< Sharon Smith: Engels and the Origin of Women’s Oppression (Fall 1997)

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Sharon Smith

Engels and the Origin of Women’s Oppression

(Fall 1997)

From International Socialist Review, Issue 2, Fall 1997.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Sharon Smith is a regular columnist for Socialist Worker and the author of a forthcoming book on Marxism and women’s liberation, to be published by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change.

HOW CAN we end women’s oppression? This question can only be answered by posing yet another question: why are women oppressed? Unless we determine the source of women’s oppression, we don’t know who or what needs changing. This, the “woman question,” has been a source of controversy for well over a century. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels located the origin of women’s oppression in the rise of class society. Their analysis of women’s oppression was not something that was tagged on as an afterthought to their analysis of class society but was integral to it from the very beginning. When Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848, ideas of women’s liberation were already a central part of revolutionary socialist theory:

The bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that [under communism] the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion than that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to women.

He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at [by communists] is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production. [1]

Marx and Engels developed a theory of women’s oppression over a lifetime, culminating in the publication of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State in 1884. [2] Engels wrote The Origin after Marx’s death, but it was a joint collaboration, as he used Marx’s detailed notes along with his own.

The theory put forward in The Origin is based largely upon the pioneering research of the nineteenth-century anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan. Morgan’s research, published in 1877 in a 560-page volume called Ancient Society, was the first materialist attempt to understand the evolution of human social organization. He discovered, through extensive contact with the Iroquois Indians in upstate New York, a kinship system which took a completely different form than the modern nuclear family. Within it, the Iroquois lived in relative equality and women exercised a great deal of authority. This discovery inspired Morgan to study other societies, and, in so doing, he learned that other Native American societies located thousands of miles from the Iroquois used remarkably similar kinship structures. This led him to argue that human society had evolved through successive stages, based upon the development of the “successive arts of subsistence.” [3] While some of Morgan’s anthropological data is now outdated, a wealth of more recent anthropology has provided ample evidence to support his basic evolutionary framework. [4]

Engels built upon Morgan’s theory in The Origin to develop, as the title implies, a theory of how the rise of class society led to both the rise of the state, which represents the interests of the ruling class in the day-to-day class struggle, and the rise of the family, as the means by which the first ruling classes possessed and passed on private wealth. In order to appreciate fully the path-breaking contribution of Engels’ (not to mention Morgan’s) work, it is only necessary to realize that Darwin laid out his theory of human evolution just a few years earlier, first with the publication of Origin of Species in 1859, followed by Descent of Man in 1871. The first early human skeletal remains were not even discovered until 1856! [5] For this reason, some of Engels’ specific formulations have needed revision in light of data which were unavailable in his time.

This in no way diminishes the lasting importance of Engels’ contribution. He developed a historical analysis which locates the source of women’s oppression. In so doing, he provided a strategy for ending that oppression. It is no exaggeration to say that Engels’ work has defined the terms of debate around The Origin of women’s oppression for the last 100 years. Most writers on the subject of women’s oppression have set out either to support or reject Marxist theory as laid out by Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State since it was published. Here, I hope to summarize the essence of his theory and touch upon the points of controversy.

Sexist Neanderthals?

While the battle lines have been drawn around widely divergent points of view, socialists most often find themselves alone in challenging the assumption that women’s oppression is due, to a greater or lesser extent, to men’s long-standing need to dominate and oppress women. This assumption is held both by traditional male chauvinists seeking to prove a vaguely defined tendency in men to dominate women (and also a vaguely defined tendency in women to nurture and therefore submit to domination), as well as many feminists seeking to prove much the same thing. The argument is rarely a purely biological one over testosterone levels. Yet, whether stated or implied, assumptions about biology and human nature lurk just beneath the surface of this debate. [6]

The specific explanations for women’s oppression range far and wide – some are downright preposterous and most are based far more on mere speculation than on any concrete evidence. The most common theories have been based on the assumption that men’s greater physical strength leads them to be more aggressive (the logic being, presumably, that men dominate women simply because they can). The familiar childhood image of furry Neanderthals dragging their women by the hair from cave to cave certainly seems to be based on this false biological assumption.

Much of the debate about The Origin of women’s oppression has taken place within the field of anthropology, the study of human societies. Far from an objective science, anthropological study carries with it all of the subjective baggage of its researchers’ own cultural prejudices. The most obvious is the male chauvinism that dominated the field until a few decades ago, which led most anthropologists to assume that all of the important functions in any given society were performed by men. Eleanor Burke Leacock cited one clear-cut example in her book, Myths of Male Dominance, from a passage by the anthropologist Robin Fox that was written as if it was only for a male audience:

For in behavior as in anatomy, the strength of our lineage lay in a relatively generalized structure. It was precisely because we did not specialize like our baboon cousins that we had to contrive solutions involving the control and exchange of females. [7]

Until the women’s movement of the late 1960s began to challenge male chauvinism, sexist assumptions provided the basis for broad generalizations. Claude Levi-Strauss, a leading anthropologist within the structuralist school, goes so far as to argue that “human society ... is primarily a masculine society.” He argues that the “exchange of women” is a “practically universal” feature of human society, in which men obtain women from other men – from fathers, brothers and other male relatives. Moreover, he asserts that “the deep polygamous tendency, which exists among all men, always makes the number of available women seem insufficient.” Therefore, “the most desirable women must form a minority.” Because of this, “the demand for women is an actual fact, or to all intents and purposes, always in a state of disequilibrium and tension.” [8] According to Levi-Strauss, then, women have been the passive victims of men’s sexual aggression since the beginning of human society.

Likewise, Western observers have frequently brought along their own cultural biases (including, often, cultural chauvinism) when they study hunter-gatherer or horticultural societies. Customs are measured using a Western yardstick, rather than trying to understand the unique value system of a particular culture. For example, the common practice among Eskimo women of sleeping with male visitors is often interpreted as an example of Eskimo women’s low status – of women offered up as gifts or property. Yet, this might or might not be true. As Leacock points out, this is an “ethnocentric reading which presumes that a woman does not (since she should not) enjoy sex play with any but her ‘real’ husband and which refuses to recognize that variety in sexual relations is entertaining to women (where not circumscribed by all manner of taboos) as well as to men.” [9] In and of itself, this sexual custom tells little about women’s status in Eskimo society today, when it is fairly integrated into the capitalist system – much less, what women’s status has been historically.

Theories abound which superimpose the features of a pre-class world onto societies which have lived for decades or even centuries under colonial domination. Marvin Harris, who has written a series of popular books on the origins of human societies, is a typical example of a writer who engages in this sort of speculation. Harris’s theory rests on his assertion that “male supremacy” is a direct result of warfare and female infanticide, which he says early societies used to prevent population growth from depleting the surrounding environment. He admits, however, “Unfortunately, the data needed to test my predictions about the rise and fall of the intensity of warfare in relation to growth and the splitting up of specific villages have not yet been collected.” Yet, lack of empirical evidence in no way dampens his enthusiasm for his hypothesis.

Moreover, Harris drew many of his conclusions based upon his studies of a group of war-prone Yanomamo who live on the border between Brazil and Venezuela, in which the men brutally dominate the women. As other writers have pointed out, however, other groups of Yanomamo are quite peaceful. Moreover, in all likelihood, this group of Yanomamo did not develop its propensity for warfare until 1758, when they fought off the first group of Spanish and Portuguese explorers searching for slaves – in other words, until the onset of colonialism. [10]

Feminist stick-bending

Many feminist writers have been equally guilty of shaping the evidence to fit the theory. For example, Sherry Ortner argues in Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture? that, historically, women’s capacity to give birth brought them closer to “nature,” while men’s capacity for warfare allowed them to dominate in the realm of “culture.” On this basis, she makes the sweeping generalization that “everywhere, in every known culture, women are considered in some degree inferior to men.” But she is short on evidence – and that which she offers is far from definitive. For example, she cites a 1930s’ study of a matrilineal American Indian society, the Crow. Although Ortner admits that in most respects Crow women hold positions of relatively high authority, she cites the Crow’s taboo toward women during menstruation as evidence that they are nevertheless regarded as inferiors. Among other things, menstruating women are not allowed to touch either a wounded man or a man starting on a war party. [11]

This fairly commonplace practice of isolating menstruating women in primitive societies is often touted by feminists as evidence that women’s reproductive powers are a source of fear and contempt universally. But they are not. For one thing, some hunter-gatherer societies have no menstrual taboos at all. In others, men try to imitate women’s reproductive powers. And, as Stephanie Coontz and Peta Henderson have pointed out, this interpretation of menstrual taboos leaves “the impression that women are [viewed as] unclean or evil instead of recognizing that certain substances, such as blood, are considered dangerous, whether shed by women or men” in many societies. [12]

To be sure, some feminist anthropologists – particularly socialist-feminists, like Coontz and Henderson quoted above – have contributed to our understanding of women’s oppression historically, and in some cases have helped to further develop Engels’ theory. [13] And some feminist anthropologists have contributed extensive data helping to substantiate Engels’ claim of the existence of pre-class egalitarian societies, such as Patricia Draper’s study of !Kung society in Southern Africa and Judith Brown’s research on the Iroquois.

But, in its purest form, much of feminist theory rests upon no more than supposition – the range of which is limited only by the imaginations of its authors. Depending upon who is doing the writing, men dominate women because they hold women in contempt for their ability to bear children – or because they are jealous of women’s ability to bear children. Men oppress women because long ago women formed a powerful matriarchy which was overthrown – or because men have always been a tyrannical patriarchy. Gerda Lerner argues in her book, The Creation of Patriarchy, “Feminists, beginning with Simone de Beauvoir ... [have explained women’s oppression] as caused by either male biology or male psychology.” She goes on to describe a sampling of feminist theories, all of which border on the outlandish:

Thus, Susan Brownmiller sees man’s ability to rape women leading to their propensity to rape women and shows how this has led to male dominance over women and to male supremacy. Elizabeth Fisher ingeniously argued that the domestication of animals ... led men to the idea of raping women. She claimed that the brutalization and violence connected with animal domestication led to men’s sexual dominance and institutionalized aggression. More recently, Mary O’Brien built an elaborate explanation of The origin of male dominance on men’s psychological need to compensate for their inability to bear children through the construction of institutions of dominance and, like Fisher, dated this “discovery” in the period of the discovery of animal domestication. [14]

The Marxist method

Marxist theory approaches the question of women’s oppression quite differently – from a materialist standpoint. It is based not upon speculation, but upon piecing together what we actually know about the evolution of human society. Most importantly, we know that women have not always suffered oppression – in fact, the evidence shows that in a number of more primitive societies, women have been regarded as the equals of men. It was only recently in the evolution of human beings that the social position of women has fallen compared with that of men.

In his introduction to the first edition of The Origin, Engels explains materialism as follows:

According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. This, again, is of a twofold character: on the one side, the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. [15]

But Marxism is both materialist and dialectical. It is based upon an understanding of history which sees human beings as both 1) products of the natural world and 2) able to interact with their natural surroundings, in the process changing themselves and the world around them.

It is true that there are some things about the earliest human societies which we cannot know because there are no written records. Nevertheless, by studying tools, bones, and other fossils, it is possible to see what distinguished our human ancestors from apes. In the first instance, it was their ability to plan their actions in order to gain greater control over nature. This enabled them to eke out a means of subsistence in a wider range of climates and circumstances – a process which Marx and Engels called labor. In his unfinished article, The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man, Engels writes, “[I]n a sense, we have to say that labor created man himself.” [16] Chris Harman has argued that apes

are genetically programmed in narrow ways that provide them with the behavior appropriate to a limited range of environments, while we [humans] are characterized precisely by an immense flexibility in our behavior that enables us, virtually alone in the animal world, to thrive on any part of the globe. This is a fundamental difference between us and the existing apes. So gorillas are not to be found outside tropical rain forests, chimps outside wooded regions in sub-Saharan Africa, gibbons outside the tree tops of Southeast Asia, orangutans outside a few islands in Indonesia; by contrast, humans have been able to live across a vast swath of Africa, Europe and Asia for at least half a million years. Our genetic “specialty” is precisely that we are not specialized, not constrained by any limited range of instinctive behavior. [17]

The inclusion of meat in the diet meant that early humans could survive in a much wider variety of climates, so they could spread all over the world. The need for planning in hunting and other activities in turn necessitated coordination and verbal communication, which led to the development of the larynx. Tool making required manual dexterity and intelligence, which led to the development of the hand and the enlargement of the brain. The human anatomy thus evolved according to the “needs” of the labor process. But, in turn, the labor process advanced further still, according to the evolution of human anatomy – leading to improvement in the tools and other products used to master the environment and more complex forms of communication. As Engels put it, “Thus, the hand is not only the organ of labor, it is also the product of labor.” [18] This same course of development applies to human society as a whole.

Primitive communism

Before class society, the idea of a strictly monogamous pairing of males and females with their offspring – the nuclear family – was unknown to human society. Inequality was also unknown. For more than 2 million years, humans lived in groups made up of people who were mostly related by blood, in conditions of relative equality. This understanding is an important part of Marxist theory, although much of the earliest evidence for it came from an unlikely source: from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Jesuit missionaries who recorded their observations of the Native American cultures they encountered.

The Jesuits mostly were appalled by the level of equality they found – including the sexual freedom and equality between women and men. One Jesuit, when he encountered the Montagnais-Naskapi of Eastern Canada, reported, “I told him that it was not honorable for a woman to love anyone else except her husband, and that, this evil being among them, he himself was not sure that his son, who was there present, was his son.” But the Naskapi were equally appalled by the Jesuits. The man replied, “Thou hast no sense. You French people love only your own children; but we love all the children of our tribe.” [19]

The Jesuits recorded their disbelief at the fact that the Indians neither had, nor apparently desired, any kind of social hierarchy. This comment from Father Paul Le Jeune, writing in 1634, again describing the Naskapi, is typical: They “cannot endure in the least those who seem desirous of assuming superiority over the others; they place all virtue in a certain gentleness or apathy.”

Le Jeune and the other missionaries set out, of course, to change this state of affairs. “Alas,” he complained, “if someone could stop the wanderings of the savages, and give authority to one of them to rule the others, we could see them converted and civilized in a short time.” But the obstacles were many. “As they have neither political organization, nor offices, nor dignities, nor any authority, for they only obey their chief through good will toward him, therefore they never kill each other to acquire these honors. Also, as they are contented with a mere living, not one of them gives himself to the Devil to acquire wealth.” [20]

Lewis Henry Morgan drew the conclusion, after spending a lengthy period living among the Iroquois in his native New York, that the kinship system used by the Iroquois traced all blood lines through the mother rather than the father (matrilineal vs. patrilineal descent). By studying other societies (initially other American Indian cultures), Morgan began to acquire evidence that human social organization had evolved, corresponding to changes in how people gained their livelihood. He outlined three distinct periods, each a progressive stage of social development. He called them “savagery, barbarism and civilization,” reflecting the terminology of the Victorian period. The names have changed since then, but the basic outline remains valid: the stage he called “savagery” refers to hunter-gatherer or foraging societies; “barbarism” is a stage in which agriculture predominated, first with “slash and burn” agriculture, or horticulture, and later using advanced techniques, such as the plow and large-scale irrigation; “civilization” is a term still used, which refers to the developments of urban society and the beginnings of industry.

Morgan’s research helped support Marx and Engels’ long-held contention that a long period of “primitive communism” preceded class society. But it also helped Engels to clarify precisely how women’s oppression arose hand in hand with the rise of class society. Morgan’s careful study of the Iroquois showed two things: 1) that Iroquois women and men had a rigid division of labor between the sexes; but 2) that women were the equals of men, with complete autonomy over their own responsibilities and decision-making power within society as a whole. [21]

Women elders participated in the deliberations of the decision-making council. As noted by a nineteenth-century observer: “They exercised a negative, or what we call a veto power, in the important question of the declaration of war. They had the right also to interpose in bringing about a peace.” As Judith Brown notes, because women controlled the planting and cultivating, they were given a great deal of authority, even over men’s activities:

It was not only in the domestic realm that the matrons controlled the dispensing of food. By supplying the essential provisions for male activities – the hunt, the warpath, and the Council – they were able to control these to some degree. Thus Randle writes, “Indirectly, too, it is stated that the women could hinder or actually prevent a war party which lacked their approval by not giving the supplies of dried corn and the moccasins which the warriors required.” [22]

Thus, women’s role in production afforded them – women elders in particular – considerable political power within society as a whole. Morgan’s and others’ data on the Iroquois stand alone in proving that women’s oppression has not existed in all human societies. But it is worth noting that more recent research has provided a plethora of examples which show that women enjoyed relative equality with men in pre-class societies. [23]

For example, studies of !Kung bush people in the Kalahari Desert draw similar conclusions. Patricia Draper found that in !Kung hunter-gatherer societies, women contributed equally, if not more, to the food supply. She described the two sexes living in complete equality, noting:

[A]mong the !Kung there is an extremely low level of cultural tolerance for aggressive behavior by anyone, male or female. In societies where aggressiveness and dominance are valued, these behaviors accrue disproportionately to males, and the females are common targets, resulting in the lowering of their status. !Kung women are not caught by this dimension of sex-role complementarity. They customarily maintain a mild manner, but so do their men. [24]

The rise of class society

Human evolution has taken place over a very long time – a period of millions of years. The earliest human ancestors (Homo habilis) probably appeared some 2 million or more years ago, while anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) did not appear until 200,000 to 100,000 years ago. The earliest forms of agriculture did not begin until 10,000 years ago, and it is only over the last thousand years that human society has experienced much more rapid technological development. [25]

For most of human history, it would have been impossible to accumulate wealth – nor was there much motivation to do so. For one thing, there would have been no place to store it. People lived first in nomadic bands – hunter-gatherer societies – sustaining themselves by some combination of gathering berries, roots and other vegetable growth, and hunting or fishing. In most such societies, there would have been no point in working more than the several hours per day it takes to produce what is necessary for subsistence. But even among the first societies to advance to horticulture, it wasn’t really possible to produce much more than what was to be immediately consumed by members of the band.

With the onset of more advanced agricultural production – through the use of the plow and/or advanced methods of irrigation – and the beginnings of settled communities, in some societies human beings were able to extract more than the means of subsistence from the environment. This led to the first accumulation of surplus, or wealth. As Engels argued in The Origin: “Above all, we now meet the first iron plowshare drawn by cattle, which made large-scale agriculture, the cultivation of fields, possible and thus created a practically unrestricted food supply in comparison with previous conditions.” [26] This was a turning point for human society, for it meant that, over time, production for use could be replaced by production for exchange and eventually for profit – leading to the rise of the first class societies some 6,000 years ago (first in Mesopotamia, followed a few hundred years later by Egypt, Iran, the Indus Valley and China). [27]

Engels argued that the rise of class society brought with it rising inequality – between the rulers and the ruled, and between men and women. At first the surplus was shared with the entire clan – so wealth was not accumulated by any one individual or groups of individuals. But gradually, as settled communities grew in size and became more complex social organizations, and, most importantly, as the surplus grew, the distribution of wealth became unequal – and a small number of men rose above the rest of the population in wealth and power.

The sexual division of labor in class society

The crux of Engels’ theory of women’s oppression rests on the relationship between the sexual division of labor and the mode of production, which underwent a fundamental transformation with the onset of class society. In hunter-gatherer and horticultural societies, there was a sexual division of labor – rigidly defined sets of responsibilities for women and men. But both sexes were allowed a high degree of autonomy in performing those tasks. Moreover – and this is an element which has been learned since Engels’ time – women not only provided much of the food for the band in hunter-gatherer societies, but also, in many cases, they provided most of the food. [28] So women in pre-class societies were able to combine motherhood and productive labor – in fact, there was no strict demarcation between the reproductive and productive spheres. Women, in many cases, could carry small children with them while they gathered or planted, or leave the children behind with other adults for a few hours at a time. Likewise, many goods could be produced in the household. Because women were central to production in these pre-class societies, systematic inequality between the sexes was non-existent, and elder women in particular enjoyed relatively high status.

All of that changed with the development of private property. According to the sexual division of labor, men tended to take charge of heavier agricultural jobs, like plowing, since it was more difficult for pregnant or nursing women and might endanger small children to be carried along. Moreover, since men traditionally took care of big-game hunting (though not exclusively [29]), again, it made sense for them to oversee the domestication of cattle. Engels argued that the domestication of cattle preceded the use of the plow in agriculture, although it is now accepted that these two processes developed at the same time. [30] But this does not diminish the validity of his explanation as to why control over cattle fell to men.

As production shifted away from the household, the role of reproduction changed substantially. The shift toward agricultural production sharply increased the productivity of labor. This, in turn, increased the demand for labor – the greater the number of field workers, the higher the surplus. Thus, unlike hunter-gatherer societies, which sought to limit the number of offspring, agricultural societies sought to maximize women’s reproductive potential, so the family would have more children to help out in the fields. Therefore, at the same time that men were playing an increasingly exclusive role in production, women were required to play a much more central role in reproduction.

The rigid sexual division of labor remained the same, but production shifted away from the household. The family no longer served anything but a reproductive function – as such, it became an economic unit of consumption. Women became trapped within their individual families, as the reproducers of society – cut off from production. These changes took place first among the property-owning families, the first ruling class. But eventually, the nuclear family became an economic unit of society as a whole.

It is important to understand that these changes did not take place overnight, but over a period of thousands of years. Moreover, greed was not responsible, in the first instance, for the unequal distribution of wealth. Nor was male chauvinism the reason why power fell into the hands of (some) men, while the status of women fell dramatically. There is no evidence (nor any reason to assume) that women were coerced into this role by men. For property-owning families, a larger surplus would have been in the interest of all household members. Engels said of the first male “property owners” of domesticated cattle, “What is certain is that we must not think of him as a property owner in the modern sense of the word.” He owned his cattle in the same sense that he owned the other tools required to obtain food and other necessities. But “the family did not multiply so rapidly as the cattle.” [31] Agricultural output also increased sharply – some of which needed to be stored to feed the community in case of a poor harvest, and some of which could be traded for other goods.

Obviously, every society across the globe did not experience an identical succession of changes in the mode of production. Engels’ personal knowledge was vast, but was limited to Germany and classical Mediterranean and Asian societies. He relied primarily on Morgan’s data to evaluate non-Eurasian societies. Nor do changes in the mode of production automatically lead to precise changes in reproduction. Thus, incest between brothers and sisters remained quite common in ancient Egypt, while it was banned in most comparably developed class societies. But since Engels’ time, as Eleanor Burke Leacock maintains, “Archeological researches have yielded an undeniable picture of [hu]mankind’s development from ‘savage’ hunters to ‘barbarian’ agriculturists and finally to ‘civilizations’ of the Ancient East.” [32]

Likewise, Chris Harman writes, “[T]he exact route from hunter-gathering through horticulture and agriculture to civilization did vary considerably from one society to another.” But,

[t]he divergent forms under which class society emerged must not make us forget the enormous similarities from society to society. Everywhere there was, in the beginning, primitive communism. Everywhere, once settled agricultural societies were formed, some lineages, lineage elders or “big men” could begin to gain prestige through their role in undertaking the redistribution of the little surplus that existed in the interests of the group as a whole. Everywhere, as the surplus grew, this small section of society came to control a greater share of the social wealth, putting it in a position where it could begin to crystallize out into a social class. [33]

The old communal forms of organization weren’t transformed overnight, nor were they transformed uniformly from one society to the next. But they were transformed. The generosity inherent in primitive communist societies, in which the exchange of gifts is a central part of social life, changed qualitatively in conditions of inequality. Gift giving was traditionally a mutual exchange. But if the gift giver is wealthy while the receiver is without property, it is impossible for the receiver to reciprocate. In such conditions, the gift giver can easily become an exploiter or a tax collector. A chief who wields little or no authority in a foraging band can easily turn into a priest or a bureaucrat standing over the rest of society once classes emerge. And a man who owns a few head of cattle or a fertile patch of land can, under the right conditions, become a wealthy and powerful landlord.

Karen Sacks summarizes the impact of private property on women’s overall standing in society:

Private property transformed the relations between men and women within the household only because it also radically changed the political and economic relations in the larger society. For Engels the new wealth in domesticated animals meant that there was a surplus of goods available for exchange between productive units. With time, production by men specifically for exchange purposes developed, expanded, and came to overshadow the household’s production for use ... As production of exchange eclipsed production for use, it changed the nature of the household, the significance of women’s work within it, and consequently women’s position in society. [34]

The nuclear family: the root of women’s oppression

It was under these circumstances that the monogamous nuclear family – the family as we know it – began to take form. The modern family arose for one purpose only: to pass on private property in the form of inheritance from one generation to the next. All of the romantic imagery of “true love” which has since helped to idealize marriage in contemporary society can’t change the fact that marriage is essentially a property relationship. Most people learn this all too clearly if they find themselves in divorce court.

From very early on, the nuclear family’s material roots in class society were crystal clear to Marx and Engels. In 1846, they argued in The German Ideology that with the abolition of private property, “the abolition of the family is self-evident.” [35] Engels understood the hypocrisy of contemporary ruling-class marriage and the degradation of women that went with it. In The Origin, he describes ruling-class marriage as typically, “a conjugal partnership of leaden boredom, known as ‘domestic bliss’.” [36] But, crucially, Engels also traced the historical rise of the family as a property relationship – which developed hand in hand with class society. He demonstrated this relationship by showing the meaning of the term “family” in the Roman Empire:

The original meaning of the word “family” (familia) is not the compound of sentimentality and domestic strife which forms the ideal of the present-day philistine; among the Romans it did not at first even refer to the married pair and their children but only to the slaves. Famulus means domestic slave, and familia is the total number of slaves belonging to one man. As late as the time of Gaius, the familia, id est patrimonium (family, that is the patrimony, the inheritance) was bequeathed by will. The term was invented by the Romans to denote a new social organism whose head ruled over wife and children and a number of slaves, and was invested under Roman paternal power with rights of life and death over them all. [37]

Engels adds, quoting Marx, “The modern family contains in germ not only slavery (servitus) but also serfdom, since from the beginning it is related to agricultural services. It contains in miniature all the contradictions which later extend throughout society and its state.” [38]

But there was a further contradiction between earlier communal social organization and rising class society, Engels argues. Wealth was owned by men, but since most societies were matrilineal, inheritance was passed through the mother, not the father. Moreover, without strict monogamy, a man cannot be certain that his wife’s children are also his own. Engels writes,

Thus, on the one hand, in proportion as wealth increased it made the man’s position in the family more important than the woman’s, and on the other hand created an impulse to exploit this strengthened position in order to overthrow, in favor of his children, the traditional order of inheritance ... Mother right, therefore, had to be overthrown, and overthrown it was.” [39]

Engels notes that because this transformation of the family took place in prehistoric times, we can’t know how and when it happened. However, “that it did take place is more than sufficiently proved by the abundant traces of mother right which have been collected.” [40] Engels probably overstates this point. It is true that the societies he (and Morgan) analyzed tended to be matrilineal. But the Iroquois was a relatively advanced horticultural society. Engels wrongly concluded that, according to the theory of evolution, this necessarily meant that all of the earliest hunter-gatherer societies were matrilineal. There is no way to prove or disprove this assertion, precisely because there are no written records. Although it can reasonably be assumed that some early human societies were matrilineal, we cannot assume that they all organized kinship structures in this way. [41]

But whether or not all early societies were matrilineal is not as important as it might seem. What is indisputable is that the onset of class society brought with it a universal shift toward patrilineage – and, more importantly, the role of men as “heads” of their households. Engels was undoubtedly correct – with more supporting evidence today than when he was writing – that the rise of the nuclear family brought with it a degradation of women which was unknown in pre-class societies. Engels argued,

The overthrow of mother right was the world historic 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 children ... In order to make certain of the wife’s fidelity and therefore the paternity of his children, she is delivered over unconditionally into the power of the husband; if he kills her, he is only exercising his rights. [42]

That the rise of the family was a consequence – and not a cause, as some feminists argue – of the rise of classes is central to Engels’ argument. Eleanor Burke Leacock describes how the rise of the modern family developed in response to the needs of a rising class society:

The separation of the family from the clan and the institution of monogamous marriage were the social expressions of developing private property; so-called monogamy afforded the means through which property could be individually inherited. And private property for some meant no property for others, or the emerging of differing relations to production on the part of different social groups. The core of Engels’ formulation lies in the intimate connection between the emergence of the family as an economic unit dominated by the male and this development of classes. [43]

Moreover, Engels puts forward a convincing explanation as to why women ended up the oppressed sex, rather than men. Many writers who accept Engels’ analysis of the rise of the nuclear family have nevertheless argued that it does not explain gender inequality. This has led to a search for a specific explanation – in particular, in men’s role in warfare or trade. But as Coontz and Henderson note, “The existence of separate sexual spheres can certainly lead to male dominance if the male sphere expands at the expense of the female, but most recorded instances of such a disruption – from warfare, migration, trade, or cultural stress – are the result of contact with already unequal and aggressive societies.” [44]

Engels’ analysis is straightforward – it may need further development, but its essence is there, plain to see. The sexual division of labor which existed in pre-class societies, when production for use was the dominant mode of production, carried no implication of gender inequality. Women were able to combine their reproductive and productive roles, so both sexes were able to perform productive labor. But with the rise of class society, when production for exchange began to dominate, the sexual division of labor helped to erode equality between the sexes. Production and trade increasingly occurred away from the household, so that the household became a sphere primarily for reproduction. As Coontz and Henderson argue,

The increasing need for redistribution (both within local groups and between them) and the political tasks this creates have consequences for sex roles in that these political roles are often filled by males, even in matrilineal/matrilocal societies. Presumably this flows from the division of labor that associates males with long-distance activities, external affairs, and products requiring group-wide distribution, while females are more occupied with daily productive tasks from which they cannot be absented. [45]

Hence, the beginnings of a “public” versus a “private” sphere, with women increasingly trapped in the household in property-owning families. The rise of the family itself explains women’s subordinate role within it. For the first time in human history, women’s ability to give birth kept them from playing a significant part in production.

Enforced monogamy and prostitution: Two sides of the same coin

Engels makes it clear that the development of a family based upon strict monogamy has nothing to do with morality: “Marriage according to the bourgeois conception was a contract, a legal transaction, and the most important one of all because it disposed of two human beings, body and mind, for life.” He quips, “And if strict monogamy is the height of all virtue, then the palm must go to the tapeworm, which has a complete set of male and female sexual organs in each of its 50 to 200 proglottides or sections, and spends its whole life copulating in all its sections with itself.” [46]

Moreover, he argues, the monogamous family ideal is based upon a fundamental hypocrisy. From its very beginning, the family has been stamped “with its specific character of monogamy for the woman only, but not for the man.” In the classic patriarchal families of Rome or Greece, men were legally polygamous. And even after polygamy was legally abolished in most societies, men continued to enjoy greater sexual freedom. Acts of infidelity on the part of women, which Victorian society condemned in Engels’ time (and for which contemporary capitalist society still holds a double standard), are “considered honorable in a man, or, at the worst, a slight moral blemish which he cheerfully bears.” Thus, he concludes of monogamous marriage:

It was not in any way the fruit of individual sex love, with which it had nothing whatever to do; marriages remained as before marriages of convenience. It was the first form of the family to be based not on natural but on economic conditions – on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property. [47]

Even then, the requirements of monogamous marriage have been in most societies more an ideal than a reality, even for women. Though men and women are legally equally bound to practice strict monogamy, with a wink and a nod, both sexes not uncommonly violate this obligation. Again, infidelity among men is more acceptable – indeed, to this day, the prevailing ideology is that men are “naturally” inclined to desire multiple sex partners while women’s biology makes them more content with just one. Nevertheless, as Engels observed, with the rise of the family, “adultery became an unavoidable social institution – denounced, severely penalized, but impossible to suppress.” [48]

Engels argues that the frequency of sex between married men and unmarried women became institutionalized over time. It “flourishes in the most varied forms throughout the whole period of civilization and develops more and more into open prostitution.” Thus, side by side with the development of monogamous marriage grew up the first commodification of sex in the form of prostitution – both products of class society. “With the rise of the inequality of property,” he argues, “wage labor appears ... and at the same time, as its necessary correlate, the professional prostitution of free women side by side with the forced surrender of the slave.” Monogamy and prostitution are two sides of the same coin, or, in Engels’ words, “monogamy and prostitution are indeed contradictions, but inseparable contradictions, poles of the same state of society.” [49] This observation by Engels is extremely insightful, for he could probably not have imagined, living in nineteenth-century Victorian England, the degree to which the sexual commodification of women would turn into a massive and highly profitable industry in this century.

The family under capitalism

Engels no doubt would also have marveled at other ways in which advanced capitalism has made dramatic changes in women’s lives over the last century. Today, most women hold jobs outside the home. In the United States, women make up more than half of the workforce. Moreover, technology has advanced so that the time spent on household chores, like laundry, has been reduced to a fraction of what it was in Engels’ time. Fast-food restaurants make it possible for women to spend less time cooking. Public schooling means that the time women spend on childrearing is greatly reduced from the days when they barely left the home.

Yet, despite all of these changes, women are still oppressed. Women’s wages are substantially lower than men’s throughout the world. Sexual harassment is a common problem for women workers. Substantial numbers of women still suffer from rape and domestic violence. Massive profits are made each year, not only from pornography, but through the sexual objectification of women in advertising and throughout the mass media. And, although most women hold jobs outside the home, society still holds them responsible for the bulk of childrearing and housework. [50]

And the fundamentals of Engels’ analysis of women’s oppression still hold. He locates the source of women’s oppression as stemming primarily from their reproductive role within the family and the family’s role as an economic unit in society:

In the old communistic household, which comprised many couples and their children, the task entrusted to women of managing the household was as much a public, a socially necessary industry as the procuring of food by the men. With the patriarchal family and still more with the single monogamous family, a change came. Household management lost its public character. It no longer concerned society. It became a private service; the wife became the head servant, excluded from all participation in social production. Not until the coming of modern large-scale industry was the road to social production opened to her again – and then, only to the proletarian wife. But it was opened in such a manner that, if she carries out her duties in the private service of her family, she remains excluded from public production and unable to earn; and if she wants to take part in public production and earn independently, she cannot carry out family duties ... The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife, and modern society is a mass composed of these individual families as its molecules. [51]

To be sure, Engels’ analysis needs some updating. For one thing, as the preceding passage shows, he underestimated the extent to which middle- and even ruling-class women would enter the professional and managerial workforce in this century, while a staff of servants relieves them of most domestic tasks. More importantly from a theoretical standpoint, Engels’ analysis of the family focused almost exclusively on the role of the ruling-class family. Thus, he never fully anticipated the degree to which capitalism would manage to incorporate working-class women into the labor force without diminishing their centrality to the reproduction of labor power. This is certainly understandable, since women in their childbearing years only began to enter the work force on a mass scale with the development of reliable birth control in this century. Engels also held an almost romantic vision of the proletarian household:

Here there is no property, for the preservation and inheritance of which monogamy and male supremacy were established; hence there is no incentive to make this male supremacy effective. What is more, there are no means of making it so. Bourgeois law, which protects this supremacy, exists only for the possessing class and their dealings with the proletarians ... And now that large-scale industry has taken the wife out of the home onto the labor market and into the factory ... no basis for any kind of male supremacy is left in the proletarian household, except, perhaps, for something of the brutality toward women that has spread since the introduction of monogamy. (my emphasis) [52]

Here, Engels rightly argues that working-class women’s entry into production is a step forward. But he overestimates the degree to which this alone impacts the status of women to men within the working class. From this passage, it is clear that Engels recognizes, but downplays, the impact of ideology on society as a whole. But as Martha Gimenez argues, “The class that controls the means of production also controls the conditions for the physical and social reproduction of the propertyless classes and sets the parameters within which the empirically observable forms of sexual inequality develop and change.” [53] If anything, the oppression experienced by working-class women is much more severe than that of wealthy women, precisely because their families have no property. (This was undoubtedly also true in Engels’ day.) There is no comparison between the life experiences of ruling-class women like Hillary Clinton or Ivana Trump and those of a woman clerical or factory worker.

But the difference is not only one of degree. As Engels described, once production shifted away from the household, the role of the family increasingly became one of privatized reproduction. Under capitalism, despite all of the other changes which have taken place, the nuclear family remains a center for privatized reproduction. But ruling-class families exist to reproduce the next ruling class; working-class families reproduce the next generation of workers. The very nature of the oppression suffered by women of different classes is therefore quite different. Historically, ruling-class women tend to be little more than showpieces, whose main social contribution is the birth of a son to inherit the family’s wealth. Boredom and a sense of uselessness traditionally characterize ruling-class women’s oppression. When they enter the managerial or professional workforce, this does not in any way increase their oppression as women, since they have a staff of servants at their disposal.

The same can’t be said for working-class women. Despite public education, today’s capitalists still take precious little responsibility for the legion of workers whose labor produces their profits. The fact that in the United States today 44 million people have no health care is one example of this lack of responsibility. The burden for the reproduction of labor power still lies primarily within the working-class family – and women’s role within it – both for enabling today’s generation of workers to replenish themselves so they can return to their jobs each day and for rearing the next generation of workers through childhood. The working-class family is extremely valuable to the capitalist system as a cheap means of reproducing labor power.

The large-scale entry of working-class women into the labor force hasn’t changed that fact. Engels argued that working-class women who hold jobs are nevertheless also expected to fulfill their family duties. But while Engels implied that working women would have to make a choice between the two roles, the experience of advanced capitalism has proven otherwise. Working-class women are expected to do both. The result is that working-class women face a double burden, in which they return home from work at the end of the day only to face all of their family responsibilities. Each day is a never-ending battle to fulfill both sets of responsibilities. [54] Thus, although women play a productive role in advanced capitalism, this alone hasn’t translated into equality with men as it did in pre-class societies. As long as privatized reproduction within the nuclear family continues, so will women’s oppression.

Women’s liberation and socialism

Given the relationship of the working-class family to the capitalist system, the answer is therefore not, as some feminists have suggested, convincing men to take on a greater share of housework. While socialists are in favor of men sharing housework, we hold none of the feminist illusions that this is a solution to women’s oppression, for reproduction would continue to be privatized. This solution is effectively one which would only affect working-class families. It would have virtually no effect on any family with the means to hire domestic labor. It would mean, however, that working-class men would share the burden for the reproduction of labor power along with working-class women – to the continued benefit of the capitalist class. Both working-class women and men deserve more, not less, leisure time – particularly today, when U.S. workers on average are working a month longer per year than they did thirty years ago. [55] Martha Gimenez argues,

[C]hanges in the division of labor between the sexes (i.e. greater male participation in domestic work and childcare) which seem to be “progressive” and useful for changing sex role stereotypes, are not only a relatively inefficient form of time use (hence the preference for purchasing domestic labor in the market by those who can afford it) but what is more important, also contribute to strengthen the family as the major locus for the reproduction of labor power, daily and generationally. [56]

Nor is legal reform the solution. Again, socialists support legislative reforms, such as an equal rights amendment, which would make women legally the equals of men. But, as Engels argued, “The legal inequality of [men and women] ... is not the cause but the effect of the economic oppression of the woman.” If an equal rights amendment passed through Congress tomorrow, it would make virtually no difference in the day-to-day lives of working-class women. Nevertheless, socialists favor legal reform because of the changes in consciousness which it can produce. Engels argues, “the necessity of creating real social equality” between women and men

will only be seen in the clear light of day when both possess legally complete equality of rights. Then it will be plain that the first condition for the liberation of the wife is to bring the whole female sex back into public industry, and that this in turn demands that the characteristic of the monogamous family as the economic unit of society be abolished. [57]

Winning legal equality for women can help to make it clearer that women’s oppression can only be ended when the relations of production on which it is based are overthrown. What was true in Engels’ time is even more true today – society has more than enough wealth to turn housework and the more burdensome aspects of childrearing into a “social industry” – into paid, productive labor. But this can’t happen as long as production exists only for profit. Nothing short of a socialist transformation of society will win genuine equality for women:

With the transfer of the means of production into common ownership, the single family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into a social industry. The care and education of the children becomes a public affair; society looks after all children alike, whether they are legitimate or not ... Will not that suffice to bring about the gradual growth of unconstrained sexual intercourse and with it a more tolerant public opinion in regard to a maiden’s honor and a woman’s shame? And finally ... [C]an prostitution disappear without dragging monogamy with it into the abyss? [58]

Was Engels right?

Engels has many critics. Some of this criticism has been invaluable. In particular, the anthropologists Eleanor Burke Leacock and Karen Sacks have applied more recent data to help further develop the Marxist approach to women’s oppression as laid out by Engels in The Origin, while casting aside his assertions which have been disproved. Stephanie Coontz and Peta Henderson have developed a useful analysis of the rise of patrilineal descent which builds upon Engels’ work. More recently, Chris Harman has developed a critique of Engels which helps to clarify his insights. All have been cited above.

One mistake which some of Engels’ critics make, however – and this is especially, though not exclusively, true of academics – is to dwell so much on the particulars as to obscure the theoretical framework developed by Engels. When one examines every detail of each and every tree, it is all too easy to miss the forest. For example, the sociologist Martha Gimenez, in an essay also cited above, offers some valid criticism of specific assertions made by Engels and, for all intents and purposes, convincingly defends the essence of Marxist theory. Yet she argues that “the presence of Marxist and non-Marxist elements in Engels’ text is an important determinant of the ambiguous nature of his views” – as if somehow Marx and Engels had parted ways. [59] Engels may have made a number of errors, but this was not one of them.

The problem is made worse when those who are unsympathetic to Marxism are doing the dissecting. Many feminist writers accuse Marx and Engels of “economic reductionism” – of reducing all social questions, including women’s oppression, to class relations. The accusation usually rests on the false assumption that Marxism subordinates women’s oppression to the more important arena of the class struggle. The underlying assumption is, of course, that the root of women’s oppression is at least partly personal in nature, and unrelated to class society – a product purely of the unequal personal relationships between women and men. Eleanor Leacock makes the point, “In western academic circles second-hand knowledge of (or assumptions about) Marxist ideas are legion, but Marx’s and Engels’ works are all too seldom read. The usual practice is to set up as Marxist theory the straw man of economic determinism and then to knock it down.” [60]

One of those most hostile to Marxism, Catherine MacKinnon, writes in her anti-Marxist diatribe, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, that Marx was interested in women’s oppression “only in passing.” She accuses Engels of sexism explicitly, stating, “The key dynamic assumption in Engels’ analysis of women’s situation, that without which Engels’ history does not move is (in a word) sexism.” Thus, she concludes, “The classical socialists believed first socialism, then women’s liberation,” as if Marx and Engels swept women’s liberation under the rug. [61] MacKinnon never bothers to present documentation of these charges. Her own analysis locates the source of women’s oppression in the existence of pornography. And she regards the criminalization of pornography as a step toward ending women’s oppression – a right-wing conclusion which a broad range of feminists have rejected.

Nevertheless, even many feminists who have attempted to incorporate questions of class share a similar assumption about Marxism. Thus, Gerda Lerner criticizes what she describes as “the insistence of Marxists that questions of sex relations must be subordinated to questions of class relations.” [62]

In particular, the feminist argument often goes, Marxism cannot (and does not seek to) explain the more personal aspects of women’s oppression because it locates the root of women’s oppression in class society. This is a caricature of Marxism, which assumes that Marxists only concern themselves with exploitation at the workplace. In reality, Marxists do not “rank” oppressions. But locating the economic roots of inequality is precisely the way to understand how seemingly quite different forms of oppression have come to play a crucial – and often interdependent – role in propping up the system of exploitation.

Far from ignoring the personal aspects of women’s oppression, Engels laid out for the first time the theoretical framework for understanding them. This should be obvious to anyone who has made the effort to read The Origin with an open mind. Engels incorporated into his analysis all aspects of women’s oppression – including domestic abuse, the alienation of sexuality, the commodification of sex, the drudgery of housework, and the hypocrisy of enforced monogamy. And most importantly, he emphasized the inequality between women and men within the family. Moreover, he did so in the Victorian era, when such ideas were far less commonplace than they are today in the aftermath of the women’s liberation movement. Locating the source of women’s oppression in class society in no way limits our understanding of the impact that it has had on the lives of individual women.

It should not be surprising that there are a fair number of errors in The Origin – if only because Engels was so far ahead of his time. The most important errors made by Engels, in fact, are those instances in which he accepts certain aspects of Victorian morality. Thus, after a scathing attack on enforced monogamy, he nevertheless guesses that socialism will bring with it a flowering of ... monogamy, in the form of “individual sex love.” There is, of course, no way to predict what sort of relationships people will choose in a society in which sexuality is no longer alienated. Given the extent of sexual alienation present in today’s society, it is difficult even to imagine. Moreover, any analysis of gay oppression is entirely absent from Engels’ analysis, even though more recent Marxist theory has pinpointed the roots of gay oppression, like women’s, in the rise of the nuclear family.

Nevertheless, as the following passage makes clear, Engels’ method not only opened the door to understanding women’s oppression, but also put forward a vision of women’s liberation, which has continued both to inform and inspire successive generations of socialists since his time:

What we can now conjecture about the way in which sexual relations will be ordered after the impending overthrow of capitalist production is mainly of a negative character, limited for the most part to what will disappear. But what will there be new? That will be answered when a new generation has grown up: a generation of men who never in their lives have known what it is to buy a woman’s surrender with money or any other social instrument of power; a generation of women who have never known what it is to give themselves to a man from any other considerations than real love or to refuse to give themselves to their lover from fear of the economic consequences. When these people are in the world, they will care precious little what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual – and that will be the end of it. [63]

* * *


1. K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York 1948), p. 27.

2. F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (New York 1972).

3. Ibid., p. 10.

4. As Hal Draper agues in Marx and Engels on Women’s Liberation, in International Socialism 44, July/Aug. 1970: “There is a myth, widely accepted among the half-informed, that Morgan’s anthropological work is now simply ‘outmoded,’ like Ptolemaic astronomy, and is rejected by ‘modern anthropologists’ ... in this respect Darwin and Newton are outmoded as well.”

5. C. Harman, Engels and The Origins of Human Society, in International Socialism 65: Winter 1994, p. 84.

6. Take, for example, Peggy Reeves Sanday’s argument in Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality (Cambridge 1981), p. 210: “The evidence suggests that men and women respond differently to stress. Men almost always respond to stress with aggression ...”

7. Quoted in E. Burke Leacock, Myths of Male Dominance: Collected Articles on Women Cross-Culturally (New York 1981), p. 17.

8. Quoted in E. Burke Leacock, op. cit., pp. 215–231. Leacock goes on to comment, writing of hunter-gatherer and some horticultural societies, “The terminology of woman exchange distorts the structure of egalitarian societies, where it is a gross contradiction of reality to talk of women as in any sense ‘things’ that are exchanged. Women are exchangers in such societies, autonomous beings who, in accord with the sexual division of labor, exchange their work and their produce with men and with other women” (p. 241). It is worth noting that the theory of woman exchange espoused by Levi-Strauss has been not only accepted, but developed further, by a layer of feminist writers. See G. Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York 1986), pp. 46–53.

9. E. Burke Leacock, introduction to F. Engels, op. cit., p. 31.

10. M. Harris, Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures (New York 1977), pp. 71–72. E. Burke Leacock, op. cit., p. 198. See also S. Coontz and P. Henderson, (eds.), Women’s Work, Men’s Property: The Origins of Gender and Class (London 1986), pp. 17–18.

1. S. Ortner, Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture? in M. Zimbalist Rosaldo and L. Lamphere, (eds.), Woman, Culture and Society (Stanford 1974), pp. 69–70.

12. S. Coontz and P. Henderson, (eds.), Women’s Work, Men’s Property: The Origins of Gender and Class (London 1986), pp. 12–13.

13. The problem with socialist-feminist theory, however, is that it is an attempt to combine two vastly different analyses of society into a single theory. For a fuller discussion of the theoretical differences between socialism and feminism, see L. German, Sex, Class and Socialism (London 1989).

14. G. Lerner, op. cit., p. 46.

15. F. Engels, op. cit., p. 71.

16. Ibid., p. 251.

17. C. Harman, op. cit., p. 88. His article provides a thorough defense of Engels’ account of human evolution.

18. F. Engels, op. cit., p. 252.

19. Ibid., p. 38.

20. E. Burke Leacock, op. cit., pp. 22, 35.

21. Nevertheless, Morgan concluded, reflecting Victorian prejudice, that because Iroquois women were not given deferential treatment, they were regarded as “inferior.” See Judith Brown, Iroquois Women: An Ethnohistoric Note, in R. Reiter, (ed.), Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York 1975), p. 237.

22. Ibid., pp. 240, 249.

23. See, R. Reiter, op. cit.; S. Coontz and P. Henderson, op. cit.; F. Dahlberg, (ed.), Woman the Gatherer (New Haven 1981).

24. P. Draper, !Kung Women: Contrasts in Sexual Egalitarianism in Foraging and Sedentary Contexts, in R. Reiter, op. cit., p. 91.

25. C. Harman, op. cit., pp. 96–98.

26. F. Engels, op. cit., p. 92.

27. C. Harman, Ibid., pp. 120–121.

28. See, for example, Karen Sacks, Engels Revisited: Women, the Organization of Production, and Private Property, in R. Reiter, (ed.), Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York 1975), pp. 211–212.

29. Even today, it is not uncommon for unmarried women or even married women with children to accompany men on hunting expeditions in hunter-gatherer societies.

30. F. Engels, op. cit.

31. Ibid., p. 118.

32. Ibid., pp. 16–17.

33. C. Harman, op. cit., p. 125.

34. K. Sacks, in R. Reiter, op. cit., pp. 216–217.

35. K. Marx, The German Ideology (Moscow, Progess Publishers, 1964), p. 40.

36. F. Engels, op. cit., p. 134.

37. Ibid., p. 121.

38. Ibid., pp. 121–122.

39. Ibid., pp. 119–120.

40. F. Engels, op. cit., p. 120.

41. See C. Harman, op. cit., pp. 130–132.

42. Ibid., pp. 125, 120–122.

43. E. Burke Leacock, introduction to F. Engels, op. cit., p. 41.

44. S. Coontz and P. Henderson, op. cit., p. 119.

45. Ibid., pp. 124–125.

46. F. Engels, op. cit., pp. 143, 98.

47. F. Engels, op. cit., pp. 126, 138, 128.

48. Ibid., p. 131.

49. Ibid., pp. 129, 130, 139.

50. See L. German, Sex, Class and Socialism, op. cit., for a thorough examination of women’s oppression under capitalism.

51. F. Engels, op. cit., p. 137.

52. Ibid., p. 135.

53. M. Gimenez, Marxist and Non-Marxist Elements in Engels’ Views, in J. Sayers, M. Evans, N. Redclift, (eds.), Engels Revisited: New Feminist Essays (London 1987), p. 48.

54. Juliet Schor estimates, for example, that employed mothers spend 65 hours per week on average performing either job or home duties. See J. Schor, The Overworked American (New York 1991), pp. 20–21.

55. Ibid., p. 29.

56. J. Sayers, M. Evans, and N. Redclift, op. cit., p. 52.

57. F. Engels, op. cit., p. 136–138.

58. F. Engels, op. cit., p. 139.

59. J. Sayers, M. Evans, N. Redclift, op. cit., p. 37.

60. F. Engels, op. cit., p. 15.

61. C. MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Cambridge 1989), pp. 19, 36, 62.

62. G. Lerner, op. cit., p. 24.

63. F. Engels, op. cit., p. 145.

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