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Feminist Perspectives on the Family
Feminists take a critical view of the family as they argue that is oppresses women. Feminists focus on
issues such as the unequal division of domestic labour and domestic violence against women. They do
not regard gender inequality as natural or inevitable, but as something created by society.
There are different types of feminists, the four main types are:
1. Liberal Feminism
2. Marxist Feminism
3. Radical Feminism
4. Difference Feminism
Liberal feminists are concerned with campaigning against sex discrimination and for equal
rights and opportunities for women.
They argue that women's oppression is being gradually overcome through changing
people's attitudes and through changes in the saw such as the Sex Discrimination Act (1975),
which outlaws discrimination in employment.
They believe we are moving towards greater equality, but that full equality will depend on
further reforms and changes in the attitudes and socialisation patterns of both sexes.
Liberal feminists do not believe full gender equality has yet been achieved in the family, they
argue that there has been gradual progress.
Some studies suggest that men are doing more domestic labour, while the way parents now
socialise their sons and daughters is more equal than in the past and they now have similar
aspirations for them.
Other feminists criticize liberal feminists for failing to challenge the underlying causes of
women's oppression and for believing that changes in the law or attitudes will be enough to
bring about equality.
Radical feminists believe instead that far-reaching revolutionary changes to deep-rooted
social structure are needed.
Marxist feminists argue that the main cause of women's oppression in the family is not men, but
capitalism. Women`s oppression performs several functions for capitalism:
Women reproduce the labour force through their unpaid domestic labour, by socialising the
next generation of workers and maintaining and servicing the current one.
Women absorb anger that would otherwise be directed at capitalism. Fran Ansley (1972)
describes wives as `takers of shit' who soak up the frustration their husbands feel because of
the alienation and exploitation they feel at work. For Marxists, this explains domestic
violence against women.
Women are a `reserve army' of cheap labour that can be taken on when extra workers are
needed. After they have served their purpose employers can `let them go' in order for them
to return to their primary role as unpaid domestic labour.
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Marxist feminists see the oppression of women in the family as being linked to the
exploitation of the working class.
They argue that the family must be abolished at the same time as a socialist revolution
replaces capitalism with a classless society.
Radical feminist argue that all societies have been founded on patriarchy. For radical feminists, the
key division in society is between men and women:
Men are the enemy; they are the source of women's oppression and exploitation.…read more
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Women still face a greater risk of domestic violence as well as sexual assault, low pay and so
on when compared with men.
Criticisms of perspectives on the family
Sociologists argue that Functionalist, Marxist and Feminist theories of the family all:
1. Assume that the traditional family is the dominant family type
This ignores the increased diversity of families today. Although the nuclear family remains
important, it is by no means the only family type.…read more