A central problem which is already implicit in Chapter One of Das Kapital, is that fact that the concepts of value, surplus value and exploitation, all of which are central to Marx’s analysis, presuppose the notion of abstract labor, which in turn presupposes commodity production, a market, competition, and equilibrium of the price system by the capitalists’ search for the greatest return on invested capital. Socialist feminist theorists have tried to show that there’s an unequal exchange taking place in the modern family and that the role of the family structure in the capitalist mode of production exploits women as the labor base of the family.
The exchanges within the family, i.e. labor and what Ann Ferguson calls the “products of sex/affective production,” take place outside the market. There is no equilibgrium prices, or commodity production, etc. Although we might wish intuitively to label some of the exchanges as exploitative, they don’t readily conform to the Marxist idea of exploitation as the abstraction of surplus value. That’s not to say that it just isn’t quantifiable. So it means that there is no good Marxist way to integrate a theory of intrafamily exchanges with the labor exchanges on which capitalism rests.
One would have to be prepared to argue that women who enter into marriage contracts freely are exploited because their “use value” in the marriage is “exchanged” for a greater value than she was honored for. How exactly does this take place? Perhaps because the man uses her cooking labor to then exchange his own labor for greater value–which he wouldn’t have been able to do without a servant of some kind, or a wife.
Perhaps these marriages aren’t a good idea in the first place. Why enter into a marriage that simply exploited your labor, if that’s what the feminists see it as, even though there doesn’t seem to be any real Marxist foundation for this. The great thing about capitalism as a mode of production is that the women don’t need the men in order to produce and earn income.
In fact, who needed marriages anyway? I sympathize with the feminists in their radical rejection of contemporary family values and conservative marriage norms. What good is a marriage. It isn’t necessarily exploitative, but it isn’t necessary to be married either. I disagree with feminists in their diagnosis of flawed marriages as somehow rooted in capitalism, however.