Radical feminism

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It's a social construct
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Spectra and binaries
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 as a secondary aspect of some larger intersectional system. Contrary to what the name may suggest to some people, it is generally not just insane or hateful feminism.

Terms like "radical feminist" get used as snarl words for any feminist or feminist idea that threatens misogynistic bigots' sense of what women should (or should not) be and do, oftentimes ideas that are not radical at all.

Radical feminism, the branch[edit]

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]:6 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]

Radical feminism, the snarl word[edit]

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).

Radical feminism and sexual minorities[edit]


See the main article on this topic: Trans-exclusionary radical feminism

There has been,[7] and continues to be,[8][9] a rich current of anti-transgender bigotry underlying some minor branches of feminist thought on the issue of gender and being transgender in general. While not all radical feminists would agree, those that critique transgender experiences maintain (generally contrary to both what trans people 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 transgender people in general for "reifying the gender binary."[note 1]

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.

Some radical feminists believe that the term is used as a mere slur against radical feminists or lesbians, rather than as a word against people who dare criticize and discriminate against transgender individuals. However, the word is not a slur, nor is it used against lesbians as a whole. Rather, the word is meant to describe "feminists" who have offensive and/or discriminatory beliefs about trans people and who say, do, and/or think transphobic things.

Not all people who criticize politics around transgender people are TERFS. For instance, when a person points out that the idea of transgender can easily be misinterpreted in a way that reinforces people's assumptions about gender roles and stereotypes, and erases out the existence of gender non-conforming people ("Our little son likes to play with Barbie dolls and is a bit effeminate, so it must mean he's actually a girl!"), that is not necessarily a "TERF" idea (nor is it true). That said, most people who claim to criticize "transgender politics" are in fact TERFs. Another common criticism made by radical feminists, especially towards trans women, is about certain misogynistic views that some have, such as if a trans woman is said to be better than a "woman who menstruates."

Sex work[edit]

Sex workers are divided into those who wanted to be in sex work and those forced into it. Radical feminists, and especially SWERFs (sex worker-exclusionary 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. On the flipside, radfems (like most people) are strongly opposed to human trafficking and sexual violence.


Some radical feminist lesbian separatists dislike the use of the term "queer." They feel that the term "queer" minimizes or erases lesbian and gay identity, because it includes people who are not exclusively same-sex attracted. Radical feminists believe that the term "queer" is a euphemism for bisexual, and that lesbians who identify as "queer" are stopping short of naming their actual homosexuality.[citation needed] This is biphobia.

Radical feminism and radical right-wingers[edit]

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]


In a bit of nutpicking, here are a few examples of people and their activities.

Valerie Solanas[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Valerie Solanas

Apart from her writings on the subject, she is best known for attempting to murder Andy Warhol. She was also diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, so that could have as much to do with it as anything.

Andrea Dworkin[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Andrea Dworkin

If you're a man, it's apparently inevitable that you'll exploit or rape a woman. Additionally, she seemed to view rape as synonymous with intercourse, or at least that heterosexual sex was inherently violent.

Mary Daly[edit]

"If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males."[12] I think we can leave it there.

See also[edit]


  1. Which is, arguably, what TERFs do themselves, professing a desire to "abolish gender" while in reality advocating for a strict division of "men" and "women" based on biological sex rather than gender identity.


  1. Types of feminism
  2. Lynn Cooper, Social Justice Resource Toolkit.
  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), [1]
  8. "Germaine Greer Paints a Portrait of Transphobic Feminism," Feministe, 2009 August 22, [2]
  9. Julie Bindel, "Gender benders beware," The Guardian, 2004 January 30. [3]
  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. [4]
  11. "Janice G. Raymond, Ph.D.," Transsexual, Transgender, and Intersex History, 1998, [5]
  12. Bridle, Susan (Fall–Winter 1999). "No Man's Land". EnlightenNext Magazine.