Gotta Love Those Marxist Feminists!


Marxist feminism really had it heyday, I think, in the last few decades of the 20th century. It was largely a continental European movement, I believe. I make special mention of writers like Maria Mies and Cluadia von Werlhof who had a strong influence on my thinking. I'd always felt that Marxism provided a compelling analysis of the problems faced by capitalist societies, but did not provide much in the way of useful solutions. Even so, well worth reading.

Today I stumbled across a very contemporary Marxist feminist analysis of gender ideology. I also discovered there is an entire blog devoted to Marxism and feminist, entitled "On the Woman Question." The homepage is a bit opaque as to who is exactly writing this blog, but the author of the piece I'd like to tell you about is Ashleigh Barnes, who is active in the trade union movemen tin the UK. Her piece for the blog is "The Gender Debate: A Marxist Feminist Perspective, dated June 2020.

A critically important aspect of Marxism is its materialism, which was a direct rebuke to the idealism of the Hegelians of Marx's time. It does not surprise, then, that a denial of material relity s not going to fly with the Marxists; here is Barnes on the subject:

"Postmodernist notions of ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ indulge the individual’s perception of self. Such navel-gazing is only able to thrive in Western consumerist societies where narcissism is king. The rampant individualism associated with the abstract notion of subjective gender is in direct opposition to the collectivism and materialism of Marxism. Marxists must acknowledge gender as the socially constructed mode of oppression which positions the female sex as lowly caregivers and the male sex as dominant leaders, rather than a fantastical, personal, spiritual experience devoid of social and historical context.

"[Some assert] that Marxists need to ‘update our theories to match the needs and conditions of oppressed sections of the working class’. This is revisionism at best. Marx’s method, in its scientific objectivity, transcends time. One of the great virtues of Marxism is that it has maintained its relevance throughout the centuries and the fact that Marx’s analysis carries weight in modern political discourse is testament to its timelessness. It is true that we must apply Marxist methodology to present and changing circumstances which Marx himself may not have foreseen, but this certainly does not mean that adherence to solid materialist analysis can be compromised. The analysis may change but the method does not. Just as science cannot bend to accommodate societal trends, nor can historical materialism be distorted to appease identity politics.

"[One critic] asserts that ‘the idea that there is something inherently non-female about the body of a trans women is reinforcing the binary gender categories that we ought to be seeking to dismantle’. Male bodies are inherently non-female. This is not an idea; it is a material reality. Although trans activists persist with the bogus ‘sex is a spectrum’ narrative, 99.98% of humans are unambiguously male or female. Biological sex is observable in every cell and every organ of our bodies. It is not assigned. It is a physical, material, and biological fact. As the author of the original article has done here, many trans activists conflate sex and gender in order to negate the importance of the former. Material reality (biological sex) cannot be ‘dismantled’ and to suggest that the physical should be reimagined as the metaphysical is fundamentally anti-Marxist. Marx went to great lengths to condemn this idealist manner of thinking . . . "

I find myself feeling grateful that there are still materialist philosophies in the world! Barnes goes on to say that:

"Misogyny is a product of the systemic form of oppression suffered by females. Whilst Marxist feminists do not wish to reduce women to their reproductive systems and genitalia, it is precisely these aspects of female anatomy which have been exploited and commodified in protocapitalist and capitalist states the world over for millennia. Therefore, within a social, economic and political context, the importance of recognising women as the biological class of female humans cannot be overstated. Women are oppressed under capitalism due to their reproductive value which, by virtue of material biological fact, is disproportionately greater than that of men. It is in the interests of capitalists to control the source of the workforce and women are, quite literally, the source of the next generation of exploitable workers. Since the advent of private property, it has also been in the interest of males to enforce monogamy upon females in order to ensure paternal lineage for the purposes of inheritance. When Engels asserts that ‘woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children’ in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, it is very clear that he is referring to the reproductive labour of female humans. As transwomen do not – by any material, scientific measure — belong to the biological class of humans who give birth, they are simply not victims of this systemic sex oppression. Though progressives attempt to bastardise language, the fact remains that the birth-giving sex formerly known as ‘women’ suffer a specific form of oppression which transwomen will never know, and it is from this sex-based oppression that all other forms of misogyny stem.

"Sex and gender are different; but they are inextricably linked. Once the economic need to control the reproductive labour of women was identified, it was reinforced by socially constructed gender roles to ensure future compliance. As such, the oppression of women can be roughly divided into two categories: material sex oppression which directly controls female reproductive labour (forced marriage, female genital mutilation, abortion etc); and ideological sex oppression which controls females more generally through gender roles (relegation to the domestic sphere, poorer job prospects due to perceived inferiority etc). Female oppression is based on sex and enforced by gender — and, as gender roles were designed to subjugate the female sex specifically, femininity is only oppressive to them. Gender cannot be divorced from the sex it was designed to oppress — it can only be abolished.

"If transwomen conform to female gender roles convincingly enough that others perceive them to be female, they may experience some more superficial forms of sexism such as catcalling, mansplaining, etc. However, they are not the intended victim of such sexism. Unpleasant though it may be, it is misdirected. When gender non-conforming males mistakenly receive misogynistic prejudice, they do not inherit the history of sex-based oppression that women share, and to suggest that these experiences are the same, or even similar, trivialises female sex oppression. Instead, the abuse faced by gender non-conforming men is likely to be homophobic in nature and/or as a result of also belonging to another oppressed or marginalised group (black, latino, a victim of the sex trade, etc). Traditional notions of masculinity centre heterosexuality and so deviations from male gender roles often evoke homophobic responses. Eradicating homophobia and other prejudice associated with policing masculinity is clearly an important cause; but feminism is solely concerned with female sex oppression. Had gender identity theorists acknowledged that male gender non-conformity and its associated prejudices are connected to — but distinct from — the historic and enduring oppression of women, it is likely that they would have found a sympathetic ear amongst feminists. As it stands, their insistence on appropriating the struggle of women is thoroughly incompatible with feminist thought and is insulting to females who know that they are oppressed on the basis of sex."

I've italicised few sentences here because each is worth a moment of reflection. Gender is used to subordinate the female sex; the goal of feminism is the eradication of gender--though sex can never be and should never be eradicated. Can you imagine a world in which females and males just were, without any expectation that their sex would confer on them specific likes or dislikes, skills or lack thereof? Where women would not be paid less because they were women, or not be invisibilized because they were women?

Second, I've been very dismayed at how women's studies has turned into gender studies, and how feminism is somehow now tasked with taking on the responsibility to seek social justice for anyone that does not identify as a straight man. That is not our job, thank you very much. Our job is to alleviate the oppression of females based on sex, period. Others are certainly welcome to their own social justice movements, but feminists cannot prioritize the needs of gender-nonconforming individuals over the needs of females. One lamentable consequence of such lumping together of disparate causes is that women are then asked to betray other women, for example when women are asked to be "good feminists" by supporting the housing of transgender inmates in women's prisons. Sorry, that's not good feminism at all.

Maybe these Marxist feminists have a "red pill" for all this confusion--I certainly enjoyed Barnes' analysis, and urge you to read the entire piece.