The former President of the American Philosophical Association, Alison Jaggar is currently Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder (UCB). Author of the 1988 book Feminist Politics and Human Nature, she has also taught at the University of Illinois, UCLA, and Rutgers University where she was Chair of the Women’s Studies Department.
Jaggar received her B.A. in Philosophy from the University of London (Bedford College), her Master’s in Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh, and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Integrating Marxist and feminist theory, Professor Jaggar describes herself as a “socialist feminist” and “activist” who seeks to combat “the male-dominant structure of everyday life.” “The standpoint of women is discovered through a collective process of political and scientific struggle,” she says.
As early as 1983, UCB began offering its students a major in Women’s Studies, but the degree was granted under the umbrella of American Studies. In 1995 Jaggar headed a successful campaign to extricate Women’s Studies from the American Studies program, calling the American Studies designation “increasingly inappropriate.”
In Professor Jaggar’s view, women are analogous to the proletariat in Marx’s class schema. “The political economy of socialist feminism,” she writes, “establishes that, in contemporary society, women suffer a special form of exploitation and oppression. . . . The distinctive social experience of women generates insights that are incompatible with men’s interpretations of reality and these insights provide clues to how reality might be interpreted from the standpoint of women.”
Professor Jaggar’s socialist feminism is rooted in a dissatisfaction with gender-blind Marxist class analysis. In her perspective, virtually all undesirable social conditions, including the oppression of women, can be traced to the doorstep of capitalism. “Residual capitalism” in socialist countries, she says, is the cause of women’s oppression.
“[W]hereas the standpoint of the ruling class reflects the interests [of] only one section of the population,” Jaggar writes, “the standpoint of the oppressed represent[s] the interests of the totality in that historical period.” In other words, the viewpoint of the revolutionary agent is unitary and coincides with historical truth.
According to Professor Jaggar, women and men are not gender-selected by nature but are social constructs. At a 1995 “Conference on Feminism, Epistemology and Ethics,” she delivered a paper titled “One Is Not Born A Man,” putting forth the idea that even the biological gender roles of men and women can be changed.
To put an end to women’s oppression, says Professor Jaggar, the act of childbearing must no longer be limited to one sex. “The one solid basis of agreement among socialist feminists,” she writes, “is that to overcome women’s alienation, the sexual division of labor must be eliminated in every area of life. . . . [W]e must remember that the ultimate transformation of human nature at which socialist feminists aim goes beyond the liberal conception of psychological androgyny to a possible transformation of ‘physical’ human capacities, some of which, until now, have been seen as biologically limited to one sex. This transformation might even include the capacities for insemination, for lactation and gestation so that, for instance, one woman could inseminate another, so that men and non-parturitive [non-childbearing] women could lactate and so that fertilized ova could be transplanted into women’s or even into men’s bodies.”