WMST-L logo

Marxist Feminism

The following discussion seeking to define/explain Marxist feminism took place
on WMST-L in August 1994.  For additional WMST-L files now available on the
Web, see the WMST-L File List.
Date: Mon, 22 Aug 1994 21:30:16 CDT
From: Lisa Auanger <C513024 @ MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
Subject: question: marxist feminism?
Please excuse the apparent basicness of this question. Although  I have seen and
heard the term `marxist feminism' or `marxist feminist' used, I have never been
satisfied with explanations of its meaning.  How would or do list members define
these?  How closely connected are marxist feminists with the fundamental texts of
Thanks, Lisa Auanger c513024  @  mizzou1.missouri.edu
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 1994 00:54:19 -0700
Subject: Re: Marxist Feminism
[Introductory remarks deleted]
I'll try to be brief and relay to you what I interpret Marxist
Feminism to be.  As for the connection to Marx and his writings,
the main connection I have seen is to Friedrich Engels' (Marx's
collaborator and friend, AND one of the "fathers of Marxism") *The
Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State* (1845).
This book addressed what many "Marxists" had not, (they were more
interested in workers' oppression, not women's oppression).  It
showed how changes in the material conditions of people affect
the organization of their family relations.  Engels argued that
monogamous marriage is a social institution that has nothing to
do with love and everything to do with private property ($).  He
wrote that if women are to be truly emancipated from men, they
must be economically independent.
Contemporary Marxists Feminists, as I have seen it, don't usually
deal directly with reproductive or sexual concerns, i.e.
contraception, sterilization, abortion, pornography,
prostitution, sexual harassment, rape, and woman battering, like,
say a radical feminist might.  They seem to be more focused on
things like the concerns of working women.  They help us to
understand how the institution of family is related to
capitalism; how women's domestic work is trivialized and not
considered "real work"; and basically how women are given the
most unfulfilling, boring, and/or low-paying jobs.  These are all
offered as partial explanations for gender oppression.
Please forgive the brief, necessarily partial, and definitely
personal and subjective perception of Marxist Feminism.  If
you're really interested in a discussion of Marxist, as well as
Liberal, Radical, Socialist, Psychoanalytic, Existentialist and
Postmodern Feminism, take a look at Rosemarie Tong's *Feminist
Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction* (1989 Boulder: Westview
Press). It's a few years old now, but in my humble opinion, the
best of it's kind.
Best, Denise
    Denise M. Dalaimo        Office Phone: (702) 895-3322
        Univ of Nevada LV               E-mail Address:
        Dept of Sociology                  neese  @  pioneer.nevada.edu
    4505 Maryland Pkwy
        Las Vegas, NV 89154-5033
                                        Jean Nidetch Women's Center
                                              (702) 895-0605
"Forget the night, my sisters, take back your minds"  -Elena Featherston
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 1994 08:57:09 -0500
From: Linda Coleman <cflsc @ EIU.EDU>
Subject: marxist feminism
For a sampling of marxist feminist texts, you might take a look
at either the 1st, 2nd, or latest edition of the textbook Feminist
Frameworks (McGrawHill pub.).  The argument there, I think, is that
for marxist feminists the intersection of class and gender is the
primary starting point for critical/political action and analysis.
Linda S. Coleman
Eastern Illinois University
cflsc  @  eiu.edu
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 1994 17:17:52 -0500
From: Benay Blend <BLEND @ ALPHA.NSULA.EDU>
Subject: Re: marxist feminism
Carolyn Merchant also offers a good definition of Marxist feminism in
_Death of Nature_, as well as in several of her other works.
Benay Blend
blend  @  alpha.nsula.edy
Date: Wed, 24 Aug 1994 15:03:36 CST
From: Rebecca Hill <hillx018 @ MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU>
Subject: Re: question: marxist feminism?
It all depends on which "Marxist Feminist" you read/talk to. Some Marxist
feminists base their discussion on the relationship of women to production,
others use a Marxist theory to develope an analysis of women as a class,
which seems to me to go above and beyond the "narrow economism" of more
orthodox Marxist feminists. In political practice, I think that a "Marxist
feminist" - or a socialist feminist, might be more interested in making
links with women in the labor movement and might work on issues such as
welfare rights, and would reject liberal feminist goals such as starting
business women's organizations, "feminist" banks, etc.

  Anyway, I think that the analysis of patriarchy came largely through the
women of the New Left, which you can read about in Alice Echols' book
_Daring to Be Bad_ - which is great. There are also several good
anthologies to read on the subject of Marxist Feminism: _Women,Class and
the Feminist Imagination_ by Ilene Philipson and  Karen Hanson is
particularly good. Christine Delphy's 1970 book _Close To Home_ is also a
good starting point for the debate between the left and the women's
movement. Michele Barret is someone else you might be interested in,
although she's pretty much focused on literary criticism.
-Rebecca Hill
hillx018  @  maroon.tc.umn.edu
Date: Wed, 24 Aug 1994 18:41:55 EST
Subject: Re: question: marxist feminism?
Let me suggest that for a good basic discussion of Marxism and feminism it
might be worth looking at Sandra Harding's anthology Feminism Methodologies
which contains three essays that either adapt or critique Marxism from a
feminist perspective.  The essays are by Catherine MacKinnon, Nancy Hartsock,
and Heidi Hartmann.  I doubt it would be feasible to suggest anything like the
richness of the work that's been done on feminism and Marxism in a brief
response to the list.  For instance, I would take exception with a recent post
that suggested that Marxist feminists are interested only in workplace issues.
This is clearly not the case and much M-F work has been done on issues of
sexuality, reproduction, culture, etc.
Laurie Finke
finkel  @  kenyon.edu
Date: Wed, 24 Aug 1994 23:21:25 CDT
From: "Pauline B. Bart" <U17334 @ UICVM.BITNET>
Subject: Marxist Feminism
Marxist Feminism- When I wrote my  paper "Feminist Theories" some time
ago a distinction was made by people with whom I spoke between Marxist
feminists and socialist feminists, the latter hewing less to the Marxist
line and focussing on both capitalism AND patriarchy, but there was
disagreement on where to draw the line e.g. Dorothy Smith considered
herself a Marxist feminist, although in terms of the definition would be
a socialist feminist.  In the discussions on the list radical feminists
are omitted (Daring to be Bad is NOT held in high esteem by radical
feminists)  Christine Delphi is a radical feminist. Most serious social
scientists who are feminists use Marx-that doesn't make us Marxist
feminists.  What I see as the main difference is that Marxist feminists
try to fit feminism into a Marxist procrustean bed (e.g. talking about
reproducing the labor force as well as reproduction in its biological
sense) while I, at least, and other radical feminists (I don't want to
apeak for them) use the Marxist variables to enhance our feminist
analysis-e.g. we use the sociology of knowledge (MacKinnon does so
particularly effectively) ask cui bono, focus on power, and have a
profound distrust of existing institutions.  We are the only  group that
has always focusssed on violence against women and speak of misogyny as
Pauline B. Bart
U17334  @  UICVM.UIC.EDU (University of Illinois at Chicago)
AKA (also known as) Cassandra / Iphigenia
Don't kill the messenger!
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 1994 00:11:50 -0300
From: Cecilia Maria B Sardenberg <cecisard @ SUNRNP.UFBA.BR>
Subject: Re: question: marxist feminism?
In-Reply-To:  <A859D30840006C46  @  brfapg.bitnet>
Marxist-feminist analysis evolved as a feminist-inspired critique of
the shortcomings of traditional Marxist approaches to the 'women's
question'. Viewing marxist categories as 'sex-blind' and thus incapable
of addressing the analysis of gender-related issues, authors
such as Heidi Hartmann and Z. Eisenstein (who call themselves 'socialist
feminists') argued for a synthesis of Marxist and feminist theory,
coining the term 'capitalist patriarchy'. Others (such as Michele Barret,
Maxine Molyneux, Flora Anthias, Patricia Connelly, etc), argueing that it
is not marxism but actually the dynamics of the capitalist mode of
production which is blind to sex-categories (which does not mean that
capitalists are blind to the advantages of exploiting women's subordinate
position) have opted instead for a more historical approach to the
question of the articulation of gender divisions and the economy. THese
authors have argued both against the 'reductionism' inherent in attempts
to explain the gender divide in terms of the mechanics of the capitalist
system (as traditional marxists did), as well as the 'dualism' inherent
to synthetic theories (such as implicit in the expression 'capitalist
patriarchy'). They suggest instead, that the analysis of the dynamics of
gender and class (and gender and the economy) is better posed not at the
abstract level of capitalism as a mode of production, but of capitalism
as a system of production developing, articulating, and transforming
relations/structures of gender and class in historically determined
social totalities, that is, in given social and economic formations.
I call myself a Marxist-feminist and side with Barret, Connelly, etc. I
am a Marxist because I sustain the analytical (and political) primacy of
the mode of production in laying bare the basic social, economic, and
political structures/relations in which women and men enter or find
themselves in struggling for their life means and in putting in motion
the process of succession of generations. In my work, I focus on the
analysis of the articulation of social relations (of gender, class,
race/ethnicity, kinship, generation, etc), and how they define the
situation of women in different/specific class instances. Politically, I
am involved in the feminist and wider women's movement in Brazil, as well
as in class-based social movements, fighting against gender, racial, and
class oppression. I am a member of the "Partido dos Trabalhadores"
(Workers Party in Brazil, which is different from the Workers' Party in
the US and in Europe), and fight against the gender hierarchies which
exist within the party.
Hope this information helps you in understanding 'marxist-feminists' better.
Sorry for the length of the message...
Cecilia Sardenberg
cecisard  @  sunrnp.ufba.br
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 1994 11:21:34 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ethel Tobach <ETTGC @ CUNYVM.BITNET>
Subject: Re: question: marxist feminism?
      Some other points to add:  1.  I wonder if we should not be clear
      about what the term "Marxism" might mean.  a.  Related to writings
      by Marx and how they relate to feminism.  b.  As a political movement
      which covers a wide spectrum of interpretation about Marx's writings
      and the relationship of those interpretations and political parties
      (movements) and feminism.  c.  As an example of the science/philoso-
      phy of dialectical materialism.  I have kept myself in the "c" cate-
      gory because the first is too specific and historically time bound
      and the second is too fluid and changes with historical developments.
      Of course both are important for feminist theory.  However, I have
      found diamat (dialectical materialism) helpful in my own scientific
      research/theory and in my feminist theory/practice.  With hope that I
      will get feedback, may I offer a paper I recently wrote on ...personal
      is political is personal...as an example of my attempt to use diamat
      in discussing that concept.  It is in Journal of Social Issues, l994,
      21, 221-244.  If you cannot get it in your library, I would be pleased
      to send a copy.  (Those who have already asked:  I just got the copies
      made and will be sending them out in the next few weeks.  Thanks for
      your interest and my apologies.)  Ethel Tobach
      P.S.  Let us not forget poor old Frederick Engels (see Leacock's wonder-
     ful introduction to origin of the family).l
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 1994 13:50:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: Andrea Austin <3AJA1 @ QUCDN.QUEENSU.CA>
Subject: Re: Marxist Feminism
      Perhaps I may be forgiven for recommending, a second time, since it
is such a *wonderful* book, and certainly a landmark study, Alison Jaggar's
_Feminist Politics and Human Nature_ (1983).  When I was studying for my
Specialist's Exam in Feminist Theory, with a sub-speciality in materialist
feminism, I found Jaggar's book absolutely indispensible in trying to wade
through the tricky distinctions and shading-into points btw. marxist
feminism, socialist feminism, and materialist feminism.  I also found
Laura Donaldson's _Decolonizing Feminisms_ (1992) an esp. wonderful read.
     Has anyone used the phrase "materialist feminism" yet in this thread?
And, out of curiosity, what to do the rest of you think of it?  Necessary
distinction?  Too all-inclusive?  Unnecessary muddying of already muddy
waters?  Confusing for students, or helpful?  I have my own passionate
allegiance to the term and the work it describes, but am curious to know
how others feel about it.
                                                 Andrea Austin
                                                 Dept. of English
                                                 Queen's University
                                                 3aja1  @  qucdn.queensu.ca
Date: Mon, 29 Aug 1994 17:50:55 CST
From: Rebecca Hill <hillx018 @ MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU>
Subject: Re: radical vs. socialist feminisms
  In a recent post in the Marxist feminism thread, one writer commented
that radical feminists did not like Alice Echols' book _Daring to Be Bad_.
I am not sure what the point of this comment was. Did the poster mean that
*she* did not like the book? Why? Does the fact that some radical feminists
disliked Echols' analysis mean that the book is a bad source on the history
of feminism? I think that the connections between radical feminists of the
late 60s and early 70s and the New Left movements of those periods are hard
to ignore. For instance, Christine Delphy cited as a "radical feminist" (as
opposed to a Marxist feminist?) uses a sociological analysis in _Close to
Home_ which has a clearly Marxist influence: she spends a good deal of time
arguing about economic relations etc. in her discussion of the history of
the family, and her argument that women are a "class" which is "exploited"
is clearly informed by Marxism. Her section on the "bourgeois woman"
suggests a good deal of familiarity with French Communists - both "formal"
and "informal."   A question for the list, though, is just what are the
stakes in Women's Studies around these different labels: Marxist feminist,
radical feminist, liberal feminist? What is the connection between our
current academic work and these debates which go back to the "movement"
days of the 60s and 70s?
-Rebecca Hill
University of Minnesota
Date: Fri, 9 Sep 1994 14:54:11 CDT
From: "Pauline B. Bart" <U17334 @ UICVM.BITNET>
Subject: types of feminisms
Types of feminisms.  Since a number of people have asked about this
topic Iam replying to the list this time.  I wrote "Feminist Theories"
which discusses Radical, SOcialist/Marxist, and Liberal feminism.  Since
the book was published in l991 it doesn't include ecofeminism or
womanism, but Ihave a useful chart showing how different issues e.g.
reproductive rights, violence against women, motherhood, etc. are
treated by these types of feminisms.  The article is in The Renaissance
of Sociological Theory: Classical and Contemporary, by Henry Etzkowitz
and Ronald M. Glassman.
In terms of defining feminism I think a good definition  stems from
Adrienne RIch's statement that one must always ask "is it good for
women?, or "What about the Women" or how does this effect women."  One
should identify with all women-not just those who have interests similar
to yours.  and I try to use my work to demystify the world for women,
which is easier in sociology than in other fields.I am always conscious
of the political implications of what Iam writing and tryvery hard to
phrase my work so  as to minimize harm to women. Enough already!
Pauline B. Bart
U17334  @  UICVM.UIC.EDU (University of Illinois at Chicago)
AKA (also known as) Cassandra / Iphigenia
Don't kill the messenger!

For information about WMST-L

WMST-L File Collection

Top Of Page