Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory

  • Author: Catharine MacKinnon
  • Source: Originally published in 1982. Converted from a .pdf scan available through JSTOR
  • Part: 1, 2

Note from the Author

Dedicated to the spirit of Shelly Rosaldo in us all.

The second part of this article, which will appear in a forthcoming issue of Signs as “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence,” applies the critique developed here to theories of the state and to legal materials. Both articles are parts of a longer work in progress. The argument of this essay on the relation between marxism and feminism has not changed since it was first written in 1973, but the argument on feminism itself has. In the intervening years, the manuscript has been widely circulated, in biannual mutations, for criticism. Reflecting on that process, which I hope publication will continue (this is “an agenda for theory”), I find the following people, each in their way, contributed most to its present incarnation: Sonia E. Alvarez, Douglas Bennett, Paul Brest, Ruth Colker, Robert A. Dahl, Karen E. Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Alicia Fernandez, Jane Flax, Bert Garskoff, Elbert Gates, Karen Haney, Kent Harvey, Linda Hoaglund, Nan Keohane, Duncan Kennedy, Bob Lamm, Martha Roper, Michelle Z. Rosaldo, Anne E. Simon, Sharon Silverstein, Valerie A. Tebbetts, Rona Wilensky, Gaye Williams, Jack Winkler, and Laura X. The superb work of Martha Freeman and Lu Ann Carter was essential to its production.

I have rendered “marxism” in lower case and “Black” in upper case and have been asked by the publisher to explain these choices. It is conventional to capitalize terms that derive from a proper name. Since I wish to place marxism and feminism in equipoise, the disparate typography would weigh against my analytic structure. Capitalizing both would germanize the text. I also hope feminism, a politics authored by those it works in the name of, is never named after an individual. Black is conventionally (I am told) regarded as a color rather than a racial or national designation, hence is not usually capitalized. I do not regard Black as merely a color of skin pigmentation, but as a heritage, an experience, a cultural and personal identity, the meaning of which becomes specifically stigmatic and/or glorious and/or ordinary under specific social conditions. It is as much socially created as, and at least in the American context no less specifically meaningful or definitive than, any linguistic, tribal, or religious ethnicity, all of which are conventionally recognized by capitalization.

Note from the Editor

Central to feminist theory and feminist method, as Catharine A. MacKinnon shows, is consciousness raising. Through this process, feminists confront the reality of women’s condition by examining their experience and by taking this analysis as the starting point for individual and social change. By its nature, this method of inquiry challenges traditional notions of authority and objectivity and opens a dialectical questioning of existing power structures, of our own experience, and of theory itself.

Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory

Sexuality is to feminism what work is to marxism: that which is most one’s own, yet most taken away. Marxist theory argues that society is fundamentally constructed of the relations people form as they do and make things needed to survive humanly. Work is the social process of shaping and transforming the material and social worlds, creating people as social beings as they create value. It is that activity by which people become who they are. Class is its structure, production its consequence, capital its congealed form, and control its issue.

Implicit in feminist theory is a parallel argument: the molding, direction, and expression of sexuality organizes society into two sexes—women and men—which division underlies the totality of social relations. Sexuality is that social process which creates, organizes, expresses, and directs desire,1 creating the social beings we know as women and men, as their relations create society. As work is to marxism, sexuality to feminism is socially constructed yet constructing, universal as activity yet historically specific, jointly comprised of matter and mind. As the organized expropriation of the work of some for the benefit of others defines a class—workers—the organized expropriation of the sexuality of some for the use of others defines the sex, woman. Heterosexuality is its structure, gender and family its congealed forms, sex roles its qualities generalized to social persona, reproduction a consequence, and control its issue.

Marxism and feminism are theories of power and its distribution: inequality. They provide accounts of how social arrangements of patterned disparity can be internally rational yet unjust. But their specificity is not incidental. In marxism to be deprived of one’s work, in feminism of one’s sexuality, defines each one’s conception of lack of power per se. They do not mean to exist side by side to insure that two separate spheres of social life are not overlooked, the interests of two groups are not obscured, or the contributions of two sets of variables are not ignored. They exist to argue, respectively, that the relations in which many work and few gain, in which some fuck and others get fucked,2 are the prime moment of politics.

What if the claims of each theory are taken equally seriously, each on its own terms? Can two social processes be basic at once? Can two groups be subordinated in conflicting ways, or do they merely crosscut? Can two theories, each of which purports to account for the same thing—power as such—be reconciled? Or, is there a connection between the fact that the few have ruled the many and the fact that those few have been men?

Confronted on equal terms, these theories pose fundamental questions for each other. Is male dominance a creation of capitalism or is capitalism one expression of male dominance? What does it mean for class analysis if one can assert that a social group is defined and exploited through means largely independent of the organization of production, if in forms appropriate to it? What does it mean for a sex-based analysis if one can assert that capitalism would not be materially altered if it were sex integrated or even controlled by women? If the structure and interests served by the socialist state and the capitalist state differ in class terms, are they equally predicated upon sex inequality? To the extent their form and behavior resemble one another, could this be their commonality? Is there a relationship between the power of some classes over others and that of all men over all women?

Rather than confront these questions, marxists and feminists have usually either dismissed or, in what amounts to the same thing, subsumed each other. Marxists have criticized feminism as bourgeois in theory and in practice, meaning that it works in the interest of the ruling class. They argue that to analyze society in terms of sex ignores class divisions among women, dividing the proletariat. Feminist demands, it is claimed, could be fully satisfied within capitalism, so their pursuit undercuts and deflects the effort for basic change. Efforts to eliminate barriers to women’s personhood—arguments for access to life chances without regard to sex—are seen as liberal and individualistic. Whatever women have in common is considered based in nature, not society; cross-cultural analyses of commonalities in women’s social conditions are seen as ahistorical and lacking in cultural specificity. The women’s movement’s focus upon attitudes and feelings as powerful components of social reality is criticized as idealist; its composition, purportedly of middle-class educated women, is advanced as an explanation for its opportunism.

Feminists charge that marxism is male defined in theory and in practice, meaning that it moves within the world view and in the interest of men. Feminists argue that analyzing society exclusively in class terms ignores the distinctive social experiences of the sexes, obscuring women’s unity. Marxist demands, it is claimed, could be (and in part have been) satisfied without altering women’s inequality to men. Feminists have often found that working-class movements and the left undervalue women’s work and concerns, neglect the role of feelings and attitudes in a focus on institutional and material change, denigrate women in procedure, practice, and everyday life, and in general fail to distinguish themselves from any other ideology or group dominated by male interests. Marxists and feminists thus accuse each other of seeking (what in each one’s terms is) reform—changes that appease and assuage without addressing the grounds of discontent—where (again in each one’s terms) a fundamental overthrow is required. The mutual perception, at its most extreme, is not only that the other’s analysis is incorrect, but that its success would be a defeat.

Neither set of allegations is groundless. In the feminist view, sex, in analysis and in reality, does divide classes, a fact marxists have been more inclined to deny or ignore than to explain or change. Marxists, similarly, have seen parts of the women’s movement function as a special interest group to advance the class-privileged: educated and professional women. To consider this group coextensive with “the women’s movement” precludes questioning a definition of coalesced interest and resistance3 which gives disproportionate visibility to the movement’s least broadly based segment. But advocates of women’s interests have not always been class conscious; some have exploited class-based arguments for advantage, even when the interests of working-class women were thereby obscured.

For example, in 1866, in an act often thought to inaugurate the first wave of feminism, John Stuart Mill petitioned the English parliament for women’s suffrage with the following partial justification: “Under whatever conditions, and within whatever limits, men are admitted to suffrage, there is not a shadow of justification for not admitting women under the same. The majority of women of any class are not likely to differ in political opinion from the majority of men in the same class.”4 Perhaps Mill means that, to the extent class determines opinion, sex is irrelevant. In this sense, the argument is (to some persuasively) narrow. It can also justify limiting the extension of the franchise to women who “belong to” men of the same class that already exercises it, to the further detriment of the excluded underclass, “their” women included.5

This kind of reasoning is confined neither to the issue of the vote nor to the nineteenth century. Mill’s logic is embedded in a theoretical structure that underlies much contemporary feminist theory and justifies much of the marxist critique. That women should be allowed to engage in politics expressed Mill’s concern that the state not restrict individuals’ self-government, their freedom to develop talents for their own growth, and their ability to contribute to society for the good of humanity. As an empirical rationalist, he resisted attributing to biology what could be explained as social conditioning. As a utilitarian, he found most sex-based inequalities inaccurate or dubious, inefficient, and therefore unjust. The liberty of women as individuals to achieve the limits of self-development without arbitrary interference extended to women his meritocratic goal of the self-made man, condemning (what has since come to be termed) sexism as an interference with personal initiative and laissez-faire.

The hospitality of such an analysis to marxist concerns is problematic. One might extend Mill’s argument to cover class as one more arbitrary, socially conditioned factor that produces inefficient development of talent and unjust distribution of resources among individuals. But although this might be in a sense materialist, it would not be a class analysis. Mill does not even allow for income leveling. Unequal distribution of wealth is exactly what laissez-faire and unregulated personal initiative produces. The individual concept of rights that this theory requires on a juridical level (especially but not only in the economic sphere), a concept which produces the tension between liberty for each and equality among all, pervades liberal feminism, substantiating the criticism that feminism is for the privileged few.

The marxist criticism that feminism focuses upon feelings and attitudes is also based on something real: the centrality of consciousness raising. Consciousness raising is the major technique of analysis, structure of organization, method of practice, and theory of social change of the women’s movement.6 In consciousness raising, often in groups, the impact of male dominance is concretely uncovered and analyzed through the collective speaking of women’s experience, from the perspective of that experience. Because marxists tend to conceive of powerlessness, first and last, as concrete and externally imposed, they believe that it must be concretely and externally undone to be changed. Women’s powerlessness has been found through consciousness raising to be both internalized and externally imposed, so that, for example, femininity is identity to women as well as desirability to men. The feminist concept of consciousness and its place in social order and change emerge from this practical analytic. What marxism conceives as change in consciousness is not a form of social change in itself. For feminism, it can be, but because women’s oppression is not just in the head, feminist consciousness is not just in the head either. But the pain, isolation, and thingification of women who have been pampered and pacified into nonpersonhood—women “grown ugly and dangerous from being nobody for so long”7—is difficult for the materially deprived to see as a form of oppression, particularly for women whom no man has ever put on a pedestal.

Marxism, similarly, has not just been misunderstood. Marxist theory has traditionally attempted to comprehend all meaningful social variance in class terms. In this respect, sex parallels race and nation as an undigested but persistently salient challenge to the exclusivity—or even primacy—of class as social explanation. Marxists typically extend class to cover women, a division and submersion that, to feminism, is inadequate to women’s divergent and common experience. In 1912 Rosa Luxemburg, for example, addressed a group of women on the issue of suffrage: “Most of these bourgeois women who act like lionesses in the struggle against ‘male prerogatives’ would trot like docile lambs in the camp of conservative and clerical reaction if they had the suffrage. Indeed, they would certainly be a good deal more reactionary than the male part of their class. Aside from the few who have taken jobs or professions, the bourgeoisie do not take part in social production. They are nothing but co-consumers of the surplus product their men extort from the proletariat. They are parasites of the parasites of the social body.”8 Her sympathies lay with “proletarian women” who derive their right to vote from being “productive for society like the men.”9 With a blind spot analogous to Mill’s within her own perspective, Luxemburg defends women’s suffrage on class grounds, although in both cases the vote would have benefited women without regard to class.

Women as women, across class distinctions and apart from nature, were simply unthinkable to Luxemburg, as to most marxists. Feminist theory asks marxism: What is class for women? Luxemburg, again like Mill in her own context, subliminally recognizes that women derive their class position, with concomitant privileges and restrictions, from their associations with men. For a feminist, this may explain why they do not unite against male dominance, but it does not explain that dominance, which cuts across class lines even as it takes forms peculiar to classes. What distinguishes the bourgeois woman from her domestic servant is that the latter is paid (if barely), while the former is kept (if contingently). But is this a difference in social productivity or only in its indices, indices which themselves may be products of women’s undervalued status?10 Luxemburg sees that the bourgeois woman of her time is a “parasite of a parasite” but fails to consider her commonality with the proletarian woman who is the slave of a slave. In the case of bourgeois women, to limit the analysis of women’s relationship to capitalism to their relations through men is to see only its vicarious aspect. To fail to do this in the case of proletarian women is to miss its vicarious aspect.

Feminist observations of women’s situation in socialist countries, although not conclusive on the contribution of marxist theory to understanding women’s situation, have supported the theoretical critique.11 In the feminist view, these countries have solved many social problems, women’s subordination not included. The criticism is not that socialism has not automatically liberated women in the process of transforming production (assuming that this transformation is occurring). Nor is it to diminish the significance of such changes for women: “There is a difference between a society in which sexism is expressed in the form of female infanticide and a society in which sexism takes the form of unequal representation on the Central Committee. And the difference is worth dying for.”12 The criticism is rather that these countries do not make a priority of working for women that distinguishes them from nonsocialist societies. Capitalist countries value women in terms of their “merit” by male standards; in socialist countries women are invisible except in their capacity as “workers,” a term that seldom includes women’s distinctive work: housework, sexual service, childbearing. The concern of revolutionary leadership for ending women’s confinement to traditional roles too often seems limited to making their labor available to the regime, leading feminists to wonder whose interests are served by this version of liberation. Women become as free as men to work outside the home while men remain free from work within it. This also occurs under capitalism. When woman’s labor or militancy suits the needs of emergency, she is suddenly man’s equal, only to regress when the urgency recedes.13 Feminists do not argue that it means the same to women to be on the bottom in a feudal regime, a capitalist regime, and a socialist regime; the commonality argued is that, despite real changes, bottom is bottom.

Where such attitudes and practices come to be criticized, as in Cuba or China, changes appear gradual and precarious, even where the effort looks major. If seizures of state and productive power overturn work relations, they do not overturn sex relations at the same time or in the same way, as a class analysis of sex would (and in some cases did) predict.14 Neither technology nor socialism, both of which purport to alter women’s role at the point of production, have ever yet equalized women’s status relative to men. In the feminist view, nothing has. At minimum, a separate effort appears required—an effort that can be shaped by revolutionary regime and work relations—but a separate effort nonetheless. In light of these experiences, women’s struggles, whether under capitalist or socialist regimes, appear to feminists to have more in common with each other than with leftist struggles anywhere.

Attempts to create a synthesis between marxism and feminism, termed socialist-feminism, have not recognized the depth of the antagonism or the separate integrity of each theory. These juxtapositions emerge as unconfronted as they started: either feminist or marxist, usually the latter. Socialist-feminist practice often divides along the same lines, consisting largely in organizational cross-memberships and mutual support on specific issues.15 Women with feminist sympathies urge attention to women’s issues by left or labor groups; marxist women pursue issues of class within feminist groups; explicitly socialist-feminist groups come together and divide, often at the hyphen.16

Most attempts at synthesis attempt to integrate or explain the appeal of feminism by incorporating issues feminism identifies as central—the family, housework, sexuality, reproduction, socialization, personal life—within an essentially unchanged marxian analysis.17 According to the persuasion of the marxist, women become a caste, a stratum, a cultural group, a division in civil society, a secondary contradiction, or a nonantagonistic contradiction; women’s liberation becomes a precondition, a measure of society’s general emancipation, part of the superstructure, or an important aspect of the class struggle. Most commonly, women are reduced to some other category, such as “women workers,” which is then treated as coextensive with all women.18 Or, in what has become near reflex, women become “the family,” as if this single form of women’s confinement (then divided on class lines, then on racial lines) can be presumed the crucible of women’s determination.19 Or, the marxist meaning of reproduction, the iteration of productive relations, is punned into an analysis of biological reproduction, as if women’s bodily differences from men must account for their subordination to men; and as if this social analogue to the biological makes women’s definition material, therefore based on a division of labor after all, therefore real, therefore (potentially) unequal.20 Sexuality, if noticed at all, is, like “every day life,”21 analyzed in gender-neutral terms, as if its social meaning can be presumed the same, or coequal, or complementary, for women and men.22 Although a unified theory of social inequality is presaged in these strategies of subordination, staged progression, and assimilation of women’s concerns to left concerns, at most an uneven combination is accomplished. However sympathetically, “the woman question” is always reduced to some other question, instead of being seen as the question, calling for analysis on its own terms.

Socialist-feminism stands before the task of synthesis as if nothing essential to either theory fundamentally opposes their wedding—indeed as if the union had already occurred and need only be celebrated. The failure to contain both theories on equal terms derives from the failure to confront each on its own ground: at the level of method. Method shapes each theory’s vision of social reality. It identifies its central problem, group, and process, and creates as a consequence its distinctive conception of politics as such. Work and sexuality as concepts, then, derive their meaning and primacy from the way each theory approaches, grasps, interprets, and inhabits its world. Clearly, there is a relationship between how and what a theory sees: is there a marxist method without class? A feminist method without sex? Method in this sense organizes the apprehension of truth; it determines what counts as evidence and defines what is taken as verification. Instead of engaging the debate over which came (or comes) first, sex or class, the task for theory is to explore the conflicts and connections between the methods that found it meaningful to analyze social conditions in terms of those categories in the first place.23

Feminism has not been perceived as having a method, or even a central argument, with which to contend. It has been perceived not as a systematic analysis but as a loose collection of factors, complaints, and issues which, taken together, describe rather than explain the misfortunes of the female sex. The challenge is to demonstrate that feminism systematically converges upon a central explanation of sex inequality through an approach distinctive to its subject yet applicable to the whole of social life, including class.

Under the rubric of feminism, woman’s situation has been explained as a consequence of biology24 or of reproduction and mothering, social organizations of biology;25 as caused by the marriage law26 or, as extensions, by the patriarchal family, becoming society as a “patriarchy”;27 or as caused by artificial gender roles and their attendant attitudes.28 Informed by these attempts, but conceiving nature, law, the family, and roles as consequences, not foundations, I think that feminism fundamentally identifies sexuality as the primary social sphere of male power. The centrality of sexuality emerges not from Freudian conceptions29 but from feminist practice on diverse issues, including abortion, birth control, sterilization abuse, domestic battery, rape, incest, lesbianism, sexual harassment, prostitution, female sexual slavery, and pornography. In all these areas, feminist efforts confront and change women’s lives concretely and experientially. Taken together, they are producing a feminist political theory centering upon sexuality: its social determination, daily construction, birth to death expression, and ultimately male control.

Feminist inquiry into these specific issues began with a broad unmasking of the attitudes that legitimize and hide women’s status, the ideational envelope that contains woman’s body: notions that women desire and provoke rape, that girls’ experiences of incest are fantasies, that career women plot and advance by sexual parlays, that prostitutes are lustful, that wife beating expresses the intensity of love. Beneath each of these ideas was revealed bare coercion and broad connections to woman’s social definition as a sex. Research on sex roles, pursuing Simone de Beauvoir’s insight that “one is not born, one rather becomes a woman,”30 disclosed an elaborate process: how and what one learns to become one. Gender, cross-culturally, was found to be a learned quality, an acquired characteristic, an assigned status, with qualities that vary independent of biology and an ideology that attributes them to nature.31

The discovery that the female archetype is the feminine stereotype exposed “woman” as a social construction. Contemporary industrial society’s version of her is docile, soft, passive, nurturant, vulnerable, weak, narcissistic, childlike, incompetent, masochistic, and domestic, made for child care, home care, and husband care. Conditioning to these values permeates the upbringing of girls and the images for emulation thrust upon women. Women who resist or fail, including those who never did fit—for example, black and lower-class women who cannot survive if they are soft and weak and incompetent,32 assertively self-respecting women, women with ambitions of male dimensions—are considered less female, lesser women. Women who comply or succeed are elevated as models, tokenized by success on male terms or portrayed as consenting to their natural place and dismissed as having participated if they complain.

If the literature on sex roles and the investigations of particular issues are read in light of each other, each element of the female gender stereotype is revealed as, in fact, sexual. Vulnerability means the appearance/reality of easy sexual access; passivity means receptivity and disabled resistance, enforced by trained physical weakness; softness means pregnability by something hard. Incompetence seeks help as vulnerability seeks shelter, inviting the embrace that becomes the invasion, trading exclusive access for protection . . . from the same access. Domesticity nurtures the consequent progeny, proof of potency, and ideally waits at home dressed in saran wrap.33 Woman’s infantilization evokes pedophilia; fixation on dismembered body parts (the breast man, the leg man) evokes fetishism; idolization of vapidity, necrophilia. Narcissism insures that woman identifies with that image of herself that man holds up: “Hold still, we are going to do your portrait, so that you can begin looking like it right away.”34 Masochism means that pleasure in violation becomes her sensuality. Lesbians so violate the sexuality implicit in female gender stereotypes as not to be considered women at all.

Socially, femaleness means femininity, which means attractiveness to men, which means sexual attractiveness, which means sexual availability on male terms.35 What defines woman as such is what turns men on. Good girls are “attractive,” bad girls “provocative.” Gender socialization is the process through which women come to identify themselves as sexual beings, as beings that exist for men. It is that process through which women internalize (make their own) a male image of their sexuality as their identity as women.36 It is not just an illusion. Feminist inquiry into women’s own experience of sexuality revises prior comprehensions of sexual issues and transforms the concept of sexuality itself—its determinants and its role in society and politics. According to this revision, one “becomes a woman”—acquires and identifies with the status of the female—not so much through physical maturation or inculcation into appropriate role behavior as through the experience of sexuality: a complex unity of physicality, emotionality, identity, and status affirmation. Sex as gender and sex as sexuality are thus defined in terms of each other, but it is sexuality that determines gender, not the other way around. This, the central but never stated insight of Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics37 resolves the duality in the term “sex” itself: what women learn in order to “have sex,” in order to “become women”—woman as gender—comes through the experience of, and is a condition for, “having sex”—woman as sexual object for man, the use of women’s sexuality by men. Indeed, to the extent sexuality is social, women’s sexuality is its use, just as our femaleness is its alterity.

Many issues that appear sexual from this standpoint have not been seen as such, nor have they been seen as defining a politics. Incest, for example, is commonly seen as a question of distinguishing the real evil, a crime against the family, from girlish seductiveness or fantasy. Contraception and abortion have been framed as matters of reproduction and fought out as proper or improper social constraints on nature. Or they are seen as private, minimizing state intervention into intimate relations. Sexual harassment was a nonissue, then became a problem of distinguishing personal relationships or affectionate flirtation from abuse of position. Lesbianism, when visible, has been either a perversion or not, to be tolerated or not. Pornography has been considered a question of freedom to speak and depict the erotic, as against the obscene or violent. Prostitution has been understood either as mutual lust and degradation or an equal exchange of sexual need for economic need. The issue in rape has been whether the intercourse was provoked/mutually desired, or whether it was forced: was it sex or violence? Across and beneath these issues, sexuality itself has been divided into parallel provinces: traditionally, religion or biology; in modern transformation, morality or psychology. Almost never politics.

In a feminist perspective, the formulation of each issue, in the terms just described, expresses ideologically the same interest that the problem it formulates expresses concretely: the interest from the male point of view. Women experience the sexual events these issues codify38 as a cohesive whole within which each resonates. The defining theme of that whole is the male pursuit of control over women’s sexuality—men not as individuals nor as biological beings, but as a gender group characterized by maleness as socially constructed, of which this pursuit is definitive. For example, women who need abortions see contraception as a struggle not only for control over the biological products of sexual expression but over the social rhythms and mores of sexual intercourse. These norms often appear hostile to women’s self-protection even when the technology is at hand. As an instance of such norms, women notice that sexual harassment looks a great deal like ordinary heterosexual initiation under conditions of gender inequality. Few women are in a position to refuse unwanted sexual initiatives. That consent rather than nonmutuality is the line between rape and intercourse further exposes the inequality in normal social expectations. So does the substantial amount of male force allowed in the focus on the woman’s resistance, which tends to be disabled by socialization to passivity. If sex is ordinarily accepted as something men do to women, the better question would be whether consent is a meaningful concept. Penetration (often by a penis) is also substantially more central to both the legal definition of rape and the male definition of sexual intercourse than it is to women’s sexual violation or sexual pleasure. Rape in marriage expresses the male sense of entitlement to access to women they annex; incest extends it. Although most women are raped by men they know, the closer the relation, the less women are allowed to claim it was rape. Pornography becomes difficult to distinguish from art and ads once it is clear that what is degrading to women is compelling to the consumer. Prostitutes sell the unilaterality that pornography advertises. That most of these issues codify behavior that is neither countersystemic nor exceptional is supported by women’s experience as victims: these behaviors are either not illegal or are effectively permitted on a large scale. As women’s experience blurs the lines between deviance and normalcy, it obliterates the distinction between abuses of women and the social definition of what a woman is.39

These investigations reveal rape, incest, sexual harassment, pornography, and prostitution as not primarily abuses of physical force, violence, authority, or economics. They are abuses of sex. They need not and do not rely for their coerciveness upon forms of enforcement other than the sexual; that those forms of enforcement, at least in this context, are themselves sexualized is closer to the truth. They are not the erotization of something else; eroticism itself exists in their form. Nor are they perversions of art and morality. They are art and morality from the male point of view. They are sexual because they express the relations, values, feelings, norms, and behaviors of the culture’s sexuality, in which considering things like rape, pornography, incest, or lesbianism deviant, perverse, or blasphemous is part of their excitement potential.

Sexuality, then, is a form of power. Gender, as socially constructed, embodies it, not the reverse. Women and men are divided by gender, made into the sexes as we know them, by the social requirements of heterosexuality, which institutionalizes male sexual dominance and female sexual submission.40 If this is true, sexuality is the linchpin of gender inequality.

A woman is a being who identifies and is identified as one whose sexuality exists for someone else, who is socially male. Women’s sexuality is the capacity to arouse desire in that someone. If what is sexual about a woman is what the male point of view requires for excitement, have male requirements so usurped its terms as to have become them? Considering women’s sexuality in this way forces confrontation with whether there is any such thing. Is women’s sexuality its absence? If being for another is the whole of women’s sexual construction, it can be no more escaped by separatism, men’s temporary concrete absence, than eliminated or qualified by permissiveness, which, in this context, looks like women emulating male roles. As Susan Sontag said: “The question is: what sexuality are women to be liberated to enjoy? Merely to remove the onus placed upon the sexual expressiveness of women is a hollow victory if the sexuality they become freer to enjoy remains the old one that converts women into objects. . . . This already ‘freer’ sexuality mostly reflects a spurious idea of freedom: the right of each person, briefly, to exploit and dehumanize someone else. Without a change in the very norms of sexuality, the liberation of women is a meaningless goal. Sex as such is not liberating for women. Neither is more sex.”41 Does removing or revising gender constraints upon sexual expression change or even challenge its norms?42 This question ultimately is one of social determination in the broadest sense: its mechanism, permeability, specificity, and totality. If women are socially defined such that female sexuality cannot be lived or spoken or felt or even somatically sensed apart from its enforced definition, so that it is its own lack, then there is no such thing as a woman as such, there are only walking embodiments of men’s projected needs. For feminism, asking whether there is, socially, a female sexuality is the same as asking whether women exist.

Methodologically, the feminist concept of the personal as political is an attempt to answer this question. Relinquishing all instinctual, natural, transcendental, and divine authority, this concept grounds women’s sexuality on purely relational terrain, anchoring women’s power and accounting for women’s discontent in the same world they stand against. The personal as political is not a simile, not a metaphor, and not an analogy. It does not mean that what occurs in personal life is similar to, or comparable with, what occurs in the public arena. It is not an application of categories from social life to the private world, as when Engels (followed by Bebel) says that in the family the husband is the bourgeois and the wife represents the proletariat.43 Nor is it an equation of two spheres which remain analytically distinct, as when Reich interprets state behavior in sexual terms,44 or a one-way infusion of one sphere into the other, as when Lasswell interprets political behavior as the displacement of personal problems into public objects.45 It means that women’s distinctive experience as women occurs within that sphere that has been socially lived as the personal—private, emotional, interiorized, particular, individuated, intimate—so that what it is to know the politics of woman’s situation is to know women’s personal lives.

The substantive principle governing the authentic politics of women’s personal lives is pervasive powerlessness to men, expressed and reconstituted daily as sexuality. To say that the personal is political means that gender as a division of power is discoverable and verifiable through women’s intimate experience of sexual objectification, which is definitive of and synonymous with women’s lives as gender female. Thus, to feminism, the personal is epistemologically the political, and its epistemology is its politics.46 Feminism, on this level, is the theory of women’s point of view. It is the theory of Judy Grahn’s “common woman”47 speaking Adrienne Rich’s “common language.”48 Consciousness raising is its quintessential expression. Feminism does not appropriate an existing method—such as scientific method—and apply it to a different sphere of society to reveal its preexisting political aspect. Consciousness raising not only comes to know different things as politics; it necessarily comes to know them in a different way. Women’s experience of politics, of life as sex object, gives rise to its own method of appropriating that reality: feminist method.49 As its own kind of social analysis, within yet outside the male paradigm just as women’s lives are, it has a distinctive theory of the relation between method and truth, the individual and her social surroundings, the presence and place of the natural and spiritual in culture and society, and social being and causality itself.

Having been objectified as sexual beings while stigmatized as ruled by subjective passions, women reject the distinction between knowing subject and known object—the division between subjective and objective postures—as the means to comprehend social life. Disaffected from objectivity, having been its prey, but excluded from its world through relegation to subjective inwardness, women’s interest lies in overthrowing the distinction itself. Proceeding connotatively and analytically at the same time, consciousness raising is at once common sense expression and critical articulation of concepts. Taking situated feelings and common detail (common here meaning both ordinary and shared) as the matter of political analysis, it explores the terrain that is most damaged, most contaminated, yet therefore most women’s own, most intimately known, most open to reclamation. The process can be described as a collective “sympathetic internal experience of the gradual construction of [the] system according to its inner necessity,”50 as a strategy for deconstructing it.

Through consciousness raising, women grasp the collective reality of women’s condition from within the perspective of that experience, not from outside it. The claim that a sexual politics exists and is socially fundamental is grounded in the claim of feminism to women’s perspective, not from it. Its claim to women’s perspective is its claim to truth. In its account of itself, women’s point of view contains a duality analogous to that of the marxist proletariat: determined by the reality the theory explodes, it thereby claims special access to that reality.51 Feminism does not see its view as subjective, partial, or undetermined but as a critique of the purported generality, disinterestedness, and universality of prior accounts. These have not been half right but have invoked the wrong whole. Feminism not only challenges masculine partiality but questions the universality imperative itself. Aperspectivity is revealed as a strategy of male hegemony.52

“Representation of the world,” de Beauvoir writes, “like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.”53 The parallel between representation and construction should be sustained: men create the world from their own point of view, which then becomes the truth to be described. This is a closed system, not anyone’s confusion. Power to create the world from one’s point of view is power in its male form.54 The male epistemological stance, which corresponds to the world it creates, is objectivity: the ostensibly noninvolved stance, the view from a distance and from no particular perspective, apparently transparent to its reality. It does not comprehend its own perspectivity, does not recognize what it sees as subject like itself, or that the way it apprehends its world is a form of its subjugation and presupposes it. The objectively knowable is object. Woman through male eyes is sex object, that by which man knows himself at once as man and as subject.55 What is objectively known corresponds to the world and can be verified by pointing to it (as science does) because the world itself is controlled from the same point of view.56 Combining, like any form of power, legitimation with force, male power extends beneath the representation of reality to its construction: it makes women (as it were) and so verifies (makes true) who women “are” in its view, simultaneously confirming its way of being and its vision of truth. The eroticism that corresponds to this is “the use of things to experience self.”57 As a coerced pornography model put it, “You do it, you do it, and you do it; then you become it.”58 The fetish speaks feminism.

Objectification makes sexuality a material reality of women’s lives, not just a psychological, attitudinal, or ideological one.59 It obliterates the mind/matter distinction that such a division is premised upon. Like the value of a commodity, women’s sexual desirability is fetishized: it is made to appear a quality of the object itself, spontaneous and inherent, independent of the social relation which creates it, uncontrolled by the force that requires it. It helps if the object cooperates: hence, the vaginal orgasm;60 hence, faked orgasms altogether.61 Women’s sexualness, like male prowess, is no less real for being mythic. It is embodied. Commodities do have value, but only because value is a social property arising from the totality of the same social relations which, unconscious of their determination, fetishize it. Women’s bodies possess no less real desirability—or, probably, desire. Sartre exemplifies the problem on the epistemological level: “But if I desire a house, or a glass of water, or a woman’s body, how could this body, this glass, this piece of property reside in my desire and how can my desire be anything but the consciousness of these objects as desirable?”62 Indeed. Objectivity is the methodological stance of which objectification is the social process. Sexual objectification is the primary process of the subjection of women. It unites act with word, construction with expression, perception with enforcement, myth with reality. Man fucks woman; subject verb object.

The distinction between objectification and alienation is called into question by this analysis. Objectification in marxist materialism is thought to be the foundation of human freedom, the work process whereby a subject becomes embodied in products and relationships.63 Alienation is the socially contingent distortion of that process, a reification of products and relations which prevents them from being, and being seen as, dependent on human agency.64 But from the point of view of the object, objectification is alienation. For women, there is no distinction between objectification and alienation because women have not authored objectifications, we have been them. Women have been the nature, the matter, the acted upon, to be subdued by the acting subject seeking to embody himself in the social world. Reification is not just an illusion to the reified; it is also their reality. The alienated who can only grasp self as other is no different from the object who can only grasp self as thing. To be man’s other is to be his thing. Similarly, the problem of how the object can know herself as such is the same as how the alienated can know its own alienation. This, in turn, poses the problem of feminism’s account of women’s consciousness. How can women, as created, “thingified in the head,”65 complicit in the body, see our condition as such?

In order to account for women’s consciousness (much less propagate it) feminism must grasp that male power produces the world before it distorts it. Women’s acceptance of their condition does not contradict its fundamental unacceptability if women have little choice but to become persons who freely choose women’s roles. For this reason, the reality of women’s oppression is, finally, neither demonstrable nor refutable empirically. Until this is confronted on the level of method, criticism of what exists can be undercut by pointing to the reality to be criticized. Women’s bondage, degradation, damage, complicity, and inferiority—together with the possibility of resistance, movement, or exceptions—will operate as barriers to consciousness rather than as means of access to what women need to become conscious of in order to change.

Male power is real; it is just not what it claims to be, namely, the only reality. Male power is a myth that makes itself true. What it is to raise consciousness is to confront male power in this duality: as total on one side and a delusion on the other. In consciousness raising, women learn they have learned that men are everything, women their negation, but that the sexes are equal. The content of the message is revealed true and false at the same time; in fact, each part reflects the other transvalued. If “men are all, women their negation” is taken as social criticism rather than simple description, it becomes clear for the first time that women are men’s equals, everywhere in chains. Their chains become visible, their inferiority—their inequality—a product of subjection and a mode of its enforcement. Reciprocally, the moment it is seen that this—life as we know it—is not equality, that the sexes are not socially equal, womanhood can no longer be defined in terms of lack of maleness, as negativity. For the first time, the question of what a woman is seeks its ground in and of a world understood as neither of its making nor in its image, and finds, within a critical embrace of woman’s fractured and alien image, that world women have made and a vision of its wholeness.

Feminism has unmasked maleness as a form of power that is both omnipotent and nonexistent, an unreal thing with very real consequences. Zora Neale Hurston captured its two-sidedness: “The town has a basket-full of feelings good and bad about Joe’s positions and possessions, but none had the temerity to challenge him. They bowed down to him rather, because he was all of these things, and then again he was all of these things because the town bowed down.”66 If “positions and possessions” and rulership create each other, in relation, the question becomes one of form and inevitability. This challenges feminism to apply its theory of women’s standpoint to the regime.67

Feminism is the first theory to emerge from those whose interest it affirms. Its method recapitulates as theory the reality it seeks to capture. As marxist method is dialectical materialism, feminist method is consciousness raising: the collective critical reconstitution of the meaning of women’s social experience, as women live through it. Marxism and feminism on this level posit a different relation between thought and thing, both in terms of the relationship of the analysis itself to the social life it captures and in terms of the participation of thought in the social life it analyzes. To the extent that materialism is scientific it posits and refers to a reality outside thought which it considers to have an objective—that is, truly nonsocially perspectival—content. Consciousness raising, by contrast, inquires into an intrinsically social situation, into that mixture of thought and materiality which is women’s sexuality in the most generic sense. It approaches its world through a process that shares its determination: women’s consciousness, not as individual or subjective ideas, but as collective social being. This method stands inside its own determinations in order to uncover them, just as it criticizes them in order to value them on its own terms—in order to have its own terms at all. Feminism turns theory itself—the pursuit of a true analysis of social life—into the pursuit of consciousness and turns an analysis of inequality into a critical embrace of its own determinants. The process is transformative as well as perceptive, since thought and thing are inextricable and reciprocally constituting of women’s oppression, just as the state as coercion and the state as legitimizing ideology are indistinguishable, and for the same reasons. The pursuit of consciousness becomes a form of political practice. Consciousness raising has revealed gender relations to be a collective fact, no more simply personal than class relations. This implies that class relations may also be personal, no less so for being at the same time collective. The failure of marxism to realize this may connect the failure of workers in advanced capitalist nations to organize in the socialist sense with the failure of left revolutions to liberate women in the feminist sense.

Feminism stands in relation to marxism as marxism does to classical political economy: its final conclusion and ultimate critique. Compared with marxism, the place of thought and things in method and reality are reversed in a seizure of power that penetrates subject with object and theory with practice. In a dual motion, feminism turns marxism inside out and on its head.

To answer an old question—how is value created and distributed?—Marx needed to create an entirely new account of the social world. To answer an equally old question, or to question an equally old reality—what explains the inequality of women to men? or, how does desire become domination? or, what is male power?—feminism revolutionizes politics.


  1. “Desire” is selected as a term parallel to “value” in marxist theory to refer to that substance felt to be primordial or aboriginal but posited by the theory as social and contingent. The sense in which I mean it is consonant with its development in contemporary French feminist theories, e.g., in Helene Cixous, “The Laugh of Medusa: Viewpoint,” trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1, no. 4 (Summer 1976): 875-93; and in works by Gauthier, Irigaray, LeClerc, Duras, and Kristeva in New French Feminisms: An Anthology, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980). My use of the term is to be distinguished from that of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (New York: Viking Press, 1977); and Guy Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire (London: Allison & Busby, 1978), for example.

  2. I know no nondegraded English verb for the activity of sexual expression that would allow a construction parallel to, for example, “I am working,” a phrase that could apply to nearly any activity. This fact of language may reflect and contribute to the process of obscuring sexuality’s pervasiveness in social life. Nor is there any active verb meaning “to act sexually” that specifically envisions a woman’s action. If language constructs as well as expresses the social world, these words support heterosexual values.

  3. Accepting this definition has tended to exclude from “the women’s movement” and make invisible the diverse ways that many women—notably Blacks and working-class women—have moved against their determinants.

  4. John Stuart Mill, “The Subjection of Women,” in Essays on Sex Equality, ed. Alice S. Rossi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 184-85.

  5. Mill personally supported universal suffrage. As it happened, working-class men got the vote before women of any class.

  6. Feminists have observed the importance of consciousness raising without seeing it as method in the way developed here. See Pamela Allen, Free Space: A Perspective on the Small Group in Women’s Liberation (New York: Times Change Press, 1970); Anuradha Bose, “Consciousness Raising,” in Mother Was Not a Person, ed. Margaret Anderson (Montreal: Content Publishing, 1972); Nancy McWilliams, “Contemporary Feminism, Consciousness-Raising, and Changing Views of the Political,” in Women in Politics, ed. Jane Jaquette (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974); Joan Cassell, A Group Called Women: Sisterhood & Symbolism in the Feminist Movement (New York: David McKay, 1977); and Nancy Hartsock, “Fundamental Feminism: Process and Perspective,” Quest: A Feminist Quarterly 2, no. 2 (Fall 1975): 67-80.

  7. Toni Cade (now Bambara) thus describes a desperate Black woman who has too many children and too little means to care for them or herself in “The Pill: Genocide or Liberation?” in The Black Woman: An Anthology, ed. Toni Cade (New York: Mentor, New American Library, 1970), p. 168. By using her phrase in altered context, I do not want to distort her meaning but to extend it. Throughout this essay, I have tried to see if women’s condition is shared, even when contexts or magnitudes differ. (Thus, it is very different to be “nobody” as a Black woman than as a white lady, but neither is “somebody” by male standards.) This is the approach to race and ethnicity attempted throughout. I aspire to include all women in the term “women” in some way, without violating the particularity of any woman’s experience. Whenever this fails, the statement is simply wrong and will have to be qualified or the aspiration (or the theory) abandoned.

  8. Rosa Luxemburg, “Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle,” in Selected Political Writings, ed. Dick Howard (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), pp. 219-20. It may or may not be true that women as a group vote more conservatively than men, on a conventional left-right spectrum. The apparently accurate suspicion that they do may have accounted for left ambivalence on women’s suffrage as much as any principled view of the role of reform in a politics of radical change.

  9. Ibid., p. 220.

  10. This question is most productively explored in the controversy over wages for housework. See Margaret Benston, “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation,” Monthly Review, vol. 21, no. 4 (September 1969), reprinted in From Feminism to Liberation, ed. Edith Hoshino Altbach (Cambridge, Mass.: Schenckman Publishing Co., 1971), pp. 199-210; Peggy Morton, “Women’s Work Is Never Done,” in Women Unite (Toronto: Canadian Women’s Educational Press, 1972); Hodee Edwards, “Housework and Exploitation: A Marxist Analysis,” No More Fun and Games: A Journal of Female Liberation, issue 4 (July 1971), pp. 92-100; and Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1973). This last work situates housework in a broader theoretical context of wagelessness and potential political power while avoiding support of wages for housework as a program; its authors have since come to support wages for housework, deducing it from the perspective presented here. See also Sylvia Federici, Wages against Housework (Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1973); Wally Sec-combe, “The Housewife and Her Labor under Capitalism,” New Left Review 83 (January-February 1974): 3-24; Carol Lopate, “Women and Pay for Housework,” Liberation 18, no. 9 (May-June 1974): 11-19; Nicole Cox and Sylvia Federici, Counter-Planning from the Kitchen—Wages for Housework: A Perspective on Capital and the Left (Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1975); Wendy Edmond and Suzi Fleming, eds., All Work and No Pay: Women, Housework and the Wages Due (Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1975); Jeanette Silveira, The Housewife and Marxist Class Analysis (Seattle, Wash.: By the author, 1975) (pamphlet available from the author, P.O. Box 30541, Seattle, Wash. 98103); Jean Gardiner, “Women’s Domestic Labor,” New Left Review 89 (January-February 1975): 47-55; Beth Ingber and Cleveland Modern Times Group, “The Social Factory,” Falling Wall Review, no. 5 (1976), pp. 1—7; Joan Landes, “Wages for Housework: Subsidizing Capitalism?” Quest: A Feminist Quarterly 2, no. 2 (Fall 1975): 17-30; Batya Weinbaum and Amy Bridges, “The Other Side of the Paycheck: Monopoly Capital and the Structure of Conscription,” Monthly Review 28, no. 3 (July-August 1976): 88-103.

  11. These observations are complex and varied. Typically they begin with the recognition of the important changes socialism has made for women, qualified by reservations about its potential to make the remaining necessary ones. Delia Davin, “Women in the Countryside of China,” in Women in Chinese Society, ed. Margery Wolf and Roxane Witke (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1974); Katie Curtin, Women in China (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975); Judith Stacey, “When Patriarchy Kowtows: The Significance of the Chinese Family Revolution for Feminist Theory,” Feminist Studies 2, no. 2/3 (1975): 64—112; Julia Kristeva, About Chinese Women (New York: Urizen Books, 1977); Hilda Scott, Does Socialism Liberate Women? Experiences from Eastern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1974); Margaret Randall, Cuban Women Now (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1974) (an edited collation of Cuban women’s own observations); and Cuban Women Now: Afterword (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1974); Carollee Bengelsdorf and Alice Hage-man, “Emerging from Underdevelopment: Women and Work in Cuba,” in Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, ed. Zillah Eisenstein (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979).

  12. Barbara Ehrenreich, “What Is Socialist Feminism?” Win (June 3, 1976), reprinted in Working Papers on Socialism and Feminism (Chicago: New American Movement, n.d.). Counterpoint is provided by feminists who have more difficulty separating the two. Susan Brownmiller notes: “It seems to me that a country that wiped out the tsetse fly can by fiat put an equal number of women on the Central Committee” (“Notes of an Ex-China Fan,” Village Voice, quoted in Batya Weinbaum, The Curious Courtship of Women’s Liberation and Socialism [Boston: South End Press, 1978], p. 7).

  13. Stacey (n. 11 above); Janet Salaff and Judith Merkle, “Women and Revolution: The Lessons of the Soviet Union and China,” Socialist Revolution 1, no. 4 (1970): 39-72; Linda Gordon, The Fourth Mountain (Cambridge, Mass.: Working Papers, 1973); Richard Stites, The Womens Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 392-421.

  14. See Fidel Castro, Women and the Cuban Revolution (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970); but compare Fidel’s “Speech at Closing Session of the 2d Congress of the Federation of Cuban Women,” November 29, 1974, Cuba Review 4 (December 1974): 17-23. Stephanie Urdang, A Revolution within a Revolution: Women in Guinea-Bissau (Boston: New England Free Press, n.d.). This is the general position taken by official documents of the Chinese revolution, as collected by Elisabeth Croll, ed., The Women’s Movement in China: A Selection of Readings, 1949-1973, Modern China Series, no. 6 (London: Anglo-Chinese Educational Institute, 1974). Mao Tse-Tung recognized a distinctive domination of women by men (see discussion by Stuart Schram, The Political Thought of Mao Tse-Tung [New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969], p. 257), but interpretations of his thought throughout the revolution saw issues of sex as bourgeois deviation (see Croll, ed., pp. 19, 22, 32). The Leninist view which the latter documents seem to reflect is expressed in Clara Zetkin’s account, “Lenin on the Woman Question,” excerpted as appendix in The Woman Question (New York: International Publishers, 1951), p. 89. Engels earlier traced the oppression of women to the rise of class society, the patriarchal family, and the state, arguing that woman’s status would be changed with the elimination of private property as a form of ownership and her integration into public production (Friedrich Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State [New York: International Publishers, 1942]).

  15. Sheila Rowbotham, Hidden from History: Rediscovering Women in History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (New York: Random House, 1973); Mary Jo Buhle, “Women and the Socialist Party, 1901-1914,” in Altbach, ed. (n. 10 above); Robert Shaffer, “Women and the Communist Party, USA, 1930-1940,” Socialist Review 45 (May-June 1979): 73-118. Contemporary attempts to create socialist-feminist groups and strategies are exemplified in position papers: Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, “Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women’s Movement,” mimeograph (Chicago, 1972) (available from Women’s Liberation Union, Hyde Park Chapter, 819 W. George, Chicago, 111. 60657); Berkeley-Oakland Women’s Union, “Principles of Unity,” Socialist Revolution 4, no. 1 (January-March 1974): 69-82; Lavender and Red Union, The Political Perspective of the Lavender and Red Union (Los Angeles: Fanshen Printing Collective, 1975). Rosalind Pet-chesky, “Dissolving the Hyphen: A Report on Marxist-Feminist Groups 1-5,” in Eisenstein, ed. (n. 11 above), and Red Apple Collective, “Socialist-Feminist Women’s Unions: Past and Present,” Quest: A Feminist Quarterly 4, no. 1 (1977): 88-96, reflect on the process.

  16. Many attempts at unity began as an effort to justify women’s struggles in marxist terms, as if only that could make them legitimate. This anxiety lurks under many synthetic attempts, although feminism has largely redirected its efforts from justifying itself within any other perspective to developing its own.

  17. While true from a feminist standpoint, this sweeping characterization does minimize the wide varieties of marxist theories that have produced significantly different analyses of women’s situation. Juliet Mitchell, Woman’s Estate (New York: Random House, 1971); Sheila Rowbotham, Women, Resistance and Revolution: A History of Women and Revolution in the Modern World (New York: Random House, 1972); Zillah Eisenstein, “Some Notes on the Relations of Capitalist Patriarchy,” in Eisenstein, ed. (n. 11 above); Eli Zaretsky, “Socialist Politics and the Family,” Socialist Revolution 19 (January-March 1974): 83-99; Eli Zaretsky, “Capitalism, the Family and Personal Life,” Socialist Revolution 3, nos. 1 and 2 (January-April 1973): 69-126, and no. 3 (May-June 1973): 19-70; Virginia Held, “Marx, Sex and the Transformation of Society,” in Women and Philosophy: Toward a Theory of Liberation, ed. Carol C. Gould and Marx W. Wartofsky (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976), pp. 168-84; Mihailo Markovic, “Women’s Liberation and Human Emancipation,” ibid., pp. 145-67; Hal Draper, “Marx and Engels on Women’s Liberation,” in Female Liberation, ed. Roberta Salper (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1972), pp. 83-107. No matter how perceptive about the contributions of feminism or sympathetic to women’s interests, these attempts cast feminism, ultimately, as a movement within marxism: “I want to suggest that the women’s movement can provide the basis for building a new and authentic American socialism” (Nancy Hartsock, “Feminist Theory and the Development of Revolutionary Strategy,” in Eisenstein, ed. [n. 11 above], p. 57). Attempts at synthesis that push these limits include Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), pp. 157-210; Sheila Rowbotham, Womens Liberation and the New Politics, Spokesman Pamphlet, no. 17 (Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1971); Annette Kuhn and AnnMarie Wolpe, “Feminism and Materialism,” in Feminism and Materialism: Women and Modes of Production, ed. Annette Kuhn and AnnMarie Wolpe (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978); Ann Foreman, Femininity as Alienation: Women and the Family in Marxism and Psychoanalysis (London: Pluto Press, 1977); Meredith Tax and Jonathan Schwartz, “The Wageless Slave and the Proletarian,” mimeograph (1972) (available from the author); Heidi I. Hartmann, “Capitalism, Patriarchy, and Job Segregation by Sex,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1, no. 3, pt. 2 (Spring 1976): 137-69, and “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union,” Capital and Class 8 (Summer 1979): 1-33; advocates of “wages for housework” mentioned in n. 10 above; and work by Linda Gordon, Womans Body, Woman’s Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1976), pp. 403-18. Also see Linda Gordon, “The Struggle for Reproductive Freedom: Three Stages of Feminism,” in Eisenstein, ed. (n. 11 above). Charlotte Bunch and Nancy Myron, Class and Feminism (Baltimore: Diana Press, 1974) exemplifies, without explicitly articulating, feminist method applied to class.

  18. This tendency, again with important variations, is manifest in writings otherwise as diverse as Charnie Guettel, Marxism and Feminism (Toronto: Canadian Women’s Education Press, 1974); Mary Alice Waters, “Are Feminism and Socialism Related?” in Feminism and Socialism, ed. Linda Jenness (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972), pp. 18-26; Weather Underground, Prairie Fire (Underground, U.S.A.: Red Dragon Collective, 1975); Marjorie King, “Cuba’s Attack on Women’s Second Shift, 1974-1976,” Latin American Perspectives 4, nos. 1 and 2 (Winter-Spring 1977): 106-19; Al Syzmanski, “The Socialization of Women’s Oppression : A Marxist Theory of the Changing Position of Women in Advanced Capitalist Society,” Insurgent Sociologist 6, no. 11 (Winter 1976): 31-58; “The Political Economy of Women,” Review of Radical Political Economics 4, no. 3 (July 1972). See also Selma James, Women, the Unions and Work, or What Is Not to Be Done (Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1976). This is true for “wages for housework” theory in the sense that it sees women as exploited because they do work—housework.

  19. Engels (n. 14 above); Leon Trotsky, Women and the Family, trans. Max Eastman et al. (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970); Evelyn Reed, Woman’s Evolution: From Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal Family (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975); Lise Vogel, “The Earthly Family,” Radical America 7, nos. 4—5 (July-October 1973): 9-50; Kollontai Collective, “The Politics of the Family: A Marxist View” (paper prepared for Socialist Feminist Conference at Yellow Springs, Ohio, July 4-6, 1975); Linda Limpus, Liberation of Women: Sexual Repression and the Family (Boston: New England Free Press, n.d.); Marlene Dixon, “On the Super-Exploitation of Women,” Synthesis 1, no. 4 (Spring 1977): 1-11; David P. Levine and Lynn S. Levine, “Problems in the Marxist Theory of the Family,” photocopied (Department of Economics, Yale University, July 1978). A common approach to treating women’s situation as coterminous with the family is to make women’s circumstances the incident or focus for a reconciliation of Marx with Freud. This approach, in turn, often becomes more Freudian than marxist, without yet becoming feminist in the sense developed here. Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Freud, Reich, Laing and Women (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974); Eli Zaretsky, “Male Supremacy and the Unconscious,” Socialist Revolution 21, no. 22 (January 1975): 7-56; Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978). See also Herbert Marcuse, “Socialist Feminism: The Hard Core of the Dream,” Edcentric: A Journal of Educational Change, no. 31-32 (November 1974), pp. 7-44.

  20. Sometimes “reproduction” refers to biological reproduction, sometimes to the “reproduction” of daily life, as housework, sometimes both. Political Economy of Women Group, “Women, the State and Reproduction since the 1930s,” On the Political Economy of Women, CSE Pamphlet no. 2, Stage 1 (London: Conference of Socialist Economists, 1977). Family theories (n. 19 above) often analyze biological reproduction as a part of the family, while theories of women as workers often see it as work (n. 18 above). For an analysis of reproduction as an aspect of sexuality, in the context of an attempted synthesis, see Gordon, “The Struggle for Reproductive Freedom: Three Stages of Feminism” (n. 17 above).

  21. Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World (London: Penguin Books, 1971); Bruce Brown, Marx, Freud and the Critique of Everyday Life: Toward a Permanent Cultural Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973).

  22. Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (New York: Random House, 1955); Wilhelm Reich, Sex-Pol: Essays, 1929-1934 (New York: Random House, 1972); Reimut Reiche, Sexuality and Class Struggle (London: New Left Books, 1970); Bertell Oilman, Social and Sexual Revolution: Essays on Marx and Reich (Boston: South End Press, 1979); Red Collective, The Politics of Sexuality in Capitalism (London: Red Collective, 1973). This is also true of Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. I, An Introduction (New York: Random House, 1980). Although Foucault understands that sexuality must be discussed at the same time as method, power, class, and the law, he does not systematically comprehend the specificity of gender—women’s and men’s relation to these factors—as a primary category for comprehending them. As one result, he cannot distinguish between the silence about sexuality that Victorianism has made into a noisy discourse and the silence that has been women’s sexuality under conditions of subordination by and to men. Lacan notwithstanding, none of these theorists grasps sexuality (including desire itself) as social, nor the content of its determination as a sexist social order that eroticizes potency (as male) and victimization (as female).

  23. Marxist method is not monolithic. Beginning with Marx, it has divided between an epistemology that embraces its own historicity and one that claims to portray a reality outside itself. In the first tendency, all thought, including social analysis, is ideological in the sense of being shaped by social being, the conditions of which are external to no theory. The project of theory is to create what Lukacs described as “a theory of theory and a consciousness of consciousness” (Georg Lukacs, “Class Consciousness,” in History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics [Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1968], p. 47). Theory is a social activity engaged in the life situation of consciousness. See Jane Flax, “Epistemology and Politics: An Inquiry into Their Relation” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1974). In the second tendency, theory is acontextual to the extent that it is correct. Real processes and thought processes are distinct; being has primacy over knowledge. The real can only be unified with knowledge of the real, as in dialectical materialism, because they have previously been separated. Nicos Poulantzas, Political Power and Social Classes (London: Verso, 1978), p. 14. Theory as a form of thought is methodologically set apart both from the illusions endemic to social reality—ideology—and from reality itself, a world defined as thinglike, independent of both ideology and theory. Ideology here means thought that is socially determined without being conscious of its determinations. Situated thought is as likely to produce “false consciousness” as access to truth. Theory, by definition, is, on the contrary, nonideological. Since ideology is interested, theory must be disinterested in order to penetrate myths that justify and legitimate the status quo. As Louis Althusser warned, “We know that a ‘pure’ science only exists on condition that it continually frees itself from ideology which occupies it, haunts it, or lies in wait for it” (For Marx [London: Verso, 1979], p. 170). When this attempt is successful, society is seen “from the point of view of class exploitation” (Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy [New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971], p. 8). A theory that embraced its own historicity might see the scientific imperative itself as historically contingent. (On the objective standpoint, see text, pp. 537-42.) The problem with using scientific method to understand women’s situation is that it is precisely unclear and crucial what is thought and what is thing, so that the separation itself becomes problematic. The second tendency grounds the marxist claim to be scientific; the first, its claim to capture as thought the flux of history. The first is more hospitable to feminism; the second has become the dominant tradition.

  24. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1970). Her existential theory merges, in order to criticize, social meaning with biological determination in “anatomical destiny”: “Here we have the key to the whole mystery. On the biological level a species is maintained only by creating itself anew; but this creation results only in repeating the same Life in more individuals. But man assures the repetition of Life while transcending Life through Existence; by this transcendence he creates values that deprive pure repetition of all value. . . . Her misfortune is to have been biologically destined for the repetition of Life when even in her own view Life does not carry within itself its reasons for being, reasons that are more important than life itself” (p. 59). She does not ask, for example, whether the social value placed upon “repetition of life,” the fact that it is seen as iterative rather than generative, or the fact that women are more identified with it than are men, are themselves social artifacts of women’s subordination, rather than existential derivations of biological fiat. Shulamith Firestone substitutes the contradiction of sex for class in a dialectical analysis, but nevertheless takes sex itself as presocial: “Unlike economic class, sex class sprang directly from a biological reality; men and women were created different, and not equally privileged. . . . The biological family is an inherently unequal power distribution” (The Dialectic of Sex: The Case For Feminist Revolution [New York: William Morrow & Co., 1972], p. 3). Her solutions are consistent: “The freeing of women from the tyranny of their reproductive biology by every means available, and the diffusion of childbearing and the childrearing role to the society as a whole, men as well as women” (p. 206). Susan Brownmiller (in Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976]) expresses a biological theory of rape within a social critique of the centrality of rape to women’s subordination: “Men’s structural capacity to rape and woman’s corresponding structural vulnerability are as basic to the physiology of both our sexes as the primal act of sex itself. Had it not been for this accident of biology, an accommodation requiring the locking together of two separate parts, penis and vagina, there would be neither copulation nor rape as we know it. . . . By anatomical fiat—the inescapable construction of their genital organs—the human male was a natural predator and the human female served as his natural prey” (pp. 4, 6). She does not seem to think it necessary to explain why women do not engulf men, an equal biological possibility. Criticizing the law for confusing intercourse with rape, she finds them biologically indistinguishable, leaving one wondering whether she, too, must alter or acquiesce in the biological.

  25. Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1976); Chodorow (n. 19 above); Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise (New York: Harper & Row, 1977); Suzanne Arms, Immaculate Deception: A New Look at Women and Childbirth in America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1975).

  26. I take Mill’s “The Subjection of Women” (n. 4 above) to be the original articulation of the theory, generalized in much contemporary feminism, that women are oppressed by “patriarchy,” meaning a system originating in the household wherein the father dominates, the structure then reproduced throughout the society in gender relations.

  27. In her “notes toward a theory of patriarchy” Kate Millett comprehends “sex as a status category with political implications,” in which politics refers to “power-structured relationships, arrangements whereby one group of persons is controlled by another. . . . Patriarchy’s chief institution is the family” (Sexual Politics [New York: Ballantine Books, 1969], pp. 32, 31, 45).

  28. Sandra L. Bern and Daryl J. Bern, “Case Study of Nonconscious Ideology: Training the Woman to Know Her Place,” in Beliefs, Attitudes and Human Affairs, ed. D. J. Bern (Belmont, Calif.: Brooks/Cole, 1970); Eleanor Emmons Maccoby and Carol Nagy Jacklin, The Psychology of Sex Differences (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1974); and Shirley Weitz, Sex Rolas: Biological, Psychological and Social Foundations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).

  29. Nor does it grow directly from Lacanian roots, although French feminists have contributed much to the developing theory from within that tradition.

  30. De Beauvoir (n. 24 above), p. 249.

  31. J. H. Block, “Conceptions of Sex Role: Some Cross-cultural and Longitudinal Perspectives,” American Psychologist 28, no. 3 (June 1973): 512-26; Nancy Chodorow, “Being and Doing: A Cross-cultural Examination of the Socialization of Males and Females,” in Women in Sexist Society, ed. V. Gornick and B. K. Moran (New York: Basic Books, 1971); R. R. Sears, “Development of’Gender Role,” in Sex and Behavior, ed. F. A. Beach (New York: John Wiley Sc Sons, 1965).

  32. National Black Feminist Organization, “Statement of Purpose,” Ms. (May 1974): “The black woman has had to be strong, yet we are persecuted for having survived” (p. 99). Johnnie Tillmon, “Welfare Is a Women’s Issue,” Liberation News Service (February 26, 1972), in America’s Working Women: A Documentary History, 1600 to the Present, ed. Rosalyn Baxandall, Linda Gordon, and Susan Reverby (New York: Vintage Books, 1976): “On TV a woman learns that human worth means beauty and that beauty means being thin, white, young and rich. … In other words, an A.F.D.C. mother learns that being a ‘real woman’ means being all the things she isn’t and having all the things she can’t have” (pp. 357-58).

  33. Marabel Morgan, The Total Woman (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1973) . “Total Woman” makes blasphemous sexuality into a home art, redomesticating what prostitutes have marketed as forbidden.

  34. Cixous (n. 1 above), p. 892.

  35. Indications are that this is true not only in Western industrial society; further cross-cultural research is definitely needed.

  36. Love justifies this on the emotional level. Firestone (n. 24 above), chap. 6.

  37. Millett’s analysis is pervasively animated by the sense that women’s status is sexually determined. It shapes her choice of authors, scenes, and themes and underlies her most pointed criticisms of women’s depiction. Her explicit discussion, however, vacillates between clear glimpses of that argument and statements nearly to the contrary.

  38. Each of these issues is discussed at length in the second part of this article (“Toward Feminist Jurisprudence”), forthcoming.

  39. On abortion and contraception, see Kristin Luker, Taking Chances: Abortion and the Decision Not to Contracept (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975). On rape, see Diana E. H. Russell, Rape: The Victim’s Perspective (New York: Stein & Day, 1977); Andrea Medea and Kathleen Thompson, Against Rape (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974); Lorenne N. G. Clark and Debra Lewis, Rape: The Price of Coercive Sexuality (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1977); Susan Griffin, Rape: The Power of Consciousness (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979); Kalamu ya Salaam, “Rape: A Radical Analysis from the African-American Perspective,” in his Our Women Keep Our Skies from Falling (New Orleans: Nkombo, 1980), pp. 25-40. On incest, see Judith Herman and Lisa Hirschman, “Father-Daughter Incest,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2, no. 1 (Summer 1977): 735—56. On sexual harassment, see my Sexual Harassment of Working Women (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979). On pornography, see Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981).

  40. Ellen Morgan, The Erotization of Male Dominance/Female Submission (Pittsburgh: Know, Inc., 1975); Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 5, no. 4 (Summer 1980): 631—60.

  41. Susan Sontag, “The Third World of Women,” Partisan Review 40, no. 2 (1973): 180-206, esp. 188.

  42. The same question could be asked of lesbian sadomasochism: when women engage in ritualized sexual dominance and submission, does it express the male structure or subvert it? The answer depends upon whether one has a social or biological definition of gender and of sexuality and then upon the content of these definitions. Lesbian sex, simply as sex between women, does not by definition transcend the erotization of dominance and submission and their social equation with maculinity and femininity. Butch/femme as sexual (not just gender) role playing, together with parallels in lesbian sadomasochism’s “top” and “bottom,” suggest to me that sexual conformity extends far beyond gender object mores. For a contrary view see Pat Califia, Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality (Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad Press, 1980); Gayle Rubin, “Sexual Politics, the New Right and the Sexual Fringe,” in What Color Is Your Handkerchief: A Lesbian S/M Sexuality Reader (Berkeley, Calif.: Samois, 1979), pp. 28-35.

  43. Engels (n. 14 above); August Bebel, Women under Socialism, trans. Daniel DeLeon (New York: New York Labor News Press, 1904).

  44. Reich (n. 22 above). He examines fascism, for example, as a question of how the masses can be made to desire their own repression. This might be seen as a precursor to the feminist question of how female desire itself can become the lust for self-annihilation.

  45. Harold Lasswell, Psychoanalysis and Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930).

  46. The aphorism “Feminism is the theory; lesbianism is the practice” has been attributed to TiGrace Atkinson by Anne Koedt, “Lesbianism and Feminism,” in Radical Feminism, ed. Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone (New York: New York Times Book Co., 1973), p. 246. See also Radicalesbians, “The Woman Identified Woman,” ibid., pp. 24—45; TiGrace Atkinson, “Lesbianism & Feminism,” Amazon Odyssey: The First Collection of Writings by the Political Pioneer of the Women’s Movement (New York: Links Books, 1974), pp. 83-88; Jill Johnston, Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973), pp. 167, 185, 278. This aphorism accepts a simplistic view of the relationship between theory and practice. Feminism reconceptualizes the connection between being and thinking such that it may be more accurate to say that feminism is the epistemology of which lesbianism is an ontology. But see n. 56 below on this latter distinction as well.

  47. Judy Grahn, The Work of a Common Woman (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1978). “The Common Woman” poems are on pp. 61-73.

  48. Adrienne Rich, “Origins and History of Consciousness,” in The Dream of a Common Language: Poems, 1974-1977 (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1978), p. 7. This means that a women’s movement exists wherever women identify collectively to resist/reclaim their determinants as such. This feminist redefinition of consciousness requires a corresponding redefinition of the process of mobilizing it: feminist organizing. The transformation from subordinate group to movement parallels Marx’s distinction between a class “in itself” and a class “for itself.” See Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (New York: International Publishers, 1963), p. 195.

  49. In addition to the references in n. 1, see Sandra Lee Bartky, “Toward a Phenomenology of Feminist Consciousness,” in Feminism and Philosophy, ed. Mary Vetterling-Braggin et al. (Totowa, N.J.: Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1977). Susan Griffin reflects/creates the process: “We do not rush to speech. We allow ourselves to be moved. We do not attempt objectivity. . . . We said we had experienced this ourselves. I felt so much for her then, she said, with her head cradled in my lap, she said, I knew what to do. We said we were moved to see her go through what we had gone through. We said this gave us some knowledge” (Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her [New York: Harper & Row, 1978], p. 197). Assertions such as “our politics begin with our feelings” have emerged from the practice of consciousness raising. Somewhere between mirror-reflexive determination and transcendence of determinants, “feelings” are seen as both access to truth—at times a bit phenomenologically transparent—and an artifact of politics. There is both suspicion of feelings and affirmation of their health. They become simultaneously an inner expression of outer lies and a less contaminated resource for verification. See San Francisco Redstockings, “Our Politics “Begin with Our Feelings,” in Masculine/Feminine: Readings in Sexual Mythology and the Liberation of Women, ed. Betty Roszak and Theodore Roszak (New York: Harper & Row, 1969).

  50. Fredric Jameson, Marxism and Form (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. xi. Jameson is describing dialectical method: “I have felt that the dialectical method can be acquired only by a concrete working through of detail, by a sympathetic internal experience of the gradual construction of a system according to its inner necessity.”

  51. This distinguishes both feminism and at least a strain in marxism from Freud: “My self-analysis is still interrupted and I have realized the reason. I can only analyze my self with the help of knowledge obtained objectively (like an outsider). Genuine selfanalysis is impossible, otherwise there would be no [neurotic] illness” (Sigmund Freud, Letter to Wilhelm Fleiss, #71, October 15, 1887, quoted in Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Freud, Reich, Laing and Women [n. 19 above], pp. 61-62, see also p. 271). Given that introspection is not analytically dispositive to Freud, the collective self-knowledge of feminism might be collective neurosis. Although it is interpersonal, it is still an insider to its world.

  52. Feminist scholars are beginning to criticize objectivity from different disciplinary standpoints, although not as frontally as here, nor in its connection with objectification. Julia Sherman and Evelyn Torton Beck, eds., The Prism of Sex: Essays in the Sociology of Knowledge (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979); Margrit Eichler, The Double Standard: A Feminist Critique of Feminist Social Science (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980); Evelyn Fox Keller, “Gender and Science,” Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought 1, no. 3 (1978): 409-33. Adrienne Rich, “Toward a Woman-centered University,” in Woman and the Power to Change, ed. Florence Howe (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1975).

  53. De Beauvoir (n. 24 above). De Beauvoir had not pursued the analysis to the point I suggest here by 1979, either. See her “Introduction,” in Marks and de Courtivron, eds. (n. 1 above), pp. 41-56.

  54. This does not mean all men have male power equally. American Black men, for instance, have substantially less of it. But to the extent that they cannot create the world from their point of view, they find themselves unmanned, castrated, literally or figuratively. This supports rather than qualifies the sex specificity of the argument without resolving the relationship between racism and sexism, or the relation of either to class. Although historically receiving more attention, race and nation are otherwise analogous to sex in the place they occupy for, and the challenge they pose to, marxist theory. If the real basis of history and activity is class and class conflict, what, other than “false consciousness,” is one to make of the historical force of sexism, racism, and nationalism? Similarly, positing a supra-class unit with true meaning, such as “Black people,” is analytically parallel to positing a supra-class (and supra-racial) unit “women.” Treating race, nation, and sex as lesser included problems has been the major response of marxist theory to such challenges. Any relationship between sex and race tends to be left entirely out of account, since they are considered parallel “strata.” Attempts to confront the latter issue include Adrienne Rich, Language and Materialism: Developments in Semiology and the Theory of the Subject (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977). Mary Daly approaches the ontological issue when she says that ontological theory without an understanding of sex roles can not be “really ontological” (Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation [Boston : Beacon Press, 1973], p. 124). But both in this work, and more pervasively in Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), the extent of the creation of women’s reality by male epistemology, therefore the extent and nature of women’s damage, is slighted in favor of a critique of its lies and distortions. Consider her investigation of suttee, a practice in which Indian widows are supposed to throw themselves upon their dead husband’s funeral pyres in grief (and to keep pure), in which Daly focuses upon demystifying its alleged voluntary aspects. Women are revealed drugged, pushed, browbeaten, or otherwise coerced by the dismal and frightening prospect of widowhood in Indian society (Daly, Gyn/Ecology, pp. 113-33). Neglected—both as to the women involved and as to the implications for the entire diagnosis of sexism as illusion—are suttee’s deepest victims: women who want to die when their husband dies, who volunteer for self-immolation because they believe their life is over when his is. See also Duncan Kennedy, “The Structure of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” Buffalo Law Review 28, no. 2 (1979): 211-12.

  55. This suggests a way in which marxism and feminism may be reciprocally illuminating, without, for the moment, confronting the deep divisions between them. Marxism comprehends the object world’s social existence: how objects are constituted, embedded in social life, infused with meaning, created in systematic and structural relation. Feminism comprehends the social world’s object existence: how women are created in the image of, and as, things. The object world’s social existence varies with the structure of production. Suppose that wherever the sexes are unequal, women are objects, but what it means to be an object varies with the productive relations that create objects as social. Thus, under primitive exchange systems, women are exchange objects. Under capitalism, women appear as commodities. That is, women’s sexuality as object for men is valued as objects are under capitalism, namely as commodities. Under true communism, women would be collective sex objects. If women have universally been sex objects, it is also true that matter as the acted-upon in social life has a history. If women have always been things, it is also true that things have not always had the same meaning. Of course, this does not explain sex inequality. It merely observes, once that inequality exists, the way its dynamics may interact with the social organization of production. Sexual objectification may also have a separate history, with its own periods, forms, structures, technology, and, potentially, revolutions.

  56. In a sense, this realization collapses the epistemology/ontology distinction altogether. What is purely an ontological category, a category of “being” free of social perception? Surely not the self/other distinction. Ultimately, the feminist approach turns social inquiry into political hermeneutics: inquiry into situated meaning, one in which the inquiry itself participates. A feminist political hermeneutics would be a theory of the answer to the question, What does it mean? that would comprehend that the first question to address is, To whom? within a context that comprehends gender as a social division of power. Useful general treatments of hermeneutical issues (which nevertheless proceed as if feminism, or a specific problematic of women, did not exist) include Josef Bleicher, Contemporany Hermeneutics: Hermeneutics as Method, Philosophy and Critique (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980); Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, trans. David E. Linge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); Rosalind Coward and John Ellis, Language and Materialism: Developments in Semiology and the Theory of the Subject (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977). Mary Daly approaches the ontological issue when she says that ontological theory without an understanding of sex roles can not be “really ontological” (Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation [Boston : Beacon Press, 1973], p. 124). But both in this work, and more pervasively in Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), the extent of the creation of women’s reality by male epistemology, therefore the extent and nature of women’s damage, is slighted in favor of a critique of its lies and distortions. Consider her investigation of suttee, a practice in which Indian widows are supposed to throw themselves upon their dead husband’s funeral pyres in grief (and to keep pure), in which Daly focuses upon demystifying its alleged voluntary aspects. Women are revealed drugged, pushed, browbeaten, or otherwise coerced by the dismal and frightening prospect of widowhood in Indian society (Daly, Gyn/Ecology, pp. 113-33). Neglected—both as to the women involved and as to the implications for the entire diagnosis of sexism as illusion—are suttee’s deepest victims: women who want to die when their husband dies, who volunteer for self-immolation because they believe their life is over when his is. See also Duncan Kennedy, “The Structure of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” Buffalo Law Review 28, no. 2 (1979): 211-12.

  57. Dworkin (n. 39 above), p. 124. Explicitness is the aesthetic, the allowed sensibility, of objectified eroticism. Under this norm, written and pictured evocations of sexuality are compulsively literal. What it is to arouse sexuality through art is to recount events “objectively,” i.e., verbally and visually to re-present who did what to whom. On the “dynamic of total explicitness” as stylization, explored in the context of the “foremost insight of the modern novel: the interweaving, the symbolic and structural interchange between economic and sexual relations,” see George Steiner, “Eros and Idiom: 1975,” in On Difficulty and Other Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 100: “Chasteness of discourse [in George Eliot’s work] acts not as a limitation but as a liberating privacy within which the character can achieve the paradox of autonomous life” (p. 107). This connects the lack of such liberating privacy for women—in life, law, or letters—with women’s lack of autonomy and authentic erotic vocabulary.

  58. Linda Lovelace, Ordeal (Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1980). The same may be true for class. See Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb, The Hidden Injuries of Class (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1972). Marxism teaches that exploitation/degradation somehow necessarily produces resistance/revolution. Women’s experience with sexual exploitation/degradation teaches that it also produces grateful complicity in exchange for survival and self-loathing to the point of the extinction of self, respect for which makes resistance conceivable. The problem here is not to explain why women acquiesce in their condition but why they ever do anything but.

  59. The critique of sexual objectification first became visibly explicit in the American women’s movement with the disruption of the Miss America Pageant in September 1968. Robin Morgan, “Women Disrupt the Miss America Pageant,” Rat (September 1978), reprinted in Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist (New York: Random House, 1977), pp. 62-67. The most compelling account of sexual objectification I know is contained in the following description of women’s depiction in art and the media: “According to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome, the social presence of a woman is different in kind from that of a man. … A man’s presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. By contrast, a woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. … To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman’s self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. . . . she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another. One might simplify this by saying: men act; women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed, female. Thus she turns herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight” (John Berger, Ways of Seeing [New York: Viking Press, 1972], pp. 46,47 [my emphasis]). All that is missing here is an explicit recognition that this process embodies what the sexuality of women is about and that it expresses an inequality in social power. In a feminist context, aesthetics, including beauty and imagery, becomes the most political of subjects. See Purple September Staff, “The Normative Status of Heterosexuality,” in Lesbianism and the Womens Movement, ed. Charlotte Bunch and Nancy Myron (Baltimore: Diana Press, 1975), pp. 79-83, esp. pp. 80-81. Marxist attempts to deal with sexual objectification have not connected the issue with the politics of aesthetics or with subordination: “She becomes a sexual object only in a relationship, when she allows man to treat her in a certain depersonalizing, degrading way; and vice versa, a woman does not become a sexual subject simply by neglecting her appearance. There is no reason why a women’s liberation activist should not try to look pretty and attractive. One of the universal human aspirations of all times was to raise reality to the level of art. . . . Beauty is a value in itself” (Markovic [n. 17 above], pp. 165-66). Other attempts come closer, still without achieving the critique, e.g., Power of Women Collective, “What Is a Sex Object?” Socialist Woman: A Journal of the International Marxist Group 1, no. 1 (March/April 1974): 7; Dana Densmore, “On the Temptation to Be a Beautiful Object,” in Toward a Sociology of Women, ed. C. Sahlios-Rothschild (Lexington, Mass.: Xerox Publication, 1972); Rita Arditti, “Women as Objects: Science and Sexual Politics,” Science for the People, vol. 6, no. 5 (September 1974); Charley Shively, “Cosmetics as an Act of Revolution,” Fag Rag (Boston), reprinted in Pink Triangles: Radical Perspectives on Gay Liberation, ed. Pam Mitchell (Boston: Alyson Publication, 1980). Resentment of white beauty standards is prominent in Black feminism. Beauty standards incapable of achievement by any woman seem to fulfill a dual function. They keep women buying products (to the profit of capitalism) and competing for men (to be affirmed by the standard that matters). That is, they make women feel ugly and inadequate so we need men and money to defend against rejection/self-revulsion. Black women are further from being able concretely to achieve the standard that no woman can ever achieve, or it would lose its point.

  60. Anne Koedt, “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” in Koedt et al., eds. (n. 46 above), pp. 198-207; TiGrace Atkinson, “Vaginal Orgasm as a Mass Hysterical Survival Response,” in Amazon Odyssey (n. 46 above), pp. 5-8.

  61. Shere Hite, The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1976), “Do you ever fake orgasms?” pp. 257-66.

  62. Jean-Paul Sartre, Existential Psychoanalysis, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1973), p. 20. A similar treatment of “desire” occurs in Deleuze and Guattari’s description of man as “desiring-machine,” of man in relation to the object world: “Not man as the king of creation, but rather as the being who is in intimate contact with the profound life of all forms or all types of beings, who is responsible for even the stars and animal life, and who ceaselessly plugs an organ-machine into an energy-machine, a tree into his body, a breast into his mouth, the sun into his asshole; the eternal custodian of the machines of the universe” (Deleuze and Guattari [n. 1 above], p. 4). Realizing that women, socially, inhabit the object realm transforms this discourse into a quite accurate description of the feminist analysis of women’s desirability to man—the breast in his mouth, the energy machine into which he ceaselessly plugs an organ machine. Extending their inquiry into the extent to which this kind of objectification of woman is specific to capitalism (either as a process or in its particular form) does little to redeem the sex blindness (blind to the sex of its standpoint) of this supposedly general theory. Women are not desiring-machines.

  63. Peter Berger and Stanley Pullberg, “Reification and the Sociological Critique of Consciousness,” New Left Review, vol. 35 (January-February 1966); Herbert Marcuse, “The Foundation of Historical Materialism,” in Studies in Critical Philosophy, trans. Joris De Bres (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972); Karl Klare, “Law-Making as Praxis,” Telos 12, no. 2 (Summer 1979): 123-35, esp. 131.

  64. Istvan Meszaros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation (London: Merlin Press, 1972); Bertell Oilman, Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971); Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (n. 22 above), pp. 93-94, 101-2.

  65. Rowbotham, Women’s Liberation and the New Politics (n. 17 above), p. 17.

  66. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), pp. 79-80.

  67. In the second part of this article, “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence” (forthcoming in Signs), I argue that the state is male in that objectivity is its norm.