Caveat: Recently I have come to agree with radical feminist theorist Joyce Trebilcot that it is wrong-headed for feminists to debate or argue with other feminists with the goal of getting them to change their minds or to come around to our own points of view, replacing their opinions with ours. I agree with Trebilcot that feminism is not about "selling" our "truth" to other women, and that when we try, competitiveness, guilt, and envy — all tools of the patriarchy — tend to infuse our feminist process, making it unproductive to destructive. Feminists didn't arrive at the herstoric distinctives of our movement by way of argument, debate or persuasion. We arrived at the herstoric distinctives of our movement by way of consciousness-raising.
Consciousness-raising has nothing to do with debate, persuasion, arguments, or smacking one another around rhetorically or discursively. It has to do with women talking about the realities of our lives as women under male supremacy, taking one another seriously, speaking only for ourselves, always searching for the way the "givens" of our lives and views have been shaped by patriarchal oppression as well as our own biases and experiences, and then finding — and making — common ground with other women with the goal of changing the world in ways which will benefit us as women. Radical feminism is not supposed to be a meal some women force-feed to other women; it is more like a potluck which is always available to women, where women can pick and choose what will nourish and sustain them at any given moment, where they can leave the rest until it has some appeal for them for some reason or until they find themselves to be a certain kind of hungry and needing a certain kind of sustenance.
It's with these thoughts in my mind that I'm writing this post. I want to give voice to my own thoughts without having any expectation that anybody will be persuaded, but with the hopes that what I say might ring true or be useful or enlightening or empowering for other women reading. Writing is a consciousness-raising experience for me, reading other women's writings is also consciousness-raising, and I assume the same is true for other women. We will understand our own lives and experiences and situations better — our consciousnesses will be raised — as we read about, write about, and talk about our lives, women's lives in general, our own thoughts and ideas. From there we move in the direction of change, both as individuals and as a movement.— Heart
Recently a number of blogs have been created by women who identify as "radical feminists." In general, these are young white women with fair amounts of various kinds of privilege who oppose porn, the prostituting of women, sadomasochistic sex (well, kind of. More, they seem to oppose bondage and the more overt, easily-identified forms of sadomasochistic sex) and patriarchal religion. While I agree that opposition to porn, the prostituting of women, sadomasochism, and patriarchal religion have been important distinctives of radical feminism, it is important to realize that it is possible — and quite common — to stand in opposition to all of these things without being a radical feminist at all. There are millions of women in the world who hate and oppose pornography, prostitution, sadomasochism and patriarchal religion who also oppose feminism, and especially radical feminism. This is especially true of women trapped within patriarchal religious systems throughout the world.
There is a sort of almost giggly enthusiasm about being "rad" in this group which nettles, especially where the bloggers do not appear to be particularly "rad." "Rad" in its herstoric definition is hard. It costs, sometimes a woman's very life. Always, it gets you into deep doo-doo, very troubled waters, with the patriarchs. It isn't anything to giggle about. It's not festive or funny of fun. It's not the latest fad or rage, or fad or rage material.
Radical feminism is not about opposition to pornography, prostitution, sadomasochism or patriarchal religion only. It is about opposition to subordination and dominance in all of its endless forms: subordination of women to men, of children to adults, of creatures and the earth to human beings. It is about opposing imperialism, colonialism, racism, homophobia, dominance heirarchies of every kind, and every mechanism and device by way of which human beings are dominated and subordinated. Especially, radical feminism is about the building of, the creation of, a new world which rejects dominance and subordination in all of its forms in favor of mutuality, and therefore, the potential for real and true love, including erotic love, between human beings, and with it, the flourishing of human creativity which is the offspring of real love. In the end, radical feminism is about the possibility for real happiness and real pleasure for all human beings. Radical feminists believe that this kind of world is not possible so long as some are ruled, dominated, subordinated, and some dominate, rule and subordinate.
Radical feminism isn't about reading books or mastering ideas or believing patriarchy is wrong or bad, although radical feminists do and believe all of these things. It isn't about raging on the internet about the latest male supremacist violation of a woman, although there is often value in doing that, if only to the woman doing the raging. Radical feminism has to do with going about making change in the world, beginning in our own lives, including in our everyday, apparently small acts and decisions, but never ending there, and not because somebody persuaded us or convinced us that we should, but because we are so compelled by our concern and love for women, and our awareness of what women suffer in the world, and men, too, for that matter, that we can do no less.
Being radical might mean refusing to wear a veil in an oppressive theocratic nation and ending up dying for it, as Homa Darabi did. It might mean leading an uprising against Russian invaders and the Taliban and being murdered by KGB operatives and Islamic fundamentalists as Meena of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan was murdered. It might mean representing Bosnian and Croatian women raped for genocide in Serbian rape camps at your own expense, during wartime, taking the risks, the hits, the threats on your life, as Catharine MacKinnon did. It might mean enduring years of political imprisonment, as has Aung San Suu Kyi or being hunted down by the FBI, placed on its list of 10 Most Wanted, as Angela Y. Davis was. It may mean being fired, in your 70s, with six Ph.Ds under your belt and having published groundbreaking books, after being tenured, and having to scratch and claw your way to justice over the jeers and insults and lies of a society which despises your woman-only politics, as was true for Mary Daly. It may very well mean, at some point, ultimately, particularly as you age, being marginalized, silenced, and forced into poverty, being unable to find publishers for your articles or books or anyone to promote or advocate for the art or music you create, as has been true of most Second Wave radical feminist leaders ultimately(1). It may mean being institutionalized in mental health facilities or adjudged to be mentally ill. It might mean the loss of your children, your home, financial support, and everything you have because you have dared to leave a particular man or to forsake partnering with or marrying men in favor of commiting yourself to women. It might mean risking government levying of your bank accounts or liens against your property because you refuse to pay war taxes when you file your income tax returns. It might mean being targeted by police and homeland security for your ongoing anti-war activism.
Anti-porn work is good, but there is more to being "radical" than being anti-porn. It's possible to be anti-porn and yet a white picket fence feminist, greasing the wheels of the patriarchal machinery which grind out all of the mechanisms of women's subjugation, pornography being just one of many. It is possible to be conservative as the day is long and absolutely devoted to dominance hierarchies while also opposing pornography. Being anti-porn and anti-prostitution are not the litmus tests of radical feminism. Opposing all subordination and all domination, wherever they occur, and living out one's opposition in every possible way, are the litmus tests of radical feminism.
It's very true that we all cut our deals under male heterosupremacy. This is unavoidable. At the same time, our love for women is going to compel us to lie awake nights dreaming up ways we — and ALL women — can STOP cutting those deals. It's going to compel us to avoid, wherever we can, the kinds of personal compromises which actively harm other women. Participating in the routines and rituals of the patriarchal beauty establishment funds that establishment, supports it, and entrenches it. Getting married (whether we are het or lesbian) entrenches and perpetuates heterosupremacist values and oppressions. Buying misogynist music, movies, entertainment, supports the men who make them. To enlist in the military is to support the making and the funding of war, including war for conquest, imperialism and colonization. To apply for work at Dow Chemical or Monsanto or Halliburton or Boeing is to offer personal support for the way these and other multinationals and defense contractors devastate the earth, destroy communities and cultures, foul and pollute the air, land, water, and make war for conquest possible. Elective cosmetic surgeries, surgeries for weight loss, elective c-sections actively support patriarchal medicine as an institution that has always made, and continues to make, war on women. To shop at Wal-Mart is to support and endorse an exploitive and abusive corporation which is actively harming men, women and children throughout the world. It costs, a little or a lot, to reject these things, but it's possible, many women have, and to suggest that it's too hard, to use the unavoidability of cutting deals as an excuse for compromise, adds insult to injury in light of the work of the Arundhahti Roys, the Vananda Shivas, the Catharine A. MacKinnons, the Meenas, Homa Darabis, Cindy Sheehans, Emma Goldmans, Alice Pauls, Shulamith Firestones, Kate Milletts, Robin Morgans, Sonia Johnsons of the world, who put themselves right out there, their lives on the line, and have taken the hits for all of us, some of those hits including losing their lives fighting for women.
Again, I speak only for myself here. I do not speak for radical feminists or any feminists. But I do speak for myself. One important distinctive of feminism, and obligation of radical feminism, is that we do find our voices as women and that we use them on behalf of women, and in the interests of building a new world, as often as possible. Hence, this post.
(1) See The Politics of Erasure by Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, Women's Space.