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Changing Family Structure In America From A Functionalist Perspective

1141 words - 5 pages

“Leave it to Beaver” was a popular sitcom about a traditional nuclear family played out through the perspective of an adolescent boy whose curiosity and antics often got him into trouble (TV.com). Despite the show promoting positive family values, it also inadvertently shed light on a historically dark period of time in American history. One such instance was the lack of diversity on the show. Nearly 100% of the show’s characters were white throughout the six-season, 234 episode series. In the single episode that depicted an African-American, the character was a servant, further a reflection of the times when African-Americans where predominantly seen and treated as second-class citizens (Leaveittobeaver.org). However, this 1950’s ideal serves as a reference point to what typical families looked like and how vastly different they look now.
In chronicling how the family structure has changed in America, it is important to understanding how family was actually defined. When referencing Leave it to Beaver (further referred to as LITB) times, family took on a substantive definition, or the idea that family was equivalent to relative, or related by blood or law. While this definition of family served the time period, it failed to evolve with society. For that reason, sociologists set out to determine a “more inclusive functionalist definition,” that focuses on what families do. “A functionalist definition of families focuses on how families provide for the physical, social, and emotional needs of individuals and of society as a whole” (Witt). With that, the functionalist perspective identifies six primary functions, which include reproduction, socialization, protection, regulation of sexual behavior, affection and companionship, and finally, provision of social status. Furthermore, it is changes within the institution of family itself that begins to facilitate these changes.
As can be seen in LITB, the father goes off to work each day in a suit and tie, while the mother took the role of a homemaker or stay at home mom. The functionalist perspective holds that in order for society to have stability, these gender roles should and need to be adhered to. In this model, a married couple serves as the means for reproduction, a father takes on the function of providing protection, such as economic security, while the mother provides affection. As the financial provider, the husband was treated as the authority figure, and the wife’s duty was to know her role as subordinate to her husband and be submissive. However, during the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 70s with the guidance of revolutionaries such as Gloria Steinman, women began taking on new roles outside the home, despite the discrimination faced in the workplace (Nolan). With these increased responsibilities, women began to experience role strain, though also gaining economic independence in the process. The women’s rights movement furthered with the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade,...

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