The Family Is an Ideological Construction That Perpetuates Patriarchy. Discuss.

Category: Capitalism, Feminism, Gender
Last Updated: 13 Mar 2020
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The family is a repressive and ideological construction that perpetuates patriarchy. Discuss. Families could be described as one of the most basic forms of social organisation. Look almost anywhere in the world and you will find some form of family unit. This has happened arguably through reproduction, humans have drives and sexual needs which result in the creation of a new life, which to begin with, is completely helpless and dependant for a long period of time. The family is almost universal; the only exception to this would be communes.

Functionalists agree that the family is a primary social organisation and that it does serve the purpose of integrating further generations into society with cultural values and norms. Functionalists believe that the family carry out the role of socialisation, which is the backbone of most societies. This leads to an efficient economy and social order. Functionalists say that the family satisfies the basic physical and emotional needs of humans. Murdock (1949) claimed that the family performs four basic functions in all societies; sexual, reproductive, educational, and economic.

He believed that no other institution matches the efficiency of the nuclear family and therefore contributes to its universality. Talcott Parsons argued that primary socialisation of children and the stabilization of the adult personalities were common to the family in all societies, not just American. There are criticisms of the functionalists view on the family. Functionalism ignores alternative family structures, and ignores functional alternatives to the family. Further to this Marxist, Feminists, and Post Modern Sociologists do not accept that the family performs particular functions on its own in isolation of other institutions.

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Marxists say that the family is a major prop for the capitalist economy. They believe that women reproduce future generations of workers alongside providing unpaid domestic labour. Women are very much seen as servants to capitalism. Traditionally they stay at home and encourage children to study and enter employment. Further to this families are the central units of consumption in modern societies. We buy houses, cars, material possessions, and holidays. Zaretsky (1976) argues that in modern capitalist society the family creates the illusion that the private life of the family can be separated from other aspects of life like economy.

He believed that the family cannot provide for the psychological and personal needs of individuals. It cushions the effects of capitalism on individuals while perpetuating the system. However this cannot compensate for the general alienation and lack of fulfilment produced by capitalism. Modern Marxist accounts of the family emphasise not only its structural features, but also its function in socialising children into the ideology of society. Marxists believe that this is simply a way of continuing the narrow standards of capitalism.

Where functionalists like Murdock and Parsons see this socialisation process in the family as a healthy adjustment to the surrounding social relationships, the Marxist tends to see it as the manipulation of the child’s personality to ensure that it remains in line with the social and economic system. The family is both the institutional and psychological model for social organisation associated with an unequal distribution of wealth and power and the domination of one section of society by another. Marxism offers an explanation for the exploitation of women by men.

This is that the family affords opportunities for men to compensate for their real lack of power in capitalist society by exercising domination over their households and their female partners. The role of the male in the family disguises the exploitative nature of the economic system as a whole. Marxists recognise the exploitation of women in marriage and family life but emphasises the relationship between capitalism and the family rather than the family’s effect on women. Feminism stresses the exploitation of women as a key feature of family life. Feminism has had the most influence on the study of the family since the 1960’s.

They are highly critical of the family and emphasize the harmful effects of family life upon women. It is argued that through the production of labour power the family produces and rears cheap labour at minimal costs to capitalists, as well as acting as an emotional support, absorbing frustrations of working in the capitalist system, therefore reducing the revolutionary potential. Radical feminists describe the family as an economic system characterised by the domination and exploitation of women by men. It typically features a male head of household who has ultimate control of family resources and is the final decision-maker.

Women assume by far the greater responsibility for household tasks as unpaid labourers, provide sexual services for the head of household and bear and rear his children. In addition, they assume the overwhelming share of tasks like caring for old and disabled family members. The contributions made by women to family life are thus far greater than those made by men. Even where the woman happens to be the ‘breadwinner’ she bears a disproportionate burden of housekeeping and is responsible for providing emotional support to the male head of the family.

There is a good deal of common ground among feminists, though the ideology is characterised by disagreement, but most feminists agree that sexual inequality is not simply natural, it is also highly political. Female oppression operates in all walks of life, including conditioning in the family, the result of stereotyping. So the traditional divide between 'public man' and 'private woman' is unacceptable. Gender is a significant social aspect, like class, race or religion. It is caused by patriarchy, the dominance of men over women in a relationship of power.

The dominance of men in the family symbolises male supremacy in all other institutions. Sex and gender should not be confused. Biologically, only women can be mothers, but they don’t have to accept the responsibilities of motherhood - nurturing, educating and raising children by devoting themselves to home and family. Sex refers to unavoidable biological differences; gender, on the other hand, is a cultural term and refers to the different roles that society gives to men and women. The overall goal of feminism is the overthrow of patriarchy and the ending of sexist oppression.

Liberal feminists place the emphasis upon legal and political equality for women. They have pursued an equal rights agenda, and generally in a very pragmatic way. They want women to be able to compete on equal terms with men in every area of public life; there is no question of women being superior or entitled to favourable treatment. Hence the stress is on female emancipation, equal rights and opportunities. Socialist feminists argue that these equal rights mean little unless women also enjoy social equality. This means that they address issues such as the ownership of property, the differences in pay and mployment opportunities for men and women, and the distinction between wages labour and unwaged labour for women. So 'difference' is linked to patriarchy, seeing it as a manifestation of oppression and subordination. Radical feminists believe 'the personal is the political'. They are primarily concerned with equality in family and personal life. Equality must therefore operate with respect to childcare and other domestic responsibilities, as well as with respect to control of one's own body, and individual sexual expression and fulfilment.

The stress is more on difference than on equality - the very idea of equality is misguided since it implies that women would then be 'male identified' in that they define their goals in terms of what men are or what men have. Women should instead recognise and celebrate the distinctive features of the female sex; the stress is on women's liberation. Clearly, if feminists wish to make permanent long-term changes with respect to the position of women in this society they face the challenge of creating new values with respect to gender and passing these values on to their children.

But it is not so clear what the values are that feminists would wish to pass on to their children. An easy answer would be to say general ideas of gender equality. But the deeper we probe, the more complex this issue becomes. What are the specific values that feminists wish to pass on to their children about the structure of the family? Are feminists willing to say that the enemy is patriarchy? And if so, what exactly does this mean, both as a theoretical and a practical matter? The word “family” covers such a broad spectrum of different things, and is victim to cultural relativity.

I would say that the nuclear family was definitely an ideological construction. Ann Oakley (1982) said that the conventional family is nuclear families composed of legally married couples, voluntarily choosing the parent hood of one or more children. I think Oakley’s idea of the family is very ideological. Leach (1967) called this the “cereal packet” image of the family. Advertisers cling mercilessly to family imagery for selling all kinds of products. The constant use of women in adverts for cleaning products is a good example of repression.

Adverts often show fathers coming home from work to a beautiful wife, immaculate home, well behaved children, and a hearty meal on the table. I think this view is archaic in many senses, but also rings very true in millions of households today. Some women aspire to this dream; we all know that life isn’t quite like the adverts, the problem being that we don’t find that out till afterwards! The family is to some extent a repressive and ideological construction, but as long as there is male dominance in other social institutions, this will continue. I would say that the family isn’t as repressive today as it once was.

In most modern societies, women can have children and have a career, although this is still somewhat of a blurry area with negative stigma. Further to this there has been a sharp rise in the number of single parent families, which are predominantly headed by women. I do believe the family is ideological; it can’t always be as clear cut because people face different personal circumstances. Households will continue to be male dominated for hundreds of years to come, men are seen as more economically valuable than women, and this can be seen in salary differences.

Until the world and media extinguish the onslaught of family propaganda through the media, our children, and perhaps even our children’s children will grow up with the notion of a patriarchal society. References 1. Sociology Themes & Perspectives (seventh edition) Haralambos & Holborn 2. www. sociology. org. uk 3. Psychology- The Science of mind and behaviour Richard Gross 4. www. wikipedia. co. uk 5. Class Notes 6. http://www. educationforum. co. uk/sociology_2/FamilyDiversitycauses. htm

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