Feminism Must Be Reclaimed From Radicals

Few serious thinkers will argue that the women’s movement is no longer necessary. Few would argue that the movement does not have a noble history. Liberal feminists however, need to reclaim it.

Although feminism has a noble history, it was hijacked in the 1970s, with motley crews such as the New York Radical Women and the Redstockings stealing the show. After that, “radical” feminism was propelled by the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine Mackinnon. Dworkin, whose contempt for women matched her hatred of men, famously wrote that women who enjoyed heterosexual sex with men were “collaborators, more base than other collaborators have ever been: experiencing pleasure in their own inferiority.”[1]

These radical feminists incited a backlash against all of feminism, despite only ever representing its lunatic fringe. In contrast to radical feminism–built on the dubious theory of sexual castes– the philosophy of liberal feminism is empirical and straightforward. Under classical liberalism, women have the inalienable right to be educated, employed and self-determining, and within the broader feminist canon, there is a treasure-trove of pragmatic work done by women such as Arlie Hochschild, Mary Ann Mason, Janet Yellen, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The list goes on. 

Some years ago in 1991, Susan Faludi drew attention to a ‘backlash’ against feminism in a book of the same name. She argued that conservative media was biased against the movement, caricaturing feminists as family-destroying, man-hating shrews. Her thesis was that conservative commentators built a strawman out of feminism, which then contributed to an unwarranted pushback[2]. Faludi’s argument was strong, yet it was incomplete. It is true that all forms of media build strawmen out of certain targets. Often the most polemic and blustering voices on any topic are published, because editors know what mass audiences like. Subjects are simplified and nuance is tossed in the trash. Yet backlashes against feminism cannot be dismissed as mere media confections. To characterise them as such is intellectually lazy.

In 2013, and Amanda Marcotte wrote

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

Despite her assertions, Marcotte’s description of ‘radical feminism’ is simply a dumbed-down, euphemistic trope of what radical feminism actually was. Talking about cultural issues is not, and has never been, radical. What defined it in the ‘60s and ‘70s was the radical view that society was split down the middle by sexual castes[3]. In this philosophy, nothing about gender roles is natural – not even sex or having children. According to the radicals, the male caste has oppressed the female caste to the point where anything that can be described as ‘feminine’ is evidence of oppression; from make-up to high-heels, to breastfeeding and pregnancy. The radicals wrote books such as Lesbian Nation[4], and argued that a nation state along the lines of a Zionist Israel should be set up just for women[5]. While liberal feminists wanted to ensure women and girls had equal opportunities to succeed in life, radical feminists were motivated by an unquenchable will to power.

The perception that radical feminism was ‘anti-male’ never came from conservative media. It was never a strawman argument. Anti-male ravings came from the women who stole feminism from the rest of us. And it must be taken back again. More than ever, we need to distinguish liberal feminists from the radicals who’ve hijacked the cause.

[1] Dworkin, A. (1987). Intercourse. Basic Books.

[2] Faludi, S. (2009). Backlash: The undeclared war against American women. Random House

LLC.

[3 Firestone, S. (2003). The dialectic of sex: The case for feminist revolution. Macmillan.

[4] Johnston, J. (1973). Lesbian nation. Simon and Schuhster, New York.

[5] Dworkin, A. (2000). Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel and Womens’ Liberation. Simon and Schuster.

27 Comments

  1. SasjaL

    Indeed! Sweden is now a perfect example on how wrong things can go and it’s getting worse … I believe that we are the leading country now in severeral areas, using nonsense politics …

  2. Billo Qasira

    Its not an exact analogy, but just look at how religions can be hijacked by a radical fringe. Most Muslims are peaceful, don’t mean harm to others, but the radicals have dictated the agenda and image of their religion. It doesn’t matter that they are the minority. They’re the loudest, the most ideologically extreme. They set the tempo and the mood.

    As I say, its not an exact analogy. But feminism has been defined by the radicals to the extent that there is widespread aversion to the whole concept of feminism altogether. Even though we take the liberal gains of feminism for granted in western societies especially. The very word is associated with disdainful, hatefulness in the eyes of many. Perhaps we need a revival of liberalism in general, a liberalism that encompasses female equality and opportunity. Perhaps ‘feminism’ is so tainted a word we need to think of a new phrase to describe this component of liberalism, which can encompass many different issues and movements.

  3. James May

    I disagree. Part of the problem starts off with the word “radical,” which was originally a self-identifier for lesbian feminism. In fact it is not radical in the sense it is more intense. Radical feminism is another ideology entirely. It has not hijacked a more sedate form of feminism, but the word “feminism” itself. We are not talking about Sunni Orthodoxy versus Wahabbi Sunni fundamentalism here. In the case of these feminisms, we are talking about two completely different religions using the same name. They are more different even than Shia vs. Sunni.

    Let’s be clear: radical feminism was created by lesbians for lesbians. Radical feminism believes in the abolition of gender based on the idea it was created by men in some imaginary prehistory in order to control women and most importantly from the view of this radical ideology – lesbians, who are then heterosexuality’s most natural enemy and most oppressed by that heterosexuality. In turn lesbian feminism identifies heterosexuality itself as an ideology.

    Equal rights liberal feminism is not an ideology but a legalistic rights movement. Radical feminism is a bigoted supremacist ideology far closer to the KKK than liberal feminism.

  4. Paula Wright

    I think we may need to be braver and say that it was the radical lesbian feminists who stole feminism from the rest of us – the heterosexual majority – and that hetero women and lesbian women do not have the same fundamental life goals. Political lesbianism was a real goal for these feminists and it still is which is why they cannot let go of the philosophy of the blank slate.

    Today we see minority groups under the banner of LGBT again trying to dominate the cultural agenda. The heterosexual majority are expected to put the needs of others before them or else be labelled “misogynist”, “trans-exclusionary”, “cis-scum”. It should not be a crime for people to lobby for their own interests in a liberal democracy. Proportional representation is the fair system.

    The interests of all heterosexual women are not united. The interests of lesbian and hetero women are even less united. Feminism, even equity or liberal feminism, has been corrupted by the radicals – that’s been their only “radical” action. “Feminism” that is the notion of equality (not enforced equivalence) between men and women has lost that meaning. If we can’t use the term without necessary qualifiers which separate us from them, it has lost it’s meaning.

  5. cczivko

    Almost every word you say is, in my estimation, thoughtful, rational, and true. My family is very familiar with the lies, exaggerations, and coup tactics of these so called “radical feminists.” (I don’t believe they deserve to be called ‘radical,’ because radical can in one sense of the word have positive and courageous connotations, yet these women are in fact deeply conservative and inflexible, like religious fanatics.) Anyway, these very women, with their lies and cyber-bullying, are responsible for ruining my family’s life. They have rendered my innocent and deeply committed feminist husband unemployable. And because I am on disability, we have a life sentence of poverty in front of us. I’m not talking about we can’t take a vacation poor, I’m talking about my kids are hungry poor. And for what? NOTHING. Not even a whisper of wrongdoing. Evil women who not only made and accepted false allegations without question, but also took an active role in the witch hunt that destroyed his career. And many of these women owe the success of their careers to his guidance and unwavering loyal support.

    Notice my first sentence began with “almost.” I am deeply disappointed that you would drop a throw-away reference to being mentally ill to state your case about what you call radical feminists. Lately it seems like everywhere I turn there are disparaging, dismissive, and quite frankly uneducated and rude references to the mentally ill. I am mentally ill. I am not stupid, retarded, irrational, closed-minded, fanatical, uneducated, or dangerous. This week alone I have been called “crazy,” “crazy bitch,” “deeply disturbed,” and many other things by people who consider themselves champions of social justice. I’m not saying Andrea Dworkin’s ideas aren’t extreme and troubling, of course they are. But sanity or insanity doesn’t determine the value of ideas. Critical analysis does. I am sick and tired of people automatically dismissing me as a thinker and as a human being because my brain works differently. I guess the way we talk about mental illness didn’t make the Politically Correct cut. We can do better.

  6. cczivko

    Billo, your analogy is an excellent one.

    Others: Holy mother of god! DO NOT MAKE THIS ABOUT LESBIANS. 100% of the monsters who ruined my husband are HETERO. Lesbians, in my experience, have universally asked more questions and are more circumspect.

  7. Rebecca R-C

    Hi Claire,

    As I said on twitter, I’ve a couple of disagreements with this! The first one being, I’m not sure the language of hijacking really makes sense. This looks like a dispute between two different approaches to feminism, neither of which really has any claim to be the One True Doctrine. I’ve seen radical feminists using very similar language, suggesting that True Feminism™ needs to be reclaimed from the liberals, and I don’t think it’s helpful then, either.

    That said, I may now be about to contradict myself somewhat! Your objection to radical feminism is that it conceptualises women as a class or caste, and you dispute that. The question for me then is: how you do explain the near universal fact of women’s historical and continued subordination and oppression? Is it merely an enormous coincidence that in pretty much all times, all places, and all cultures, it’s the half of the species with the externally hanging genitals that has power and influence over the other half? A class based analysis allows us to account for this. Without it, it looks pretty inexplicable to me. (Unless of course you want to tell some story about women’s innate inferiority, but then I can’t see why you would call yourself a feminist of any kind…)

    I say all this as someone who was once a liberal feminist, but has become increasingly comfortable with the label radical feminist to describe my own position. The main thing for me is (notwithstanding my own injunction not to present any one approach as the One True Doctrine) – I don’t understand why would one would call oneself a feminist at all, if one did not think that women represent a distinct political class. What is the label “feminist” adding to the analysis that “liberal” doesn’t cover?

  8. test

    “Is it merely an enormous coincidence that in pretty much all times, all places, and all cultures, it’s the half of the species with the externally hanging genitals that has power and influence over the other half?”

    It could have more to do with physical strength and speed men have instead of hanging genitals. It could also have something to do with men being unable to get pregnant or breastfeed.

    Who got power in the past had a lot to do with who could fight or lead fight. That had to have implications for the rest of society.

    On other classes of society, men being physically strong enough to do work women had hard time to do must have influence relations between genders.

    The more physical force matter in day to day matters – whether fighting or care about field or fixing the house, the more advantage men have in that society. The more kids average women have, the more time she spends waiting for childbirth or being affected by pregnancy without much heath care or caring about small baby (including lack of sleep that goes with both pregnancy and caring) the less likely is she build position of power.

    Very little in our society requires physical force, pregnancy is safer then ever and families do not have toddlers practically constantly around. That is not how it was in the past.

  9. cczivko

    This is not entirely accurate. The kind of “feminists” being discussed here do indeed claim (in deed, if not in word) to have The One True Doctrine. Accordingly, no dissenting opinions are tolerated, no doubts are entertained, and all (hetero) men in any context are a potential threat. And cereal boxes need “trigger” warnings. It is a victim mentality and what could possibly be the value, the empowerment, of that?

    Believe me, those of us who have actually been victims of sexual violence are a whole hell of a lot tougher than you think.

  10. Su

    It seems to me allot of assumptions are being made. You have described these radical feminists as people who want to get rid of gender and that anything considered feminine is evidence of oppression. I have gender issues. I am female and yet my entire life I have been told that I need to act, think and feel in ways that don’t come naturally to me because that’s what my gender is supposed to do.
    Some of us don’t fit the feminine expectations of this society it doesn’t make us haters, it just means we want the same social opportunities as the rest fo female society while being authentic to ourselves. I don’t tell women who are feminine that they are oppressed just because they like dresses but I do believe much more women would come forward as gender neutral if there wasn’t such a huge pressure to conform to societal gender standards. This article reads as a demand by someone who experiences cis privilege for the rest of us to fall in line or be labeled radicals.
    I think it’s hugely unfair and to be honest lacking the experience of other people experiences. To me that’s what feminism has always been about. Inclusivity and that acceptance that we’re not all the same.
    No I’m not a lesbian in case ye might jump to that conclusion.

  11. Su

    I find quite the opposite to be true. I meet very few feminists who have views that would be considered hateful or bigoted ( I can only assume that’s what you mean by comparing them to religious extremeists) and yet even the word feminist spoken in the most soft and rational way possible will achieve a hateful backlash from complete strangers who have read anti feminist articles.
    I have had serious backlashes from men and it’s never because they’ve met a feminist who hates men it’s because they are angry at the idea that we’re unhappy and somehow it’s their responsibility to make that change.
    Every time I’ve heard en complain it’s always “I didn’t do it” or ” not all men” or “I have problems too”. There are good few of them I’ve talked around to rational discussion and used privilege analogies to make them see what we’re saying but never once have I met a guy who hates feminism because he met feminists.

  12. Carlos Cavalcanti

    Excellent article, Claire. Also, to the people who commented here, very interesting comments.

    One of them, who appeared the most impressive, was from CCZivko. She didn´t explain exactly what happened to her husband, what did exactly those hetero women did to him, but I can imagine. Too bad, it would be good to know more about it.

    But the comment I really want to reply is from Teste. She (I´m assuming it´s a she, because of what she says) started making an analysis to try to explain why half of the society, in the past, was dominated by the other have with “hanging genitals”.

    As you can see, it MUST be a woman. No man, not even gay, would refer to their own body in this way. As for “hanging”, women had no bra on those ancient times, so if man had one thing hanging, women had two. Enough said.

    She starts off with a true premise (the gender that were stronger had dominance, plus men didn´t get pregnant nor had to tend to children), and arrives at a false conclusion. In the opposition ancient times – modern times, she says that today strong, speed and aggressiveness aren´t important anymore. Really?

    Look at the police. It´s no coincidence almost all of them are males. Look at the military. At private security forces. At the security from the bank or the grocery store.

    Physical strength is and always will be extremely important. It doesn´t matter if you live in 1801 or 3530 or 2015. Who gets pregnant and who doesn´t will always be extremely important too, as well as who has to breastfeed and tend to children. And it´s only natural that the one who has to carry the baby and breastfeed will continue to spend more time than the other sex with the offspring.

    As much as cultural marxism tries desperately to modify nature and, ultimately, reality itself, there will always only be two of these: XY and XX. They can say there are an “infinite number of genders”, it will go on being only men and women. They already changed science itself, from “human species” (correct) to “human race” (wrong), and they will probably keep changing other things, but the same way science prevailed against catholicism and other religions in the distant past, science will prevail against cultural marxism, be it gayzism, radical feminism or whatever, too.

    Because in the end, when you are in pain and/or dying, or one of your loved ones, ideology doesn´t matter, only results. I wonder how Andrea Dworkin must have felt being treated by this scumbags called men.

    So you see, Teste, society has changed a lot, and it will always keep changing. But as long as we are talking about the human species, yes, some things will never change. As long as men go on being stronger/faster, and as long as women are the only ones who get pregnant and have to breastfeed, some structures of society will never change. Simply because they can´t.

  13. Matthew Chiglinsky

    I think a feminist is simply a woman with an opinion. Someone go update the dictionary.

  14. Jacques Cuze

    Marcotte was trying to do two things:
    1) Toss out TERFs that were damaging the feminist reputation
    2) Appropriate “radical” to justify feminist campaigns against microaggressions (mansplaining, manspreading, …)

  15. Name is unimportant

    Su, there are plenty of words floating around that appear to have been written by hateful, bigoted women calling themselves feminist. I have little respect for much feminist material because of feminists themselves. Anti-feminist literature I have seen is reactive to the hostile atmosphere created by radical [?] feminists. There is very much a philosophy among them of making an enemy of everyone who isn’t strictly aligned with their ideology. You are right that I’ve never met a “feminist” who hates men. Meeting people doesn’t matter so much when I can read their words.

  16. Su

    Where are you looking for this stuff? because I see only the positive. Maybe you’re in the wrong places reading nonsense by nonsensical people.
    I occasionally stumble accross articles by men who hate women and particularly feminists for giving women ideas but I don’t for an instant say “God men are such assholes, look at what they’re writing” Instead I say to myself ” what a nutter, I’m glad most men aren’t like that” That same is true of feminists. there are crazies in every aspect of life. don’t paint everyone with the same brush.

  17. Ngawang

    Claire,

    I hope you can write another elaborate and detailed piece on what liberal feminism looks like, because from how feminists talk and interact, I’m skeptical about feminism, period. And I really want to gain further perspective.

    The double and selective standards in academia, the legal system, and in everyday American society baffles me. Because if anything, most young men from the millennial generation as me, have grown up with tolerance and progressive values, and would never consider oppressing their female peers, family, friends, and girlfriends. But due to the overbearing feminist culture, upbringing, and conditioning of young women in today’s generation, men like me have to behave accordingly in this hyper PC paradigm, where anything and everything can be taken out of context, and deemed sexist or backward thinking.

    And this hyper-sensitive and artificial environment, obviously repulses us young men from even wanting to court a woman or treat her with the respect every woman deserves, because their way too entitled, demanding and particularly undeserving of our respect.

    I still try my best to always be a gentleman, because that was how I was brought up and it is who I am as a person, even though it often hurts me, particularly in dating and relationships.

    Again, I know there are exceptions, but yes, they’re exceptions to the American standard.

    By the way, I’m in 100 percent support for freedom of choice and opinion for all, not just on the basis of gender, but even religion, race, sexual preference and political beliefs.

    Lastly, I enjoy reading your blog and good luck with Quillete – perhaps I can submit a piece someday.

    Cheers

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