Towards a Theory of



Sylvia Walby



From Polity Press (Eds.) (1994) The Polity Reader in Gender Studies, Cambridge: Polity Press


The patriarchal mode of production necessarily exists in articulation with another mode of production.  The husband uses his labour power which has been produced by the domestic labourer within this other. mode.  Because he has control over his labour power he has possession of the proceeds from putting it into action.  Within the patriarchal mode of production, the husband does not use the proceeds of his labour. power to compensate the domestic labourer fully for the work she puts into producing it.


It is crucial to be able to explain why the woman does not set up oil her own to produce lower power and why she remains in the home to produce the labour power of her husband.  I would argue that the reason for this varies according to the mode of production with which the patriarchal mode is in articulation.  When the patriarchal mode articulates with the capitalist mode, the primary mechanism which ensures that women will serve their husbands is their exclusion from paid work on the same terms as men.  Patriarchal relations within waged work arc crucial in preventing women from entering that work as freely as men, and are reinforced by patriarchal state policies.  However, other sets of patriarchal relations are also important.  When the patriarchal mode of production articulates with other modes, other levels of the social formation become critical for the continuation of the patriarchal one.  Under feudalism, for instance, fertility and reproduction are of critical significance.  This dynamic articulation with capitalism will be further explored later.


I do not wish to suggest that the patriarchal mode of production has any autonomous laws of development.  On the contrary, I would suggest that the other mode of production with which the patriarchal mode is in articulation is particularly important in governing the nature of change. This does not discredit the concept of patriarchal mode of production since the central element in this is not its laws of motion, but rather that of the extraction of surplus.  It is the highly distinctive method of extraction of surplus within patriarchy (which plays a key role in the determination of other gender relations) which is the basis of the claim that there is a patriarchal mode of production.


The patriarchal division of labour in the household does not completely determine the form of patriarchal relations in a particular society,; other sets of patriarchal relations also have significance.  A most important set of patriarchal relations when the patriarchal mode of production is in articulation with capitalism is that in paid work.  Patriarchal relations in paid work are necessary, if not sufficient, to the retention of women as unpaid labourers in the household.  The control of women's access 'o paid work is maintained primarily by patriarchal relations in the workplace and in the state, as well as by those in the household.

The form of this control has varied with time and place to a significant extent.  The forms of control include non-admittance of women to forms of training, such as apprenticeships and university degrees which are a condition of practising a particular trade; the non-admittance of women to certain occupations; the restriction of the percentage of women in certain occupations (e.g. the quota on women which has historically been imposed by medical schools); discrimination in hiring practices which reduces or eliminates the number of women in a particular occupation; the ejection of women from an occupation, or the reduction in their rights to remain in it on marriage; the sacking of women, and in particular married women, before men in situations of redundancy; the sacking of part-timers, who are almost exclusively married women, before full-timers in situations of redundancy; practices such as 'last-in, first out', the indirect consequence of which is that women go before men; the ejection of women from certain occupations by legislative action; the restriction on the amount of certain kinds of paid work that women can do, with implications for their entry to those occupations at all, such as the reduction in women's hours in the Factory Acts of the nineteenth century.  These exclusionary practices fall into two types: restriction of entry to particular occupations; and ways of ejecting women, rather than men, from certain occupations.  They exist in varying forms of directness, from rigid rules which are consistently enforced, such as the ban on women taking degrees at universities in the UK before the late nineteenth century, to more indirect forms which may not always produce the same effect, such as the 'last-in, first-out' practice in redundancy situations.


The agents carrying out these exclusionary practices include male dominated trade unions; other male-dominated organisations; prejudiced employers; and the state.  The immediate social and historical context in which these practices have existed is also immensely varied,

Most existing analyses of patriarchy have taken patriarchal relations in the workplace insufficiently into account.  Yet an adequate analysis of patriarchy must incorporate this as a highly significant element.  These forms of exclusionary practice may be seen as a form of social closure.  They are both a product of, and themselves create, highly significant divisions among paid workers.  They are to a considerable extent a result of patriarchal divisions elsewhere in society, especially in the household, but cannot be reduced to these.  There is an extent to which the struggles around these practices have their own autonomy.  However, the resources which are brought to these struggles are related to the resources available to the competing groups in different areas of social life.


Patriarchal relations in the workplace and the state as well as the family are central to the determination of the position of women in paid work.  Capital and patriarchy have rival interests in women's labour., and the position that women hold in paid work cannot be understood without an analysis of the tension between the two.  There are theoretical reasons for the importance of paid work for contemporary gender relations: paid work is a crucial site in capitalist relations and this i,., transmitted to the relations between patriarchal structures when the system of patriarchy is in articulation with capitalism.


The state is a site of patriarchal relations which is necessary to patriarchy as a whole.  The state represents patriarchal as well as capitalist interests and furthers them in its actions.  This conception of the state as patriarchal as well as capitalist runs counter to most other analyses of it; most accounts do not consider gender relations at all, focusing instead on class relations within capitalism and the relations between these and the state.  Such accounts of the state are inadequate in that they fail to take into account either the impact of gender inequality and women's political struggles on the state, or the significance of state actions on gender relations.  The omissions are serious both because these are significant dimensions of state action, and because they lead to a flawed analysis of the issues that these writers purport to address.  For instance, an analysis of the development of the welfare state which does not take into account the role of women's political struggles as women would be seriously in error as to the political forces which were operating in that situation.  Yet this has been a common practice in much writing on the development of the welfare state.


However, there have been important, if rare, attempts to analyse the relationship between the state and the position of women seriously.  Mclntosh[1] suggests that the state upholds the oppression of women by supporting a form of household in which women provide unpaid domestic services for a male.' She argues that the state should be viewed as capitalist, since it is acting to maintain the capitalist mode of production.  Capitalism benefits from a particular form of family which ensures the cheap reproduction of labour power and the availability of women as a reserve army of labour.  She suggests, however, that the family is not the ideal form for the reproduction of labour power for two reasons.  First, the ratio of earner to dependent is widely variable in actual families and thus some families cannot survive on earned income.  The state steps in to shore up the family structure in those instances when it would otherwise fail.  Second, families by themselves do not necessarily produce the right number of children to meet capitalist requirements for population size, so sometimes explicit population policies are introduced to ensure the maintenance of its members.  Thus, for Mclntosh, the state's support for the oppression of women is indirect, not direct, since it is through the maintenance of this family form that the state acts to the detriment of women.


While Mclntosh does point to various contradictions in capitalism and in state policy her argument nonetheless hinges on the notion that the family is maintained because it is functional for capitalism.  This position is problematic in that it does not take sufficient account of the benefits that men derive from the contemporary family structure, and of the divergence between patriarchal and capitalist interests, such as whether women should stay at home or take paid work.  Further, the analysis pays insufficient attention to the struggles that take place on the political level which need to be accorded greater autonomy in the analysis.


I would argue that, when patriarchy is in articulation with capitalism, the state should be seen as both patriarchal and capitalist.  Such a dualist conception of the state is only a problem if the state is incorrectly considered to act in a monolithic manner.  Much of the recent literature on the capitalist state sees state actions as the result of the political struggle of competing classes and class fractions, so one more set of competing interests is not an insuperable conceptual problem.  The state should be considered equally an arena for political struggle and an actor intervening in particular situations.  Its actions should be seen as the result of the struggles between different interests.  It should not be seen as the instrument of a dominant class or class fraction.


In a theory like this, it is possible to conceive of the state as both patriarchal and capitalist.  Its specific actions in any instance are the outcome of the struggle on the political level of the competing interests involved in both patriarchal and capitalist relations.  The state should not be reduced to, or derived from, the economic level, but rather the political level should be seen to have considerable autonomy.  Any theory of a patriarchal and capitalist state must analyse the struggles of patriarchal and capitalist interests as they are represented on the political level, while also tracing the links to other levels, especially the economic,


The intervention of the state has been, at certain times, of crucial significance in the shaping of patriarchal relations in society.  Yet at the same time it is not the basis of patriarchal power.  Rather its actions should be seen as the outcome of the representation of patriarchal interests which are mediated in the political process.  While the actions of the state are linked to the economic level of patriarchy, they have a level of autonomy in which the actual outcome of conflicting interests is mediated by conflicts and negotiation at the political level.


Women, who are subordinated within the productive process, have little access to forms of political representation.  This is partly because of their lack of power in the sphere of production, and partly because the particular forms of the state and its mode of functioning act to suppress the effective representation of women's interests.  In terms of the recent state in a society in which patriarchy articulates with capitalism, these problems of representation have been exacerbated by the late granting of the franchise to women and the formation of the major political parties along lines of division representing the interests of the classes of the capitalist rather than the patriarchal system.  Thus there i,,-, a limited historic tradition of women's participation in parliamentary politics compounded by the absence of political parties organised around issues of gender relations.


The state acts to support patriarchal relations in a variety of ways.  These include the limiting of women's access to paid work (e.g. the Dilution Acts); the criminalization of forms of fertility control (e.g. at certain times and places abortion, contraception); support for the institution of marriage through, for example, the cohabitation rule, discriminatory income maintenance and by regulating marriage and divorce: actions against some sexual relations through, for instance, criminalising, male homosexual relations in some periods and denying custody of children to lesbian mothers; actions against radical dissent, for instance, in the coercive response to the suffrage movement.


One example of the patriarchal actions of the state is that which enabled male workers in the First World War to ensure their re-entry into the relatively highly paid and skilled engineering jobs that they ceded to women for the duration of the hostilities.  The economic pressures in this situation would have led the employers to continue to employ the cheaper women workers, if they had been able.  However, male workers such as the engineers had sufficient power in conjunction with the government to prevent this from occurring.  These men had power in the labour process in that only they could effectively train new workers, and this enabled them to have the power to refuse to train new female employees.  The men also had political power in that their interests were represented in the state to a greater extent than that of women, and they were organised in a powerful and effective body in the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.  Women, by contrast, had little economic or political power, not even having the right to vote, at this time.


Here we see both the limits and the significance of patriarchal state power.  There were limits in that it required other bases of patriarchal power to mobilise the state's resources on behalf of patriarchal interests; and significance in that it prevented the erosion of that form of patriarchal power which was based in the exclusion of women from the skilled engineering trades.


Another example of the patriarchal nature of the state is its response (or rather lack of response) to male violence against women in contemporary Britain.  Here women's lack of access to state power ensures that men who rape, batter and otherwise molest women will rarely be punished by the criminal justice system.  Women's interests are not sufficiently represented in the state to force any consistency between the rhetoric - that the state attempts to protect everyone against illegal violence - and the reality of widespread male violence against women.


Minor modifications to the state's practices on this issue of men's violence to women have taken place in times of feminist agitation.  For instance, in 1976 the Sexual Offences Amendment Act was passed with the express purpose of giving a raped woman anonymity and of preventing her sexual history being discussed in court.  A further example is the introduction, at the end of the nineteenth century, of violence as a sufficient reason for judicial separation.  Both these reforms occurred in periods of feminist activity, which led to an increase in the representation of women's interests at the level of the state on the issue of male violence.  This is an example of the relative autonomy of the state from the economy and of the significance of events at the political level affecting state actions.  But again, there are limits to the significance of the state, in that no serious possibility of effective state action against violent men is possible while the material basis of patriarchy exists.


This lack of prosecution of men who are violent towards women raises important questions as to the traditional definition of the state as a body which has the monopoly of legitimate violence in a given territory.  I would argue that the state de facto accepts male violence against women as legitimate, despite its being carried out by agents who are not usually considered as part of the state apparatus.  According to the traditional definition, these violent men must then be seen as agents of the state in carrying out this violence.  I would suggest that an alternative approach might be to modify the definition of the state so that it is no longer defined as having the monopoly on legitimate violence.  The first position is problematic in that it involves a movement away from the notion of the state as a centralised cohesive body.  I would suggest that this is central to the notion of the state.  Instead the notion of having the monopoly on legitimate violence should be modified in recognition of men's unpunished violence against women.









[1] M. Mclntosh, 'The state and the oppression of women', in Feminism and Materialism, ed.  Annette Kuhn and Ann Marie Wolpe (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1978).