ISJ 2 Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, Spring 1979


Barbara Winslow

Women’s alienation and revolutionary politics


From International Socialism, 2:4, Spring 1979.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up for the Marxists’ Internet Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Femininity as Alienation: Women and the Family in Marxism and Psychoanalysis
Anne Foreman
Pluto Press, London 1977

Many women come to the women’s liberation movement because of personal experience. Joanne Little and Inez Garcia were raped – and fought back. Maria Pitchford, the 22 year old woman from Bowling Green, Kentucky, became a feminist when she was faced with a 20 year jail sentence. The charge – performing an abortion on herself by sticking a knitting needle into her cervix. She could not obtain a legal abortion. There are countless other “personal” reasons women become feminists: sexual harassment on the job, losing child custody rights for lesbians, wife beating, sexual freedom, not being treated with dignity and respect within a political organization.

Certainly all this is of great concern to revolutionary feminists. But the truth is that the Marxist movement has had little to say about the problems of personal life – let alone their relationship to women’s oppression and the fight for socialism. It has tended to reduce the question of women’s oppression to that of a special part of the working class. This also means that little is known of the struggle of working women, including the lives and writings of revolutionary socialist women.

Even today, Sheila Rowbotham’s book, Women’s Consciousness, Man’s World stands out, after 13 years of the women’s liberation movement, as one of the few sympathetic Marxist discussions of women’s oppression. Yet, over fifty years ago, for example, Leon Trotsky could write in Problems of Life that “there are no limits to masculine egotism. In order to understand the world, we must look at it through the eyes of women.” Why is this? Why has the Marxist movement had so little to say about the world of women – half of humanity?

Anne Foreman in Femininity as Alienation has attempted to find the answer to this in Marxism itself. In particular, Foreman perceives that the inability of Marxists to understand women’s oppression is because they “do not consider their own subjective experience, their own individual relations of political concern.” [1] She explains that the purpose of her book is not “to add to the existing body of socialist and Marxist thought as it is usually presented, but questioning its whole tradition.” [2] This article cannot go over all the points she raises, but it will attempt to discuss two main points: first the role of the family and women’s oppression in capitalist society and then some of the political and organizational conclusions Foreman draws from her analysis of the family. In Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, Engels attempted to prove that the private family was not the natural order of things but developed with the rise of private property, class society and an oppressive state. Woman was “the first slave of the slave.”

“The overthrow of the mother-right was the world historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of his children.” [3]

Engels’ conclusion was that since women’s oppression was neither natural nor biological, but arose out of the private family in class society, then it could be ended with the overthrow of capitalist society:

“We can already see from this that to emancipate women and make her the equal of man is and remains an impossibility so long as the woman is shut out from social productive labor and restricted to private domestic labor. The emancipation of women will only be possible when women can take part in production on a large social scale and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant part of her time. And only now has that become possible through modern large scale industry which does not merely permit of the employment of female labor over a wide range, but positively demands it, while it tends toward ending private domestic labor by changing it more and more into public industry.” [4]

Other Marxists followed and developed Engels’ and Marx’s basic premise that women were doubly exploited as women and as workers. Eleanor Marx, for example, wrote about the special oppression of women in an essay called The Woman Question:

“The truth not fully recognized even by those anxious to do good to women is that she, like the labour classes, is in an oppressed condition; that her position, like theirs is one of merciless degradation. Women are the creatures of an organized tyranny of men, as the workers are the creatures of an organized tyranny of idlers ... Both the oppressed classes, women and the immediate producers, must understand that their emancipation will come from themselves.” [5]

Alexandra Kollontai, a leader of the Russian women’s liberation movement, and a member of the Bolshevik Party argued that women faced special oppression, and that special oppression was based upon the private family in class society. In Communism and the Family, written in 1918, she explained:

“Capitalism has placed on the shoulders of the woman a burden which crushes her: it has made of her a wage worker without having lessened her cares as a housekeeper and mother. We therefore find woman crushed under her triple, unsupportable burden ...” [6]

Women’s special oppression also made it necessary for women’s special demands and organization:

“A woman worker is not only a member of the working class, but at the same time she is a representative of one entire half of the human race. As opposed to the feminists, the socialists in demanding equal rights for women in state and society, do not shut their eyes to the fact that women’s responsibilities towards the social collective society will always be somewhat different to men’s. The woman is not only an independent worker and citizen – at the same time she is a mother, a bearer of the future.” [7]

The Marxist argument, developed in the 19th and early 20th century, was that the oppression of women is intrinsic to capitalism and is enforced by the family structure, or privatized reproduction. Today this takes place through an extended family, nuclear family, commune, single parent family, gay parents, any form of family. But it is not the reproduction of society by the whole of society, i.e. communism or primitive communism.

The primary role of women throughout capitalist society has been that of mother including the important role of socializing and educating children. Women’s relationship to reproduction rather than production is the basis of her subordination.

Today, in both the worlds of private capitalism and state capitalism, the family is the basic unit of society. In the US, Great Britain, China, Russia or Iran, for example, the role of women is primarily to raise, socialize and educate children to be the future workers or rulers of that society. While in the advanced capitalist countries, there is a tendency toward sharing housework, nowhere are women free from the responsibility of child rearing.

Yet, Anne Foreman argues that the family is no longer economically central to capitalism:

“Both Marx and Lukacs failed to see that as social production became detached from the family, the latter relations apparently lost their economic meaning. Stripped of this, the family became the realm of the personal and the sexual.” [8]

She says that the main purpose of the family is to provide emotional gratification for working class men:

“With the advance of capitalist production, the woman gradually lost both these roles. Her position in the work force was weakened and increasingly the state, through the development of a more comprehensive educational system took on the industrial training of the youth of society. Thus, the role of women in the family devolved primarily into one of emotional support.” [9]

Foreman argues that the primary cause of women’s oppression today is no longer women’s role as mother and rearer of children, but her role as comforter to her working class husband:

“Men seek relief from their alienation through their relations with women; for women there is no relief. For these intimate relations are the very ones which are the essential structures of her oppression.” [10]

She also argues:

“Family life provided the relief where after the threats and assaults that social life made on man’s confidence, the woman confirmed his humanity ... Femininity in capitalist society takes its meaning from this relationship.” [11]

But are the tasks previously performed by mothers in the private family being taken over by capitalism? No. Less than 2% of all pre-school age children in the US are cared for in child care centres and the crisis is reducing the places available still further. All the rest are in the private family. The majority of children over age 5, when not in school, are cared for within the private family as well. Like pre-school age children, fewer than 5% of these children are in child care centers. The rest are cared for in their own homes, someone else’s home, or they are “latchkey children” – they take care of themselves in whatever way they can. [12]

Women are responsible for child rearing in a privatised reproduction system because women are defined as “mothers”. But women have other responsibilities within the family – cooking, cleaning, shopping, repairing – all done by women. According to a recent study, women spend more time on housework today than they did 50 years ago. [13] In 1924, a woman working full time in the home spent 52 hours on housework. Today, a housewife spends 55 hours per week. Women spend more time caring for their children in the home as well.

Women who are employed outside the home spend about 26 hours, or half as much time on housework as non-employed women. However, “modern life has not shortened the woman’s work day ... Indeed for married women in full time jobs, the work day is probably longer than it was for their grandmothers. [14]

The growing numbers of working wives and mothers in the labor force (56.4% of all working women are married; 53% of all working women are mothers of school age children [15]) has not meant that they are more able to rely on paid help for housework, nor has housework been lessened by their ability to purchase “labor saving devices.” Furthermore,

“… husbands of employed women gave no more help than the husbands of non-employed women. Contrary to popular belief, American husbands do not share the responsibility of household work. They spend only a few hours at it, and most of what they do is shopping.” [16]

While it is true in part that the development of “labor saving devices” quite often only adds to the work of women, there is another factor in the increase of time spent on housework. The development of the nuclear family is also responsible for the increasing burden of housework. In an extended family, other women, daughters, sisters, mothers, mother-in-law, grandmothers, etc. helped with the household work and child rearing. In the nuclear family, there is usually only one adult woman to do the work. With the trend towards women heading families as single parents, the burden of housecleaning and child rearing could be even greater.

In other words, housework, the tedious drudgery, which must be done to whatever degree, has not been detached from the family and taken over by capitalism. Whether women work inside and outside the home, whether they are single or married, they are more trapped by housework today than were their grandmothers 50 years ago.

And the important responsibilities of women within the family – child rearing and housework – serve capitalism well. Foreman’s main thesis is wrong. Capitalism has not detached or transformed the economic role of the family, and this point cannot simply be dismissed as “economic determinism.”

But can capitalism detach and fundamentally transform the family? Can women’s position be reformed? When capitalism was in its period of greatest expansion (1948–1968), the economic importance of the family to capitalism did not diminish. Even though greater numbers of women were entering the work force, and reforms were gained, including tiny increases in the number of child care centers, there was no fundamental change in the organization of reproduction. Equally important, capitalism cannot and does not expand indefinitely. As we have seen in both the US and Britain, when the economy moves into crisis, women’s oppression is increased. Many of the social services which partially eased women’s burden within the family, such as child care centers, expanded school services, parks, public transportation, health care, libraries, services for the elderly, the sick, the disabled and recreational services are often the first to be cut. Today, women are being forced back into the home, and this adds to and reinforces her oppression.

The private family also teaches authoritarian values, necessary in order to socialize children to perform in a capitalist society – i.e. obey parents in the home, teachers in the school and bosses in the factory. Because of the static nature of the family, it tends to stress the concepts of individual (or family) as opposed to society-wide loyalty. It is not surprising that in this period in the US, characterized by a rightward political drift, that the most popular TV shows glorify the private family, and in particular, women’s role as nurturer. (The second most popular TV shows are called “jiggle” or more honestly “tits ’n ass” shows since they blatantly portray women only as sexual objects.” [17]) It is not contradictory: women are whores and housewives.

Male domination and sexism persists in capitalist society, not only because men own and control the wealth and power, as well as all the major institutions of capitalism. In turn, the wealth of the capitalists and the success of their institutions depends upon women’s oppression. The ideology of male chauvinism has a life of its own, which like racism today, has transcended its original material base. Male chauvinism or sexism is irrational in some senses. Sometimes there is no longer a material basis for sexist ideas and practices, but men and even women cling to them because they give a sense of confidence, security, importance, power or hope – no matter how illusory.

Capitalism cannot provide the basis to free women from their role within the family. The billions needed for massive child care centers, or to socialize housework through free public laundries, cleaning establishments, etc. do not exist – not within the priorities of capitalism, anyway. There are no profits to be made from socializing housework or providing free, safe legal abortions. Ms magazine in August 1977 reported that the cost to private industry and the US government of giving US women equal pay for equal work for just one year would be over $80 billion. The work done by women in the home, the free educating and socializing of children, the future working and ruling classes, is invaluable to capitalism.

A third point raised by Foreman is that the primary source of women’s oppression today is “the personal and the sexual” between the man/woman husband/wife. There is no question that men, upper class and working class, have advantages and privileges from the private family and women’s oppression. And, there is no question that one of women’s roles within the family is to provide emotional and sexual gratification for men. In some states within divorce.

But what about the women who do not live with men and who do not sexually or emotionally gratify them – lesbians, widows, divorced women and/or single women? There are no reliable statistics on the percentage of lesbians within the US who live within a family unit. But no feminist would argue that lesbians are free from oppression since they do not sexually and emotionally gratify men. And even if many lesbian relationships are freer from some of the oppressive aspects of heterosexual relations, inequality is forced upon lesbians by capitalism. Lesbians live in a male world, work for male bosses, must send their children to male dominated schools. They are also victims of reactionary prejudices, denied jobs, housing, quite often their rights to have and care for their children, as well as places to socialize freely. Furthermore, the institutions of capitalist society brand lesbians as perverted and/or sick.

Of the 20.6% single person households in the US almost one third of them are women over 65. These women do not have to provide emotional and sexual gratification for men. Yet one third of them live below the federal poverty line. [18] Older women in capitalist society are far from being liberated. They cannot find jobs, are forced to live in meagre fixed incomes, quite often are economically, physically and emotionally dependent upon their children or social welfare agencies, and are mercilessly ridiculed by media and advertising as doddering old fools.

The number of families headed by women is on the increase. Today, one out of seven families is headed by a woman. In the major urban areas it is 3 out of 8. These women are in no way emancipated from oppression. They all do housework, and they all must raise children within the private family.

Women who do head households suffer double the unemployment of households headed by men. “Poverty is the common characteristic of families headed by women,” according to the US Department of Labor. [19] The number of poor families headed by women is rising, while that of men is decreasing. From 1970 to 1974, the number of poor families headed by women had risen 21%; those headed by men declined by 17%. [20]

Greater numbers of Black women head families than white women. And Black women face “triple oppression” as workers, as women and as victims of racism. Six out of every ten Black families headed by a woman lives below the poverty line; in those headed by a white woman, it is three out of ten. [21] Black women suffer double the unemployment of white women and earn the lowest wages on the economic ladder.

Black women may or may not provide comfort to Black men. But their oppression is both racial and sexual and transcends economic statistics involving poverty, unemployment, low wages and the worst working conditions. Education, housing and recreation for Black women is worse than for whites. Her oppression under capitalism is far deeper than interpersonal male/ female relations.

In order to locate the family in capitalism, we also have to look at the role of the state in terms of organizing and maintaining women’s oppression. For example, women’s wages are 58.9% of men [22], and that figure is even lower for Black, Hispanic and other racially oppressed women. Women remain, as they were 75 years ago, locked in the lowest paid jobs; in 1979 these are in clerical, service and domestic employment. [23] The overall unemployment of women is double that of men; for Black women it is double that of white women. [24]

The state maintains this oppression of women by discriminating in the educational and job markets. It maintains women’s oppression in other ways as well. One of the most blatant is the abortion laws which deny working class women access to abortion. Congress, for example, has cut off federal funds for poor women who need abortions. Federal money is provided instead for sexual experimentation in birth control pills, sterilization techniques etc. on minority women, especially Black and Puerto Rican women.

The struggle in the USA to pass an Equal Rights Amendment has only pointed out how many laws exist which deny women equal access to housing, credit, loans, social security benefits, divorce etc., or make it difficult for women to prosecute against rape (within marriage as well) or wife battering.

The women’s liberation movement has done a tremendous service by exposing issues such as rape, wife battering, lesbians rights, sexism in language, the media, schools and political organizations, and in attempting to get women to fight back. These struggles and issues should neither be ignored nor belittled. But the debate on the family has been to pinpoint the origins and causes of women’s oppression in order to end it. Anne Foreman’s analysis of the family means that her solutions are basically reformist ones. Women’s oppression is built into capitalism; it will take far more than a transformation of personal relations between men/women wife/husband within the family to overthrow the way the capitalist state maintains women’s oppression.

Furthermore, the family has indeed undergone tremendous change – the nuclear family with its biological father, biological mother and 2.4 children is less significant than 60 years old – but the primary role of woman as reproducer within even a new family structure has not fundamentally changed. The extended family was broken up by capitalism, but this did not alter women’s basic social role as a privatised reproducer. In the US today, the family unit differs radically along racial, regional and class lines. But women’s role within the different looking and acting families is basically the same – mother and wife.

If Foreman were correct in arguing that the family no longer serves an important part in maintaining capitalism, and that women’s oppression lies mainly in the conflict between men and women within the family, then one could conclude that the solution to women’s oppression does not lie in a revolutionary transformation of society. The role of Foreman’s “autonomous” women’s movement would be to mediate and solve people’s personal problems. The principle focus of political struggle would be within the male/female family, and male/female relationships.

Foreman’s conclusions regarding a perspective for feminism and revolution flow logically from her analysis that women’s oppression is primarily based upon interpersonal relationships within the family. It is therefore not surprising that there is no discussion in her book about women in the work force. Foreman’s analysis prevents her from seeing any relationship between exploitation and oppression because for her, the major conflict is taking place within the family. But women workers face super exploitation and special oppression because they are women. Every aspect of their lives, in the offices or factories, in the community and in the home is based upon their special oppression. Women are forced to work for the lowest wages, at the worst working conditions; they are the least unionized, they are the last hired and the first fired; women’s unemployment is greater than men’s and women face sexual harassment on the job. A working woman not only has no control over her own work, she has no control over her foreman’s or bosses’ roaming hands.

These aspects of women’s special oppression cannot be reformed away. They are built into the capitalist system – just as is her position in the family. A perspective for ending women’s oppression under capitalism cannot ignore women at the workplace. Today in the United States, the work force is actually 51% female. [25] This figure includes part-time women workers. Moreover, according to the US Department of Labor, 90% of all women will work at some point in their lives. [26] Moreover the American work force is no longer majority white male. If one includes all women, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and native Americans, white men are the minority. The implications of this cannot be ignored. It means that the issues of racism and women’s oppression are even more central to a perspective for working class revolution, based upon a united, class conscious revolutionary working class movement.

Capitalism has laid the basis for women’s liberation, by placing women in a position where for the first time in history they can be organized. Women work collectively and are exploited collectively by the same boss. At work, a women’s sexual oppression and economic exploitation are thoroughly intertwined. In almost every strike involving women – whether at the Essex wire factory in Indiana or in the Trico strike in Britain, the issues of women’s special oppression emerge and are heightened. Furthermore, it is; the workplace where women workers have the potential power t take control of their workplaces, and transform society in their own interests.

In the past, an argument downplaying the potential of working women was that they were not organized into the “big battalions” They are still not. The majority of working women are not in mining, the automobile or steel industry, trucking and heavy manufacturing. But this misses the point. Women are concentrated largely into service, clerical and domestic work. In the past 50 years, however, there have been tremendous changes in these sectors.

Clerical and service work has been transformed into manual labor similar to factory work [27], and now the first and sharpest attacks have been on the public sector, where most women work. And it is through these attacks, and the resistance by clerical and service, workers that women’s consciousness of oppression and exploitation will be heightened.

Any perspective for women’s liberation must be based upon working class women and in particular Black and Hispanic women who face the greatest oppression. All women are oppressed as a sex, but the degree of oppression is determined by a woman’s class position. For women of the ruling class, the oppression they face is directly counterposed to what they benefit as a result of exploitation. For working class women, on the other hand, the oppression they face in capitalist society is not counterposed, but constantly reinforces their exploitation.

A woman at work cannot escape her oppression as a woman, whether in terms of low pay, problems with child care, maternity benefits, sexual harassment etc. Working class and poor women face greater oppression than do ruling class women. Abortions are quite often unavailable, usually unsafe. The schools are worse and channel young women more into traditional women’s jobs. Health care is far worse, and housing and child care are inadequate. Greater poverty quite often means greater brutality within the home. A revolutionary feminist movement must be based upon working class women in order to uproot, destroy and overturn every facet of oppression: many aspects of which middle class women can and never will experience.

Instead, Foreman’s perspective for women’s liberation is through an autonomous women’s movement:

Self organization then, enables working class and middle class women to come together in the women’s movement on a political basis, each from their own source of strength. [28]

In practice, a women’s organization based upon middle class and working class women, each coming from “their own source of strength” would mean one dominated by middle class women. Furthermore, Foreman does not develop her ideas about autonomy and organization. One is left to ask, would this women’s group be revolutionary, reformist, separatist, what?

In the US today, an organization based upon Foreman’s analysis of conflict with the working class family would probably be racist. Black and Hispanic women must struggle against racial oppression. But Foreman’s analysis would demand that Black and Hispanic women choose between joining either white women or Black men.

The women’s liberation movement therefore must identify with and support all struggles of oppressed groups. In the US, for example, the issue of abortion, forced sterilization and birth control is one that clearly shows a relationship of oppressed groups. Almost all Black women view the pro-choice, pro-abortion movement with suspicion, and rightly so. They have heard feminists and professionals speak of abortion as a form of birth control. With the exception of a small number of socialist women, the women’s movement has not raised the issue of forced sterilization with equal intensity as that of abortion rights. Black and Hispanic women often look upon abortion as a form of genocide, even though 80% of all women who die from illegal abortions are Black and Hispanic.

Any women’s organization which takes up the issue of reproductive freedom must also raise an end to forced sterilization, if it wishes to have any relationship with Black and Hispanic women. Forced sterilization, being used as a guinea pig for untested birth control pills, is not a problem faced by middle class women. But it is an integral part of the special oppression of Black and Hispanic women. A women’s movement not based upon the interests of working class women, and in particular the special oppression of Hispanic, Black and other oppressed minorities cannot possibly take up the struggle against all of women’s oppression – no matter how sensitive it is to the personal oppression of women within the family.

But Anne Foreman does not explain what “autonomy” means. This is an important question, however, for the word has different meanings to different people. In the US, “autonomous” women’s organizations mean women’s organizations which only have women’s theories and programs. They are not dominated by “male” ideas, “male organizations” or males. [29]

Ideas, political programs and to some extent organizations are neither male nor female. However, women’s groups, like Black liberation organizations, tenants’ rights groups, rank and file workers groups, etc. will be dominated by one set of ideas and/or programs – reformism, separatism, cultural nationalism, social-democracy and in some cases, Marxism. There is no way that particular political ideas and perspectives can somehow be excluded from women’s organizations. The political perspectives put forward by women’s groups will be neither “male” nor “female”. Rather, they will reflect the dominant or competing forces within the society and they will be conservative, reformist, revolutionary, etc.

Anne Foreman does not even discuss the question of the politics of the women’s movement. According to her, it can act as a pressure group within trade unions, the Labour Party, the Communist Party and even perhaps other revolutionary organizations – regardless of politics. But she never explains how, or on what basis. Would she advise American feminists to work within the Democratic Party on the same basis that they should work within trade unions, tenants groups, different revolutionary organizations?

Women who are interested in fighting to end women’s oppression must build organizations of women in the work place, in communities, in schools – wherever and on a variety of issues. But because of the special oppression that all women face under capitalism, we believe that only women can organize and lead the fight for women’s liberation. Moreover, women will have to organize to begin the process of redefining what it means to be a woman. More newspapers, magazines and other publications written by and for women are needed. (On the eve of the Russian revolution, in a country where 95% of all women were illiterate, there were over 150 women’s newspapers and magazines.) By independent women’s organizations, I mean they are independent of the capitalist ideas, politicians, parties, trade union officials and institutions which maintain women’s oppression. Independent organizations of women must fight to end women’s special oppression. But they should not be separated from the struggles of the working class and other oppressed groups. The fact is that unless these organizations are part of the working class movement, and unless women are organized into a revolutionary organization, there cannot be a meaningful attack on women’s oppression and capitalism.

I began this review by commenting that the Marxist movement has written little on women’s oppression and its relationship to capitalism. There can be no excuse for this – none. But it does not mean that there is not a foundation upon which we can build. There is a great deal in the revolutionary tradition – beginning with the women of the French revolution of 1798, carried on by the women of the Commune, the socialist garment workers in the US, who organized the first industrial unions, Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of the Suffragettes, and of course, the Russian woman’s liberation movement which was part of the Russian revolution. [30] We also have much to build on in terms of the struggles.

Today, capitalism is once again in crisis. This crisis hits women – and in the US, Hispanic and Black women are hit the hardest. The attack is above all in the public sector – city workers, teachers, hospital workers and clerical workers. Anne Foreman’s analysis of women in capitalist society ignores the very real struggles that women are involved in today, and the basic issues of jobs, money, services, health care which women face – whatever relative importance – and I think it is very important – we put on the problems of personal life.


1. Anne Foreman, Femininity as Alienation (Pluto 1977), p. 154.

2. Ibid., p. 8.

3. F. Engels, Origins of the Family (International Publishers, NY 1969), p. 50.

4. Ibid., p. 148.

5. Eleanor Marx and E. Aveling, The Woman Question (London 1886), p. 6. Marx did not believe women were a class. She was attempting to compare the special oppression of workers as workers and women as women.

6. Alexandra Kollontai, Communism and the Family (The Workers Dreadnought Press 1918).

7. Alexandra Kollontai, Women Workers Struggle for their Rights (London 1971), p. 16.

8. Anne Foreman, op. cit., p. 74 (emphasis added).

9. Foreman, ibid., p. 102.

10. Foreman, ibid., p. 102.

11. Foreman, ibid., p. 93. She is not the only person to make this argument. Oayle Rubin, an anthropologist from Michigan, also argues that the family no longer serves capitalism: “It has been reduced to its barest bones – sex and gender.” From The Traffic in Women, in Towards an Anthropology of Women, p. 199. Irene Bruegel in IS 2:1 does not openly state that the family is no longer economically central to capitalism but asks questions about the Marxist approach. She complains that the Marxist analysis “fails to adequately explain why male domination persists”, that “there is nothing within this particular argument which shows that it is not possible for women and men to share domestic work equally, or even for men to take it over” and “why distinct sex roles and a power structure within the family are necessary”. (IS 2:1, p. 5)

12. US Handbook on Women Workers, 1975, p. 335.

13. Scientific American, November 1974. Parallel figures for Britain, for this and subsequent references can be found in Ann Oakley. The Sociology of Housework, London 1974.

14. ibid., p. 120.

15. US News and World Report, January 15, 1979, p. 66.

16. Scientific American, p. 118. The Harvard based project on Human Sexual Development reports that of 1,400 parents questioned in Cleveland, Ohio, only 12% shared housework equally. Quoted from US News and World Report, January 15 1979, p. 170.

17. Foreman does not mention the role of schools in socializing children to accept authoritarian values and sex roles. The school system takes up and reinforces what the family training began. In the US, children start school at ages 4 or 5. They are in school 6 hours a day, 180 days a year. According to Phil Jackson in Life in Classrooms. “... Aside from sleeping, and perhaps playing, there is no other activity that occupies as much of the child’s time as that involved, in attending school. Apart from the bedroom (where he has his eyes closed most of the time) there is no single enclosure in which he spends a longer time than he does in the classroom. From the age of six onward he is a more familiar sight to his teacher than to his father, and possibly even to his mother.” Life in Class Rooms (Holt Rhinehart and Winston, New York 1968), p. 5. (Also note his language – BW)

In the elementary schools today, 88% of all teachers are women. Less than 10% of all principles are women; a smaller number of women are school superintendents. Few women sit on school boards, let alone chair them.

Sex roles are also reinforced by the curriculum which provide women with a role model of wife, mother or secondary worker. Pleasure reading for children usually are about active boys and passive girls. The 1967 Newberry Award book, Up the Road Slowly, says “accept the fact that this is a man’s world and learn how to play the game gracefully.” (quoted from Sexism in School and Society, by Nancy Frazier and Myra Sadker, Harper and Row, New York 1973, p. 103). In one survey, out of 144 texts and 881 stories, only 344 had girls as the main characters. (Sexism in School and Society, p. 104)

In this and countless other ways, only women as elementary school teachers, dress codes, few adult women in positions of responsibility, curriculum depicting women as passive nurturers of men and children, all reinforce and add to the socializing role of the family.

18. Ms Magazine, August 1978, p. 43.

19. Women Who Head Families: A Socioeconomic Analysis, (US Department of Labor, Special Labor Force Report 190, 1976), p. 7.

20. Women Who Head Families, ibid., p. 9.

21. US Handbook on Women Workers (1975), p. 43.

22. US News and World Report, op. cit., p. 67.

23. See, for example, Louise Kapp Howe, Pink Collar Workers, p. 20. Cf. Chapter I for a full discussion of the structure of the female labor force.

24. Ibid., p. 13.

25. Report, US Department of Labor, October 1978.

26. US Department of Labor. Handbook on Women Workers (1975).

27. See, for example, Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital (1974).

28. Anne Foreman, op. cit., p. 57 (emphasis added).

29. For example, the Red Apple Collective, a socialist-feminist group, described what they meant by autonomy: “We are convinced that the unique contributions to a theory of patriarchy, of sexual politics, of a totalistic focus on society and of a women’s community are not expendable to the left in general to our lives.” Socialist Review, April 1978 (SR is an American social-democratic political journal.)

30. For a fuller discussion of the revolutionary feminist tradition, see Revolutionary Feminism, by Barbara Winslow (Hera Press 1978) (available in Britain from Bookmarks).

Top of page

ISJ 2 Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 20.5.2012