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June 30, 2008 / C H Thompson

Feminist views of the family

Feminist writers have had a lot more influence on the family than any other perspective. Feminist perspectives tend to be either Marxist feminist or radical feminists.

Marxist feminists emphasise how capitalism uses the family oppresses women, and the harmful consequences of the family to women’s lives.

Task – Using your understanding from the previous lesson, create a diagram which explains why Marxist feminists blame capitalism?

In contrast, radical feminists emphasise patriarchy as the main barrier to women’s freedom. The following film clip best symbolises the frustrations felt by feminists regarding family life.

  1. But before feminism came to the fore in the 1960s what was the women’s role at home? Watch the following clip and try and identify five key things women were responsible for within the home and then five areas men were responsible for.

Your responses show how patriarchy is both overt and covert. Overt is where men deliberately limit or oppress the lives of women in extremely visible ways for example making them stay at home and care for the children. In contrast covert patriarchy is where men mange to control the lives of women in less visible ways.



Now watch the second film and try and identify as many covert ways patriarchy is at work.


Look at the list you made/notes taken. Using the evidence in the film do men control women through overt or covert ways? Or maybe you think it is a combination of both overt and covert control? Now consider the diverse ways men manage to control the lives of women today without using any overt force. Try and identify the possible mechanism men use to control the lives of women? Radical feminists would argue that patriarchy is an ideology and men use ideology to control the lives of women (ideology is a set of shared beliefs or values which are used by powerful people).

Though the Radical and Marxist feminist perspectives have differing starting points they both agree that women are oppressed by men to the extent that some women no longer seek marriage. Follow this link to read about what some contemporary women are choosing to do: Though this might seem extreme for some feminists they all agree that  women are oppressed due to the following reasons:



Domestic Labour

Margaret Benston (1972) argued that capitalism benefits from a large army of women – an unpaid workforce- who are compliant and willing to do as they’re told because women have been socialised to act this way and women rears future workers to think the same way

Delphy & Leonard (1992) argue all the unpaid housework and childcare is done by women. Women also make the largest contribution to family life, while men contribute the least but gain the most!

Emotional labour

Benston also argues that as her role as a housewife the woman attends to her husband’s emotional needs, and this keeps him, the man, in good running order to perform his role in supplying effective waged labour.

Delphy & Leonard (1992) – the inequalities in domestic labour continue with wives often flattering, understanding and praising their husbands achievements but men rarely reciprocate. They also found women provide trouble free sex which is important as men best unwind post-coitally.

Ann Oakley pointed out in the 1970s that housework is tough, demanding and unrewarding, and men are the ones who gain most from this free labour.

Economic dependency

Married women become economically dependent on their husbands especially as once children arrive women give up work in order to look after the children and even when mothers do return to work it’s usually part-time rather than full-time employment

Male domination

Feminists see the family as male dominated as men are the bread-winners and tend to make all the key financial decisions. Indeed some men use force to get their way. Feminists have stressed the significant amount of domestic violence used by men to their own way in the family.


Functionalists and even the New Right would argue that feminists put too much emphasis on the negative side of family life because it ignores the possibility that women enjoy running the home, raising children and being married

Also it ignores Wilmot and Young’s ideas on the symmetrical family, and how there’s greater equalities in family life with shared conjugal roles

Task – identify the key points surrounding Wilmot and Young’s ideas about the symmetrical family 

Essay Task – Examine the differences between Marxist, Feminist and Functionalist views of the family. Please note this is an essay which will need to be at least 600 words in length. In your essay you must include all the words listed in this document assignment-words

Next lesson


Leave a Comment
  1. s Afvj / May 11 2015 1:23 pm

    Thank you so much. I found this extremely helpful in understanding the concepts. Your more helpful then those mean greedy sites. I think I’ll pass my exam because of you. 🙂

    • C H Thompson / May 11 2015 1:39 pm

      Hi – thank you so much for such a lovely comment. Good luck with your examinations 🙂

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