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John F. Conway

Toronto, James Lorimer & Co., 1990. 253pp, paper, ISBN 1-55028-284 (paper) $16.95, ISBN 1-55028-286-7 (cloth) $29.95. CIP

Grades 12 and up/Ages 17 and up
Reviewed by Susan E. Fowler.

Volume 19 Number 3
1991 May

John Conway argues that the tradi­tional Canadian family is a thing of the past. Conway, who teaches sociology at the University of Regina, uses up-to-date statistics to illustrate how dramati­cally the family has changed since the 1960s. He attributes much of this change to the rise of the feminist movement.

Conway's five-section book begins with a brief overview of sex roles and responsibilities in the family throughout history. He then focuses on significant family trends of the 1980s - such things as high divorce rates, single-parent families, blended or remarried families, more working mothers, fewer children, common-law families, and an increase in non-family households. These trends have led to a "crisis in the family," and most of Conway's book deals with the victims of this crisis - children, women, and finally men.

The new family forms no longer provide care for a growing number of our children. Many children are raised in poverty. Children in unhappy or divorced families appear to be experi­encing a dramatic rise in emotional problems. More children are commit­ting suicide. And more are the victims of various forms of abuse.

Women, according to Conway, carry the major burden of the current family crises. A high percentage of mothers now work outside the home but at the same time are responsible for most domestic and child care tasks. Contin­ued discrimination against women in the work force is especially felt by single-parent mothers, who also experi­ence an increased risk of mental illness. And women are continuing to be victims of sexual harassment and a variety of forms of wife abuse.

Conway feels that today's males suffer from a serious lag between the sexist values they are taught and the feminist reality they must face. "Tradi­tional" men find it very difficult to maintain a role as sole economic provider and head of the family. Men are often more deeply disturbed by the break-up of a family. Without the female support networks that women often have, they lack emotional coping resources, and their built-up frustrations may even lead to acts of violence against women generally. Men in dual income families must accept their loss of power and become more tolerant, flexible and co-operative.

Conway concludes on a positive note. Since it is impossible to return to the traditional family, we must instead develop policies that support the new, emerging family forms, and ease the transition to them. Clear needs are for high quality and accessible day care, improved maternity, paternity and family responsibility leaves, non-adversarial family courts, more exten­sive family counselling services, a more comprehensive network of shelters for victims of family violence, a guaranteed annual income for families with de­pendent children, and well-family clinics. The success of the family depends as well on policies which will allow women reproductive choice and increased opportunity for economic equality.

As the traditional, male-dominated family disappears, Conway hopes for its replacement by a new family based on true equality between men and women.

Susan E. Fowler, Centennial Secondary School, Belleville, Ont.
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