Why should or should not the state intervene in the family affairs? Give arguments.

The question of state interference in the family came into the forefront in the context of women liberation movement in Europe and America during 1960’s and 70s popularly known as Feminism. A number of feminist scholars analyzed the subordinate position of women in the family and society and came to the conclusion that the gender difference was not neutral but an elaborate system of male domination which must be brought to an end. There has been a strong tradition that due to the biological differences, men are superior to women.

This gender difference is reflected vividly in the institution of Patriarchy. On a wider level, patriarchy is the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women in the society. It is considered as a system of male authority which oppresses women through social, political and economic institutions. It is man’s access to resources and rewards within and outside the home and family.

This power can be economic such as the right to be serviced, sexual such as marriage and motherhood, cultural such as devaluation of women’s work and achievement, ideological such as representation of women as natural biological creatures inherently different from men. Historically this domination of men over women has been secured in a variety of ways such as:

  • Gender indoctrination,
  • Education deprivation,
  • The denial to women of knowledge of their own history,
  • By restraint and outright coercion,
  • By discrimination in access to economic resources and political power, and
  • By creating an overall ideology that women are inferior to men.


All feminist theories believe that men and women experience the family in different ways. This is not ideological truism but is also a political and social fact. For centuries, marriage customs, conventions and laws have favored men rather than women. In-spite of legal reforms, the position has not changed substantially. However, there is sharp difference of opinion among the various schools of feminism about the role of the state in the institution of family. The liberal feminists limit the family to the ‘private sphere’, do not see the male oppression of women as a problem and want to keep the state away from the family.

With the changing view on the family during 1960’s, the doctrine of family autonomy was challenged by many feminist writers. But this was defended once again by the liberal feminists by making a distinction between the ‘public’ and ‘private’ sphere and putting the family in the private realm. Classical liberals assumed that the male headed family is a biological determined unit. The natural equality they discussed was of fathers as representatives of families.

The contemporary theorist John Rawls says that the family is one of the social institutions to be evaluated by the theory of justice but for him the traditional family is just and goes on to measure just distributions in terms of the ‘household income’ which accrues to ‘head of the Household’ so that question of justice within the family is ruled out of court. The liberal feminism accepted the division between the public and private spheres and seeks primarily equality in the public realm. The family is excluded. The liberal feminists are committed to the public private spheres distinction and the see the family as the center of the private sphere.

Since the liberal right to privacy encompasses and protects the personal intimacies of the home, the family, marriage, motherhood, procreation and child rearing, hence, any proposal of interference in the family in the name of justice represents a clear departure from the traditional liberal conception of the family as the center of private life. In liberalism, domestic life falls outside both state.and civil society.


The radical feminists do not agree with the ‘public’ and ‘private’ distinction advanced by liberals. They explain the subordination of women in the family to the patriarchial organization in the society which is determined by a male hierarchical order that enjoys both economic and political power. This patriarchical system preserves itself through marriage and family. They believe that the marriage oppresses women and family breeds patriarchy. Family is a bastion of traditional values.

They consider family as a prison for women. It is at the center of both cultural devaluation and economic dependence of women. They believe that the fight for gender equality must go beyond public discrimination and should include domestic labor, women’s devaluation of her work, her personal sphere and domestic life.


The slogan of the radical feminists that ‘the personal is political’ and that ‘women’s body as women’s right’ claimed that the family is the root cause of women’s oppression and it must be smashed. But this slogan has now given way to a new one : That the family7the so called personal sphere must be opened to political change, by force if necessary. The state should reach into the home to make it ‘just’. Contemporary feminism poses a significant challenge to the liberal theory of ‘family as the personal sphere and that the state should not interfere in the domestic scene.

In fact the present state already intervenes in the family sphere by establishing the social background in which the family functions. But the radical feminists want the state to interfere directly in the family.

The traditional liberal concept views family as the center of private life, radical feminists such as Carole Pateman argue that the family and marriage contract are not private one at all and should not be treated as such. Family is one of the ways through which patriarchy sustains itself and the state must thrust justice into an inherently oppressive condition of marriage and family life. On the other hand individualistic feminism demand that the state withdraw from family and allow the adults involved to work out their own definition of justice in the privacy of their own homes.

To the individualists, the state is already a partner in everyday family life. Marriage and divorce laws are made by the state. The state legally defines what is marriage and how it can be dissolved. Without government approval, no marriage can be terminated. The state has a controlling interest and the state must bear a great deal of the blame for the current evils of marriage and family.

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