This article is written by Parth Verma, a student of the School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru. This article seeks to elucidate the theory of Marxist feminism and its significance in the current era.
it has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
From the last 200 years, efforts have been constantly made to protect and uphold the rights of women all over the world through various movements. It started as early as the year 1789 when the suffragette movement was introduced to fight for women’s right to vote. From thereon, the feminist movements have only gained more and more prominence and recognition to inspire the current feminist movements. From the beginning of the 20th Century with rapid Industrialization taking place, there was further a need to protect the workers more specifically the women from facing any form of exploitation or discrimination in the workplace. As a result, during that time several thinkers or reformists laid down their own theories on the rights of women concerning several areas in the different economic systems. This article specifically aims to focus on the Feminist Theory devised by Karl Marx, a staunch proponent of communism.
What is the Marxist feminist theory
Feminism is a term used very widely in recent times and its definition has continuously been changed over the years to accommodate the changing needs of society. It essentially refers to any movement or a given set of movements to protect and uphold the various social, political, economic, or cultural rights of women and to provide them with equal opportunities to progress. The Marxist, Socialist, and even Capitalist feminist theories aim to achieve the same outcome but follow different paths. While Marxist feminism aims to liberate women by preventing them from being oppressed through some radical utopian demands, socialist feminism focused on liberating women by removing the patriarchy in society. Capitalist Feminist Theory on the other hand aimed to empower women by focusing on their economic freedom.
The Marxist feminist theory was focused on the exploitation women were subjected to under the Capitalist System with the amount of work they had to put in. They were forced to work in the industries for longer periods and were paid extremely low wages as compared to men. Even the working conditions were extremely dismal for them. Its main idea was that the women could be liberated only by eliminating the Capitalist System wherein the women were not paid sufficient wages for their labour. There are several aspects which Marxist feminism focuses on which are as follows:
The primary objective of Marxist feminist theory was to create a classless society wherein both the upper class and the lower class people are treated equally. At that point in time, women were considered to be inferior to men and didn’t enjoy equal rights. Further, the women in poor households were discriminated against in the field of labour and employment. On the other hand, the upper-class women or the Bourgeoisie enjoyed certain privileges without putting in any labor. By creation of a classless society, the vision of Marx and Engels was to ensure that there was collective ownership and the basic dignity of women in society.
Karl Marx’s theory focused on providing equal wages to both men and women for the equal amount of work they were putting in. There shall be no gender-based discrimination in terms of wage payment. In several books introduced in the 1970s, women were stated as the reserve army of labour which was however unrecognized many a times. As a result, they were not provided with equivalent wages for their efforts. Hence, they should also be provided with adequate protection for their labour.
Marx and Friedrich Engels under this theory also focused on the unpaid reproductive labour in which the women were involved.\ Women performed a very important role of bearing children or procreation which helped in carrying forward the future generations, but for which they weren’t paid anything. They also didn’t have an equal opportunity for carrying out productive labour. Being highly critical of Capitalism, Marx also held the opinion that capitalism was responsible for the state having control over a woman’s sexual desires or even their bodily integrity. The family eventually became a place where the women were oppressed and were considered to be subordinate to men thereby creating this gender gap in wages and status in society.
Social wages essentially refer to the amenities that are provided to the persons in the society. At that point of time, a large number of women all over the world were landless and were not allowed any social participation. Hence the focus of the Marxist Feminists was to shift the attention to the rural women who despite working on the lands were landless because of male domination and the erasure of the work carried out by them on the family farms for self-production or self-subsistence. This had two outcomes at large:
a) Firstly, the labour of women in the subsistence farms fell within the purview similar to that of reproductive labour as they were not paid the wages for the work which they did on their own piece of land.
b) Secondly, the rural household was now considered as one economic unit and eventually led to the erasure of the value and the labour of rural women.
Wages for household work
As stated before, the women were not encouraged to engage in productive labour in the industries and were largely subjected to housework. Hence under Marxist feminism, there was a demand for the inclusion of the household work as well as for the determination of the wages. Further, there was also an opinion that private property was the main reason for such an exploitation of the women and there was a dire need to improve their working conditions be it their own house or their workplace.
The Intersectional (interconnection between different sections of society on basis of gender, caste, or race) organizing of the women from the different castes, communities, or regions is a very important feature of Marxist Feminism. It essentially means that there shall be a wide coalition on the basis of the differences among the people. As a result, it would facilitate the interaction among the people with different identities and communities having different facets as a result of their continuous oppression. Such intersectional organizing of the people which focuses on the oppressions in recent times has played a vital role in promoting the social movements with the labour movements and facilitating increased cooperation between the agricultural labourers and industrial workers.
Under the Marxist Feminist Theory, emphasis was also laid on the emotional labour of the women. It refers to the labour that women have to be involved in for keeping their family members emotionally stable. Though it didn’t directly create any product or service which is expected from all forms of labour, it was equally important to ensure the well-being of the entire family. Even in the field of employment, there was an emphasis on emotional labour on part of women to fulfill the job requirement which however used to go unnoticed.
These were all the major aspects of the Marxist Feminist Theory which despite its limitations played a significant role in shaping the modern Feminist Ideologies.
The women were also involved in a form of labor that was byproductive in nature i.e., fulfilled two purposes. This was known as Affective Labor and was discussed by certain scholars such as Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, and Shiloh Whitney. These were all the thinkers who believed in Marxist feminism. It focused on the fine line that was there between the personal and the economic life of the women. While the women were involved in domestic labor, their work was also to be economically appreciated by including it in the overall production.
These were some of the important features of Marxist feminist theory which aimed to free the women from the clutches of Capitalism and provide them with the rights and dignity which they deserve.
What kind of philosophy is Marxist feminism based on
Karl Marx was a renowned socialist, reformist, thinker, and economist. He was clearly against capitalism and aimed to eliminate the class society or the hierarchy which existed at that point wherein some communities were superior (bourgeoisie) such as the industry owners and the others inferior such as the industrial workers who were exploited by the superiors. Owing to his ideologies, his theories on feminism and economics were also against the Capitalist practices and rather focused on communism i.e. collective sharing or ownership of resources. His Feminist Theory was also based on this premise. It is a social, economic as well as a political philosophy that aimed to view communism through the lens of Feminism.
The very philosophy of Marxist Feminism is that there should be no private property or private ownership because it causes greater discrimination against the women and reduces their role in society. Both men and women should be treated equally in society and for achieving this there was a need for revolution. At that point in time, there were gender-specific roles that were assigned to both men and women. While men worked outside, women used to work at home and raise their children for which they weren’t provided any wages. As a result, the males were considered superior and had the power to redistribute the income among family members. This was clearly disregarding the labour a woman carried out at her home and also led to a distinction between the bourgeoisie (Males) and the Proletariats (women). This was the concept upon which the Marxist theory was based. It aimed to lay emphasis on the recognition of women and the contributions which they used to make in society.
Through focus on the collectivization of resources with only a minimal amount of private ownership, there would be equality between the men and the women thereby fulfilling the purpose of Feminism. During that time, this concept of Feminism was in a clear violation of the existing norms in the capitalist society. Hence the theory is based on the Critical Philosophy of Law wherein the traditional forms of laws being followed at that point of time were challenged to bring about a change in the societal order. The orthodox gender-based division of labour was challenged along with the class system which existed to eventually stress on creating a classless society. Despite repeatedly mentioning the concepts of patriarchy and capitalism and the latter leading to the former, this theory failed to establish the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism being there since historical times. It failed to answer certain questions regarding the existing gender domination which eventually gave way to Max Weber’s Theory of Domination.
In the Indian Constitution, this philosophy was accommodated under the various legislations to empower women. Article 15(1) clearly prohibits any forms of discrimination against women. On the other hand, Article 16 mentions the equality of opportunity to be provided to women in the fields of employment. Various provisions like these have fostered the Marxist Theory in India and have led to a rise in feminist movements. With the growing cases of sexual harassment on women, forced marriages below 18 years, dowry, and even poor developmental laws, there is a dire need for Feminism in India.
Theory of domination
The Theory of Domination was developed by Max Weber which aimed to analyze the theory and concept of Capitalism using the concept of Domination. He had defined domination as a regime under which there is a person or a group of persons who rule over a particular group of people with an aim to influence and impose their will upon them. Further, there is also an emphasis upon a systematic administrative structure to impose the will of the rulers in case the people in that given area are huge in number. This administrative control is also a form of domination.
According to Max Weber, this domination or authority relationship can have either of the two outcomes:
1) It could lead to resistance or revolution on the part of the people when they are not ready to accept the authority of the leader or,
2) People will develop a belief in the authority of the leader thereby making it legitimate and leading to stability in the authority relationship.
The concept of legitimate domination is focused on the acceptance of authority or commands by a group of people. Max Weber under this pointed out that greater the acceptance more would be the dominance on the part of the ruler. He stated three pure types of Legitimate Domination that are a testimony to the validity of the Legitimacy claims.
It refers to the authority in which people have had the belief from time immemorial and the legitimacy of the people who have been exercising the domination under those traditions. In India for example, the caste system was being followed in which the brahmins had the authority or spiritual leadership over the people from lower castes. This is being followed to this date due to which it is known as traditional authority. It further has three major subtypes which include:
a) Patriarchalism: It refers to the Master’s authority over the entire household including women, children, and slaves due to the belief in the superiority of the physical and mental energies of males in the family.
b) Patrimonialism: Under this system, domination is because of the fulfillment of personal rights by an individual. This system aims to develop an administrative system that is a personal instrument of the ruler.
c) Estatism: This form of traditional authority plays a vital role in explaining gender domination and the authority of the males over females owing to their perception of superiority. When the administrative members have been appointed by the ruler, there might be status differentiation among them. As a result, there might be an irrational distribution of powers or economic assets among them.
Under this form of authority, people obey the commands owing to the charisma or personality of the leader which leads to their acceptance among the followers. In other words, the master imposes his/her will over the others because of their character which makes them a God-like figure owing to which people develop a belief over their legitimate authority.
In this form, an individual has the authority granted to him/her through the various social rules and regulations under a given law. No one could question upon such authority because the person would be legally authorized to carry out a particular act. For example, in the current times, the Chief Minister of any state has the authority under the law to head the Council of Ministers of the State, and no person can question that. This source of authority can hence be found in any bureaucratic setup.
These were the three types of legitimate authority as defined by Max Weber. His theory of domination was successful in partially answering the questions that the Marxist Theory of Feminism failed to address.
Limitations of Marxist feminism
The Marxist theory of feminism had a few drawbacks and certain issues which it failed to address. Due to this, it failed to cover and justify the aspects relating to women’s exploitation under the Capitalist system in an exhaustive manner. A few of the limitations are as follows:
a) Though the Marxist Theory involves a very exhaustive analysis of the exploitation of women under the Capitalist System, it strictly divides the industries between the public and private sectors. While in the Public sector it is possible to carry out such an analysis of the economic and the social exploitation of women but the private sector wasn’t considered worthy enough for it.
b) The feminist theory under Marxism was based on the fact that women constituted the Reserve Industrial Army. It explained the expansion and the contraction of the unemployment cycle. However, it failed to cover the aspects regarding the decline in fertility and the change in the value of labour while considering the same.
c) This theory failed to reach a complete agreement between the historical relationship of patriarchy and capitalism. The Marxists were of the opinion that capitalism was leading to a rise in patriarchy. Its elimination was a pre-requisite to eliminating patriarchy. However, it failed to justify the relationship that was established between patriarchy and capitalism. It was also contended that Patriarchy existed even before the development of the concept of Capitalism.
d) According to Friedrich Engels, the concept of Patriarchy came up after the development of the concept of Private Property which was considered to be unjustified. Nancy Folbre pointed out in her book that Patriarchy can’t be strictly defined in the context of private property and is affected by various other aspects under different economic systems. It was not only the concentration of private property among the males in society that led to patriarchy. It was inherent in society due to several other factors as well.
e) The Marxian Theory was largely economic in nature and focused on commodity production, class exploitation due to industrial labour, and other related aspects. However, it failed to take into consideration the social factors of inequality and discrimination such as race, gender, or sexual autonomy and hence doesn’t provide a systematic explanation of these.
f) The labour which is generally not sold to the master or the employer doesn’t hold any economic value under Marxist Feminism. As a result, at that given point the reproductive labour or the emotional labour in which the women were involved but received no wages was not to be considered. Hence it was believed that the housewives were unproductive which was certainly not the case. They played a vital role in any household and reproductive labour but which was not included in production.
These were the major limitations of the Marxist feminist theory which had to be addressed later on by the various thinkers such as Max Weber and other feminists in the future. It was suitably modified to accommodate such changes. Hence is very much relevant in the current times and has inspired a lot many feminist movements in recent times.
Applicability and significance of the Marxist feminist theory in current times
Marxist feminism was focused on empowering women by creating a classless society. This holds a lot of relevance even to this date. Several countries follow Communism defined by Karl Marx and even the Feminist movements worldwide are inspired by it. However, after the fall of the USSR in 1990, the feminist movements based on Communism haven’t been very successful. The theories stated by Karl Marx were highly generic with regard to feminism and failed to draw any relations between the variables discussed under his theory such as Patriarchy and Capitalism and how the former leads to the latter in any society.
In the current times, Marxist feminist theory acts as a tool to understand the relationship between the social order, women’s labor, and the ownership of property. His theory goes a step ahead to emphasize the consideration for the reproductive labour of women by payment of wages. In the current times, this becomes even more important because the number of working women is increasing and there is a need to facilitate their work-life balance. In the current times, the Feminist movements put forth the demands for the development of a political system under which women’s liberation, class politics, issues of gender identity, and sexual preferences are given paramount importance. This is what Marxist Feminism directly emphasizes.
It has inspired the current Feminist movements which demand the liberation of women in all economic as well as social aspects. This concept of Marxist feminism transcended the borders globally and entered into various countries. For example, the Marxist feminist Theory was introduced in Japan by Chizuko Ueno in the 1990s for overturning the general perception among people that housework by women didn’t hold any value. Through the introduction of this theory in Japan, the perspective of considering housework and child-care as emotional labor was accommodated in the legal provisions. All over the world, there has been a constant rise in the Women’s Rights Movements and Labor Movements for the protection of women’s rights with the help of this theory.
In India, Marxist feminism holds a lot of relevance for removing this perception of the gender-specific roles given to the male and the females in society. It reduces the employment opportunities available to women in the labor market. However, Marxist feminism focuses on the identification of Reproductive labor but nowhere did Marx mention how to achieve it. Still, in India, women’s work at home is considered inferior and they have no economic independence. They are dependent on the income of their husband and would be treated at their Husband’s whims and fancies. Yet in several other countries, the influence of this theory has been quite positive such as in Ukraine, Russia, the USA, etc.
Hence it is fair to say that the relevance of Marxist feminist theory is not a decline in the current era of growing Feminism such as in India. Yet, for several other countries, it is at the helm of the women’s movements and is still being persisted with. Certain changes have been brought to this theory by the feminists and some more changes might be needed for this theory to still remain relevant in current times.
The Marxist feminist theory aimed at combating the exploitation of women in a capitalist system. Based on the ideology of Karl Marx, it was partially successful in securing women’s rights. At the same time, it failed to provide an adequate explanation for the various contentions raised in the theory against capitalism. The very movement of Marxist feminism at that point was aimed at providing basic rights to women and to ensure the dignity of labour they were involved in. Over the years, when the need was felt to change its focus towards the new set of rights which the women demanded this theory was also suitably changed. Yet, Karl Marx’s theoretical base of Communism which calls for collective ownership of property among all through government intervention still remains intact and many feminist movements to this date are based on it.
Therefore, it can be concluded that the Marxist feminist Theory, despite all its drawbacks proved to be vital in igniting a sense of revolt among the women to fight for their rights. It gave a direction to feminist movements and if not all, questioned certain aspects of capitalism to hold the system prevailing at that point of time accountable. Now what remains to be seen is the effectiveness of Marxist Theory in the coming years towards the growth of feminism and feminist movements at large.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When did Marxist feminism begin?
Ans. Marxist feminism began around the 1840s when it was realized that under the Capitalist system, women were exploited by not being paid for the reproductive and emotional labour they were involved in.
What is Marxist feminist criminology?
Ans. The Marxist feminist approach to criminology focused on gathering the data on the crimes that were committed by the women, the social or the economic context in which the crimes were committed, and the behavior of the criminal justice personnel towards the female offenders.
What is the difference between authority, domination, and power according to Max Weber?
Ans. Power is the ability of an individual to control others or to direct them whereas authority is the ability to influence the people who are submissive to the legitimacy of the authority of that person. Authority refers to the power that is legitimate. Domination on the other hand involves an expressive manifestation in an attempt to control the parties. Both authority and domination are used in a legal sense and domination is a form of asserting authority.
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