On materialism and feminism

Engels’ definition of materialism:

“According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. This, again, is of a twofold character: on the one side, the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side,the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species.”

On oppression:

French feminists, particularly Christine Delphy, argued that materialism (i.e., part of the Marxist historical-materialist approach) “is the only theory of history that views oppression as the most fundamental reality; this is why women and all oppressed groups need it to examine their situation: ‘to start from oppression defines a materialist approach… oppression is a materialist concept.'”

Quoted in Martha Gimenez’s essay on feminist academic tribes, especially Materialist Feminism.

Gimenez’s contribution was to caution against conceiving of patriarchy ahistorically. In her view, patriarchy should be analyzed in its historical relationship with the conditions of production and reproduction.

Gimenez advocates “a return to Marx whose method and analysis of capitalism, despite its ambiguities, omissions, complexities and 19th century limitations, has far more to offer feminists and all oppressed people than contemporary theories which, having severed the internal relationship between existence and consciousness or, between discourse and its material conditions of possibility, postulate the materiality of the discursive and whatever there might be ‘outside’ discourse (Nature? the Body?) while rejecting as ‘economism’ the materiality — i.e., the reality, independent of people’s consciousness, and causal efficacy — of labor and of the mode of production. As Ebert unerringly points out, Marx’s critique of ‘Feuerbachian materialism’ aptly describes today’s MatFem materialism: ‘As far as Feuerbach is a materialist he does not deal with history, and as far as he considers history he is not a materialist.'”

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