Couples for AQA Sociology

conjugal roles evaluation of research

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Evaluation of Conjugal Roles Research
The symmetrical family debate must be addressed from different feminist perspectives - not all feminists
believe that conjugal roles remain segregated today. Liberal feminists would acknowledge that paid work for
women has contributed to symmetry; where as black feminists might argue that radical feminists are
ethnocentric in their research, often making arguments based on research in white families. Black couples
might find that symmetry develops for them to help them face the discrimination they face outside the
Marxist feminists would disagree with radical feminists like Barrett & McIntosh. It is because working class
men are exploited by capitalism that their wage comes with `strings' attached i.e. they can't afford to give
more! It's not because they want to maintain patriarchy in the home. Therefore, their role in the house/ part
time position in the workplace benefits capitalism as women are used as a reserve army of labour- men aren't
to blame!
Research into conjugal roles is often only representative for nuclear families. Other family types arrange
conjugal roles differently e.g. Step families, same sex couples, modified extended families etc
Difference feminists would argue that most research follows a Structuralist approach to society, assumes
segregation always benefits men because the family is patriarchal BUT this assumes that all men are passive
to the system. Lots of men often want more of a role in family life but denied it and this is the reason why
men have started groups like `Fathers 4 Justice'.
Representative of research is problematic - all research fails to acknowledge that gender inequality is a
western notion e.g. the mother/ housewife role does not exist in all cultures and therefore, study of conjugal
roles is quite ethnocentric.
Difference feminists would argue that most research, as it follows a Structuralist approach to society,
assumes that all women are passive to patriarchal ideology.
Feminists are guilty of `devaluing' the housewife/ mother role by assuming its `second class' and that women
have been `forced' into it by men. Hakim (1996) suggests that feminists underestimate women's ability to
make rational choices. Its not patriarchy that is responsible for women working part time or their position in
families but women have chosen to prioritise their families over work most of the time! They will leave if they
are unhappy with it.
The Social Action Approach would claim that rather than applying the research to ALL women and men, to
really understand the extent of symmetry today, we need to look at experiences from a more individual
perspective and find out what the family and roles mean to people rather than making generalisations from
research and patterns e.g. How do husbands and wives give meaning to the roles they are playing? How do
they negotiate them over time to keep their marriage healthy and happy?
Sample sizes are very good on some studies (number of couples questioned) which means data more
representative of the true picture.
Reliability of all research into each area i.e. housework, finances etc is questionable as different sociologists
measure these areas differently. For example, do researchers count individual tasks or amount of time spent
on the tasks? Can we even operationalise all elements of the division of labour e.g. emotion work?
The validity of the findings is questionable and therefore making generalisations is difficult e.g. at which
stage in couples lives has research been conducted e.g. when just married? Late on? During the peak of their
careers? After they have had children?
The questions asked often relying on estimates given by partner ­ not trustworthy and depending on WHO is
asked, and the social characteristics of the researcher (interviewer effect), that person might give socially
desirable answers ­ especially on sensitive topics such as finances. This is why Pahl interviewed couples
separately as well as together!!!


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