Ehrenreich, Rowbotham, and Socialist Feminism

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Matt Z.
Marx and Marxist Theory-Final PaperDecember 19, 2003

Rowbotham, Hartmann*, and Ehrenreich each draw on Marx to construct a new socialist-feminist approach to social analysis and political change. What aspect or aspects of Marx’s thought does each find to be most useful? Show how their choices about what to take from Marx shape the political implications of their theories. Whose use of Marx makes the most sense for contemporary feminism(or, if you wish, another contemporary social movement)? [*will not be discussing her in my paper]

“So where do we go from here?(Gottlieb, 345).” This question marks the beginning of Barbara Ehrenreich’s conclusion to her article, Life without Father: Reconsidering Socialist-Feminist Theory. However, I believe that this question extends much farther than just a mere conclusion to Ehrenreich’s views on the theory of “capitalism-plus-patriarchy.” The views and selected writings of Sheila Rowbotham and Barbara Ehrenreich were meant to point modern socialist-feminists of the 20th century in the proper direction; trying to implement new ways of rethinking their ideologies, and even how to infuse Marxist tradition and thought into their teachings. With regards to the subject at hand, I use that same question to help understand the place of Marxist tradition in modern socialist-feminism; which teachings of his are utilized in helping to further the feminist cause, and furthermore, whose usage best helps the movement in its application and pragmatism.

I will venture to show that the direct approach of Rowbotham in discussing individual and gender consciousness and the subsequent political action which they are to sprout, is much more useful and helpful in garnering followers within a modern socialist-feminist movement than trying to follow Ehrenreich’s approach: uncovering, logically, the hidden aspects of alienation of socialist-feminists within the “capitalism-plus- patriarchy” explanation of male domination in capitalist society (as it is fundamental to socialist-feminist theory), and trying to foment a modern movement starting from there.

“Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life...The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think”(Tucker, 155). These words were written by Marx in his work, The German Ideology, and were then used by Rowbotham to open Through the Looking-Glass, a selection from her 1973 work, Women’s Consciousness, Man’s World. From the outset, the theme of her article professed the combination of ones individual experiences of struggle and strife with ones consciousness and recognition that that is the state in which one is living. Rowbotham was carrying on the common theme of late-1960's feminism, which was the idea of raising consciousness as a political method, also known to many as saying, “the personal is political” (Kurtz Lecture, 12/1). The personal issues being discussed and debated at the forefront of feminist ideals, were birth control, divorce laws, and even the day-to-day expectations of women in the household and society: all of which were subject to a form of collective action on the part of all women, thus giving them a political platform upon which to act and make their voices heard, in the hope that changes would be made on behalf of women everywhere (Lecture, 12/1).

Enter Sheila Rowbotham to say,

In order to create an alternative, an oppressed group must at once shatter the
self-reflecting world which encircles it, and, at the same time, project its own
image onto history. In order to discover its own identity as distinct from that
of the oppressor it has to become visible to itself. All revolutionary movements
become visible to itself...People who are without names, who do not know
themselves,...experience a kind of paralysis of consciousness. The first step is to
connect and learn to trust one another (Gottlieb, 281).

The...
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