In the areas of Marxism and Functionalism views of the family differentiate in many ways. This essay shall explore the similarities and differences these two perspectives have over family life and how the family influences society, also it shall explore the different types of family and the role it has over socialisation in children. When the family is explored by sociologists, ideas and views often centre around the ‘nuclear family’ which is seen as the best for people in many cases, this essay shall also debate over this topic against the different sociological perspectives, and discuss whether the nuclear family is fading away.
The purpose of this essay is to gain a thorough knowledge and understanding of how the family works from each viewpoint, and see how these very contrasting views differentiate. There are a few different kinds of family structures; the most well known (and favoured by many different sociologists) is the nuclear family, this is because both parents are present, and have their attention divided over their children – minus any members of extended family.
The least favoured family unit is the single parent family, and this has been reinforced by government statistics where the children have achieved less at school than children from the nuclear family. A technique to understanding the concept of ‘family’ is to learn what it teaches or provides to the individual. The idea of appealing to an individual is very important to Functionalists as they believe strongly in influence over individuals rather than looking at groups of people.
The family is described by George Murdock (2004) in this statement: The family is a social group characterised by common residence, economic co-operation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults. “1 Murdock believes, as most Functionalists believe, that the nuclear family is the most successful structure of all, that it is the ideal. This is a good starting point to get an idea of what the family is used for, even if it is a little biased.
The family aids the individual in their introduction to society and eventually into their own independent lives. Talcott Parsons highlighted two aspects learnt by individuals through the family; one was primary socialisation, which taught children basic norms and values of society which meant they would know how to behave correctly, conforming to what was expected of them. This also taught gender role socialisation, teaching masculine and feminine traits as a way to conform to society.
Stabilisation of adult personalities is also important to Parsons as this is the emotional support provided by the family that helps them deal with the stress of everyday life 2. Within the family, infants receive protection and sustenance. As they grow older, children learn the patterns and expectations of their culture 3. Feminists don’t have such a positive outlook on the family as Functionalists. They believe that marriage and the family is an idea designed to capture women and enslave them to men.
Sociologists with a very traditional view of women and gender roles, assume that women are designed to cater to the men’s basic needs, for example, cooking and cleaning and generally making the home a more pleasant place for their husbands. From Stanford’s Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, this idea is reinforced, as it quotes Rousseau: “Women naturally want to have and raise children; men by nature do not (Rousseau: 1979). ” 4 This extract is effectively claiming that it is a biological aspect of nature that women are to serve men.
Feminists disagree with this idea, claiming that although there are differences physically between males and females, there is nothing biological that can determine gender roles. The gender roles even when manipulated by women to suit them are still unequal. Women that have managed to ‘escape’ the traditional views of being a housewife or mother, are still restrained when it comes to employed work. Many women are criticised and not taken seriously in the realms of higher skilled work.
Also, they often face discrimination in the areas of pay, as they may not earn as much as someone doing the same work who was male. Employers can be reluctant to hire women with the assumption they could leave work for more emotional reasons, or due to lack of childcare. All these different factors that oppose women is something feminists reject strongly, as it results in women have economic dependence on men, which can result in abuse by the women’s husbands or partners (Gordon 1988; Global Fund for Women Report 1992) 5.
Although the Functionalist viewpoint is an opposite to the feminists, in some ways they are alike, as they both have the same functions and purpose, the family works in the same way, but just to achieve different results. The family socialises people and teaches them the way the world works, the difference is that it is a negative thing for feminists as they believe it is to help fund Capitalism. Functionalists on the other hand, believe it is all positive in the sense that it is helping achieve equilibrium in society.
The nuclear family is idealised by functionalists and detested by feminists, and most research has a strong basis over this one constitution. However, it is important to take consideration of the less popular family structures – most fascinating of all, are single parent families, with the majority of them being matrilineal (or matrifocal in ‘New World’ Black families) 6 and being in a lot of cases completely absent of a male influence. Now clearly, this will not be popular with functionalists as their idealised view of the family will be shattered. However, feminists may not find a matrilineal family such dreadful thing.
After all, this is a family run solely by a woman, and the woman controls the household and any children in it, to feminists, this may be the future. This is mentioned by Ann Taylor Allen in her book 7 – “Woman is the family, and the child should bear her name. ” Another family grouping that opposes the typical nuclear family is the Nayar. Studied by Gough (1972) the Nayar would make women marry at a young age, but after the ceremony they had no obligation to their male partners. There is an emphasis on pleasing the women, with gifts especially in return for sexual experience with the woman (this was not only between husband and wife)8.
Feminists, although disagreeing with any form of marriage, would most likely favour this way of living, as women were yet again in control. Functionalists have a much more negative view towards the ‘alternative’ family structures, believing the only way society would function was if there were two parents of different sex looking after their children, in a nuclear family. One sociologist who believed this strongly is Murdock (1949), who attempted to prove how successful the nuclear family was, in his study- ‘Universality of the Family’ where he studied over 250 societies.
Although the study showed that the nuclear family was most popular, there are other family types – i. e. extended, single parent, which shows us that the nuclear family isn’t exclusively universal. However, it could also be said that some of these family groups, especially single parent families, were nuclear families that had failed, due to many different reasons. What isn’t taken into consideration when thinking about the nuclear family is that there isn’t enough detail, it is all very limited. The functionalist view doesn’t seem to dig any deeper into the reasons why this structure is better.
Also, how solidly is the nuclear family defined, such as, does it count as a nuclear family if the father is in another country fighting in the army, or does it count when the children are in a boarding school? 9. These are aspects that aren’t made clear enough. The decline of the nuclear family could be down to many reasons such as economic, social and technological changes. An acceptable reason could be the changes in salaries, where people are more financially stable than they once were, and had less need for support from relatives. Also, there have been many changes in relationships especially with youth culture.
There is no longer a stigma over sex or childbirth before marriage, homosexual relationships, casual relationships and aspects of relationship breakdown, notably divorce. Twenty to thirty years ago, these things weren’t widely accepted and in some cases not even spoken about. When the concept of being a ‘teenager’ was made popular, particularly through the media, relationships and perceptions of the world changed for many young people – this meant there was less responsibility in some cases and encouraged people to focus more on themselves, than supporting their family and parents.
Feminists might argue that it is declining due to women having more power, and making more important decisions about their own life choices. When looking at both perspectives in sociology, it is hard not to notice that they are both ‘out of date’ in many ways. Both views have a very traditional outlook on the family, assuming that women will stay home and look after the home/children. It doesn’t take into account that there are a higher number of males opting to become carers in the home – or househusbands.
This is reflected in an article by the Daily Mail – The phenomenon of the househusband is an increasingly popular one. The number of men deciding to become househusbands has increased by a staggering 83 per cent since 1993. According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, there are more than 200,000 fathers in the UK choosing to give up their careers and raise their children at home. ” 10 This clearly shows that women are becoming more independent as they are pursuing highly powered careers, but also more men are becoming more economically dependent on their wives/partners.
This will be considered ironic to feminists as this was what they argued was the problem for women in the family. Another thing to take into consideration is the fact society has changed dramatically around the areas of power to women. Women hold a lot of power in society, not only with taking on high powered careers, but with it also being widely shown within the media how women can do as much as men, if more. There are many women in the media that use their beauty to influence or manipulate the male viewers and in turn become more popular and make more money.
Feminists do not agree with women being viewed a ‘sex objects’ but this does mean that the women are control over what the men are viewing. When exploring both perspectives of the family, it is clear to see that there is one major similarity, which is they both share the same purpose in teaching and supporting people. Both views believe the family is there to help stabilise adults through their lives and socialise important values and norms of life to young children. The difference between these is that one funds Capitalism and the other is designed to create a ‘better’ society.
Both views have their limitations, and there is no real substantial proof that the family is successful or unsuccessful to the degree both views claim. The truth is, everything is changing all of the time, and it is too difficult to know what is affecting what. Limitations to the Functionalist view is that it is obviously very idealistic, and makes a poor attempt to provide good evidence to why the nuclear family is so much more successful. Also, Murdock’s theories of Universality of the Nuclear family seemed to ignore the fact that there are family structures that are as successful as the nuclear family.
Limitations to the feminist views are mainly that they are too outdated, and in some cases overdramatic in their statements, considering how women do have a powerful role in society. After all, there are female members of parliament, we have had a female prime minister, and there are women taking on much more difficult roles in work than there used to be. When taking into consideration the feminist view, I found the ‘difference feminists’ were much more realistic in their views.