Marxist Feminists do not see patriarchy as the only source of oppression for women. As well as being oppressed by men, women are oppressed by capitalism and the role of women in a capitalist society suits capitalism.
Women are exploited in many ways by capitalism:
Women’s work in the home is unpaid. Capitalist ideology has persuaded men and women until recently that a woman's ‘natural’ place is in the home, looking after her husband and the children. Sheila Rowbotham argues that for women, home is essentially a place of work, not leisure. Their role is to look after the male workforce, they feed them, they keep house for them make sure that they are in good working order so that they can work for capitalism, but all this is free of charge. Although men benefit from this, capitalists are the ones who benefit most as they do not pay women for looking after their workers. Women also perform the same services for their children, who are the future workforce. This again benefits capitalists.
Men get rid of their aggression on women. Capitalist ideology convinces both men and women that men should have authority over women and that men are the stronger sex. This can lead to violence in the home and aggression against women. Marxist Feminists argue that the underlying cause of this violence is capitalism. The capitalist system, because workers are treated as commodities and like machines, causes men to feel frustrated and powerless. Their authority over women allows them to exercise power over women and to take out their frustrations on women.
Women’s position in the workforce. Margaret Benston argues that in a capitalist society, women serve as a reserve army of labour. This is a group of workers who go in and out of the workforce when needed. Marx argued that capitalist societies need a reserve army of labour because capitalism tends to go through times of boom and recession and need an army of flexible workers who can easily be laid off in a recession. Spare workers would also allow capitalists to keep down the wages of those in work.
Women are very suitable to play this role. Veronica Beechey identifies several reasons for this:
They are less likely to be unionised and so are less able to resist redundancy than men.
Married women who are unemployed may not be able to get state benefits if their husband is working and as a result they may not show up in unemployment statistics. Beechey states “Women who are made redundant are able to disappear virtually without trace back into the family.”
Due to their traditional role within the family and primary importance being placed on their domestic role, women provide a particularly flexible reserve labour force. They are more likely to accept part time work for less than men because they can rely on their husbands’ wages as the main source of income for the family.