Socialist feminism

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Socialist feminism is a branch of feminism that focuses upon both the public and private spheres of a woman's life and argues that liberation can only be achieved by working to end both the economic and cultural sources of women's oppression.[1] Socialist feminism is a two-pronged theory that broadens Marxist feminism's argument for the role of capitalism in the oppression of women and radical feminism's theory of the role of gender and the patriarchy. Socialist feminists reject radical feminism’s main claim that patriarchy is the only or primary source of oppression of women.[2] Rather, socialist feminists assert that women are unable to be free due to their financial dependence on males in society. Women are subjects to the male rulers in capitalism due to an uneven balance in wealth. They see economic dependence as the driving force of women’s subjugation to men. Further, socialist feminists see women’s liberation as a necessary part of larger quest for social, economic and political justice.

CWLU's "Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement," 1972

Socialist feminism draws upon many concepts found in Marxism; such as a historical materialist point of view, which means that they relate their ideas to the material and historical conditions of people’s lives. Socialist feminists thus consider how the sexism and gendered division of labor of each historical era is determined by the economic system of the time. Those conditions are largely expressed through capitalist and patriarchal relations. Socialist feminists, thus reject the Marxist notion that class and class struggle are the only defining aspects of history and economic development. Marx asserted that when class oppression was overcome, gender oppression would vanish as well. According to socialist feminists, this view of gender oppression as a sub-class of class oppression is naive and much of the work of socialist feminists has gone towards specifying how gender and class work together to create distinct forms of oppression and privilege for women and men of each class. For example, they observe that women’s class status is generally derivative of her husband’s class or occupational status,.e.g., a secretary that marries her boss assumes his class status.

In 1972, the Chicago Women's Liberation Union published "Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement," which is believed to be the first to use the term "socialist feminism," in publication.[3]

Other socialist feminists, notably two long-lived American organizations Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party, point to the classic Marxist writings of Frederick Engels (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State) and August Bebel (Woman and Socialism) as a powerful explanation of the link between gender oppression and class exploitation.

On the other hand, the Socialist Party USA is an example of a socialist feminist party which is not explicitly Marxist (although some members identify as Marxists). The party's statement of principles says, "Socialist feminism confronts the common root of sexism, racism and classism: the determination of a life of oppression or privilege based on accidents of birth or circumstances. Socialist feminism is an inclusive way of creating social change. We value synthesis and cooperation rather than conflict and competition."

Anarcha-feminism[edit]

Anarcha-feminism (also called anarchist feminism and anarcho-feminism) combines anarchism with feminism. It generally views patriarchy as a manifestation of involuntary coercive hierarchy that should be replaced by decentralized free association. Anarcha-feminists believe that the struggle against patriarchy is an essential part of class struggle, and the anarchist struggle against the state. In essence, the philosophy sees anarchist struggle as a necessary component of feminist struggle and vice-versa. L. Susan Brown claims that "as anarchism is a political philosophy that opposes all relationships of power, it is inherently feminist".[4] Bakunin opposed patriarchy and the way the law "subjects [women] to the absolute domination of the man." He argued that "[e]qual rights must belong to men and women" so that women can "become independent and be free to forge their own way of life." Bakunin foresaw the end of "the authoritarian juridical family" and "the full sexual freedom of women."[5]

Anarcha-feminism began with late 19th and early 20th century authors and theorists such as anarchist feminists Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre and Lucy Parsons.[6] In the Spanish Civil War, an anarcha-feminist group, Mujeres Libres ("Free Women") linked to the Federación Anarquista Ibérica, organized to defend both anarchist and feminist ideas,[7] while the prominent Spanish anarchist and feminist leader Federica Montseny held that the "emancipation of women would lead to a quicker realization of the social revolution" and that "the revolution against sexism would have to come from intellectual and militant 'future-women.' According to this Nietzschean concept of Federica Montseny's, women could realize through art and literature the need to revise their own roles."[8]

In Argentina Virginia Bolten is responsible for the publication of a newspaper called La Voz de la Mujer (English: The Woman's Voice), which was published nine times in Rosario between 8 January 1896 and 1 January 1897, and was revived, briefly, in 1901. A similar paper with the same name was reportedly published later in Montevideo, which suggests that Bolten may also have founded and edited it after her deportation.[9] "La Voz de la Mujer described itself as “dedicated to the advancement of Communist Anarchism.” Its central theme was that of the multiple nature of women’s oppression. An editorial asserted, “We believe that in present-day society nothing and nobody has a more wretched situation than unfortunate women.” Women, they said, were doubly oppressed - by bourgeois society and by men. Its feminism can be seen from its attack on marriage and upon male power over women. Its contributors, like anarchist feminists elsewhere, developed a concept of oppression that focused on gender oppression. Marriage was a bourgeois institution which restricted women’s freedom, including their sexual freedom. Marriages entered into without love, fidelity maintained through fear rather than desire, oppression of women by men they hated - all were seen as symptomatic of the coercion implied by the marriage contract. It was this alienation of the individual’s will that the anarchist feminists deplored and sought to remedy, initially through free love and then, and more thoroughly, through social revolution."[10]

Mujeres Libres (English: Free Women) was an anarchist women's organization in Spain that aimed to empower working class women. It was founded in 1936 by Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Mercedes Comaposada and Amparo Poch y Gascón and had approximately 30,000 members. The organization was based on the idea of a "double struggle" for women's liberation and social revolution and argued that the two objectives were equally important and should be pursued in parallel. In order to gain mutual support, they created networks of women anarchists. Flying day-care centres were set up in efforts to involve more women in union activities.[11] Lucía Sánchez Saornil, was a Spanish poet, militant anarchist and feminist. She is best known as one of the founders of Mujeres Libres and served in the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and Solidaridad Internacional Antifascista (SIA). By 1919, she had been published in a variety of journals, including Los Quijotes, Tableros, Plural, Manantial and La Gaceta Literaria. Working under a male pen name, she was able to explore lesbian themes[12] at a time when homosexuality was criminalized and subject to censorship and punishment. Writing in anarchist publications such as Earth and Freedom, the White Magazine and Workers' Solidarity, Lucía outlined her perspective as a feminist.

In the past decades two films have been produced about anarcha-feminism. Libertarias is a historical drama made in 1996 about the Spanish anarcha-feminist organization Mujeres Libres. In 2010 the argentinian film Ni dios, ni patrón, ni marido was released which is centered on the story of anarcha-feminist Virginia Bolten and her publishing of the newspaper La Voz de la Mujer (English: The Woman's Voice).[13][14]

Marxist feminism[edit]

Marxist feminism is a sub-type of feminist theory which focuses on the social institutions of private property and capitalism to explain and criticize gender inequality and oppression. According to Marxist feminists, private property gives rise to economic inequality, dependence, political and domestic struggle between the sexes, and is the root of women's oppression in the current social context.

Marxist feminism's foundation is laid by Friedrich Engels in his analysis of gender oppression in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884). He argues that a woman's subordination is not a result of her biological disposition but of social relations, and that men's efforts to achieve their demands for control of women's labor and sexual faculties have gradually solidified and become institutionalized in the nuclear family. Through a Marxist historical perspective, Engels analyzes the widespread social phenomena associated with female sexual morality, such as fixation on virginity and sexual purity, incrimination and violent punishment of women who commit adultery, and demands that women be submissive to their husbands. Ultimately, Engels traces these phenomena to the recent development of exclusive control of private property by the patriarchs of the rising slaveowner class in the ancient mode of production, and the attendant desire to ensure that their inheritance is passed only to their own offspring: chastity and fidelity are rewarded, says Engels, because they guarantee exclusive access to the sexual and reproductive faculty of women possessed by men from the property-owning class.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both Clara Zetkin and Eleanor Marx were against the demonization of men and supported a proletariat revolution that would overcome as many male–female inequalities as possible.[15] As their movement already had the most radical demands in women's equality, most Marxist leaders, including Clara Zetkin[16][17] and Alexandra Kollontai,[18][19] counterposed Marxism against bourgeois feminism, rather than trying to combine them.

Orthodox Marxists argue that most Marxist forerunners claimed by feminists or "marxist feminists" including Clara Zetkin[20][21] and Alexandra Kollontai[22][23] were against capitalist forms of feminism. They agreed with the main Marxist movement that feminism was a bourgeois ideology counterposed to Marxism and against the working class. Instead of feminism, the Marxists supported the more radical political program of liberating women through socialist revolution, with a special emphasis on work among women and in materially changing their conditions after the revolution. Orthodox Marxists view the later attempt to combine Marxism and feminism as a liberal creation of academics and reformist leftists who want to make alliances with bourgeois feminists.

For what reason, then, should the woman worker seek a union with the bourgeois feminists? Who, in actual fact, would stand to gain in the event of such an alliance? Certainly not the woman worker. -Alexandra Kollontai, 1909 [22]

Radical Women, a major Marxist-feminist organization, bases its theory on Marx' and Engels' analysis that the enslavement of women was the first building block of an economic system based on private property. They contend that elimination of the capitalist profit-driven economy will remove the motivation for sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression.[24]

Later theoretical works[edit]

Zillah R. Eisenstein[edit]

Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism was a collection of essays assembled and anthologized by Zillah R. Eisenstein in 1978.

Sociologist and Academic Rhonda F. Levine cites Eisenstein's work as a "superb discussion of the socialist-feminist position" in her anthology Enriching the Sociological Imagination: How Radical Sociology Changed the Discipline.[25] Levine goes on to describe the book as " one of the earliest statements of how a Marxist class analysis can combine with a feminist analysis of patriarchy to produce a theory of how gender and class intersect as systems of inequality."[25]

"Eisenstein defines the term 'capitalist patriarchy' as descriptive of the 'mutually reinforcing dialectical relationship between capitalist class structure and hierarchical sexual structuring"[26]

She believes that "The recognition of women as a sexual class lays the subversive quality of feminism for liberalism because liberalism is premised upon women's exclusion from public life on this very class basis. The demand for real equality of women with men, if taken to its logical conclusion, would dislodge the patriarchal structure necessary to a liberal society."[27]

Donna Haraway and "A Cyborg Manifesto"[edit]

In 1985, Donna Haraway published the essay "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" in Socialist Review. Although most of Haraway's earlier work was focused on emphasizing the masculine bias in scientific culture, she has also contributed greatly to feminist narratives of the twentieth century. For Haraway, the Manifesto came at a critical juncture at which feminists, in order to have any real-world significance, had to acknowledge their situatedness within what she terms the “informatics of domination.” [28] Feminists must, she proclaims, unite behind “an ironic dream of a common language for women in the integrated circuit.” [28] Women were no longer on the outside along a hierarchy of privileged binaries but rather deeply imbued, exploited by and complicit within networked hegemony, and had to form their politics as such.

According to Haraway's "Manifesto", "there is nothing about being female that naturally binds women together into a unified category. There is not even such a state as 'being' female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices" (p. 155). A cyborg does not require a stable, essentialist identity, argues Haraway, and feminists should consider creating coalitions based on "affinity" instead of identity. To ground her argument, Haraway analyzes the phrase "women of color", suggesting it as one possible example of affinity politics. Using a term coined by theorist Chela Sandoval, Haraway writes that "oppositional consciousness" is comparable with a cyborg politics, because rather than identity it stresses how affinity comes as a result of "otherness, difference, and specificity" (p. 156).

Autonomist feminism[edit]

Leopoldina Fortunati is the author of The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital (L'arcano della riproduzione: Casalinghe, prostitute, operai e capitale), a feminist critique of Marx. Fortunati is the author of several books, including The Arcane of Reproduction (Autonomedia, 1995) and I mostri nell’immaginario (Angeli, 1995), and is the editor of Gli Italiani al telefono (Angeli, 1995) and Telecomunicando in Europa (1998), and with J. Katz and R. Riccini Mediating the Human Body. Technology, Communication and Fashion (2003). Her influences include Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Antonio Negri, and Karl Marx.

Silvia Federici is an Italian scholar, teacher, and activist from the radical autonomist feminist Marxist tradition.[29] Federici's best known work, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, expands on the work of Leopoldina Fortunati. In it, she argues against Karl Marx's claim that primitive accumulation is a necessary precursor for capitalism. Instead, she posits that primitive accumulation is a fundamental characteristic of capitalism itself—that capitalism, in order to perpetuate itself, requires a constant infusion of expropriated capital.

Federici connects this expropriation to women's unpaid labour, both connected to reproduction and otherwise, which she frames as a historical precondition to the rise of a capitalist economy predicated upon wage labor. Related to this, she outlines the historical struggle for the commons and the struggle for communalism. Instead of seeing capitalism as a liberatory defeat of feudalism, Federici interprets the ascent of capitalism as a reactionary move to subvert the rising tide of communalism and to retain the basic social contract.

She situates the institutionalization of rape and prostitution, as well as the heretic and witch-hunt trials, burnings, and torture at the center of a methodical subjugation of women and appropriation of their labor. This is tied into colonial expropriation and provides a framework for understanding the work of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other proxy institutions as engaging in a renewed cycle of primitive accumulation, by which everything held in common—from water, to seeds, to our genetic code—becomes privatized in what amounts to a new round of enclosures.

Socialist Feminist Praxis[edit]

Holds the belief that to achieve women’s liberation, women's liberation must be sought in conjunction with the social and economic justice of all people. Socialist feminists see the fight to end male supremacy as key to social justice, but not the only issue, rather one of many forms of oppression that are mutually reinforcing.[30]

Socialist Feminism, Motherhood, and the Private Sphere[edit]

Socialist feminists highlight how motherhood and the gendered division of labor many assert grows “naturally” from women’s role as mothers is the source of women’s exclusion from the public sphere and creates women’s economic dependence on men. They assert that there is nothing natural about the gendered division of labor and show that the expectation that women perform all or most reproductive labor, i.e., labor associated with birthing and raising children but also the cleaning, cooking, and other tasks necessary to support human life, deny women the capacity to participate fully in economic activity outside the home. In order to free themselves from the conditions of work as a mother and housekeeper, socialist feminists such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman saw the professionalization of housework as key. This would be done by hiring professional nannies and housekeepers to take the load of domestic work away from the woman in the house[31] .Perkins Gilman also recommended the redesign of homes in ways that would maximize their potential for creativity and leisure for women as well as men, i.e., emphasizing the need for rooms like studios and studies and eliminating kitchens and dining rooms. These changes would necessitate the communalization of meal preparation and consumption outside the home and free women from their burden of providing meals on a house-by-house scale.

Theorists[edit]

Socialist Feminism Groups[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ What is Socialist Feminism?, retrieved on May 28th 2007.
  2. ^ Buchanan, Ian. "Socialist Feminism." A Dictionary of Critical Theory. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 20 October 2011.
  3. ^ Margeret "Peg" Strobel; Sue Davenport (1999). "The Chicago Women's Liberation Union: An Introduction". The CWLU Herstory Website. University of Illinois. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  4. ^ Brown, L. Susan (1995). "Beyond Feminism: Anarchism and Human Freedom". Reinventing Anarchy, Again. San Francisco: AK Press. pp. 149–154. ISBN 978-1-873176-88-7. p. 208.
  5. ^ An Anarchist FAQ. What is Anarcha-Feminism?[dead link]
  6. ^ Dunbar-Ortiz, p.9.
  7. ^ Ackelsberg.
  8. ^ "Spencer Sunshine: "Nietzsche and the Anarchists" (2005)". Fifth Estate (radicalarchives.org) 367: 36–37. Winter 2004–2005. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  9. ^ Molyneux, Maxine (2001). Women's movements in international perspective: Latin America and beyond. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-333-78677-2. 
  10. ^ "No God, No Boss, No Husband: The world’s first Anarcha-Feminist group". Libcom.org. January 3, 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  11. ^ O'Carroll, Aileen (June 1998). Mujeres Libres: Women anarchists in the Spanish Revolution (54). Workers Solidarity. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  12. ^ "R. Fue una época transgresora, emergió el feminismo y la libertad sexual estuvo en el candelero. Hay rastreos de muchas lesbianas escritoras: Carmen Conde[primera académica de número], Victorina Durán, Margarita Xirgu, Ana María Sagi, la periodista Irene Polo, Lucía Sánchez Saornil, fundadora de Mujeres Libres[sección feminista de CNT]... Incluso existía un círculo sáfico en Madrid como lugar de encuentro y tertulia.P. ¿Se declaraban lesbianas?R. Había quien no se escondía mucho, como Polo o Durán, pero lesbiana era un insulto, algo innombrable. Excepto los poemas homosexuales de Sánchez Saornil, sus textos no eran explícitos para poder publicarlos, así que hay que reinterpretarlos.""Tener referentes serios de lesbianas elimina estereotipos" by Juan Fernandez at El Pais
  13. ^ ""Ni Dios, Ni Patrón, Ni Marido" (2009) by Laura Mañá". Cinenacional.com. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  14. ^ "Ni Dios, Ni Patron, Ni Marido - Trailer". Youtube.com. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  15. ^ Stokes, John (2000). Eleanor Marx (1855–1898): Life, Work, Contacts. Aldershot: Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-0113-5. 
  16. ^ Zetkin, Clara, On a Bourgeois Feminist Petition (1895).
  17. ^ Zetkin, Clara, Lenin On the Women's Question.
  18. ^ Kollontai, Alexandra, The Social Basis of the Woman Question (1909).
  19. ^ Kollontai, Alexandra, Women Workers Struggle For Their Rights (1919).
  20. ^ Zetkin, Clara On a Bourgeois Feminist Petition 1895
  21. ^ Zetkin, Clara Lenin on the Women’s Question
  22. ^ a b Kollontai, Alexandra The Social Basis of the Woman Question 1909
  23. ^ Kollontai, Alexandra Women Workers Struggle For Their Rights 1919
  24. ^ The Radical Women Manifesto: Socialist Feminist Theory, Program and Organizational Structure[1], Red Letter Press, 2001, ISBN 0-932323-11-1, pages 2–26.
  25. ^ a b Levine, Rhonda F. Legacies of the insurgent sociologist in Enriching the Sociological Imagination: How Radical Sociology Changed the Discipline, Brill Press, 2004, 978-9004139923, p8
  26. ^ Madsen, Deborah L. Feminist Theory and Literary Practice, Pluto Press, 2000, ISBN 0-7453-1601-8, p193
  27. ^ Eisenstein, Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, cited in Feminism and Philosophy: Essential Readings in Theory, Reinterpretation, and Application, eds: Nancy Tuana, Rosemarie Tong, Westview Press 1995, ISBN 0-8133-2213-8, p5
  28. ^ a b Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." Stanford University. [2].
  29. ^ Silvia Frederici biography at Interactivist
  30. ^ Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky (2008). "Socialist Feminism: What Difference Did It Make To The History Of Women's Studies?". Feminist Studies. 
  31. ^ Perkins Gilman, Charlotte (1898). Women and Economics. Small, Maynard & Company. 

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