Feminist Perspective on family

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Feminists views on family

  • Feminists start from the view that most societies are based on patriarchy or male domination.
  • See family as one of the main sites which women are oppressed by men.
  • Most unpaid work in the family is done by women - housework and childcare - even if they are working full time outside the home.
  • Women make the main contribution to family life, men recieve the main benefits.
  • Married women are economically dependent on their husbands.
  • It is the women who gives up work to care for the children - mother's often return to part-time rather than full-time employment, to meet childcare and domestic responsibilities.
  • Feminists see the family as male dominated.
  • Men control key areas of decision-making such as moving house and important financial decisions and sometimes use force to gain control - domestic violence.
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Marxist feminists

  • See patriarchy as a result of class inequality in capitalist societies.
  • Focus on oppression of women, rooted in family and linked to capitalism.
  • Marxist-feminist writers say family meets the needs of capitalism by socialising children into ruling class norms and values (ruling class ideology) - leads to submissive and obedient workforce, with false consciousness and stability for capitalism.
  • Women serve these interests by
    • Bear two children who - if male - will become the next generation of capitalist wage slaves.
    • As wives, serve and service husbands by doing housework, cooking meals and satisfying sexual needs.  Husbands are refreshed and restored ready to return to work under capitalism.
    • Family has ideological role in teaching children to accept an authoritarian and exploitative society - learning to accept authority from parents, children accept authority of school.
  • Family is an oppressive institution that stunts development of human personalities and individuality - dark side to family life that functionalists play down.
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Ansley's view on family

Ansley -

  • Family functions to stabilise personalities into Marxist framework.
  • Emotional support provided by wife as safety valve for frustration prduced in husband by working in capitalist system.
  • Frustration of the system of capitalism is translated into the wife.
  • Wive's are the takers of **** - absorb husbands anger and frustration.
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Liberal Feminists

  • Described as Gradualist - believe change is slowly occuring.  Through persuasion women are slowly getting men to become more involved in sharing household and childrearing tasks - echoed in the concept of the symmetrical family; traditional family has evolved or is evolving towards a more egalitarian institution with husbands and wives participating equally in life.
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Jennifer Somerville - liberal feminist perspective

  • Proposals of modest reform rather than revolutionary change within society - Somerville is seen as a liberal feminist.
  • Many young women do not feel sympathetic to feminism, yet feel sense of grievance.
  • Feminists have failed to acknowledge the progress that has been made for women - much greater freedom to take paid work even if they are married or have children.
  • Have more choice about whether they marry or cohabit, become single mothers, enter lesbian relationships or live on their own.
  • Increased choice for women and tendency for working-class and middle-class families alike to have both partners in employment - greater equality in marriage.
  • Some modern men are voluntarily committed to sharing in routine necessities of family survival, or they can be persuaded, cajoled, guilt-tripped or bullied.
  • Women are resentful, angry and disappointed in men - many men don't take on their full share of responsibilities.
  • Heterosexual attraction and need for adult companionship will mean heterosexual families will not disappear, nor will 'the conflicts endemic to current inequalities in heterosexual unions.'
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Jennifer Somerville - liberal feminist perspective

  • This will lead to more women cohabiting, living in non-family households or on their own, most return to further renewed attempts at a permanent commitment to partnership, involving ever more complex familial networks of relationships, responsibilities and residencies.
  • What is needed is a practical, realistic approach in which feminists devise policies to encourage greater equality within relationships and to help women cope with practicalities of life.
  • Introduction of new policies to help working parents is important - working hours and culture of many jobs are incompatible with family life, many jobs are based upon the idea of male breadwinner who relies upon a non-working wife to take full responsibility for children.
  • Her study is based upon a review of other feminist approaches to the family and consequently her study is not backed up by detailed empirical evidence.
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Radical Feminist Perspective

  • Family is associated with patriarchal structures of benefiting men - cause womens oppression.
  • Sexual division of labour in family exploits women - their responsibilities for domestic labour and childcare are unpaid, undermines position of paid employment and increases dependency on men.
  • Men control key areas of decision making such as moving house and important financial decisions.
  • Housework and caring for children, sick and older people, women also contribute a great deal to their husbands work and leisure by providing for their emotional and sexual well-being.
  • Delphy and Leonard:-
    • Women provide direct help - office work, proofreading, constituency work.
    • May stay at home to answer phone or arrange dinner parties for colleagues of their husband.
    • Give moral support - observing and moderating his emotions, arranging entertainment and relaxation, supplying personal needs.
    • Listen to husbands when they unburden themselves of their work problems, provide, touble-free sex - men unwind best post-coitally.
    • Control their own emotions to provide care for their husbands - men make little contribution to wives work, husbands career remains the central one.
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Delphy and Leonard

  • Wives contribute more work to family life that husbands.
  • Get fewer material benefits of family life than men - retain ultimate responsibility for family finances, women consume less than male family members.
  • Male head has decision making power to determine what goods are produced or bought for the family and who uses them.
  • Food bought is what he likes, husband gets more leisure time, more access to family car or best car, sons get more spent on education than daughters.
  • It is the status of different of different family members which shapes who gets what.
  • Men use force to maintain control - domestic violence is widespread and majority of those recieving end are women.
  • True liberation for women will result from abolition of the family and patriarchy.
  • Some advocates for this viewpoint envisage a society without families, some wish for a society without men - belong in the realms of science fiction all female-societies with sperm banks, selective gender reproduction and artificial insemination.
  • Mateless societies may seem extreme reproductive technologies are already available to women.
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Criticisms of Marxists and Feminists

  • See nature of family determined by needs of economic system and/or patriarchy - like functionalists see family as performing predetermined functions, see specific form of family as being necessitated by social system.  Like functionalists ten to ignore diversity of family forms within and between capitalist societies.
  • Focus on negative aspects of family life and ignore real satisfaction it gives to many individuals.  Positive side emphasised by functionalists and interpretive sociologists argue positive perceptions of family life being satisfied with traditional roles, should be accepted as valid rather than dismissed as false consciousness.
  • Attempt to abolish family in Soviet Union was abandoned as impractical, in Israeli kibbutzim parents spend more time with children and eat and sleep with them at weekends.
  • Berger 1983
    • Nuclear family represents best environment in which a childs individuality can develop - collective childrearing systems create more conformist and less creative people than those raised in nuclear families.
  • Carby 1982 - 
    • Criticise white feminists for failing to consider significance of racism alongside patriarchy as form of domination - agree family for black women can be oppressive, black women and men oppressed by racism, family acts as source of support and resistance to racial discrimination and harassment.
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Criticisms of Marxists and Feminists

  • New Right defenders of family criticise radical sociologists for attacking family and undermining it.
  • Some politicians and journalists argued lack of respect for traditional family values is reason for variety of social problems including crime, youthful rebellion and educational underachievement - few sociologists accept this, these problems part of much wider changes in society.
  • Fletcher
    • sociologists in recent years have spent too much time criticising the family and failed to consider how it can be strengthened and assissted in carrying out its role.
  • Feminists arguing from Post modern approach been criticised for losing sight of inequalities between men and women in families by stressing range of choices open to people when they form families - stressing experiences of women, difference feminists neglect common experiences shared by most women in families.
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