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THE BASICS OF SOCIALIST FEMINISM

The Basics of SOCIALIST FEMINISM

Socialist feminism is a young feminist movement, born in the 1970?s. But despite the three hundred-year age difference, socialist feminism retains many of the same goals as the first feminist movements. We will outline the major themes found within socialist feminism, including its analysis of women?s oppression, its ideas for activism, and its similarities to other kinds of feminism, specifically its synthesis of Marxist and Radical feminism.

"How can you say Mrs. Henry Ford IV is really in the same class as a Guatemalan peasant woman? We socialist feminists see the problem as a combination of male domination and class exploitation - our fight is against both! Real liberation is impossible as long as power and wealth in the world is monopolized by a tiny minority, and economic and social life is ruled by their lust for profits." -Introducing Feminism, Watkins, Reuda & Rodriguez

To understand socialist feminism, one must understand praxis. Praxis is a Marxist concept meaning the ability humans have to consciously change the environment in order to meet their needs. Socialist feminists, like Marxist feminists, hold that praxis is the one thing universal to all humans. Unlike Marxist feminists, socialist feminists hold that praxis has gender specific forms and extends to the private sphere of life. The private sphere of life is that of the home and the work that the woman (typically) does in giving birth to children, raising children, and maintaining the household.

Socialist feminists agree with radical feminists in the idea that gender roles need to be abolished. But they see gender and sexuality as social constructs both capable of transformation. While they acknowledge that biology does play a role in determining personality (as previously stated), anatomy does not confine or limit our capabilities as human beings on an emotional or a physical level.

Like Marxists, socialist feminists see capitalism as a major factor in women?s oppression, as well as in the oppression of other minority groups. Unlike Marxist feminists, however, socialist feminists believe that capitalism is only one of many intertwined factors that contribute to women?s oppression. Other factors include male dominance, racism, and imperialism. However, because women?s work (within and outside of the home) is not as valued as that of their male counterparts, women are forced to remain dependent upon males. For example, although a woman who is both a wife and a mother works 20 hours a day within her home, she is not monetarily compensated, and is therefore unable to gain equal status with her husband, who works 9 hours a day and is paid. Socialist feminism provides an answer to the problem of women?s poverty: the destruction of class distinctions.

Unlike Marxist feminist theory, socialist feminists believe that the home is not just a place of consumption, but of production as well. Women?s work within the home, having and raising children, as well as supporting men by doing cooking, cleaning, and other forms of housework which permit men to work outside the home, are all forms of production because they contribute to society at large. Production, according to socialist feminists, should not be measured in dollars, but rather in social worth.

The Goals of SOCIALIST FEMINISM

"Put more emphasis on making alliances with other oppressed groups and classes ? anti-imperialist movements, workers? organizations, the political parties to the left. They [socialist feminists] were engaged in a permanent dialogue ? sometimes exhausting, sometimes exhilarating ? with the progressive men in these organizations about the meaning and importance of the feminist struggle, about the way gender oppression is reflected and reinforced within personal and family relationships ? within the very structure of liberal movements and parties." -Introducing Feminism, Watkins, Reuda & Rodriguez

Socialist feminists propose the complete eradication of all political, economic and social foundations of contemporary society. Specifically, education, work, sexuality and parenting must undergo thorough transformations. Sexual division of labor, which locks men and women into stereotypical occupational categories, must cease. Women should be permitted, respected and valued for all types of work within traditionally male as well as female fields, and adequately compensated for such work. They should be free from economic and gender specific constraints, even if it means reorganizing the family structure of sharing of child rearing responsibilities. They should be also be reunited with the fruits of their labor, by ending the alienation produced when they are forced to tailor their goals, personalities, and very lives to the wishes of men.

Alienation refers to relationships that are naturally interdependent but have been artificially separated or placed in opposition. Socialist feminists have adopted the Marxist concept of alienation to describe the situation of women in the world. Unlike Marxist feminists who only consider alienation in the workplace, socialist feminists also apply alienation to women's work in the home.

Socialist feminist activism differs from other forms of feminist activism in that it focuses a great deal on collaborating with other oppressed groups. Feminism has frequently been condemned as exclusionary representing only white heterosexual middle class women. But socialist feminists are inclusive, however. They include all groups that suffer as a result of capitalism, male dominance, or discrimination in their fight.

Quiz: Are you a socialist feminist?
(Feminist Theories and Feminist Psychotherapies by Carolyn Enns)

Self-Assessment Questionnaire (Authored by Edna Rawlings and Diane Carter in 1977) Indicate your level of agreement for each item by using the following scale:

  • Don't agree 1
  • Slightly agree 2
  • Moderately Agree 3
  • Strongly Agree 4
  • Completely Agree 5

    1) Women must gain full economic rights and independence in order to be guaranteed the freedom and civil liberties they are entitled to.

    2) Women will only gain full equality with men when institutions and social relationships are changed.

    3) Financial resources should be redistributed so that adequate education, child-care, and work are available to all.

    4) Education, work, parenting practices, and sexuality (reproductive freedom) must be restructured in order to eliminate male domination and other oppressions.

    5) Some of the most significant issues facing women include comparative worth issues, guaranteed maternity and paternity leave, and the feminization of poverty.

    6) Oppression has multiple causes based on gender, class, and race distinctions.

    7) Economic institutions are the source of some of the most virulent forms of oppression.

    Results:

    7-14 Points: You feel fairly satisfied in a capitalist society, and have either not experienced, or not recognized oppression in your life, or in the life of those around you. While you do need for slight societal reform, you find the degree of reform suggested by socialist feminists to be extreme and unnecessary.

    15-21 Points: While you agree with some of the basic ideas of socialist feminism, you do not see a need for change as drastic as that proposed by socialist feminists. As you read the explanation of the socialist feminist ideals and suggestions for change, consider the impact that the combination of male domination and capitalism have had on your life, as well as on the lives of other oppressed people.

    22-35 Points: You are a socialist feminist! You recognize the necessity of fundamental change in all areas of society: political, economic, and social. Hopefully as you read the summary of socialist feminism, you will find validation of your own pre-existing ideas, as well as new concepts for societal reform.







  • Bibliography

  • Enns, Carolyn. Feminist Theories and Feminist Psychotherapies. New York: Haworth Press, 1997.

  • Jaggar, Alison. Feminist Politics & Human Nature. Maryland: Bowman & Littlefield, 1983.

  • Keller, Catherine. From a Broken Web. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

  • Kesselman, Amy, McNair, Lily, & Schiedewind, Nancy. Women: Images and Realities. California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1995.

  • The Boston Women?s Health Book Collective. The New Our Bodies, Ourselves. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

  • Watkins, Susan A., Rueda, Marisa, & Rodriguez, Marta. Introducing Feminism. Cambridge, England: Icon Books Ltd., 1994.

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