tutor2u | Classic Texts: Delphy & Leonard "Familiar Exploitation" 1992

Study Notes

Classic Texts: Delphy & Leonard "Familiar Exploitation" 1992


Last updated 10 Apr 2019

Delphy & Leonard - who are feminists - looked at the role of women in families and particularly at housework and the idea that women were exploited by their husbands.

Delphy and Leonard took a feminist look at the family and particularly at the work of women in the home. Some existing sociology - particularly Marxist and Marxist-feminist - looked at how women's work benefited capitalism: the bosses had their workers clothed and fed and looked after for free. But Delpy and Leonard argued that the people who most benefited from women's work were not the ruling class but men. Housework benefited the patriarchy. Patriarchy means a male-dominated society. Indeed they saw the main role of the family as maintaining patriarchy: keeping men in charge.

Delphy and Leonard looked at the family as an economic system: who did the work and who benefited from it? It was clear to them that it was women who were exploited in this system. They did the bulk of the domestic labour - regardless of whether they also went out and did paid work outside the home too. Time at home for men was leisure time, whereas time at home for women was also work time. This contrasts strongly with Willmott & Young's idea of a symmetrical family. There is also a contrast with Marxist-feminists such as Fran Ansley who saw the unequal division of labour in the family as benefitting the ruling class and capitalism. They also concluded that men tended to make the big decisions about the family.

Delphy and Leonard's work does build on earlier research, such as that of Ann Oakley, who concluded that working women had a dual burden of paid work and unpaid domestic work. Later, Duncombe and Marsden developed the idea of a triple shift where emotional work is added to domestic work and paid work.


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