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Cultural crap

What is “radical feminism”? I see peculiar definitions here and there – or not so much definitions, as ad hoc explanations apparently pulled out of people’s…imaginary reference materials. The definitions or ad hoc explanations are crafted in such a way that they appear to fit feminists the crafters dislike, unless you actually know anything about the feminists in question.

There’s Vacula’s definition for example.

Secular Woman is an organization, launched in June of 2012, which aims to “amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious woman.” I was initially supportive of the organization and helped promote it because I had hoped that this organization would provide a fresh breath of air to the discussion about women’s issues – something much different than what many have already heard from the likes of radical or gender feminists in the secular community who seem to believe that men, ‘the patriarchy,’ and misogyny are responsible for all or most of the problems women face.

Mmm. Yeh. Except we don’t.

Not even close.

A straw definition if ever I saw one. I don’t talk about “the patriarchy” for example; I don’t even talk about it much without the definite article. I also don’t think anything as stupid or crude or off the mark as that. I don’t think even actual radical feminists think anything as stupid as that. Most of the problems all people face are just part of being a mortal animal! There are core human problems and challenges that feminism can’t possibly touch. Feminists aren’t so stupid that we don’t know that.

And even if we improve the definition by specifying social problems or political problems or the problems of being seen as subordinate, they still don’t boil down to making “men, ‘the patriarchy,’ and misogyny” responsible for all of them.

The sources of sexism and misogyny (and no, I do not treat them as identical; that’s a later post) that interest me most are cultural; memes, if you like. Women are responsible for them too! I don’t think there is a cabal of patriarchs running a meme factory that keeps women down. I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.

I do also think it matters. That, I think, is what people mean when they call us “radical feminists” – that we think cultural crap matters. But that’s not radical feminism. Second wave feminism always thought cultural crap matters. All second wave feminism. That was the point of it.

Comments

  1. says

    Hmm, I’m not sure that’s 100% accurate. Second wave feminism (which kind of annoyingly lumps the 1850s and the suffragists together as firsts) was a big mix – the classical division of radical, liberal and socialist. They all had different views on the importance of culture.

    Liberals tended to believe that fixing the laws for equality was the big thing to do and culture was secondary though still relevant. Socialists usually believed that culture was “superstructure” – derived from material conditions and would basically fix itself if the underlying inequalities were fixed. But there were divisions within the ranks on how cultural issues functioned and some streams put more importance on it than others. Radicals were the strongest on culture.

    I think the most extremely charitable interpretation of the slymers idea of what feminism should be is old school liberal feminism. Equality under the law, and harden up about everything else, it’s not important.

  2. LeftSidePositive says

    I think there needs to be a little more clarity here about what “the patriarchy” actually means. No one, to my knowledge, who uses the term “the patriarchy” (with or without the definite article) actually thinks there’s a cabal of patriarchs. It refers, instead, to exactly the type of “cultural crap” that makes all players in our society (men and women, powerful and disempowered people) operate on the assumption that men are more deserving of power than women, that a man’s natural place in the home is to have authority, that men who cannot control “their” women are less-than and are therefore unsuited to power inside the home or out of it, etc. etc. These sort of biases pop up in all sorts of places, assumptions, arguments and media, but no one who uses the term thinks it’s actually a conscious thing.

    More importantly, there are a lot of really brilliant thinkers who do use “the patriarchy” as a foundation of their analysis and do very good work in supporting its existence (as a cultural construct, of course, not as a distinct or even conscious organization), and I think it would be better not to be so glib about the term, because it plays into the deliberate refusal of people like Vacula to understand what it means–Oh, well it SOUNDS outlandish that our culture is predicated on assumptions inherent in patriarchal societies, so let’s just laugh in the face of that assertion rather than critically examine the arguments made for it!

    Some further reading on how “the patriarchy” is a useful concept for understanding gender roles and social functioning:

    http://www.shakesville.com/2007/09/patriarchy-is-bad-for-everyone.html

    http://www.shakesville.com/2012/05/patriarchy-kills-people.html

  3. says

    I don’t think so. Liberal second wave feminists weren’t libertarians. I suppose there must have been some libertarian feminists, but dang they must have been marginal.

    I think the big split was between boozhie careerist Ms-type feminists and the more lefty (radical in the left-wing sense) types.

    The mildew idea of ok feminism is just plain libertarian. In the US (the post is very US-centric, I admit) liberal doesn’t mean libertarian and vv.

  4. says

    I had a run-in in 1988 with a radical feminist separatist, who made some claims that I thought were pretty extreme and mostly ideological – the one that sticks in my mind was that men can’t be feminists, period. She was wearing a T-shirt that read, “If we can send one man to the moon, why not send them all?” I thought she was a caricature (what today we’d call a “poe”) at first.

  5. says

    Is it okay to use the term ‘patriarchy’ to refer to the set of systematic patterns in society of discrimination against women, as long as it is made clear that the problem is society-wide and there is no attempt to shift the blame onto some vaguely-defined (and non-existent) cabal?

  6. says

    The sources of sexism and misogyny (and no, I do not treat them as identical; that’s a later post) that interest me most are cultural; memes, if you like. Women are responsible for them too!

    that’s actually a pretty good approximation of what a lot of feminists mean when they talk about the patriarchy: a cultural system of ideas (memes if you will) that overall privileges men above women and polices gender expressions, and that is part of everyone’s vocabulary and understanding about themselves and their culture. Not a conspiracy theory of evil men or anything like that.

  7. Simon says

    Also, my understanding is that radical feminists view all (or almost all) societal problems through the prism of patriarchy. Kind of like Marxists with class struggle. IMO these are examples of theories that explain everything, and therefore nothing.

    Which is why I subscribe to neither.

  8. says

    Also, my understanding is that radical feminists view all (or almost all) societal problems through the prism of patriarchy. Kind of like Marxists with class struggle. IMO these are examples of theories that explain everything, and therefore nothing.

    so you’re saying that there are many social problems in a culture that aren’t influenced by by (or have influence on) its class or gender dynamics? huh.

  9. Simon says

    @Jadehawk: Everything in society is interconnected. OF COURSE gender dynamics influence and illuminate many different phenomena.

    But that is not the same thing as using patriarchy as a kind of overarching “theory of everything” (see why I used Marxism as an example for how such a thing might apply)

  10. says

    I mentally replace “radical” with “tubular” or “bodacious” when people call us radical feminists. It’s just as outdated but probably more accurate.

  11. says

    As soon as I clicked “submit,” I disliked that “easily strawmanned” bit. What I mean to say is that there may be women out there who self-describe as feminists and hold the views and t-shirts that Marcus described, but I doubt that they’re a majority even of “radical feminists,” and they certainly don’t represent the mainstream of feminism, despite what Limbaugh, et al would have you believe. They are to feminism (I suspect) what atheists who just hate god and want to sin without consequence are to atheism.

  12. says

    paulwright – :D

    4 and 7 – yes. But it has a jargony ring to it that puts a lot of people off, plus it does suggest the cabal idea, plus it sounds simpler than that to most people. For all those reasons I mostly don’t use the word, I think.

  13. says

    But that is not the same thing as using patriarchy as a kind of overarching “theory of everything” (see why I used Marxism as an example for how such a thing might apply)

    in the sense of a theory that explains everything about everything and disallows other theoretical applications, indeed it isn’t. But that’s not what you said. You said “radical feminists view all (or almost all) societal problems through the prism of patriarchy”, which is correct, and an appropriate use of the Feminist lens. Because analyzing problems in terms of their interactions with gender structures is not the same as insisting that this lens can explain the problem in its entirety.

    And the same applies to the Marxian lens. All social phenomena could and should be examined “through the prism of” class-relations, because all social phenomena interact with the class structure

  14. says

    @Ophelia:

    So it’s a potentially dangerously-confusing term, and needs to be carefully defined if it is use. So many of these discussions come down to making sure people understand what the words are being used to mean.

    Thanks for clarifying!

  15. says

    plus, rejecting a useful theoretical framework because idiots incapable of holding more than one variable in mind at the same time abuse it is silly. Both the patriarchy and the class-relations frameworks are very useful in picking apart the way society interacts with its hierarchies.

  16. says

    You’re probably right, but I did say “most extremely charitable” :) And I do think you’re conflating the more modern US use of “liberal” – which now includes a lot of social justice concerns – with the older political terminology, which didn’t. Australia’s major right wing party is called the Liberals for that historical reason.

    There certainly were enough women in the early second wave who campaigned on a strict legal equality platform – and there was plenty of that to be fought for, so they did good work, make no mistake. But I suspect like many young people they underestimated the importance of culture. If you were tough enough to bulldoze though the shit, you could make it like Maggie Thatcher. It was up to us to fight through, be tough, harden up blah blah blah. We can do it! (Personally I was more the socialist feminist type so I grant I may be maligning the liberals a bit.)

  17. Martha says

    I loved what Ashley Judd said about patriarchy not too long ago:

    Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/09/ashley-judd-slaps-media-in-the-face-for-speculation-over-her-puffy-appearance.html

    I admire Virginia Valian’s work on the slow progress of women in science. Her line is: “It’s nobody’s fault and everybody’s responsibility.”

    Of course, the detractors are really upset that we think it’s our joint responsibility. They just say that so that they don’t look like the ungracious protectors of privilege they are.

  18. says

    Alethea – the way it played out in the US, at least, it was the rising generation who was all rad and about culture (not “radical feminist” but rad more broadly), while NOW and the like were the more conservative liberals. At least that’s how I remember it, but who knows, maybe my memory of it is distorted by my preferences.

    But there was, for sure, a big blast of feminist energy triggered by the mindboggling sexism of the New Left. That was far from being about laws, it was about why the fuck should I do all the shitwork when we both have jobs? It was about equality all the way down. It was about dishes, laundry, keeping a grocery list. It was about “no, I wasn’t born knowing how to cook, I learned how and so can you.”

  19. melody says

    Ophelia, feminist theory is “jargony”, and I don’t think unnecessarily so. Why shouldn’t people be educated about the language used to understand what feminism means? Women are half of the world’s population.

  20. melody says

    For example, when I use the word “patriarchy” is it fair that a well educated, otherwise level headed person claims that I must be a radical feminist?

  21. jose says

    I go and lurk some blogs and read men are to blame for every war in history, for upsetting the global climate, for the colonialism that made Africa what it is today, for human trafficking, the burqa, and pretty much everything concerning murder, rape, terrorism and violence in general in the daily newspaper. Is any of this incorrect? That’s not even counting the manly shit reserved for “the elite” (women who live in first world countries): workplace harassment, catcalling, glass ceiling, constant attempts to ban abortion and birth control, etc.

    Frankly I don’t think I should complain if somebody prefers to live with not many men around.

  22. LeftSidePositive says

    Ophelia, I posted a comment a few hours ago and I’m afraid it got eaten up by the spam filter (it had a couple of links to good descriptions of the concept of patriarchy, so that probably got it kill-filed). If it is possible to retrieve it I’d very much appreciate it.

    One thing I’d like to add is that allowing jargony words to put people off is really just ceding the terms of the debate to those who are proud of their ignorance. It also gives people who dislike talking about uncomfortable subjects (like how their privilege isn’t entirely earned) a very strong incentive to find terms and concepts just too confusing, and persist in misreading them. When reasonable people then scoff at terms that have been so maligned, it rather leaves the people who have been trying to convey those difficult messages high and dry, and privileges those who wish to maintain their ignorance.

  23. says

    Anti-feminists like to insist that there is no such thing as patriarchy. Here’s some reading from sociology which explains that patriarchy does exist and what it is. It’s a social SYSTEM, just like racism, casteism, ableism, etc.:
    Gender Knot – Allan G. Johnson
    http://www.amazon.com/Gender-Knot-Revised-Unraveling-Patriarchal/dp/1592133835/
    Privilege, Power, and Difference – Allan G. Johnson
    http://www.amazon.com/Privilege-Power-Difference-Allan-Johnson/dp/0072874899/ref=la_B001IGUPBE_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1352387154&sr=1-1

    Here’s a short talk by the author. He’s talking about racism, but the same elements of domination, identification and centeredness exist in all oppressive social systems:
    http://blip.tv/allan-g-johnson/people-systems-and-the-game-of-monopoly-a-presentation-by-allan-g-johnson-2812135

  24. Nepenthe says

    @LeftSidePositive

    One thing I’d like to add is that allowing jargony words to put people off is really just ceding the terms of the debate to those who are proud of their ignorance. It also gives people who dislike talking about uncomfortable subjects (like how their privilege isn’t entirely earned) a very strong incentive to find terms and concepts just too confusing, and persist in misreading them.

    Yes! In addition, patriarchy is no more “jargon” than electron. There aren’t any other words for what patriarchy is, just like there aren’t any other words for what an electron is. If you want to discuss particle physics, you’re going to talk about electrons, not “those negative things that fly around atoms but not really fly… well it’s complicated”. So why* whine when you’re talking about the impact of gender and people are using the language we have to describe that?

    Furthermore, when we’re talking about radical feminism, any male-friendly rephrase of patriarchy is inevitably going to weaken it. Sexism and misogyny don’t cover the all-encompassing nature of patriarchy, how it insinuates itself into everything. Sexism is an “-ism”, an ideology, a belief. Patriarchy is an “-archy”, the way society is governed and organized.

  25. Martha says

    By “say that” #21, I meant “say that ‘radical’ feminists hate all men.” It’s a purposeful re-framing of the issue in terms that don’t make anti-feminists look as bad as they should.

  26. Silentbob says

    @ 27 Nepenthe

    … patriarchy is no more “jargon” than electron.

    It don’t think that’s a very good comparison, though. Electron was an invented word concocted for the occasion. There was no such thing as an “electron” before the discovery of that particular subatomic particle. And it’s etymology just means “particle with electric charge”.

    Patriarchy, however, was an already existing word. It originally described a form of ancient governance where the oldest male holds ultimate authority, which, on his death passes to his oldest son, and so on. It’s etymology means “rule of the fathers”.

    That makes it a more confusing term than “electron” because while, say, the United States can be described as patriarchal (in the feminist sense), it is certainly not a patriarchy (in the original sense). And if patriarchy means what Jadehawk describes (@ 7), “rule of the fathers” doesn’t seem a particularly accurate term.

    There aren’t any other words for what patriarchy is…

    And I’m hardly the right person to try to come up with one, but something like androcentrism, or gender-traditionalism sound to me closer to what Jadehawk describes.

    … any male-friendly rephrase of patriarchy is inevitably going to weaken it.

    I don’t think the complaint is that it’s not male-friendly enough, but rather not accurate enough.

    Sexism is an “-ism”, an ideology, a belief. Patriarchy is an “-archy”, the way society is governed and organized.

    Which seems to me to be more an argument against the word, than for it.

    If patriarchy is as Jadehawk described it, it doesn’t seem to be primarily or even mostly about government and organisation. It seems to more about how people think – how they see themselves and others. That would make the concept more “ism” than “archy”. Or at least we could say the “archy” is just one side-effect of the “ism”.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to suggest feminists should abandon such a well-established word. Just that I think Ophelia’s reservations have some merit.

  27. says

    I get the impression sometimes that people use the phrase “radical feminist” to mean “anyone who thinks equality on paper but not in reality isn’t good enough”.

    Concerning the jargon, I’m more educated in the sciences than I am in the humanities, so I’m sure there are ‘jargon’ words I know that others may not be familiar with. I think I’m a little big familiar with terms in equal rights movements, just because I’m interested and read a little about them, but there are times when someone else’s explanation has been very helpful.

    I do think that, in any field, there’s a certain need to explain things so that someone who has not studied them will understand, but there also has to be a willingness of the person listening to participate in the conversation. I mean, if someone keeps claiming that a word or term has a certain meaning or that it’s really discriminatory against men, no matter how many people explain it … at some point, I have to wonder if they are making an effort to understand.

    And thanks @Jadehawk (#7) for the concise definition. You put it more succinctly than I could.

  28. says

    Patriarchy is a perfectly good word to think with; which is what words are for. It is perfectly simple to illustrate, at great length, how the course of the last 500 years of ‘western’ political history has involved first, a contest between different groups of men for the right to occupy a privileged public role defined by their gender’s supposed attributes of superior reason, inherent betterness, etc; and second, a vigorous and forceful defence by those occupying such privileged positions against the very idea that their gendered claim to superior status might be challenged.

    In all of this, both implicitly and explicitly, the role of husband, father, breadwinner and household authority attributed to the mature, competent male has been a perennial model, inspiration and claim of right to power. From the French Enlightenment to the C19 Trade Unionist demand for a ‘breadwinner wage’, to the ‘renormalization’ of women as housewives in the 1950s, the lines are clear and sharply drawn. Aggressive opposition to the claims of feminism today, and for the last 40 years, exists in this context, and as part of the same overarching phenomenon. These are facts of history.

  29. Galloise Blonde says

    I call myself a radical feminist but I’m very careful about using the term patriarchy because of the aspects that Silent Bob points out: I think that it can obscure different patterns of male power, which can have very different locations. Narrowly, the term patriarchy bases power in kinship, which is only one of many sources for the subordination of women. I think we need narrow terms, because we need to locate all of the sources and structures of male power, and to draw distinctions between them – rather than submerging various forms and methods of dominance within a single term. And we need broad ones too, to acknowledge the commonalities and continuities and interrelationships between them.

    And even when dealing with societies that most people would consider classically patriarchal, I don’t think it’s a precise enough term because it has problems in locating male power in the pater, which neglects such nasties as the power of elder females over younger ones, and the ability of uncles and male cousins and so forth to subordinate related women. I’ve used terms such as patrilineage-gerontocracy to try to get around this. Obviously the problem here is that this would lead to a proliferation of jargon, but it’s possibly necessary if we are going to get to the roots of patriarchy (in the broad sense).

  30. theoreticalgrrrl says

    If you give most people the dictionary definition of feminism, without using the word, they usually have no problem with its goals. There will always be people who have differing views of how to acheive these goals, but why does it always have to get so nasty?

    I think of Sam Harris’ view that we shouldn’t need a term like atheism, that it should be the default. I agree. Likewise, why should we need an ‘ism’ for women’s rights? It’s sad that we do. But I embrace the term feminist for now because to me it’s just a shorthand term for people who support the full political, social and civil rights of the female half of our species. It’s just less wordy. But having an ‘ism’ makes it so easy for people to demonize it and paint it as something it’s not, as many people do with the term atheism or skepticism.

  31. says

    If patriarchy is as Jadehawk described it, it doesn’t seem to be primarily or even mostly about government and organisation. It seems to more about how people think – how they see themselves and others.

    it’s both, since the way a society organizes itself is shaped by, and shapes, how people think. plus, patriarchy is an -archy in the sense of a hierarchy; it ranks men above women, and it gives men more power than women. IOW, it’s an -archy in terms of power dynamics.

  32. ragdish says

    Ophelia,

    I find that the term “patriarchy” can get bandied about to the extent that it is self-defeating. For example in academia there are feminists who proclaim the following:

    “Modern science such as physics is a sexist reductionist manifesto that is the product of a eurocentric, anglo-patriarchal enlightment”

    I think this statement is damaging particularly at a time when there is so much under-representation of women in STEM fields.

    I know you have written a lot about this pomo anti-science crap (could you see to it that your books are available on Kindle?). I thought it worth mentioning that “patriarchy” can be used in such a “Trotskyesque” manner among “Stalinist” ideologues who would gladly push you off a cliff and claim that gravity is an androcentric social construct.

  33. Susan says

    Off topic … Ophelia, how do I write to you? I would like to comment on an earlier January post I missed, which is extremely relevant to my life (the one about the sexist cowboy romance novel). But I don’t think you will see it if I post there. I’m a romance novelist who has been desperately trying/wishing to push against the tide since I began writing them in 1993, and have ultimately failed for various reasons (having been dumped by my last publisher for not earning enough.) In spite of financial difficulties, I have (I hope) written my last soul-destroying romance novel, and my first urban fantasy will be coming out with Tor books in July.

  34. says

    Susan – there’s a contact address, or I could just write to the address you give on your comment, to say here’s my address?

    Mind you, if you comment on an old post I will see it, because they come in in chronological order – in short I see all new comments.

  35. Susan says

    Hi, Ophelia,

    For the life of me, I cannot find the contact button on your blog, and I have looked. Where is it? I thought maybe you had taken it down because of all the abuse you’ve suffered, and I wouldn’t blame you!

    I’ll go ahead and post on the old thread, then.

  36. says

    Hi Susan – Hm, maybe there isn’t one here, maybe only on the first B&W. I should put one here, then. First B&W is easy to find – there’s a link to the archive here, in the left margin.

  37. Southern Cross says

    To quote the late, great Andrea Dworkin – “I’m a radical feminist, not the fun kind”.

    What distinguishes Radical Feminism from other strands is an uncompromising critique of sexuality that does not stop at the bedroom door – or more accurately an emphasis on such critique.

    Thus you will not find a radical feminist defending the sex trade in any of its many forms, especially on the spurious grounds of individual “choice”. Assorted fashionable “choices” such as certain gay lifestyles, surrogacy, IVF, euthanasia come in for scrutiny rather than bland acceptance as automatically progressive. We are not great fans of painting our faces (or our arses, same principle, think of monkeys), or tottering about on stilts. The tendency is distinctly non-libertarian.

    What other posters have called “patriarchy” we used to call “male supremacy”, a broader term that suggests that all men, however downtrodden have a female to oppress should they desire – so the term includes but is not restricted to the rule of “successful” men, ie the “fathers”.

    Contrary to widely circulated myth, radical feminists are not biological determinists – we might as well pack up our shingle and go home if that were so. We consider the oppression to be structural, ie social in character – it must be conceived in the human mind and heart, transmitted via culture and tolerated in group settings with widespread complicity etc – just like slavery or any other widespread abuse.

    Some prominent radical feminists (all of whom I admire greatly for their work in the world – no ivory towers for them) include Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Diana Russell, Janice Raymond, Sheila Jeffries, Renata Klein, with Gloria Steinem fellow-travelling nicely. Julie Bindel (not Julie Burchill) writes for the British Guardian. A mouthpiece for the tendency was the now defunct British magazine “Trouble and Strife”.

    There is of course enormous overlap in the various strands of feminist thinking, and much less inherent hostility than is made out. In Australia, the general distinctions were liberal-radical-socialist. I note in passing that some of the male gatekeepers of the intellectual superstructures were not keen on their women fraternising – esp those on the left :-)

    How do I know? I’ve been one all my life.

    So Ophelia, I think you’re right off beam on this one. You proclaim ignorance of the term, then proceed to rubbish what you fancy it means anyway. This may be a US thing, I don’t know. Consider this – insults are very revealing of motive. If a man bucks the trend he will be called a faggot (poofter here) thus excluded from the charmed male circle in a manner that reveals the insecurities of those inside it. So if a woman is called a “radfem” for breathing perhaps that indicates that this sex-critical strand of feminism is the one the slimepit / mens rights types most hate and fear. The sort of rabid hate you have been exposing and exposed to lately is simply par for the course when one takes a “radfem” line on anything – so in that sense I’m surprised that you’re surprised by it (the hate).

    Must go to work. I hope the above clarifies a perfectly well established, much maligned and now rather unfashionable strand of feminism. IMHO it is the go – if anyone wants to explore further, please check out the primary sources.

    SC

  38. says

    Hmm. I guess I did. I apologize.

    I suppose I’m starting to conflate the imaginary straw radical feminist with the real thing.

    I am a generic radical feminist, I think, but I’m not sure I am a Radical Feminist.

  39. ragdish says

    41. SallyStrange

    That quote was from academia.edu where you’ll find a lot of pomo stuff. I’ll try to get the specific citation

  40. LeftSidePositive says

    Ophelia–thanks for retrieving my post!

    Ragdish–I definitely think there’s some utter absurdity in some circles…actually, what I particularly like most about the skeptical/atheist strain of feminism is they substantiate their claims of gender discrimination, make a strong case for the factual nature of gender equality (or, conversely, that gender stereotypes are factually unfounded), and don’t resort to postmodernism. But, at the same time, I don’t think the most absurd misinterpretations (or off-the-wall misapplications) of a thing can or should invalidate its appropriate uses. Can Deepak Chopra invalidate everything a qualified person can say about quantum physics? Can Marxist utopians invalidate all critique of classism? Can Clarence Thomas whining about a “high-tech lynching” invalidate real commentary on race relations?

    I think there’s a lot to be said for clearly articulating what is and isn’t valid about certain critiques (frankly, I would LOVE it if the feminist skeptics around here could be free of the Slyme Pit long enough to tackle some woo-feminism issues!), and I’d love to see a point where we can get beyond “You’re oppressive!” and “You’re crazy for calling me oppressive!” and actually delve into, for your example, the difference between something whose proponents had a lot of privilege and likely made privileged assumptions, versus something that is inherently oppressive. I can dream, can’t I?

  41. Southern Cross says

    @45 Thanks for that Ophelia. The term “radical feminist” with or without capitals has a noble pedigree and I’d hate to see it get currency here as some sort of half-acceptable term of abuse with the term defined by those who hate feminism anyway. Talk about getting hit by friendly fire!

    Radical Feminist ideas (the capitalised ones) make a lot of people, men and women very uncomfortable. Always have, so they can be demonised easily. Agree that second wave feminism has always been very “radical” in the broader sense to which you refer.

  42. freemage says

    Southern Cross: Oddly, with a handful of exception, what you just described as “radical feminism” sounds to me like… feminism. (And the only reason for the exceptions are statements like “No radical feminist would defend the sex trade”, and I’ve read at least a few feminist writers whom I respect who do just that, though they do so with a hell of a lot more nuance than libertarians do, for instance.) Otherwise, the notion that sexual equality only matters in the bedroom sounds more like what anti-feminists want when they claim to be feminists–a watered-down, safely limited version of the real thing that approaches parody (or at least farce).

  43. voss says

    Dear Ms. Benson:
    Over the past few years of reading your blog posts, I’ve come to trust your reasoning and instincts on almost everything you care to express an opinion on. I’m an old bald white guy who just finished a feminism course at the local university. Lately I have been hearing the term “rape culture” being used in more than one way so now I’m a bit confused. I would like to describe my understanding of the term to you and ask for your advice on whether I’m on the right track.
    Here is our problem. Briefly, in our culture, when women and men date, it seems that the opportunity for the woman to consent to sex has been eliminated. Not so briefly, it is the man who typically applies pressure to increase physical intimacy while the woman says “no” whenever her comfort level is breached. This scenario may repeat several times until the woman believes that enough trust has been established at which time she simply refrains from saying “no” and consent to engage in sex is then implied.
    The woman in this instance never gets to say “yes” to sex, she just stops saying “no.” This means that the woman does not have equal power in the sexual part of the relationship. Only the man gets to say yes. And even though the sex is voluntary, since the woman does not consent to sex it begins to resemble rape. This also means that since there is no “yes” spoken by the woman, the line between voluntary sex and involuntary sex, while quite plain in the mind of the woman, may become blurred in the mind of the man. It teaches the man that silence equates to consent whether it is actually the case or not.
    The worst consequence of this cultural dating behavior is that since many men are both misogynistic and have violent tendencies, when they learn that they don’t have to hear consent from a woman, involuntary sex is sometimes a certainty.
    It is this last consequence of involuntary sex that I have occasionally heard referred to as rape culture. Whereas, it is my feeling that rape culture is the entire dating tradition (even voluntary sex when consent is only implied). This is what needs to change. It is only when “yes” is actually spoken rather than just implied that women will gain equal power in sexual relationships. I realize that this places additional responsibilities on both women and men. If women are expected to say yes, then men will have to show respect to women enough to back off a bit in dating situations. Will women step up? Will men step down? I don’t know. I only hope that we are not doomed to follow past behavior.
    Sorry, I got up on my soap box again. My wife is still teaching me when to shut up. My compliments to you, Ms. Benson, on a fine blog. Please feel free to comment on my opinion. I intend to return here often in any case.

    Best Regards,
    Robert Voss
    Portland, OR

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