Unveiling the Capitalist Roots of Women’s Oppression: A Marxist Feminist Perspective
Dr. Wafi Ahmed Khan
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
Kalinga University, Naya Raipur
Within the realm of feminist theory, Marxist feminists assert a distinct perspective on the exploitation of women. They challenge the notion that men alone are responsible for women’s subjugation and instead argue that capitalism, rather than patriarchy, serves as the primary source of women’s oppression. By examining the intricate interplay between gender and economic systems, Marxist feminists shed light on the ways in which capitalism perpetuates gender inequality.
Marxist feminists theorist recognize that the roots of women’s exploitation extend beyond individual actions of men. Their focus lies in the capitalist economic structure that underpins society. According to their perspective, capitalism bestows the greatest benefits upon capitalists themselves, perpetuating a system where the working class, including women, bear the brunt of exploitation. Thus, Marxist feminists align with radical feminists in highlighting the significance of unpaid domestic labor as a crucial form of women’s exploitation (Haralambos, 2000).
One of the key factors contributing to women’s disadvantage within the capitalist framework is their lack of ownership over the means of production. This deprivation of economic power denies women agency and perpetuates their subordination. Marxist feminists contend that gender inequality stems from the structural barriers that prevent women from fully participating in and influencing economic systems. This insight prompts a deeper understanding of the disparities between women from the ruling class and those from proletarian backgrounds, distinguishing Marxist feminism from other feminist perspectives.
Marxist feminism, akin to radical feminism, seeks fundamental societal change to eliminate gender inequalities (Haralambos, 2000). Its ultimate vision lies in the establishment of a communist society, where the means of production are collectively owned and controlled by the people. By dismantling the capitalist economic structure, they aim to eradicate the systemic sources of women’s oppression and pave the way for a more egalitarian society.
At the core of Marxist feminist theories is the identification of the economic structure and material aspects of life as the primary sources of gender inequality. Drawing on the concept of historical materialism, which posits that major shifts in production bring about changes in the social organization of work and family, Marxist feminists analyze the impact of capitalism on gender dynamics. This analysis, inspired by Karl Marx’s examination of the social structure of capitalism, holds universal applicability, transcending individual social characteristics.
However, it is essential to acknowledge the historical context in which gender inequality operated within capitalist societies. Until the late nineteenth century, married women in capitalist countries were deprived of property rights, rendering their earnings and business profits the legal possessions of their husbands (Lorber, 2005). This legal framework further reinforced women’s economic dependence and contributed to their subjugation.
Previously, Marxist feminism advocated for the remuneration of all women for their household and childcare labor, challenging the notion that these tasks should be solely motivated by love or familial duty. By recognizing the economic value of such labor, Marxist feminists argued that wives should be considered wage earners, entitled to benefits within the gross national product, including salary increases, vacation time, and sick leave. However, this approach had its drawbacks. Directly or indirectly compensating wives for domestic work created a scenario where they became economically dependent on their husbands, with limited financial resources. This dependence exposed them to precarious situations in the event of their husband’s illness, death, or departure.
To address these challenges, Marxist feminism, echoing the aspirations of liberal feminism, calls for women to have permanent full-time employment. By attaining economic independence through their own means, women can mitigate the vulnerabilities associated with relying solely on their spouse’s financial support. This empowerment extends to situations such as divorce, widowhood, or the choice to remain unmarried, ensuring that women have the necessary economic resources to thrive independently.
For mothers, achieving economic independence requires the availability of affordable and accessible childcare services. Marxist feminists recognize that the burden of childcare often falls disproportionately on women, hindering their ability to participate fully in the workforce. By advocating for comprehensive childcare support, Marxist feminism aims to remove barriers that impede women’s career advancement and economic stability. This not only benefits individual women but also contributes to the overall goal of gender equality by dismantling traditional gender roles and expectations.
From the Marxist feminist perspective, gender inequality manifests itself through various channels. One prominent source lies in the exploitation of women in unwaged domestic labor. Women’s contributions to the household and family are often undervalued and invisible within the economic system, perpetuating their subordinate status. Additionally, women workers are frequently utilized as a reserve army of labor during periods of heightened economic demand, only to be dismissed when the demand diminishes. This pattern reinforces gender disparities and perpetuates the devaluation of women’s labor.
Furthermore, the prevalence of low wages in female-dominated occupations is another manifestation of gender inequality. Occupational segregation, where women are concentrated in certain industries and professions, often leads to undervaluation and underpayment of their work. Marxist feminists highlight the need to challenge these systemic biases and strive for equitable wages and opportunities across all sectors.
In conclusion, Marxist feminists provide a distinct lens through which to analyze the exploitation and oppression of women. Their critique centers on capitalism as the primary source of women’s subjugation, emphasizing the intertwined nature of gender and economic systems. By addressing the economic structure and material aspects of life, Marxist feminists identify the roots of gender inequality and envision transformative change through the establishment of a communist society. Their advocacy for economic independence, recognition of domestic labor, and dismantling of gendered exploitation contribute to the broader pursuit of gender equality.
1) Haralambos, M. (2000). Sociology: Themes and Perspectives. Collins Educational.
2) Lorber, J. (2005). Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics. Oxford University Press.
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