This is an essay in which I will attempt to evaluate the premise of whether a nuclear family is bad for its members using differences between the Functionalist perspectives of the family against the contrasting view of the Marxist and Feminist approach. I will outline the main approaches from all three and draw a conclusion.
Sexual – The family legitimises sex for the adult members. This closed unit allows the male to fulfil his natural function and alleviates the need to find a mate. He has one at the core of his family.
Reproductive – This allows the adults to propagate the species in a safe and stable environment. Once reproduction has been achieved the family legitimises the individual by giving it a family name and label with which it may enter society
Economic – The family provides the workers for society to function. It provides the environment in which its members spend their wages and so maintain a functioning economy.
Educational – In order for a society to maintain balance and function the family educates its members to accept the norms and values of society through primary and secondary socialisation. The adults begin primary socialisation in the family before sending the children to school and nursery where they enter the secondary stage.
Emile Durkheim was the founding father of the functionalist perspectives but he was joined by other sociologists who added to his founding idea. Talcott Parsons was one such individual who expanding on Durkheim’s theories by arguing that the family loses some of its functions to society by evolving into more complex units. It still however kept the fundamental distinction of being natural, whilst maintaining its position in a consensual society of values. Further more Parsons argued that this evolutionary process created a refuge from the rigours of a fast moving modern society. It allowed the members to return to the bosom of the family allowing them to relax and recharge the batteries. The term “warm bath” was used to describe the cloak of security and soothing nature of the close family unit.
The view that the family is not a natural creation, but an artificial creation to serve societies powerbase is an example of the Marxist perspective.
The backbone of the Marxist approach is the divide between the ruling class and the working class. Family was created by society in order to supply a constant supply of a labour force, so that the ruling class could maintain their advantageous position of gatherers of wealth and power. The roles of the family unit were defined solely for the purpose of maintaining a stable economy. The male (breadwinner) went out to work producing goods and was paid for his services. The female member, the carer, was “employed” by the proletariat through their husbands. Their main purpose was to maintain the breadwinner was looked after so that he was available for work.
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The family was a breeding pot in which the next generation of workers was produced and socialised so they could take their place on the proletariat conveyor belt. They could replace the main breadwinner if he fell sick and unable to work without interruption. The phrase “two workers for the price of one” is apt because the ruling classes knew they had the obedience of the whole family due this need for money and so their subservience. This approach is in stark contrast to the functionalist approach of consensus.
Out of the Marxism grew the feminist movement. The Feminist Perspectives share commonalities to both Functionalist and Marxist approaches but are markedly different. The feminist perspective attacks and outlines 4 key themes which challenge the traditional notions of the family.
Firstly feminists challenge the idea of the family being “natural”. They argue the family demographic is not based on the biology of the individuals but echoes the Marxist view of exploitation and conflict. That women are the “takers of shit” (Fran Ansley). They are there to absorb the frustrations of men and give them emotional support. Secondly feminists challenge the view that family is based on social organisation. It is argued that because of cultural expectations and assumptions, woman do the domestic chores not because they are biologically suited to be the carer but because of the exploitation of men. The male can equally be the carer and by virtue the female can be the breadwinner. She is just denied this role by being socialised to accept her role and later on denied the opportunities due to inequality.
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Feminists also believe that woman and men are fundamentally different and so their expectations of what they want from society are different. This in turn creates conflict not consensus, which is the prime directive of the functionalist approach. Lastly feminist challenge the notion that the family should be a “private sphere”. These common beliefs allows them to be exploited which denies them freedom and opportunity.
The main feminist perspectives are divided into four sub divisions of thought. They can be grouped as follows. Liberal, Marxist, Radical and Socialist.
Liberal – Liberal feminists are concerned with the discrimination of woman and fight in favour of legal reforms to overcome it
Marxist – Marxists feminists argue that the major reason for the oppression of woman is for the exclusion of woman from public production in society. The emancipation is an integral part in the overthrowing of capitalism.
Radical – Radical feminists see male control as the main problem in society. Women themselves must fight to free themselves from the bonds of male slavery.
Socialist – These feminists argue that the oppression of women is the product of capitalism and male control. The end of capitalism will not lead to the emancipation of woman but it requires a fight to free them form patriarchal control.
In conclusion, the functionalist approach to the family is based on a social contract that everything is consensual. The family unit have all been socialised to accept the same values and ideology. The feminist in contrast shares the values to some extent of the Marxist view of conflict. It highlights the oppression of the powerless in society, and focuses on women in particular. It advocates this conflict to allow woman to “break her bonds” and gain freedom. Feminists argue in the segregation, in some part, of woman. Functionalists advocate togetherness. From a feminist point of view the functionalist approach teaches passivity in woman and ensures children are socialised to accept their place in the hierarchy of the family, perpetuating the cycle. The functionalist approach assumes a woman’s role in family and society are extensions of her natural abilities and so her functional practicalities in an ordered society.
The nuclear family has evolved to the extent that in modern society it rarely exists. The feminist movement through the ages has empowered woman to challenge inequality and society has changed to suit. Many women do not need to seek the sanctity of marriage to empower them. They have become increasingly independent. Many families are now single parent families and laws have been changed to reflect the growing trends. A nuclear family serves its members differently, is good for some and detrimental for others depending through which perspective you look at it.
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