Live revision! Join us for our free exam revision livestreams Watch now

Study Notes

Sheila Rowbotham (1943− )

A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 2 Jun 2020

Sheila Rowbotham is one of the leading socialist feminists of the contemporary era.

Sheila Rowbotham converted towards Marxism via the work of the historians E.P. Thompson and Dorothy Thompson, and has been involved in various left-wing organisations throughout her life. Rowbotham claims that the dualist perspective of socialist feminism is the most appropriate means towards an understanding of structural inequality. Having said this, Rowbotham is critical of orthodox Marxist history for its neglect of issues such as family history, the role of housewives, sexuality and maternity – all of which tend to downplay the political importance of women within society. To resolve this, she advocates a theory of history that accords equal importance to both sexes in its understanding of historical development.

Rowbotham also claims that the political left needs to consider the oppression of women in cultural as well as economic terms. The preoccupation with economic determinism ignores the role played by cultural forces in the oppression of women. She also contends that historians have a duty to act as a force for social change.

Rowbotham argues that capitalism systematically oppresses both the working class and women. Female members of the proletariat thereby face a ‘double whammy’ as they are forced to sell their labour to survive and are forced to use their labour to support their husband and children. Within a capitalist system, the family unit serves as an instrument of control over women to facilitate the production and reproduction of men’s labour. She also notes that the origins of sexism predate capitalism, and that the institution of marriage closely resembles a feudalist structure.

With regard to her position along the political spectrum, Rowbotham implicitly rejects the liberal feminist argument that the women’s movement is best served via a constructive engagement with the conventional political process. According to Rowbotham, only revolutionary socialist movements have secured social gains for women. She also rejects the radical feminist view that men have no role to play within the quest for female emancipation. Women and men should stand together against the oppression caused by capitalism, a mindset that places her firmly within the second-wave of feminism. The link between capitalism and sexism is so intimate that the only way to destroy them is a fundamental change in the cultural conditioning of humanity in relation to issues such as child-rearing and the world of work. Finally, she argues that women’s liberation requires a “revolution within a revolution” because sexism is just as entrenched within left-wing men as it is amongst men on the right of the political spectrum. For instance, she notes that once a revolution is over women are often relegated to a traditional role of caregiver and housewife.

© 2002-2024 Tutor2u Limited. Company Reg no: 04489574. VAT reg no 816865400.