Using material from Item 2B and elsewhere, assess the view that gender roles and relationships have become more equal in modern family life. (24 marks)
Firstly, the item suggests that ‘a number of changes have taken place in gender roles and relationships within families.’ There are a number of sociological perspectives which agree with this statement and also various approaches that criticise the nature of these changes. They argue whether they have created greater equality within modern family life or whether this statement is simply exaggerated. This essay will assess these views and will conclude whether gender roles and relationships have in reality, become more equal in modern family life.
Initially, within the modernity period, functionalists like Parsons (1955), saw a biological division of labour which he claimed were beneficial to the family and thus wider society. Elizabeth Bott (1957) categorised these divisions through ‘joint and segregated conjugal roles.’ These suggested whether within a marriage, the roles of the family were shared or divided. Parsons viewed these gender roles as being segregated through expressive and instrumental functions which were formed following industrialisation as there became a clear division between the private sphere at home, and the public sphere at work. This meant that gender roles were unequal in that the husband had to perform the instrumental function in being the ‘breadwinner’ by providing financial stability, and the wife had to perform the expressive function in socialising the children, caring for the emotional welfare of the family and providing a housewife role. He suggested that these differences were ‘natural’ and thus benefitted the family as a whole; also supported by new-right thinkers. Yet, this ideology has been criticised as being too traditional by post-modern theorists who suggest that equality within the family is evident and that this ‘norm’ of gender roles is diminishing. Therefore, in terms of society today, the old functionalist view seems insignificant as it fails to represent modern family life.
Furthermore, the item suggests that ‘changing attitudes to gender roles and increased participation by women in the labour market have led to more equality in modern family life.’ This view is highly supported by many sociologists like Young and Willmott who suggest that the family is becoming more symmetrical and therefore, is in fact becoming more egalitarian via a ‘march of progress.’ They suggest that the family is gradually improving in terms of equality as there has been a trend away from segregated conjugal roles and more of a shift towards joint ones. This they argue is due to major social changes in that women are more financially dependant with employment opportunities and so there is less of a need to rely on extended kin. This is further explained by Gershuny who suggests that because women have these employment opportunities, they are more likely to do less domestic work. This is shown by the item as it suggests that ‘men were making more of an effort to do housework when their wives were in full-time employment.’ By this change of position for women, it has meant that men are now more responsible for different household tasks therefore suggesting that equality within modern family life is evident and so this view seems correct. He emphasises the change in social values as a reason for this which is also supported by Sullivan’s study (2000) which found an increase in equal division of labour. This supports Young and Willmott’s ‘march of progress’ view that conjugal roles are becoming more symmetrical; thus suggesting that the view of equal gender roles and relationships is likely. Also, due to post-modern society, there are better living conditions compared to those during industrialisation and so this has drawn the men back into the family and thus has enabled them to help with housework and childcare as well as providing leisure...
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