Historical Roots of Contemporary Theory 35
ses of rape, such as Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will, and of pornography, such as Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women, have generally followed this model.
A rather more complex line of argument treated the power of men and the subordination ot women~"aI’ldFects of imperatives outside the direct relationship bet^erTTltT>"twfv.~4-,-lic more general form of this argument startedTrom the need for ‘social reproduction’, that is, the reproduction from generation to generation of social structures as well as bodies. This was the perspective of Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism, strongly influenced by Marxist and anthropological structuralism. It was also the perspective of a more humanist psychoanalysis in Dorothy Dinner – stein’s The Mermaid and the Minotaur. Dinnerstein’s argument deduced both the power of men and the acquiescence of women from women’s monopoly-of eaHy~chirdrearing – itself seen as a technical imperative through most of human history. The theory of social reproduction has recently been given its most sophisticated statement by Glare Burton in Subordination. Her argument connects the cross-cultural analysis of women’s subordination to the critique of education and the theory of the state – the latter theme treated surprisingly little in radical feminism generally.
To most socialist feminists the question was not the reproduction of society in general but of capitalism in particular. The exploitation of women was connected with capitalism’s drive for profit and its general need to reproduce itself: pressures that led to a sex-divided work-force and the oppression of the housewife. These arguments too were linked with ideas about movement strategy. While sectarian Marxists argued against a separate women’s movement of any kind, the majority of socialist feminists worked for an autonomous women’s movement which would connect with other movements of resistance to capitalism, especially the labour movement.
Socialist feminists directed attention particularly to the situation of working-class women. A long argument arose in the 1970s about the economic significance of their unwaged work at home as a hidden subsidy to capital. The ‘domestic labour debate’ eventually petered out in a morass of Marxist exegetics, though not before a ‘Wages for Housework’ campaign had given an industrial dimension to feminist critiques of the family. Another, and eventually more fruitful, line of attack was on the politics and economics of women’s waged work. At first sight this appeared as
an issue of simple discrimination, or an aspect of the economists’ ‘dual labour market’. But studies like Louise Kapp Howe’s Pink Collar Workers gradually revealed the gendered economy as a system of segregation, control, exploitation and social struggle of aweinspiring scope and complexity. In recent research like Ann Game and Rosemary Pringle’s Gender at Work, Cynthia Cockburn’s Brothers and Machinery of Dominance, and Carol O’Donnell’s The Basis of the Bargain, the workplace is treated as a major site of sexual politics in its own right. It can be analysed as an institution, as the point of junction between labour markets and the distribution of income, or as the object of ideology and education.
The problem of the general conditions for the reproduction of capitalism led back to sexuality and the family. Here arguments converged from feminism, from the ‘Freudian Left’, from the ‘New Left’ and counter-culture of the 1960s and from gay liberation. Texts like David Cooper’s The Death of the Family inverted the conventional sociology of the nuclear family, presenting it as an authoritarian institution and the main tool by which a repressive society could control sexuality and create conformist populations. Feminists in the early 1970s widely considered the family to be the main site of women’s oppression. Lee Comer’s Wedlocked Women was perhaps the sharpest statement of the analysis of marriage, housework, motherhood and family ideology that sprang from this.
The most radical departure in the critique of the family was made by theorists of gay liberation. Sex-role theory and socialist theory alike presumed that the vast majority of people were naturally heterosexual; even the early homosexual rights movements had accepted that. The new movement did not. An early slogan declared ‘Every straight man is a target for gay liberation’. The changed assumption, and the energy of gay politics in the early 1970s, led to a remarkable surge of theoretical work in several countries. The Australian Dennis Altman in Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation, the Italian Mario Mieli in Homosexuality and Liberation, and the ‘gay Left’ in England and the United States all developed variants of a critical theory of sexuality. They generally saw the family as the factory of heterosexuality, meeting capital’s need for a labour supply and the state’s need for subordination. The repression of homosexual desire, while certainly part of a general authoritarianism, thus had quite specific reasons. Yet it was necessarily imperfect; and imperfectly repressed desire was a prime source of the hatred directed against homosexual people. The liberation of homosexuality was therefore not the traditional campaign for equal rights for a persecuted minority. It was the cutting edge of a more general liberation of human potential.
Whether this blend of Marx, Freud and gay activism could be linked to the feminist critique of patriarchy, and if so on what terms, was a major concern of gay theorists through the 1970s. One of the difficulties was the analysis of masculinity. Early gay liberation theorists treated gayness in men as a kind of dissent from masculinity. This became less and less credible with the spread of ‘gay machismo’ and the ‘clone’ style in the homosexual subcultures of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A strong current in radical feminism emphasized the differences between lesbianism and men’s homosexuality and wanted no truck with gay men. By the early 1980s gay theory, like feminist theory, was internally divided. David Fernbach’s The Spiral Path emphasizes the theory of patriarchy, the importance of violence and the patriarchal state, treating homosexual men as necessarily effeminate. Dennis Altman’s The Homosexualization of America focuses on the new sexual communities and the terms on which they can create solidarity and defend themselves. A third tendency, strongly influenced by Michel Foucault, questions the very notion of‘homosexual identity’ as a form of social regulation, and sees progress in the deconstruction of homosexuality itself.