Marxist Feminism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Thu Nov 3 22:52:57 MST 1994

On Fri, 4 Nov 1994, wesley david cecil wrote:

> I would be very interested in a discussion of Marxism and Feminism(it is
> a major component of my dissertation research).  In my reserachup to now,
> however, I have noticed a general tendency for both terms to remain so
> ill defined as to often render the connection between the two as rather
> suspect.  So what do we mean when we say "Marxism and Feminism?"

Wes, someone might almost think she was talking with a normal person in a
shared language and then you produce a sentence like the following:

> 	For my part, I am interested in question of how materiality is
> figured in the two discourses since both often rely heavily on issues of
> materiality to ground various arguments.

Materiality? Discourses? Materiality being figured in discourses? You got
me beat. How IS the materiality figured in the two discourses, and can you
whistle me a few bars so I can learn the tune? Less flippantly, what are
you talking about?

Here's the problem with Marxism and feminism as I see it. Traditionally
Marxism has been a theory (and practice) of worker emancipation. It was
supposed to say how workers themselves could end their own exploitation
and become theor own masters by abolishing private property and (according
to Marx) markets. But the "workers" in this story were at best ungendered
and at worst implicitly male. (You can see the latter assumption in Marx a
lot--he speaks of "the proletarian and HIS WIFE.") So Marxism lacked an
account in its core theory of women's oppression, of the sort of
domination by men (including working class men) that women experience. And
it lacked an account of women's emancipation: how women as women were to
free themselves from this domination. Now Engels (among others) tried to
say something about that, which is not entirely valueless, and
historically Marxists were in the forefront of the women's movement in

But still, the theory is undeveloped. We do not have a good
account of the relation of these two oppressions (workers' and women's) or
how the two emancipations are supposed to be related. Nor is it clear that
the apparatus of Marxism is all that useful for feminist theory. It's not
clear that it isn't. In fact, too little is clear. That's part of the
problem. The parctical problem of course is that male Marxists talk a good
line about feminism and still treat women like secretaries and sex toys at
worst and often at best completely ignore feminist concerns in parctical
organizing as "not-politically-serious." These problems are probably related.

--Justin Schwartz


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