In her preface to Les Femmes s’entetent, Simone de Beauvoir writes that the anti-sexist struggle must not simply be targeted at social structures but that it should ‘target that which is the most private and which seemed the most certain to all of us’ (1975, 13). This idea is akin to the oft-repeated English slogan of second wave feminism: ‘the personal is political’, a particularly pertinent idea to apply to the question of men's and women's roles in the family. In the 1970s, within the context of what came to be known as ‘the domestic labour debates’, Marxist feminists such as Danielle Drevet (1977), writing in the Revue d’en face, and radical feminists such as Christine Delphy (1977) debated materialist accounts of the oppression of women, arguing over whether it was primarily capitalism or patriarchy that women's unpaid domestic and care work (social reproduction) served. Theorists on all sides sought to reveal the power relations in the home that were masked by the notion that unpaid work for the family was a ‘labour of love’ or the simple result of biological function. Through subsequent feminist analysis the mechanisms by which women's responsibility for the home and child-rearing acted as barriers to progress in other areas of life, such as politics, leisure and, very importantly, employment, were laid bare. Moreover, feminists argued that for women to be relieved of this domestic burden both as individuals and collectively, and therefore for real gender equality to come about, it was necessary for men's role to change in the home (Delphy, 1977).
During the 1970s France, alongside the Scandinavian countries, began developing suites of work–family reconciliation policies to help women maintain a relationship with the labour market throughout motherhood. However, while work–family reconciliation policy particularly in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, and to a slightly lesser extent in Norway, were heavily influenced by second wave feminist thought on the importance of men participating in unpaid work, as well as on women's right to employment, in France only the right to employment for women was addressed (Revillard, 2006).