Marxism is a structural theory of society which sees society divided by conflict between two main opposing social classes, due to the private ownership of the meansof production and the exploitation of the non-owners by the owners. Like functionalists, Marxists grip a structural perspective on the family, looking at how the family subsidises to the maintenance of society’s structure. However, contrasting with functionalists, Marxists do not concern the nuclear family as a functionally necessary institution. Marxists see the family within the context of a capitalist society, which is based on private property, motivated by profit, and damaged with the conflict between social classes with contrasting interests. Marxists argue that the nuclear family is concerned with social control by teaching its members to submit to the capitalist class, and they emphasize the ways the family reproduces unequal relationships and works to damp down inevitable social conflict. Traditional Marxists such as Engles believed that the committed nuclear family developed as a means of passing on private property to heirs.
The family, coupled with monogamy, was an ideal mechanism as it provided proof of parenthood and so property could be passed on to the right people. However the women’s position in this family was not much different from that of prostitutes in that financial deal was struck. Althusser, a Marxist writer argued that, in order for capitalist to survive, the working class must submit to the ruling class or bourgeoisie. He proposed that the family is one of the ideological state apparatuses, along with others such as the education system and the mass media, which are concerned with social control and passing on the ideology of the dominant class. Through socialization into this ideology in the family, the dominant class tries to maintain false consciousness by engaging the hearts and minds of the working class. The Marxist Zaretsky also highlights this ideological role of the family in supporting up capitalists.
He sees the family as an escape route from oppression and exploitation at work. This means a private place where people, predominantly male workers, can enjoy a personal life, and is valued as individuals, and has some degree of control over their lives. This release in the family supports them to live with their regular oppression in the world of work, and thereby helps to challenge opposition to capitalism. Nevertheless, this seems a much exaggerated view of the family, without family conflicts and rows, and, as Marxist feminists have pointed out this is very much a female Marxist perspectives on the family, as much of the work that might make the family a sanctuary and refuge is done by, and at the expense of, women. The traditional Marxist perspective tends to be a bit old- fashioned. The ideas that men marry and have children to pass on property ignore other reason for getting married or forming families.
Various women now work and have independent incomes, and in many cases they are more successful than men in some areas of the labour market. Marxists analysis of the family is now mainly explored by Marxists feminists. Marxist feminism emphasizes the way in which women are particularly exploited, both as workers in an unequal, exploitative society, and as women. They see the family, and particularly women’s work in the family, as contributing to the maintenance of capitalism in the following ways such as social reproduction of labour power and social control of the working class. Yet the criticisms of the Marxist feminist perspectives include the fact that women’s roles are not the same in all families now consist of dual- worker couples, with both partners in paid employment. These perspectives assume that women are passive victims in the family, and do not have any choices.
Hakim suggests that women’s inequality in the family and what is treated as self-evident proof of widespread sex discrimination and sex-role stereotyping, and may be the result of women’s personal choices and preferences, and that most women have different career aspirations, life goals and priorities. Conversely Feminist perspectives emphasize the harmful effects of family life upon women, and the role of the family in the continuing oppression of women. They provide a healthy solution to functionalist and New Right accounts, which tend to emphasize the ‘functional’ aspects of the family and downplay the negative side of the family life. For feminists, the family and marriage are major sources of female domination and gender inequalities in society. Also feminists emphasize that housework is unpaid labour. If women ironed clothes, cooked and cleaned for others outside the family they would be paid for it, but in the family they are not. Oakley has emphasized that housework is hard, routine and unrewarding and housework remains the primary responsibility of women, though men might sometimes help.