Marxist Feminism

Ann Ferguson aferguso at
Mon Nov 7 20:28:02 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?"
> 	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.
	One good and influential starting point on this is Heidi Hartmann's
essay "The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism".  Hartmann argues that
there are two interrelated but semi-autonomous systems, capitalism and
patriarchy.  The first is described by Marxism from a historical
materialist perspective, that is, by assuming that power and domination
in society is importantly traced to the social relations of the
production and distribution of material goods, and that such social
relations (SRs) vary historically depending on different modes of
production.  Simlarly she argues that patriarchy has different historical
modes of production and control of the goods of human sexuality, viz.
pleasure and children.  I argue in a similar vein in my two books, "Blood
at the Root" (1989, Pandora) and "Sexual Democracy" (1991, Westview), only
I call the patriarchal modes, modes of "sex/affective production", and argue
that the sexual division of labor both in capitalist social relations of
production and in patriarchal sex/affective production in wage labor and
in unpaid household work means that men as a sex/class exploit and
control women's labor (although this has to be modified by the
inequalities of race and social class, so more precisely, men of one
social class and race exploit women of the same class and race, and men
of the dominant class and race in addition exploit women of all
subordinate races and classes.)  Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis wrote a paper
on this as economists arguing that labor power is heterogeneous not
homogeneous because of racial and patriarchal domination and the
consequent race and sex segmentation of the work force, and Nancy Folbre
wrote a paper arguing that women's labor power in the home can be said to
be exploited by men in the home because of the unreciprocal exchange of
family labor.

	Actually these theories are usually thought of as
socialist-feminist theories rather than marxist-feminist since they assume
at least a dual system of social domination theory and sometimes a
tri-system theory (adding racial domination, on the racial formations
model of Michael Omi and Howard Winant in "Racial Formations in the
US").  Marxist feminists are people like Rosemary Hennessy, Margaret
Benston , Lise Vogel and Juliet Mitchell.  All of these folks in one way
or another still accept the base/superstructure model of social
domination and think women's oppression is either due to superstructural
features of male domination in the family or in ideological discourses,
or (Benston) the persistence of precapitalist, feudal production in the
family, or (Vogel) women's role in biological reproduction which
disadvantages her in entering wage labor.

	There's a whole lot more that can be said.  What more are you
interested in?
	Ann Ferguson
	aferguso at


More information about the Marxism mailing list