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July 1, 2013 / C H Thompson

Marxist feminists

Marxist feminist perspective adapts the principles of Marxism to emphasise how capitalism uses the family oppresses women, and the harmful consequences of the family to women’s lives.

Marxist feminists look on class and gender inequalities as dual systems of oppression, with both being very powerful and independent systems.  Marxist feminists often argue that class and gender inequalities reinforce each other and create groups that are doubly oppressed.

Margaret Benston’s (1972) Marxist feminist study: ‘The political economy of women’s liberation’ emphasises the value of the unpaid labour women perform within the family. This labour, which sustains the current labour force and nurtures the next generation, comes at no cost to the owners of the means of production. Additionally, the responsibility of the male breadwinner to support his wife and children fetters his ability to withdraw his labour power in defence of his class interests. In so doing it helps reinforce the inequitable capitalist economic system.

As Rosemarie Tong (1989) notes in her book Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction, Marxist feminists identify how work shapes consciousness, and women’s work shapes her status and self-image. Therefore Marxist feminists are primarily concerned with the division of labour that keeps women in the domestic sphere of the family and men in the workplace.

Woman’s position within the family may help explain the problem of developing working class consciousness. As with exchange relationships in general in capitalism, underlying these seemingly equal exchange relationships are power relationships. Various relationships, such as those between males and females, relationships in the family, prostitution, surrogate mother hood, etc. may appear to express equality, but because of the underlying unequal power relations conceal great inequalities.

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