January 25, 2012
SOCIAL F EMINISM :O N THE F AMILY AND L ABOR
Class politics or class-based anti-racism has never been a part of multiculturalism - why is this
erased from multiculturalism?
Socialism in general, and social feminists have been very concerned with class
Anti racism feminist view – multiculturalism serves to cover over inequalities or actively obscure
what’s going. Multiculturalism at its root is very much a liberal discourse. Trudeau was a very
liberal thinker (i.e., writing the Charter into the Constitution)
John Locke, on of the early liberalists, wrote A Letter Concerning Toleration – a response to the fear
of Catholics taking over in England, and an argument to tolerating religious minorities (Christians
only). Toleration serves to maintain the norm – i.e., whiteness. And everyone else is merely
Multiculturalism is a liberal discourse – according to socialists and social feminists,
multiculturalism covers over the exploitation of the working class, and cover over how the
capitalist system relies on the exploitation of the lower class, and pretends that everything is
Therefore, if multiculturalism covers over how racism works in Canadian society, then liberalism
covers over how classism works in society
Social feminists have been concerned with which the ways in which family and labor are highly
gendered (i.e., reproductive labor, working around the house)
a. Three common misconceptions about socialism/Marxism
Socialism long predates Marx
1. There is a direct line of descent from Karl Marx to Joseph Stalin – that Stalin has very
little to do with Marx’s political program
2. Marxism is dead because the Soviet Union is dead; this assumes that there is some
sort of relationship between the Soviet Union experiment (i.e., Stalin and his work
camps) and Marxism – there is, but the Soviet Union wasn’t really what Marx had in
mind. Marxist analysis of capitalism has been superseded. However, the Soviet
experience had very little to do with Marx, and his analysis
3. Marx was seeking some kind of heaven on Earth, an unattainable utopia – a perfect
social and economic system in which there would be absolute equality peace,
harmony, and no conflict whatsoever. Marx was critical of this idealist society. Marx
in no way assumes that people are naturally equal or cooperative; but rather people
are a product of their social environment. Capitalism encourages people to be
competitive, individualistic selfish, in order to succeed; people are not naturally like
that. In many ways, Marx makes very similar arguments to those of schools of
feminist thought in understanding that there is nothing natural about gender
because it’s socially constructed. We as humans are socially constructed by our
b. Capitalist society is characterized by exploitation
Marx understands capitalist society to be characterized by exploitation and class struggle.
Exploitation has to do with the appropriation by a ruling class of an economic surplus.
1 Workers produce a product – what they get in terms of the selling is actually very little
compared to what the owners get for that product.
All they get is enough to feed, clothe, and house the working force, and to feed, clothe and
house their children who will become the next generation of the working class.
To be exploited means to be treated fairly
Exploitation – who owns property, who works for a wage, who doesn’t work for a wage, the
rules governing how property ownership is established
Feudalism – in feudal society, there’s the ruling class and the peasants/serfs. The ruling
class owns the land, while the peasants and serfs work the land, producing the surplus.
Most of what they produce goes directly into the landowners. However, they’re allowed to
keep some of what they make, but most of it goes to their employer. The transfer of this
surplus is obvious; but this isn’t generally critiqued as unfair.
c. Law works in the interests of capitalism and the ruling class
In capitalist society, the exploitation becomes hidden/mystified in the wage contract:
o Liberalism discourse (i.e., equality before the law, Official Version of the Law)
o Labor laws, which essentially assumes that the worker and the employer are in a
position/relationship of equality. For Marx, the law is not neutral; it works, and has
always worked in the interests of the capitalist class. In a feudal society, The law
always works in the interest of the land-owning class, in a slave economy, the law
works in the interest of the slaveholders. Therefore, the law always works in the
interest of the ruling class, even in contemporary labor law, which is ostensibly
about protecting workers as much as it is protecting capitalists.
Capitalists don’t want workers to form unions, go on strike, and partake in active
legislations. Employers want workers to work as much as possible, and pay them as little as
Laboring laws benefiting workers can be made, and have been made since the Industrial
Revolution (i.e., 8 hour work day, basic health and safety laws etc.). However, we know that
this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone (i.e., foreign domestic caregivers), but we do
have it ostensibly
The average working class person is paid enough to keep them more/less healthy for work.
Neo-liberalism – for Marx and socialist more generally, law works to mystify the
exploitation to go on – you’re given a wage, and because of this, there’s a covering up of
how exploitative working conditions actually are.
To sum up the Marxist view of exploitation, in capitalism, the existence of a contract
between two individuals who are formal equals mystifies what’s going on.
Marx makes a very similar critique of equality as many feminists – Marx is not a feminist,
however, the way feminists would critique formal equality, is very much the same way that
Marx would critique exploitation and how it is hidden
Socialists would contend that this doesn’t mean that his critique doesn’t continue to be
relevant; today capitalist modes of production that began in Britain has become global, and
the whole world has rose to this global economy, and exploitation has become
The concentration of wealth and power as brought with it an increasingly global struggle
Capitalism – a struggle between capital and labor, and labor is in a weak position because it
is essentially dependent on capitalists.
In liberalism, the rights of capital has been respected much more than the rights of workers
2 2. Socialism and the “Woman Question”
a. History of thought in the so-called “west” has been written “by men, for men, and
about men” (Susan Moller Okin)
Susan Okin – the history of thought in the so-called “west”, and been written “by men, for
men, and about men”. She was specially referring to the history of political thought, but has
certainly been used in economic thought, social thought etc.
Socialist theory has sometimes been different – many socialists have continued to write as
if women don’t exist and gender is not a concern.
b. 19 century socialist preoccupation with the “woman question”
Socialism has had a long-standing preoccupation with the “Woman Question”
Charles Fournier – French utopian socialist – 1808, he was the first to argue that the status
of women in a given society is a fundamental measuring stick of its advancement, and also
a fundamental cause of social progress. It’s interesting that he gave the status of women
such prominence, as a socialist, as a measuring stick of advancement. He also coined the
Later, socialists and feminists picked up on this idea, on the relationship between women
and social progress, including Marx. Subsequent socialists like Friedrich Engels and August
Bebel did develop this idea that if you want to look at the progress of society, you need to
look at the status of women
Fournier set the stage for the 19 century socialist preoccupation with the Woman
By ‘feminists’ Fournier meant woman committed to social politicalism, not really fem