The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer, was a literary bomb thrown at patriarchy in 1970 by a libertarian Australian woman. I still have a battered copy. I read it in 1978 and I was a convert! It is angry, courageous, taboo shattering, and enormous fun to read.
Who, among us men, really wanted the deodorised, reduced, oppressed and limited women whom Germaine Greer described? In pungent prose, marrying anarchism with feminism, Greer took on all that was wrong with the production of modern womanhood in 1970. It was revolutionary for its time, but limited by its unapologetic universalisation of middle class female experience. I found it very inspiring when I read it myself in 1978. Reading Greer made me a believer in the feminist cause.
In fact, contrary to my hopes, feminism did not hold the answers to predominantly male behaviours such as rape and the making of war, and in reality only bourgeois feminism is about men’s behaviour. How men behave, well or badly, is a complete irrelevance to an inclusive feminism, a feminism that means anything at all to working class women! Socialist feminism, which is primarily about the restablishment of equitable gender relations in the context of a move towards socialism, is a very different animal to the bellyaching of bourgeois feminism.
Socialist feminists are concerned with the rights of sex workers, equity, female rights and freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace, reproductive and fertility issues, sex trafficking, women’s autonomy from men, and much more.
Male marxism always focussed on the sphere of economic production; the needs of the (usually white) male worker. It was and is far too simple a model of human reality, as gender affects every realm of existence.
Socialist feminism, or feminist marxism recognises that the sphere of reproduction – the physical reproduction of the human species – is as important an economic and cultural sphere as the former, and that a society free of gender bias and gender oppression will actually be PRIMARILY centred around the needs of woman and childbearing/childrearing, the most important of all productive activities, since it is to do with the spiritual, cultural and educational needs of the people who will form the society to be; the people Dr. Rupert Read calls “future people”, who are badly served in a society where the commodity form, the fetishism of commodities, and the commercialisation of human relationships, militate against a spiritually healthy childhood.
A gender neutral society would also, naturally, be a society where the capitalist commodification and exploitation of sexuality, and the patriarchal violence associated with a real imbalance of social and economic power between the sexes, would be replaced by an ethic of solidarity, equitable behaviour, and fraternal relations between women and men.
See Mary Mellor’s book Breaking the Boundaries: Toward a Feminist Green Socialism (Virago, 1992) for more, and Laurie Penny’s funny and insightful article in the New Statesman: