Marxist Feminism

      Marxist feminism arises out of the doctrines of Karl Marx, whose theory is centered less on the material aspects of life than on the more broadly defined social ones. Simone Weil in Oppression and Liberty describes Marxism as being a theory quite incomplete insofar as its application is concerned, yet very relevant in describing the mechanisms of economic growth. Central to Marxism is the idea of the divisions of labor, which are familiarly evident in the capitalist system. Marxist feminists base their arguments of moral right and wrong in reference to the corruption of wage labor that is in itself an expression of class distinctions.33 “Wage earning is a form of oppression, that the workers are inevitably enslaved under a system of production where, deprived of knowledge and skill, they are reduced practically to nothing.”34 Following this doctrine, Marxists are opposed to any social or political action that perpetuates the enslavement and oppression of members of the work force. Prostitution is a form of labor and therefore has been specifically noted as falling under the designation of a corruption of wage labor. Marx himself asserted that “prostitution is only a specific expression of the general prostitution of the laborer.”35 Prostitution, therefore, can be seen as standing as a symbol of all that is wrong with world policies in society. Prostitutes may feel that they are free, but looking at the larger economic picture in Marxist terms, they are in reality oppressed workers reinforcing and perpetuating an exploitative capitalistic scheme. However, Pateman in The Sexual Contract sees prostitutes otherwise, pointing out that they are not wage laborers, but rather independent contractors. In her thinking, “The objection that the prostitute is harmed or degraded by her trade misunderstands the nature of what is traded. The body and the self of the prostitute are not offered in the market; she can contract out use of her services without detriment to herself.”36 Moreover, philosopher Robert Nozick believes that peoples’ rights predominate over concerns for what harm may come to them. He believes that a person has the right to sell himself or herself into slavery if that is his 37

      What appears to have gone unnoticed in Marxism, Marxist feminism, and radical feminism is that there is the perception that in the capitalist system there is a stripping away of the spiritual qualities of life as a person is reduced to being a mere cog in a machine.38 There is a tendency in some feminist writings to discuss the relationship between feminism and prostitution in much the same terms, thus stripping away the transcendent and spiritual qualities of prostitutes and leaving only a mechanistic view of prostitutes within prostitution.


33. Class distinctions are what Marx objects to in his complex theory of
economic determinism. But without such divisions of labor, productivity
would be low and the quality of life diminished, except perhaps in small island nations in warm climates where the struggles of day to day survival might be less than in the colder regions. “Among all the forms of social organization which history has to show, there are very few which appear to be really free from oppression; and those few are not very well known. All of them correspond to extremely low level of production, so low that the division of labor is pretty well unknown, except between the sexes, and each family produces little more than its own requirements.” Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1955), pp. 61-62.
34. Ibid., p.161.
35. The Sexual Contract, p. 201.
36. Ibid., p. 191.
37. Robert Nozick, in an article by Alison M. Jaggar, in The Philosophy of Sex, p. 264.
38. In Oppression and Liberty, Weil speaking of Marx, “In the factory,” he writes in Capital, “there exists a mechanism independent of the workers, which incorporates them as living cogs...The separation of the spiritual forces that play a part in production from manual labor,” p.41.

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Figurative, Not Actual Degradation