feminist approaches to the family

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Feminism and the family
Feminists are generally highly critical of the family as they believe it has harmful
effects for women and that it is generally responsible for patriarchy and the
inequalities patriarchy creates between men and women.
Feminists reject the functionalist idea that the nuclear family is the best type of
family in which the male is the instrumental leader and the breadwinner and in which
the female is the expressive leader and homemaker as feminists feel this restricts
women's choices.
However it is important to stress that there are many types of feminists such as
Marxist, liberal, radical, difference and postmodern which all take different
standpoints on how to change the family to improve women's position in society.
Feminists are the sociological perspective who has contributed the most and been the
most influential and innovative in the last 20 years on the subject of the family.
Patriarchy can be best defined as ` a system of male dominance in which males use
cultural, social, political, economic and physical power to dominate, control and
subordinate females. Most feminist sociologists see UK society as dominated by
patriarchal institutions and ideologies.
The liberal feminist perspective of the family
Liberal feminists see patriarchy and gender inequality as originating in gender role
socialisation which mainly takes place in the family. Liberal feminists are critical of the
functionalist idea that the nuclear family is good for all individuals who comprise of it
as feminists such as shanky point out that domestic abuse by males is still a big
problem in UK society.
Liberal feminists believe that young girls and boys learn via gender role socialisation
that they occupy positions of power and subordination respectively. Moreover the
traditional distribution of power within families which underpins gender role
socialisation generally favours males. Consequently boys learn that they are more likely
to be the breadwinners, heads of households and decision makers whilst girls learn
that they are expected to subordinate their lives to childcare and to take
responsibility for the household chores.
The liberal feminist Ann Oakley argues that from an early age, children are trained to
conform to social expectations about their gender. Oakley identifies 2 processes
central to the construction of what she calls hegemonic masculinity (which encourages
males to see themselves as providers, protectors and as superior to females) and
hegemonic femininity (which encourages females to be nurtures, emotional caretakers
and to be focussed on their appearance and to be subordinate to males.

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Manipulation- refers to the ways that parents encourage or discourage
behaviour on the basis of appropriateness for the child's sex.
b. Canalisation- refers to the ways in which parents channel children's interests
into toys and activities with are seen as normal for the child's sex.
Manipulation and canalisation involve the learning and internalization of gender codes
which generally result in social conformity to hegemonic expectations about
appropriate gender codes for children's behaviour.…read more

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This evolutionary change has come about for a variety of economic, social and legal
Economic and social changes
Wilkinson notes that the economy has undergone tremendous change in the last thirty
years. The UK economy has evolved from being dominated by heavy industry and
manufacturing in factories (i.e. types of work dominated by men) to being a service
economy in which financial, retail and public sector jobs dominate.…read more

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However these changes do not mean that liberal feminists are fully happy about the
degree of change. They believe there is still a long way to go in terms of equality
between men and women especially in the fields of mass media however they believe
that gentle persuasion and consciousness-raising will convince men that social change
aimed at dismantling patriarchy will work to the benefit of all society. Liberal
feminists believe equality can be achieved through legislation and gradual change of
attitudes (Principled pragmatism).…read more

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However these exploitive practices rarely
are questioned as capitalist ideology makes it clear to women that their place is
in the home and not in careers or jobs.
The Marxist feminist Ansley suggests that the wife acts as a `safety valve' for
capitalism. The alienated male factory or office worker may return to his home and
family frustrated by both his lack of power and the feeling that he is being exploited
at work.…read more

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Wilkinson's genderquake in the section of family structure and in
liberal feminism).
Radical feminists say that capitalism is not the reason why women are exploited as
women are exploited even in non capitalist societies.
Functionalists and the new right criticise the Marxist feminists as they say that the
nuclear family is the most successful family type.…read more

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Delphy and Leonard- women contribute a great deal to their husbands work and leisure
by providing for their emotional and sexual wellbeing. However husbands rarely
perform this function for their wives. Men may claim to love their wives but this does
not prevent them from exploiting them.
Purdy- women are exploited by the family as they are made to want to be with men and
have children otherwise they are classes as selfish, deviant and abnormal.…read more

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Like functionalism, Marxism and Marxist-feminism, Radical feminism is guilty of
overemphasizing the nuclear family and neglecting the rich diversity of family
types in modern society such as lone parent families and extended families.
Radical feminists ignore those accounts of family life in which females
experience motherhood as fulfilling and rewarding or they dismiss this
experience as less rewarding than having a career. Postmodern feminists say
women's lives should be based on choice and being a mother and housewife
should be one of these choices.…read more

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This has
coincided with the feminisation of the economy and workforce which has meant that
has been increased alternatives to women not wanting to go down the traditional and
socially accepted route of settling down to nuclear family life. This genderquake also
has undermined the traditional distribution of power between men and women in
families and led to fundamental changes in how the domestic division of labour is
organised.…read more

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O'Donnell says that divorce may also be the outcome of tensions produced by women
taking over the traditional male role of breadwinner in some households especially
where the male is unemployed leading to a `crisis of his masculinity'.
Feminism and lone parent families
Feminist sociologists maintain that familial ideology causes problems for the
one-parent family because it emphasizes the nuclear family ideal. This ideal leads to
the negative labelling of one-parent families by teachers, social workers, housing
departments, police and the courts.…read more


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