Juliet Mitchell writes:
It is difficult to take issue with Quintin Hoare’s criticisms of my article. He seems to have totally misunderstood my work, largely to have misconstrued the application of Althusser’s theses, and at least partially to have failed to see the meaning of a crucial area of Marx’s thought. It is pointless for me to rebut every random charge and correct
However, I cannot reiterate my position without first rejecting the assumption of Quintin Hoare’s final paragraph—the separation of methodology from content. I consider that the two are correlatives in any theoretical argument. In fact, Quintin Hoare’s earlier remarks would confirm this: ‘Her method is more than a method—it demonstrates her whole ideological orientation.’ Indeed it does. In defending the content of my analysis I am, ipso facto, defending the method and vice-versa.
My thesis is that women are confined within the family which is a segmentary, monolithic unit, today largely separated off from production and hence from social human activity. The reason why this confinement is made possible, is the need for women to fulfill three roles; they must provide sexual satisfaction for their partners and give birth to children and rear them. All three roles man shares with other mammals. This confirms De Beauvoir’s contention that women are relegated to the species while men—through work—transcend it. The world of production into which women can and should assert themselves, surrounds the family. Hence my assertion that the economy is dominant—but only in the final instance. What I see as innovatory in my article is the attempt to differentiate the separate structures which make up the family and my proposals that follow from this differentiation. Here I take issue with Quintin Hoare but not with Karl Marx.
Marx never saw the family as an unalterable ‘whole’. I requote: ‘One cannot, in general, speak of the family “as such”’ (The German Ideology). But Quintin Hoare seems to want this: ‘This method (of differentiating women’s condition into structures)’ is not a movement of the parts to the whole and back—not at any moment does she provide a totalising synthesis, so that even in her conclusion the structures remain separate.’ This separation of structures is precisely my point. Bourgeois ideology provides us with a unificatory concept—‘the family’. A socialist strategy for women should try to disrupt this monolithic unit and the way to do this is to keep its structures (the women’s three roles) distinct; to prevent their integration into a single unit—the family. My method is my content. To ask for ‘a return from the parts (the structures?) to the whole (the family?)’ is to ask for a confirmation of the ahistoricity of the bourgeois concept itself. If this is not a Hegelian demand, what is? It is useless to try and counteract the ahistorical nature of this position with an assertion that what is needed is an historical account of women. Historicism (there are anyway a number of historical accounts of women through the ages) is here merely the other side of Quintin Hoare’s ahistorical conception.
I would then totally disagree with Quintin Hoare in seeing the family as an undifferentiated whole. My concern is with women and while some may fulfil all three roles that make up the family others may be involved in one or none. To differentiate it is to allow for variability while maintaining throughout an awareness of its unitary form. My
So much for this part of his misunderstanding of my article. There is a further substantial point underlying his disagreement. Quintin Hoare criticises me for ‘never admitting that the family is a form of private property’. I don’t admit it, because I don’t think it is. It is a means for the retention and attainment of private property and so is the woman within it. But not unless women are literally exchange products can they be identical with objects and property. Industrialism does separate the family from its earlier immediate associations with the economy and this separation prevents in any case the total coincidence of the family and private property. It seems that Quintin Hoare is asking us to analyse the position of women in preindustrial conditions. Elsewhere he confirms this preoccupation: ‘ . . . the “economist” approach of Marx and Engels is the basis for a discussion of the position of women. What specifies the position of women in history until the industrial revolution (my italics) is that her participation in production is mediated through the family’. To concentrate on this preindustrial area—even assuming the hypothesis is correct—would be to write history with a vengeance.