chapter  1
10 Pages

Feminism and materialism

The nature of this book – the issues it addresses and the direction from which they are addressed – has been shaped from the very first by an assessment of the state of theoretical work around the position of women. By the latter part of 1976, when we first discussed our general ideas for producing a collection of essays dealing with the specificity of women's position from a materialist perspective, a good deal of writing from various 'feminist' points of view had been published. Since only a few years earlier there had been virtually no work in this area available at all, any published material obviously filled what was by then a very great need within the 'new' women's movement, and indeed was often grasped with eagerness, sometimes regardless of its quality or coherence. Women, irrespective of nationality and class position, were seen to comprise a homogeneous group bound together by one characteristic held in common – their 'oppression' in all aspects of life. Descriptions of this oppression covered mental breakdowns, discrimination in jobs and education, sexuality, dependence on men, sex-role stereotyping, and so on. The list is long, and the need evidently existed to bring to light and give recognition to the numerous ways in which oppression was experienced by women themselves. In the urgency to gain this recognition, little concerted effort was made to develop a systematic analysis of the situations described. When such work was begun, there was a tendency

to appropriate existing theory, first by pointing to its amnesia where women were concerned, and second, by attempting to insert the 'woman question' into existing work and hence to add to rather than transform it. This took place in a variety of areas – in the social sciences, in psychology, history, and art history in particular.