Marx rediscovered
A review of Heather A Brown, Marx on Gender and the Family: A Critical Study

McGregor, Sheila
Date Written:  2015-04-11
Year Published:  2015
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX17492

Sheila McGregor states that Heather Brown has written an important study of Marx’s writings on women’s oppression. Brown situates her book in the current economic and political context, noting the role that women play both in the world economy and in recent tumultuous struggles such as the Occupy movement and, not least, in the revolutions in the Middle East beginning in 2011. At the same time, parts of Brown's book are contraditory and frustrating.



Marx on Gender and the Family is a frustrating book to read because Brown sets out with the best of intentions to lay the basis for using Marx's work to understand women’s oppression today but continually prevaricates. Sadly, her own views about patriarchy, the role of class and Engels hold her back from being consistent in her interpretation of Marx's views. She shows how human nature is socially and historically formed but does not link that to Engels's insights about the impact of factory life on gender roles to show how a concrete analysis of society can explain how men and women change their behaviour. Equally, Brown fails to link the question of human nature to how Marx and Engels argued that men and women workers can, and must, change through struggle if they are successfully to create a different society. Again Brown explains that the reproduction of labour power is central to Marx’s analysis of the mode of production, but does not pull together all his insights to show how they can form the basis for an analysis of the family today and women’s role within it; she hesitates between her insight that for Marx the mode of production shaped the sphere of reproduction and her belief that gender and class have equal status. The dismissal of Engels's views on the origins of women’s oppression leaves a big hole for anyone who believes that the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism can lay the basis for socialising the functions of the family and ending the oppression of women. Brown does take the reader through readings of Marx, and hopefully that will stimulate a much wider interest in Marx's original writings because there is much to be discovered in his work that can inform and enrich our understanding of women’s oppression.

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