Modern Engendering: Critical Feminist Readings in Modern Western Philosophy

By Bat-Ami Bar On | Go to book overview
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Marx and the Ideology of Gender:
A Paradox of Praxis and Nature

Wendy Lee-Lampshire

While ecofeminist and Marxist-feminist literature appear both vast in themselves and relatively unrelated to each other, some versions of each share in an ecologically motivated utopic vision very much in the spirit of Marx. 1 The key to this utopia lies in the Marxian concept of praxis for it is within this novel concept of creative activity that nature is alleged to be transformed without being exploited. The best hope for articulating a feminist-Marxist as well as an ecofeminist future, then, would seem to depend upon the discovery of a way to articulate praxis in more explicitly feminist terms. The aim of this paper, however, is to show why such an undertaking is destined to failure. For the assumptions which animate praxis in the Marxian conceptual constellation preclude women from participation in the utopic vision. Thus, although the feminist commitment to emancipation seems to find a common ally in Marxism, this sympathy is actually more apparent than real. For concepts like praxis turn out to be rooted in an untenable philosophical dualism between rational activity and natural proclivity, the practical realization of which finds expression in a Victorian ideology which identifies women with the natural while reserving rationality exclusively for men.


I. The Ambivalence of Praxis

I would like to begin with the critical feminist approach to Marxism known as dual systems theory. This approach attempts to clarify the relation between capitalism and patriarchy by showing the analogous themes which animate and perpetuate these systems of domination. Birke, for example, points out that these systems operate as mutually conditioning but nevertheless independent forms of power. 2 Hartmann elaborates this theme further arguing that

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