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Basis of feminism

Definition of feminism - a focus on the issues such as domestic violence in the home against women and the unequal division of labour.

Feminists argue the family oppresses women. 

Expressive role - geared towards primary socialisation of the children and meeting emotional needs of the family. 

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Liberal feminism

Liberal feminism - campaign against sex discrimination and for equal rights and opportunities for women. Believe women should be positive role models in the media. 

They argue women's oppression is being gradually overcome - Sex Discrimination Act 1975. 

We are moving towards equality - we need further reforms and changes in attitudes in order to reach levels of total equality. 

Liberal feminists hold a similar march of progress view to Willmott & Young - society is definitely becoming more equal but there must be changes in the family structure for gender equality to become a reality.

There has been a gradual progress in domestic labour - men are doing more around the home than they ever have done before. 

Primary socialisation occurs in a more equal way within the home as boys and girls are both socialisaed in a way that does not allow them to conform to the expected gender roles of society.

The improvement of technology such as washing machines etc allows women to enjoy more leisure activities due to domestic appliances that now free up the time of the housewife 

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Criticisms of liberal feminism

Other feminists criticise this theory - underlying causes of women's oppression tend to be ignored. 

New laws and different attitudes are not enough to promote equality.

Marxist/rad fems- far reaching revolutionary change is what is required to change deep rooted social structures - not just laws. 

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Radical feminism

Believe society is ruled by men.


Men exploit and oppress women.

Believe men benefit from women's unpaid domestic labour and sexual services. Men dominate through domestic and sexual violence/the threat of it. 

Radical feminists believe the patriarchal system must be overturned and the family abolished. 

Women must engage in political lesbianism/separatism in order to overturn men and the patriarchal society. 

political lesbianism - heterosexual relationships are inevitably oppressive and involve 'sleeping with the enemy'

Greer (2000) - all female households are the only alternative to the heterosexual family. 

Bernard - power differentials - husbands have much more power than wives.

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Criticisms of radical feminism

Liberal feminists such as Jenny Somerville (2000) - radical feminism fails to recognise the improvement in women's positions which have improved considerably. 

Women now have - 

  • better access to divorce
  • better job opportunities
  • control over their own fertility
  • marriage vs cohabitation options

Somerville - separatism is unlikely to work due to heterosexual attractions - conventional nuclear family will never disappear.

Delphy and Leonard - can be criticised as they completed studies on working class families and there are studies which contradict this by stating there is less gender inequality in middle class families. 

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Marxist feminists

Men are not the cause of women's oppression, but capitalism. 

Marxist feminists share the ideas of marxists but believe women are exploited by capitalism in particular. 

Women help capitalism to produce the next workforce - socialise the next workforce by teaching them the norms and values required to maintain capitalist systems. 

Ansley - women are takers of ****.

Women also provide a cheap workforce during times of national crisis - women took over the roles of men during WWII. As soon as they are no longer required, they can be let go by employers. They can then return to their primary role of domestic labour (unpaid).

Margaret Benston - unpaid labour is performed by women and is very profitable to the owners of the means of production. 

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Criticisms of marxist theory

  • Places too much emphasis on economic factors
  • Assumes the traditional nuclear family is the dominant family type - ignores family diversity.
  • Assumes family members are just passive puppets who are manipulated by the structure of society to perform certain functions. 
  • They ignore the fact that we have some choice in creating family relationships. 
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Difference feminism

Whilst most feminists tend to believe women live in conventional nuclear families and share a similar experience of family life, difference feminists argue WE CANNOT GENERALISE. 

Not all women are equally exploited!!

  • middle class vs working class
  • heterosexual vs lesbian
  • black vs white

Barrett & McIntosh - the antisocial family

The ideology that idealises family life has made the outside world appear cold and friendless. It is harder to maintain relationships of security and trust except with kin. Caring, sharing and loving would all be more widespread if the family did not claim this as its own. 

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Criticisms of difference feminism

Most feminists would argue women do tend to share the same generalised experiences. 

Compared to men, all women do share many of the same experiences e.g they face a greater risk of domestic violence and sexual assault and low pay.

Don't look at the fact there are still continuing inequalities between men and women in the family. 

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Evaluation of feminism

Strengths -

  • the family does benefit some members (particular adult males) more than others
  • Highlighted the existence of violence, domestic abuse and sexual assault within the family unit
  • Conducted research into areas of family life which have not been studied before e.g conjugal roles, motherhood, pregnancy, childcare and childbirth. 
  • Analysed contributions of household labour to the economy.
  • Helped to correct masculine bias in the previous sociology of the family. Illuminates life from the perspective of women. 
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Radical psychiatry

Radical psychiatry emerged in 1960-70s and takes a critical view of the family life, particularly the nuclear family. 

Leach - argues the nuclear family is too isolated and lacks the support of the extended family. This puts too much pressure on the parents who lack emotional support and often take out their anger and frustration on each other. 

Laing - the family can cause mental illness such as stress, depression, and anxiety because parents and children spend too much time with each other. Parents expect too much from their children who become depressed through feeling suffocated. 

Cooper - Marxist approach which focuses on how children are treated. Children are taught to be obedient so that they are easily controlled. Parents are the bourgeoisie and the children are the proletariat. 

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Criticisms of radical psychiatry

  • takes too negative a view of the family
  • Leach ignores the contacts that are maintained by the nuclear and extended family - modified extended family
  • Laing over-states the link between mental illness and the family
  • Cooper is too critical of the relationship between most parents and their children 
  • Functionalists would accuse them of ignoring the positive aspects of family life
  • Being deterministic in their view that all families have negative experiences. 
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