This essay will discuss various comparisons between two sociological theories by touching on why society is structured the way it is as well as comparing and contrasting both views. The two theories that will be discussed are Marxism and feminism, both of which go on to have a significant impact upon modern-day politics.
At its simplest, Marxism is a social, political and economic ideology which aims to build from the critical analysis of the philosopher Karl Marx. The Marxist view of capitalism is that through the operation of the economy the workers (known as the proletariat) are exploited by the ruling upper class (known as the bourgeoisie) via profit. A strong proponent of this stance was the philosopher Friedrich Engels, in the book ‘Sociological Theory’ it states Engels said: “All past history was the history of class struggles; that these warring classes of society are always the products of the modes of production and of exchange”. Both theorists co-authored the pamphlet 'The Communist Manifesto', which was published in 1848 and stated that all human history had been built on class struggles, but that these would eventually disappear with the triumph of the proletariat. The feminist perspective is a result of the women’s liberation movement, which began in 18th century and gained momentum in the late 19th century, and was addressed to a single basic question: why are women oppressed? Feminism illustrates the oppression and inequality that women face in society as it incorporates that societies prioritize the male point of view. Feminists are trying to achieve full social, political and economic equality. The ideology has expanded as there are many types of feminism such as radical, Marxist, liberal and difference.
I will attempt to suggest that while they are both very different, there are also some fundamental similarities between the two as they are both arguing for the same core ideas. As well as both helping the analysis of social issues and brining about an ideal structural system of social interactions, they strive to produce a community in which their vision can be achieved.
Similarly, Marxism and feminism are both conflict theories as they both believe that society is based on the conflict of two social groups. Marx defines the oppressed as the proletariat, while feminism focuses the oppressed upon women. Feminism disobeys the boundaries of social classes highlighted in Marxism and assumes gender as the main focus of interest. Both of the ideologies specify the oppressor as the one who has the power over the oppressed. For Marxists this looks into is the conflict between the rich (bourgeoisie) and the poor (proletariat) and how the social order is maintained by domination and power rather consensus and conformity. Marx argued that workers were being ‘directly exploited’ (Jessop, 2017:41). There is a possession of the means of production, which in turn assures the unconstrained access to the superstructural goods, e.g., education, land and politics. The access to those can propagate dependency between the oppressed and the oppressors as it keeps up with or controls the social division. Karl Marx predicted that there would be a new ‘mode of production’, if he could accomplish that change in the communist system, then individuals will make decisions in a collective way and the power would be split as a collective ownership of the means of production. Clark and Lipset (1991) supports this argument as they believe “traditional hierarchies have declined”. A downside to Marxism is that it doesn’t take into account religion, the key idea of Marxism is for everyone to be fully equal. Religion would intervene this aspect as it automatically puts some people in dominance or inferiority of others inside the religion, this goes against the original idea of equality that Marx had.
On the other hand, the feminist perspective, perceives men as being an enemy against womanhood and focuses on gender inequality. The first wave of feminism took place in the late 19th century. The over goal of the first wave was to open up opportunities for women with the main focus on suffrage. The second wave started in the 1960s and remained all the way through to the 90s, throughout this period the main objective was sexuality and reproductive rights. The third wave began in the mid-90s and this time many concepts were destabilized including the universal idea of womanhood, gender, sexuality and body.
The original ideas from Karl Marx started from a basic idea into a theory, but there were then later developments into his theory that differentiated from each other. Gramsci (1891-1937) The humanist Marxism of Gramsci and the scientific Marxism of Althusser both differ from each other. Althusser’s criticism of the original Marxism theory is that instead of being structured into two levels. Althusser argues that society has a third level, or structure being: the economic level, the political level, the ideological level. Gramsci’s theory presented the concept of hegemony or ideological and moral leadership of society, to describe how the ruling class sustains its position and argued that the proletariat must come up with its own ‘counter-hegemony’ being their own set of ideas to win leadership of society from the bourgeoisie. Gramsci saw the bourgeoisie maintaining their power in two ways: coercion, which would be to use the likes of the army, police, prison and courts to enforce other classes to accept rules put in place, and hegemony, where it uses ideas and values to encourage the lower classes that its rules are valid. There are many other developments to the Marxism theory as of today.
Feminism also has multiple different developments as there are liberal feminists, radical feminists, Marxism feminists and difference feminists. Looking into liberal feminism, this was the most important strands of feminism, and was the dominant strand during both the first-wave and the third-wave of the women’s rights movement. They believe all human beings should have equal rights and think this will come into place by reformism which is the concept of the progress towards equal rights for women can be accomplished by overtime reforms in society without the needs of a revolution. Liberal feminists argue that if there were laws put in place against sex discrimination in the workplace then this would help achieve gender equality. However, liberal feminists reject the idea that biological differences can make women less knowledgeable than men and that men generally are less emotional or nurturing than what women are. This theory has been criticized for their excessive optimism as they are found to overlook the fact that there is a possibility of deep-seated structures causing women’s oppression, such as capitalism and patriarchy. Walby (1997) argues they cannot offer an overall explanation for the structure of gender inequality. Radical feminism strongly contrasts against liberal feminism as they believe patriarchy is widespread and will exist in all societies. This can be seen as being direct and personal, not just in the workplace but in politics, the privacy of a family, sexual relationships and labor. Firestone (1974) believes that the foundations of the patriarchy lie in the women’s biological capacity to give birth and care for babies, since performing this role it means they become more reliant on men for other matters.
Between the two theories, there lies space for a cross-over as they have similar foundations into what they are attempting to demonstrate. Marxist feminism is an actual type of feminism, it views women’s subordination as being rooted in capitalism and doesn’t agree with the liberal feminist view of women’s oppression is the product of outdated attitudes, and also the radical feminist view that women are oppressed patriotically by men. This comes from their primary role where they were seen as a cheap source for labor as they are partially dependent on their husbands, they were also known to absorb men’s anger which was directed towards capitalism. Ansley (1972) described wives as ‘takers of shit’ who take all of the frustration their husbands feel due to the estrangement and exploitation they experience within employment. Barrett (1980) states that we must show more emphasis to women’s awareness, motivation and to the role of ideology in maintaining their oppression. The idea of ‘familism’ is where there is a strong level of interpersonal relationships within the extended family. The family is seen as the only place where the women is able to find happiness, this helps keep the women to be seen as inferior. In order to assure women’s liberations societies must overcome the ideology of familism along with that of capitalism. Marxist feminists are right to give weight to the connection amongst capitalism and women’s subordination as they both show better understanding of the significance of structural factors than liberal feminism. Nevertheless, it neglects the idea of women’s subordination in a non-capitalist society as it is also found in non-capitalist societies. Unpaid labor might help capitalism, but this doesn’t explain why it is subject to only women and not men.
Another overlap in the two theories are the key features of Marxism and radical feminism which have been combined into a single theory - dual systems feminism. They use an economic system which would be capitalism and a sex-gender system being the patriarchy. The radical feminists seen patriarchy as the cause of women’s oppression, whereas Marxist feminism view capitalism as responsible. Hartmann (1979) examines capitalism and patriarchy as two systems that are closely linked together that form a single theory, which he stated was ‘patriarchal capitalism’. They argue that the patriarchy is widespread, but it takes a certain order in capitalist societies. We should then observe the relationship among their position both in the patriarchy and capitalism. For instance, domestic work restricts women’s availability for paid work but yet the absence of work opportunities will in a way force women into marriage and financial dependence on a man to allow them to be able to survive financially. Walby (1988) argues that capitalism and patriarchy are interrelated. However, she contends that the interests of the two are not similar all of the time as they collide over the exploitation of female labor. Capitalism insists on having cheap labor for the mode of production while the patriarchy denies this, wanting to keep women inferior to men within the private home circle. However, in general capitalism is more powerful, and so patriarchy adopts the strategy of segregation, instead which allowed women to work in the capitalist area of paid work, but only in low-status jobs.
In conclusion, I have found that both theories have more in common than I anticipated. The Marxist theory suggests the position of the bourgeoisie is controlling the means of production while the proletariat who are the workers provide their labor to the bourgeoisie for the manufacturing of goods. The feminist theory focuses on women gaining equality whether it being politically, economically or socially. The two ideologies both have the similarity of alienation and their activism for a revolution while the differences appear in the ultimate objectives and economic factor. Even though different feminists have an array of concepts, it has still left a significant gap in the solution of gender equality.