Capitalism and Patriarchy: Intro to Marxist Feminism
This essay was written by Celine Qin on the 20th of July, 2021.
Marxist feminism is the utilization of Marxist ideas within the struggle for women’s liberation. It understands that feminism and class conflict are inseparable under our capitalist society. Marxist feminism takes issues surrounding class politics and analyzes how women’s liberation and socialism go hand in hand. Furthermore, it understands the patriarchy as a vital component of capitalism, meaning the capitalist system needs to be abolished in order to have women’s emancipation. Ending capitalism, a system that is inherently exploitative, especially to those of racial and gender social minorities, is substantial to feminism.
Marxist feminism analyzes how women are exploited through the individual ownership of the means of production, as well as how the relations of production affect people of different genders, races, and ethnicities. In addition, it takes into account how these relations of production directly affect the material conditions for oppressed peoples.
Marxist feminism assesses the globalization of capitalism as a contradictory force against women’s liberation. In the age of globalized capital and neoliberalism, the majority of the international working class consists of women of color in the Global South. As capitalist imperial powers exploit and colonize lands of Africa, Latin America, and many parts of Asia, women of color in the workforce are among some of the lowest paid in the world.
Marxist feminism sees women’s liberation as requiring the attention to the worse off: women of color, poor women, and working class women in colonized and overexploited countries. That is to indicate, Marxist feminism acknowledges the necessity of solidarity and collectively challenges all intersecting systems of oppression, exploitation, and colonization.
Within the realms of the household and through the prominent image of the “housewife,” Marxist feminism can be used to distinct domestic and reproductive labor (often condescendingly called “women’s work”) from productive labor, as well as recognize the exploitation of such “women’s labor” by the male class.
Productive labor under capitalism is typically considered working in a paid job, or wage labor, producing some commodity. Despite women being the first of the workforce during the Industrial Revolution (as well as the majority of the current global proletariat), productive labor in many ways is seen as “a man’s job.” In a sense, the image of the housewife is heavily dependent on the circumstances of the typical white, emerging middle class woman. Domestic labor, such as child raising, cooking, cleaning, sewing, scrubbing, washing, shopping, and all other physically and mentally demanding tasks needed to maintain home living, was seen as “women’s work,” or more so, “unproductive” labor.
Capitalism’s definition of one’s productivity, and with that, value and worthiness, is measured by the degree to which capitalist’s can exploit them. “Productivity” is essentially the capitalist code word for “exploitable.” Why domestic labor is seen as unproductive may be based entirely on the fact that domestic labor is rarely seen at all, compared to ongoing wage labor and the concept of male breadwinners.
In addition to household labor, a “women’s job” in capitalism’s terms can also be defined as producing more workers to be exploited in the labor market. Reproductive labor is exploited to the extreme, as women in capitalist patriarchal society are rarely painted as anything valuable except for sexual purposes and creating children, all while capitalism profits off of this exploitation to ensure a sufficient pool of the working class. Nevertheless, reproductive labor, and domestic labor overall, goes unrecognized.
The capitalist family structure (based on sexism and heteronormativity), enforces the idea of male supremacy. As the “productive” husband abuses and controls the “unproductive” wife, capitalist ideas mold the structures of family and patriarchy. The man’s sense of entitlement, sexually, domestically, and generally, over both women and his children, perpetuates an oppressive hierarchy as an undefeatable norm and imperative factor to capitalist society. In addition, it became successful in indoctrinating generations of young people of all genders with equivalent narratives.
Male exploitation of reproductive labor branches to all realms of capitalist patriarchy. From the notion of women as nothing more than “child makers”, to the sexual violence and assault against women, to prioritization of male desire over female desire, are all prime examples of women’s oppression in the currents of capitalist exploitation.
Liberal feminism views patriarchy as separate from capitalism. Identity politics, with no regard to class oppression and class politics, fails to mention how sexism and misogyny are among the many social relations of oppression that contribute to the validation of the capitalist system. In the same light, liberal feminism attempts to assimilate women under the wing of capitalist patriarchy, preaching vapid “female representation” of affluent, capitalist, and majority white women. It believes that maintaining the corporate hierarchy is compatible with gender equality.
At the same time, liberal feminism and other forms of neoliberalism neglects, and even worsen the situations, for the most oppressed of society. It views women’s liberation as having women conveniently placed at the top of the system built by men, while ignoring the majority of women suffering the exploitation and oppression of gender, race, class, and more.
In reality, women’s liberation must stand side by side with the formation of socialism. It must cultivate the solidarity of the working class of all genders, races, and ethnicities, and to ultimately overthrow the capitalist system that has oppressed the masses in innumerable ways. Women’s liberation will always be a class struggle.
Feminist Perspectives on Class and Work
A good place to situate the start of theoretical debates about women, class and work is in the intersection with…
Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis 1981
Source: Chapter 13 of Women, Race and Class, Angela Davis 1981; First published: in Great Britain by The Women's Press…