Functionalists focus on the positive functions of education – creating social solidarity, teaching core values and work skills and role allocation/ meritocracy
Functionalists focus on the positive functions performed by the education system. There are four positive functions that education performs
1. Creating social solidarity
2. Teaching skills necessary for work
3. Teaching us core values
4. Role Allocation and meritocracy
1. Creating Social Solidarity
We have social solidarity when we feel as if we are part of something bigger. Emile Durkheim argued that school makes us feel like we are part of something bigger. This is done through the learning of subjects such as history and English which give us a shared sense of identity. Also in American schools, children pledge allegiance to the flag.
Durkheim argued that ‘school is a society in miniature.’ preparing us for life in wider society. For example, both in school and at work we have to cooperate with people who are neither friends or family – which gets us ready for dealing with people at work in later life.
2. Learning specialist skills for work
Durkheim noted that an advanced industrial economy required a massive and complex Division of Labour. At school, individuals learn the diverse skills necessary for this to take place. For example, we may all start off learning the same subjects, but later on we specialize when we do GCSEs.
3. Teaching us core values
Talcott Parsons argued that education acts as the ‘focal socializing agency’ in modern society. School plays the central role in the process of secondary socialisation, taking over from primary socialisation. He argued this was necessary because the family and the wider society work in different principles and children need to adapt if they re to cope In the wider world.
In the family, children are judged according to what he calls particularistic standards by their parents – that is they are judged by rules that only apply to that particular child. Individual children are given tasks based on their different abilities and judged according to their unique characteristics. Parents often adapt rules to suit the unique abilities of the child.
In contrast in school and in wider society, children and adults are judged according to the same universalistic standards (i.e they are judged by the same exams and the same laws). These rules and laws are applied equally to all people irrespective of the unique character of the individual. School gets us ready for this.
Education allocates people to the most appropriate job for their talents using examinations and qualifications. This ensures that the most talented are allocated to the occupations that are most important for society. This is seen to be fair because there is equality of opportunity – everyone has a chance of success and it is the most able who succeed through their own efforts – this is known as meritocracy
Positive evaluations of the Functionalist view on education
School performs positive functions for most pupils – exclusion and truancy rates are very low
Role Allocation – Those with degrees earn 85% more than those without degrees
Schools do try to foster ‘solidarity’ – PSHE
Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses
Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer)
Negative Evaluations of Functionalism (Criticisms)
Marxists argue the education system is not meritocratic – e.g. private schools benefit the wealthy.
Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school – e.g. bullying/
Postmodernists argue that ‘teaching to the test’ kills creativity.
Functionalism reflects the views of the powerful – the education system tends to work for them and they suggests there is nothing to criticise.
A few criticisms of the role of Transnational Corporations in International Development
Transnational Corporations are one of the primary agents of Global Capitalism and many have been criticised because of the social and environmental harms they cause in the pursuit of profit. In this blog I outline some case studies of Corporations exploiting workers.
My main inspiration for writing this blog is ‘The Corporation’ (1) (2). However, although this blog does draw on this excellent resource, it also provides more contemporary examples of corporate harm than this 2004 documentary.
Examples of Corporations exploiting workers
Probably the best known criticism to be levelled at well known Corporations such as Nike, Addidas and Primark is that they profit from ‘sweatshop labour’ – with the workers who manufacture their products working extremely long hours in poor conditions and for extremely low wages.
In chapter 5 of The Corporation, one researcher calculates that workers at one of Nike’s factories in Indonesia were earning 0.3% of the final selling price of the products they were making. Now, I know there are middle men, but in classic Marxist terms, this is surely the extraction of surplus value taken to the extreme! The anti- sweat shop campaigns are years old now, but still ongoing –
Of course sweat shop labour is not limited to the clothing industry – the BBC3 series ‘Blood Sweat and T shirts/ Takeaways/ Luxuries’, (3) in which young Brits travel to developing countries to work alongside people in a wide range of jobs, clearly demonstrates how workers in many stages of the productive process, including rice sowing, prawn farming, gold mining, and coffee packing, suffer poor pay and conditions. Many of the goods focussed on in this series end up being bought and the sold in the West by Transnational Corporations for a huge mark up, and it is extremely interesting to see the Brits abroad struggling with the injustice of this.
The Daily Mail recently conducted some undercover journalism in a Chinese factory that makes the i-pad – where the report they ‘encountered a strange, disturbing world where new recruits are drilled along military lines, ordered to stand for the company song and kept in barracks like battery hens – all for little more than £20 a week.’ Apparently workers have to endure shifts up to 34 hour s long, and the factory has been dubbed the ‘i nightmare factory’ (4)
Even worse conditions are to be found at some of Coke’s bottling factories in Columbia according to the killer coke campaign. Campaigners have documented a ‘gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings and torture of union leaders involved in a daily life and death struggle’ at these plants. The bosses at some of Coke’s factories in Columbia have contacts with right wing paramilitary forces, and use violence and intimidation to force unionised labour out of work, and then hire non unionised labour on worse contracts for half the pay. There have been more than 100 recorded disappearances of unionised labour at Coke’s factories. (5) (6)
Now the Coca Cola Corporation is obviously not directly to blame for this, as Columbia is one of the more violent countries on the planet, and this culture of violence and intimidation is widespread. The company is, however, responsible for making the conscious decision to choose to invest in a region well known for such practices, and failing to either pull out or protect its workers.
(7) http://www.nosweat.org.uk/files/New%20general%20leaflet%2009.pdf – A link to the most recent nosweat leaflet which has some nice ‘sweatshop sums’ peppered throughout which provide facts such as ‘Children as young as 10 were found working in a shop for Primark – Primark made sales of 1.1 billion in the sixth months to March 2009.’
The Golden Arches Theory of Decline – This 2016 post by George Monbiot argues that Transnational Corporations such as Mcdonalds are undermining democracy and that a global system which concentrates power in the hands of a relatively few TNCs is not compatible with the democratic will of the people of Nation States – hence why Trump won in the USA – he’s one of the few political candidates to have promised to limit the power of TNCs.
Cultural Deprivation theory holds that some groups, such as the lower social classes, have inferior norms, values, skills and knowledge which prevent them from achieving in education. Inferior language skills, and the fact that working class parents do not value education are largely to blame for working class underachievement, rather than material deprivation.
You might also hear ‘cultural deprivation’ theory referred to as ‘working class subculture theory’ – which is something of a throwback to the 1950s. Personally I don’t like the term, and so just use cultural deprivation theory, it’s a bit more modern!
All of the studies below suggest that working class cultures are deficient and that working class children are deprived as a result. These explanations thus put the blame for working class underachievement on the working class families themselves. In these explanations, working class parents basically teach their children norms and values that do not equip them for education in later life.
Five ways in which cultural deprivation can disadvantage children in education
Working class parents may show a lack of interest in their children’s education
Lower class parents are less able to help their children with homework
Lower class children are more likely to speak in a restricted speech code. Rather than the elaborated speech code- Basil Bernstein argued this.
Working class children are more concerned with Immediate Gratification rather than deferred gratification – Barry Sugarman argued this.
The underclass has a higher than average percentage of single parent families. Melanie Philips argued this.
Supporting evidence for cultural deprivation theory
Connor et al (2001) conducted focus group interviews with 230 students from 4 different FE colleges from a range of class backgrounds, some of whom had chosen to go to university and some who had not chosen to go to University. The main findings were that working class pupils are discouraged from going to university for three main reasons:
Firstly, such candidates want ‘immediate gratification’. They want to earn money and be independent at an earlier age. This is because they are aware of their parents having struggled for money and wish to avoid debt themselves
Secondly, they realise that their parents cannot afford to support them during Higher Education and did not like the possibility of them getting into debt
Thirdly, they have less confidence in their ability to succeed in HE.
Research by Leon Fenstein found that low income was related to the restricted speech code. His research revealed that children of working-class parents tend to be more passive; less engaged in the world around them and have a more limited vocabulary. Children from middle-class households had a wider vocabulary, better understanding of how to talk to other people and were more skilled at manipulating objects.
These studies actually show that cultural and material deprivation are related
Evaluations of cultural deprivation theory
If we look at ethnicity and gender differences in achievement – to triangulate, it does seem that cultural factors play a role!
It seems that it isn’t just cultural deprivation but also material deprivation that explains underachievement
Marxists would argue that cultural deprivation theorists blame the working class parents for the underachievement of their children whereas these parents are really the victims of an unequal society in which schools are run by the middle classes for the middle classes.
Earlham’s Pages – do their usual ‘overwhelming for anyone but an A* students whose interested in Sociology approach’ (personally I like it though, then again I’m several levels above both of those criteria) – lots of contemporary links at the top (no summaries) and then a useful overview of ‘class subcultures’ below.
Material deprivation can be defined as the inability to afford basic resources and services such as sufficient food and heating. Material deprivation generally has a negative effect on educational achievement.
Gibson and Asthana (1999) pointed out that there is a correlation between low household income and poor educational performance. There are a number of ways in which poverty can negatively affect the educational performance of children. For example –
Higher levels of sickness in poorer homes may mean more absence from school and falling behind with lessons
Less able to afford ‘hidden costs’ of free state education: books and toys are not bought, and computers are not available in the home
Tuition fees and loans would be a greater source of anxiety to those from poorer backgrounds.
Poorer parents are less likely to have access to pre-school or nursery facilities.
Young people from poorer families are more likely to have part-time jobs, such as paper rounds, baby sitting or shop work, creating a conflict between the competing demands of study and paid work.
Supporting evidence for the importance of material deprivation
Stephen Ball (2005) points out how the introduction of marketisation means that those who have more money have a greater choice of state schools because of selection by mortgage
Conner et al (2001) and Forsyth and Furlong (2003) both found that the introduction of tuition fees in HE puts working class children off going to university because of fear of debt
Leon Fenstein (2003) found that low income is related to low cognitive reasoning skills amongst children as young as two years old
The existence of private schools means the wealthy can afford a better education. Children from private schools are over-represented in the best universities
Evaluations of the role of material deprivation
To say that poverty causes poor educational performance is too deterministic as some students from poor backgrounds do well. Because of this, one must be cautious and rather than say there is a causal relationship between these two variables as the question suggests, it would be more accurate to say that poverty disadvantages working class students and makes it more difficult for them to succeed.
There are other differences between classes that may lead to working class underachievement. For example, those from working class backgrounds are not just materially deprived, they are also culturally deprived.
The Cultural Capital of the middle classes also advantages them in education.
In practise it is difficult to separate out material deprivation from these other factors.
An essay plan that should be sufficient to get you into the top mark band
Examine some of the reasons for changes in the patterns of marriage and cohabitation (24)
There have been many changes in the patterns of marriage and cohabitation in the last 40 years. This is due a number of different factors including secularisation and changing attitudes towards the value of marriage and larger acceptance of cohabitation. Divorce rates have also influenced patterns of marriages and remarriages – likewise has women’s liberation and changing attitudes in women’s position.
Secularisation – or the decreased value of religion in society has had a large impact on marriage roles and cohabitation. Marriage is now viewed as a contract of love, friendship and trust – often resulting in divorce if these fail to continue throughout the marriage (only ½ of marriages last for ten years). This is juxtaposed to the religious nature of marriage in the past – a binding contract – ‘til death do us part’. Cohabitation has also become less frowned upon. However, this trend seems to be generational. 80% of 16-24 year olds said it was acceptable to cohabit in 2007, compared to only 44% of the 56-64 year olds.
Thus these changes in societal values have resulted in a decrease of marriage – due to declining of value and the increasing accessibility of divorce whilst roles of cohabitation are still on a steady incline.
The divorce act of 1969 made irretrievable breakdown the sole basis for attaining divorce. This caused a large influx of divorce, peaking in 1999. The seemingly stable idea of marriage now began to contract for many people. If their partner was not suitable, divorce was now available, which is another factor for the rise in cohabitation and the decrease in marriage.
Cohabitation is now seen as an option instead of marriage supporting more freedom and flexibility. Living together apart is one example of a serious relationship type where people do not live together. However, 80% of cohabitating partners intend to marry.
A decrease in secularisation has brought about an acceptance of cohabitation of same sex couples. The 2004 civil partnership act also allowed homosexual couples to marry – some sociologists argue that cohabitation – particularly a lesbian couple – is a way of resisting gender scripts and norms
This is relative to women’s liberation – women now resist the idea of marriage due to financial independent and stability. Also, women are increasingly resisting the idea of segregated conjugal roles for a more symmetrical relationship. For many women, cohabitation offers these opportunities. Availability of contraception has lessened the obligation of having to conceive children when in a long term relationship.
Feminists argue this is a movement of resistance towards the patriarchal institutions of marriage not the family as such.
Concluding, patterns of marriage and cohabitation have changed significantly due to divorce, women’s liberation and secularisation. Secularisation is perhaps the basis for the change due to social change in attitudes towards cohabitation and marriage. However, women’s liberation and divorce further instil this idea, offering more choice to the individual.
Assess the view that the modern nuclear family is the most effective type of family unit in which to socialise children and stabilise adult personalities (24)
The above view is associated mainly with the Functionalist perspective, to an extent with the Marxist perspective, while Feminists tend to disagree.
George Murdock (1949) argued that that the nuclear family performs four essential functions to meet the needs of society and its members: The stable satisfaction of the sex drive – which prevents the social disruption cased by a ‘sexual free for all’; the reproduction of the next generation and thus the continuation of society over time; thirdly, the socialisation of the young into society’s shared norms and values and finally he argued the family provides for society’s economic needs by providing food and shelter.
Murdock thus agrees with the two statements in the question and goes further, arguing that the nuclear family performs even more functions. Furthermore, he argued that the nuclear family was universal, following his study of over 250 different societies.
Some sociologists, however, criticise Murdock’s view as being too rose tinted – pointing out that conflict and disharmony can occur both within nuclear families and within societies where the nuclear family is dominant. A second criticism is that the nuclear family is not universal – Gough studied the Nayr of South India and found that women and men had several sexual partners, but this type of matrifocal family was functional for that society.
A second Functionalist, Talcott Parsons argued that the type of society affects the shape of the family – different societies require the family to perform different functions and so some types of family ‘fit in’ better with particular societies.
To illustrate this, Parsons argued that there were two basic types of society – modern industrial society and traditional pre-industrial society. He argued that the nuclear family fits the needs of industrial society and that the extended family fitted the needs of pre-industrial society. He argued that as society became industrialised, society had different needs, and that the nuclear family evolved to meet these needs. For example, one thing industrial society needed was a geographically mobile workforce – the nuclear family is appropriate here because it is more mobile than the extended family.
Parsons also argued that the family performs less functions with the move to industrialisation – as the health care and welfare functions come to be taken over by the state. However, the family becomes more specialised – and performs two ‘essential and irreducible functions’ – these are the two mentioned in the question – the primary socialisation of children is where we are first taught societies norms and values and learn to integrate with wider society and the stabilisation of adult personalities is where the family is the place of relaxation – the place to which one returns after a hard day of working to de – stress.
Parsons has, however been criticised, as with Murdock, for having a ‘rose tinted view’ – Feminists argue that women get an unfair deal in the traditional nuclear family, for example. A second criticism is that while he may have been right about the 1950s, when he was writing, the nuclear family seams less relevant in our post-modern age when many couples need dual incomes – meaning the nuclear family may be too small to effectively perform the two functions mentioned in the question.
The Marxist view of the family is that it does do what is stated in the question, but they criticise the Functionalist view, arguing that the family also performs functions for Capitalism. Firstly, they say it performs an ‘ideological function’ in that the family convinces children, through primary socialisation, that hierarchy is natural and inevitable. Secondly, they also see the family as acting as a unit of consumption – the family is seen by Capitalists as a something to make money out of – what with the pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses and ‘pester power’
Thus, applying Marxism we learn that the Functionalist view is too optimistic – they see the Capitalist system as infiltrating family life, through advertising, for example, which creates conflict within the family, undermining its ability to harmoniously socialise children and stabilise adult personalities.
Finally, we come onto Feminist views of the family. Radical Feminists are especially critical of the view in the question. They argue, for example, that many nuclear families are characterised by domestic abuse and point to the rising divorce rates in recent years to suggest that the nuclear family is not necessarily the best type of family. Moreover, many Feminists have argued that the nuclear family and the traditional gender roles that go along with it has for too long performed an ideological function – this set up is projected as the norm in society, a norm which women have been under pressure to conform to and a norm which serves to benefit men and oppress women – because women end up becoming dependent on men in their traditional roles – so they see the nuclear family as being the primary institution through which patriarchy is reproduced, again criticising the rather rose tinted view of the Functionalist perspective on the family.
So to conclude, while the statement in the question may have appeared to be the case in the 1950s, this no longer appears to be the case in British society today.
This video shows a hypothetical dialogue in which two middle class parents discuss how they might translate their material and cultural capital into educational advantage for their offspring, thereby reproducing class inequality.
material capital is basically money and resources,
cultural capital refers to the store of skills and knowledges middle class parents might have which give their children an advantage in life over working class children.
The reproduction of class inequality through education may be defined as the process whereby middle class children succeed in education and go on to get well-paid middle class jobs, and vice versa for working class children. As a result class inequality is carried on across the generations.
This was one of the first educational videos I ever uploaded to YouTube, but since the company decided to demonetize my account I am deleting everything from YouTube and bringing it to Dtube – a decetralised, blockchain based social media platform – get on the chain, I say!
In the 1980s New Right thinkers argued that government policy was undermining the family so policy changes were needed. Their thinking dominated policy development from 1979 to 1997.
Like Functionalists, the New Right hold the view that there is only one correct or normal family type. This is the traditional or conventional nuclear family. Again like Functionalists, The New Right sees this family as ‘natural’ and based on fundamental biological differences between men and women. In their view this family is the cornerstone of society; a place of contentment, refuge and harmony. Finally the New Right argue that the decline of the traditional family and the growth of family diversity are the cause of many social problems such as higher crime rates and declining moral standards generally
The New Right believe that it is important for children to have a stable home, with married mother and father, and that ideally the wife should be able to stay at home to look after the children.
They believe that the introduction of the welfare state led to a culture where people depend on hand-outs from the state and that these encourage single parenting, which in turn, they argue leads to deviancy and a decline in morality.
New Right thinking encouraged the conservative government to launch the Back to Basics campaign 1993 to encourage a return to traditional family values. This was criticised for being unsuccessful, and hypocritical due some Conservative MPs being found to be having affairs or being divorced.
Evidence for ‘non-nuclear families’ being a problem
The rate of family breakdown is much lower amongst married couples (6% compared to 20%)
Children from broken homes are almost five times more likely to develop emotional problems
Young people whose mother and father split up are also three times as likely to become aggressive or badly behaved
Lone-parent families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as two-parent families.
Children from broken homes are nine times more likely to become young offenders.”
Criticisms of the New Right view of the family
They exaggerate the decline of the Nuclear family. Most adults still marry and have children. Most children are reared by their two natural parents. Most marriages continue until death. Divorce has increased, but most divorcees remarry.
Feminism – gender roles are socially determined rather than being fixed by biology. Traditional gender roles are oppressive to women.
Feminism – divorce being easier is good because without it many women end up being trapped in unhappy or abusive relationships.
Most single parents are not welfare scroungers – most want to work but find it difficult to find jobs that are flexible enough so they can balance work and child care.
Chester (see later!) argues that the New Right exaggerate the extent of cohabiting and single parent families – most children still spend most of their lives in a nuclear family arrangement
*price will fluctuate with dollar exchange rate
Related Posts (both of which criticise The New Right)
Late-Modernists such as Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck recognize that people have more choice in terms of their relationships and family arrangements, but do not believe that people are as free as postmodernists suggest. There are still underlying patterns, and shared experiences of relationships that are a consequence of our living in a ‘late-modern’ society – rather than families just being diverse and random.
For example, people are less likely to get married because of structural changes – For example gender equality means that both partners have to work and spend longer building their careers, which means the average person has less time to spend making a relationship work, which means a decline in marriage, and an increase in divorce.
Ulrich Beck also argues that fewer people getting married is because of an increase in ‘risk consciousness’ – people see that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and so they are less willing to take the risk and get married.
This is not simply a matter of freedom of choice – people are ‘reflexive’ – they look at society, see the risk of marriage, and then choose not to get married – their personal decisions are informed by what they see going in society.
Beck also talks of indivdualisation – a new social norm is that our individual desires are more important than social commitments, and this makes marriage less likely.
Giddens builds on this and says that the typical relationship today is the Pure Relationship – one which lasts only as long as both partners are happy with it, not because of tradition or a sense of commitment. This makes cohabitation and serial monogamy rather than the long term commitment of a marriage more likely.
The work of Giddens and Beck is briefly summarised below.
Anthony Giddens: Choice and Equality
Giddens argues that in recent decades the family and marriage have been transformed by greater choice and a more equal relationship between men and women. Giddens argues that relationships are now characterised by three general characteristics:
1. The basis of marriage and family has changed into one in which the couple are free to define the relationship themselves rather than simply acting out roles that have been defined in advance by law or tradition. For example, couples today can chose to cohabit rather than marry
2. The typical relationship is the ‘pure relationship’….It exists solely to meet the partners’ needs and is likely to continue only so long as it succeeds. Couples stay together because of love, happiness of sexual attraction rather than tradition a sense of duty or for the sake of the children.
3. Relationships become part of the process of self-discovery or self-identity trying different relationships become part of establishing who we are part of our journey of self discovery.
However Giddens notes that with more choice, personal relationships inevitably become less stable and can be ended more or less at will by any partner! Joy! For example most teenagers (57%) think that their relationships will only last 1 year and only 2% of relationships at 18 will progress to marriage’
Ulrich Beck: The ‘Risk Society’ and The Negotiated Family
Ulrich Beck puts forward a similar view to that of Anthony Giddens. Beck argues that we now live in a ‘risk society’ where tradition has less influence and people have more choice. As a result we are more aware of risk (we have developed a ‘risk consciousness’) because having choice means we spend more time calculating the risks and rewards of different courses of action available.
Today’s risk society contrasts with the modern society of the past with its stable nuclear family and traditional gender roles. Beck argues that even though the traditional patriarchal family was unequal and oppressive, it did provide a stable and predictable basis for the family by defining each member’s role and responsibly. However the patriarchal family has been undermined by two trends.
Greater Gender Equality – which has challenged male domination in all spheres of life. Women now expect equality both at work and in marriage.
Greater individualism – where people’s actions are influenced more by calculations of their own self-interest that by a sense of obligation to others.
These trends have led to the rise of the negotiated family. Negotiated families do not conform to the traditional family norm, but vary according to the wishes and expectations of their members, who decided what is best for them by discussion. They enter the relationship on an equal basis.
However, the negotiated family may be more equal, but it is less stable, because it is characterised by greater equality.
A summary of liberal, marxist and radical feminist views on the traditional nuclear family
Almost all feminists agree that gender is socially constructed. This means that gender roles are learnt rather than determined by biology, and the most significant institution where we are socialised into our appropriate roles and norms of behaviour is the family. The proof for this theory is found in the sometimes radically different behaviour we see between women from different societies i.e. different societies construct being “women” in different ways (This is obviously true for men as well).
This post summarises Feminist perspectives on the family, focusing on liberal, radical and Marxist Feminism, and is primarily designed to help students revise for the AQA A level sociology paper 2, families and households option.
Feminism and the Family
Feminists have been central in criticising gender roles associated with the traditional nuclear family, especially since the 1950s. They have argued the nuclear family has traditionally performed two key functions which oppressed women:
a) socialising girls to accept subservient roles within the family, whilst socialising boys to believe they were superior – this happens through children witnessing then recreating the parental relationship
b) socialising women into accepting the “housewife” role as the only possible/acceptable role for a women. Indeed it was the only way to be feminine/to be a woman. Essentially, feminists viewed the function of the family as a breeding ground where patriarchal values were learned by an individual, which in turn created a patriarchal society.
Feminism today tends to be split into three distinct branches: Liberal Feminists, Marxist Feminists and Radical Feminists. They differ significantly over the extent to which they believe that the family is still patriarchal and in what the underlying causes of the existence of patriarchy might be. Remember – all the theories below are discussing the “nuclear” family.
Causes of inequality in relationships – A combination of two things – (1) Mainstream working culture which requires long and inflexible working hours which are still based on the idea of the main breadwinner, (2) Men refusing to pull their weight in relationships.
Solutions to Inequality – Greater gender equality in the public sphere -achieving equal access to education, equal pay, ending gender differences in subject and career choice won primarily through legal changes.
A key thinker who can be characterised as a liberal feminist is Jennifer Somerville (2000) who provides a less radical critique of the family than Marxist or Radical Feminists and suggests proposals to improve family life for women that involve modest policy reforms rather than revolutionary change.
Somerville argues that many young women do not feel entirely sympathetic towards feminism yet still feel some sense of grievance.
To Somerville, many feminists have failed to acknowledge progress for women such as the greater freedom to go into paid work, and the greater degree of choice over whether they marry or cohabit, when and whether to have children, and whether to take part in a heterosexual or same-sex relationship or to simply live on their own.
The increased choice for women and the rise of the dual-earner household (both partners in work) has helped create greater equality within relationships. Somerville argues that ‘some modern men are voluntarily committed to sharing in those routine necessities of family survival, or they can be persuaded, cajoled, guilt-tripped or bullied’. Despite this, however, ‘women are angry, resentful and above all disappointed in men.’ Many men do not take on their full share of responsibilities and often these men can be ‘shown the door’.
Somerville raises the possibility that women might do without male partners, especially as so many prove inadequate, and instead get their sense of fulfilment from their children. Unlike Germain Greer, however, Somerville does not believe that living in a household without an adult male is the answer – the high figures for remarriage suggest that heterosexual attraction and the need for intimacy and companionship mean that heterosexual families will not disappear.
However, it remains the case that the inability of men to ‘pull their weight’ in relationships means that high rates of relationship breakdowns will continue to be the norm which will lead to more complex familial relationships as women end one relationship and attempt to rebuild the next with a new (typically male) partner.
What Feminists thus need to do is to focus on policies which will encourage greater equality within relationships and to help women cope with the practicalities of daily life. One set of policies which Somerville thinks particularly important are those aimed at helping working parents. The working hours and culture associated with many jobs are incompatible with family life. Many jobs are based on the idea of a male breadwinner who relies on a non-working wife to take care of the children.
Somerville argues that in order to achieve true equality within relationships we need increased flexibility in paid employment.
Evaluation of the Liberal Feminist Perspective on the Family
Sommerville recognises that significant progress has been made in both public and private life for women
It is more appealing to a wider range of women than radical ideas
It is more practical – the system is more likely to accept small policy changes, while it would resist revolutionary change
Marxist feminists argue the main cause of women’s oppression in the family is not men, but capitalism. They argue that women’s oppression performs several functions for Capitalism
Women reproduce the labour force – through their unpaid domestic labour, by socialising the next generation of workers and servicing the current workers (their husbands!)
Women absorb anger – Think back to Parson’s warm bath theory. The Marxist-Feminist interpretation of this is that women are just absorbing the anger of the proletariat, who are exploited and who should be directing that anger towards the Bourgeois
Women are a ‘reserve army of cheap labour’ – if women’s primary role is domestic, and they are restricted from working, this also means they are in reserve, to be taken on temporarily as necessary by the Bourgeois, making production more flexible.
Key thinker – Fran Ansley (1972) argues women absorb the anger that would otherwise be directed at capitalism. Ansley argues women’s male partners are inevitably frustrated by the exploitation they experience at work and women are the victims of this, including domestic violence.
Key thinker 2 – Penny Red’s Socialist Feminist Blog
“The freedom that’s offered to everyone under Capitalism is the freedom for a few to self-actualize in an extremely narrow, homogenous way by shopping and consuming, whilst the rest of us work long hours for low wages or no wages. Freedom from economic exploitation isn’t the sexy kind of female empowerment we’ve all become used to, but without it we won’t be moving forward.
The way in which women’s labour is used and abused—the concentration of women in low-paid or unpaid caring and domestic roles, for example, is not only one of the things that sustains patriarchy, it also sustains capitalism. Without the work that women do for free, the markets would be on their knees in a day. And yet, it just goes to show that there is, in fact, plenty of work out there, it’s just that most of it is being done by women, for free.”
Marxist Feminism – Solutions to Gender Inequalities within the family
For Marxist Feminists, the solutions to gender inequality are economic – We need to tackle Capitalism to tackle Patriarchy. Softer solutions include paying women for childcare and housework – thus putting an economic value on what is still largely women’s work, stronger solutions include the abolition of Capitalism and the ushering in of Communism.
Evaluations of Marxist Feminism
One limitation is that this sounds very dated for the 2020s: women today are just as likely to be in paid work as men, and so they no longer act as a ‘reserve army of labour’ for example.
A further limitation is that women’s oppression was clearly in evidence before capitalism – if anything, women are probably more oppressed in pre-capitalist, tribal societies compared to within capitalist societies.
There appears to be a correlation between capitalist development and women’s liberation – suggesting that capitalism has the opposite effect from that suggested by Marxist Feminists.
Radical feminists argue that all relationships between men and women are based on patriarchy – essentially men are the cause of women’s exploitation and oppression. For radical feminists, the entire patriarchal system needs to be overturned, in particular the family, which they view as root of women’s oppression.
Against Liberal Feminism, they argue that paid work has not been ‘liberating’. Instead women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal – men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour. Some Radical Feminists go further arguing that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’ – being expected to take on the emotional burden of caring for children.
Radical Feminists also argue that, for many women, there is a ‘dark side of family life’ – According to the British Crime Survey domestic violence accounts for a sixth of all violent crime and nearly 1 in 4 women will experience DV at some point in their lifetime and women are much more likely to experience this than men
Key thinker –Kate Millet (see below) was one of the leading American Second Wave Feminists in the 1960s and 70s
Solutions to gender inequality
In short, Radical Feminists advocate for the abolition of the traditional, patriarchal (as they see it) nuclear family and the establishment of alternative family structures and sexual relations. The various alternatives suggested by Radical Feminists include separatism – women only communes, and Matrifocal households. Some also practise political Lesbianism and political celibacy as they view heterosexual relationships as “sleeping with the enemy.”
Evaluations of Radical Feminism
In some ways this perspective is less relevant today than in the 1960s – women are much less likely to suffer from the dual burden and triple shift, for example.
In some ways, however, it still seems very relevant. For example, the ME TOO campaign and the Harvey Weinstein scandal both show that harassment and sexual abuse of women remain common.
Supplement: Kate Millett: On the sociology of Patriarchy
Patriarchy’s chief institution is the family. It is both a mirror of and a connection with the larger society; a patriarchal unit within a patriarchal whole. Mediating between the individual and the social structure, the family effects control and conformity where political and other authorities are insufficient. As the fundamental instrument and the foundation unit of patriarchal society the family and its roles are prototypical. Serving as an agent of the larger society, the family not only encourages its own members to adjust and conform, but acts as a unit in the government of the patriarchal state which rules its citizens through its family heads.
Traditionally, patriarchy granted the father nearly total ownership over wife or wives and children, including the powers of physical abuse and often even those of murder and sale. Classically, as head of the family the father is both begetter and owner in a system in which kinship is property. Yet in strict patriarchy, kinship is acknowledged only through association with the male line.
In contemporary patriarchies the male’s priority has recently been modified through the granting of divorce protection, citizenship, and property to women. Their chattel status continues in their loss of name, their obligation to adopt the husband’s domicile, and the general legal assumption that marriage involves an exchange of the female’s domestic service and (sexual) consortium in return for financial support.
The chief contribution of the family in patriarchy is the socialisation of the young (largely through the example and admonition of their parents) into patriarchal ideology’s prescribed attitudes toward the categories of role, temperament, and status. Although slight differences of definition depend here upon the parents’ grasp of cultural values, the general effect of uniformity is achieved, to be further reinforced through peers, schools, media, and other learning sources, formal and informal. While we may niggle over the balance of authority between the personalities of various households, one must remember that the entire culture supports masculine authority in all areas of life and – outside of the home – permits the female none at all.
Although there is no biological reason why the two central functions of the family (socialisation and reproduction) need be inseparable from or even take place within it, revolutionary or utopian efforts to remove these functions from the family have been so frustrated, so beset by difficulties, that most experiments so far have involved a gradual return to tradition. This is strong evidence of how basic a form patriarchy is within all societies, and of how pervasive its effects upon family members.
A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle
Haralambos and Holborn (2013) – Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Eighth Edition, Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597479
Chapman et al (2015) A Level Sociology Student Book One, Including AS Level [Fourth Edition], Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597479
Robb Webb et al (2015) AQA A Level Sociology Book 1, Napier Press. ISBN-10: 0954007913
(1) This division goes back to Alison Jaggar’s (1983) Feminist Politics and Human Nature where she defined four theories related to feminism: liberal feminism, Marxism, radical feminism, and socialist feminism
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