|Abstract or Summary
- Women have long been responsible for the unpaid and under-recognized work of maintaining homes and family relationships (Walker, 1999). In this dissertation, I use feminist theories to address the connections between women's unpaid family work and their family relationships. I explore family ties between (a) aging mothers and their care giving daughters, (b) fishing wives and their husbands and children, and (c) able-bodied sisters and their siblings with disabilities. I also expand the notion of family work to include participating in a research project on behalf of one's family and community. Feminists critique women's unpaid family work as oppressive (Thorne, 1992) whereas other researchers argue that women have power within families (Kranichfeld, 1988). I focus on the tensions between the constraints women experience living in a patriarchal society and the ways they pursue purposeful and fulfilling lives. In other words, women are both oppressed and powerful. I pursue these and other issues surrounding women's lives through three separate studies. In my first study, I used a multimethod approach to show that aging mothers and their care giving daughters were purposeful in attending to one another’s lives, preserving mother's autonomy, and managing tension. Variability across pairs provided evidence for three styles of relationships: (a) intimate, (b) connected, and (c) constrained. In the second study, I addressed the ethics of doing research with women who volunteer to participate in research on behalf of their families. Using qualitative telephone interview methods, I demonstrate that fishing wives made sense of their participation in the research project by emphasizing: (a) them selves as active shapers of family life, (b) their solidarity with the fishing community, and (c) the legitimacy of science to help fishing families. In the final study, I conducted in-depth interviews with able-bodied sisters of siblings with disabilities, discovering that they describe themselves as good sisters by normalizing their sibling's disability, minimizing personal sacrifices, accepting the gendered nature of family care, and emphasizing opportunities for moral enhancement. Collectively, these studies demonstrate that women actively shape their lives and relationships within the confines of a patriarchal system. From these findings, suggestions are made for improving women's lives.