Introduction

Barbara is an African-American mother of two who performs most of the household chores. She works as a cashier at the local grocery store for minimum wage. The other day, her boss criticized her for not wearing make-up to work. On top of cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, walking her children to school, and working, she now also needs to reserve at least 15 minutes of her morning to put on make-up. 

Barbara also experiences racism in both her job and elsewhere in her daily life. She has heard about many movements that could help her fight for a better position in society: socialist groups, feminist groups, anti-capitalist groups, and many Civil Rights groups. However, she finds that none of these groups can fully encapsulate the extent of her interconnecting oppressions. 

Explanation

Barbara might want to consider looking into socialist feminism. Socialist feminism provides a framework that analyzes both economic and gender-based oppressions alongside racism, ableism, and many other types of discrimination. 

Socialist Feminism

Socialist feminists aim to fight sexist oppression for all, understanding that class, race, gender, and other aspects of identity are symbiotic issues. According to socialist feminists, the systems that perpetuate such problems – for example, the capitalist state – cannot just be reformed: they must be completely reinvented. 

How It Works

Socialist feminism started being theorized in the 1970s, when socialist thought and socially progressive values were on the rise. 

Unlike their predecessors, socialist feminists do not believe that any human being can achieve liberation until oppressive economic structures are eradicated. They argue that political reform works within a system that is in itself repressive and violent towards individuals, especially the working class. Consequently, opening up powerful job positions for women (for example, as CEOs) would not end sexist oppression because women at the bottom (poor women and women of color) would continue to be exploited. 

Instead, to achieve women’s liberation, there needs to be a clear understanding of other systems and institutions, such as racism, colorism, xenophobia, etc. Socialist feminists understand that the feminization of certain values, like nurturing, prevents female autonomy by dictating the opportunities and societal roles that women can be assigned. These opportunities are narrowed even more when race, ethnicity, disability, and economic status are added to the equation. The holistic approach recognizes women as inherently different. After all, they’re survivors of varying types of social and state violence- oppression and violence perpetrated by a sovereign state.   

So What?

The mere existence of socialist feminism showcases the diverse nature of the feminist movement. This diversity is often not portrayed in the media. However, within the feminist movement, there are ongoing disagreements about what sexist oppression means, and where it stems from. These disagreements exhibit that not every woman faces the same barriers, which is a core truth that must be acknowledged as we strive for an equal future.

    Learn More

    1. Leonard, S. (2020, May 4). Socialist Feminism: What Is It and How Can It Replace Corporate ‘Girl Boss’ Feminism? https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-is-socialist-feminism.
    2. Socialist Feminism. (n.d.). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781118474396.wbept0956.
    3. Holly. A Very Short Summary of Socialist Feminist Theory and Practice. https://www.oakton.edu/user/2/hgraff/WGSSummarySocialistlFeminism.html.

    Think Further

    1. Do you agree or disagree with socialist feminism? Why?
    2. Do you think the feminist movement benefits from acknowledging the different forms of oppression that women face? Why or why not?
    3. How is socialist feminism different from what you were previously taught (in terms of feminist thought)?

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