Radical Feminism Isn’t For Everybody

Earlier this week I stated that “radical feminism isn’t for every woman”.  I’m not sure if my exact meaning was gotten.  Since then I’ve mulled over how to explain it because to me it summed up most of the frustration I’ve been feeling for awhile.  Over the past year or so its really sunken in to me that our communities online and in person are strikingly liberal and there are women who strive to make them even more so without ever stopping to ask themselves if that is an appropriate thing for them to be doing.

When I was newer to radical feminism I read a woman state that you will not change radical feminism, radical feminism will change you.  I already had this idea.  I had it when I sat with my copy of Intercourse thinking “do I really want to read this?”.  I knew if I read it things would probably change.  But hey I was already there questioning what had happened in my life. I needed to follow my thoughts down to their ends.

(Yes, a lot of things changed)

The basic radfem ethic that unites us as a rag-tag group of misfits around the globe is a commitment to freeing the female sex caste from the domestication and brutal non-stop terrorism inflicted upon it by the male sex caste.  By doing this we take on a very serious task and its important to take it seriously.  Specifically we’ve got to figure out how this shit works and then we’ve got to figure out how to STOP it.

In the meantime we work on things to try and make the situation of some women marginally better in whatever way we can.  Luckily for us the patriarchy has more than enough busy work for us to do, trying to put bandages on it’s bullet holes.  The important thing that separates radical feminists from other women doing this work is that we don’t see it as a end in itself, the end is, of course, complete liberation of the female sex caste from patriarchy and it’s institutions

(So most of us reading this know this already right?)

This may sound very basic to understand, and it is.  But its also more than that.  Radical Feminists have committed themselves to this end and this ends up putting us at odds with the rest of the world.  Because we live through the experience of being at odds with pretty much everything we are changed in that process.  Its actually one of the most marvelous things to behold, women shedding their layers of internalized oppression and becoming the agents of their own lives and destinies in a world where we’re expected to be the accessory to some man, or men.  Women reconnecting to some sense of their authentic wild selves, loving each other unashamedly and without apology.  Its all a process and its visible once you’re in that process who is and who isn’t doing that work.

“Feminism requires precisely what patriarchy destroys in women: unimpeachable bravery in confronting male power” 
                              -Andrea Dworkin

This is work that is 100% necessary if we are to be at all successful in our goals.  But there are obvious roadblocks that I want to address because there are those who identify themselves with radical feminism who are not doing this work of deconstruction and it is watering down the politic.  

Now I understand why this would be the case, feMANism as it stands today is a joke.  Its got nothing to do with serving the interests of women whatsoever.  It exists solely as a yet another individualist, neoliberal identity that exists in the marketplace of ideas where people go to try out ideas like flavors of ice cream.  Ideas that at the end of the day do nothing to challenge the dominant world order of course.  Feminism just happens to brand itself as raunchy sex and men’s freedom to wear tights and be called “miss”.  Its no wonder that women concerned with making change for women are running from this idea of feminism like the plague.  A lot of these women have found that by listening to what radical feminists have to say about these topics we actually make a lot of sense.  But this is of course, just the basics like men can’t become women and prostitution is not empowering.  These positions are 101 type stuff.  Holding them makes one a liberal feminist.  Think of NOW in the 70s.  Its pretty sad that the backlash against feminism has been so successful that women who are currently aligned with the most moderate feminism of the second wave are now considered “radical”.  That should be concern for all of us, liberal and radical alike.

Another thing that differentiates liberal feminists from radical feminists are our tactics.  We organize differently, we behave different.  We have different goals with why we write and who our audience is.  

I am not saying this to attack liberal feminists because to be honest I think the mass base liberals bring to a feminist movement is important and so is a lot of the work they do to make women’s lives a little more bearable under this toxic system.  I’m saying it to maintain the integrity of what radical feminism is.  It isn’t something that is ever going to be appealing to a mass base (and that’s okay!)  Our job as radical feminist is to push movements farther than they would go without us.  Its to provide a vision of what is possible.  Its to say the things that everyone else is too afraid of.  We choose the fringes because we know that it is where we can do the most good and women need us there for them when they fall out of respectability.  A fate that can happen to any woman in this world who displeases the menfolk.

We don’t need to be directed by self-appointed leaders about what the appropriate tactics we should take with misogynists are.  How we need to watch our language.  How we need to worry about how we’re gonna recruit other women who may be put off by volcanic female rage.  That isn’t what we’re here to do at all.  Recruitment is a great thing and all but we’re not really looking to recruit women put off by radicalism.  There is plenty of room for them in the burgeoning liberal antiporn movement where its possible they can radicalize through exposure to the worst of what men are. 

I’m hoping with this post I at least can put a voice to what some other women have also been feeling lately and get other women thinking about what exactly it means to be a radical feminist and whether it is a label they should use for themselves and whether they belong in radical feminist communities and spaces.  Not that I don’t think we can’t be friends, just lets respect each other’s boundaries!

I leave you with this visionary passage taken from a talk given by Mary Daly at UCLA in 1987. 

… Being a radical feminist involves a radical, awesome, ecstatic sense of otherness from what the patriarchy wants me to be. I am not a patriarchal woman. I do not want any of that. Least of all do I want their plastic passions; the bitterness, the depression, the resignation, foolfillment. Where is there to move?!

It implies a knowledge of the sanctions that will come down from the patriarchy. But I make this decision anyway because I know that I will be punished just as much for being an itty-bitty feminist as for going the whole way. And so I go the whole way.

Radical feminism means I experience moral outrage on behalf of women AS WOMEN. I don’t get sidetracked into other categories. I don’t get distracted into any male-identified categories. I feel for the foot-maimed women of China, who, for a thousand years, had the three-inch long foot. I feel for the genitally-mutilated women of Africa, at least 30 million of them. And, I will not be put down by ridiculous statements that this is RACIST. I feel for the women, the sisters who were massacred as witches in Western Europe during the so-called “Renaissance” and for those women now massacred in the perpetual witch craze of patriarchy.

Radical feminism means that I identify with women beyond all racial, ethnic, class, age bonds or bounds. It means that I see the oppression by gynecology and by our Western medicine, by Indian suttee which still goes on, by the dowry murders there, by the incest here, by the battering here, there and everywhere, of women, euphemistically called “domestic violence,” – that kind of reversal language, and for women who are raped, and for women who are victims of pornographic abuse.

Radical feminism involves steadfastness, and that means constancy, that means persistence, that means that when it is not cool to be a radical feminist, and it never really is, that I will be anyway for a very simple reason-and this makes me the Lunatic that I am: That even if I were the last one, I would be BECAUSE I AM A WOMEN! THAT’S WHO I AM!! 

I’m not something else, to identify with something else, to be always for somebody else’s cause; March march march. Prance prance prance. Fight fight fight- some other boy’s or male-identified war. I AM A WOMAN!

That’s what radical feminism is.

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19 responses to “Radical Feminism Isn’t For Everybody

  1. anonymous radical feminist

    Agree whole heartedly, thank you for writing this.

  2. “But this is of course, just the basics like men can’t become women and prostitution is not empowering. These positions are 101 type stuff. Holding them makes one a liberal feminist.” Goddess, I wish that were true, but there are VERY FEW liberal feminists who hold these “basic” views, as we’ve all found out whenever the topics come up in online (or real) fora. Virtually all the lib fems I’m aware of, and certainly the hetero women, would not agree with either of those “basic” statements. [Sigh] There is MUCH work yet to be done.

  3. Reblogged this on You think I just don't understand, but I don't believe you. and commented:
    “I’m hoping with this post I at least can put a voice to what some other women have also been feeling lately and get other women thinking about what exactly it means to be a radical feminist and whether it is a label they should use for themselves and whether they belong in radical feminist communities and spaces. Not that I don’t think we can’t be friends, just lets respect each other’s boundaries!”

  4. I agree with the general gist of this post, which I think is that radical feminism should serve to continually pull the ‘Overton Window’ closer a woman-centric politic – and that this requires visionary work about what could be possible for women.

    However, the other aspect of this post has me a little troubled, in large part because you haven’t explicitly identified much of the problem you’re talking about:

    “I hope to […] get other women thinking about what exactly it means to be a radical feminist and whether it is a label they should use for themselves and whether they belong in radical feminist communities and spaces.”

    I may be about to illustrate the problem you’re talking about and if so, please forgive me. But I just don’t know how to apply what you’ve written here; how does a woman know if she is radical enough to be in radical feminist communities and spaces? How does she know if she’s internalised enough/the right radical values to qualify? What are the requirements? What is the behaviour you’ve witnessed that you think is diluting radical feminism?

    • You raise a fair point with that. I did edit some parts out of this piece because I thought it would make some women feel as if it were them being critiqued personally as opposed to generally.

      I think a basic way of knowing that you’re stepping on the toes of radical feminists is when they tell you you are. There’s been a good deal of boundary pushing in online communities lately around what are basic tenets of radical feminism. For example the very problematic idea that men can be feminists has been espoused by some of the women who are pushing those boundaries. They do this as “radical feminists” but they are anything but.

      Radical Feminists often welcome women into our communities who we trust are on the path to radicalization. The journey happening and being evident in a woman is what matters.

  5. Agreed Umlol, and how do you know? If she has a trans or trans supporter on her FB friends list she’s not a radical feminist. I have pointed this out several times. Certain outcomes are absolutely no surprise.

  6. “how does a woman know if she is radical enough to be in radical feminist communities and spaces? How does she know if she’s internalised enough/the right radical values to qualify? What are the requirements?” Very good questions Umlol. Speaking from experience of being in radical lesbian feminist spaces for decades, I’d say we should invite all women to engage in radical feminist philosophy and see it as a work in progress. No woman

  7. become a radical feminist overnight, and a lot of the time, it can just hit women suddenly, like when they first read Mary Daly, for example. I’d say the red flag we all need to be clear about, is that radical feminism is about the liberation of women from male sex class domination. It means you can’t negotiate with terrorists, which is what men as a class are. So any negotiating on this point is liberal

  8. feminism. Liberal trains women to accept the system, the radical teaches us how to end the system. We have to understand we have 40 years of contemporary radical feminism, so we do have a body of work to deal with now.

  9. Since we are in a time of extreme womanhatred and backlash, male supremacy has existed so long for a reason. It is clever at derailing woman centric discussion to begin with. Notice the trans threats against radical feminist conferences, for example. Or even lifelong lesbians selling out to the trans invasion. Clarity is the key. We have to present radical feminism, and see which women

  10. really want to engage with it. If we stick to the basic principles and demonstrate how to live them, the power of it all can be revealed. I think women are so starved for this freedom, and we have to have a commitment to the truth on women’s terms. Women are very fearful of naming the agent, and lots of women are economically invested in the “male feminist” myth, and want men to be fe

  11. minists. Male worship and conditioning, and women’s fear of the unknown makes it doubly important to engage this stuff online, to put our collective feet down on what liberalism is vs. what radical feminism is, and what things radical feminism has actually accomplished. Also, the bar shifts in herstory. Once the vote activism was radical, now I’d say it is rejecting living with men and ending PIV as a sex practice

  12. For me, it is fully supporting women and modeling that. My straight women friends can see this freedom demonstrated, so they know it exists. This inner power is attractive, but first liberalism needs to be taken apart, so women truly know the difference.

  13. So many opinions and “clarifications” on this very topic. Another discussion elsewhere about feminist credentials takes place elsewhere between the feminist abuser who busted up the blog community a couple years back, a by-stander,. and a noob who wasn’t there or didn’t care. But nevermind, anyone can be an expert if they just claim they are.

    • So many opinions and “clarifications” on this very topic. Another discussion elsewhere about feminist credentials takes place between the feminist abuser who busted up our blog community a couple years back, a by-stander,. and a noob who wasn’t there or didn’t care. But nevermind, anyone can be an expert if they just claim they are.

  14. The starting sentence from Mary Daly in this post, like so much of her word usage, is a theme in every term: “… Being a radical feminist involves a radical, awesome, ecstatic sense of otherness from what the patriarchy wants me to be.” Definitely the “otherness” keeps growing for me after first encountering Mary Daly’s words in 2006 when the elements seemingly pushed Pure Lust off a second-hand bookstore’s shelf into my arms.

    Working lately on the “ecstatic” aspect, because only ecstasy of the “background” and connections there can sustain the persistence needed in the RF diaspora where we rarely know one another by voice, but usually only online. And it is so challenging for the e-printed internet method to be our main channel, as much of our Be-ing gets lost in translation, many misunderstandings and hurt feelings. I’m not immune; it’s happened to me, too. Yet RF blogging is so very worthwhile. And at times even “awesome.” Being “radical,” I agree with this post, helps us push out the boundaries of the movement. Being connected in the background lets me connect and plant seeds of thought with women I daily encounter, often randomly, who seem enough frustrated to start to “get” that there might be a way of Life other than the one presented by man-made culture. It brings joy to have that opportunity, and keeps me going as horrid as manunkind keeps behaving.

    Thanks for the post, and for being here.

  15. Pingback: Radical Feminism Isn’t For Everybody

  16. Reblogged this on FeistyAmazon and commented:
    Love this….womyn come first and foremost no matter what!!!

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