Film Analysis

Films for Use in Work-Family Courses

Activity Description: 

The films listed below have been shown in work-family courses.

Activity Source: 

The following films are abstracted from Sweet, S., Pitt-Catsouphes, M. (2006). Teaching work and family: Strategies, activities, and syllabi. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association, and syllabi posted on the Sloan Work and Family Network (

Download the PDF:

Illustration of Work-Family Concepts from 'The Simpsons'

Activity Description: 

Authors: Sara C. Hare & Robert C. Lennartz, Indiana University Southeast

Using a television show to illustrate family and work concepts.

The Simpsons, the animated situation comedy, is now in its 17th season. Students have literally grown up with the critically-acclaimed show and understand its biting commentaries on American society, current events and family issues. The Simpson family includes the nuclear family of Homer and Marge, bad-boy Bart, socially-conscious Lisa, and baby Maggie, along with a cast of regular characters from the community of Springfield.

Scanlan and Feinberg (2000) introduced the idea of using the television show to teach sociological concepts. While they recommend using the entire 22-minute episode, specific concepts can be introduced or illustrated with a shorter 3-5 minute clip. Seasons 1-7 are now available for purchase or rental so more examples of illustrated concepts from those seasons have been included in the table below. However, episodes are rerun nightly in most viewing areas so that particular episodes can be taped easily. Students may also be a resource for copies of particular episodes.

This linked table includes episodes that illustrate family and work concepts. The table is organized in chronological order because the episodes are bundled by season when they are purchased or rented. The official identifier for the episode (code number) and the episode title (in quotes) are also included.

Activity Source: 

Sweet, Stephen, Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Joshua Mumm, Judith Casey, and Christina Matz. 2006. Teaching Work and Family: Strategies, Activities, and Syllabi. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.

Tupperware Parties and Work-Family: Why Women Sell to Women

Activity Description: 

Author: Trina Smith, University of Minnesota

To look at the gendered nature of work and the meshing of work and family.
Suggested Materials:

  1. Video: “Tupperware” American Experience (PBS) (can be purchased from
  2. Supplementary Material for Video:
  3. Lecture on or have students read:
  4. Nelson, Margaret K and Joan Smith. 1999. Working Hard and Making Do: Surviving in Small Town America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  5. Overheads of Tupperware, Mary Kay, etc.-websites that show the history, philosophy, and how to work for the company.

Order of Presentation for Class:

  1. I have used this activity when I teach Sociology of Families classes on the week on work and families. I begin the class by discussing the different definitions of work, focusing on gender definitions of how housework and care work are not considered real work in our society. I then utilize Schor’s The Overworked American to talk about the time squeeze. This leads into a discussion of women’s work in both situations of dual earner families and single parents, also focusing on race and gender differentials in pay. We then discuss the gendered nature of household work focusing on the notion that women are still doing more. We then talk about the crisis in care work.
  2. I then lecture on Smith and Nelson’s Working Hard and Making Do in terms of the gendered nature of side or “moonlighting” work.
  3. I then tell them my story about the Mary Kay parties and show overheads from Mary Kay and Tupperware websites highlighting the philosophies of the companies and true stories about women who sell these products for their jobs.
  4. I show the Tupperware video (if you do not have time for the full video, I recommend showing at the least the first half of it to exemplify the notion of women selling products that other women “need” and the rewards they received for doing so).
  5. Lastly, I present questions for discussion.

How many times have you been at a Tupperware, Mary Kay, or Party Light party and felt compelled to buy something? How many times have you been asked to host one of these parties and possibly felt guilty for inviting your friends who would feel compelled to buy? Did you notice that these parties usually have women as the guests and sellers? Did you notice the products being sold are usually catered towards women? Did you ever think about why the person was selling the products? Was it for extra income or was it their career?
After attending two Mary Kay parties in one month and having an interview to be a potential Mary Kay representative, I developed this activity based on the questions posed above as a way for college age students to think about both the gendered nature of work and meshing work and family. I believe college age students can relate to this activity because many have attended these types of parties before. Even if it is the case that more women have attended these parties, I find that the men find this topic interesting because it is something they have not experienced.
Background Story:
(The following is my story I share with students, which you may use also.)
A fellow sociology graduate student hosted a Mary Kay party for a family friend. At the beginning of the party the Mary Kay representative gave us the standard introduction about Mary Kay. The important part of this introduction is that Mary Kay was founded on the ideals religion first, family second, and career third (for more information see: Then she told us how she used to be a full time teacher, but quit because she made more money selling Mary Kay, worked less hours, and could set her own schedule.
Another graduate student hosted another Mary Kay party with the same representative. Again, only women were present at this party. At this party, the representative gave the same introduction as the prior party. However, she also told us how she was working up through the company and striving to get a Mary Kay car. In order to do this, she needed people to do interviews to become Mary Kay consultants. Unknown to us at the time, this meant the people actually had to sign up to be consultants and not just do the interviews. Two of us agreed to the interviews.
These interviews happened over the phone with the representative and her district manager. The manager did most of the talking while the representative added in once in awhile, mainly about what she liked about her job. The first questions posed were what I liked and did not like about my current job. Then the manager asked me to give her an amount of money I would like to have. I quickly stated one thousand dollars. Then she asked what I would like to do with this money, giving me suggestions such as go on a trip. I said I would use the money for our house. They then told me about how easy it would be to make this amount of money. The start up cost of becoming a consultant was low. I would buy the products at half price and then be able to sell them to my family and friends at full retail price. They assured me it would be easy to make money because again, I could sell to my family and friends. The interview ended with the manager asking me on a scale of one to ten how much I was interested in selling Mary Kay and then how likely it would be that I would actually become a consultant. I gave a number in the mid-range because I had no intention of selling Mary Kay and thought that I was helping the representative work up the ranks by just doing the interview. I told them I was too busy at the time with school and maybe at a later date.
Tupperware Video: (Description based on my own viewing and from
This video is a great starting point for a discussion of these types of jobs/careers in terms of gender and work. The video highlights the career of Brownie Wise, a woman who revolutionized selling products traditionally a man’s job, into women’s work. Even though Earl Silas Tupper invented Tupperware, Brownie is the one who took the company to new ground. The Tupperware was not selling at the stores and she convinced Earl that it should be sold by women at home parties to their friends and families. Consultants began selling the products and were rewarded materially.  The company succeeded and later Brownie was fired.
Questions for Student Discussion:
Students Experiences with These Businesses:
    1.    Have they ever been to a Mary Kay, Tupperware, or some kind of party like this?
    2.    What where their experiences?
           a.    Did they fell compelled to buy?
           b.    What did they think about the prices of the products?
           c.    Would they engage or have they done this type of selling?
    3.    If they have not been to parties like this, what do they think about this?
           a.    Would men engage in parties like this?
           b.    What men’s products would work to sell like this?

General Discussion Questions about Gendered Nature of Work  

    1.    What kind of gender norms do these jobs portray?

    2.    What are the implications for these types of jobs?
           a.    For women selling the products? 
                  i.      How does this allow them to balance work and family?
           b.    For the women buying the products? 
                  i.   How might their families feel about them spending money on these products? 
                  ii. Why might they feel the need to buy this stuff?
    3.    What type of women may this job be a lucrative endeavor for them which they would not be able to perform another job
           and make the same amount of money? (This question comes from a student who’s friend with a disability was able to
           make money doing this job)
    4.    What do you think might be the class dynamics at these parties?
           a.    What type of women may buy these type of products?
    5.    Is selling these “womanly” products a good job for women? Why or why not?
           a.    Looking at all the actors involved, including the buyers and sellers, how might this be an example of the social 
                 reproduction of gender?
Kahn-Leavitt, Laurie. 2003. Tupperware!. The Filmmakers Collaborative/Blueberry Hill Productions/WGBH Educational Foundation

Activity Source: 

Sweet, Stephen, Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Joshua Mumm, Judith Casey, and Christina Matz. 2006. Teaching Work and Family: Strategies, Activities, and Syllabi. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.

Perspectives on Workaholic Behavior, A Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Description: 

Pressure to work more and work harder is a reality in most businesses today, but the workaholic individual is one who responds to those pressures by over-sacrificing other life interests.  Defining how much sacrifice is too much offers lots of room for debate.  Additionally, because the same behavior is interpreted differently by various people, what seems to be a problem to one group (e.g., family and friends) may also be rewarded by another (e.g., the boss). 

An appropriate video clip provides context for small groups discussions, followed by a full class debriefing to compare interpretations and implications. This exercise can be accomplished within 1 hour if needed.


  1. Provide a worksheet to each student on which they can note critical incidents from the video that demonstrate how the individual values work, family life, outside friendships, etc.  A variety of readily available videos can be used for this.  Below are a few suggestions:

    Baby Boom starring Diane Keaton, distributed by MGM.  (This one is a personal favorite based on providing a short sequence that gives broad coverage of issues.  The first 6-7 minutes show scenes of her high-powered job environment, a conversation with the boss about promotion that elicits great excitement, and a personal scene in the bedroom with her significant other — very tastefully don

    The 24 Hour Woman starring Rosie Perez, distributed by Artison Home Entertainment. (This one takes a slightly longer clip to make needed points, but several are acceptable throughout the movie — especially one on splicing in of extra clips to a video of her daughter’s birthday party, so it looks like Mom was there.

    Livelyhood series available at (Episode 8: The workday that wouldn’t die, shows the work culture at “Flickerbox” a high-tech, creative environment that consumes employees’ lives.  This same series also has Episode 6: Carpool to Nirvana, including the story of SAS Institute — also high-tech but only working 35 hours/week and the difficulty new employees have accepting that.)

  2. Each worksheet is marked with a role for viewing the video clip.  Depending on the total size of the class, the objective is to assign roles so that 3-5 students have each role — some combination of family and friends (one or two roles), coworkers, bosses (can split to immediate and higher up if need more groups), and perhaps customers. For a very large class, two separate groups could cover each role, adding extra comparison of ideas.

  3. Students watch the video, working independently at this point to note critical incidents from the perspective of their assigned role.  If the major character is not obvious, tell them who to focus on in their observations.

  4. Having completed their personal notes, students then move into groups by role.  Their task is to note on a large sheet (e.g., flipchart page), their role, whether they consider this person a good or bad employee, and a few of the clearest examples from their notes used in that judgment.  Discussions get more pointed if they are not allowed to give examples on both sides of the argument but, rather, are forced to make one final declaration of either good or bad from the perspective of their role. It also adds discussion by having each group decide from their role what constitutes a good employee versus a bad employee.

  5. As each group finishes, have them post their page on the wall for full-class debriefing.  Ask each group to explain their position and it’s basis in observed behavior, with questions & comments from others.

    A comment on noted trends over time:  In years past, it was very predictable that bosses would think ‘good’ and family would think ‘bad.’  More recently, bosses have become more enlightened (or groups are simply going for the socially desirable answer for a particular course or topic of the day).  That still leaves room for discussing how typical the expressed view is, and people always have examples to share from their own experiences to the contrary.

Other Recommended Books
Robinson, B.E. (1998). Chained to the desk: A guidebook for workaholics, their partners and children, and the clinicians who treat them. New York: New York University Press.

Fraser, J.A. (2001). White-collar sweatshop: The deterioration of work and its rewards in corporate America. New York: Norton & Company.

Robinson, B.E. & Chase, N.D. (Eds.). (2001). High-performing families: Causes, consequences, and clinical solutions. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Schaef, A.W. & Fassel, D. (1998). The addictive organization. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.

Schor, J.B. (1992). The overworked American: The unexpected decline of leisure. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Kofodimos, J. (1993). Balancing act: How managers can integrate successful careers and fulfilling personal lives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ciulla, J.B. (2000). The working life: The promise and betrayal of modern work. New York, NY: Times Books/Random House.

Beder, S. (2000). Selling the work ethic. Carlton North: Scribe Publications.

DeGraaf, J., Wann, D., & Naylor, T.H. (2001). Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Activity Source: 

Content contributed by Gayle Porter, as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity for the Sloan Networks’ Resources for Teaching section.

Media Depictions of Work & Family: Fathers and Mothers on Television, A Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Description: 


To encourage students to observe and evaluate media images and cultural messages about work and family obligations and opportunities for mothers and fathers


  1. Divide class into small groups.
  2. Have students read the article "Work-Family Imagery and Gender Stereotypes: Television and the Reproduction of Difference," (1997) Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50, 323-347 by Coltrane and Adams.

    The article is available via internet from the publisher at:
    Click on Tables of Contents and Abstracts (upper right of screen under About this Journal).
    Click on Volume 50.
    Click on Volume 50, Issue 2.
    Click on PDF for article 11.

    If you do not have access to this journal please contact Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes ( for a hard copy.

  3. Meet in small groups to discuss the article. Do you think more recent television commercials (and shows) would reflect the same patterns that the authors found? Why or why not? Identify television portrayals of work and family that your group could focus on in exploring whether things are changing.

  4. Small groups will select particular television shows to compare (based on audience or program type or some other criteria that the group thinks is important). Develop a coding scheme for keeping track of the number and type of images of work and family presented on the television commercials (or shows). Divide responsibility among the group for watching at least one hour of television. Record the number of characters, the number of images that represent work or family, and the gender of the character being represented (either in the shows themselves or in the commercials aired on the shows). Use whatever categories to describe the characters that you think are appropriate.

  5. Meet after viewing the shows and consolidate observations. What were the major findings? Report major types of images and describe any interesting connections between the shows and work-family images according to gender. Are mothers and fathers shown in similar or different settings? Are they shown doing similar or different activities? Are they portrayed as equal parents or as having separate family roles? Are they equally likely to be portrayed as physical workers, in client service, as leaders, as business managers, as doctors, etc.?

  6. Be prepared to discuss your findings in class. Discussion questions might include:
    What did you find that you expected?
    What did you find that surprised you?
    Did you expect that media images would reinforce old patterns of gender and work-family life, or provide new models? Why?
    Do you think that media images of families and work will change? Why?
    Are media images important or insignificant? Why?


Activity Source: 

Content contributed by Scott Coltrane, as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity for the Sloan Networks’ Resources for Teaching section.

Understanding and Measuring Work/Family Integration, A Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Description: 

Name of activity:  Understanding and Measuring Work/Family Integration

Related Encyclopedia Entry topic: Border/Boundary Theory and Work-Family Integration

To assess work-family integration


  1. Select a film and analyze it using concepts related to boundary/border theory and work-family integration. We suggest watching "Baby Boom" (1987) or "One Fine Day" (1996). There may be other films that you think are more suitable.

  2. When viewing these films, watch for many of the concepts discussed in the Boundary/Border Theory and Work-Family Integration entry to the Work-Family Encyclopedia. For example, ask students to comment on issues of work and family integration (including flexibility and permeability) versus segmentation, boundary crossing, role transitions and boundary work. You need to demonstrate how the concepts apply as well as demonstrate your understanding of the concepts.

  3. Have the students respond to questions, such as:
    In the film, how do people manage the boundaries between work and family?
    What kinds of recommendations would you make to the characters based on what you've learned about boundary/ border theory and work/family integration?
  4. You can adapt the Work-Family Boundary Ambiguity Scale (Desrochers, 2002)† to assess the extent to which the characters in the film experience work-family ambiguity. The scale can also be used as a warm-up to get students to think about work and family.

Directions: The following questions are about the connections between your work life and your family life. Please use a 5 point scale, where 1 means you strongly disagree and 5 means you strongly agree. To score, you need to reverse the answer to item two, then add the three responses together.

How strongly would you disagree or agree that:

  1.  It is often difficult to tell where your work life ends and your family life begins.
  2.  In your life, there is a clear boundary between work and family.
  3. You tend to integrate your work and family duties.

  [People who have a high score (12-15) experience a high level of integration.]

Desrochers, S. (2002). Measuring work-family boundary ambiguity: A proposed scale. Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center Working Paper #02-04.

Activity Source: 

Content contributed by Stephan Desrochers and Leisa D. Sargent as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity for the Sloan Networks’ Resources for Teaching section.

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