Marxist Feminism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Fri Nov 4 21:00:15 MST 1994

On Fri, 4 Nov 1994, Rebecca Hill wrote:

>   I too am interested in Marxist feminism, but sadly enough discussion of
> it has died out recently. I particularly like Gayatri Spivak and Elizabeth
> Gurley Flynn of course. I'm in American Studies/Women's Studies and try to
> do "gendered history of radicalisms" or something like that.
> Good to know that others are out there
> What do you guys(gals?) make of the base/superstructure material/culture
> quandary that besets discussions of capitalism and patriarchy?
>  -Rebecca Hill

If the issue is "which is primary, gender or class?" I think it's a bore.
Too often the subtext of this is: Gender is primary and if you disagree
you don't think women's oppression matters morally as much as worker's
oppression, you Marxist chauvinist pig. Or: Class is primary and if you
disagree you don't care about worker oppression, you petty-bourgeois
feminist creep. Both moves are based on the dumb mistake of confusing
explanatory primacy with moral weight, as if class or gender oppression
couldn't matter morally as much as the other unless class or gender were
the explanatorily basic category. I also think the dual systems solution of
treating them as explanatorily separate but equal is a mistake if
motivated by considerations of moral weight. It's important to figure out
how these kinds of categories interact and how class and gender oppression
and emancipation interact, but the explanatory question has to be set apart
from the moral one. As far as I know we do not have a good account of this.

I will say that I do not think we have a prayer of class emancipation
without the practical acknowledge, not just the theoretical one, that
class is gendered. By this I mean both that people's conceptions of
themselves as class actors is colored with gender identities and that
women face class oppression in ways affected by gender domination.
Likewise I think that women's emancipation is constrained by class
limitations. By this I mean both that class identities affect the women's
movement (which does, in its organized form, tend to ignore the concerns of
poor and working class women) and that women's emancipation can only go so
far within the limits of capitalism. We need a socialist feminism which is
more than just a conjuction of socialism and feminism. What shape this
might take I do not know.

--Justin Schwartz


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