Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction

Marxist and Socialist Feminism, Part II

Summary, Chapter 3, Part II (pp. 114-129)

The later half of the chapter discusses the critiques and responses made on Marxist Feminism. Jean Bethke Elshtain is concerned that many Marxist feminists undervalue the ‘family’ in a capitalist context. Families, in her opinion foster and encourage diversity and provide vital support to young children.

Marxist feminists respond that they are in complete agreement that the family should be preserved but the family as an economic unit should be destroyed along with capitalism.

Alison Jaggar takes a critical approach against Marxist feminism because it does not say enough about how women are oppressed by men in particular. Alison states that Marxist feminist thought lumps women together with men, both being oppressed by the capitalist system. Jaggar describes prostitution and marriages of convenience both as forms of economic oppression perpetrated against women in particular. Furthermore ‘residual capitalism’ explains why socialist countries continue to oppress women.

Socialist feminism arouse out of a dissatisfaction of the gender-blind Marxist thought. which included the thought that women’s oppression was far less important than worker’s oppression. Clara Zetkin was a notable contemporary of Lenin who focused on women’s sexual issues, which earned her the ire of Lenin.

Juliet Mitchell combined economic materialist accounts of capitalism with non-material ideological accounts of patriarchy. Mitchell observes the new paradigm of the sexually liberated woman can be as oppressive as the more traditionally restrictive paradigm. Too much sex, like too little sex, can be oppressive.

Iris Young explains that unlike the prevailing thought that there exists a gender neutral capitalism and a gender-biased patriarchy. She contends there is only one gender biased capitalist patriarchy.

Alison Jaggar again argues that work should be humanizing but under capitalism it becomes dehumanizing. She further states that motherhood like sexuality and reproduction has become alienating for women.