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Symmetrical Family

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Outline and evaluate the claim that the family is now a symmetrical institution Many argue that the nature of the relationships between men and women within families has changed over the past 50 years. These changes are characterised in a more egalitarian or symmetrical family structure where men take a more active role in childrearing and domestic chores and women can go out to work and contribute to the family income. In this type of family responsibility is shared more equally between men and women for important decisions that affect the family. However there are others that argue that the family continues to be a patriarchal institution that oppresses women, where women are still held responsible for keeping the home and raising the children and where men still have control over the purse strings. Methodological and theoretical weaknesses with the work of the major exponents of the 'symmetrical' family have been highlighted by Ann Oakley and other feminist theorists who suggest that the changes to the family are, in fact, negligible. This essay will outline and evaluate the claim that the family is now a symmetrical institution by examining the arguments outlined above. Willmott and Young studied changes to the family structure of working class families over time. From their research they identified four main stages of the family. The stage 1 family was common pre-industrialisation and was characterised by a shared purpose of economic production where home and work were as one. ...read more.


She found that whilst middle class husbands did participate in some aspects of domestic life their input was limited and the bulk of responsibility rested on the woman. Their working class counterparts fared worse. Working class men were less likely to participate in the home this could be argued to be a structural factor rather than down to attitudes. For example, it could be that women have the bulk of responsibility as they do not work as many hours as their husbands and so it is more practical for them to spend a higher proportion of their time on the domestic side of life. However, McKee and Bell found that unemployed men were not inclined to help out at home even when the female was the breadwinner and working outside of the home, it was not considered masculine to participate in the home in working class male culture. Furthermore, Yeandle argues that women now face a 'double burden' of responsibility for the household, including domestic chores, childrearing and emotional labour and contributing to the family budget by holding down a job. Rather than women's time being freer to concentrate on career in fact women are having more strains on their time as they are never truly 'off duty' when in the home. Others, like Fiona Devine, point to changes in the domestic division of labour are more to do with financial necessity that out of some fundamental change to men's or society's attitudes. ...read more.


Women are socially dependent on men with many places being 'no go zones' for women alone, such as bars and nightclubs or social events. A lone woman would find it difficult to attend these without a male escort and is therefore dependent on the man for her social experiences (Allan, G. 1978). Women's domestic labour and sacrifice often goes unnoticed and unpaid. Finch found that women were often expected to sacrifice their career for the sake of supporting and encouraging her husband's, rather than the other way round. Many women married to successful men were part of his workforce, answering telephones, organising the diary and hosting events to help her husband's career. This often goes unpaid or does not have any formal contracts or arrangements. Delphy and Leonard argued that the family unit is more like a business where all members of the family are working for the good of the male head of the household without any formal agreement of what they will be paid for their labour. To conclude, there is evidence to support the claim that the family is becoming more symmetrical but that there is still some way to go before the symmetrical family described by Willmott and Young's stage 3 family is the norm. Society continues to perpetuate patriarchy in its institutions and change to attitudes of both men and women takes times and continued effort. Symmetry is optimistic but there is now more of a positive involvement in the home by men than 30 years ago. ...read more.

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