppression of
women will only change when there is change within the overall culture. Specifically,
this would occur when dominance and submission as a way of relating are replaced by a
more cooperative and collaborative form of social discourse (Brown, 1994).
Thompson (2001) believes that the common practice of qualifying feminism
within any of a variety of preexisting frameworks serves to disguise the core meaning of
feminism. In the 1970s the frameworks were generally grouped into three labels:
socialist and radical feminism; however, later in time the number of feminisms "defy
" (Thompson, 2001, p. 1). Thompson believes that this division and
subsequent allegiance to the various feminisms has provided a platform for attacking
feminism from within.
Thompson believes that radical feminism is simply unmodified
feminism and that all the other labels serve to disguise its core meaning.
Radical feminism emerged in the U.S. in the late 1960's (Osmond & Thomrne,
1993). The radical feminist view emphasizes the oppression of women as being deep
seated with its locus of oppression being patriarchy. Radical feminists declare that the
patriarchal system cannot be reformed, but instead must be eliminated. In addition,
radical feminist theory challenges the male-dominated heterosexuality as a political
institution that has suppressed women (Osmond & Thorne, 1993). Firestone (1970) is
often regarded as the founder of radical feminist theory
. She argued that romantic love is
an ideological cover-up of relations of power, a disguise for sexual politics.
Radical feminists perceive the inequality that women experience as one of the
patriarchy and men's control over women's bodies. According to Brown, the patriarchal
institutions, including marriage and the family, the justice system, the educational
system, and organized religion, are inherently misogynistic and in need of radical
These institutions promulgate the status quo.
"Patriarchy is seen as
attempting to control and denigrate women through systematic violence against them, the
silencing of their voices and the degradation of their knowledge and ways of seeing and
(Brown, 1994, p. 57).
Enns (1992) agrees with this and states that the key
issues that radical feminists face are violence against women through birth technology,
rape, battering, war, sterilization, intimate relationships, and pornography.
radical feminism maintains that the oppression of women as a class will be
changed only when there is change within the overall culture, when dominance
and submission as the mode of relating are replaced by a cooperative,
collaborative form of social discourse. (Brown, 1994, p. 57)
The radical lesbian feminist position believes that heterosexual relationships, especially
"inevitably promote the subordination of women because they require
identification with institutions that are founded on male prerogatives, needs, warns, and
perspectives" (Enns, 1992, p.
Radical feminists believe that minimal changes in women's oppression will not
occur until there are fundamental changes to the institutions that support this hegemony.
One such institution is the institution of marriage and the family. Feminists believe that
the basic foundation of marriage is conceived in patriarchy
. An essential feature of the
marital dyad supporting women's subordination is the economic power that men have in
the family. The idea of a culture investing so much in accentuating any gender
differences is a culture that is intent on supporting and legitimizing power differences
Radical feminists, in general, support separatism since they believe that the
various institutions of our culture are too entrenched in patriarchal norms. Separatism
calls for a world redefined without oppression (Brown, 1994). Thompson (2001) believes
separatism is a continuum of feminist politics and involves a withdrawal of consent to
male supremacist relations of ruling. She makes it clear that separatism is not some kind
of revolutionary end point that many readers misunderstand it to be. Rather, it is a
constant strategy as long as male hegemony remains the norm (Thompson, 2001).
Thompson adds that separatism is a withdrawal of allegiance to the male supremacist
conditions, including institutions, and not withdrawal from men themselves. Brown
believes that the placement of women in positions of power and authority and the
admission of women into nontraditional fields of endeavor are generally perceived by
radical feminists as merely symbolic, a form of tokenism and does not reflect substantial
"Radical feminists emphasize placing change in the patriarchal cultures
that promulgate the status quo and integrating the analysis of oppression of race, class,
and other forms of oppression with gender oppression"
(Brown, 1994, p. 57).
Although the term hegemony now appears in many contexts, the popular use of
the term has wandered far from its original concept (Artz & Murphy, 2000). The original
concept equates hegemony with dominance. Gramsci (1988), the first to write about
hegemony at length, says that it is not simply a process of indoctrination but a consensual
cultural and political practice that meets the minimal needs of the majority while
irnimlntannennlc1v advannino the intprpctc nfthe dnminlnt orniin (Art7 R r Munrnhv 90mm
to the possibility of organizing against the structures of oppression" (Allen, 2002,
p. 106). It is a social condition in which relationships of domination and subordination
are not overtly imposed but are a consensual cultural and situational practice (Allen,
"The system of hegemony includes complicity with the norms of everyday life
and produces subtle and devastating affects for the oppressed" (Allen, 2002, p. 106).
Most women are ignorant about their oppression and minimize it if challenged. I think to
contemplate the hegemonic system that we live in today, the social order that we are a
part of, and the oppression that it brings to women and others, is so overwhelming that it
is immobilizing and approaches disbelief. An example of the hegemonic paralysis to
women is when "women couldn't own property, couldn't vote, couldn't attend college,
couldn't partake in public discourse, couldn't enter certain professions, and couldn't play
certain sports or join certain clubs, and still the majority of women as well as men
thought the situation was fine"
(Artz & Murphy, 2000, p. 154).
One way that hegemony operates is in its ability to deny humans real knowledge
of how they are located within social and historical hierarchies. The false images of
reality help to construct modes of thought and behavior that maintain the status quo
(Allen, 2002). Those who do
see through the hegemonic false reality are quickly silenced
as soon as possible. One of the methods of maintaining the hegemonic system is by
silencing those that challenge the validity of the hegemonic world view (Allen). But
silence is also one way to survive so as to not be attacked. Those who monitor the
normative order will vigorously defend it against any verbal or physical attack on is
legitimacy (Allen). Those who play the role of the oppressor are not conscious of their
Few would contend that patriarchy is not present, but the majority would agree
that enough women have benefited from the system as it is and the fight for gender
equality has been won. Many feminist would agree that this misperception is as powerful
a roadblock to change as any overt opposition (Artz & Murphy, 2000). The few women
who are recruited into the hegemonic institutions (i.e., corporate CEO's) claim that there
is no longer any glass ceiling, no more discrimination. These spokes models for capitalist
hegemony provide "evidence"
that this is so.
Yet, the remaining 63 million working
women suffer from discrimination (Artz & Murphy, 2000). So, what is it that women still
want to be liberated from? This liberation list from Artz and Murphy (2000) included
* Restrictions against educational and employment opportunities.
* Laws that put them economically, physically, and socially under the control of
* Laws and practices that ignore their health needs.
* Almost total responsibility for housekeeping and child care.
* Moral double standards.
* Narrow standards of beauty that were often difficult, if not dangerous, to obtain.
* An overall sense of being regarded as less than fully human.
* Sexist language and pretending that words like "mankind, man and he" are
universal terms that embrace both sexes [my addition].
* Media, film, advertising, and literature that continue to perpetuate the idea that
women and girls are insignificant [my addition]. (p. 172)
Gender relations are rather different from those involving race and class because
they are intrinsic on a personal level (Artz & Murphy, 2000). It seems rather remarkable
gradual (Artz & Murphy, 2000).
With this in mind, there needs to be a counter
hegemonic social movement which will not be satisfied with marginalizing fundamental
challenges (Artz & Murphy, 2000).
Yet, with so many women immersed in its quagmire,
it seems difficult to imagine this movement emerging any time soon. On the positive
side, if too many challenge a practice, then hegemony dissipates. An example is when the
majority of Americans rejected the U.S. involvement in Vietnam (Artz & Murphy, 2000).
Gender inequalities in the United States are avoided by focusing on the relative
advantages that middle class white women have when compared with those women in
nonindustrial countries (Artz & Murphy, 2000).
Like other cultural practices, language is hegemonically multi dimensional. .
Language is an instrument in hegemony, a product of hegemony, and a battlefield
where hegemony is negotiated. To build ideologies that permit and reinforce a
given hegemony, a common language is needed. Words, symbols, and practices
must carry shared meanings. (Artz & Murphy, 2000, p. 32)
Ultimately, the meaning of language depends on the social power of those in
charge. The assumptions assigned to meaning will not be changed by relabeling; they can
only be changed by changing the relations that construct the labels. The meaning of
language is not primarily linguistic but cultural, political, and social (Artz & Murphy,
2000). Therefore, language itself is a cultural and political issue.
I view power differentials as a reflection of the gendered hierarchy that permeates
our society. In assessing such differentials, I have adopted Komter's (1994) definition of
power as the expression of one's will by prohibiting or preventing the expression of
another person's will. How power relations have been characterized center around social
Bobbes (Komter, 1994). He laid the basis for the idea that power is expressing one's
by prohibiting or preventing the expression of another person'
will. Komter adopts this
definition as well. Power is a quantity so that more power for one person means less for
another. Beginning in the 1960s, attention was focused to the less directly observable
ideological and structural underpinnings of power.
Komter (1994) noted the three dimensions of power distinguished by researchers.
First, observable power, with conflicts over issues (also called relevant power) or who
prevails in decision-making. The second is power that prevents grievances from
appearing in the open or prevents decisions from being implemented. The third is power
that prevents people from having grievances at all by shaping their perceptions,
cognitions, and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the status quo. A
standard conceptual definition of family power is needed; however, many diverse fields,
including marriage and family therapy, are converging on the definition of power as the
capacity to produce intended effects (Gray-Little & Burks, 1983).
Komter (1994) focuses on internal and external power mechanisms. He explains
that there is a relationship between the way rights and duties of different social groups
are defined and maintained on the one hand, and power on the other. The rights of the
more powerful groups in our society are more precisely and specifically defined and
maintained more effectively. In contrast, the rights of the less powerful tend to be defined
more vaguely and are often maintained in a more negligent way.
The reverse applies to
duties so that duties of the more powerful are diffuse, and those of the less powerful are
specific and detailed. Komter's
(1989) earlier research on marital power reported that
all of these domains men appeared to have a more specific experience of rights and a
more diffuse experience of duties, whereas the reverse was held for women, having
diffuse rights and specific duties. These gendered differences of rights and duties proved
to be clearly related to power inequality in marriage, in terms of unequal effectiveness in
attempts to realize or prevent desired changes in different marital domains. This seems to
be typical for the predicament of the less powerful in our society. Those with less power
are more likely to be accustomed to their situation with little opposition to the powerful
An important determinant of role specialization is found in the asymmetry of the
individual's status or power (Peplau, 1983).
Gendered role specialization emphasizes
imbalances of power between partners. Peplau discussed the patterns of nonverbal
behavior and communication that offer a power explanation. Power equality in a
relationship leads to reciprocity in behavior, so that in relationships among power equals,
there is likely to be mutual touching, reciprocal self-disclosure, equal sharing of physical
space, and similarity of conversational attentiveness. Among power unequals, the more
powerful person initiates more touching, receives more self-disclosure, occupies more
territory, and interrupts and talks more in conversation. The pattern of interaction is
structured by dominance in the relationship. Observations by clinicians, mine and others
(for example, Peplau), reveal that many of the
sex differences in heterosexual
relationships are similarly caused by men's greater power claim.
Peplau (1983) noted that the social environment also influences gender-based role
specialization. The formal forces of law and religion, both socioculturallv created, have
addition, the attitudes of friends and family as well as the more general cultural attitudes
about marital roles also influence the degree of role specialization in marriage. Peplau
observed that one of the negative consequences of women being in a less powerful
position in a marriage is that the power disadvantage can force them to stay in
unsatisfying [and perhaps unsafe] relationships.
Men in Relationships
It is important to remember that men are part of the hegemonic structure in our
society too. Although they are the ones who reap the most privileges gained from this
societal structure, there are some negative consequences to them as well (though much
less than the overwhelming oppression to women). The feminist literature is quite sparse
on this topic though more has been written about the negative consequences of male
gender socialization (e.g., Dienhart & Avis,
Dienhart and Avis (1994) conducted a clinical study with marriage and family
therapists in an attempt to begin to formulate gender sensitive approaches to working
with men. They suggest that more work needs to be done to discover interventions
encouraging affective expression in men. They conclude that there is growing awareness
in the field of marriage and family therapy that gender socialization constrains men as
well as women. The traditional masculine model constrains our understanding of men
and their pattern in intimate interaction. The most affective therapeutic approach in this
study was to "join with a man'
pain and then challenge his learned patterns of control
and power" (Dienhart & Avis, 1994, p. 413). Since marriage and family therapists must
take multiple lenses into the therapy room, it is suggested there be more training
into the therapy room. All of this results in being more effective in working with male
clients around issues of stereotypical attitudes and behaviors, mutual responsibility,
power imbalances, and affective expression in intimate relationships (Dienhart & Avis,
Other authors (Gordon & Meth, 1990; Pleck, 1981
Silverberg, 1986) assert that
the rigid traditional gender roles for men interfere with fulfilling the basic needs of
intimacy and in effect deny them the opportunity to develop their emotional selves.
Messages to men about self-disclosure, emotional expression, and vulnerability have to
change so that they can get their intimacy needs met (Gordon & Meth, 1990). Males lose
out on the benefits of an intimate attachment when they internalize the gender role for
men. They are described as being in a double bind. On one hand they feel the emptiness
for their lack of connection with an intimate partner, and on the other they want to
maintain a strong identification as a male. The identification as a male in our culture
translates into avoiding behaviors that would feel vulnerable including identifying and
speaking about feelings other than anger.
Yet, to speak about relationships and be in
connection is required in intimate relationships. Men have been taught through the
socialization process to devalue women and demean their femininity, and also fear their
own feminine aspects.
"Many men might find they are unhappy but cannot understand or
articulate what is happening to create this unhappiness" (Gordon & Meth, 1990, p. 73).
The physical or sexual dimensions of a relationship are considered acceptable ways for
men to express their feelings (Gordon & Meth, 1990). However, this issue alone creates
problems in relationships as well and often shows up in the marriage and family
There is some realization that the benefits for men living in a hegemonic system
in which they profited the most also came at a price (Artz & Murphy, 2000). Men were
physically and emotionally separated from their families. They were often stuck in dull
and unfulfilling jobs.
"Broadway lore has it that when Death of a Salesman debuted, men
sat in the audience stunned or weeping, unable to leave after the final curtain fell" (Artz
& Murphy, 2000, p. 168).
Working class men and industrial workers, like coal miners
and steelworkers, felt trapped by dangerous and underpaid work to which they could see
no alternatives (Artz & Murphy, 2000). Men have a lower life expectancy than women
and this can be attributed to the stress of being the primary breadwinner (Pleck, 1981).
The male gender role is hazardous to men's health in other ways as well. Pleck
(1981) listed nine such ways:
1) Aggressiveness and competitiveness can cause men to put themselves in
dangerous situations; 2) Emotional inexpressiveness can cause psychosomatic and
other health problems; 3) Men often take greater risks; 4) Men'
jobs can expose
them to physical danger; 5) Men's jobs can expose them to psychological stress;
6) They are socialized to have personality characteristics that are not healthy, i.e.
the "type A"
personality traits; 7) Responsibilities as family breadwinners expose
men to psychological stress; 8) The male role encourages certain specific
behaviors that endanger health, specifically tobacco smoking and alcohol
consumption; 9) The male role psychologically discourages men from taking
adequate medical care of their selves. (p. 150)
Of course, this list was written almost
years ago so that many of these dangers are
now experienced by women as they make further roads into the work force.
There does not appear to be any wiggle room when it comes to little boys
growing up under the power of the culturally driven socialization process. Under the
current rules of gender socialization, little girls can be tomboys, be athletic, and be
separate identity must be maintained to get most boys to join. Boys are rarely depicted on
teams or in groups of girls" (Artz & Murphy, 2000, p. 201). A tomboy is cute; a sissy is
to be abhorred. To aspire to be masculine is normal; to aspire to be feminine is okay only
if you are female (Artz & Murphy, 2000).
Shem and Surrey (1998), associated with the Stone Center and the Relational
Model studies, maintain that boys/men are in a relational paradox. A boy experiences joy
and love from growing in connection for several years, and then contrastingly the culture
demands that this yearning for connection be stifled for him to grow up to be a man.
boy has powerful relational experiences of shame, humiliation, abuse, and violation when
he acts on these yearnings"
(Shem & Surrey, 1998, p. 46). As the boy grows he is
encouraged to disconnect from the expression of his yearning and is encouraged to
sacrifice relationship for the idea of self. This is how boys begin to develop ways of
maintaining disconnection (Shem & Surrey, 1998).
Seeds of misery are planted in disconnection from others, in isolation, violation,
and dominance, and in relationships which are not mutually empowering. To
participate in relationships which are not mutual is a source of sadness and rage,
which, even in the dominant gender, can lead over a period of time to withdrawal,
stagnation, and depression, and characteristically, insecurity, aggression, and
violence. (Bergman, 1991, p. 4)
Bergman (1991) adds that it is time to work toward a new psychology of men. He
contends that even theories, written mostly by men in the past, fail to describe so much of
men's authentic experience. The traditional theories of maleness are about self out of
relation, not self in relation (Bergman, 1991). Bergman explains that at about the age of
three, mothers and sons begin to relate to each other in different ways and that there is a
power, which is carried into the institutions of family and society (Bergman, 1991). This
disconnection from the relationship with mother is a primary violation in many men's
lives and for the mother, as well. Bergman further explains that this disconnection occurs
because our culture forces it to occur. Learning disconnection is learning not to listen to
self or others' feelings (Bergman, 1991). Living in a patriarchal system means that there
is always someone more successful and more powerful, and men are haunted by failure.
In this way men are afraid; "the biggest winners are potentially the biggest losers"
(Bergman, 1991, p. 7).
Politics of Sexuality
The issues of gender and sexuality could be written about to consume multiple
dissertation studies. It is beyond the scope of this dissertation to address the issue of
sexuality in full. The focus for this review will be to highlight the relationship of power
and sexuality; or stated otherwise, the relationship of politics and sexuality. Clearly, the
rules about sexuality have been different for women and men in the past and continue to
be so today.
Although sexual behavior occurs between individuals, it is taught and interpreted
in the context of cultural institutions (Unger & Crawford, 1992).
construct as is gender itself (Unger & Crawford).
Sexual desire is a social
Women's sexuality is shaped by a
social order where issues of status, dominance, and power prevail in a political way upon
that which is personal. The psychology of women's sexuality is both a combination of
biological potentials and the influences of society's sexual scripts (Unger & Crawford).
Women's primary arena of sexual power is to refuse or acquiesce to sexual intimacy.
a date as more flexible and agreeable, more of a casual dater, and more sexually active
than women who did not ask for a date (Unger & Crawford, 1992).
Power differentials assigned by gender continue to affect dating relationships.
Equality is more likely between partners if they are equally involved. If one partner is
more dependent on the relationship for self-esteem and the other is only casually
interested, the balance of power tips toward the least involved partner. The partner who is
more dependent, committed, or involved that the other tends to have less power than the
less involved person (Unger & Crawford, 1992). This factor appears to be especially
important for women in that the less they love relative to their partners, the more power
they perceive themselves as having (Unger& Crawford).
Our culture enforces a sexual double standard whereby women's own sexual
desire and pleasure are relatively invisible. The discussion of gender and sexuality would
not be complete without mentioning how major religions have created and driven
problems for women's sexuality.
"Feminine identity is seen by religions as formed by
childbearing, but female sexuality is seen as polluting"
(Unger & Crawford, 1992, p.
105). The images of virgin goddesses that are present in so many religions permit
cultures to maintain their negative views of female sexuality and power (Unger &
Religions continue to embrace rules that oppress women and control their
bodies and reinforce a double standard for men. The force of hegemony is fully
operationalized within the institution of religion to the point that the majority of women
do not recognize their sexual/sensual oppression through the indoctrination of religion.
There are many different reasons whv neoole have outside sexual relationships.
Seven major reasons of infidelity are listed by Schwartz & Rutter. These are emotional
incompatibilities, boredom, sexual incompatibility, anger and punishing the partner for
emotional slights, flattery, a way out, and love. For some, having an affair makes having
sex outside the relationship seem like a good way to get even, especially when a direct
approach is seen as being impossible or ineffective. Partners who feel like they don't
have the power to change things in their relationship may have a secret affair but do so
with retaliatory satisfaction. Because women have less power in relationships than men,
women are more likely to have affairs because of anger and punishment than men are.
Another reason for affairs is flattery; the attention of a worthy suitor may be especially
tempting for someone whose self-esteem is low. Additionally, an affair may provide a
way out. Engineering a situation that will make the spouse angry is an indirect way to
back out of a marriage, and it may feel easier to be discovered. The final reason for
affairs is because it is based on love.
"One might guess that love would most often be the
basis for an affair for women, for whom love is so important; paradoxically, some
research suggests that love might be a more important motive for men's
(Schwartz & Rutter, p. 156). The social rule for women is that they are expected to have
sex only when they are in love. "Women are often less economically and socially
independent than men and cannot disregard the financial and social upheaval such a love
affair represents. They might fall in love but decide they cannot leave" (Schwartz &
Rutter, p. 154).
Women are less likely to have affairs and more likely to suffer
economically if a marriage breaks up.
Feminist Critique of the Marriage and Family Therapy Field
(Szinovacz, 1987) and reveals the positive results of egalitarian relationships (e.g., Rabin,
1996; Risman, 1998; Szinovacz, 1987).
Yet the dynamics of gender and power are not
reflected in the theories, practice or training in the field of family therapy.
Blind Family Systems Therapy
Goldner (1985) wrote a ground-breaking article titled, Feminism and Family
Therapy, in which she criticized the marriage and family therapy field for being blind to
the issues of gender in therapy. She argued that family therapy had been handicapped by
its insulation from the feminist critique. She further stipulated that systems theory is
inadequate to explain the family's
different roles that carry different levels of power,
which are not interchangeable. Most importantly, Goldner emphasized that the family is
not protected from the patriarchal culture in which we live. She clearly defined the
gender issues, which partly defines the relationship and how the rules of the relationship
Family therapy first presented itself in the 1970s as differentiated from its origins
in psychoanalysis (Goldner, 1985). The feminist idea that males and females in a family
have different distributions of power clearly complicated the circular assumption that
positions were interchangeable. Goldner noted that the systems theory
assumed that in a "normal" family, parents were at the same hierarchical level and that
the two-parent nuclear family was not in conflict about issues of gender privilege and
Family therapy depended upon an abstract systems theory stripped of connection
to the larger social field (Goldner, 1985). However, a systems theory cannot be
family are regulated by social forces operating around the family's
"The category of gender remains essentially invisible in the
conceptualizations of family therapists"
(Goldner, 1985, p. 33). The family therapy
discipline isolated itself both socially and intellectually,
"despite documentation from
sociologists, demographers, and, of course, psychoanalysts that 'his'
are quite different from 'hers'"
marriage and family
(Goldner, 1985, p. 33). Clearly, as noted by Goldner, men
and women preside over separate and unequal spheres of influence.
Goldner (1985) further states that a content analysis of publications in the
beginning stages of the feminist movement highlighted a focus on the differential
socialization of boys and girls, the barriers to women's equal participation in the world of
work, sexual objectification, and romantic masochism. She noted that the politics of
domesticity (housework, child care, the problems of long-term relationships) are
underrepresented in the literature of this period. She theorized that the focus was a result
of the developmental stages of the majority of the feminist writers.
feminist critique was from their position as daughters and not mothers. Now that many
feminists have aged, there has been more focus on the domestic aspect of family life. In
1985, Goldner predicted that this change of focus would occur. She was correct, as
evidenced by the progression of feminist research as depicted in this paper.
Sex Role Versus Gender Theory
"Feminist explanations of how families operate and contribute to maintaining
women's subordination have shifted in the past decade from those that emphasize
roles and socialization to those that describe processes of categorization and stratification
problems with this approach and reported feminist criticisms of the gender role approach
because it masks power, inequality, and conflict. It is important to understand the
limitations of the sex role approach that was popular in the 1970s through the mid-1980s.
The basic dynamic of
sex role theory is socialization; the central processes in the gender
model are categorization and stratification (Ferree, 1990). The term "sex role" was used
as a catchall term and did not relate gendered behaviors with power. Unfortunately,
mainstream family therapy continues to use this term, another indication of its refusal to
incorporate the feminist critique and feminist research into its practices (Ferree, 1990).
The concept of gender theory emerged in the 1980s as the dominant feminist
model (Ferree, 1990). It is a primary way of signifying relationships of power. Ferree
noted that gender theory focuses upon how specific behaviors and roles are given
gendered meanings, how labor is divided to express gender difference symbolically, and
how diverse social structures, including families, incorporate gender values and convey
gender advantages. Gender theory's
main focus is the way in which families construct
gender through labor and control over income. Ferree states that the relationship between
labor and gender is a substantial portion of what the family organizes. The emerging
gender model of Ferree's
time (1990 decade review) examined paid work, housework,
and control over income. All three of these issues emerged as central for constructing
gender on a daily basis. Gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power so
that gender keeps us separate but unequal. Ferree's review of the literature found that the
construction of gender requires the suppression of natural similarities. Similarities
between men and women must be suppressed and differences must be constructed and
Marriage, Power, and Control
The ability to influence another person is a significant dimension in relationships,
including marriage. Balswick and Balswick (1995) suggest that we often overlook the
power dimension in marriage because it tends to be exerted through authority and
persuasion rather than through rules.
Western marriages are also romanticized, which
leads to a camouflage of the use of power within them. There has been increased
attention to the fact that misuse of power is a primary source of inequality in marriages
(Balswick & Balswick).
It is important to give consideration to different forms of control. How much
does one person shape and modify their partners'
identity and self-concept and decision-
making? A partner may engage in active and conscious attempts to shape the other's
image and to impose their own subjective realities on their partner.
They serve as a
substitute for orders or direct control attempts (Thompson & Walker, 1989).
Thompson and Walker (1989) state that many of the qualities that women display
in marital conversation and conflict are connected to their subordinate position.
Subordinators must be more sensitive and responsive to those in power. Fishman (1978)
reported that the speech patterns of women in everyday conversation are more tentative
than those of their partners and reflect speech of subordinates.
noncompliance during conflict and resort to moral persuasion, emotional appeals, and
coercion. Researchers (Fishman, 1978; Thompson & Walker, 1989; West & Zimmerman,
1979) found that partners in the stronger position, more typically husbands, tend to
interrunt more successfully and use more bullvinQ and autocracy.
Walker, 1989). The researchers found that husbands take credit for positive behaviors
and resist requests that they change negative behaviors because "it's just the way I am"
(Thompson & Walker). Clearly, this perspective reflects a position of male privilege and
affords them the greatest sense of control.
During the 1960s family power relations was identified as an important element
of family interactions. The initial efforts to empirically investigate family power relations
led to a methodological, conceptual, and theoretical debate that continued into the 1970s
and is still not entirely resolved (Szinovacz, 1987).
The traditional patriarchal model is based on the assumption that power in a
marriage is ascribed to the husband because he occupies this position (Balswick &
Balswick, 1995). This cultural justification is usually anchored in the sacred authority of
religious beliefs and rituals. The authors declared that men almost always control more
resources, have greater prestige, and are dominant in their marital relationships. They
found that the social influences come from well-established religious, educational,
economic, and political structures and are used to justify suppression and control of
women. The authors speculated that marital empowerment will only be possible when a
societal ideological structure allows both men and women equal
to all valued
resources of power.
Power and Physical Violence
"Women's subordination is nowhere more evident than in marital violence. The
more lopsided the dependence between partners, the more the 'weaker'
partner must rely
nn the mnrnlitv ined centimnet nf the 'ctrnnojr' nartner trn rninA tlhe cahiic nf nn\un=r"
regarding wife-battering considers how the broader social context of inequality is
connected to the private subordination and abuse of women in marriage. It was found that
egalitarian marriages have the lowest rates of marital violence, that violence is high in
couples when wives are dominant, and even higher when husbands are dominant.
Obviously, wives who are economically dependent on their partners are more vulnerable
to wife-battering. The dynamics of male dominance through violence is that husbands'
violence is a deliberate attempt to control their wives. In addition, violent husbands tend
to view their marriages as mutually violent by treating verbal and physical fighting as the
same, discounting the difference in injury potential and trivializing their wives'
(Fox & Murry, 2000). Many abused women are faced with the unstable, nearly
impossible task of being as independent as possible without threatening the status of their
husbands (Thompson & Walker, 1989).
Wife beating is the most common form of family violence around the world and
occurs at least occasionally in 85% of societies (Artz & Murphy, 2000).
Wife beating has
been sanctioned around the world for three main reasons. They are because of
(a) adultery or suspicions of adultery, (b) belief by the husband that his wife was not
treating him with respect or was not performing her duties properly, and (c) in some
societies a husband has a right to beat his wife for no reason at all (Artz & Murphy,
Feminist researchers of family power state that it is not enough to have a
proclamation min increased egalitarianism on the basis of joint decision making in
minor areas, while ignoring major inequalities
n the division of labor between the
sexes or repeated accounts of the use of violence against wives who dare to
nioctinn tha~r h-iiircKncitlintx; (ss nn1^r,7 1Q27 n QS"
strength must be considered an important power basis when doing research on family
power (Szinovacz, 1987). Recent research on the use of physical force against women
also supports the notion that dependence of women on the relationship contributes to
their abuse and prevents them from leaving abusive relationships (Szinovacz). I would
take this one step further to indicate that the dependence of women on the relationship,
usually financial, prevents women from leaving unacceptable, unequal "normal"
relationships as well.
Lopsided Marital Responsibilities
Thompson and Walker (1989) conducted a review of the research on gender and
revealed that family life continued to be organized and specialized by gender across the
domains of marriage, work, and parenthood.
Everyday the ultimate responsibility for marriage, housework, and parenthood
usually remains with women; and responsibility for breadwinning usually remains
with men. Most women "help"
men with provision and many men "help"
with family work and parenting, although partners collude to sustain the belief
that men are primary providers but parenting is shared. (Thompson & Walker,
1989, p. 864)
Women are increasingly concerned by this lopsided arrangement, but for the most part,
women and men do not consider family life unfair. There appears to be collaboration
between men and women to maintain some form of traditional gender specialization
(Thompson & Walker, 1989).
Marriage provides an environment whereby power differentials and issues can be
played out within intimate relationships. Most aspects of marriage provide a stage where
sources of power can be acted out. Bernard (1972) said that there are two marriages in
& Walker, 1989). Goldner (1985) concluded that women benefit less from the marital
state than do men and suffer twice as much depression. Feminist therapy might focus on
facilitating a fair division of labor and the placement of equal value on each partner's
goals and work, as well as on encouraging couples to share decision-making, access to
finances, and the responsibility for the well-being of the relationship (Knudson-Martin &
Housework and Waged Work
It is important to recognize the gendered nature of the occupational system.
Women who enter conventional male-defined careers "need a wife" because the
expectations built into the structure of work take for granted the availability of a full-time
family support system (Ferree, 1990). It is assumed that childcare and housework will be
managed by the wife. Housework is what makes the waged work possible. Housework is
invisible and unpaid labor, and it is gendered labor. In Ferree's
(1990) review, she
addresses the issue of waged work and housework. At that time, nearly half of all couples
(43%) thought that income earning should be solely the husband's responsibility. Many
men construct their ideal of masculinity on being the provider of the family and sharing
this role can be threatening (Ferree, 1990).
Women shape their paid work participation in response to family needs. They pay
attention to the number of hours they work and what time of the day they work. Many
women attempt to integrate paid work with family responsibilities and work part-time.
However, part-time work is often exploitive, fosters women's economic dependence on
husbands, and undermines personal achievement and advancement. Researchers
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Ferree (1990) states that housework is the cultural opposite of wage work.
Housework is associated with a reduction in a woman's claim on family resources. Even
if women hire help, they are simply redistributing tasks for which their husbands
continue to hold them personally accountable. Often this expense is deducted from "her"
allowance or designated "her" bill. In addition, it has been documented in the research
(Ferree, 1990) that the more housework children do, the fewer fathers contribute.
Daughters are still more likely to be given housework than sons and are more likely to do
more hours of housework.
Women do from 70% to 80% of the total housework hours and
the majority of the most frequently repeated and time-consuming chores. The research
findings documenting the lack of equity in the marital relationship related to housework
are consistently confirmed by the clients that present for marriage counseling in my
Couples do not allocate family work based on time availability (Thompson &
Walker, 1989). "Mi
time and husbands'
ost researchers have found no connection between wives'
family work time"
(Thompson & Walker, 1989, p. 856). Housework
is burdensome, and the authors assumed that it takes power to get out of it. The more
power wives have in a marriage, the more housework their husbands do. High-income
and white husbands are the least likely to do housework when their wives are employed.
Among wives, there is a clear and positive connection between fair division of family
work and marital and personal well-being (Thompson & Walker, 1989).
The type of family work that most women do is the unrelenting, repetitive, and
routine cleaning, cooking, shopping, child care, laundry, and straightening up (Berk,
gardening. Men will do childcare while their wives are doing after-dinner chores; but
when their wives are done, then most husbands quit for the evening and return to their
leisure time. Men do most of their family work on weekends, while women do family
work on weekends and workdays. In addition, wives are more likely to change their
schedules to accommodate their husbands rather than the reverse (Thompson & Walker,
Thompson and Walker (1989) report that there are many strategies that partners,
usually husbands, use to avoid housework. Some of these include choosing to do less
frequently done tasks like mowing the lawn,
"out-waiting" the partner before taking on
the task, and asking many questions each time a task is to be performed, or bolting
outside to do more masculine chores when house work needs to be done. Doing a task
poorly is also employed to avoid being asked to perform it again. Nearly half of the
wives report that they felt the need to supervise their husbands, which is another
responsibility for women (Thompson & Walker, 1989).
"The rise in married women's paid employment has not led to dramatic changes
in their husbands'
(Pleck, 1985, as cited in Ferree, 1990, p. 876).
Couples do not allocate family work based on time availability (Thompson & Walker,
It appears that both husbands and wives collaborate in creating and sustaining
economically irrational, gendered expectations for housework. Despite the fact
that wives do most of the housework, even if they are employed full-time, only a
minority (36%) express a desire to have their husbands do more or themselves do
less (21%). (Ferree, 1990, p. 876)
This has been described "as the result of the 'hidden Dower'
of gender ideology to
the explanation that housework is "natural" to being a wife, reasons that he's
for it, or that she "enjoys" it. The quality of housework can also be a symbolic
reaffirmation of women as being good wives and mothers (Ferree, 1990).
"Even though most women do paid work and contribute 30% of family income,
the responsibility and recognition for family provision falls to men and both women and
men are ambivalent about women as providers"
& Walker, 1989, p. 850).
(Szinovacz, 1984, as cited in Thompson
"One way couples try to maintain the image of wives as a
secondary provider is to use husbands' salary for essentials and wives' salary for 'extras'
(Thompson & Walker, 1989, p. 853).
" Wives' paid work is typically viewed by husbands
as something wives do for their own benefit, not something they do for their families.
Ferree (1984) added "as long as a woman's
paid labor is construed as a privilege for her
rather than as a necessity for her family, her husband will not do more family work" (as
cited in Thompson & Walker, 1989, p. 857).
Parenting the Children
Goldner (1985) concluded that parenthood extracted a greater toll on the wife
than on the husband in terms of marital satisfaction. She theorized that gender
differentiation and specialization accompanies parenting.
Wives tend to be more
accommodating during disagreements after children arrive (Thompson & Walker, 1989).
I believe this is another self-sacrifice that women make in order to provide a more
harmonious environment for their children. The accumulation of these sacrifices causes
further imbalance in the institution of marriage and leads many women into depression.
Pnrtner seerm in cnllnhnrnte tn guttnain the hblief thnt fstherc are invnlve/r l with thpir
"Mothers, regardless of whether they are employed, carry 90% of the
responsibility for childcare"
(Thompson & Walker, 1989, p. 861). Most of the time spent
with children by men is leisure/play time. Mothers do more of the practical activities
such as feeding, bathing, and dressing. Studies have indicated that more of a mother's
than a father's income goes toward obtaining food for their children. As a mother's
income increases, the level of the child's
nutrition rose correspondingly (Balswick &
Barbara Risman (1998) conducted research to investigate whether society could
trust men to do well at the vital work of nurturing the children full time. It took her
several years to locate
fathers who were stay at home "mothers.
" Her results suggest
that men are capable "mothers" but that currently most men do mothering work only
when they do not have wives to do it for them (Risman, 1998).
Money and Power
The control of money is another important factor to
a family system when
using gender theory. It used to be assumed that "family"
money was equally distributed
to all family members. Research to date does not support this assumption. Money is a
significant source of family power. Gender theory suggests that the actual control over
money and how it is used are important dimensions of power in the family (Ferree,
1990). Even within the same household family members do not necessarily share the
same standard of living. Ferree's review found that research in developing nations
documented how an increase in a woman's income does more to improve the nutrition of
her children than a similar increase in the income of male family members. Males are
to make unrealistic assumptions about equal distribution of family wealth. Social policy
continues to be driven by questionable assumptions that all family members are equally
well off (Ferree, 1990).
An awareness of gender inequality means that a discussion of money is always
clinically relevant. Money buys options and is a crucial instrument of power.
analysis of women's and men's economics shows men earn 90% of the world income,
own 99% of the world property, while doing only one-third of the world's work" (UN
Report of 1980, as cited in Troemel-Ploetz, 1991, p. 501). Betty Carter (1992), a family
therapist, describes how she routinely asks both husband and wife how much money they
each earn or have access to and what impact any disparity has on their decision-making
process. I find that the emotional relationship cannot be truly negotiated until significant
power differentials like money are leveled. Sometimes a transfer of assets is needed until
the wife is financially secure enough to negotiate emotional issues as an equal. Carter
believes that it is impossible for two unequal partners to negotiate anything that could not
be rescinded at the whim of the more powerful one. Money issues, even if covert, further
challenge the therapist'
ability to assist the couple to deal with the power balance of the
The research also finds that wives are most likely to have financial control at the
lowest absolute income levels, where money management means forestalling creditors;
when the income is high enough to allow a surplus, husbands typically control it (Ferree,
1990). Many wives may control the check book to pay the bills but the husband has the
power over investments and the "real' money
Women's money often goes for childcare
sacrificed her job/career to be the primary caretaker of their children. Also forgotten in
the equation is her 75 cents to his dollar ratio for similar work.
Marital Myths of Equality
The literature on marital equality documents the incongruence between the idea
and the practice of equality within marriage (Blaisure & Allen, 1995). In spite the
widespread goal of equality, numerous studies of married couples suggest that few
couples actually achieve it (Knudson-Martin & Mahoney, 1998). Many couples are
largely unaware of the social context of their marital interaction. The ideal of gender
equality is widely regarded but this model is popular in theory only, because it is not
supported by current social and economic structures (Knudson-Martin & Mahoney,
Most couples developed a "myth of equality," an agreement of false mutuality
and equality whereby a couple unconsciously colludes in defining their relationship as
equal. A movement toward equality requires the direct challenging by both partners of
the attitudes and institutions that hold these power differentials in place as well as be
aware of any false collusion. This means looking critically at what seems natural and
customary in marriage. Evidence that indicates that both husbands and wives express
more marital satisfaction when husbands are involved in housework and childcare is at
least suggestive that equality may increase marital stability (Knudson-Martin &
Women often perceive that they choose the roles they play and, therefore, the
system of gender stratification is substantially bolstered because of its apparent
(Balswick & Balswick, 1995). This is another example of a hegemonic relationship.
Hedrick (2002) noted that everyone participates in hegemony.
We reproduce hegemony
through television and the media and all our other institutions. Hegemony feels like
"common sense"; it is an unspoken worldview of power. It naturalizes structures of
power. Hegemony is a tool that has explanatory power and elucidates why things are the
way they are (Heddrick, 2002). Hegemonic inscriptions help women to participate in the
marital myths of equality.
Sociolinguistic Focus on Power
Analysis of the interpersonal relationship of a couple utilizing language as a
methodology has not been a highlight of research in the discipline of marriage and
family. The relative absence of such studies has resulted in the marriage and family
therapy field ignoring this crucial aspect of relational inequality and conflict.
issues of gender and power differentials have not been adequately incorporated in the
couple's therapy room.
More recently, discourse analysis and conversational analysis have been blurred
(Gale, 1996; Gee, 1999). Historically, the main difference was that conversational
analysis was the study of micro features of talk and centered on many examples of a
particular speech phenomenon such as turn taking, while discourse analysis was the study
of longer narratives (Gale, 1996).
It appears that the literature reflects less distinction
between these data analysis methods (Gale).
Language: Difference or Dominance
Troemel-Ploetz (1991 wrote a review
on Tannen's (19911 book. You Just
shielding the readers from linguistic knowledge as well as cementing patriarchy
book examples of Tannen's
dialogues repeatedly demonstrate that men are dominant and
women submit. Therefore, the social hierarchy between women and men is reproduced.
Tannen fails to acknowledge a political dimension to the conversations. The separate but
equal argument for conversational styles of women and men that Tannen claims is
invalid and perpetuates social injustice and, I believe, the hegemonic structure.
Girls and boys, women and men live together in linguistic worlds. They
understand each other quite well.
We produce equality or inequality, symmetry or
asymmetry in every conversation. They know who is allowed to use dominant
speech acts, like commands, orders, explanations, contradiction, doubts, advice,
criticism, evaluation, definitions, punishment, attacks, challenges, accusations,
reproaches; and who has to apologize, defend, ask for favors, beg, request
permission, justify herself, agree, support, adjust, accommodate, and accept
someone else's definition of the situation. (Troemel-Ploetz, 1991, p. 489)
Therefore, there are two conversational cultures with two different styles that are not
equal. Men, who have the dominant style, have more rights and privileges. They exhibit
their privileges and produce them in every conversational situation.
Men are used to dominating women; they do it especially in conversation; they
set the tone as soon as they enter a conversation, they declare themselves expert
for almost any topic, they expect and get attention and support from their female
conversational partners, they expect and get space to present their topics and
above all, themselves. Their conversational success is being produced by the
participant in that conversation.
Women are trained to please; they have to please
also in conversations, i.e., they will let men dominate and they will do everything
not to threaten men; not set the tone, not insist on their own topics or opinions,
package opposing views pleasantly, not refuse support, not take more space than
men, i.e. let men win conversationally and renounce their own conversational
success and satisfaction in the process. (Troemel-Ploetz, 1991, p. 491)
We are responsible for how we speak so that speakers can choose to not
reproduce the inequalities between men and women. Speakers could undo the social
up this privilege as indicated in the linguistic research.
"If you leave out power, you do
not understand any talk" (Troemel-Ploetz, 1991, p. 497).
Language and Power
Researchers (West & Zimmerman, 1979) have found that language is influenced
by social circumstances. Language teaches a sense of power in relationships and reflects
the continuing power differential between men and women. Power differentials are
maintained and reinforced through their continual re-creation in a discourse that makes
them appear "natural" so that they are perpetuated rather than questioned or challenged
(Knudson-Martin & Mahoney, 1998). Language reinforces and actualizes hegemony.
According to Coates (1993), that the language difference between males and
females is explained either by a dominance theory or by a differentiation based on gender
often leads to confusion. Differentiation of language based on gender highlights
differences but does not associate those differences with power. Contrastingly,
dominance theory of language directly links power to language differences. However,
whatever the theory chosen, there are social consequences of linguistic differences
between the sexes. Some researchers who apply the theory of difference assume equality
exists rather than noticing there are indeed differences and that these differences assign
inequality to women (Coates, 1993).
Coates (1993) has found that there is enough evidence of remarkable differences
of interaction patterns between all female groups and all male groups. It seems logical
that these differences lead to miscommunication. Some authors, such as Tannen (1991),
have even referred to the differences as cross-cultural. These differences are sometimes
of low status in society and reflects degrees of power (Coates, 1993). Coates found that
the end result of all the differences is that male speakers dominate talk. Power relations
are reproduced through talk. It is clear that a relationship exists between gender
differentiated conversational styles and existing power structures (Coates, 1993).
Exploration of that relationship remains in its infancy.
Female and Male Language
Researchers have uncovered "consistent
sex differences in the use of language
and nonverbal behavior"
(Deaux, 1976; Henley, 1977
as cited in Peplau, 1983). Men
have been found to do more verbal interrupting, claim greater personal space, initiate
more touching, and are poorer at decoding nonverbal communication. Peplau (1983)
states that few studies have explicitly investigated close relationships regarding these
variables; noting two exceptions, studies by Fishman (1978) and Noller (1980). Fishman
analyzed spontaneous conversations in heterosexual couples and noted several
Women appear to be more supportive of male speakers than vice versa.
Women asked three times as many questions as men and were more skilled at using
expressions to indicate interest and attention. Likewise, Noller found that wives were
better at decoding nonverbal messages than were husbands (Peplau, 1983).
conversational style is based on solidarity, while men'
style is based on power, the difference arising directly from the rules of a patriarchal
society (Coates, 1993).
Coates has found that in all-female groups, women adopt
paralinguistic strategies that signal involvement. They lean forward, they turn their heads
tnnnxrrl path Ather nrln thpy lnnF rlrertlvt nt ar-h nthpr
WlnmrPn nrftn icricc p nne tnni-
topic to topic,
"vying to tell anecdotes which center around themes of superiority and
aggression" (Coates, 1993, p. 187).
The author reported that men rarely talk about
themselves, but compete to prove themselves better informed about current affairs,
travel, and sports. Men talk more, swear more, and use imperative forms to get things
done (Coates, 1993).
The management of conversation also differs significantly between the groups
Women are careful to respect each other's turns and tend to apologize for
talking too much. They demonstrate concern that everyone should participate and dislike
any one person dominating conversation. Men in all-male groups, however, compete for
dominance and over time establish a reasonably stable hierarchy, with some men
dominating conversation and others talking very little. Individual men frequently address
the whole group (33% of the time), while individual women rarely do (6.5% of the time),
preferring instead an interpersonal style involving one-to-one interaction. Coates went on
to report that turn-taking patterns in all-male conversation are structured by two main
rules: that one speaker speaks at a time and that speaker change recurs. In all-female
conversation, the turn-taking rules are more complex. More than one speaker may speak
at a time, and speakers work collaboratively to produce talk (Coates, 1993).
Women and men develop different rules for engaging in, and interpreting,
friendly conversation. These rules are learned in same-sex peer groups during childhood
and adolescence and the differences have been well documented by researchers (Coates,
Women use frequent and well-placed minimal responses in conversation. Men use
these responses less frequently than women. These responses appear to mean something
and use them as part of a general strategy for facilitating the flow of conversation. Using
questions is a way of ensuring that conversation continues. Men interpret questions as
requests for information. They often respond by giving information at length. Further,
Coates noted, men do not feel they have to make a link with the previous speaker's
contribution. They are more likely to ignore what has been said before and concentrate
on making their own point.
Women usually acknowledge the contribution of the previous
speaker and will either continue speaking about the current topic or talk about a topic
directly connected. Shifts between topics tend to be abrupt in all-male conversations.
Women typically build on each other's
contributions to the conversation so that topics
are developed progressively in conversation. Topic shifting is gradual for women so that
elaboration and continuity are key notions in the analysis of women's
Coates (1993) noted that all-female conversations can be therapeutic in that it is
often seen as an opportunity to discuss problems, share experience, and offer reassurance
and support to each other. It is not a normal component of conversation for men to
discuss personal problems. Men may respond to another speaker's
self-disclosure as if it
was a request for advice and they take on the role of expert often lecturing the other
Researchers (Coates, 1993) have determined that verbal aggressiveness is a
common feature of speech in all-male groups. It often can be loud and focus on trivial
issues that are enjoyed for the sake of sparring; it appears to establish and maintain status
hierarchies and may include shouting, name-calling, threats, and insults.
construe conversation as competition where the aim is to be the speaker. This means that
men will strategize to seize a turn whenever possible and then try to hold on to it. As a
result, Coates postulated, listening is not highly valued by men.
Women value the role of
listening and use many minimal responses, do not interrupt to prevent a speaker from
finishing a turn, and actively encourage others to speak and have a turn. Coates found
linguistic actions to be more cooperative. Sheldon (1992) demonstrated,
through a discourse analysis, that feminine-related conflict talk can be linguistically more
complicated than masculine-related conflict talk. The researcher describes this style of
conflict talk as a "double voice" discourse in which the female speaker has attention to
both the needs of herself and the other person.
In mixed group interactions, women tend to speak less and initiate only about
one-third of all conversation.
Women put far more effort than do men into maintaining
and facilitating conversation. Coates (1993) believes that the different styles of women in
interaction with men put them at a disadvantage.
Women often fall silent when speaking
with men if they are interrupted. Her experience of all-female conversation does not
provide her with any strategies to resist interruption so that it is a common occurrence min
mixed sex conversation.
"In mixed conversations, women do more of the interactive
work, supporting others' topics, respecting others' turns, and facilitating conversational
flow through the use of questions. The end-product of all of this is that male speakers
dominate talk (Coates, 1993, p. 194)."
Other Discourse Analyses of Power and Gender
Fishman (1978) completed one of the beginning sociolinguistic qualitative
conversations between intimates in their homes were gathered. All three couples were
heterosexual and had been together for 3 months, 6 months, and 2 years, respectively. All
were white and professionals between the ages of 25 and
Two of the women
described themselves as feminist and all three men and the other women described
themselves as "sympathetic to the women's
movement" (Fishman, 1978, p. 91). All
agreed that the material represented natural conversation and that most of the time the
participants had forgotten they were being recorded. There was a total of 12.5 hours of
The research results demonstrated that strategies by women and men in
conversation suggest that there is inequality in talk between the
Conversation is more problematic for women in mixed
sex couples. Talk appears to be
less problematic for men, who exert control over when and how it will occur. The women
asked two-and-one-half times the number of questions that the men asked. By asking
questions, women strengthen the possibility of a response. The beginning phrase "this is
interesting" occurs throughout the tapes. The women used twice as many attention
beginning phrases as did the men. The speaker who uses attention beginning phrases is
not assuming that the other will pay attention (Fishman, 1978).
Minimal responses were
also used differently between the men and women. The male usages of the minimal
responses displayed a lack of interest. The monosyllabic response merely filled a turn.
The frequent use of the minimal response by women was used as "support work."
are signs from the inserter that she is constantly attending to what is being said,
Asmnrnctrstann Hbr n~rtflrntrtn anA hc=r ntaroct in th0 intaraotrin anA tf- cnaor-ar Thaca
Statements display an assumption on the part of the speaker that their statement
will be successful, that it will be understood, that the statement is of interest, and that
there will be a response (Fishman, 1978). The men produced over twice as many
statements as the women. The men almost always obtained a response; this was not true
for the women. The men literally ignored both the long and short comments from the
woman and returned the conversation, after each remark of hers, back to his (Fishman,
1978). The women were successful in only 36% of the topics they raised in the
transcripts, whereas the men were 97% successful. Success was defined as continuance
of the conversation.
The topics introduced by the women failed because the men did not
respond with the attention necessary to keep the conversation going.
"In contrast, the
's topic succeeded not because they were inherently more interesting but because the
women upheld their part of the conversations (Fishman, 1978, p. 97)."
Another early study of language and power was done by West and Zimmerman
(1979). Earlier conversational research focused on couples that were already acquainted;
this research set out to create a similar study using participants who did not know each
other. The authors noted that in their past studies on same-sex conversations there
appeared to be symmetrical distributions of talk between individual speakers.
Interruptions were initiated very rarely min same-sex conversations.
Five cross-sex conversations were recorded in a laboratory setting. The
participants were white, first-year and second-year university students, five males and
five females. They were randomly paired and were brought together in the laboratory and
told to "relax and get to know one another" prior to a discussion of a preselected topic.
The authors surmised that strangers would be on "good behavior" and would be less
This study reproduced similar findings of their previous research on intimate
couples. Seventy-five percent of the interruptions were male-initiated. Males interrupted
the females more often in each of the five conversations, ranging from 63% to 100%. The
authors concluded that earlier research could not be explained away as a function of
intimacy between cross-sex conversational partners. Interruptions were not a function of
amount of talk time. Men talked more and their interruptions were placed at the
beginning of her turn at 12 syllables. Actually, females interrupted after
average, suggesting that it is females who have to interrupt to get a turn. The authors
concluded that interruptions are a violation of turn taking and are attempts to control the
conversation (West & Zimmerman, 1979).
"Interruptions in conversation also appear to
have micro political significance (West & Zimmerman, 1979, p. 102).
" West and
Zimmerman reference a study of conversation of faculty meetings in a university setting
and noted that the most interrupted female was a faculty member who did not yet hold a
PhD degree, while the least interrupted male was the chairperson of the department. In
addition, the number of turns taken to speak increased with the status in the department
and males without exception spoke longer per turn (West & Zimmerman, 1979).
Review of existing literature on gender power differentials in nonviolent couples
uncovered the absence of research utilizing discourse analysis as a methodology.
Therefore, the aim of this study is to shed light upon this little explored or understood
phenomenon and discuss implications for MFT practice.
Statement of Purpose
The purpose of the study was to identify gendered oppressive situational talk
between nonviolent male and female partners in counseling sessions through discourse
analysis. Feminist theory and the dominant theory of language were applied to the
practice of marriage and family counseling. The dominant theory of language, according
to Coates (1993), is a way of interpreting the different structured social variation in
speech between females and males. The marriage and family therapist'
such speech and whether or not he/she intervened in the powered language dynamics of
the couple was also assessed. According to the feminist critique of the marriage and
family therapy discipline, therapists have ignored the power differentials in heterosexual
couples. (Blaisure & Allen, 1995; Ferree, 1990; Fox & Murry, 2000; Haddock et al.,
2000). Attempts by the therapist to intervene in dominant speech behaviors were assessed
as was their contribution to the power dynamics of the speech.
The primary target audience for this study is the community of research scholars.
The study will take on a theoretical focus rather than a practical focus, although it is
hoped that the clinical implications will shed light upon future practices in the field. It is
assumed that the audience understands basic feminist theory and qualitative research.
* How does the language between nonviolent heterosexual couples reflect power
differentials between them during a couple's counseling session?
* How is language used during the counseling sessions?
* How is the client's use of language influenced by their gender?
* How does language in use affect the equity in the session?
* How does the therapist respond to the language inequity in the session, if present?
Do they contribute to the inequity?
These questions guided the data analysis and were generated around the themes of
gender, power and language. These variables played the most prominent roles in the
The key terms defining the perspective of this study were gender, oppression,
situational talk, nonviolence, and couples counseling. These terms were used in
accordance with the definitions set forth below. Gender was used to designate the
culturally prescribed way of acting and being for both female and male. Gender is
socially constructed and is part of the socialization process starting with babies being
assigned pink or blue hospital blankets. Oppression refers to the burden by abuse of
power (Mish, 2000).
Situational talk is that which is necessary in different environments.
For example, we talk differently at a professional conference than we would with friends
watching a sporting event. A nonviolent couple refers to a couple that has neither
threatened nor experienced physical violence in their partnership. Physical violence
means physical contact either using the body directly, such as hitting or kicking, or
indirectly, such as throwing objects. In this research, the term couples counseling refers
licensed marriage and family therapist. The counseling sessions were conducted in a
professional office setting with a therapist and the couple present.
Radical feminist theory represents my standpoint. In agreement with Thompson
(2001) I believe that radical feminism is feminism unmodified; the core feminism. The
various divisions and allegiance to feminisms provide a platform for attacking feminism
from within; therefore, from this point forward I will use the term feminism as a
collective term and not participate in the division and dilution of the cause.
I agree with Enns (1992), that gender distinctions and restrictions encompass
virtually all aspects of life. I believe that the institution of marriage must change in ways
that create awareness of covert power differentials and provide an opportunity for a
model of mutuality. Many feminists, including myself, would question whether or not the
institution of marriage could function as a healthy system at all, given that the
surrounding institutions continue to exist without serious evaluation and restructuring.
Feminists emphasize creating change in the patriarchal institutions that propagate the
status quo. A central objective of this study is to effect change by illuminating how
gender divisions influence basic aspects of living, specifically relational behaviors. My
research highlighted how women are oppressed through language in relationships.
How Feminism Affects the Perception of Truth and Knowledge
Certainly a feminist scholar is highly sensitive to any gendered power
differentials that surround us. An evolved feminist scholar would have deconstructed
Render both personally and professionally in order to view the research outside of the
the purpose of helping a couple that presents for couples counseling. It is imperative that
the therapist is able to conduct the therapy session without alignment based on gender or
other factors. Feminist researchers would be biased in their perception of truth and
knowledge in the same way that masculinistt' researchers have been biased in the past in
their interpretation of truth and knowledge. Perhaps both perspectives will lead to a
How Feminism Shaped this Study
Feminism shaped this study from its inception. It has been apparent to me as an
experienced marriage and family therapist of 17 years that couples most often present in
counseling with issues of power differentials. The fact that I noticed the oppression of
women in heterosexual relationships and was sensitive to their collective voice of
oppression shaped my development as a therapist into a feminist therapist. It became
apparent that there needed to be a collective emancipation from oppression for women
and that this became a social obligation. The research on power differentials in couples
appeared to have stalled, and both sociology and psychology struggled to find a way to
measure the power variable that everyone could agree on. I actively sought a way to
measure power differentials of couples in counseling. I stumbled on research by Jennifer
Coates, a sociolinguist. The field of sociolinguistics took an active role in researching
issues about gender and power in the 1990s. Particularly, the theory of dominant
language related to gendered power gave this study the direction it needed. As a radical
feminist, I believed that studying the linguistic behaviors of both males and females in
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guided my research questions, how I analyzed the discourse by focusing on gender
differences and my interpretation of the data, in which I emphasized oppression of
I was particularly interested in how gender-related power imbalances are created
and maintained in relationships between family members and whether the language-in-
use during a professional therapy session could capture the power dynamics of a
heterosexual nonviolent couple through discourse analysis. As a feminist researcher, I am
interested in raising questions that challenge dominant constructions of gender and
exposing the invisible dominant language that is part of the "normal" heterosexual
relationship. I was curious as to whether or not a licensed marriage and family therapist
would notice and address the powered language dynamics of the couple in a therapy
setting. I wondered how powered language might be minimized in family therapy clinical
Gee (1999), a linguistics scholar, defines discourse analysis as the analysis of
spoken and written language as it is used to enact social and cultural perspectives and
identities. This is the definition of discourse analysis that will be used throughout the
The theory of discourse analysis and its premises are the second main theoretical
component of this research. The domain of my research is language-in-use. I utilize
Gee's concept that "language has meaning only in and through practices, practices which
often leave us morally complicit with harm and injustice unless we attempt to transform
them" (Gee, p. 8).
The research that evolved in this study was an attempt at making these
Gee (1999) postulated that many people, including some linguists, think that the
primary purpose of human language is to communicate information. However, he
explained that language is much more than this. He further explained that the primary
function of human language is twofold: to support the performance of social activities
and to support human affiliation within cultures, social groups, and institutions. These
two functions are connected. Cultures, social groups, and institutions shape social
activities while at the same time they get produced, reproduced, and transformed through
human activities. Gee stated that there is no institution unless it is enacted and reenacted.
Discourse analysis is concerned with a theory and a method for studying how the details
of language get recruited at a particular "site"
and is able to "pull off" specific social
activities and identities. For example, the site for my study is the counseling office, and
the specific social activities and identities are how the couple does power through
Language-in-use is everywhere and is always political (Gee, 1999). Gee's
the term "political" means anything and anyplace where human social interactions and
relationships have implications for how "social goods" are or ought to be distributed.
Social goods are anything that a group of people believe to be a source of power, status,
The fact that people have differential access to different identities
connected to different sorts of status and social goods, is a root source of
inequality in society. Intervening in such matters can be a contribution to social
justice. Since different identities and activities are enacted in and through
language, the study of language is integrally connected to matters of equity and
justice. (Gee, 1999, p. 13)
Feminist theory and the study of language were integrated in this research in an attempt
(1999) approach to discourse analysis included his connection of language
being carriers of our history. Human's
carry history through language. Gee explained that
the discourses that we enact existed long before we participated in them and most will
exist long after us.
"Discourses, through our words and deeds, carry on conversations
with each other through history, and in doing so, form human history" (Gee, p. 18).
However, for the most part, humans are very unaware of the history of these
conversations. In the end, a discourse is a "dance"
that exists in the abstract as a
coordinated pattern of words, deeds, values, beliefs, symbols, tools, objects, times, and
places (Gee, p. 19).
Approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the University of Florida
was obtained before collecting data for this study (Appendix A). The following section
introduces the therapist and couple participants, describes sampling criteria, data
collection methods, data analysis, validity, and limitations of the study. Informed
consents were secured for both the couple and the participating therapists to participate in
this study (Appendix B). In addition, a release of information was obtained (Appendix C)
in order to communicate with the participating therapist'
about their clients.
Introduction of the Therapist Participants
Because gender is a crucial research variable in this study, I wanted to
have females and males represented equally in the therapist participants. Numerous
telephone contacts were made before a total of four therapists were chosen. I arrived at
this number after concluding that one therapist of each gender would not yield enough
included that the therapist was taking time off because the summer was slow, that they
did not want to do it, and that they did not have any couples who met the research
criteria. The criteria based on the research questions provided the guidance for the
selection of the participants. All of the therapists practice in four different cities in
Florida. In addition to gender preferences criteria, I sought out experienced marriage and
family therapists and chose only those who had been licensed for at least 10 years. I have
been practicing as a clinician for 17 years and have been an active member of local, state,
and national professional affiliations (e.g., the American Association of Marriage and
Therapists [AAMFT]); these experiences informed my decision to choose four
therapists from within these networks.
The therapist for What about Her Needs audio taped the counseling session in
May 2004 in a private practice setting in a large metropolitan city in Florida. The female
counselor is an experienced licensed marriage and family therapist who had been
years, and been licensed for 21 years. She has a Masters of Education
degree. She is Caucasian and was 53 years of age at the time of the study. The couple had
been attending marriage counseling for about seven sessions with this therapist and came
over approximately every other week. They had not received marriage counseling before
they saw this therapist.
The therapist for Much Ado about Nothing audio taped the counseling session in
April 2004 in a private practice setting in a small city outside a large metropolitan area in
Florida. The male counselor is an experienced licensed marriage and family therapist
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was a history of couple's
counseling for 3 years biweekly, before they came to
The therapist for One More Degree in the Bedroom audio taped the counseling
session in July 2004 in a private practice setting in a large metropolitan city in Florida.
The male counselor is an experienced licensed marriage and family therapist who had
been practicing for 14 years. He has a PhD in divinity and is an AAMFT supervisor; he
was 57 years of age at the time of the study. He is Caucasian. The couple had been
attending marriage counseling for a total of 3.5 years with this therapist. Originally, they
attended sessions weekly for 1.5 years, then every other week for 1 year. They took a
break from therapy for 6 months, and then had been attending every other week for the
past year. They had not received marriage counseling previous to this therapist.
The therapist for the case of Stepping out for Power audio taped the session in
March 2004. The female counselor was an experienced and licensed marriage and family
therapist who had been practicing for 15 years. The therapist has a PhD degree and was
48 years of age at the time of the study. She is Caucasian. The couple had been attending
marriage counseling for a total of 20 months with this counselor. The therapist provided
counseling services to this couple weekly during the first 6 months, then bi-monthly for
1 year, and then as needed which they defined as weekly or at least once a month. The
couple had seen a different marriage counselor previously for 3 months, on a weekly
Introduction of the Couples
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Caucasian. The wife worked both waged and unwaged work. Her waged work for 24
hours per week earned her $30,000 per year. The husband worked outside of the home
between 40 and 50 hours per week, and he earned $70,000 per year. They each have an
Associate of Science degree. Neither client had ever been diagnosed with a mental
illness, been hospitalized for mental illness, or had a history of taking any medications
for mood stabilization or other emotional or mental health issues.
Case of Much Ado about Nothing. The couple had been married 29 years with
three children, two biological and one adopted, at the time of the session. He was 50
years old and she was 47 years old at the time of this session. She was married when she
was 18 and he was 21 years old. They are both Caucasian. She has a 2-year college
degree, and he has a master's degree. The wife does not receive monetary compensation
for her work. The husband reported earnings of $65,000 a year for his waged work. He
had a history of ADHD and takes Ritalin for treatment, which the therapist reported to be
effective; she listed Xanax and Wellbutrin as her medications. The therapist reported a
history of anxiety for the female client. Neither had been hospitalized for mental illness.
The counselor determined that this couple meets the criteria of being a nonviolent
heterosexual couple and are free of major psychopathology.
Case of One More Degree in the Bedroom.
The married couple of 6 years had
lived together for 4 years before marriage so that they listed a total of 10 years together
as a couple. The couple does not have any children. They are both in their mid-30s and
are both Caucasian. The wife does not receive monetary compensation for her work. The
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psychopathology. The therapist stated that the male client had dysthymia and general
anxiety and took the medications Vistral and Wellbutrin. He had never been hospitalized
for mental illness. The female client had a history of anxiety but was not currently taking
any medication. She had not been hospitalized as an adult. The therapist determined that
this couple met the criteria for the study.
Case of Stepping Out for Power. The couple had been married for almost
20 years. He had two children from a previous marriage, and she had no biological
children. He was 56 and she was 47 at the time of this session. They married when she
was approximately 27 and he was 36 years of age. They lived together for
before getting married. They met and began their affair while he was married to his first
wife. They are both Caucasian. She had a degree in nursing, and he had 1 year of college.
The husband and wife did not want to report exact monetary amounts for their income;
however, he made twice the amount of money she made. The couple did not have a
history of mental illness, hospitalizations, or the use of current medications. Based on
their history, the counselor determined that this couple met the criteria of being a
nonviolent heterosexual couple and was free of major psychopathology.
Sampling criteria. I applied criterion sampling to this study, a type of purposeful
sampling. Criterion sampling is a form of a nonprobability technique and is used if
generalizing to a population is not a critical issue but the information itself is needed
(Nelsen, 1996). Purposeful sampling is appropriate when data from a particular group is
required and the researcher uses some rational method for selecting participants (Nelsen;
"Criteria hased on the rpeperch nmeptionln( oenerallv onide the
clinical research (Kuzel, 1999). Thus, the sampling strategy was consistent with the
purpose of the inquiry.
The population in this study was selected based on the following criteria:
nonviolent heterosexual couples; over 21 years of age; lived together as a couple for a
minimum of 7 years; free of major psychopathology, such as bipolar disorder, major
depression or active addictions; and engaged in couple's
counseling with a licensed
marriage and family therapist for at least four sessions. Four couples, who met the above
criteria, were selected by their personal therapist. The therapists were selected by
convenience; however, two were male and two were female; all four were experienced
licensed marriage and family therapists who have practiced for at least 10 years.
Collecting the Audio Taped Therapy Sessions
Four nonviolent heterosexual couples who were engaged in relationship
counseling with a licensed marriage and family therapist were asked by their therapist to
participate by having one of their counseling sessions audio taped. An explanation was
given to the couple that the purpose of the taping was to study and analyze language
patterns of couples in marriage and family counseling. The consent form and
demographic data form was explained as well as informing the couple that there was not
any risks of any kind known for this study, although they were told that the taping may
alter the process for the client. They were not given any instructions to do anything
different other than have a typical session.
The couple was an established client of the
therapist, and they were experienced about the counseling process. The study focused on
It was important to gather data that represented language-in-use in a real live
setting of the therapy office, since the premise is that this "on site"
language (Gee, 1999)
is used to enact our cultural rules. The therapist selected a willing couple from their
clientele that met the research criteria. The therapy sessions lasted from 48 to 77 minutes,
depending on the normal time allotment per session for the individual therapist. The
exact times of the four sessions were 48,
62, and 77 minutes, averaging 59.
minutes. Following the recording of the tape, I drove to the different locations and
retrieved the tape, recorder, and paper work from the participating therapist. The couple
signed both an informed consent (see Appendix B) and a release of information (see
Appendix C). Each therapist signed a release of information granting permission for the
researcher to have and use the audiotape for research purposes and expressing
understanding that they would receive a final summary of the study's results and a
transcribed copy of their session. Full transcriptions of the sessions were done.
minutes of each session were analyzed from the transcriptions. The
exact time segments chosen for analysis were 33.77
,35.56, 36.56, and 37.77 minutes,
averaging 35.92 minutes. Established conventions as well as created conventions were
used in the discourse analysis. A copy of the nonanalyzed transcription was given to the
therapist to check for accuracy as well as a means for feedback; it was their choice
whether or not to give it to the couple or use it as a therapeutic instrument in subsequent
Choosing the 35-Minute Segments
The choices of transcription segments for analyses were based on an attempt to
end of the tape, signaled by hearing good-byes or in one case actually hearing the couple
leave the room.
The analyses from the case of "What about Her Needs" represented 37.77
minutes from a
minute session. The last 37 minutes of the session was chosen because
it captured the working stage of the session and the closing of the session. Particularly, I
wanted to capture the therapist'
response to the female client's
finale in which she spoke
about her needs in the relationship.
The analysis from the case of "Much Ado about Nothing"
minutes from a 48 minute session. The segment chosen to analyze was the last part of the
session; the remainder of the session included the therapist'
summary (63 lines) of his
observations. There was not a lot of dialoguing during the last two pages of the transcript,
which were not analyzed since it represented a repetitive summary from previous talk.
Thus, I stopped the analysis before the long synopsis.
The analysis from the case of "One More Degree in the Bedroom" represented
33.77 minutes from a 62 minute session. The
minutes were chosen because it was the
last part of the session which reflected the working phase of the session. The exiting of
the couple from the room was audible on this tape.
The analysis from the case of "Stepping out for Power" represented 36.56
minutes from a 77 minute session. The last 36 minutes of the session was analyzed but
stopped four-and-one-half pages before the recorder was turned off. The last four-and-
one-half pages sounded like a long closure of the session; the two clients continued to
raise issues to the therapist just when it seemed like the session was over. The therapist
Typical Counseling Sessions Captured
It was assumed that the knowledge of the audiotape being given to a researcher
unknown to the couple colored the study to some degree. All participants, including the
therapist, were aware of the researcher as the external auditor. However, since the
researcher was not present during the session, there were not any external interventions
in the therapy and the session was captured as close to normal as possible (See Appendix
A: IRB Application and Appendix B: Informed Consent Form).
A follow up questionnaire was mailed to the four therapists asking three questions
with the purpose of ensuring that the taped sessions were considered "typical" for the
couple and to
the influence that audio taping may have had on the therapist'
behavior during the session. The questions asked were
* Would you consider the session that was audio taped to be typical for this couple?
* In what way, if any, did audio taping affect how you did therapy?
* Did knowing the title or idea of my dissertation affect how you conducted your
session and if so, how?
All four therapists answered that,
they considered the session that was taped to be
typical for their couple. The therapist for the case of "One More Degree in the Bedroom"
stated that he "fired" the couple after the session that was audio taped due to their
volatility during the session. He stated that, although the couple argued a great deal at the
beginning of the therapy process, it lessened over time but flared up on occasion. The
session taped was one of those flare ups. The therapist for the case of "Much Ado about
stated that the couple that he taped had chronic issues in which they did not
exhibit significant change. All of the participating therapists said that knowing that my
dissertation was an analysis of language focusing on gender differences did not affect
Problems Incurred with Recording of the Session
The location of data collection was in the therapist'
professional office setting.
The sessions were recorded from March through July 2004. The therapist was instructed
to place the recorder on a stable surface in between and in front of the couple during their
session and taping began as soon as the release of information was signed by the couple.
The tape was to be turned off as soon as the couple exited the room. The only audio tapes
collected were those with good acoustic quality. Instructions were given both in writing
and orally to ensure quality recordings. It was emphasized several times on the phone to
record the audio tape properly by testing their voice and the machine before the actual
session took place. Three of the four therapists had to record an additional session due to
poor acoustic quality of the initial tape.
Three of the four therapists requested the use of
my personal audiotape-transcription machine, which was offered from the beginning of
contact. One therapist used their personal recorder and was able to record a quality tape,
although she recorded a second time in order to obtain a tape of good acoustic quality.
The other female therapist asked for my machine from the beginning and was able to
record a quality audio tape. The two male therapists requested my machine before they
started audio taping; however, both chose to tape another session due to their assessment
that the first tape was a poor quality. One therapist reported that his voice was not loud
enough and thus he chose to record another session. The other reported that it was
difficult to hear anyone in the tape, therefore, he recorded again.
One male therapist used his machine and discovered that it was a poor quality
tape in which the voices were not audible. He asked to borrow my transcriber-recorder,