Re: Marx and women's liberation

Fri, 13 Mar 1998 18:49:33 -0700 (MST)
Martha Gimenez (gimenez@csf.colorado.edu)

On Thu, 12 Mar 1998, Terry Moon and Franklin Dmitryev wrote:

> It seems to me that certain aspects of the discussion of reproduction are
> problematic.
> Methodologically, there seems to be a synthetic construction at work in some
> of the contributions. Given the claim of women's "non-inclusion in Marx's
> theory as women," a synthetic approach would be to juxtapose some
> foundational concept (the one proposed is "reproduction") to what is held to
> be the sole foundational concept for Marx, production. This, however,
> leaves intact the reduction that has been perpetrated on Marx by post-Marx
> Marxists, and simply adds on to it a parallel though not identical reduction
> of women's liberation. Reproduction is far from adequate as a theoretical
> basis for comprehending women's movements. Theories spun on this basis tend
> to reduce women's oppression to one aspect alone, and exclude or make
> invisible women who do not engage in reproduction. It also reproduces the
> concentration on roots of oppression, rather than on dialectics of
> liberation (just as the Manifesto criticized the utopians for seeing the
> working class only as suffering and not as subjects of revolution).

To juxtapose means to place side by side. Radical and socialist feminists
have done precisely that while they developed a variety of dualistic
perspectives which essentially postulated a functional interaction between
production and reproduction, or capitalism and "patriarchy." Marxist
feminists, on the other hand, have conceptualized reproduction as an
aspect or moment of production and have examined how the dynamics of
production affect the dynamics of reproduction, is organization and
variation according to class and socioeconomic status differences. But
F. Dmitryev is right - an exclusive focus on reproduction obscures the
material basis for the oppression of women located in production; the
vast majority of women uder capitalism are part of the working class and
work for wages or salaries a large proportion of their lives;
furthermore, not all women become mothers (though the vast majority does)
and a large proportion return to working full time when their children
grow up and sometimes sooner than that. One of the significant changes in
women's labor force participation in the last decades has been the
increase in the employment of women with children younger than five years
of age. An exclusive focus on reproduction contributes to reinforce the
perception that working men and women do not share common interests
in the long term, and that the major or only basis of the oppression of
women is their reproductive activity.

> And perhaps that is one of the problems of Engels's Origin of the Family.
> It is striking how frequently this work has been referred to in the
> discussion, while only Kevin Anderson has mentioned Marx's Ethnological
> Notebooks, which are very different from Origin of the Family. But to see
> that in the proper light, I propose a second look at the assumption that
> women "as women" were not included in Marx's theory.

I think you have convinced me i should read the Ethnological Notebooks.

I found the rest of your comments most informative and useful.

in solidarity,

Martha E. Gimenez
gimenez@csf.colorado.edu