Some sociologists argue that with the rise in the symmetrical family, the patriarchal power of the husband has disappeared and relationships have become more equal and democratic. Using relevant sociological theories, how far do you agree with this view?
Many sociologists see the family as the foundation of society, forming the basis for social organization. Each theorist will explain this in different ways, taking different factors into account such as gender, economics, reproduction and patriarchy. Some sociologists argue that patriarchy is dissolving and relationships between husband and wife are moving away from segregated conjugal roles and towards more joint conjugal roles. Others, particularly feminists, still firmly believe that patriarchy is the main barrier to women’s freedom. By looking at the different sociological perspectives of the family, this essay will attempt resolve the debate about whether or not the patriarchal power of the husband is disappearing and relationships between partners are becoming more equal. The nuclear family, two adults living together with their children, can be identified in almost all societies. Sociologists previously thought that it was the extended family that was the most predominant form of family, meaning family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews would live in one household. However, looking at the average household size throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which was 4.75 persons (including domestic servants) compared with the current average in the UK standing at 3.04, it seems to have been the nuclear family the was the main family unit in premodern times. Historical sociologist Lawrence Stone did not see the family as a form of dependency or a place of emotional attachment. “The family during this period was an open-ended, low-keyed, unemotional, authoritarian institution. It was also very short-lived, being frequently dissolved by the death of the husband or wife or the death or very early departure from home of the children” (Stone, 1977). A lot of things have changed within society from the 1960’s onwards, imparticular with regards to women. The contraceptive pill was introduced in Great Britain in 1961, giving women more control over their bodies and developing a higher level of sexual freedom. The rights of women have also become more recognised over the years. Could this be seen as one of the reasons that some sociologists believe patriarchy to be fading? Looking at the functionalists perspectives of the family, it can be seen that their interest is in how the family contributes to society, seeing the family as a vital organ in maintaining the body of society. Murdock argues that there are four main functions within the family and that these were necessary in any society in order for it to function efficiently. These functions are; sexual, reproduction, economic and socialization. He suggested that the ‘nuclear family’ was found in every society to carry them out. Parsons argued that there are only two basic functions of the family that are found in every society. The first of which is the primary socialization of children. He believed the family to be the place children learnt of society’s culture and developed their personalities. He stated that only the family can provide the emotional warmth and security to achieve this. The second function is the stabilization of human personalities. Parsons suggested that factors such as the need for money and the pressures to succeed and support the family, threaten to destabilize personalities. The family helped stabilize personalities through the sexual division of labour, seeing the women’s role as ‘expressive’, providing emotional support to the husband and children. The husband’s role was known as ‘instrumental’, being the breadwinner, leading to stress and threatening to destabilize his personality. The wife’s expressive role relieves this tension by providing...
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