“Women are continually being exploited and subjected by men” according to feminist sociologists Delphy and Leonard. Men gain the power to exploit women through the segregated roles we have in the patriarchal society today. They found that ‘husbands make little contribution to housework.’ However Functionalists Young and Willmott oppose this view. They found that ‘75% of husbands did housework other than washing.’

This research proposal highlights whether the traditional division of labour in the home exists or whether it has become symmetrical as Willmott and Young states. Therefore within this coursework I aim to investigate the long running debate between the functionalist and the feminist and interrogate the relationship between married couples and the division of domestic labour.

From personal perspectives I feel that within my own home women take on the burden of domestic labour. As I am from a Muslim background, I am intrigued to discover whether this patriarchal ideology is predominating within other sections of society.

Context and concept

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My first context feminist sociologists Delphy and Leonard argue ‘the family is a patriarchal institution’ through which men dominate and exploit women. They admit that most men do some housework, but women usually undertake such tasks due to the media’s portrayal of the ideal wife and mother. They argue that the amount of time women spend on domestic labour has not declined in this century and women still do twice as much as men even when they have paid employments. To them the family has a ‘central role’ in maintaining patriarchy. Although written in 1992, I feel the dominance of women by men still exists within society.

Therefore, my first concept is from a feminist context who argues ‘women experience Dual Burden’. Research suggest that young women are taking responsibilities for the bulk of domestic tasks as well as holding a full time job. Sociologists such as Gershunny pointed out this could lead to increased ‘inequality’ between husbands and wives, as a rising proportion of women suffer from Dual Burden.

My second context, which strongly opposes that of Delphy and Leonard is from functionalist sociologists, Willmott and Young. Commentators form this perspective argue, in 1973 the traditional segregated division of labour within the home – men as breadwinner and women as expressive leaders – was breaking down. The relationships between husbands and wives were becoming ‘conjugal and symmetrical’. Therefore becoming more equal. Conjugal relationship refers to the relationship between married or cohabiting partners.

Delphy and Leonard argue the changes from segregated to joint conjugal roles results mainly from the withdrawal of wives from her relationships with the female kin and the drawing of the husband into the family circle.

My second concept is ‘symmetrical’. Symmetrical refers to similar or corresponding. Young and Willmott argue that the stage two family (early industrial family) has largely disappeared. Husbands and wife increasingly share responsibility for decision-making, which affect the family such as the children’s education and household finance. Relationship of this type is known as joint conjugal roles.

However feminist sociologists argue that Young and Willmott research of increasing symmetry within marriage is based on inadequate methodology. Their research found that few men had high level of participation in housework and childcare. Compared to Young and Willmott research, they found that 15% of men contribute in housework and 30% participate in childcare. This concept looks to exploit both a feminist perspective as well as examining if relationships are becoming more conjugal as Willmott and Young indicate.

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