Political Lesbianism

The main idea of Political Lesbianism is that sexuality is a choice. It’s about rejecting heterosexuality and men, not necessarily about having sex with women.

It is one of the key ideas of Radical Feminism, although keep in mind that this is extreme, and not representative of all Radical Feminists!

According to Julie Bindel the debate over whether Feminists should ‘give up heterosexual sex and adopt Political Lesbianism as a practice started with the publication of a pamphlet in 1979 called ‘Love Your Enemy: the debate between heterosexual feminism and political lesbianism’, put together by the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group, and the main author being Shiela Jeffries.

You can download a full copy of this radical feminist pamphlet here. It’s commonly known as the ‘LYE’ pamphlet, or ‘Love your Enemy’

Some of the key ideas of ‘Love your Enemy’

  • Women needed to get rid of men from their beds and their heads to be truly free.
  • Male oppression is the only system of oppression in which the oppressor literally invades and colonises the interior of the other.
  • Penetrative sex (between men and women) is more than a symbol of oppression, its function and effect is the punishment and control of women.
  • Sexuality is not determined by genetics, it is not just biological, it is shaped by culture and it is a choice.

The pamphlet caused quite a debate within Feminism in the early 1980s, and it probably enhanced divisions within the movement. The video below explores some of the issues and conflicts surrounding Political Lesbianism

Criticisms of Political Lesbianism

Bea Campbell argued that it was more important to challenge men’s behaviour in heterosexual relationships than to insist that women give up heterosexual desire.

Lynne Segal also thinks we should celebrate heterosexuality.

Political Lesbianism seems to be based on a fear of men, rather than a love of women and/ or diversity!

Further reading on Political Lesbianism

What are the functions of the family today?

How have the functions of the family changed? Are the functions of the family in decline?

Functionalist sociologist Talcott Parsons developed the ‘Functional Fit Theory of the family, in which he argued that the extended family used to perform several functions in pre-industrial society, but as society industrialized and the smaller, nuclear family became the norm, the number of functions performed by the family declined.

This post examines the extent to which the functions of the family have changed and asks whether family functions have declined over the last 200 years. It can be used to evaluate the Functionalist perspective on the family.

This post has been written primarily for students studying the families and households topic for A-level sociology.

The functions of the family in pre-industrial society

  • Unit of production
  • Caring for the young, old sick and poor
  • Primary socialisation and control of children
  • Education of children
  • The stabilisation of adult personalities (I assume Parsons thought this was just as essential pre-industrialisation!)

The Functions of the family in industrial society

According to Parsons there are now just two ‘irreducible functions’ performed by the nuclear family :

  • primary socialisation – teaching children basic norms and values
  • the ‘stabilisation of adult personalities’ – providing psychological security for men and women in a stable relationship.

The changing functions of the family

Talcott Parsons was writing in 1950s, so it’s quite possible that even the two functions he identified are no longer performed by the family today (of course some people argue that the family didn’t even perform the functions he claimed they did back in the 1950s!)

To what extent have the functions of the family changed over time, and to what extent have they declined?

The family as a unit of production

Before industrialization and the growth of factory based consumption the family was also a unit of production – the family produced most of the goods it consumed itself, mainly food and clothes.

Today, the family household no longer produces its own goods for consumption. Instead, adults go out to work, earn wages and use those wages to buy food and clothes from the market.

More-over, the increase in technologically advanced products means it would be impossible today for the family-unit to produce itself many of the goods it requires to survive in modern society – so many goods require a complex division of labour with many different specialist job roles.

Caring for the young, old sick and poor

The family used to be the only institution which could care for dependents, however today we have a range of different services which have taken over these functions, most obviously the NHS.

Social welfare services can also intervene and remove children from parents if they believe abuse has been taking place.

Education of children

Before the Education Act of 1870 children were not required to go to school, so what education many of them received had to take place within the family.

There were exceptions to this, as those from wealthier families could send their children to school.

Occupational roles also tended to be ascribed – children learned their trades from their parents, with the skills for particular trades typically being passed down from father to son.

Today, the vast majority of children go to school from the age of 4-18, with the parents taking on a secondary role in their education.

Occupations are no longer passed down from parent to child either – most children rely on the education system to give them the specific vocational skills they will need for specific jobs – occupational status today is achieved, rather than ascribed.

Primary socialisation and control of children

This was the first of Parsons’ ‘irreducible functions of the family’ – that children learn the basic norms and values of society. However, today the state can play more of a role in this where certain parents are concerned.

Sure Start is a good example of the government getting more involved in parenting and Police and social services will intervene to attempt to regulate the behaviour of young offenders.

It’s also likely that parents have less control over children today, compared to the 1950s, because of the impact of the media. It is simply harder for parents to monitor and regulate hyperreality!

The stabilisation of adult personalities

Parsons argued that nuclear families provided stability and pyscholgical security for men and women.

It is difficult to argue this today, given the low rate of marriage and high rates of relationship breakdowns and divorce.

To what extent is the family a willing unit of consumption?

Evaluating the Marxist view of the family and false needs

Contemporary Marxists argue that one of the main functions of the family in capitalist societies is to act as a ‘unit of consumption’ – the family unit is supposed to buy the products necessary to keep capitalism going.

Key to understanding this theory is the idea of ‘false needs’ – which in Marxist theory are perceived ‘needs’ created by the capitalist system, rather than our ‘real needs’.

‘Real needs’ are basic material things such as food, shelter, clothing, but we might also include transport, health, education and general welfare.

‘False needs’ arise because of the demands of the capitalist system, rather than what we as individuals need. They include such things as the need for distraction or anything else we ‘need’ to make life bearable in an unfair system,  anything we might buy to give off a sense of our social status, and anything we buy or do to give ourselves or our children an edge in an artificially unequal world.  We could also include many of the products we buy out of fear, or out the need to make ourselves safe, if that fear is engineered by the capitalist system to keep the population under control.

This post has been written as part of an evaluation of The Marxist Perspective on the Family, part of the families and households module within A-level sociology.

False needs and the family

It is possible to think of many examples of families making purchases and consuming stuff which could fall into the category of false needs, which ultimately serves the needs of the capitalist system. Examples could include:

  • Purchases parents make just keep their kids quiet and simply give themselves time to manage their lives, given that parents do not have enough time at home because they both must work in a Capitalist system. This could include toys and subscriptions to media entertainment packages.
  • Purchase parents make to give their children an advantage in education. In Marxist theory education reproduces class inequality, primarily because the middle classes can buy their kids a better education.
  • Purchases parents make to give their family a sense of status to the outside world – this could be for the family as a whole, such as a better car, or parents giving in to the demands for kids to have the latest status clothes or phone.  
  • Products bought to keep kids ‘safe’, which could be mainly for younger children.
  • A lot of the above will be exacerbated by ‘built in obsolescence’ of many products.

Evidence of the Family perpetuating false needs

This section looks at possible evidence that families purchase ‘shit they don’t need’, giving into false needs, rather than consumption based on real needs.

Some places we might look for evidence include:

  • Case studies of high consumption families, but how representative are they?
  • Stats on advertising expenditure aimed at families and their effectiveness.
  • Stats on family expenditure – trends in how much parents spend on children. and what do parents actually buy?
  • Pester Power – how often do parents give in to their kids nagging?
  • Counter studies – what does an example of a family living in ‘real consciousness’ look like?!?

Keep in mind that there are limitations with all of the evidence below and you can always use your own brain-thing to find your own examples!

My Super Sweet 16

Shows such as ‘My Super Sweet 16’ probably show us the most extreme examples of parents willingly meeting their children’s false needs. An excellent analysis of this is provided my the most excellent Charlie Brooker in the clip below (5.30 mins on)

The problem with such case studies is they are maybe not that representative of families in America, let alone in the UK!?!

According to the FintechTimes children receive almost £20 a month in pocket money, sometimes for doing chores.

According to their research, nine year olds are already well versed in the habit of saving to buy expensive consumer items, as this top chart of products shows:

Whether you regard this as evidence of ‘false needs’ being established from a young age is debatable. Some of the products would fall well within the ‘false need’s category – the Play Station and Slime for example, but others seem quite educational – lego and books seeming to be high up the priority list!

A third of parents say Pester Power has made them take on debt

Corporations know that children Pester parents for toys they want, and so a good deal of advertising has historically been targeted at children. Some recent research from 2018 suggests that a third of parents have given into pester power to the extent that they’ve bought something on credit, just to stop their children nagging.

Parental Expenditure on Education

The average UK parental expenditure on education is almost £25K a year, and that’s over and above the free education provided by the State. Most of this will be by middle class parents trying to give their children an advantage.

Counter Evidence

Don’t forget to look for counter-evidence too – you might want to look up recent restrictions on the power of companies to advertise to children (reducing pester power) or look for examples of ‘frugal families’.

Criticisms of the Marxist view on the family as a unit of consumption

Are parents really in false consciousness, do they really have ‘false’ needs. ?

To what extent are parents under false consciousness and buying ‘shit they don’t need’ for their families and their children, rather than buying stuff because they have made a rational decision?

Some of the safety products for babies may well come under this category – maybe this is a genuine need – maybe it is better to spend £400 on a super safe buggy rather than relying on your parent’s hand me downs?

Individuals might have more false needs than families

I’m also not convinced that the family in particular is the most significant unit of consumption – young adults not yet in families are perfectly capable of buying ‘shit they don’t need’ themselves in their 20s and 30s, and it’s debatable whether their relative expenditure on ‘false need’ type items will be higher when they have families in their 30s 40s and 50s?

Parenting, childcare and gender equality

To what extent is there equality in relationships between men and women when it comes to childcare?

Some research suggests there is greater gender equality

Research by Gayle Kaufman consisting of interviews with 70 American fathers with at least one child under the age of 18 found that between 1977 and 2008 the average American man increased the amount of time spent on household chores and childcare by more than 2 hours per day on average each workday. Statistics suggest that increasingly men are performing a ‘second shift’ when they return home from work, spending on average 46 hours a week on on childcare and housework, which suggests that it is increasingly men rather than women who face the ‘dual-burden’.

Kaufman identified two new types of dad based on how they responded to the challenges of balancing work and family life.

  • ‘New Dads’ which were by far the largest category placed a high priority on involvement with children and made some minor adjustments to their work practices – such as getting to work later or leaving earlier, or ‘leaving work at work’ or bringing work home with them, and trying to juggle that and family duties.
  • Superdads actively adjusted their work lives to fit in with their family lives – by changing careers, cutting back work hours or adopting more flexible working hours. These dads saw spending time with their children as the most important thing in their lives, with money and career as less important.

However, we are a long way from actual equality

Focusing on the UK, ONS data reveals that at the end of 2012 there were just over 6,000 more full-time, stay-at-home dads looking after babies and toddlers than there were 10 years ago, which is hardly a significant increase

Also, although fathers always say they want to spend more time with their kids rather than working, the evidence does not back this up – a third of men don’t take their two weeks paternity leave, 40% say they don’t intend to take the 6 months they are now entitled to and 90% say they wouldn’t take more than 6 months if it was offered to them.

More recent research from NatCen reveals that while trends in housework are moving towards greater equality, the same CANNOT be said for trends in childcare.

Mothers spent more than twice as much time than farthers doing ‘physical’ childcare, which includes such chores as feeding and bathing children,

Mothers spent 28 minutes per day on ‘interactive’ childcare such as playing, reading and talking with their children, compared to 19 minutes for fathers – this is the smallest difference of all the activity types, but arguably the most pleasant!

Mothers spent almost twice as long on ‘other childcare‘ activities such as taking children to school and after-school activities.

You can read a more detailed version of the report here.

The Emergence of ‘Intensive Motherhood’ suggests things might even be getting worse for some mothers…

According to Sharon Hays (1996) it is still mothers, rather than fathers who remain the target of most parenting advice, and today all mothers are expected to live up to a new norm of ‘intensive mothering’ – a style of mothering that is ‘expert-guided’ and child centred as well as emotionally absorbing, labour intensive and financially expensive, requiring a 24/7 focus on the child.

Hays suggests that intensive mothering has become the taken for granted ‘correct’ style of mothering , and the the focus is typically on the mother and not on the father.

Radical Feminists also remind us that 9/10 single parents are female.

Life Expectancy in England is Stalling

Life expectancy has been steadily increasing since 1900, but this trend seems to be stalling, according to the recent Marmot Review of Health Equity.

You can clearly see the slow down in the increase in Life Expectancy for males and females in England in the two graphs below.

For both males and females the graph above shows a clear increasing trend from 2001 to around 2011, and then a much flatter trend from 2011 to 2017.

The above two graphs also highlight the clear correlation between deprivation and life expectancy, with the least deprived (or wealthiest) quintile of males and females enjoying around 6-8 more years of life than the most deprived (or poorest) quintile.

You can’t see it from the above graphs, but the poorest decile (the poorest tenth) of women actually experienced a slight decline in life expectancy in recent years. That is to say the very poorest women now die younger.

Declining healthy life expectancy

The report also highlights a small decline in healthy life expectancy, which I personally think is important to consider, given that it’s much more desirable to live a longer life in good health, compared to a longer life in poor health!

How do we explain the stalling of life expectancy?

The Marmot report says that an increase in deaths from winter illnesses such as flu in recent years can only explain about 20% of the decline in life expectancy.

The report also highlights funding cuts to health and social services as something which has ‘undermined the ability of local authorities to improve the social determinants of health’.

NB – note that the wording of the above is very careful, the report doesn’t say that funding cuts have caused a decrease in the rate of improvement of life expectancy, probably because the report doesn’t have sufficient data to infer a significant enough correlation between funding cuts and life expectancy trends.

So while the trends may be objective, we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions about why life expectancy is stalling!

One thing we can say is that inequality clearly hasn’t improved in the last 20 years, if we use differences as life expectancy as an indicator of this!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is useful as an update to explaining trends in the death rate!

Why are Americans Dying Younger?

Life Expectancy in the U.S. has fallen for the last three years in a row, which is yet further supporting evidence that the United States might actually be a less developed country.

The decline is driven by the increasing death rates in young Americans, aged between 25 to 64, which the main causes of death being ‘deaths of despair’ – alcohol and drug related deaths, suicides, obesity and drugs linked to chronic stress.

Interestingly the high death rates cut across class, gender and ethnic lines, and all regions of the United States.

Why does America have such a high mid-life mortality rate?

America has one of the highest mid-life mortality rates of high income countries, despite spending more on heath care than most other countries.

The statistics tell a depressing tale – mortality from drug overdoses has increased by around 400% since the late 1990s and Obesity rates have increased dramatically too – men now way on average 30 pounds more than they did 50 years ago.

In short, the causes of high mid life mortality are that people are just making destructive life choices and choosing not to take care of themselves, with increasing numbers of people self-medicating with alcohol, drugs (both illegal and legal) and junk-food.

There are number of possible deeper economic and social explanations as to the increasing mid-life death rate in America – we could apply Strain Theory – it could be that the people making the above choices are experiencing a sense of ‘anomie’ – these are people just working to survive with no obvious chance of ‘succeeding’.

It could also be that America is one of the most unequal countries on earth – and while many struggle to survive, they see daily success stories on the media, which enhances the sense of relative deprivation and their own failure.

Or these people self-medicating may be successful in some ways – have successful careers, but they’ve sacrificed their families because of it, so these could be deaths due to to loneliness or social isolation.

Whatever the causes, I’m just glad I don’t live in the US!

Find out more:

If you want to find out more, read this November 2019 article from The Washington Post.

Finally, don’t forget the useful application of this material to the demography section of the families and household module!

Emma Watson recently coined the term ‘self-partnering’ to demonstrate her happiness with being single, which is in an increasing trend in the UK

There are 16.7 million people in the UK who are single and never married, and the number is increasing, with almost 370 000 more single people in the UK in 2018 compared to 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Unsurprisingly, you’re more likely to be single and never married when you’re younger compared to when you’re older, but at Emma Watson’s age almost half of people are single. However this has declined to only 25% of the population for people in their mid 40s.

NB – being single and not married doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely or celibate: many of these people will be dating, maybe in the early stages of a relationship, maybe in a more serious relationship and just not living together, so this just their formal status, rather than their actual relationship situation.

It would be interesting to get some stats on how many of these people are actually ‘single’ in the sense of not being in any kind of romantic relationship!

Relevance of this to A-level sociology

This is just a quick update to highlight the continued trend away from marriage and towards singledom. This is relevant to the ‘marriage and divorce’ topics and the ‘decline in the family’ debate within families and households.

If you’re interested in understanding why there are more single people, this post is a good starting point, on the increase in single person households, a closely related topic!

You can also use the ‘definition’ of single by the ONS to illustrate some of the limitations of official statistics – in that it isn’t the same as how most of us would use the word ‘single’ when we talk about relationships.

Generation Anxious

700 000 children in the U.K. are currently registered with an emotional disorder, that’s 7.2%, of 5-19 year olds, or about 1 in 13, according to a recent survey by NHS Digital.

emotional disorders NHS

And that’s just those children who have been formally diagnosed. That figure of 7.2% represents those children who have reached the clinical diagnoses threshold – where their distress impairs them so much that it gets in the way of their daily functioning.

The Children’s society says there are many who can’t get help because their problems are not serious enough, maybe as many as 3-4 times the above figure.

Mental health disorders have a huge economic impact, costing the UK 4% of GDP.

In this blog post I summarize a recent podcast from Radio Four’s ‘Bringing Up Britain: Generation Anxious’ which explores why so many of today’s children suffer with anxiety.

The show explores various possible contributors such as social media, pressurized exams, genetics and parents passing on their own worries to their children, as well as changing cultural norms which remove children’s agency.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the buzz word of the moment, but the anxiety which stops children going to school is different to butterflies in tummies before going on stage at the school play. The word covers both, a human experience we all feel and a clinical diagnosis.

The later type of ‘ordinary’ anxiety can be helpful in some senses, and anxiety is a normal response to stress and entirely normally developmentally – e.g. up to the age of three separation anxiety is normal as are phobias for pre-school children, and for teens there is a heightened sense of awareness of our selves and how others see us.

In order to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the level of distress must be so debilitating that one cannot function – it’s where you can’t face going out because you’re so anxious.

There are also different types of anxiety: such as social anxiety – not being able to be scrutinized without going bright red, and generalized anxieties – about anything that can go wrong, for example.

If you get serious anxiety as a child, it harms your development – you’re behind your peers and with schoolwork, and it’s reinforcing – the more you get behind, then the more there is to be anxious about!

Anxiety Increases with age, more common with girls, strong link to deprivation and family history. It’s also affect by personality types – some are more cautious and socially shy.

What is it that’s making children feel more anxious?

Social context is important – not so long ago, children would be out playing at ages 6-7, away from their parents, developing a sense of their own agency, but we’ve now starved them of these chances to be independent in primary school – primary schools forbid children to travel their alone – hence why secondary school is now seen as more of a challenge!

It could also be parents are increasingly transferring their anxieties onto their children – linked to the fact that there are too many experts telling parents what to do and the increased pressure on ‘getting parenting right’ – anxious parents makes anxious children: they do share an environment, after all!

A recent column in The Times likened GCSEs to a type of child abuse, but increased exam pressure is dismissed as being linked to increasing anxiety, because we’ve been doing them for thousands of years, and they’re probably less stressful now than they were 30 years ago.

However, it doesn’t help that children are more sensitive about the future nowadays and that more creative subjects which many children prefer are now squeezed out in favour of English and Maths.

The show also considers the effect of Social Media – it makes sense because your social media presence is fundamentally linked to your social identity – and it doesn’t switch off, and this is especially likely to impact teens at the time of life when they’re thinking about their identities.

However, there is a lock of good evidence of the relationship between social media usage and anxiety levels: its just cross sectional but we don’t know what comes first, we don’t know what kind of social media activity teens are involved in and we don’t have longitudinal data.

Socioeconomic factors also play a role – giving time to children, both physically and emotionally is important for their development, but the lower an income you earn, then the more time you need to spend working, and the less time you have for your children.

Body Image and anxiety

There does seem to be evidence of a relationship between body image and anxiety.

A recent Mental Health Foundation Survey found that ¼ people aged 18-24 believed that reality TV shows such as Love Island makes them worry about body image.

1/3rd of young people worry every day about their body, feeling things such as shame.

Over 1/5th 17-19 year old girls have anxiety depression or both. Around 11-14 there is a relationship between obesity and anxiety, but the relationship is complex.

How to help children control anxiety…

Various solutions are offered

  • More resources for mental health services
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy is mentioned as a good way of dealing with more serious anxiety.
  • Forest Schools and meditation lessons in schools are day to day things we could be doing socially
  • Giving young people more of a sense of agency
  • Being prepared to listen to children and talking about anxiety.

We also need to remember that ‘normal’ levels of anxiety are helpful – without it, we probably wouldn’t care about how we perform in society, it’s a natural part of going through changes, and the best things in life don’t tend to happen in comfort zones!

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This is of relevance to the sociology of childhood, especially toxic childhood, and also research methods: we need to question whether these anxiety stats are valid or whether they’re socially constructed. The growth of anxiety might just be because there are more experts more willing to diagnose anxiety.

 

Bringing up Britain – A useful resource for A-level sociology

If you’re struggling to find useful resources to update the childhood topic within the sociology of the family then you should check out ‘Bringing Up Britain‘, a weekly radio 4 show/ podcast hosted by Mariella Frostrup. bringing up Britain.png

Each episode lasts 40 minutes and consists of debate among ‘experts’ on an aspect of contemporary parenting and childhood. You can see from the screenshot above just how relevant some of these topics are to the sociology of the family as well as to A-level sociology more generally.

The programme tends to analyse issues through more of a psychological perspective rather than a sociological one, but it’s a useful resource nonetheless which does consider social issues such as labelling, the role of the media, and changing norms and values, and how all of these (among other things) affect modern parenting and childhood.

Recent topics include:

  • why do children lie (and is it a problem, not necessarily apparently!) – relevant to the family and crime and deviance
  • Generation anxious – relative to toxic childhood and just generally useful for helping kids deal with mental health issues.
  • Parenting in the Smart Phone age – also relevant to the media module.

 

Using contemporary examples to evaluate within the sociology of families and households

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the sociology of families and households. You’ll need to read the items for more depth on how to apply them.

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018!