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Socialist feminism is a branch of feminism that focuses upon both the public and private spheres of a woman's life and argues that liberation can only be achieved by working to end both the economic and cultural sources of women's oppression. Socialist feminism is a two-pronged theory that broadens Marxist feminism's argument for the role of capitalism in the oppression of women and radical feminism's theory of the role of gender and the patriarchy. Socialist feminists reject radical feminism’s main claim that patriarchy the only or primary source of oppression of women. Rather, socialist feminists assert that women are unable to be free due to their financial dependence on males in society. Women are subjects to the male rulers in capitalism due to an uneven balance in wealth. They see economic dependence as the driving force of women’s subjugation to men. Further, socialist feminists see women’s liberation as a necessary part of larger quest for social, economic and political justice.
Socialist feminism draws upon many concepts found in Marxism; such as a historical materialist point of view, which means that they relate their ideas to the material and historical conditions of people’s lives.Socialist feminists thus consider how the sexism and gendered division of labor of each historical era is determined by the economic system of the time. Those conditions are largely expressed through capitalist and patriarchal relations.Socialist feminists,thus reject the Marxist notion that class and class struggle are the only defining aspects of history and economic development. Marx asserted that when class oppression was overcome, gender oppression would vanish as well. According to socialist feminists, this view of gender oppression as a sub-class of class oppression is naive and much of the work of socialist feminists has gone towards specifying how gender and class work together to create distinct forms of oppression and privilege for women and men of each class. For example, they observe that women’s class status is generally derivative of her husband’s class or occupational status,.e.g., a secretary that marries her boss assumes his class status.
In 1972, the Chicago Women's Liberation Union published "Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement," which is believed to be the first to use the term "socialist feminism," in publication.
Other socialist feminists, notably two long-lived American organizations Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party, point to the classic Marxist writings of Frederick Engels (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State) and August Bebel (Woman and Socialism) as a powerful explanation of the link between gender oppression and class exploitation.
On the other hand, the Socialist Party USA is an example of a socialist feminist party which is not explicitly Marxist (although some members identify as Marxists). The party's statement of principles says, "Socialist feminism confronts the common root of sexism, racism and classism: the determination of a life of oppression or privilege based on accidents of birth or circumstances. Socialist feminism is an inclusive way of creating social change. We value synthesis and cooperation rather than conflict and competition."
Socialist Feminist Praxis
Holds the belief that to achieve women’s liberation, women's liberation must be sought in conjunction with the social and economic justice of all people. Socialist feminists see the fight to end male supremacy as key to social justice, but not the only issue, rather one of many forms of oppression that are mutually reinforcing.
Socialist Feminism, Motherhood,and the Private Sphere
Socialist feminists highlight how motherhood and the gendered division of labor many assert grows “naturally” from women’s role as mothers is the source of women’s exclusion from the public sphere and creates women’s economic dependence on men.They assert that there is nothing natural about the gendered division of labor and show that the expectation that women perform all or most reproductive labor, i.e., labor associated with birthing and raising children but also the cleaning, cooking, and other tasks necessary to support human life, deny women the capacity to participate fully in economic activity outside the home. In order to free themselves from the conditions of work as a mother and housekeeper, socialist feminists such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman saw the professionalization of housework as key. This would be done by hiring professional nannies and housekeepers to take the load of domestic work away from the woman in the house .Perkins Gilman also recommended the redesign of homes in ways that would maximize their potential for creativity and leisure for women as well as men, i.e., emphasizing the need for rooms like studios and studies and eliminating kitchens and dining rooms. These changes would necessitate the communalization of meal preparation and consumption outside the home and free women from their burden of providing meals on a house-by-house scale.
Socialist Feminism Groups
- Chicago Women's Liberation Union
- Bread and Roses of Boston
- What is Socialist Feminism?, retrieved on May 28th 2007.
- Buchanan, Ian. "Socialist Feminism." A Dictionary of Critical Theory. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 20 October 2011.
- Margeret "Peg" Strobel; Sue Davenport (1999). "The Chicago Women's Liberation Union: An Introduction". The CWLU Herstory Website. University of Illinois. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
- Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky (2008). "Socialist Feminism: What Difference Did It Make To The History Of Women's Studies?". Feminist Studies.
- Perkins Gilman, Charlotte (1898). Women and Economics. Small, Maynard & Company.
- The Radical Women Manifesto: Socialist Feminist Theory, Program and Organizational Structure
- The socialist feminist project by Nancy Holmstrom
- Socialist Feminism: The First Decade, 1966-76 by Gloria Martin
- Silvia Federici, recorded live at Fusion Arts, NYC. 11.30.04
- What is Socialist Feminism? by Barbara Ehrenreich at the CWLU Herstory Archive
- Entry for Socialist Feminism in the Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History
- Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement By Hyde Park Chapter, Chicago Women's Liberation Union
- London Project for a Participatory Society A Canadian "anti-racist, pro-feminist, anti-capitalist organization"