A Critique of Marxist Feminism

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It is a common error to associate all feminists with that movement’s radical left wing. The radical feminists are but one part of the feminist movement. Because they are extreme and very vocal, the media have overemphasized their importance to the point where the broader term “feminism” is associated with them alone. Many women, especially conservatives, avoid identifying themselves as feminists for fear of being lumped together with the radicals. The feminist movement is, in fact, composed of different groups with different beliefs. What all feminists share is the belief that women have the right to be more than just homemakers, which is hardly a radical notion. It is unfair to portray all members of any political movement as adherents of the same radical ideology. It is possible to identify the three main currents within feminist thought as liberal, radical, and Marxist. Each responds to women’s oppression in a different way. Liberal feminism is concerned with attaining economic and political equality in a male-dominated society. Radical feminism is focused on men and patriarchy as the main causes of the oppression of women. And Marxist feminism is a theoretical position that uses Marxist theory to understand the capitalist sources of the oppression of women. In the early period of the contemporary feminist movement, feminists searched for a grand theory to explain the sexual inequality, hierarchy, and domination that defined entirely the experience and organization of gender and sexuality. Some theorists saw women as trapped by “their own reproductive anatomy, the objectification of their bodies, the mothering relation or the marriage relation.” Others theorized that gender oppression was inherent to capitalism and the “relations of work and exploitation” (Chodorow 1). This essay will focus mainly on the latter of the two viewpoints. I agree with most of the ideas in this theory, the Marxist approach to feminism. Throughout history the exploiting classes have sustained and imposed the theory of the “deficient feminine nature,” that, for centuries, has served to justify women’s oppression. Male philosophers have often argued that women are subordinate to men intellectually, socially, and even morally. In Book 5 of Émile, for example, Jean Jacques Rousseau explains that women serve mainly a supportive function in the lives of men and the education of women should reflect that function accordingly: “On women too depend the morals, the passions, the tastes, the pleasures, aye and the happiness of men. For this reason their education must be wholly directed to their relations with men. To give them pleasure, to be useful to them, to win their love and esteem, to train them in their childhood, to care for them when they grow up, to give them counsel and consolation, to make life sweet and agreeable for them: these are the tasks of women in all times for which they should be trained from childhood” (Rousseau 135). Although views like Rousseau’s are largely rejected today even by men, feminists point out that women continue to be oppressed. This oppression is most clearly seen through the fact that men still occupy the top positions in politics, business, and finance. Organized feminist movements did not take off until the 20th century. During World War I and World War II, millions of female workers were incorporated into the economy to substitute for the men mobilized to the front. This pushed the mobilization, organization and politicization of women, and the creation of the feminist struggle. Marxism, the ideology of the working class, conceives the human being as a set of social relations that change as a function of the social process. Marxism is absolutely opposed to Rousseau’s notion of human nature as an eternal, indisputable reality outside the frame of social conditions. Just as Marxism considers the human being as a concrete reality historically generated by society, it also does not accept the...
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