Female Oppression and Capitalism
Female Oppression and Capitalim With the protestant work ethic and faith in capitalism that we experience in society, it is no longer questioned that a person can advance socially as well as economically according to their skills and the output that is placed on developing these skills. As children we are taught that when we grow up we can be doctors, lawyers and even prime ministers; however, the myth that there are no barriers or social factors that of these barriers is the notion of gender, as restrict the mobility of certain groups as well as their ability to advance economically and socially, is exactly that, a myth.
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The most significant males have dominated history and to this day continue to occupy most of the key roles in society. Women have been viewed as being submissive as well as powerless to their male counterparts, which in turn has put them in a situation of greater economic, political and social exploitation. Society has created images and formed perspectives as to what is considered a “role” for a woman, and this image has evolved from the vantage point of male-centred thinking.
Marxist theorists view women as being oppressed in the bourgeoisie family and demonstrate that family creates inequality between men and women; it demonstrates that the entire structure of society, including the nuclear family, must be reshaped in order for there to be real equality in gender relationships (Hooks, 1984). The partnership between patriarchy and capitalism has dominated women’s labour and sexuality by reinforcing and developing the ideologies that rationalize the oppression of women.
This paper will examine how Marxist Feminism defines and identifies the source of discrimination, oppression and inequality. It is fair to say that Marxism sees the family unit as a result of the economic shape and form of society. The capitalistic system has shaped the structures by which sexual relations, as well as other aspects of life, are defined in today’s general public. Capitalism, therefore, necessitated the oppression of women and yielded the Marxist belief that the family was really the site of the reproduction of labour power (Duffy, Mandel & Pupo, 1989).
Women were exploited to create workers and thus became commodities in turn causing female oppression in the economy. Marxist feminism sees the root of oppression lying within the very economic system. It views the subordination of women in society through the class structure lens. The main concern here, as Marxist feminists see it, is that capitalism keeps women subordinate and stuck in positions which are dependent on men.
It argues that the very foundation of the bourgeoisie family rests in the inequality between husband and wife, where the wife is viewed as an unpaid prostitute, producing heirs for the transmission of property in exchange for board and lodging ( Engels, 1845). Many Marxist Feminism theories are based on the literature of Karl Marx, who also saw marriage as a form of prostitution, within which occurred the production and reproduction of life (Marx & Engels, 1987).
Marx argues that production of the means of existence, as well as the reproduction of the people who produce these goods had to exist in society; therefore, while men became workers and were exploited for their labour, women were exploited for their sexual identity and unpaid labour in the family (Marx & Engels, 1987). The very notion which capitalist policies are based on are founded on certain ideologies, which were created by the economy in order to be able to keep women in these inferior positions and confined to the nuclear family.
This belief is connected to Karl Marx’s view that culture and society are rooted in material, economic conditions and that human beings are essentially social creatures. His work calls for the obliteration of the bourgeoisie family; for Marxists, the bourgeoisie theory seeks to reform the system to the advantage of some women, rather than get rid of the system all together which exploits the majority of men and women (Wayne, 1987). The existence of violence against women, whether it is physical or emotional, remains problematic and to this day still exists in society.
The issue here is that these forms of violence are not coincidental; they are rooted in the capitalistic and patriarchal system itself, since women are viewed as expendable objects. Women are dehumanized by society and their role in the nuclear family is devalued. Therefore, the violence that is inflicted is only a continuation of the fundamental beliefs of the social system itself. The work of Marilyn Frye and her essay on oppression, demonstrates that women are literally “caged in” by the entire society that surrounds them (Frye, 1983).
This concept complements the Marxist perspective, as we see that what appears to be personal and psychological is actually embedded in the class system itself; physical violence is rooted in class violence. The Marxist feminist perspective has the most legitimate belief in the context of violence against women and the legal process. Capitalism therefore, nurtures a culture that makes it difficult for women to be able to break out of the economic system, and in turn creates a system that acts as a barrier to change in society.
It also allows for the violence of women to be unchallenged, as the value system that patriarchal capitalism nurtures exonerates the oppression, objectification and exploitation of women. With that being said, it is really no surprise that when and if women attempt to leave the nuclear family structure, the culture that capitalism has created puts up multiple hurdles in the lives of these women. For this reason, single mothers and lesbians continue to be stigmatized in Western society since they were able to break out of the state of dependency; they have left the private sphere of oppression only to enter the public sphere (Barret, 1989).
In the 1940s, a woman by the name of Simone De Beauvoir wrote a piece of literature on the conditioning of women, which has proven to be vital in the upsurge of feminist movements decades later. She believed that the definition of a “woman” was elusive as well as ambiguous. Although males are certain about the fact that they are males, women are far less certain about exactly what it means to be a woman (Deutsher, 2008). Women, unfortunately, are usually understood in terms of their relations to a man and therefore do not have an autonomous definition.
They are taught to view themselves through the eyes of their male counterparts and due to this it has always been males who have defined the social discourse when it comes to women. This notion is rooted in Marxist feminism, since the power of the male is entrenched in the nuclear family. Beauvoir’s work has aided in demonstrating that the patriarchal value system has created a society in which women view their roles as being defined by a force external to themselves (Deutsher, 2008); where their roles are moulded by society itself.
Women, therefore, experience the concept of the “looking glass self” and end up viewing themselves as well as their self worth through the eyes of others, rather than through their own value system. Although many believe that the concept of the glass ceiling is close to nonexistent and opportunities in society are equal for both men and women, many women are still forced to rely and depend on men. These perspectives are rooted in Marxism and the idea of class; by denying women power in the realm of class, men are able to dis-empower them.
Family and work are major elements which generate tension in the personal quest for ones positive sense of self (Meisenbach, 2010). Capitalism views women as consumers of “the products of capitalist industry” (Tong, 1998). In other words, men earn the money and women spend it. As long as women are expected to accept a dual role and work outside the home her oppression is worse instead of better (Tong, 1998). “Thus part of the function of the female wage was to ensure attachment to family. The male wage in contrast provided incentives to individual achievement”(Kessler, 1997).
Identity issues arise when women take on the role of the main breadwinner, creating confusion with the male counterparts in the home and in turn a negative toll on masculinity occurs. Women who were able to find jobs in professions which are dominated by males and also able to break the stereotypical mould still find themselves earning a similar salary as their male counterparts, at times even earning less for the same work and are still enduring hostility in the workplace by lagging behind in receiving bonuses and promotions, while still experiencing sexual harassment (Meisenbach, 2010).
Women must not only experience the competition for pay and raises with their male counterparts, but also prove themselves to their employers. In Alison Jaggar’s theory of alienation, she concludes that the isolation that women experience and feel at the workplace is also compounded by further alienation in motherhood, intellectuality and sexuality (Tong, 1998). Just as Marxist feminism states, Jaggar also concludes that sexuality is a commodity that women produce and the ultimate goal is the approval of males; resulting in her body being viewed as an object and creating feelings of isolation.
She also states that the experience of motherhood is also an alienating experience as the final product of a woman’s reproductive labour inevitably removes mothers from raising their children due to the fact that they are told to follow the advice given to them by doctors and psychologists, professions which are also male dominated (Tong, 1998). This just comes to show that although advancements in society might make it seem that women have been liberated to break free and make their own choices, they are still governed by capitalism and their lifestyle choices are predetermined by external forces to this day.
Marxist feminism allows us to see the oppression of women throughout the perspective of class. It effectively illuminates the issue of gender inequality in society and demonstrates that males have been able to build a society based on class, in which women can be objectified and exploited. Thus, Marxist feminism sees the capitalist class structure as the root cause of women’s oppression. The fact that women are disempowered in terms of their ability to be able to earn money, demonstrates that they are also disempowered in the field of gender relations .
Overall, while the Marxist analysis is legitimate in viewing the whole picture, it also at the same time overlooks the complexity of gender relations. Women’s oppression is also very much rooted in the issues of racism and sexism as well, but this issue cannot be determine through the narrow analysis of class. In many respects, Marxist Feminists believe that if women were able to join the workforce, while being viewed and treated as equals, they would no longer be oppressed (Horowitz, 2005). There are many other sociologists and theories that criticize the view points of Marxist Feminists.
Social Feminism for example, is another form of Feminism and states that men and the notion of patriarchy is the primary cause of women’s oppression. With that being said, one must understand that the Marxist Feminist view about capitalism being the primary cause of oppression is way too simplistic, and instead must be viewed in conjunction from different angles besides just the economic standpoint (Horowitz, 2005). Frederick Engels literature The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State elaborated on the hunter gatherer society which was a matriarchy, but once civilization developed in society patriarchy came to existence.
This conception however did not provide any evidence to back up his standpoint that the bourgeoisie wife was a prostitute (Horowitz, 2005). This concept is flawed as Engel’s just like Marxist Feminists attempted to use an economic philosophy in order to be able to explain the social institution. He disregards the complexities of human interaction in reducing marriage to a relationship of only sex for money (Horowitz, 2005).
Mary Wollstonecraft was an 18th century feminist who contradicted and argued against many theories and theorists who believed that women should not have an education. Her work A Vindication of the Rights of Women “ speaks to the problems of women of the twenty- first century as it did to those of the contemporaries of her age” ( Wollstonecraft, 5; 2004) as she argues pro women’s education rights. Women should have an education in order to be able to be on the same level as men and others in society. Wollstonecraft claims that women are vital to society or educating children and being companion to their husbands, rather than just wives; she also states “some women govern their husbands without degrading themselves, because intellect will always govern” (Wollstonecraft, 16; 2004). Instead of being treated as a commodity of marriage, she believed that women deserve the same fundamental rights as men and are able to equals in society without being degraded. It is clear to see that just like every other theory, Marxist Feminism has its flaws; most of these stemming from its strictly mono-causal view that the oppression of women is entirely an economic issue (Horowitz, 2005).
While Marxism attempt to argue on the basis of two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, Feminists attempt to expand on this concept by splitting the classes into men and women. In the economy, not all women exist in the same class but instead in all different classes of the economy which makes focusing solely on the theory of economics not plausible. The issues with Marxist Feminism seem to occur any time that economic theories are used in order to be able to explain social problems which are from patriarchy. Economic effects of patriarchy are really an extension of political and social situations” (Horowitz, 4; 2005) where as Marxism views the social and political effects as an extension of its economic philosophy. This however, does not make them unrelated, but instead demonstrates that if in fact the oppression of women is to ever come to an end, society must deal with social problems first while allowing economics to evolve because of social change, instead of social change because of economics (Horowitz, 2005).
In understanding these issues, it must be kept in mind that gender differences are socially constructed in our patriarchal society. The differences between men and women, and the understanding of our “roles” in society are also therefore socially constructed. Thus, the nuclear family is not only an economic unit, but also a social institution. As a result, women who act and participate within the nuclear family are faced with certain constraints, regardless of how free they believe they are to make their own choices.
In many respects, though it has its limitations, the Marxist perspective on the notion that the main problem on this matter is that the capitalist economy nurtures a certain culture which demands the nuclear family arrangement, is not incorrect. Capitalism has created the nuclear family; a sexist and classist institution within which women are oppressed and exploited. Bibliography Deutscher, P. (2008). The Philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir: Ambiguity, Conversion, Resistance. Cambridge University Press. Northwestern University, Illinois. Duffy, A. , Mandell, N. and Pupo,N . (1989) Few Choices: Women, Work and Family. Toronto: Garamond Press Engels, Frederick. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (New York: Pathfinder, , 1972). Engels, F. The Origin of the Family: Private Property and the State. University Press of the Pacific (July 2001), 1845. Frye, Marilyn. 1983. “Oppression”. Horowitz, J. (2005). A Critique of Marxist Feminism. February, 2005 Hooks, B. (1984). Feminist Theory. From Margin to Center. South End Press: Boston. Kessler-Harris, A. (1997). Feminist Frontiers IV.
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