Feminists andd Sociology of Family

ASSESS THE CONTRIBUTION OF FEMINISTS TO THE SOCIOLOGY OF THE FAMILY

Feminists have played a major part in the ideology of the family, as they provide an alternative view to the traditional sociology of the family. There are many different types of feminists; the main ones are Radical feminists, Marxist feminist and liberal feminists. Although they are categorised separately, they fundamentally believe in the same idea, which is the dominant functionalist assumptions are inaccurate and should therefore be challenged. Functionalists believe that in the family, the role of the woman is functional when she plays a necessary ‘expressive’ role, providing care and affection for members in a more subordinate role than that of the breadwinner husband.

HOUSEWORK/POWER RELATIONS

One of the functionalists, Wilmott and Young, (1973), claimed that 72% of the married men in their sample help their wife in some other way than washing, even though they do fail to specify what this help is. They believe that the family is symmetrical and both husband and wife have joint conjugal roles, which makes the family a functional institution. However, the radical feminist, Anne Oakley, points out that the fact that they say ‘helps their wife’ implies that the primary responsibility is still the wife’s. Oakley also points out that the creation of the housewife role is a social construction and is not inevitably linked to the female role. This housewife role ensures that women stay subordinate to men, making it difficult for them to pursue careers and this role which is exclusively allocated to women, has no status, is unpaid and alienating, and yet it takes precedence over all other roles. Her conclusion is that the only way women will gain freedom and be able to develop fully as individuals in society is for the abolition of the role of housewife, the sexual division of labour, and the family itself as it is presently understood and structured.

A liberal feminist, Jessie Bernard, sees the role of housewife as the key factor in limiting the potential of women. Bernard believes that marriage is particularly beneficial for men as they are more likely than single men to have successful careers, high incomes and high status occupations. However, wives are found to express marital dissatisfaction more frequently than men, since they gain least.

Margaret Benston, a Marxist feminist, states that the amount of unpaid labour performed by women is very profitable to those who own the means of production. To pay for women even at minimum wage scales, would involve a massive redistribution of wealth. At present the support of the family is a hidden tax on the wage earner, his wage buy the labour power of two people. In addition, the man is less likely to withdraw his labour power with a wife and children to support. Not only does the family produce and rear cheap labour, it also maintains it at no cost to the employer. The woman as housewife tends to her husbands needs keeping him in good working order to perform his role as wage labourer.

Radical feminists such as Dobash and Dobash, found through their studies that although both partners feel that marriage allows them to make some demands upon the other, there is considerable difference in their abilities to achieve their own ends when there is disagreement. The woman is almost never in a position to coerce him by physical means and has never learned the techniques of violence nor been taught to think in terms of physical control. They therefore believe that the family is not symmetrical as Wilmott & young may suggest, as there are inequalities in the power relations, and they also see the family as a key institution in perpetuating women’s oppression, and that given the risk of male violence they would be better off alone.

Fran Ansley, a Marxist feminist, like Parsons, believes that the emotional support provided by the wife acts as a safety valve for the frustration produced in the husband by working in the capitalist system.

ANATOMY IS DESTINY

Feminists stress that anatomy is not destiny. In particular is Anne Oakley who presents evidence that gender roles are culturally, not biologically, determined. As children we are placed into roles, which are acceptable to society, this idea is supported by Murdock, as he believed that man