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Material feminism highlights capitalism and patriarchy as central in understanding women’s oppression. The theory centers on social change rather than seeking transformation within the capitalist system. Jennifer Wicke, defines Materialist Feminism as "a feminism that insists on examining the material conditions under which social arrangements, including those of gender hierarchy, develop... materialist feminism avoids seeing this gender hierarchy as the effect of a singular... patriarchy and instead gauges the web of social and psychic relations that make up a material, historical moment." She states that "...materialist feminism argues that material conditions of all sorts play a vital role in the social production of gender and assays the different ways in which women collaborate and participate in these productions". Material feminism also considers how women and men of various races and ethnicities are kept in their lower economic status due to an imbalance of power that privileges those who already have privilege, thereby protecting the status quo.
Rosemary Hennessy traces the history of Materialist Feminism in the work of British and French feminists who preferred the term materialist feminism to Marxist feminism. In their view, Marxism had to be altered to be able to explain the sexual division of labor. Marxism was inadequate to the task because of its class bias and focus on production. Feminism was also problematic due to its essentialist and idealist concept of woman. Material Feminism then emerged as a positive substitute to both Marxism and feminism.
Material Feminism partly originated from the work of French feminists, particularly Christine Delphy. She argued that materialism is the only theory of history that views oppression as a basic reality of women’s lives. Delphy states that this is why women and all oppressed groups need materialism to investigate their situation. For Delphy "to start from oppression defines a materialist approach, oppression is a materialist concept." She states that the domestic mode of production was the site of patriarchal exploitation and the material basis of the oppression of women. Delphy further argued that marriage is a labor contract that gives men the right to exploit women.
The Grand Domestic Revolution by Dolores Hayden is a reference. Hayden describes Material feminism at that time as reconceptualizing the relationship between the private household space and public space by presenting collective options to take the "burden" off women in regard to housework, cooking, and other traditional female domestic jobs.
Relationship to Marxist feminism
The term Material feminism was first used in 1975 by Christine Delphy. The current concept has its roots in socialist and Marxist feminism; Rosemary Hennessy and Chrys Ingraham, editors of Materialist Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women’s Lives, describe material feminism as the "conjuncture of several discourses—historical materialism, Marxist and radical feminism, as well as postmodernist and psychoanalytic theories of meaning and subjectivity.”
Materialist feminism has been criticized for falsely assuming universal oppression of women. By focusing on capitalist relations combined with patriarchy, materialist feminism fails to include women of different classes, sexuality and ethnicity. Hazel Carby challenged the materialist feminist analyses of the family as universally oppressive to all women. She instead noted the ways that values of the family are different for black women and men, just as the division of labor is also radicalized.
In recent years materialist feminist thought has attempted to focus on transnational issues. Scholars consider global economic change in relation to the feminization of poverty. Feminist scholars are also working to create a transnational feminist agenda. For example, Rosemary Hennessy analyzes grassroots organization in four maquiladora communities along Mexico's northern border. The research claims that the global nature of patriarchy and capitalism sustains a “political economy of sex”.
- Christine Delphy
- Double burden
- Economic materialism
- Feminist economics
- Rosemary Hennessy
- Stevi Jackson
- Marxist feminism
- Socialist feminism
- Monique Wittig
- Jackson, Stevi (May–August 2001). "Why a materialist feminism is (Still) Possible—and necessary". Women's Studies International Forum, special issue: Local/Global IDs: Materialist Discursive Feminism. ScienceDirect. 24 (3-4): 283–293. doi:10.1016/S0277-5395(01)00187-X.
- Ferguson, Margaret (1994). Feminism and Postmodernism. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. ISBN 0822314886.
- Hennessy, Rosemary (1993). Materialist Feminism and the Politics of Discourse. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415904803.
- Delphy, Christine; Leonard, Diana (March 1980). "A Materialist feminism is possible". Feminist Review. Palgrave Macmillan. 4 (1): 79–105. doi:10.1057/fr.1980.8.
- Kramarae, Cheris; Spender, Dale (2000). Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women's Issues and Knowledge. New York: Routledge. p. 766. ISBN 9780415920902.
- Hennessy, Rosemary (1997). Materialist Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women's Lives. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415916349.
- Carby, Hazel (1982), "White woman listen! Black feminism and the boundaries of sisterhood", in Gilroy, Paul, The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain, London New York: Routledge in association with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, pp. 211–234, ISBN 9780415079099
- Hennessy, Rosemary (December 2009). "Open secrets: The affective cultures of organizing on Mexico's northern border". Feminist Theory. Sage. 10 (3): 309–322. doi:10.1177/1464700109343254.