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A Very Short Summary of Socialist Feminist
Theory and Practice

By Holly


1.      Socialist feminism arose in the late 1960’s.  It grew out of the same social ferment and the same consciousness-raising groups that produced radical feminism. 


2.      Socialist feminists attempted to produce a creative synthesis of radical feminism and Marxist feminism.  As is illustrated in Barbara Ehrenreich’s article, different socialist feminists make this synthesis in different ways.


3.      Most socialist feminists would endorse the following claims:


a.       Socialist feminists agree with Marxist feminist’s claim that liberal feminism does not appreciate the depth of the oppression of women and basically only addresses the situation of women of the upper and upper middle classes. They also agree that women have been oppressed in virtually all known societies, but the nature of this oppression has differed because of the different economic realities.


b.      Socialist feminists do not think that the oppression of women is based solely on the economic system, and they suggest that patriarchy and capitalism are combined into one system. They believe that we must understand the continuing effects that colonization, imperialism, and racism have on the women of the world.


c.       Socialist feminists maintain that it is wrong to suggest that any one form of oppression is the most important or key form of oppression (as both Marxist feminists and radical feminists insist).  Instead, they recognize that oppression based on sex/gender, class, race, and sexual orientation are all are interwoven. To effectively challenge any one of these forms of oppression, we must understand and challenge all of them. 


d.      Socialist feminists emphasize the economic, social, and cultural importance of women as people who give birth, socialize children, care for the sick, and provide the emotional labor that creates the realm of the home as a retreat for men from the realities of the workplace and the public arena.  Socialist feminists see this as important labor that is overlooked and denigrated.  They are concerned with the reality of the “double day.”


e.       Socialist feminists emphasize that within the workplace women face challenges of job market segregation, lower wages for the same work, and sexual harassment. They also recognize that the labor movement has been complicit in maintaining this.


4.      As activists early socialist feminists organized themselves into women’s unions in many cities across the U.S.  The largest of these women’s unions was the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. These organizations took on a wide range of work projects.  Some of these included projects on affordable childcare, the full range of reproductive rights and healthcare for women, comparable worth, and the unionization of women in low-paying female-dominated jobs such as clerical work.  In many ways they didn’t think that one form of activism was more important than any other form.  Rather, they thought that all forms of activism should be informed by opposition to oppression based on class, race, and gender.  After the end of socialist feminist women’s unions, socialist feminists continued to play important leadership roles in many areas including the labor movement, the reproductive rights movement, and the movement to build women’s and gender studies.


5.      Here are some important socialist feminist works:

a.       Juliet Mitchell’s Women’s Estate

b.      Zillah Eisenstein’s Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism

c.       Sandra Bartky’s Femininity and Domination

d.      Iris Young’s On Female Body Experience: 'Throwing Like a Girl' and Other Essays

e.       bell hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman?  (hooks’ later works may depart from this theory)

f.       Barbara Ehrenreich’s Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers and Nickled and Dimed

g.      Sara Evans’ Personal Politics

h.      Angela Davis’ Women, Race, & Class






Author: Hollace Graff
Oakton Community College
Updated: February 15, 2012