Jul 25 2013


Amanda also points out something I too have been pointing out for years – “radical feminism” isn’t.

There is no such thing as a “radical feminist” anymore.

Don’t get me wrong! There was. In the 60s and 70s, there were radical feminists who were distinguishing themselves from liberal feminists. Radical feminists agreed with liberal feminists that we should change the laws to recognize women’s equality, but they also believed that we needed to change the culture. It was not enough to pass the ERA or legalize abortion, they believed, but we should also talk about cultural issues, such as misogyny, objectification, rape, and domestic violence.

And media representations of women, and sexist jokes, and who does the housework, and cookies don’t just bake themselves you know. And don’t call me “Honey,” and I’m not here to make coffee, and do you realize you’ve interrupted me every single time I’ve tried to say something this evening? And street harassment, and no, knowing how to clean the toilet is not congenital, and will you please stop using the word “girl” as an insult? And sport, and the military, and double standards in everything, and wtf are cankles?

In other words, what was once “radical” feminism is now mainstream feminism.


I realize there are anti-trans, anti-sex feminists out there who call themselves radical feminists, but I, simply put, don’t agree. What’s radical about them? They are to the right of the mainstream feminist movement. They often have more in common with the conservatives decrying mainstream feminism as “radical” than they do the original radical feminists who had consciousness-raising groups and abortion speak outs and who started Ms Magazine.

When Sarah Palin says she’s a feminist – you don’t have to believe her.


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  1. 1
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    I wish there was some follow up to the inane things uttered by politicians. Take Sarah Palin (please)…when she says she is a feminist, my response would be to ask her what she thinks feminism is and why she qualifies.

  2. 2

    But I always believe Sarah Palin!

  3. 3

    Seriously, I like the way Amanda refuses to cede the term “radical” to anti-trans and anti-sex feminists. But I think those who go on about how awful “radical” feminists are actually have mainstream feminism in mind. It doesn’t matter if we know it’s not radical– they call it that because that’s how it was perceived back before Paul Ryan was born…

  4. 4

    I think the fact that feminism is more intersectional now annoys the assholes more.

  5. 5

    Amanda does not have a very deep knowledge of historical feminism outside of the US. Over here ‘radical feminism’ meant much more than objecting to sexist jokes, it included variously feminist separatist movements, the denial of biological heterosexuality, and the demand to completely re-order society along communist lines. In one famous case a group or rad fems physically attacked a man who was discovered to be the anonymous perpetrator of an anti-sexist joke, because, being a man acting anonymously, they had been gulled into supporting him and therefore ceding their legitimate female space. Or something. Many of the UK’s best known feminist commentators at one time belonged to organisations with policies like those. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the rads and they talked a lot of sense along with the lunacy, but let’s not pretend they didn’t exist.

  6. 6

    @Kate (#4) What’s intersectional?

  7. 7
    Timid Atheist

    I’m going to disagree quite strongly with Amanda on this. This is the no true Scotsman fallacy if I ever saw one. She doesn’t get to decide who claims to be a feminist. And even if she could, that doesn’t help Trans* women who are being abused by TERFs. Instead of saying these people aren’t feminists she needs to be pointing out that what the TERFs are doing is harmful.

  8. 8

    How about just renaming terf’s “bigots”

  9. 9

    Well, given that radical feminists can’t even invite likeminded friends to their own private home without the brave heroes of the left holding a protest outside, I’d say that’s about right.

  10. 10

    Addressing Amanda’s point, I think she’s got it exactly backwards. It’s not that what was radical is not mainstream. Instead what was mainstream is now radical, kind of like the moderate center of the past would be far left now. What you had in the 70s were women like Ti Grace who advocated plain and simple separation of the sexes. That’s clearly not mainstream now.

    The proper distinction to make imo is not radical and mainstream, but successful and failed initiatives. Successful stuff becomes the mainstream, such as MacKinnon’s ideas on workplace harassment.

  11. 11

    I’ve got to disagree somewhat: I’ve read a great deal of literary theory and cultural studies and ‘radical feminism’ often goes way beyond opposing sexism and discrimination: there’s also a lot of Freudian/Lacanian psychobabble, epistemic relativism and naked anti-rationalism, and the adoption of masochism as a form of protest or ‘transgression’.

    The chapter ‘The Truth Radicals‘ in your own Why Truth Matters addresses some of this.

  12. 12
    Ophelia Benson

    shatterface – heh – I know. I’ve just re-read that chapter, as it happens, because it was relevant to a column I was writing for Free Inquiry. But is that what most people mean by “radical feminism”? I don’t think so.

  13. 13

    MEFoley: “Intersectional” meaning more inclusive of people of color, LGBT* folks, etc.

  14. 14

    Thanks, Kate — ‘intersectional’ isn’t one I’ve run across before (not even when working on the biog of a transsexual musician, and interviewing lots of FTM folks in San Francisco). Weird.

  15. 15

    Yeah, I think it’s kind of a “Tumblr” term (so, take that as you will), but I agree with the sentiment behind it.

  16. 16

    There are people in the US today who still think that can be called “radical feminism”? Oh dear.

  1. 17

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