• Theories of the Family (Feminism for dummies... they love your mum but thinks your dad treats her like a mug!)

    •Feminists take a critical view of the family, arguing that it oppresses women and reproduces patriarchy. As such, they have focused on the unequal division of domestic labour and domestic violence against women. They do not regard gender inequality as natural or inevitable, but as something created by society

    Marxist feminist

    Marxist feminists suggest that the nuclear family meets the needs of capitalism for the reproduction and maintenance of class and patriarchal inequality. It benefits the powerful at the expense of the working class and women.

    The Marxist feminist, Margaret Benston (1972), argues that the nuclear family provides the basic commodity required by capitalism, i.e. labour power by reproducing and rearing the future workforce at little cost to the capitalist class. It maintains the present workforce's physical and emotional fitness through the wife's domestic labour. Finally, women in families can be used as a reserve army of labour to be used in times of economic growth and pushed back into the home during times of economic slow-down.


    However, difference feminists would criticise Marxist feminists for assuming that all women are exploited equally under capitalism. For example, lesbian and heterosexual women, black and white women, middle class and working class women have very different experiences from one another. Black feminists would argue that Marxist feminists emphasis on women’s role within capitalism ignores black and Asian women’s experience of racism which is not faced by white women.

    Radical feminist

    Radical feminists such as Kate Millett (1970) see modern societies and families as characterised by patriarchy a system of subordination and domination in which men exercise power over women and children. They argue that the family is the root of all women’s oppression and should be abolished. The only way to do this is through separatism – women must live independently of men.

    Diana Gittens refers to the concept of age patriarchy to describe adult domination of children, which may take the form of violence against both children and women. Similarly, Delphy and Leonard see the family as a patriarchal institution in which women do most of the work and men get most of the benefit. Moreover, this patriarchal ideology stresses the primacy of the mother housewife role for women and the breadwinner the family as legitimating violence against women.


    However, some would argue that this model is dated in that it fails to consider recent trends such as the feminisation of the workforce and women's use of divorce laws. The liberal feminist Jenny Somerville also argues that separatism is unlikely to work because heterosexual attraction makes it unlikely that the conventional nuclear family will disappear.

    Hakim (1995) argues that this model fails to consider that females might be exercising rational choices in choosing domestic roles.

    By contrast, functionalists argue that radical feminists ignore the very real benefits that the family provides for its members, such as intimacy and mutual support.

    Overall evaluation of Feminist theories

    •Feminist theories of the family have dated fairly badly, because they fail to account for recent economic and social changes, such as the feminisation of the economy, the educational success of young females, women’s use of divorce and many women’s rejection of domestic labour as their unique responsibility.

    • Feminist also end to ignore the positive aspects of family life. Critics argue that feminists are preoccupied with the negative side of family life. They ignore the possibility that many women enjoy running a home and raising children.

    •Feminists tend to assume that families are manipulated in some way by the structure of society to reproduce and reinforce patriarchy through the gendered division of labour within families. Postmodernists, for example, would argue that feminists ignore the possibility that we have some choice in creating our family relationships. In fact, the diversity of family types found today reflects the fact that we can choose our domestic set up for ourselves.

    •From an interpretivist point of view, feminists tend to neglect the meanings families have for individuals and how family members interpret family relationships. For example, feminists ignore accounts of family life in which some females suggest motherhood is a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

    •Difference feminists would criticise feminists for assuming that all women share similar experiences. For example, lesbian and heterosexual women, black and white women, middle class and working class women have very different experiences of the family from one another. Black feminists would argue that by solely regarding the family as a source of oppression, white feminists neglect black and Asian women’s experience of racism. Instead, black feminists view the black family positively as a source of support and resistance to racism.


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