Social Scientist. v 4, no. 40-41 (Nov-Dec 1975) p. 28.

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Patriarchal Capitalism and the Female-Headed Family

IN THE United States today over three million family units are female-headed; about ten per cent of units with children consist of mother and children only. The most usual cause for the absence of the husband-father is divorce or desertion. It is the hope of this author that an analysis of the causes and consequences of female-headed families in the U S, the most developed capitalist nation, will aid social scientists elsewhere to understand the relation of capitalism and family structure.

I will follow a socialist feminist approach which recognizes that women were the first class,1 that despite the development of other class relations the dialectic of sex remains of major importance in analysing any class society,2 and that the oppression of women through patriarchy is a fundamental and necessary feature of capitalism.8 A basic political principle of socialist-feminism is that ihe overthrow of capitalism, while a necessary precondition to the liberation of women, is not in itself sufficient. The patriarchal family structure, attitudes and domestic exchange economy must also be overthrown. A basic debate among socialist-feminists is whether the dialectic of sex, the contradiction in the interests of the sexes, is an antagonistic or non-antagonistic contradiction.4

The dialectic of sex takes many forms, depending on the culture and the economy. Not all forms are patriarchal. Patriarchy defined at its

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