DONATE NOW TO HELP UPGRADE LIBCOM.ORG

Theorizing patriarchy - Silvia Walby

Theorizing Patriarchy - Silvia Walby

Silvia Walby's 1990 book sets out a dual-systems approach to theorizing capitalism and patriarchy, synthesising Marxist and radical feminist perspectives.

Sylvia Walby provides an overview of feminist theoretical debates – Marxism, radical and liberal feminism, post–structuralism and dual systems theory. She shows how each can be applied to six key social structures: wage labour, housework, culture, sexuality, violence and the state. Her arguments are backed by drawing on empirical findings. Walby argues that patriarchy has been vigorously adaptable to the changes in women′s position, and that some of women′s hard–won social gains have been transformed into new traps.

The book proposes a combination of class analysis with radical feminist theory to explain gender relations in terms of both patriarchal and capitalist structure. For Walby, the feminist struggles of the 1960s and 1970s did not end patriarchy. But they did force a shift from a private form, centred on the power of husbands over their wives, to a more public form, where patriarchy is reproduced through more diffuse means such as labour market discrimination, culture and sexuality.

AttachmentSize
Theorizing Patriarchy - Sylvia Walby10.47 MB

Posted By

Anonymous
Jan 8 2013 15:46

Share


  • Patriarchy comes in more than one form, and each form can be found to different degrees. The form of patriarchy in contemporary Britain is public not private. Women are no longer restricted to the domestic hearth, but have the whole of society in which to roam and be exploited.

    Silvia Walby

Attached files

Comments

Joseph Kay
Jan 9 2013 09:53

One of the interesting things about this book is how the argument about a shift from 'private' to 'public' forms of patriarchy seems to mirror the social factory thesis. That is - iirc the idea of the social factory was that struggles at the point of production had pushed capital to subsume all of society into its circuits, and so provoke numerous struggles by housewives, the unemployed, students and so on (we could probably add ecological movements). The idea of the social factory provides one way to understand these seemingly disparate struggles as part of the class struggle against capitalism.

Similarly, Walby's idea of a shift to public patriarchy seems to offer a way to make sense of things like pandemic everyday sexism without giving up class analysis or ceding the ground to liberals. That is, the very success of womens struggles (in Britain at least) in reducing the gender division of domestic labour, gaining greater access to the labour market and so on has increased the prominence of 'public' forms of patriarchal control, like street harassment, slut-shaming, rape culture and the like.

Steven.
Jan 9 2013 11:00
Joseph Kay wrote:

Similarly, Walby's idea of a shift to public patriarchy seems to offer a way to make sense of things like pandemic everyday sexism without giving up class analysis or ceding the ground to liberals. That is, the very success of womens struggles (in Britain at least) in reducing the gender division of domestic labour, gaining greater access to the labour market and so on has increased the prominence of 'public' forms of patriarchal control, like street harassment, slut-shaming, rape culture and the like.

Well first off, I haven't read this book. But on these points I'm not sure if this is the right way round.

Is it accurate to say that women's struggles were responsible for women getting greater access to the labour market? I would have thought that has more to do with the restructuring of capital following the two world wars (especially World War II), and subsequently the decline in real wages since the 70s which has made the one-income family largely an impossibility nowadays. (If this is incorrect I will happily reassess my view: any links would be appreciated. And n.b. I'm not saying that the struggles of women workers didn't increase the pay and conditions of women at work, which they clearly did, but this is a different issue.)

With regard to "public" forms of patriarchal control, I guess it depends what you mean by "prominence". Assuming you don't mean that the prevalence has increased, I would say that their prominence in terms of them being discussed/condemned within society as a whole has increased due to women's struggles and the corresponding more widespread adoption of feminist ideas (whether self-consciously feminist or not).

Joseph Kay
Jan 9 2013 11:42
Steven. wrote:
Well first off, I haven't read this book. But... any links would be appreciated.

Seriously? I can think of one book that has a whole chapter on it.

Joseph Kay
Jan 9 2013 12:13
Steven wrote:
Is it accurate to say that women's struggles were responsible for women getting greater access to the labour market? I would have thought that has more to do with the restructuring of capital following the two world wars (especially World War II)

Trade unions did deals with the state during both world wars that they'd only allow women into the workplace on condition they were kicked out again when the men came back. This happened following WWI, and to a lesser extent after WWII (Walby suggests women's suffrage was a factor in the weaker enforcement of exclusionary laws after 1945). By 1970 the state passed the equal pay act, which had minimal effects but signalled a change in approach. This is prior to the successful miners' strikes of '72 and '74 as well as the IMF intervention in '76, but followed 1960s feminist struggles.

So whatever the reasons for the shift from exclusion to equality (in law at least, not in practice), it preceded the breakdown of the post-war settlement and subsequent restructuring, and so is unlikely to have been caused by them. Walby argues feminist struggle was a major factor. Of course subsequent restructuring, defeats of strikes, stagnating pay etc has subsequently meant women have little choice but to work, and once-strong trade unions no longer have the power to exclude them (and indeed, are now majority-female membership in many cases, and take up equal pay struggles rather than excluding or segregating women at work). Anyway, there's loads of well-referenced discussion of this in the book.

In any case, I was drawing an analogy between Walby's analysis, which sees feminist struggle as a major causal force (together with capital wanting women as cheap labour), and autonomist Marxism, which sees class struggle as the driving force for capitalist restructuring, since both emphasise the causal force of struggle, and both discern a shift from discrete sites of social control to more diffuse ones in the same time period (from public to private patriarchy, and from the factory to the social factory). It seems an interesting unacknowledged parallel, which could give rise to other lines of inquiry.

For example, take womens' struggles to unionise in the 1970s (e.g. Grunwick).
Did these also help destabilise the post-war productivity deals? Arguably these were principally made between trade unions made up of skilled white male workers and the state, and therefore relied on lower-skilled labour from the colonies and from women remaining unorganised - and therefore cheap. So we could extend the autonomist thesis to argue that the intense feminist and anti-racist struggles in this period were part of the wave of class struggles which made the post-war settlement break down (in conjunction with the miners winning, the post-war boom ending and so on).