Asses conflict theories contribution to explaining the role of the family

According to Murdock a family is a made up of two generations, heterosexual couples with dependent offspring. There are different views on what the role of the family is, but the main function of the family is to primary socialise children, stabilize the adult’s personality, gender role socialisation, social control, social status and economic consumption. All of which are very important in ensuring a smoothly run society. Marxists and feminists are both conflict theories, conflict theory suggests that human behavior in social contexts results from conflicts between competing groups. Marxist is a conflict theory because they stress the economic exploitation of the working class (proletariat). Feminist is a conflict theory because they highlight the exploitation of women. They both argue that different groups in society have different levels of power such as the wealthy vs. the poor and males vs. the females, and they use this power to exploit groups with less power.

Marxists are very critical of the process of primary socialisation within the nuclear family because they argue that it reproduces and maintains class inequality. They argue that the main function of the family is to distract the working class from the fact that they are exploited by capitalism. This is done in two ways, the first being through the hierarchy way in white nuclear families which are traditionally organized and discourages workers from questioning the hierarchical nature of capitalism and the inequalities in wealth and power that result from it. Also the second way where, parents are encouraged to teach their children that the main route to happiness and status lies in consumption and the acquisition of material possessions, this results in the organization of capitalism and often goes unchallenged by a generation fixated on material possessions. So in conclusion, the Marxists believe that the function of the family is to benefit the capitalists system rather than the whole of society.

However Marxists views can be criticised as they are now out-dated as some parents try to encourage their children to move up classes, it is sexists as it assumes that women don’t work. This is out-dated because most women do contribute through paid employment, and men and women roles in society are more equal. Also some families can’t afford to contribute to society and use government money to support their family. Feminists contribution to explaining the role of the family is that they believe the nuclear family mainly functions to benefit men (radical feminists) and that the nuclear family functions to benefit capitalism and therefore the well-off rather than society as a whole (Marxist feminists). Radical feminists believe that men are not needed in the family; women should be kept completely separate from them.

As men are useless and contribute nothing to the family, women are perfectly capable without them. Feminists as a whole believe that currently the family is male dominated and women should be equal to men. Women can do the same jobs as men and should not be left to do all the domestic work and childcare, whilst the men go off to work. There should be joint conjugal roles. Women are just seen as cheap labour within the family and men are higher up above them and more dominant. They argue that the nuclear family is the main arena in which patriarchal ideology is transmitted to children. However women do not play the same roles in all families, in some women are the bread winners and the men stay at home as the ‘house husbands’, there are also extended families and cohabitation which conflict with the feminists view of the family. Also it is not as though women do not have a choice, they are able to go out and work if they wanted and laws have been passed to allow them to do so. For example the equal pay act, which allows women to work for the same amount as men, and some women choose to stay at home as they enjoy being a housewife.

More women have pursed careers and now have independent incomes; this supports the point that women do have a choice. Women are also allowed to file for a divorce now, and 70% of divorces are initiated by women, showing that they can leave oppressive relationships. In conclusion feminists and Marxists both have explanations to the role of the family. Feminists believe that the family mainly functions to benefit men, and the Marxist theory believes that the family benefits a capitalist’s society. However there are criticisms to both conflict theories, for example the Marxist theory is out-dated as there are many families who encourage their children to move up within the classes. Also the feminist theory does not take in the modern families where many women go out to work and are treated as equal to men. Both theories have different views, with some similarities and both have their positives and negatives. However neither explains the function of the family better than the other as they both have valid points, but there are
criticisms of both.

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