Outline and evaluate the feminist contribution to an understanding of contemporary family life Essay

Over the years feminism has had an increasing impact on various different aspects of family life, one of these includes the family, areas of family life like domestic violence and housework were previously not really considered as aspects of sociology but were introduced by feminists.

In highlighting these they have raised awareness as to women’s role within society and the impact of domestic female Labour on economy as a whole, these ideas were previously not fully understood in society where male dominance was prevalent and often considered inevitable.

Engles and Zaretsky were two women who acknowledged this factor and brought light to it in a Marxist perspective; they stated that women were often exploited in marriage and in households.

They feel that this exploitation is inevitable and therefore the only real solution is to change the system as a whole. They argue that despite this the female role is still significant as by carrying out domestic duties they remove the majority of the burden from men thus making it easier for them to carry out their work and thereby they have an affect albeit indirect on the economy.

Another major argument about how women affect the economy is throughout the socialization of the new generation as inevitably they will be the workers of the new economy.

Other Marxists often see the female role as being part of the keeping the male in role, for example she is used to stop the male from possible loosing faith in the system as she may be seen as the product or reward for his work. Also because the male has a wife and children to support he realisms that his work is essential and he cannot just stop thereby weakening his bargaining power and committing him to the system. These points were mainly argued by Margaret Benson.

David Cooper further emphasized the importance of socializing the new generation as he said that the attitudes and valued imprinted onto the minds of the new generation are ideal and necessary for survival in capitalism. This point is further emphasized by Diane Feeley who says tat children are taught ‘passivity not rebellion’ thereby abiding to authority and end up preconditioned to accept their place in the hierarchy within capitalism

Another view of Feminism adopted by many and a good way of looking at the influence of women in the family is the Radical Feminist approach, the main difference between radical feminism and Marxist feminism is that radical feminists do not agree with male domination although they understand that the family is imperative to keeping a healthy capitalist economy.

Delphy and Leonard are two major Radical Feminists, their theories in some ways are similar to those of Marxist feminists as they both believe that it isn’t the system of capitalism but men themselves who are the main beneficiaries of the exploitation of women.

Delphy and Leonard established the following factors as the main charactersiscs of the family as an ecnomic system:

* Males are heads of households and the females are the helpers, at the time figures said one tenth of women were head of the household and only then when they were divorced, single or widowed

* The male head is the leader and assigns roles to the rest of the family, The rest of the family may have veiws on the decisions to be taken but the final word is the head of the families.

* The head of the household provides maintannce and support for the other members of the family and upon his death his wealth is shared out amongst the other members

* The type of work that has to be done is assigned by the male head and varies by gender, the females carry out unpaid domestic work.

* The money inherited is not related to the work carried out by the members of the family, they are also decided through gender and again the final word is had by the male head

* The relation between the male head and the unpaid domestic workers is often non monetry i.e in the form of compassion, a gift or a holiday.

* The male head has control of all inheritance and has the main say on how the money and wealth of the family is spent

* When Females are heads of the family they have to carry out the domestic work as well as paid work to maintain the family.

The main critisms of the marzist theory are:

Firstly ther family is generalised too much in this thoery no real attention is given to the many different types of familys and the variations in them, the variations in perticular will have a massive affect, variations such as: ethincity, social class, hetrosexual couples will have an increasing affect. An exaple of this is how in many eastern cultures the views displayed by marxist feminists are widely practised as the male is dominant and the female opressed but incereasingly in western society the female are gaining a bigger role and the male carrying out jobs that are usually seen as domestic housework.

Because of this it can be claimed that the marxist feminist perspective exaggerates the female role and oppression that they get, other factors such as the complex realationships between the families are not studied. They also completely ignore any possiblity that in some households women may go on to rebel agains the male domination and begin to gain back some of the control over the family.

They also do not accept that there will no doubt be positive aspects for females within the family life as without them rebellion is inevitable, it is extreemly unlikley that the entire female race would live their lives under opression with nor real benefit for them unless there was some gain for them, other theoreis have touched on this by mentioning factors such as rewards through holidays and compassion etc.

There are many different versions of Radical feminists but all agree that the women are oppressed mainly for the benefit of men.

The main criticisms of Radical femisim are:

Delphy and Lenoard both continue to stress how the family is hierarchical and a system whereby men exploit women , they argue that women do most of the work yet get no real reward for this duty. But again this theory is generalised too much, it is based soley on the idea that all families have a controlling male head, if this is not the case and power is shared then the theory can not be correctly applied and it is increasingly the case that power within a family is not centralised towards one person

Another major factor that is not accepted is the difference and variation between family types and situations, social class for example will no doubt have a large affect on the theory put forward as most reasearchers have found less inequlity in middle class families as apose to working class families

Another factor that is not appreciated is the type of living environment that the family has, farming communites for example often have a shared work load between the males and females which are often very similair.