Re: International Women's Day

Wed, 11 Mar 1998 09:27:56 -0700 (MST)
Martha Gimenez (

On Tue, 10 Mar 1998 wrote:

> To charge Marx with sexism would indeed be unproductive; however, to analyze
> how his sexism affected his work is a very needed project.

This project is useful when it serves as the basis for pushing further
the potential of marxist theory; but too often it becomes an end in itself
and results in theories developed as undialectical negations of whatever
the author finds objectionable in Marx's work.

It is easier to write about the alleged sexism (and why not, ageism,
anthropocentrism, anti-environmentalism, heterosexism, racism, and add
whatever "isms" I missed) of Marx, rather than take his theories seriously
and, acknowledging the shortcomings and silences about phenomena that
matter to us, use them to understand the world in order to change it.
There is practically no feminist theory reader that does not have at least
a chapter about how terrible Marx is and whole careers have been built
writing these critiques.

In itself, as i said in my previous message, this is an interesting
phenomenon with important unintended political functions. It certainly
does undermine the chances for building "a basis upon which to make
common cause with the workers'movement."

> With many other feminists, I have determined that Marx's analysis of
> reproduction (the family) places it in a position subordinate to production
> (labor). To me, such an analysis does not provide a basis upon which to make
> common cause with the workers' movement.

What does the notion of "subordinate" mean? Perhaps we mean different
things and I would like to learn what it means for you, because then we
could communicate better and perhaps discover we agree more than disagree.
This is how I understand the subordination of reproduction to production:

Under capitalist conditions, the mode of reproduction among the
propertyless is subordinate to their ability to earn a wage or a salary.
The satisfaction of people's needs including their ability to form
families, educate their children, afford health care, and live well in
their old age is subordinate to quantitative and qualitative changes in
the demand for labor which in turn depend on processes of capital
accumulation of a national and transnational character. It is also
dependent on the success of organized labor to obtain better wages and
legislation protecting workers' interests and it is in the process of
struggles that families may contribute to their success, though sometimes
workers will accept less than what they deserve to avoid unemployment
and the risk of failing to support their families.

Families, in turn, do what they can to survive, pooling the income of two
adults and often their grown children, and sometimes producing goods or
services for sale, or establishing cooperative relations with other
families. Families are not passive but, if they are essentially
propertyless, they will have a difficult time. Hardest of all is the
situation of women heads of households, especially older women.

This subordination of the mode of reproduction to the mode of production
is precisely the basis for workers' struggles for higher wages, better
working conditions and benefits. To acknowledge this objective
subordination of reproduction to production is not to belittle the
importance of reproduction; it is a way of making concrete what it means
to say that production is not intended for the satisfaction of needs. In
the way production is organized today, it makes propertyless women
dependent on men, children dependent on parents and adults, and the
elderly dependent on their grown children, a situation that will get worse
as the welfare states shrink and people are left to rely on kinship and/or
charity for survival.

> I commend the Red Feather Institute for raising the idea that capitalism
> externalizes costs to women.

I would say capitalism externalizes costs on propertyless women. While
the media and common sense avoid introducing class distinctions, I think
we should keep them alwys in mind. The oppression that capitalist women
may suffer is qualitatively different from what happens to the rest of the
female population, the vast majority, who depend on employment and/or
marriage for economic survival and, failing that, depend on state
provisions, charity or end up homeless.

in solidarity,

Martha E. Gimenez