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Abstract

This paper considers Marxist feminism’s two main schools of thought – ‘dual systems theory’ and ‘social reproduction theory’ - and brings those theoretical perspectives into dialogue with a topic that is often neglected in feminist discussions of reproductive rights: forced sterilisation. The two material examples explored here are the historical forced sterilisation of Black (cisgender) women in the USA and the current coercive sterilisation of transgender men and women in the USA.

Looking first to the theoretical understandings of oppression, social reproduction theory will be distinguished from the dual systems approach. The dual systems reading of Marx understands gender and class to be two distinct political struggles and will be shown to be both economically reductionist and incompatible with intersectional feminist understandings of oppression. In contrast, social reproduction theory’s understanding of patriarchal oppression as something that is ‘concretely interconnected’ (Ferguson, n.d.) to class exploitation under capitalism gives the latter branch of Marxist feminism more promise as a basis for understanding the practices of forced sterilisation. That said, the author will urge social reproduction feminists to move towards an intersectional reading of social reproduction theory (see Bohrer, 2018; Ferguson, 2016), as well as address the significant inadequacies of social reproduction theory’s understanding of gender (see Lugones 2007; 2008), if this approach to Marxist feminism is able to serve as an accurate lens on the oppression of all people victim to forced sterilisation.

Applying social reproduction theory in its revised form, an examination of the federally funded sterilisations in 1970s America will be understood as a tactic of the neoliberal state to systematically devalue Black women’s social worth, allowing for the continued exploitation of their reproductive capacities. The current coercive sterilisation of transgender individuals in the US, as a prerequisite for changing gender markers on legal documents, will then be recognised as a tool by the capitalist state to violently impose the strict biological categories of men and women upon trans folk. Ultimately, it is hoped that by positioning forced sterilisation as a Marxist feminist issue, we are brought closer to an understanding of how to eradicate the practice.

Note on the Author

Lydia Glover has an LLB in Law from the University of Bristol and completed an MA in Gender Studies at the University of Sussex in 2020. Most recently, she has been working as a researcher for the young people’s mental health charity Youth Access and is set to begin a new role in the third sector this spring, tackling health inequality for the vulnerably housed in central Brighton. Contact: lydiaglover.2011@my.bristol.ac.uk

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