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June 21, 2013 / C H Thompson

Feminist perspective of the family (radical)

As its name suggests, radical feminism takes a rather different view to the role of women in society. While Marxist feminists see women as essential a tool or instrument of capitalist oppression, radical feminists focus squarely on patriarchy as the instrument of oppression (emasculation) within the home. This perspective is evident in the work of Bryson (1992) who identifies key characteristics of radical feminism:

  1. it’s a theory of and by women, rather than an amendment of predominantly other androcentric theories
  2. it sees the oppression of women by men (patriarchy) as as universal

For Delphy and Leonard (1992) argue it is men rather than capitalism who benefit the most from exploiting women and the family is central in maintaining this structure as:

  1. families are structured; in this structure men dominate while women and children are subordinate (very few families are matriarchal)
  2. as man’s position in the family is the dominant one he tends to make the final decision on family issues
  3. the type of work family members do is determined by gender and marital status
  4.  when women have paid employment outside the home, they still have to undertake household tasks – this is known as the dual burden
  5. while some women have paid employment outside the home while still remaining responsible for the majority of household tasks and care for children – what Duncombe and Marsden (1995) termed the triple-shift

The above points are explored in more detail below:

Domestic labour – Delphy and Leonard recognise men do some housework, the extent of this is rather limited For they show how 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!

Supporting their husbands – women carry out housework and caring roles within the family as well as supporting men in their leisure and work activities. They do this directly by helping with administration work if they’re self-employed or indirectly by offering emotional support and guidance if they’re any problems at work. They also help men emotionally in the home by providing ‘trouble free sex’ as ‘men best unwind post-coitally’ while in return Delphy and Leonard point out men make very little contributions to their wife’s well-being.

Duncombe and Marsden discuss how from an early age girls are trained to become emotionally skilled in empathy so they can actively participate in ’emotion work’ – occupations which keep people happy. They also uncovered an emotional vacuum in such heterosexual relationships as they found a significant number of women were dissatisfied by the lack of their partner’s emotional support.


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. Duncombe and Marsden found the housework issue has become exacerbated with married women having to cope with the triple-shift. Having worked all day, they have to come home to address all the emotional work as well as the housework.

Covert and over power between couples

Economic dependency (covert power) – 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. This dependency means it is much easier for men to set the agenda over important family decisions.

Male domination (overt power ) – Feminists see the family as male dominated as men are the bread-winners and tend to make all the key financial decisions.  Indeed Dobash and Dobash (1995) found that most domestic violence occurs within marriage. They argue this is due to the institution of marriage gives power to men through their wives dependency on them. Feminists have stressed the significant amount of domestic violence used by men to their own way in the family.

Edgell (1980) found the important family decisions such as financial issues tended to be either made by the husband, while wives were free to make the trivial decisions on their own such as what ‘the evening meal with consist of’ or where ‘they do the weekly shopping’. Jan Phal (1993) research found men tended to control and manage a couple’s money.


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

Return to family overview page

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



Leave a Comment
  1. Dan Cody / May 14 2014 5:02 pm

    simply great

    • sociologytwynham / May 14 2014 6:16 pm

      Thank you

      • lu / Dec 23 2016 7:26 am

        Hi Prof.
        I am a student in China. My topic is about Marx on the family. Nice to see your paper.

  2. Saima / May 18 2014 8:53 am

    Wow sociology made me learn something new. There is no such thing as feminism in my country. Men work, women stay at home watching TV or talking on the phone while housework (cooking, washing, cleaning etc) is done by maids. maids are very cheap here, as cheap as 2000 PKR (20 USD!) a month. And when men get salary, they place it at the hands of their women (mother if unmarried, wife if married). Women take financial decisions and run the household, guiding others what to do.

    • sociologytwynham / May 19 2014 10:44 am

      Hi – which country do you live in?

    • Cedric Philippe / May 31 2017 6:11 pm

      In which country?

  3. sev / Dec 30 2014 9:48 pm

    Hey could I use your work for my uni assignment? found it very useful!
    If so could your provide me of the reference following this structure
    author/ article title/ year of publication

    Also do you think feminism has been able to change ideas surrounding gender as a result of the changes in the family?

    • tommo / Dec 31 2014 11:37 am

      Hi – of course you can. Which pages were seeking references for?

  4. gemclaire / Mar 30 2015 4:47 pm

    do you have a bibliography for this page? it would help me loads with my uni essay. thank you,
    gemma x

    • C H Thompson / Mar 31 2015 2:57 pm

      Hi – here you are:

      Delphy & Leonard (1992) Familiar Exploitation, Polity Press

      Duncombe & Marsden (1995) Women’s Triple Shift

      Dobash & Dobash (1979) Violence Against Women

      Muncie et al (1993) Understanding the Family, OU Press

  5. Ojasvini R Baral / Apr 16 2015 1:42 am

    Thank You so much 🙂

    • C H Thompson / Apr 16 2015 4:46 pm

      Pleasure 🙂

  6. Robert Crawford, Belfast, Northern Ireland is / Jul 8 2015 5:53 pm

    An excellent article, very well written

    • C H Thompson / Jul 28 2015 6:23 pm

      Many thanks for the positive comment. Much appreciated 🙂

  7. Emma Atieno / Oct 18 2015 2:43 pm

    thanks so much it has helped in my reseach work. Emma

    • C H Thompson / Oct 18 2015 6:25 pm

      Many thanks for the positive feedback 🙂

  8. fredy chekenyere / May 14 2016 12:10 pm

    quite interesting and useful. you rock man

    • C H Thompson / May 15 2016 12:29 pm

      Many thanks for you kind compliment 🙂

  9. Mahi / Apr 6 2017 11:47 pm

    Very helpful for my GCSE exam. Thanks!

  10. Samantha / May 10 2017 4:13 pm

    It’s a great work.
    Could you please send me references with publishers.

  11. katie / Jan 23 2018 12:29 pm

    hi, can someone answer this question please: Analyse different Marxist and feminist approaches to issues of power, patriarchy, socialisation and the family.

  12. beauty / Mar 5 2018 12:47 pm

    thank assignment was the family is harmful to women .discuss
    it really helped me

    • C H Thompson / Mar 7 2018 2:58 pm

      My pleasure. Glad you found the information so useful to you assignment 🙂

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