chapter  2
31 Pages

Patriarchy and relations of production

Patriarchy has often been used as a central concept of analysis with which to understand the nature of women's oppression, both theoretically and politically. However, recent debates within the women's movement show that there is no consensus about the meaning or status of such a term. Whilst its usefulness as a concept is rarely contested, it is nevertheless the focus of much debate amongst radical feminists, separatists and socialist feminists alike, and the debate is often one which the very term patriarchy occludes as much as it illuminates. Yet there is agreement on one issue – there can be no understanding of the nature of contemporary capitalist society without placing the oppression of women at the centre of such an analysis. It is precisely this lack of centrality within marxism to date on the whole question of women's oppression – that is, the virtual dearth of any analysis concerned with the relationship between the social relations of production and the social relations of human reproduction – to which many feminists are addressing themselves. The questions posed by the attempt to understand the forms of women's oppression both in the present and historically, to uncover the material basis for such oppression and to explain why it takes the particular forms it does are the key theoretical and political tasks which the movement faces today.