In this answer, I am going to discuss about the conjugal relationship in modern industrial societies. This means I will assess the claim that conjugal relationships are based on equality in modern industrial societies. I plan to structure my answer from housework and childcare, power and money management. The hours worked between husband and wife become more equal by the 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 time; enhancing equality in relationships. The social changes have meant that equality is becoming evident and so the statement seems highly likely. However, the functionalist view of equality in modern family life has been highly criticised particularly by feminists like Ann Oakley (1974).
Oakley rejects the ‘March of progress’ view described by Young and Willmott as she suggests that this is simply exaggerated as we still live in a patriarchal society where women do most of the housework. She suggested that the methodology used by Young and Willmott was hardly convincing as their questions lacked in detail. In Oakley’s research, she found only 15% of husbands had a high participation in housework, showing how the statement is flawed as this clearly does not show evidence of equality in relationships and gender roles.
Despite Gershuny suggesting that paid work entitled equality for women, Oakley suggested that this was only an extension of the housewife role. Therefore, unlike Parsons claim of a ‘natural’ role, feminists argue that this was socially constructed to enforce dependence on men which became worse with industrialisation as it forced women to stay within the home. Thus, it is clear that joint conjugal roles are not as ‘joint’ as functionalists initially suggested they were as the social changes have only exacerbated the role of women suggesting this so called equality does not exist.
Besides, other feminists like Elsa Ferri and Kate Smith (1996) suggest that the changed position of women in terms of employment has only created a dual burden as they now have to undertake paid work as well as the unpaid housewife role. Ferri and Smith suggest that unlike Gershuny, increased employment has had little impact of the domestic labour as fewer than 4% of families had a father responsible for childcare. Therefore, women still remain responsible for the children as well as their employment responsibility; clearly suggesting that modern family life is not as equal as it seems.
The dual burden is also supported by Dunscombe and Marsden’s theory of a triple burden in that women are expected to do the double shift of housework and paid work but also the caring of the emotional welfare of the family. This clearly disputes Gershuny’s idea that women are more equal due to employment as the triple burden means that they in fact gain more responsibilities than losing them. Next, feminists ‘point to inequalities of power and control that persist in modern family relationships’ as a key reason for inequality; again challenging the statement.
Allan suggests that ideological factors limit women’s power in that they are ‘disadvantaged from the start. ’ This suggests that the family is always going to be founded on inequality; thus suggesting that the view of equality is limited. This is supported by Barrett and McIntosh who suggest that men gain far more from women’s domestic work than they give in financial support and that in turn this support often comes with ‘strings’ attached. Also, men are usually the ones who make decisions about finances despite some families being dual-earners.
This is due to the fact that women are statistically still paid on average less than men; enhancing male economic power. Therefore you can question the extent of equality in modern family life. Resources are also said to be shared unequally like Kempson’s (1994) study among low-income families. This leaves women in poverty and so restricts their power in the family which creates an atmosphere of inequality in conjugal relationships. This is further explained by feminists Pahl and Vogler (1993) who focused on the effects of decision making within the family through ideas like ‘pooling’ and ‘allowance systems.
They found a 31% increase in pooling where both partners have joint decision responsibility as well as a decline in allowance systems. However, it was still evident that men usually made huge financial decisions. Edgell also supports this as the levels of decision making are not equal due to the male economic power that still exists. Therefore, women have less say in the decisions and thus it is obvious that the view that gender roles and relationships are becoming more equal is incorrect as inequality in pay and decisions still exist.
Similarly, this inequality of power has led to domestic violence which clearly shows how inequality is evident in that relationships are being gender dominated. Radical feminists like Millett and Firestone (1970) use domestic violence as a way to show that society is primarily founded on patriarchy and that men oppress and exploit women. They suggest that the inequality of power within the family maintains men’s power and so domestic violence is inevitable.
Similarly, Dobash and Dobash suggest that marriage legitimises violence against women as it provides the male with power and the women with dependency, therefore evidently showing no signs of equality. Thus, this disputes the statement of gender roles and relationships becoming more equal with 1 in 4 women being assaulted in their lifetime according to Mirrlees-Black. Finally, childcare which is essentially about exercising responsibility for another person who is not fully responsible for herself and it entails seeing to all aspects of the child’s security and well-being,
her growth and development at any and all times. Mary Boulton ( 1983 ) argues the exaggeration in the extent of men’s involvement in childcare and she denies that questions about who does what give a true picture of conjugal roles. She also claims that although men might help with particular tasks, it is their wives who retain primary responsibility for children. It is the wives who relegate non-domestic aspects of their lives to a low priority. This shows that there is still inequality in terms of childcare in conjugal relationships.
In addition, Elsa Ferri and Kate Smith provide some empirical support for Boulton by conducting a study based on National Child Development Survey. The survey found it was still very rare for fathers to take primary responsibility for childcare. In both the sample of mothers and the sample of fathers it was very rare in dual-earner families, no-earner families or families where only the mother worked, for the man to be normally responsible for the children or to look after them when they were ill.
In almost every category the man was the main carer in 4 percent or less of families. This is also supported by the radical feminist idea of ‘gender scripts’ in that there are expected norms in terms of gender roles and so patriarchal relationships are inevitable. Therefore, they suggest that equality without burdens will only be reached through same-sex relationships as this eliminates the ‘gender script’ idea.
Thus, this enhances the inequality of the family, and suggests that the view that conjugal relationships are becoming more equal is in fact incorrect as the inevitability of patriarchal relationships means that equality cannot be established. In conclusion, I have discussed and assessed the view that conjugal relationships are based on equality in modern industrial societies by evaluating three sections which are hours worked, power and childcare. With all of the statement, I believe that conjugal relationships in modern industrial societies are not based on equality.
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