Chris Andersen, Lauren Bryant, and Nora Rodriguez
Marxist feminism and its founders sought to employ a feminist analysis of labor and the ways in which economic oppression could be rectified. Marxist Feminism emerged from the ideas of Marx and Engels surrounding the impact of capitalism on the liberation of women. Women’s labor, such as housework, child-bearing, and rearing, was of significant importance to the functioning of a capitalist society. However, this work was unpaid and undervalued. Several figures of Marxist Feminism have made great contributions to the feminist analysis of women’s labor. One of the first of which being Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a first-wave feminist who offered significant analysis of 19th century women’s labor. Mary Harris Jones and Alexandra Kollonti were also first-wave feminists, who prioritized working class women. Second-wave feminists made further contributions focusing on the state of modern capitalism.
Marxist feminism is a species of feminist theory and politics that takes its theoretical bearings from Marxism, notably the criticism of capitalism as a set of structures, practices, institutions, incentives, and sensibilities that promote the exploitation of labor, the alienation of human beings, and the debasement of freedom. For Marxist feminists, empowerment and equality for women cannot be achieved within the framework of capitalism. Marxist feminism is reluctant to treat “women” as a stand-alone group with similar interests and aspirations. Marxist feminism thus distinguishes itself from other modes of feminist thought and politics by attending critically and systematically to the economic organization of societies, including stratification along the lines of class, by refusing to accord the category of “women” separate and special status, without regard to class; by its commitment to the overthrow of capitalism; and by its allegiance to working-class and impoverished women.
Throughout history there have been numerous examples of Marxist Feminism through various labor organizations. In 1972, at a women’s liberation conference in Manchester, England, Selma James announced the demand for wages for housework (Bishopsgate, 2023). This demand was among five others included in the pamphlet, “Women, the Unions and Work, Or…What Is Not To Be Done”. Later, joined by her co-founders Silvia Federici and Mariarosa Dalla Costa, the grassroots organization: International Wages for Housework Campaign (IWFHC) was formed. This organization called for an international recognition of housework and other forms of unpaid labor done by women, such as reproductive labor, as real labor. As well as payment for said labor. The Wages for Housework Campaign strived to bring community and security to people, generally women, who performed domestic labor without compensation. This organization also aimed to incorporate other injustices faced by those in community with them, such as women’s health and sexuality as well as housing and female dominated fields of employment (Stencel-Wade 2018). In 1975, 25,000 women in Reykjavík, Iceland went on strike under the campaign of Wages for Housework. This strike fell under both feminist and anti-capitalist frameworks and sought again to address unpaid labor, such as childcare, emotional support, and housework, that still went without wages or recognition (Jaffe, 2018). This strike led to the election of the first female president of Iceland and sparked other, similar, strikes abroad.
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