Close to Home: A Materialist Analysis of Women's Oppression

By Christine Delphy; Diana Leonard | Go to book overview

11. For a materialist feminism*.

Feminism is above all a social movement. Like all revolutionary movements, its very existence implies two fundamental presumptions. First, that the situation of women is cause for revolt. This is a platitude, but this platitude entails a corollary, a second presumption, which is much less frequently admitted. People do not revolt against what is natural, therefore inevitable; or inevitable, therefore natural. Since what is resistible is not inevitable; what is not inevitable could be otherwise -- it is arbitrary, therefore social. The logical and necessary implication of women's revolt, like all revolts, is that the situation can be changed. If not, why revolt? Belief in the possibility of change implies belief in the social origins of the situation.

The renewal of feminism coincided with the use of the term 'oppression'. Ideology (that is, common-sense, conventional wisdom) does not speak of 'women's oppression' but of 'the feminine condition'. The latter relates to a naturalistic explanation, to a belief in the existence of a physical constraint. This puts exterior reality out of reach and beyond modification by human action. The term oppression, on the other hand, refers to something arbitrary, to a political explanation and a political situation. Oppression and social oppression are therefore synonyms; or, rather, social oppression is a pleonasm. The notion of a political (that is a social) cause is integral to the concept of oppression.

The term oppression is therefore the base, the point of departure, of any feminist research, as of any feminist approach. Its use radically modifies the basic principles, not only of sociology, but of all the social sciences. It nullifies any 'scientific' approach which speaks of women in one way or another, at one level or another, but which does not include

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*
First published in L"Arc, 61 ( 1975). An English translation by Mary Jo Lakeland and Susan Ellis Wolf was published in Feminist Issues, 1, no. 2 (Winter 1981)

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