Explain and evaluate the contribution of feminists to an understanding of the family

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Explain and evaluate the contribution of feminists to an understanding of the family

  1. 1. 1. Explain and evaluate the contribution of feminists to an understanding of the family.***** 2. Compare and contrast two competing feminists’ perspectives on the family. 3. Assess the view that the fundamental role of the family is supporting the needs of capitalism 4. How far have feminists contributed to our understanding of the family?GENERAL COMMENTSThis essay is quite complex as it requires an explanation of three different feministperspectives. The information covered may well prove useful in other essays, forexample, the Marxist feminist explanation of the relationship between the family,work and the capitalist system can be applied to essays on work and stratification.The information on violence within the home can be used in an essay on dark sidetheorists. Meanwhile, the radical feminist explanation can be used in an essay onsymmetrical families or conjugal roles, as well as in essays which explore theoccupational situation of women. When writing essays, try to include a good mix of contemporary examples tosupport what you’re saying. Not only will this make the essay more enjoyable forthe reader but it will help you to remember some key points when it comes torevising for exams.Tackling the Question #1This essay requires both an explanation and evaluation of the contribution offeminists to an understanding of the family. It is important to NOTE the word‘FEMINISTS- plural. This is a useful clue as to what the examiner is looking for –itindicates that there is more than one feminist theory to consider. It’s is alsoimportant to remember what the term ‘EVALUATE’ means in CAPE Sociology. Itmeans that you need to produce both supporting and contradictory evidence for thetopic or issue under discussion. Remember to be as CRITICAL as you can.GUIDANCE NOTESFrom the outset the essay spells out that there are several feminist perspectives toconsider. It also tells the reader that there is some competition between the variousperspectives. The fact that there are three perspectives to explore makes the essayeasy to structure-a section of the essay must be given to each.In paragraph two, offer an explanation of liberal feminism. The example of the ‘ruleof thumb’ brings a historical look at the women’ lives to life. There are otherexamples that you could use in place of this one. Did you know that in the past ahusband could put a face harness on his ‘nagging wife’? This harness had a spikeattached to it which rested on the woman’s tongue. The husband then had the rightto lead his harness-wearing wife through the town for everyone to see. Rememberthat whichever examples you choose to use, one is enough and be brief.
  2. 2. In the next paragraph introduce the Marxist feminist perspective as a critique of theliberal feminist approach. Some students find the Marxist feminist approachparticularly difficult, especially Benston’s explanation of how the family is linked tocapitalism. This argument is broken down into four key points so that it becomes alittle easier to understand.I bet you never forget Ansley. Like the essay before, we’ve used the example ofdomestic violence to explain a point. This just goes to show that the same examplecan be used in a variety of topics. You should also use the paragraph not only toexplain the Marxist feminist position, but to spell out their solution to femaleoppression.Introduce the radical feminist before going on to establish their own position. Youmay like to write your own list of tasks that you think women perform for thebenefit of men .Remember that the objective of your essay is to show the examineryour knowledge and understanding of a subject, and how well you can apply andevaluate information.Include the contribution of extremely radical Shulasmith FirestoneNot only does the conclusion summarize the feminist perspective on the family, butit manages to have a little dig at male dominated sociology Explain and evaluate the contribution of feminists to an understanding of the family.-Model essay. Lower Sixth Caribbean SociologyThere are several competing feminist perspectives which attempt to understand familylife and, in particular the role which women play in this social institution. While there aresimilarities between the different schools of feminism (most feminists would agree thatwomen are oppressed within the family) there are also some stark differences on whobenefits from the domestic division most, and how these inequalities can be rectified.This essay will examine three competing feminist perspectives on the family- liberalfeminism, Marxist feminism and radical feminism. (Note well, Colleen, Khadija andFowlin )Liberal feminists have pointed to the family as the key source of male domination andfemale oppression (Pay attention Attalia, Ladonia and Princess).They point to the factthat in the past, fathers had the right to rule other family members. This right is enshrined
  3. 3. in custom, tradition, and even in law, like ‘the rule of thumb’, which in the past gave ahusband the right to hit his wife with an implement, such as a stick, as long as it was nowider than his thumb. Liberal feminist such as Gavron have argued that the family is apatriarchal institution which mirrors patriarchal society. Just as women tend to besubservient in the workplace, so they tend to be subservient in the home. Gavron pointsto the fact that women are over-represented in jobs which revolve around cooking,cleaning, and caring and that women in paid work are still likely to have a male boss.Liberal feminists believe that patriarchy is not a physical force, but a force of institutionalcontrol.According to liberal feminists, the law can be used to rectify these gender inequalitiesand when parity exists in wider society, it will eventually follow that parity will existwithin the family. However, this view can be criticized because changing the law is avery slow process. Furthermore, changes in the law which has been designed to promotegender equality in society, such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, but have beenviewed by many as ineffective. Evidence suggests that women are still paid less than menand have fewer chances of promotion in the workplace. (Judeen, Jodi-Ann Joseph andPerry be advised)Marxist feminists reject many liberal feminist ideas .According to the Marxist feminist,Benston, patriarchy is a form of exploitation and oppression of women which isgenerated by capitalism .Benston argues that the traditional division of labour within thehome benefits capitalism in a number of ways. Firstly, it is cost effective to capitalism, inthat if women did not carry out house-work and child rearing tasks, the family wouldhave to pay for these services. This would increase the family’s expenditure and wouldconsequently result in higher wage demands. Secondly women provide a reserve army oflabour which can be accessed at times of national crisis, as for example, during theSecond World War, when women went into the factories to work in the place of men.Thirdly, in their caring capacity, women prepare men for work: the cook, they clean andare there to gratify their husbands sexually. Women meet all the needs of men, whichensures that their husbands are fit and healthy for work; this therefore benefits capitalism.Finally, because men have a financial obligation to their families, they may be dissuadedfrom taking industrial action.(Yashemebet Lee, Samantha, Krysten Nelson , pleasebe aware of this)Benston is supported by Ansley who argues that women in their supporting role are like‘sponges’ which absorbs the frustrations and anger of their husbands caused by workingwithin the capitalist system. Rather than the husband taking his anger out on his boss, heis likely to take it out on his wife. Ansley goes further by referring to housewives as‘takers of shit’. Further support for Benston comes from McFee and Wood who arguethat the relationship between husband and wife is no more often than ‘petty dictatorship’.This argument is supported by the rising incidence of reported cases of domesticviolence. Statistics indicate that one in eight women experience domestic violence at thehands of their husbands. It is important to know that these statistics are based on reportedincidents of domestic violence- and the true figure for this type of abuse is likely to bemuch higher than the statistics suggest. According to Women’s Aid, the real statistic for
  4. 4. domestic violence is more likely to be one in six. For Marxist feminists, this exploitationof women in the home can only end when capitalism is overthrown and replaced by anew epoch of socialism.( Servia, Jody- Ann hope you are making mental notesthrough out)According to Barrett and McIntosh, Marxist feminists can be criticized for ignoringfamily diversity. Marxist feminists assume that all families consist of a mother, father andchildren: they ignore other family forms such as single-parent families.An alternative feminist perspective on the family and marriage is put forward by theradical feminists. Whereas Marxist feminists argue that capitalism is the main beneficiaryof the traditional division of labour within the home, radical feminists argue that is menwho benefit first and foremost. The radical feminists Delphy and Leonard argue that thefamily has a central role in maintaining patriarchy. Women are oppressed by men andthis oppression stems from unequal labour relations within the home. Delphy andLeonard argue that there are two roles within the family.One role is the head of thehousehold, and this is usually taken by the male. The other role is that of a ‘dependent’.This role is usually taken by the wife who is at least semi-subordinate and owes herhusband obedience and respect. The wife has responsibility for domestic, sexual andemotional labour.According to Delphy and Leonard; women perform on average 57household tasks which their husbands benefit from, e.g. cooking, cleaning, and nursing.Oakley offers similar evidence. She found that women spend more than 70 hours a weekdoing housework.( Were you all aware of this….especially, Ottavia, Nostalgia andTiffania?? )Functionalists like Wilmot and Young would not agree with the radical feminist position,or indeed any feminist perspective of the family. Wilmot and Young’s research suggestthat the family is becoming more symmetrical. One would think then that in cases wherethe family is out of work and the female is working that some form of role reversal wouldhave taken place. Delphy and Leonard point to research which was conducted in PortTalbot where men had been made redundant. They found that even though the men wereat home all day they still did very little in the way of housework. For Delphy andLeonard, these men were still benefiting from the traditional division of labour within thehome despite the fact that they were no longer the breadwinners. This evidence suggeststhat it is not capitalism which benefits most from the traditional division of labour, butmen. More supporting evidence comes from a similar study conducted by McKee andbell who also found that role reversal had not taken place within the household.Delphy and Leonard, like Benston, can be criticized for ignoring family diversity.Furthermore their work is based on unrepresentative data. Many studies, including theresearch of Bott, have found that there is more equality in terms of the domestic divisionof labour within middle class families. Delphy and Leonard’s data from their Port Talbotresearch may have had an in built bias towards their theory because they chose a samplefrom a working class area. In other words, they knew that their results would ‘fit’ theirtheory.(Everyone please do not become jaded and think about Chicken and Fries atthe canteen…. keep the focus)
  5. 5. As this essay has shown, feminists’ contributions to our understanding of the family dohave similarities. However, the feminist perspectives which have been examined differ intheir ‘solution ‘to female oppression in the home. Whereas liberal feminists believe thatinequality can be ended by changes in the law which will create a change in attitudestowards women in general, and Marxist feminists argue that only a change in epoch willend inequality within the home, the radical feminist Shulahsmith Firestone has arguedthat ‘woman will never be completely free until reproduction has been taken away fromthe womb’. With the recent development in ‘cloning’, this may not be as far-fetched asfirst thought. Meanwhile other radical feminists have argued that women will not be freeuntil they turn to lesbianism.(Tyesha, Romae and the rest of the ladies, this is just atheory….be careful)In conclusion, feminist perspectives have moved sociological research away from thepreviously male-stream sociology of functionalists. Feminist perspectives havehighlighted the negative aspects of family life which have previously been largelyignored. In addition, feminist perspectives show how the inequalities of society as awhole are mirrored within the family. Overall, feminist perspectives have providedsociology with a more complete picture of family life and how it is experienced by manywomen.

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