In this essay I will be assessing the contribution of feminist sociologists to an understanding of family roles and relationships. There are different roles in families such as: Conjugal; where both the partners share task such as housework and childcare, the opposite of this would be segregated roles; where the couples have separate roles, the male is breadwinner and has the instrumental role and the female is the housewife and has the expressive role. A dual earner is a couple.A single parent is a person who has been divorced or been widowed and has to take care of the children they had with the previous partner.
Furthermore there are different types of relationships between families such as equal; where the husband and wife both have an equal say and are treated equally, however it can be one-sided; where the husband or wife are more dominant which can lead to domestic violence, it could also be democratic; where the family all vote for something instead of one person taking the decisions, but it can also be patriarchal; where the male take the main decisions and Is the breadwinner.A feminist is a person that argues that sociology has traditionally taken a ‘male stream’ perspective and ignores female viewpoint; they examine women’s experiences and study society from a female’s perspective. There are different types of feminism: Liberal, Marxists, Radical and Difference Feminism. They all tend to be critical of the nature of a women’s role and relationship inside families because they see them as grossly patriarchal, oppressive and unfair, as mentioned in Item B.On the other hand, the different types of feminist don’t agree with each other’s perspective on ideas of families and households, and they tend to clash.
Liberal feminists are concerned with the campaigning against sex discrimination and for equal rights and opportunities for women. However they argue that women’s oppression is being gradually overcome through changing people’s attitude and through changes of laws such as the sex discrimination act, which outlaws sex discrimination in employment.They believe that we are moving towards greater equality. In terms of family, they hold the view of ‘march of progress’ like Young & Willmott, however they believe that gender equality hasn’t fully been achieved in the family, but there has been some progress; some of their research shows that men have been doing more domestic labour. However other feminists criticize liberal feminists for failing to challenge the underlying causes of women’s oppression and for believing there has been change in the attitude to bring greater equality.
Another Feminists type is Marxist feminists; they argue that the main reason for women’s oppression is not men, but capitalism. They argue that women reproduce labour force through their unpaid domestic labour by socialising the next generation of workers while maintaining the current ones, as mentioned in Item B; they also believe that women absorb anger, which Fran Ansley (1972) described wives as “takers of shit” who soak up frustration their husbands feel because of their work. They believe this is the main cause of domestic violence.They also argue that women are used as a ‘reserve army’ of cheap labour, so that when employers don’t need their service anymore they can simply let go of them and they can return to their role of unpaid domestic labour; they argue that the family must be abolished. Radical feminists believe that all societies have been founded by patriarchy and ruled by men. They believe that the key is to create a separation between men and women.
They argue that men are the ‘enemy’ and they are the source to women exploitation.Also, that the family and marriage are the key institutions in patriarchal society. Men benefit from women’s unpaid domestic labour and from their sexual services and they dominate females through domestic violence whether it be physical or sexually or another. Radical feminists want the patriarchal system to be overturned, in particular the family, as they believe that’s the root for women’s oppression.
They want to achieve this by separating men and women through ‘political lesbianism’ where women create a lesbian community.However, liberal feminists such as Jenny Somerville (2000) believe that radical feminists fail to recognise that women’s position has improved considerably; for example, better access to divorce, job opportunities, able to choose marriage or cohabitation. Finally Difference feminism argue that we cannot generalise women’s experiences in this way. They believe that all women have different experiences such as lesbians have different from heterosexual, and white women to black women and so on.
However other feminists argue that this approach neglects the fact that, despite the differences, women share common problems and experiences. functionalists that see nuclear families as a benefit to the society and see the family as a particularly important sub-system, a basic building block of society . Murdock’s functionalists idea of nuclear families was that he thought they would benefit all members of society; He argues that the family preforms four essential functions to meet the needs of the society and its member, which are: Stable Satisfaction of the sex drive, Reproduction of the next generation, Socialisation of the young, Meeting its members economic needs.He argues that the sheer practicality of the nuclear family as a way of meeting the four needs explains why it is universal. Parsons had more of a traditional thought to nuclear families, he had come up with the idea of a division of labour; this had two parts: firstly that the male spouse takes on the role of going out and working to allow income for the family; and secondly the female spouse staying home looking after the children and doing home chores.
This was a typical and traditional view on any ordinary family in the past.Parson had thought of this idea through ‘biological’ differences, meaning women have naturally nurturing roles and men are the providers; basically, where the male has the instrumental role of being the breadwinner and the female having the expressive role of being the housewife and doing emotional work.. Like Murdock, Parson also viewed the functions nuclear family performed depending on what society type they lived in. Parsons renowned two types of family structures; first one as the nuclear family which we know of and secondly ‘extended family’, this is where 3 generations live under one roof.
The type of function will be affected by the type/structure of the family. Parson argues that the family types and its functions will fit the needs of its society; however parson set the society into two basic types: Modern industrial society and Tradition Pre-industrial society. According to parson, he thought that nuclear families would fit and be dominant in the modern industrial whereas extended families would fit in pre-industrial. This was the ’functional fit’ theory of parson.
He also argued that they performed two essential ‘irreducible’ functions which were; primary socialisation of the children and the stabilisation of adult personalities. Functionalists ideas are supported by the ‘new right’ ideas, as they see the same perspective on families. They believe there is only one correct type of family, which is a nuclear family or normal family. The new right ideas believe in the traditional nuclear; consisting of a married couple, which have a labour of division, and have dependent children.
This is the same as functionalist’s perspective on the husband and wife roles; that there is a clear division of labour between the bred-winner husband and the homemaker-wife. Also another idea that is supported by the new right is the roles depending on the natural and biological differences between the male and female spouse. As the New right are in favour of the nuclear family structure, they strongly oppose any other family forms as they believe in can have negative impacts on society such as higher crime rates and educational failure.They oppose one-parent family structures as they think its is unnatural and harmful for the children; they strongly dislike female-led one parent families as they think rather than the female going out to work, she should be nurturing her children; they also argue that the boys in the family are left without a fatherly role model, which can be a consequent to the future of society. They see marriage as an essential basis for creating a stable environment to bring children up in as it has both female and male role models-therefore an equal environment.
If the marriage is broken and it leads to a family breakdown it has negative effects especially mentally on the children which can lead to educational failure then to poverty. Marxists also oppose nuclear family structure like feminists, however they believe it’s to benefit capitalism and believe that’s the reason for women oppression in nuclear families. Marxist sociologists see the capitalist’s society as two social classes: The working class and the ruling class. Marxist believes nuclear families benefit the working class because the unpaid domestic labour done by women doesn’t cost the families anything.This is why Marxists believes capitalism is the reason of women oppression; however they also believe that because women absorb male anger, they are more vulnerable to more domestic violence which just repeats slavery within the family. Marxists see the oppression of women in the as linked the exploitation of the Woking class.
Families perform ideological functions which make things looks normal and natural; this persuades people to accept it. This also influences the children as they are brought up in the environment of a hierarchal structure so they would think it’s natural and act like that in the future.In Conclusion, I think feminist contribute a lot to understand families and relationships because they have a different perspective, it allows others to see another viewpoint. Also the different types of feminists, show each other feminists what they think and compete each other, which again shows that a perspective doesn’t necessarily mean the sociologists agree. I believe that feminist’s contribution allows us to understand a possible perspective of females in relationships and families, and gives an understanding of their experiences in their roles and relationships, whether it be domestic abuse or type of family or relationship.