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We believe that Marxism provides a strong foundation for analyzing women’s oppression in the context of class society, but also that this foundation has been further developed by feminist theory and practice, both inside and outside the socialist movement.
There are many different aspects of women’s oppression — including:
- The sexual objectification of women’s bodies
- Abortion restrictions that deny women the right to choose
- Racist sterilization abuse directed against Black women, Latinas, Native American women, and other women of color
- Rape and sexual assault
- Domestic violence
- Violence, bigotry, and discrimination directed against trans women
- Unequal pay on the job
- Legal discrimination
- Shouldering most of the responsibility for housework and childrearing, whether working outside the home or not
Moreover, women are oppressed in different ways and to different degrees depending not only on their social class but also whether they are white women or women of color, whether they are LGBTQ, disabled, and/or experience a host of other forms of oppression. In fact, many women are oppressed in so many different ways that it can seem futile to try to develop an analysis of what causes women’s oppression. And yet the fact remains that all women are oppressed.
On the face of it, for example, rape is a very different phenomenon from unequal pay on the job. It can also be difficult to analyze how the sexual objectification of women’s bodies corresponds to the ideal of sexual abstinence that unmarried women are also told they should practice.
A Marxist analysis provides the theoretical tools to analyze the root of all forms of women’s oppression — as flowing from women’s traditional role as the nurturers and caretakers in their families. The Marxist viewpoint is that women are classified as inferior, second-class citizens because of the rigid gender roles imposed by the nuclear family ideal under capitalism, which defines women’s primary role in society as nurturing and subservient full-time homemakers and mothers.
The nuclear family ideal, however, has never existed for the vast majority of people — certainly not for the vast majority of Black families, or migrant workers, or for working-class families as a whole. In the last 40-50 years, of course, the vast majority of women, including mothers, are in the workforce proper. And yet these ridiculous ideals live on — they are what Republican and even many Democratic Party politicians yearn to return to when they talk about “family values” — as a justification for opposing equal marriage for LGBT people or their attacks on contraception and abortion, or when they talk about “forcible rape” as if there is any such thing as non-forcible rape.
Understanding the root of women’s oppression under capitalism is important because it points the way toward ending it — by fighting for a socialist society. While a socialist revolution would not automatically or immediately result in the elimination of women’s oppression, a socialist society — based on fulfilling human needs instead of an endless quest for profits — can create the material conditions that will allow us to fight to end women’s oppression once and for all.