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June 13, 2013 / C H Thompson

Feminist views of the family (Marxist and Radical)

Feminist writers have had a lot more influence on the family than any other perspective. Before you read about the influence of feminism on the family it’s necessary to get a good understanding about the feminist movement.

There is more than one feminist perspective, at this stage of exploring the family we’re going to focus on Marxist feminist and radical feminist perspectives. The image below gives a very brief overview of feminist views of the family, as does this Powerpoint Feminism and the family while the subsequent pages go into broader detail by distinguishing between radical and Marxist feminists more clearly.


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

Benston said: “The large amount of unpaid labour performed by women is very large and very profitable to those who own the means of production.”

This social reproduction of labour power isn’t just about producing children as future healthy workers, it’s also about ideological conditioning. For Marxist feminists the family is also a site of social class reproduction.

The Marxist feminist position is further enhanced by Fran Ansley (1972) who grabs hold of Parsons’ view of the family as functioning to stabilise adult personalities and turns into Marxist idea. She sees the ‘function’ of the family (particularly the wife) as being an ’emotional safety-valve’ absorbing the husbands frustrations created by the capitalist system. By doing this, the wife helps keep capitalism stable – this explanation sees society in conflict rather than consensus as evident in Parsons’ explanation.shirley

Diana Feeley (1972) argues the family socialises the young into a false consciousness of class inequality and stratification. In a tone similar to Althussar’s she says the family is full of ‘authoritarian ideology designed to teach passivity not rebellion’.

Criticism of Marxist feminist perspectives of the family comes from sociologists who highlight how:

  1. Marxist feminism places a lot of emphasis on nuclear family ignoring family diversity (in the same way functionalists do)
  2. the approach also assumes a degree of passivity with women, for example some women might actively choose their social role as a wife and mother
  3. some women might have an ‘active’ matriarchal rather than being a ‘passive’ victim of patriarchy

In contrast, radical feminists…….



Leave a Comment
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