Unified systems theorists argued that theories of capitalism and patriarchy describe aspects of a single social system: gendered capitalism. Anti-systems theorists argued that feminists ought to look to Marx, not for an analytic metanarrative, but for helpful explanations about specific historical events.
Although current feminist histiography describes Marxist feminism, materialism, as economistic, Marxists feminists actually recognised that the categories of economic analysis tended to reduce questions of power to the simple matter of who owned and controlled the means of production and who had surplus labour extracted. Setting themselves the task of redressing this, Marxist feminists tried to identify the operation of gender relations as and where they may be distinct from, or connected with, the process of production and reproduction, understood by historical materialism. The Marxist concepts of exploitation, alienation and the labour theory of value, with the implied exchange principle, were worked through theoretical explanations to clarify just how the intricate relationship between ‘the private’ and ‘the public’ was entwined through, and dependent upon, material conditions. Barrett, for example, analysed the form and structure of the family, arguing, not that the nuclear family is a consequence of capitalist drive to reproduce itself, but, more radically, that the very idea of the family is an ideological construct. To avoid such naturalism it would be better to refer to households and concentrate on familial ideology. The analysis provoked heated debate due to the obvious inclination to separate the base, economic structures, from the superstructural, beliefs, and forms of cultural representations. In her own introduction she worries that her idea of the household was itself insensitive to ethnic variations between state and familial household.
Marxist feminism can be described as a unified system theory but those such as Jagger and Young attempted to introduce gender distinctive oppression as a necessary feature of capital. Vogel, for instance, stressed that Marxism is actually an inadequate theory as it stands and must be transformed; otherwise it would remain unable to account even for the dynamics of the