Please note: there was an error in the formatting of this post originally - if you read it on the main page of the blog (thehandmirror.blogspot.com), rather than on the page for this post (i.e. the one with the comments down the bottom) then you missed a few paragraphs! I've fixed it now (7.30pm Thurs 11th Sept) - Julie
In short, I argued that women's oppression is partly a class problem, because it may involve men (of various classes) exploiting women's unpaid work. But there are plenty of non-economic issues which feminists are concerned with, and I feel that traditional socialist thinking doesn't deal with these too well. Until it does, I plan to keep my subscription to the women's movement.
There are a bunch of systemic disadvantages affecting women which can't be explained too well with a class analysis: domestic violence, sexual violence, homophobia and lack of control over our reproductive lives are just a few. My guess is that some of these things may be correlated with class - it might be possible to show with stats that domestic violence happens more often amongst poor people, perhaps - but class or poverty don't cause these problems. Probably, we all know women from middle class backgrounds who have experienced sexual violence or been in an abusive relationship. If class isn't the cause, something else must be going on.
Take domestic violence, for example. How should socialists try to understand and respond to it? I'm not for a second suggesting that men on the left don't take domestic violence seriously, or don't want to stop it. But for those who think of economic exploitation as the most important and serious kind of oppression, non-economic oppression is a challenge. Traditional lefties either have to think up feeble arguments to recast women's issues as economic/class ones, bump them down the priority list behind the 'real' issues, or - worse still - dismiss them as identity politics.
I sometimes wonder how socialism came to focus first and foremost on economic oppression, with other kinds becoming secondary. I think this might have to do with the way Marx and most other Western thinkers have viewed women as wives or daughters - appendages of men. As I argued in part one of this lengthy rant, men's economic concerns were thought to be important, and women were assumed to be taken care of by husbands and fathers. So long as men were provided for, women were too - and if you think like that, you're bound to see the big picture stuff outside the home as most important. Private things - reproduction, sexuality and so on - were associated with women and regarded as less important and not political.
One of feminism's most important principles is that the personal is political - what goes on in the home is important. Ponder the long time it's taken for the Police and judiciary to take domestic violence seriously, or the fact that marital rape wasn't illegal in many places until the 1980s. It was feminism, not socialism, which drew attention to these forms of oppression. I suspect that if we'd hung around until blokes prioritised these problems, we would have been waiting for a bloody long time.
No one's suggesting throwing Marx out with the bathwater. (Actually, the idea of giving Marx a bath makes me feel very, very uncomfortable.) I'm arguing that socialist insights should be added to those of feminists, gay rights advocates and anti-racism campaigners - all those people fighting different forms of injustice. Doing this can be scary to those (usually men) who insist that class analysis is the most important thing, and feminism/identity politics aren't needed. It forces us look in the (hand)mirror and wonder if we've done stuff that oppresses other people because of their race, sexuality or gender, even though we've thought of ourselves as being on the side of right.