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Feminism and the Nuclear Family

Why Is the “Nuclear Family” Concept Important to Feminists?

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The Nuclear Family and Feminism

Feminist theorists have examined how emphasis on the nuclear family affects society’s expectations of women. Feminist writers have studied the nuclear family’s effect on women in groundbreaking books such as The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

The Rise of the Nuclear Family

The phrase "nuclear family" became commonly known during the first half of the 20th century. Historically, households in many societies had often consisted of groups of extended family members. In a more mobile, post-industrial revolution society, there was a greater emphasis on the nuclear family.

Smaller family units could move more easily to find economic opportunities in other areas. In the increasingly developed and sprawling cities of the United States, more people could afford to buy houses. Therefore, more nuclear families lived in their own homes, rather than in larger households.

Relevance to Feminism

Feminists analyze gender roles, division of labor and society’s expectations of women. Many women of the 20th century were discouraged from working outside the home, even as modern appliances lessened the time required for housework.

The transformation from agriculture to modern industrial jobs required one wage earner, usually the man, to leave the home for work at a different location. The emphasis on the nuclear family model often meant that each woman, one per household, was then encouraged to stay home and rear children. Feminists are concerned with why family and household arrangements are perceived as less than perfect or even abnormal if they stray from the nuclear family model.

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