Radical feminism

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I'm a radical feminist, not the fun kind.
Andrea Dworkin

Radical feminism is a branch of feminism distinguished by its study of patriarchy as an end in itself rather than a secondary aspect of some larger system. Contrary to what the name may suggest to some people it is generally not just insane or hateful feminism.

The term is also used as a snarl word for any feminist or feminist idea that threatens the user's sense of what women should be and do, oftentimes ideas that are not radical at all.

Contents

[edit] Radical feminism, the branch

As a specific branch of feminism, radical feminism takes the point of view that society under patriarchal rules is necessarily oppressive to women[1] and that gender is entirely a social construct made for the benefit of patriarchy.[2] For radical feminists, true equality between the sexes can only be brought about by bringing down these social constructs of gender along with the rest of the inequality-maintaining power structure — i.e., society as we know it. Radical feminists hold that the toppling of gender is central to toppling the power structure. As a contrast, liberal feminism generally holds that ending any legal inequalities and other exclusionary policies will gradually do the trick, and radical feminism's most immediate ideological predecessor, Marxist feminism, holds that the toppling of class structures is central.

While parallels are drawn between the oppression of women and the oppression of other groups, the oppression of women is taken as the most basic. Patriarchy uses the oppression of women as both a model for oppressing others as well as an actual tool to maintain the range of social oppressions.[3]

[edit] Radical feminism, the snarl word

Contrary to the impression deliberately created by wingnut ideologues (such as Rush Limbaugh, who coined the irony meter-breaking term "feminazi"),[4] the term "radical" does not necessarily imply extremism or even militancy. Radical feminists essentially seek to get to the "root causes"[5] of oppression in order to dismantle it, and believe that this root cause is sexism, from which other forms of oppression such as racism were copied. However, exactly how sexism is to be challenged is a matter for debate.

Despite this, some fundamentalists have succeeded to some degree at convincing the American public that, instead of only opposing a system that disproportionally benefits men and seeking a more equal one, feminism is opposed to men in general, and seeks to create an inversion of gender relations in which men are persecuted by women. They do this by holding up those radical feminists who do engage in inflammatory rhetoric and harbor extreme ideas, such as Andrea Dworkin, Valerie Solanas, and Mary Daly — poster children for the right's version of the term — and then claiming that the only difference between these feminists and the rest is that the latter are better at masking their hate.[6] This is not particularly new; see watermelon.

"Radical feminist" hence serves as a snarl word against anyone who espouses liberal or egalitarian positions on sexuality and sexual politics (or even against female left-wingers in general).

[edit] Radical feminism and sexual minorities

[edit] Transphobia

Academic radical feminism (as noted above) is premised upon the idea that gender is entirely a social construct (and further, that it must be destroyed). Transgender people tend to maintain, on the other hand, that gender is to some extent intrinsic (that is, even though they were raised as a male/female, they have always identified as a female/male, and further, they often, but not always, want bodies to match). As frequently happens when ideology runs up against someone else's lived experiences, ideologues respond by trying to hammer the problem flat until it fits with what they already believe. As such, there has been,[7] and continues to be,[8][9] a rich current of anti-transsexual bigotry underlying much radical feminist thought on the issue of gender and transexuality in general. While not all radical feminists would agree, those that critique transsexuality maintain (generally contrary to both what transpeople themselves have said about their own identities, and the medical consensus on gender dysphoria) that trans women are nothing more than "effeminate men" who have been relegated by the patriarchal gender binary to the status of women (whereas trans men, when they bother to mention them at all, are just women trying to claim 'male privilege' for themselves). Thus they slam transsexual people in general for "reifying the gender binary." There is no out, however, for transsexual people who do not embody the stereotypes of their adopted genders either; lesbian trans women, for example, are dismissed as men who only transitioned in order to infiltrate women's-only spaces.

Transphobic radfems seem to almost universally reject the concept of cis privilege, and even the term cisgender itself, as somehow demeaning to "women born women" (another controversial term in LGBTQ circles that is usually understood as a transphobic shibboleth).

The term TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) has slowly begun to displace other terms for these radfems in 2012 and 2013; it's probably the most precise term yet coined to use in lieu of "second waver" (a very imprecise chronological term) and unqualified "radfem" (based on the academic definition, not all radfems are TERFs), even if it doesn't cover their attitudes on porn and gender relations.

[edit] Sex work

Sex workers are divided into those who wanted to be in sex work and those forced into it. Radical feminists sometimes fail to make the distinction adequately, with the result that they've given feminism in general a bad name among voluntary sex workers.[citation needed] On the flipside, radfems (like most people) are strongly opposed to human trafficking and sexual violence.

[edit] "Queer"

Used as a snarl word by a small number of lesbian separatists.[citation needed] Exactly what they mean with this particular use of the term is unclear (at least to outsiders) but appears to be related to a conspiracy theory that the rest of the LGBTQ community is out to delete the L from that list, or something.

[edit] Radical feminism and radical right-wingers

Some people attempt to excuse bigoted attitudes on the part of such groups as radical feminists on the grounds that those groups lack the collective power to act on their attitudes in any meaningful way. This is demonstrably false in the case of radical feminists, whose attitudes have made a mark on the real world when they lined up with similar attitudes on the part of right-wingers.

For example, conservatives in both the U.S. and Canada found Andrea Dworkin's civil rights-based arguments against pornography to be just what they were looking for following their previous failure to ban it, and Dworkin's idea was adopted into Canadian law in a way that even Dworkin did not like.[10] Janice Raymond, radical feminist author of The Transsexual Empire, collaborated with Senator Jesse Helms (yes, that Jesse Helms) during the 1980s in order to deny coverage for sexual reassignment surgery under Medicare.[11]

[edit] The TERF wars

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) loathe the third wave of feminism.[12] For a number of reasons, partly their authoritarianism, partly their demographic myopia, and partly because they represent a partial embodiment of every stereotype thrown at feminists over the last century and a half, this particular group of radfems have been roundly rejected by nearly every demographic they claim to represent, including, but not limited to, women of color, sex workers, kinksters, most male allies, and, at long last, most every feminist who's come after them. It's also very likely that they deeply resent that the third-wavers have taken their best ideas — understanding and fighting patriarchal structures and rape culture, the fight for reproductive rights and women's health care — and carried them forward, while leaving the dogmatism and one-size-fits-all theorizing behind, rendering the majority of them irrelevant.

For sex workers, the reason for rejecting that form of feminism is, in large part, because although many sex workers are exploited (especially in developing countries and anywhere with a strong culture of machismo), not all are, and some even enjoy their work and find the conflation of sex work and slavery to be insulting. Sex educators generally agree and in addition feel that such attitudes deny the agency of people to seek their own pleasure, hiding an underlying puritanism behind concepts like false consciousness.

Overall, it's clear the problem is either in the messaging, or the message itself. Given that TERFs often fall into very familiar scripts reminiscent of denialism and other dead-end positions[13], and that people (especially academically oriented third-wavers) are very much familiar with the TERF argument cluster and reject it anyway, it's probably the message that is the problem here, not the messaging.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Types of feminism
  2. [1] p.6
  3. A somewhat more detailed description of radical feminism
  4. Just one example among countless
  5. Note that "root" is a synonym for "radical"
  6. In the case of Andrea Dworkin, the wingnuts are denouncing her with one hand and ripping off her anti-pornography screeds with the other, leading to some amusement from bystanders.
  7. Janice Raymond, The Transsexual Empire: the Making of the She-Male (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979), [2]
  8. "Germaine Greer Paints a Portrait of Transphobic Feminism," Feministe, 2009 August 22, [3]
  9. Julie Bindel, "Gender benders beware," The Guardian, 2004 January 30. [4]
  10. MacKinnon, Catherine A. and Andrea Dworkin. "Statement by Catharine A. Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin Regarding Canadian Customs and Legal Approaches to Pornography." August 26, 1994. The Andrea Dworkin Online Library. [5]
  11. "Janice G. Raymond, Ph.D.," Transsexual, Transgender, and Intersex History, 1998, [6]
  12. They don't much care for the TERF label either; they consider it a slur and apparently reserve the use of the term "feminist" only to themselves. However, we use it here for lack of a better term, since most feminists don't consider TERFs to speak for them.
  13. TERF debaters yield to no one, not even FEMA conspiracy fans, in coming up with creative ways to rephrase "You'll be sorry!"
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