The concept of ‘family’ can be defined in several ways depending on from which angle it is looked at. The problem with defining the concept arises due to individual’s change in behaviour and belief, and so it results in the reformation of the social structure, resulting in adjustments in the way family is perceived and functioned. Family relationships play an integral role in women’s lives and so for that reason have such a broad scope and relevance for research and feminist theory. The traditional outlook of the Catholics church, perceives the family as being one of the main aspects of social life.
There outlook of family consists of a husband and wife who bring up their children to honour God. There view suggests that once married, women should stay at home and raise children. Some women, especially those who follow a faith find that the notion of being married and bringing together a family is an achievement in life. They believe that if their actions are pleasing to God then they are fulfilled with their role no matter what it is. For example the religion Islam, evaluates an individual male or female based upon whether their action conforms to the command of God.
The successful woman is therefore the woman who is devoutly obedient to the commands of her Creator. Feminists view the world as being unequal due to the many circumstances which women have experienced. They put forward not only there views but also examples of how women have been degraded and oppressed by the society, hence their aim is to eradicate the common traditional philosophy of men being superior to women. The notion of the male “breadwinner” and female “housewife” has conjured up concerns of social inequality.
Here feminists argue that one of the ‘main ways women have been subordinated is through the organization of society around a private world of domestic work and the public world seen as the province of men’. The idea of man being the provider indicates how men are more privileged in social advances and in sustaining the economic subordination and dependence of women. (Edley N& Wetherell M 1995). In the nineteenth century the traditional views of women began to change. Gradually more women were looking beyond the family for fulfilment.
Simone de Beauvoir began her campaign during this time where although many things changed for women, they still didn’t have the equal rights they deserved. Marriage was still a woman’s common future. Because women lacked confidence and were scared to use their imagination, they remained a second status. Simone discusses marriage in her book ‘The Second Sex’, where she highlights the points that, for women marriage was like a duty. There has always been a difference between the sexes within the framework of marriage, where each carry out different duties.
Men who were socially independent, depended on women at home, however women also wanted the same control as men. During that time women were in marriage for three reasons. To have children, satisfy there husbands sexually, and take care of the household. In return the men supported the women financially. Marriage was more of a contract than a loving devotion because men were seen to respect women, because they were their servants as they made their clothes, food, and took care of their family.
Sheila Cronan, spokeswomen of the feminist movement (National Organization for women) said, “Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the women’s movement must concentrate on attacking marriage. ” Again feminists here do not view the problem as one which is caused by ignorance in cultures but rather they attack the whole concept of marriage perceiving it as a bond which has no benefit for women. The word ‘slavery’ used by Cronan shows the extremeness of this view.
This traditional view of women’s roles in the family to take care of household chores triggered research to be conducted about such issues which are relevant to many women in society today. Ann Oakley in The sociology of housework analyses women’s domestic conditions, and housework as employment. The levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with housework were examined and found that ‘feelings of housework’ correlate with women’s attitudes towards the practice of housework. The findings suggest that there were many women who were ‘dissatisfied’ with housework.
Eighty percent of these housewives experienced boredom, disintegration and excessive pace, compared with industrial workers whose work is more skilled and not as repetitive. Many complained about not socially interacting properly and so constantly feel lonely, whereas if they went out to work it would give them the chance to take on some form of social relations. One of the reasons why some women didn’t mind staying at home looking after their family was because it allowed them the sovereignty of being ‘ones-own boss’.
It permitted them to sense the feeling of being in control and to make decisions without being instructed about what to do. Having an occupation in some organizations gives one recognition for there hard work, whilst receiving your wage can be seen as an example of fulfillment, however many times those women who stay at home do not receive any recognition for there hard work so therefore it alters their way of thinking. However one of the problems encountered whilst staying at home, was being labeled as a ‘housewife’, as the housewife role is perceived as having a low status.
Those women who had high status jobs in the past felt anxious about being low status housewives. Many women felt a sense of responsibility towards family and established a way of gaining some form of emotional satisfaction. (Oakley, 1974) However there are contrasting descriptions of family which highlight the difference between the traditional and modern ideas. The United Nations definition of family is “two or more persons who are bound together by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption who together, assume responsibility for the care and maintenance of group members” (proinsias de rossa 1995).
One of the reasons why there is a distinction between the definitions is because as society is becoming more secular individual’s views on many aspects are changing. One of the main changes in the ways people perceive the role of women and men. Although biologically different, feminists believe they should both have the same status in society and not be given different roles. Since there are many different definitions and forms of family in modern western society it’s moderately evident that there is larger range in traditional views.
The view of a successful woman in the ‘west’ is one who holds a successful career derived from the capitalist way of life that evaluates actions upon materialistic benefit and profit. Thus, the woman who is a business woman, doctor, lawyer or accountant is seen as a success as she contributes economically to the society either in the service that she provides or the taxes that she pays to the state. In contrast, the role of neither a mother nor a wife directly contributes financially to the society and therefore is viewed in a negative light and not as a success.
This is clearly reflected by a report published by the Institute of Fiscal studies in 2002 (a body that provides advice to the United Kingdom government) that commented “… having children remains a significant barrier to the employment opportunities of mothers; and the lack of accessible and affordable childcare is having an adverse impact on mothers returning to the labour market. Put more bluntly – the current strategy is not working and there is a significant economic cost. In contrast the more traditional view in some religions are that a woman can have a career if she wishes as long as she does not compromise her primary duty as a mother and wife. Over time, the family has been the solid base for procreation and child rearing, which is the foundation of family and social life. When women were more or less governed by societies prejudices, having children was an expectation. Children brought happiness to the family with the hope that they will one day outshine the family reputation especially the fathers.
Culturally, after having children especially a son ,gave the women a higher status as she was respected more by her and her husbands family. The natural desires of being a mother give a form of fulfillment to women, regardless of whether there happy with any other aspects of life and for this reason many women want to have what is seen as a ‘normal’ family and see the need for a male to be there to provide. However, because women are now becoming more educated and are able to get better jobs they are able to provide for themselves. Some believe that having children seems to be a burden as it restricts certain activities.
The different pros and cons of having a ‘family’ need to be looked at through various perspectives. If we observe at it from society’s point of view having a family has many advantages and allows the social structure to run efficiently as it did before without encountering many of the problems we face today. However if we look at it from a feminist perspective where there theories have highlighted many of the ways women have been discriminated against especially whilst because they were given different roles from men, we find that women sense that conjoining into a family degrades them.
Those with traditional views are content with there roles because it is pleasing to God and to society. Although, some were forced as these roles of staying at home, and having children were expected. Some women generally did find happiness in living like a normal family’ as it gave them some form of security. But as women have become more independent are able to put forward their views many of them opposed with having a family and saw it as a sight of oppression.
There are many factors which contribute to the change of women’s views about family life such as the media stereotypes, these being far strecthed from reality inorder to attract more viewers, increase the sales of products, or even to gain support for someone’s political agenda. Therefore as the social structure and views of society revolutionize, the concept of family will vary and so it will depend on individual women on how they feel about whether family is a source of fulfilment or oppression.