Sociology 250

October 28, 1999

Feminism and Classical Sociology

A. Introduction

Each of the three classical sociological approaches that we have studied – Marx, Weber, and Durkheim – provide analyses and models which capture many elements of the social world. They identify features of society and methods of study that yield gr eat insight into how people interact with each other and how society is structured and develops. Their models were developed in nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe, and were based primarily on their study of European society and European thought . Their observations provide excellent descriptions of the modern period that developed in Europe and yield many ideas that can be applied to the contemporary world.

While it is difficult to know whether Marx, Weber, and Durkheim considered their approaches universal in the sense of developing an understanding and analysis of all societies at all times, there are reasons to think that they did consider their approa ch universal. They wrote in a Europe that dominated much of the rest of the world politically and economically, and the authors of European social thought of this period generally considered their analyses universal. These classical sociologists placed no qualifications or limits on their analysis, but wrote in general and universal terms, developing concepts and methods that could be applied in any situation. They studied many topics, societies, and times, with each having a theory of history and society as a whole. The universal nature of their analysis is also shown by the many applications of this analysis in different situations, countries, and over time. Certainly the followers of each of the three classical sociologists consider their analyses to b e useful in analyzing issues and situations in today’s contemporary world. Finally, Durkheim and Weber each define sociology as an academic discipline and set out the proper scope and limits of sociology, so that they claimed to have defined the field.

Contemporary sociological approaches have cast doubt on the claims to universality of the classical sociological approaches. While few would deny that these classical approaches must be studied, and that their approaches are often useful today, feminis ts, third world or post-colonial analysts, identity theorists, writers with new approaches to sexuality, and post-modernists argue that the classical approaches are incomplete, misleading, or inadequate. These latter writers come from many different tradi tions and approaches, with some rejecting classical writers while others modifying classical approaches and using new insights to develop hybrid approaches to analysis of the social world. Some of the latter approaches will be studied in the latter sectio n of the course, since they represent attempts by contemporary sociologists to update and improve classical sociology.

There are many criticisms of classical sociological approaches. Post-modernists generally argue that there cannot be a single, universal social theory, but that social thought requires consideration of local and different situations. Identity theorists and post-colonial writers consider classical sociology to be Eurocentric and bound by modes of thought and experiences that were characteristic of western European society in the nineteenth century. Feminists and analysts of sexuality argue that classica l sociologists were male writers with a male centred and conventional analysis of women, family, and sexuality.

This section of the notes will examine some of the feminist criticisms of classical sociological approaches. There are many such feminist criticisms, from those who reject the classical sociological approaches in their entirety to those who modify the classical approaches and develop their own hybrid approaches – for example, Marxist or liberal feminism. Some of the general approaches of feminist writers will be considered first. Following that are comments on each of the three classical approaches. So me of the following analysis is drawn from Natural Women, Cultured Men: A Feminist Perspective on Sociological Theory by Rosalind Sydie of the University of Alberta. Sydie systematically analyzes the three classical sociologists and Freud from a fe minist viewpoint. These notes do not attempt to develop a feminist approach to sociology, they are confined to feminist critiques and comments on classical sociological approaches. Later in the semester, some of the feminist approaches to sociological ana lysis will be examined.

B. Overview of Feminist Critique

1. Women Ignored. One general line of criticism of feminists is that women are absent from the social analyses and social world of classical sociology. The language and analysis of classical sociologists is that of men, male activities and exper iences, and the parts of society dominated by males. Marx, Weber, and Durkheim were typical of nineteenth century European writers who assumed that the social world was primarily that of male activities.

One aspect of the long history of modern, urban, industrial society was the development of a separation between the public and private spheres. These had not always been separated in traditional societies, although there was often a sex-based division of labour and male dominance. But there is no doubt that with the development of capitalism, cities, and industry, a public sphere dominated by men and male activities developed. Women generally became restricted to the private sphere of household and fam ily, and had limited involvement in political, economic, or even social public life. While some women were involved in more public activities, there were movements to restrict the participation of women in public life – for example, factory legislation an d the family wage.

In order to understand some of the difficulties women faced in this era, some of the details of the situation of women should be considered. First, women in late nineteenth century England were not recognized as individuals in either the legal or the l iberal theoretical sense. Men still held formal power over the rest of the family, and women were mostly excluded from the public sphere. Mill and Taylor, along with some early United States feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, a rgued that the equality of women required full citizenship for women. This would include giving women enfranchisement. After 1865, when Mill was in the English Parliament, he fought for women's suffrage. He also fought "to amend the laws that gave husband s control over their wives' money and property." He also supported the campaign for birth control information to be available, and was active in other campaigns that were aimed at assisting women and children. (Eisenstein, p. 128).

While there were various feminist movements, formal equality for women did not come until much later. In Canada, women did not have the right to vote in federal elections until 1918, although the franchise was extended to women two years earlier in the Prairie provinces. Quebec women did not receive the vote in provincial elections until 1940. Property ownership also rested with men through most of the nineteenth century, with changes that allowed property purchasers to become owners, regardless of sex , coming between 1872 and 1940. "By 1897 in English Canada and 1931 in Quebec, a wife employed outside the home was allowed to retain her wages" (Burt, p. 214). Also note that in Canada it was not until the 1969 amendments to the Criminal Code that sales of contraceptives became legal, or that abortions became legal.

In Canada, there is now formal equality in most areas of social life, with women and men having the same legal rights. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the 1982 Constitution Act states that "every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability" (Section 15). S ection 28 states that "Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons." Many feminists would argue though that this is only formal equality, not true equality.

2. Definitions of Sociology and the Social World. Each of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim developed a mode of analysis that defined the social world. For Weber and Durkheim this was an explicit aspect of their analysis. Marx differed somewhat in that he was primarily concerned with political economy and political action and did not define sociology as a separate form of analysis. Each of these writers did develop a definition of the social world, even if only implicitly, and proceeded to analyze it. F or feminists and contemporary sociologists, a major problem is that the classical definitions of the social world exclude large parts of human action and interaction. Many of the excluded portions of the social world are those that were typically occupied by women and children, with classical writers showing little interest in or analysis of institutions such as the household, family, and community where women’s experiences have often been centred.

The emphasis on labour and the commodity for Marx, and the division of labour for Marx and Durkheim, provide an example of this. Marx’s political economic model begins with the commodity and exchange, with the value of commodities coming from labour an d surplus value coming from surplus labour. Marx looks on human labour as creative and as defining humanity. His critique of private property and capitalism is that this essence and creativity is taken away from labourers through the objectification proce ss. But Marx’s analysis is almost entirely that of the public economy and the creation of products for purposes of exchange. Commodities have value to the extent that they are exchanged, and it is only those commodities which are exchanged which are part of capitalism and the Marxian model. Marx spends little time analyzing use values, taking them for granted. Goods and services produced in the household and family, or in volunteer or other situations where exchange is not for money, form no part of Marx’ s model of capitalism. While Marxian analysis initially appears to consider all human labour, it quickly becomes clear that only labour exchanged for a wage is relevant to the model. Family, household, reproduction, the supply of labour, and the survival of labourers outside the formal labour market are generally taken for granted by Marx. While he devotes some discussion to the value of labour power, Marx does not have an adequate theory of population or the supply of labour. In Marx’s time, women played little role in the public economy, and Marx develops no theory of how women, family, and household contribute to the value of labour power as a commodity. In essence, then, Marx’s social world is the commodity, commodity exchange, the labour market, and accumulation.

Durkheim, concentrating on the division of labour, and its implications for social development and social solidarity, develops a similar approach. That is, it is the division of tasks in the public economy that characterizes the division of labour. Sin ce women did not generally participate in the labour force in Durkheim’s day, this eliminates women from the division of labour. To the extent that the division of labour forms the basis for morality and organic solidarity in modern society, it is primari ly the activity of men that create this solidarity. It is difficult to see how women’s activities contribute to organic solidarity. Since the proper study of sociology is social facts, but women are absent from the creation of social facts, women are not the proper subject of sociology.

Another way that classical sociologists define the social world is through their categories and concepts. For Marx, class and class struggle, exploitation and surplus labour, and accumulation and crises have little to do with what women experience or d o. Durkheim’s social facts could include women, but they generally do not. Similarly, Weber’s class, status, and party, domination, authority, bureaucracy, and rationality are all part of a public sphere in which women play little part.

In summary, the social world of the classical sociologists generally excluded the actions of women. As a result, sociology as a discipline did not have much to say about women. While each of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim did have some comments on women and family, these were generally limited comments and their sociological models would be little different if women did not exist.

3. Biology. Classical sociologists appear to have thought that there were natural differences between men and women. This could be biological differences or socially developed differences that were not analyzed by sociologists. Biological differ ence such as strength or the ability to bear children might have been assumed. Or they may have assumed that there was an essential difference in human nature between men and women. While all people may have been regarded as rational human beings, with no difference between men and women, most of the classical sociologists thought of men and women as being somewhat different in their natures. Sydie notes that "the female is associated with the world of nature" while men were associated with culture (p. 3) . Or women were regarded as emotional or passionate, while men were rational in their thought and activities. For Durkheim this was especially ironic, given that he regarded human interaction as social, and as a sociologist he considered biological aspect s to have no direct connection with the social – yet women were somehow natural and connected to nature.

4. Inequalities. Classical sociologists generally focussed on differences and inequality. Marx was most explicit in this, but Durkheim and Weber also developed various ways of examining difference and inequality. Issues such as the division of l abour, exploitation, and power, domination, and authority emphasize difference and inequality. Yet male/female inequalities, or racial and ethnic inequalities, form little part of classical sociology. Feminists have identified patriarchy as a social syste m of inequality, but classical sociology had only limited analysis of this. Marx and Engels did have a model of male/female inequality, but it derives from property and economic considerations. Weber analyzed patriarchy, but male/female inequalities were not his primary concern in such analysis.

C. Durkheim

1. Discussion of Men, Women and Family in Suicide. Sydie discusses Durkheim's claims concerning male and female suicide rates, and his arguments about the broader issue of the dualism of human nature. With respect to suicide rates, Durkheim examine d male-female differences in suicide rates, and rates for married, divorced, widowed, single, etc. In general, he finds that women have lower suicide rates than do men, although there are different rates associated with different marital statuses and in different countries. Single males and male divorcees are particularly subject to suicide. Sydie argues that this is based on Durkheim's view that marriage is better for men than for women. For men, marriage provides moral calmness and tranquillity, and in order to reduce the suicide rate of men, the institution of marriage should be strengthened. In contrast, women tend to be negatively affected by marriage. This is because their sexual needs are more biological and less mental than men's, the mental life of women is less developed, females are more instinctive, and females do not require the same degree of social regulation that men do. Stronger marriage institutions would increase the female suicide rate and reduce the male rate.

2. Domestic Anomie. Suicides of divorced people are greater than those for other parts of the population, even more than for widows. The cause though is not divorce, but "the family condition predisposing to suicide" (Suicide, p. 263) is also that which leads to divorce, so that the two are really the result of the same cause. Durkheim then goes on to examine what family condition creates this. He argues that "marriage is more favorable to the wife the more widely practiced divorce is." ( Suicide, p. 269). Thus, it is husbands who contribute to the rise in the suicide rate in societies as divorce becomes more common. The cause of this is changes in the institution of marriage, and not the family itself. Where divorce is common, this weakens matrimonial regulation generally, not just the dissolution of the marriage. This has a negative effect on men, making them less calm and tranquil, and men become more uneasy.

In contrast, women' sexual needs are less mental because her mental life is less developed. Women are more instinctive and do not require as much social regulation in the form of marriage as do men. For women, marriage is less useful and the regulation of marriage does not have advantages for her. As a result, divorce protects women, and women have frequent recourse to it.

As the divorce rate increases, the increase in suicides of men is not the result of bad husbands, bad wives, or unhappy households. Rather, this increase results from a change in the moral structure of society -- a weakening of matrimonial regulation. (See Suicide, Section IV of Anomic Suicide).

3. Division of Labour. Sydie notes that Durkheim does not view men and women as sharing equally in social life as society and the division of labour develop. Women tend to be in positions where it is their natural and biological impulses are imp ortant to filling the position, and mental and other characteristics may be less well developed. That is, women are more suited to domestic and aesthetic occupations and roles. In contrast, it is men who benefit from social life and moral regulation. Men' s mental capacities are better developed and they more clearly realize the difference between natural impulses and sensory perception on the one hand, and moral forces and activities on the other. Sydie argues that Durkheim's attempt to provide a sociolog ical explanation for the change in sex roles ultimately failed. In her view, Durkheim fell back on a biological argument, that males and females are inherently and biologically different -- and that this difference is socially expressed. This represents a failure in the sociological imagination for Durkheim, who was concerned to always explain the social causes of societal phenomena.

4. Dualistic View. Sydie argues that there is a more general problem here. Durkheim had a dualistic view of human nature, looking on the soul as sacred and as regulated by the collectivity. The body is profane (or secular) and is not regulated b y society. The body is composed of sensations and is egoistic and personal. This duality is reflected in society, with society representing solidarity, the moral imperative, and regulation. Within modern society, each person has a double life, with indivi duality and personality, but with a greater need for collective coordination and constraint. This parallels the division in sex roles. Men tend to become more aware of the conflict between the two, because men occupy positions within the division of labou r outside the household. This leads to a greater development of men's mental capacities, and men become more aware than do women of the nature of this duality. For men roles become more complex, and the institution of marriage as a means of moral regulati on is necessary. For women, the dualism is not as severe. Because their roles are more natural, and ones they are more naturally suited for, and because women have fewer needs, they have less need for regulation.

Sydie notes how this view of women as connected to nature and biology, with men more connected to a rational, regulated culture, is common to many writers in sociology. Many sociological models are built on social explanations of society, culture, econ omy, politics, etc. but biological explanations of women's roles, household, family, socialization, sex, and marriage.

While Sydie is generally critical of Durkheim, there are a few positive points concerning sex roles that emerge from Durkheim's writings. First, Durkheim looked on early society as having men and women in relatively equal roles, or at least considerabl y less differentiated that they later became. He states that women did participate in war and politics, and considered some form of matriarchy to have been one of the original forms of kinship. Durkheim did not think that patriarchy always existed, or was a fundamental form. Second, Durkheim looked on the natural or historical development of the division of labour as affecting sex roles as well. The manner in which the division of labour developed led to greater specialization on the part of men and women . In that sense, he did not view the sex roles of his time as completely natural (or fixed) but they were as a result of specific historical developments. In some ways, Durkheim seemed to look on these historical developments as natural -- but this is not nature in the strictly biological sense. Third, he evaluated the forms in which the institution of marriage developed as generally being of greater benefit to the male than to the female. Fourth, he did envision the possibility of changes in sex roles, b ut did not view these as likely to occur for a long time. In the society of his time, Durkheim argued that society required the division of labour between the sexes that had developed.

Durkheim's legacy on these issues are then mixed. In some ways he was an acute observer, but in the end he failed to develop a sociological explanation for sex roles. Like so many other writers, he fell back on natural differences between males and fem ales as an explanation for modern sex roles.

5. Conclusion. As with the other major theorists, Durkheim makes little mention of women and their role in the division of labour. For Durkheim, the division of labour is that within the economy, for people with occupations in paid jobs or busin esses. There is little mention of what happens outside this division of labour, how it affects the division of labour and society as a whole, and what changes can result as more of household activities become part of the economy. Whether Durkheim's analys is can be extended to include the household and non-economic activities of this type is not clear.

D. Marxism and Feminism

1. Introduction. The Marxian tradition provides an analysis of the family and of sex and gender inequalities. For Marxists, class inequalities and class struggles are the primary feature of the structure of any society, and play a key role in the d evelopment of these structures. At the same time, many Marxists recognize that women and men have not usually been equal in society, with women have a position inferior to that of men through much of history and in modern society. For some Marxists, this inequality is not just a byproduct of class inequality, but has its own separate explanation. Marx also argued that for women and men to be fully equal, private property would have to be abolished, and an egalitarian, socialist society created (Sydie, p. 89).

Marxists have often considered class struggle, the working class, and a political program to attain socialism to be the primary goal of a socialist movement. The inequality of men and women may be considered secondary in importance to class inequality and oppression, and contradictions related to reproduction and gender relations play a secondary role in explaining social change. Women's struggles to attain equality with men have often had to take a secondary place to the struggles of the working class . At the same time, as Tong notes (p. 40), work shapes consciousness, and women's work shapes her status and self-image. Marxists have sometimes used this negatively, arguing that the responsibility of women within the family has a conservatizing effect, and may help explain the problem of developing working class consciousness.

More recently, Marxist feminists have attempted to combine the classical Marxian view that class inequality is rooted in the control of material forces by a few, with an understanding of the roots of women's oppression and an examination of feminist so cial protest. Sydie notes that this may be an "unhappy marriage" of Marxism and feminism (p. 89), but this approach has had an important influence on recent sociological theorizing.

The Marxist feminist approach has also had an effect on the way women's struggles are viewed. Unlike the liberal feminist approach, for Marxist feminists inequality on the basis of sex cannot be solved within the capitalist system, but requires as tran sformation of that system to socialism and communism. Since sex inequalities and class oppression are intertwined, it is necessary to end capitalism to begin solving these problems. If this can be done, the promise of Marxism is to

reconstitute human nature in ways that preclude all the pernicious dichotomies that have made slaves of some and masters of others. ... there is something very liberating about the idea of women and men constructing together the social structures and s ocial roles that will permit both genders to realize their full human potential. (Tong, p. 46).

The promise of equality under socialism and communism is great, and women's struggles for equality should become part of the struggle for this. In the Marxist feminist view, feminists might best attempt to work at causes such as unionizing women, attem pting to get equal wages for women, and more generally integrate the struggles of women with the struggles of men for social change.

A further implication is that liberal feminism is bourgeois feminism. Liberal feminists argue for equal rights for women, but may concentrate on providing equal access to middle and upper middle class jobs, higher education, and professional careers. T hese are often areas that are not open to working class men or women, and providing equal access to upper level jobs for women will not help solve the basic problems of working class people. Further, welfare liberalism may make things look like they are i mproving. In fact, attempting to win concessions from the bourgeoisie can divert the attention of the working class from the fact that the basic position of workers is still opposed to that of the bourgeoisie.

2. Origin of the Family. The Marxian argument concerning male and female inequality is that male dominance began with the development of private property in agricultural societies. As capitalism developed, these inequalities were taken over and further developed as part of the class oppression that forms the essential structure of capitalist oppression and exploitation. There is no immediate structural explanation of sex inequalities today, but these tend to be regarded as a continuation of ineq ualities first developed in an earlier era.

The most important work, and basic reference point, in Marxist feminism is Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. This was published in 1884 by Engels, a year after Marx died, but was based on Marx's notes, e specially notes on the work of American anthropologist, Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881), in Ancient Society (1877). Morgan's work was an up to date anthropological work of that era, but would now appear quite dated and incorrect, with more recent an thropology yielding different evidence. Partly as a result of this, partly due to the fact that Engels was attempting to explain the origin of the family in terms of the same material forces as he used for the economic system, and partly because Marx and Engels generally ignored cultural factors as playing an independent role, Engels' analysis now appears inadequate. But it was an attempt to explain the roots of the oppression of women, and the inequalities in the family, on a material basis. Sociologists such as Weber and Durkheim paid even less attention to these issues than did Marx or Engels. The work of Engels has also been the reference point for later Marxists and socialists, so it is important to understand some of the main arguments in this book.

Much of Engels' analysis concerns prehistoric periods, describing Greek, Roman, German and Iroquois family structures. He begins his analysis by dividing history into three broad stages – (i) savagery, (ii) barbarism (prehistory – development of potter y), and (iii) civilization (development of agriculture) – each of which had several sub stages. These were characterized by different ways of organizing subsistence, producing food and other essential requirements (something like Marx's modes of productio n). The stages of development of the family parallel these stages of human history.

In the earlier stages, there were many different sorts of kinship, family and sexual relationship. Some of these were group marriage, polygamy, polyandry or promiscuous intercourse. In terms of family structures, Engels argues that group marriage was t he earliest form of the family. As societies developed, there began to be "prohibitions regarding appropriate sexual partners." (Sydie, p. 95). There was gradually a development toward "the pairing family," a male-female form of relationship where

one man lives with one women, but the relationship is such that polygamy and occasional infidelity remain the right of the men, even though for economic reasons polygamy is rare, while for the woman the strictest fidelity is generally demanded througho ut the time she live with the man and adultery on her part is cruelly punished. (Sydie, p. 111).

This is not necessarily monogamous marriage as we know it, but a weaker connection, one in which the male-female tie is easily broken, in which case the children remain with the mother.

For Engels, the history of the family involves the "progressive narrowing of the circle, originally embracing the whole tribe, within which the two sexes have a common conjugal relation." (Sydie, p. 113). In the period of barbarism, (a) men lived in th e woman's household and (b) the sexual division of labour already existed. Women were responsible for subsistence in terms of reproduction and production and preparation of food and other goods -- in general the household responsibilities. Such societies were most likely matrilineal and matriarchal. That is, lines of descent passed from mother to children, and women had more social and political power than did men. "The social order was constructed in terms of the biological link of mother and child, and this link comprised the family." (Sydie, p. 98). That is "fatherhood was impossible to determine with any certainty" (Sydie, p. 95), and this may have led to the supremacy of women.

Two key aspects of this early stage are important for dealing with this argument. First, the sexual division of labour already existed in savagery and barbarism, and Engels does not explain why it emerged. Sydie (p. 98) argues that Engels considers thi s biological in origin -- since only women could have children, this explains the pre-eminence of women. He may also have viewed this as being naturally related to the responsibility of women for household labour. Sydie (p. 99) notes that Marx and Engels assumed that the greater strength of males meant that they hunt, fish and fight, whereas the weakness of women, compounded by their reproductive role, confined them to the home." Second, since production and human labour is important for how society is or ganized, the role that women had in providing subsistence in early societies gave them great power. These were not societies that had much surplus yet, and women's labour was necessary to ensure survival, with the result that this labour was the source of livelihood and also of power. Engels notes that "Peoples whose women have to work much harder than we would consider proper often have far more real respect for women than our Europeans have for theirs." (in Selected Works, 3, p. 227).

Engels notes that "with the patriarchal family, we enter the field of written history." Males gained power within the family and in society with the development of agriculture. As societies moved from being hunter-gatherer societies to developing anima l production, the animals (cattle, goats, etc.) became instruments of labour which the male could control and take with him. The domestication of animals, along with the development of farming, meant that more surplus products could be produced. Property soon developed as a result of this. That is, so long as societies were very close to subsistence, survival depended on cooperation of all. But with a social surplus, it became possible for some to control more of the products of society than did others. F actors such as the pre-existing division of labour, the mobility and strength of men, along with their control of tools and animals, may have allowed this. Men became property owners, and also wished to have a means of passing this property to their child ren. Given these conditions, the matrilineal form of descent had to end, since men did not have clear heirs. The result of this was that "the matriarchal law of inheritance was thereby overthrown, and the male line of descent and the paternal law of inher itance were substituted for them." (Sydie, p. 120).

The result of this was "the world historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude; she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children. " (Sydie, pp. 120-121). Also "Within the family he is the bourgeois, and the wife represents the proletariat." (Sydie, p. 137). The husband, father and patriarch became the master with slaves, and with wife-servant(s) and children-servants. There were man y different forms that this took in different societies, "but in all cases the general relationship is seen to hold that women are subject to men in and out of marriage." (Sydie, p. 97).

With the development of private property and patrilineage, the monogamous family developed, at least monogamy for women. This ensured that the mother of child is known, and that the father is sure which children are his. The sole purpose of compulsory monogamy is thus to "serve as a vehicle for the orderly transfer of a father's private property to his children." (Tong, p. 49). Engels notes that right up through the middle ages, marriage was not decided by the two partners on the basis of "individual s ex love" (Sydie, p. 97), but by parents and kin on economic grounds, paying attention to private property rights and inheritance. Dependence of marriage on economic considerations became the norm, with property being key to understanding family and marria ge.

When capitalism emerged, this form of family structure existed, and "this manner of marriage exactly suited it." (Tong, p. 142). At the same time, the ideals of freedom and especially freedom of contract had to be met. These rights were formally extend ed to marriage and the family, but in practice marriage among the propertied class remained dominated by economic considerations. For the bourgeoisie, considerations of maintaining and extending property dominate over considerations related to freedom and love. In that sense, the family is a more important structure for the bourgeoisie than for the proletariat. Inheritance, female chastity, non-employed wives and the reproduction of legitimate heirs, all became important for the bourgeoisie. (Barrett, p. 48).

For the proletariat, there is no property to pass on, and relationships between husbands and wives could be more equal. Engels also noted that proletarian women are often employed outside the home, and proletarian husbands had relatively few legal righ ts. As a result, there was no material basis for husbands oppressing their wives. (Tong, p. 50). In addition, by moving production outside the home, capitalism tends to destroy the need for families among ordinary producers. "Capital accumulation 'breaks up the family'" is a common Marxist view of what happens to families under capitalism. (Humphries, p. 18).

Given that male oppression of females depends on property rights and inheritance, the solution to ending oppression is to eliminate property rights. This will create the possibility of true monogamy (p. 139), although the exact form of sexual and famil y relations is uncertain. There will be much greater freedom in terms of choices that individuals can make (p. 145) and the family might be abolished. Some of the statements by Engels are:

... the peculiar character of the supremacy of the husband over the wife in the modern family, the necessity of creating real social equality between them and the way to do it, will only be seen in the clear light of day when both possess legally compl ete equality of rights. Then it will be plain that the first condition for the liberation of the wife is to bring the whole family back into public industry, and that this in turn demands that the characteristic of the monogamous family as the economic un it of society will be abolished. (pp. 137-8)

With the transfer of all means of ownership into common ownership, the single family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into a social industry. The care and education of the children becomes a public affair; society looks after all children alike, whether they are legitimate or not. (p. 139).

Since the basis on which the oppression of women rests is private property and rights of inheritance, abolishing these would lead to ending oppression of women. Engels argues that this may take a generation or two, but he seems to be optimistic that th is will happen.

Another implication of Engels' analysis is that women should enter public industry, and that those people interested in change should concentrate on organizing women in the workplace and dealing with issues in "the intersection between women's experien ce as workers and their position in the family." (Tong, p. 61). Sydie notes (p. 101) that if women entered into the paid labour force, this would also provide for her entry into class relationships. Women remain subordinate within the family so long as th ey have no property and have no basis for relating directly to the material productive forces.

In addition, the socialization of housework and child care are important social programs to help achieve this, although issues related to women's sexual and reproductive concerns are secondary. Certainly these efforts should not just be restricted to g etting women into management or powerful political positions, as liberal feminists might argue, but should concentrate on working to develop the class consciousness and power of working class women, and the working class as a whole.

3. Critique and Summary of Origin of the Family

a. Production. The emphasis on production would appear to be both the strong and weak point in Engels' model. By emphasizing human labour and production, Marx and Engels point to a feature that has been very important in structuring and changing hu man societies. Private ownership of property and private property in the means of production are important bases for social organization, and also for the oppression of women. Marjorie Cohen's analysis of farm labour in nineteenth century Ontario shows th e importance of inheritance and property rights among agricultural families. Early liberal writers argued for property rights among men, but argued that these rights should not be extended to women.

In terms of these relationships being the root cause of oppression of women though, several questions are not adequately answered by Engels. First, how did men obtain possession of the instruments of production that formed the basis for private propert y and inheritance? Second, Engels does not really say how the matrilineal and matriarchal system changed into a patrilineal and patriarchal one, except to note that such a change could easily have occurred, given the development of private property and in heritance. Third, Engels does not attribute any oppression of women to causes other than private property in the means of production. If there are cultural or other factors that originally played a role in this, or continue to exist, then removing private ownership may not eliminate women's oppression.

b. Division of Labour. Engels argues that there was a sexual division of labour before systems of agriculture developed. This sexual division was to make men responsible for obtaining food and doing "productive work" and women were responsible f or the household. Whether this is correct, or why this occurs in the manner he describes is not clear. Engels may have viewed this as a natural division of labour, because he considers the origin of this division to have originated with the different func tions of male and female in the sex act. Sydie (p. 99) notes that "physical strength has never been a major determinant of the division of labour."

One problem with the approach of Marx and Engels is that it tends to devalue work and labour that are not productive economically or socially. In our society, this means all labour that is not performed for a wage -- household work, volunteer work, car e for the elderly, child care, etc. The Marxian system is built on the analysis of productive labour, with the assumption that the rest of work or labour that is performed has little or nothing to do with exploitation or class position. Work and labour be come work for a wage, being exploited by an employer, with work performed outside the regular economy not forming part of the analysis. If the division of labour is based on natural differences between men and women, and since it preceded the development of private property, there must be some other basis than property for this. Abolishing private property may not end this form of inequality, and there may be not such straightforward solution to this inequality.

c. Reproduction. Engels begins the Preface the 1884 edition of Origin of the Family by noting "According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the last resort, the production and reproduction of immedia te life." (Selected Works, 3, p. 191). Here Engels would seem to be according equality to production and reproduction. By the end of the same paragraph though, Engels notes that the development of the productivity of labour, exchange and private pr operty lead to "a society in which the family system is entirely dominate by the property system, and in which the class antagonisms and class struggles, which make up the content of all hitherto written history, now freely develop." (p. 192). One major problem with the Marxian analysis of production is that reproduction is taken for granted, it is not analyzed. The development of the productive forces is certainly important, but Marx and Engels did not spend much time analyzing reproductive forces . Even Origin of the Family contains little analysis of this in capitalist society.

This neglect of reproduction creates a number of problems for the Marxian analysis. First, if an argument is made that women are confined to the domestic sphere and are subordinated because of physiologically determined sex roles, then this is natural. Socialism and communism would not necessarily change this. If taken seriously, this could confine women permanently to a secondary role. Second, reproduction takes place in very different ways in different societies. Other than the biological birth proce ss, all other aspects surrounding reproduction can be organized very differently than they are -- e.g. family structures, roles of children, amount and types of household work, care of the elderly, etc. Each of these is an aspect of the material forces, i nvolving human labour, yet there is little analysis of these forces in Marxian analysis. This is at the minimum an omission of important material forces, and to the extent that the relations of reproduction interact with the productive forces analyzed wit hin Marxian analysis, the latter analysis may be incorrect. Third, the Marxian model of capitalism is built on the distinction between labour and labour power, and the value of labour power. Yet the theory of how the value of labour power is determined is either nonexistent or incomplete. The same can be said concerning the theory of population. Fourth, what are the real roots of the inequality between men and women? Engels seems to say it is private property. But many feminists argue it is related more t o reproductive than productive factors. Some of the radical approaches to feminism argue that sexual inequalities are related to male attempts to control reproduction and women's sexuality, and have little to do with private property and production.

d. Contributions. In spite of these problems, Marx and Engels certainly recognized oppression of women and patriarchy as major problems, both historically and in contemporary society. Many other theorists were unwilling to consider the differenc es a source of inequality and oppression of women. Marx and Engels continually emphasized the exploitative nature of property relationships, and used this to show various ways in which these hurt women. While they were overly optimistic about the ability to end sexual inequalities, their analysis focusses on a major source of social inequality. Followers of the Marxist approach have often been key in organizing women into trade unions, pushing for equal pay, etc.

E. Weber on Patriarchy

Before examining Weber's analysis of patriarchy, a discussion of the use of the term within the feminist movement follows.

1. Notes on Patriarchy. Within the feminist movement and feminist writings the term patriarchy has been and is widely used as a method of describing societies where women do not have equality with men. Such patriarchal societies may be character ized by women and men living parallel but separate lives with different experiences (Code, p. 19). Code defines patriarchal societies

as those in which men have more power than women and readier access than women to what is valued in the society or in any social subgroup. In consequence of this power and privilege differential, men in such societies or groups occupy positions that pe rmit them to shape and control many, if not most, aspects of women's lives. Most known societies are patriarchal to a greater or lesser degree, although they exhibit specific variations in how power is distributed and manifested. (pp. 19-20).

In addition to description of male-female inequalities and inequities, patriarchy is used in a sociological sense as power that

takes the form of male domination over women in all areas of life; sexual domination is so universal, so ubiquitous and so complete that it appears 'natural' and hence becomes invisible, so that it is 'perhaps the most pervasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power.' ... The patriarchal power of men over women is therefore basic to the functioning of all societies and it extends far beyond formal institutions of power. It overrides class and race divisions ... . (B ryson, quoting Kate Millett, p. 185).

Note the terms valued, control, privilege, domination, power, ideology and culture, all terms that are familiar in sociology, and especially in discussions of Weber's work. If this is such a regular feature of society, patriarchy becomes a structure wh ich exists and is created and re-created with each generation. It is learned by males and females through socialization and culture -- boys and men learn to be dominant and girls and women to be subordinate (and accept this legitimate form of domination). It is continued in the everyday forms of male-female interaction in society, and also perpetuated in the institutions and structures of patriarchy.

Some feminists argue that patriarchal structure is a stronger, more pervasive, and more basic structure than is either class or race. In this view, ending class and race inequalities would not necessarily eliminate patriarchy. This obviously contrasts with Engels' view that patriarchy emerged with the development of private property and would end with the abolition of private property. Ritzer notes that in this approach, patriarchy is not just a byproduct of other inequalities or of social or biologica l factors, but is "a primary power structure sustained by strong and deliberate intentions." (p. 470, 3rd edition). If this is the case, then patriarchy deserves as much attention and analysis as class, status, ethnicity or other structures that are often regarded as worthy of and essential to sociological investigation. Sociologists must attempt to determine how patriarchy emerged, how it is reproduced, what forms in takes in different societies, how it interacts with other social structures, and how it changes over time.

One group of feminists who have incorporated ideas of patriarchy with their models are Marxist feminists. Some argue that patriarchy and private property and class are dual systems of oppression. Others may argue that class is the primary form of oppre ssion but that patriarchy forms an important part of this. For Zillah Eisenstein, patriarchy is

a sexual system of power in which the male possesses superior power and economic privilege. Patriarchy is the male hierarchical ordering of society. Although the legal institutional base of patriarchy was more explicit in the past, the basic relations of power remain intact today. The patriarchal system is preserved, via marriage and the family, through the sexual division of labour and society. Patriarchy is rooted in biology rather than in economics or history. Manifested through male force and contr ol, the roots of patriarchy are located in women's reproductive selves. Woman's position in this power hierarchy is defined not in terms of the economic class structure but in terms of the patriarchal organization of society. (Eisenstein, Capitalist Pa triarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, p. 17).

Eisenstein considers women as a sexual class because they "constitute the basic and necessary activities of society: reproduction, childrearing, nurturing, consuming, domestic labouring, and wage-earning. Women are a sexual class because what they do as women -- the activities they are responsible for in society, the labor that they perform -- is essential and necessary to the operation of society as it presently exists." (Eisenstein, p. 146). This consideration of women as a sexual class is based on a common position within the mode of production and reproduction, and a common position with respect to another sexual class, that is, males. This means a different set of interests, and also at least some opposed interests to those of males. Eisenstein argues that patriarchy is somewhat different than capitalism as a system, where the bourgeoisie is organized and social change means fighting the bourgeoisie themselves. For Eisenstein, men are not the enemy, but rather than struggling against men, the struggle of women is against patriarchy and its expressions. Since the latter may be found in the market, in the state, in the family, etc. expressions of patriarchy and male-female inequalities in each of these areas must be changed. For Eisens tein, sexual class consciousness must be formed through social movements like the suffrage movement or feminist movements.

Patriarchy is a system of oppression and domination of women by men. There are many definitions of patriarchy, some are very general, arguing that this is any form of male domination over females. For Weber, patriarchy is formally defined as

a form of domination characteristic of the household group or clan organized on kinship and economic terms. Patriarchalism means "the authority of the father, the husband, the senior of the household and sib ... " The "founding father" or some associat ion in the distant past with a great of even divine connection or event that generates inviolable traditions usually provided the basis of the claim to power. If the past association is with a divinity, that divinity may be male or female, but it is the m ale line through which claim to power is made. R. Sydie, Natural Women, Cultured Men, p. 56.

Tong discusses patriarchy in many different ways, as a "system characterized by power, dominance, hierarchy and competition." (Tong, p. 2). and one with "legal and political structures" and "social and cultural institutions." (Tong, p. 3). A more detai led account is when Tong discusses Hartmann's materialist account of patriarchy as "a set of social relations between men which have a material basis, and which , though hierarchical, establish or create independence and solidarity among men that enable t hem to dominate women." The material base comes from "men's control over women's labor power; this control is constituted by restricting women's access to important economic resources and by disallowing women any control over female sexuality and especial ly female reproductive capacities." (Tong, p. 180). For Hartmann, patriarchy is in the material realm, through control of property, through laws and customs affecting women's sexuality and reproduction, and through daily activities whereby men reinforce t he inequalities.

system with structures

2. Weber's Analysis of Patriarchy. The many different uses of patriarchy means that more careful attention should be paid to its analysis within sociology. Many of the ways that patriarchy is described by feminists are similar to the manner in w hich Weber examined society and social action -- using concepts such as power, domination, subordination, ideas, inequalities, etc. For Weber, patriarchy is formally defined as

Patriarchalism is by far the most important type of domination the legitimacy of which rests upon tradition. Patriarchalism means the authority of the father, the husband, the senior of the house, the sib elder over the members of the household and sib ; the rule of the master and patron over bondsmen, serfs, freed men; of the lord over the domestic servants and household officials' of the prince over house- and court-officials, nobles of office, clients, vassals; of the patrimonial lord and sovereign p rince over the 'subjects.' (Gerth and Mills, p. 296).

This may be in a family, household, or clan or could be in society as a whole. In these forms, the leader may emerge naturally (on the basis of age), or is selected on the basis of adherence to traditional principles. As long as this method of selectio n is accepted by others in the grouping, the rule of the patriarch's authority must be accepted. Sydie notes that "the power of the patriarch is a personal prerogative. He is able to exercise power without restraint, 'unencumbered by rules,' at least to t he extent that he is not 'limited by tradition of by competing powers.'" (Sydie, pp. 56-57). This type of authority may have few limits to the exercise of domination, and to those in modern societies the means by which people are selected for positions or the practices carried out may appear irrational.

As noted earlier, for Weber, patriarchy is the most common form of traditional authority --domination legitimated by tradition, "the sanctity of age-old rules and power." Sydie notes that patriarchy is

a form of domination characteristic of the household group or clan organized on kinship and economic terms. Patriarchalism means "the authority of the father, the husband, the senior of the household and sib ... " The "founding father" or some associat ion in the distant past with a great of even divine connection or event that generates inviolable traditions usually provided the basis of the claim to power. If the past association is with a divinity, that divinity may be male or female, but it is the m ale line through which claim to power is made. (Sydie, p. 56).

At first, Weber's view of patriarchy may seem similar to the feminist view. Unlike Engels, Weber argues that there never was a period of matriarchy, but that men always were able to exercise more power. In early forms of society, Weber notes that women had considerable power, but this power tended to be restricted to the sphere of the household -- based on reproduction (mother and child) and economic factors associated with producing the goods necessary for survival. Weber considered women's power to b e "secondary to that of the patriarch" who ruled the household. (Sydie, p. 60). Weber looked on early society as practicing "household communism" a sharing of the goods necessary for survival within the household -- a form of economic equality. But even w ithin this, Weber does not view women as being equal with men, because of the "subjection of women to one male, and the regulation of sexual relations among the members of the household." (Sydie, p. 60). Men enforced monogamy on women and became patriarch s of the household by laying "claim to exclusive sexual access to a female." So long as this male could persuade others to submit to this authority, he takes the position of patriarch. (Sydie, pp. 59-60).

Weber made much the same assumptions as did Marx and Engels concerning the early sexual division of labour. Women were associated with reproductive and household tasks and men tended to be hunters, gatherers, or warriors, with patriarchal power over th e household, but having to share power with other males outside the household. Weber notes that there were societies with female chieftains alongside organizations of men, but these are merely the result of power differences based on the division of labou r, and are not matriarchal in nature. Further, matrilineal descent also does not mean matriarchy for Weber. Finally, "there is no female equivalent of the exercise of political power by men as a group over women as a group." (Sydie , p. 64). These argumen ts would appear to be very similar to some feminist arguments that even in early forms of society, male domination was the rule, and this was the first form of inequality and domination.

On closer examination though, Sydie finds that Weber's views are built on certain untenable or questionable assumptions concerning males and females, and a particular view of society and the basis of power. With respect to the family and household, Web er argues that the only "natural" relationship is that of the mother and child "because it is a biologically based household unit that lasts until the child is able to search for his own means of subsistence." (Sydie, p. 57). Weber associates this relatio nship with the mother bearing, feeding, and rearing the child -- reproduction and socialization -- and this forms the basic "natural" family. In Weber's view, such a relationship is not a social relationship, but is a natural one. Hence the mother child r elationship is not sociologically significant (Sydie, p. 63) -- recall that Weber's sociology is only concerned with social action, action that is not natural or reflexive, but considered actions that have meaning. Weber considers that relationship to be natural and biologically based.

Weber also notes that "the woman is dependent because of the normal superiority of the physical and intellectual energies of the male" (Sydie, quoting Weber, p. 59). Again, this is a natural and biologically based form of dependence, one that does not require sociological analysis. While the mother-child form is basic and natural, Weber looks on patriarchy as subverting this, so that women and children become the property of males. It is this natural, biological, physical superiority and practical know ledge and experience (Sydie, p. 58) of the male that forms the basis for this domination. Once established, this form of domination is continued through socialization of children. Sydie argues that this means that in the household "the differentiation amo ng the members is through nature for women and children, but through nurture or socialization and experience for others." (Sydie, p. 59).

In contrast to these natural relationships in the household between men, women and children, relationships among males also exist outside the household, with other males. Males may relate to each other as hunters, warriors, in agriculture, or in kinshi p and neighbourhood groups. While the male exercises patriarchal power over the household, outside the household there is quite a different form of relationship among men. Each man cannot exert patriarchal power over others, and some men will be in a subo rdinate position with respect to other forms of domination. This may be to the group, to a master, a lord, a king, etc. It is these forms of domination that become legitimized through means such as tradition, charisma, legal or political rule, the various forms of authority. These latter relationships among men are what constitute society, social relationships, and social action for Weber. It is these that Weber investigates and that form the basis for his analysis of power, domination and authority. Each of these terms would appear to be sex neutral, could be applied to any human relationship, and might be used for an analysis of the inequalities between men and women. Weber does not do this though, instead modelling these forms on relationships among me n, and ignoring male-female inequalities and viewing this type of domination and subordination as natural.

One example of the effect of Weber's analysis is that the natural mother-child relationship is not sociologically significant, and thus is not worth examining. This means that it is fathers, not mothers, who civilize or legalize the mother-child relati onship. The natural relationship is not a social one, so that society does not legitimize this relationship socially. The relationship is legitimized by the father rather than the mother in the sense that by the father establishing power over the mother a nd child, this removes the relationship from the natural form and becomes a legitimate form of domination. It is thus the father who makes the parent-child connection legal.

Further, by considering the mother-child relationship as natural, Weber does not feel that analysis of socialization is necessary. While women must obviously bear children, there is no natural reason why the natural mother need nurture and socialize th e child. In many societies these latter tasks are undertaken by siblings and other relatives. Weber makes the assumption that because women have the biological responsibility for bearing children, they also have the responsibility for nurturing the child. In doing this, Weber reduces socialization to a natural feature -- something that Weber warns should not be done in other areas.

Another problem is that despite all his discussion of patriarchy and power, Weber does not examine the real source of domination within household. He regards this as natural and has no model of "compliance or obedience." Weber's model cannot explain di fferences in male/female power or the sexual division of labour at different times and places (women sometimes dominate in certain areas of life and can exert considerable power).

Finally, Weber argued that patrimony and feudalism developed out of the patriarchal household. Weber extends the ideal-type patriarchal rule of the male in the household to the society at large, explaining hierarchies, organizations, administration and power. Sydie shows though how patriarchal power is often modified in these structures and institutions, with women exercising considerable power in certain circumstances. In order to preserve status or property of a family or group, women may take on res ponsibilities with considerable power. These important bases of power may have meant that considerations of sex were less important than preserving property in the family, so that some females were able to exercise power.

3. Summary. In summary, Weber's model of power and authority are male models. He assumed that the male-female division of labour was natural, the mother-child relationship was natural, and that most of the male-female relationships could be expl ained on the basis of biological factors. As such these relationships were not really worthy of sociological investigation, and Weber has little to say about the form these were structured or how they changed. As a result, Sydie considers that Weber's mod el of patriarchy is flawed and not all that useful. There were few societies where patriarchal power of this type was exercised without modification, and this household based patriarchal power is not really the basis for explaining larger social structure s. Weber's analysis obscures the nature of power in sex relations and reinforces the idea that patriarchal forms are natural and historically inevitable and unchangeable (Sydie, p. 87).

While Sydie does not attempt to find useful elements from Weber, if Weber's writings are looked upon as a method of analysis, there are many useful concepts for analyzing male-female inequalities. Even though these concepts may have been derived from a nalysis of male social structures, the ideas of domination, power, and authority can all be applied to relationships between males and females. Class situation, status honour, and party would all seem to be useful in examining the situation of women in so ciety, the relationships between men and women, and changes in all of these over time. Class situation would have to be expanded to include some non-market situations. Status honour and dishonour could be used to explain ways in which women form groups to exercise power or exclude males from some decisions. Sydie quotes Hartmann as saying "Though patriarchy is hierarchical and men of different classes, races, or ethnic groups have different places in the patriarchy, they are also united in their shared re lationship of dominance over their women; they are dependent on each other to maintain that domination." (p. 87) This would seem very akin to Weber's idea of status honour and dishonour among men. Patriarchy could be considered to be a very powerful statu s structure, and analysis could be devoted to examining the different ways men maintain power at different times and places, and how these forms of status honour and dishonour change over time.


Bock, Gisela and Susan James, editors, Beyond Equality and Difference: Citizenship, Feminist Politics and Female Subjectivity, London, Routledge, 1992. HQ 1190 B49.

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Durkheim, Emile, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, New York, The Free Press, 1951. Referred to in notes as Suicide. HV 6545 D812

Eisenstein, Zillah, Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1979.

Eisenstein, Zillah, Feminism and Sexual Equality: Crisis in Liberal America, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1984. HQ1426 E395 1984.

Eisenstein, Zillah, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism, Boston, Notheastern University Press, 1986. HQ1154 E44 1986

Sydie, R. A., Natural Women Cultured Men: A Feminist Perspective on Sociological Theory, Toronto, Methuen, 1987. HM51 S97 1987.

Tong, Rosemarie, Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction, Boulder, Westview Press, 1989. HQ1206 T65 1989


Last edited on October 28, 1999.

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