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Radical feminists view society as fundamentally a patriarchy in which men dominate and oppress women. Radical feminists seek to abolish the patriarchy in order to liberate everyone from an unjust society by challenging existing social norms and institutions. This includes opposing the sexual objectification of women, raising public awareness about such issues as rape and violence against women, and challenging the very notion of gender roles. Shulamith Firestone wrote in The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970): "[T]he end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally."
Early radical feminism, arising within second-wave feminism in the 1960s, typically viewed patriarchy as a "transhistorical phenomenon" prior to or deeper than other sources of oppression, "not only the oldest and most universal form of domination but the primary form" and the model for all others. Later politics derived from radical feminism ranged from cultural feminism to more syncretic politics that placed issues of class, economics, etc. on a par with patriarchy as sources of oppression.
Radical feminists locate the root cause of women's oppression in patriarchal gender relations, as opposed to legal systems (as in liberal feminism) or class conflict (as in anarchist feminism, socialist feminism, and Marxist feminism). Gail Dines, an English radical feminist, spoke in 2011 about the appeal of radical feminism to young women: "After teaching women for 20-odd years, if I go in and I teach liberal feminism, I get looked [at] blank ... I go in and teach radical feminism, bang, the room explodes."
Theory and ideologyEdit
Radical feminists assert that society is a patriarchy in which the class of men are the oppressors of the class of women. They propose that the oppression of women is the most fundamental form of oppression, one that has existed since the inception of humanity. As radical feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson wrote in her foundational piece "Radical Feminism" (1969):
The first dichotomous division of this mass [mankind] is said to have been on the grounds of sex: male and female ... it was because half the human race bears the burden of the reproductive process and because man, the ‘rational’ animal, had the wit to take advantage of that, that the childbearers, or the 'beasts of burden,' were corralled into a political class: equivocating the biologically contingent burden into a political (or necessary) penalty, thereby modifying these individuals’ definition from the human to the functional, or animal.
Radical feminists claim that, because of patriarchy, women have come to be viewed as the "other" to the male norm, and as such have been systematically oppressed and marginalized. They further assert that men as a class benefit from the oppression of women. Patriarchal theory is not generally defined as a belief that all men always benefit from the oppression of all women. Rather, it maintains that the primary element of patriarchy is a relationship of dominance, where one party is dominant and exploits the other for the benefit of the former. Radical feminists believe that men (as a class) use social systems and other methods of control to keep women (and non-dominant men) suppressed. Radical feminists seek to abolish patriarchy by challenging existing social norms and institutions, and believe that eliminating patriarchy will liberate everyone from an unjust society. Ti-Grace Atkinson maintained that the need for power fuels the male class to continue oppressing the female class, arguing that "the need men have for the role of oppressor is the source and foundation of all human oppression".
The influence of radical-feminist politics on the women's liberation movement was considerable. Redstockings co-founder Ellen Willis wrote in 1984 that radical feminists "got sexual politics recognized as a public issue", created second-wave feminism's vocabulary, helped to legalize abortion in the USA, "were the first to demand total equality in the so-called private sphere" ("housework and child care ... emotional and sexual needs"), and "created the atmosphere of urgency" that almost led to the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The influence of radical feminism can be seen in the adoption of these issues by the National Organization for Women (NOW), a feminist group that had previously been focused almost entirely on economic issues.
The ideology of radical feminism in the United States developed as a component of the women's liberation movement. It grew largely due to the influence of the civil rights movement, that had gained momentum in the 1960s, and many of the women who took up the cause of radical feminism had previous experience with radical protest in the struggle against racism. Chronologically, it can be seen within the context of second wave feminism that started in the early 1960s. The primary players and the pioneers of this second wave of feminism included Shulamith Firestone, Kathie Sarachild, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Carol Hanisch, and Judith Brown. Many local women's groups in the late sixties, such as the UCLA Women's Liberation Front (WLF), offered diplomatic statements of radical feminism's ideologies. UCLA's WLF co-founder Devra Weber recalls, "the radical feminists were opposed to patriarchy, but not necessarily capitalism. In our group at least, they opposed so-called male dominated national liberation struggles".
These women helped secure the bridge that translated radical protest for racial equality over to the struggle for women's rights; by witnessing the discrimination and oppression to which the black population was subjected, they were able to gain strength and motivation to do the same for their fellow women. They took up the cause and advocated for a variety of women's issues, including abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, access to credit, and equal pay. Most women of color (who were predominantly working-class) did not participate in the formation of the radical feminist movement because it did not address many issues that were relevant to those from a working-class background. But for those who felt compelled to stand up for the cause, radical action was needed, so they took to the streets and formed consciousness raising groups to rally support for the cause and recruit people willing to fight for it. Later, second-wave radical feminism saw greater numbers of black feminists and other women of color participating.
In the 1960s, radical feminism emerged simultaneously within liberal feminist and working-class feminist discussions, first in the United States, then in the United Kingdom and Australia. Those involved had gradually come to believe that it was not only the middle-class nuclear family that oppressed women, but that it was also social movements and organizations that claimed to stand for human liberation, notably the counterculture, the New Left, and Marxist political parties, all of which were male-dominated and male-oriented. In the United States, radical feminism developed as a response to some of the perceived failings of both New Left organizations such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and feminist organizations such as NOW. Initially concentrated in big cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, and on the West Coast,[a] radical feminist groups spread across the country rapidly from 1968 to 1972.
Radical feminists introduced the use of consciousness raising (CR) groups. These groups brought together intellectuals, workers, and middle class women in developed Western countries to discuss their experiences. During these discussions, women noted a shared and repressive system regardless of their political affiliation or social class. Based on these discussions, the women drew the conclusion that ending of patriarchy was the most necessary step towards a truly free society. These consciousness-raising sessions allowed early radical feminists to develop a political ideology based on common experiences women faced with male supremacy. Consciousness raising was extensively used in chapter sub-units of the National Organization for Women (NOW) during the 1970s. The feminism that emerged from these discussions stood first and foremost for the liberation of women, as women, from the oppression of men in their own lives, as well as men in power. Radical feminism claimed that a totalizing ideology and social formation – patriarchy (government or rule by fathers) – dominated women in the interests of men.
Within groups such as New York Radical Women (1967–1969 (no relation to the present-day socialist feminist organization Radical Women), which Ellen Willis characterized as "the first women's liberation group in New York City", a radical feminist ideology began to emerge that declared that "the personal is political" and "sisterhood is powerful", formulations that arose from these consciousness-raising sessions. This call to women's activism was coined by Kathie Sarachild in the 1960s. New York Radical Women fell apart in early 1969 in what came to be known as the "politico-feminist split" with the "politicos" seeing capitalism as the source of women's oppression, while the "feminists" saw male supremacy as "a set of material, institutionalized relations, not just bad attitudes". The feminist side of the split, which soon began referring to itself as "radical feminists", soon constituted the basis of a new organization, Redstockings. At the same time, Ti-Grace Atkinson led "a radical split-off from NOW", which became known as The Feminists. A third major stance would be articulated by the New York Radical Feminists, founded later in 1969 by Shulamith Firestone (who broke from the Redstockings) and Anne Koedt.
During this period, the movement produced "a prodigious output of leaflets, pamphlets, journals, magazine articles, newspaper and radio and TV interviews". Many important feminist works, such as Koedt's essay The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm (1970) and Kate Millet's book Sexual Politics (1970), emerged during this time and in this milieu.
Ideology emerges and divergesEdit
At the beginning of this period, "heterosexuality was more or less an unchallenged assumption". Among radical feminists, the view became widely held that, thus far, the sexual freedoms gained in the sexual revolution of the 1960s, in particular, the decreasing emphasis on monogamy, had been largely gained by men at women's expense. This assumption of heterosexuality would soon be challenged by the rise of political lesbianism, closely associated with Atkinson and The Feminists.
Redstockings and The Feminists were both radical feminist organizations, but held rather distinct views. Most members of Redstockings held to a materialist and anti-psychologistic view. They viewed men's oppression of women as ongoing and deliberate, holding individual men responsible for this oppression, viewing institutions and systems (including the family) as mere vehicles of conscious male intent, and rejecting psychologistic explanations of female submissiveness as blaming women for collaboration in their own oppression. They held to a view—which Willis would later describe as "neo-Maoist"—that it would be possible to unite all or virtually all women, as a class, to confront this oppression by personally confronting men.
The Feminists held a more idealistic, psychologistic, and utopian philosophy, with a greater emphasis on "sex roles", seeing sexism as rooted in "complementary patterns of male and female behavior". They placed more emphasis on institutions, seeing marriage, family, prostitution, and heterosexuality as all existing to perpetuate the "sex-role system". They saw all of these as institutions to be destroyed. Within the group, there were further disagreements, such as Koedt's viewing the institution of "normal" sexual intercourse as being focused mainly on male sexual or erotic pleasure, while Atkinson viewed it mainly in terms of reproduction. In contrast to the Redstockings, The Feminists generally considered genitally focused sexuality to be inherently male. Ellen Willis, the Redstockings co-founder, would later write that insofar as the Redstockings considered abandoning heterosexual activity, they saw it as a "bitter price" they "might have to pay for [their] militance", whereas The Feminists embraced separatist feminism as a strategy.
The New York Radical Feminists (NYRF) took a more psychologistic (and even biologically determinist) line. They argued that men dominated women not so much for material benefits as for the ego satisfaction intrinsic in domination. Similarly, they rejected the Redstockings view that women submitted only out of necessity or The Feminists' implicit view that they submitted out of cowardice, but instead argued that social conditioning simply led most women to accept a submissive role as "right and natural".
Radical feminism was not and is not only a movement of ideology and theory. Radical feminists also take direct action. In 1968, they protested against the Miss America pageant in order to bring "sexist beauty ideas and social expectations" to the forefront of women's social issues. Even though there weren't any bras burned on that day, this protest is famous for the phrase "bra-burner". "Feminists threw their bras—along with "woman-garbage" such as girdles, false eyelashes, steno pads, wigs, women's magazines, and dishcloths—into a "Freedom Trash Can", but they did not set it on fire". In 1970, more than one hundred feminists staged an 11-hour sit-in at the Ladies' Home Journal. These women demanded that the editor "be removed and replaced by a woman editor". The Ladies Home journal, "with their emphasis on food, family, fashion, and femininity, played an important role in maintaining the status quo and thus were instruments of women's oppression". One member explains the motivation of the protest noting that they "were there to destroy a publication which feeds off of women's anger and frustration, a magazine which destroys women. In addition, they "used a variety of tactics-demonstrations and speakouts" about topics such as rape. Through "tireless[ly] organizing among friends and coworkers, on street corners, in supermarkets and ladies' rooms" these radical feminists were able gain an amazing amount of exposure". The movement gained momentum, while a "prodigious output of leaflets, pamphlets, journals, magazine articles, newspaper and radio and TV interviews" were produced.
Radical egalitarianism, "an approach to the distribution of economic resources", aimed to "diminish differences among people" based on "culture or a way of life". Because of their commitment to radical egalitarianism, most early radical feminist groups operated initially without any formal internal structure. When informal leadership developed, it was often resented. Some of the feminist leaders reacted with defiance, some quit the movement", and "others tried to respond to the criticism by echoing it and withdrawing from [their] leadership roles, in classic guilty liberal fashion". Many groups ended up expending more effort debating their own internal operations than dealing with external matters, seeking to "perfect a perfect society in microcosm" rather than focus on the larger world. Resentment of leadership was compounded by the view that all "class striving" was "male-identified". In the extreme, exemplified by The Feminists, the upshot, according to Ellen Willis, was "unworkable, mechanistic demands for an absolutely random division of labor, taking no account of differences in skill, experience, or even inclination". "The result," writes Willis, "was not democracy but paralysis." Willis believed that part of the reason the problems weren't dealt with was because "of the unconscious fear that feminists' demands for freedom and power would provoke devastating retribution". When The Feminists began to select randomly who could talk to the press, Ti-Grace Atkinson quit the organization she had founded.
Social organization and aimsEdit
Radical feminists have generally formed small activist or community associations around either consciousness raising or concrete aims. Many radical feminists in Australia participated in a series of squats to establish various women's centers, and this form of action was common in the late 1970s and early 1980s. By the mid-1980s many of the original consciousness raising groups had dissolved, and radical feminism was more and more associated with loosely organized university collectives. Radical feminism can still be seen, particularly within student activism and among working class women. In Australia, many feminist social organizations accepted government funding during the 1980s, and the election of a conservative government in 1996 crippled these organizations. The movement also arose in Israel among Jews. While radical feminists aim to dismantle patriarchal society, their immediate aims are generally concrete. Common demands include:
- Expanding reproductive rights: "Defined by feminists in the 1970s as a basic human right, it includes the right to abortion and birth control, but implies much more. To be realised, reproductive freedom must include not only woman's right to choose childbirth, abortion, sterilisation or birth control, but also her right to make those choices freely, without pressure from individual men, doctors, governmental or religious authorities. It is a key issue for women, since without it the other freedoms we appear to have, such as the right to education, jobs and equal pay, may prove illusory. Provisions of childcare, medical treatment, and society's attitude towards children are also involved."
- Changing the organizational sexual culture, e.g., breaking down traditional gender roles and reevaluating societal concepts of femininity and masculinity (a common demand in US universities during the 1980s). In this, they often form tactical alliances with other currents of feminism.
Views on the sex industryEdit
Radical feminists have written about a wide range of issues regarding the sex industry – which they tend to oppose – including but not limited to: harm to women during the production of pornography, the social harm from consumption of pornography, the coercion and poverty that leads women to become prostitutes, the long-term effects of prostitution, the raced and classed nature of prostitution, and male dominance over women in prostitution and pornography.
Radical feminists argue that most women who become prostitutes are forced into it by a pimp, human trafficking, poverty, drug addiction, or trauma such as child sexual abuse. Women from the lowest socioeconomic classes—impoverished women, women with a low level of education, women from the most disadvantaged racial and ethnic minorities—are over-represented in prostitution all over the world. Catharine MacKinnon asked: "If prostitution is a free choice, why are the women with the fewest choices the ones most often found doing it?" A large percentage of prostitutes polled in one study of 475 people involved in prostitution reported that they were in a difficult period of their lives, and most wanted to leave the occupation.
MacKinnon argues that "In prostitution, women have sex with men they would never otherwise have sex with. The money thus acts as a form of force, not as a measure of consent. It acts like physical force does in rape." They believe that no person can be said to truly consent to their own oppression and no-one should have the right to consent to the oppression of others. In the words of Kathleen Barry, consent is not a "good divining rod as to the existence of oppression, and consent to violation is a fact of oppression". Andrea Dworkin wrote in 1992:
Prostitution in and of itself is an abuse of a woman's body. Those of us who say this are accused of being simple-minded. But prostitution is very simple. ... In prostitution, no woman stays whole. It is impossible to use a human body in the way women's bodies are used in prostitution and to have a whole human being at the end of it, or in the middle of it, or close to the beginning of it. It's impossible. And no woman gets whole again later, after.
She argued that "prostitution and equality for women cannot exist simultaneously" and to eradicate prostitution "we must seek ways to use words and law to end the abusive selling and buying of girls' and women's bodies for men's sexual pleasure".
Radical feminist thinking has analyzed prostitution as a cornerstone of patriarchal domination and sexual subjugation of women that impacts negatively not only on the women and girls in prostitution but on all women as a group, because prostitution continually affirms and reinforces patriarchal definitions of women as having a primary function to serve men sexually. They say it is crucial that society does not replace one patriarchal view on female sexuality—e.g., that women should not have sex outside marriage/a relationship and that casual sex is shameful for a woman, etc.—with another similarly oppressive and patriarchal view—acceptance of prostitution, a sexual practice based on a highly patriarchal construct of sexuality: that the sexual pleasure of a woman is irrelevant, that her only role during sex is to submit to the man's sexual demands and to do what he tells her, that sex should be controlled by the man, and that the woman's response and satisfaction are irrelevant. Radical feminists argue that sexual liberation for women cannot be achieved so long as we normalize unequal sexual practices where a man dominates a woman. "Feminist consciousness raising remains the foundation for collective struggle and the eventual liberation of women".
Radical feminists strongly object to the patriarchal ideology that has been one of the justifications for the existence of prostitution, namely that prostitution is a "necessary evil", because men cannot control themselves; therefore it is "necessary" that a small number of women be "sacrificed" to be used and abused by men, to protect "chaste" women from rape and harassment. These feminists see prostitution as a form of slavery, and say that, far from decreasing rape rates, prostitution leads to a sharp increase in sexual violence against women, by sending the message that it is acceptable for a man to treat a woman as a sexual instrument over which he has total control. Melissa Farley argues that Nevada's high rape rate is connected to legal prostitution. Nevada is the only US state that allows legal brothels, and it is ranked 4th out of the 50 U.S. states for sexual assault crimes.
Indigenous women are particularly targeted for prostitution. In Canada, New Zealand, Mexico, and Taiwan, studies have shown that indigenous women are at the bottom of the race and class hierarchy of prostitution, often subjected to the worst conditions, most violent demands and sold at the lowest price. It is common for indigenous women to be over-represented in prostitution when compared with their total population. This is as a result of the combined forces of colonialism, physical displacement from ancestral lands, destruction of indigenous social and cultural order, misogyny, globalization/neoliberalism, race discrimination and extremely high levels of violence perpetrated against them.
Radical feminists, notably Catharine MacKinnon, charge that the production of pornography entails physical, psychological, and/or economic coercion of the women who perform and model in it. This is said to be true even when the women are presented as enjoying themselves.[b] It is also argued that much of what is shown in pornography is abusive by its very nature. Gail Dines holds that pornography, exemplified by gonzo pornography, is becoming increasingly violent and that women who perform in pornography are brutalized in the process of its production.[c]
Radical feminists point to the testimony of well known participants in pornography, such as Traci Lords and Linda Boreman, and argue that most female performers are coerced into pornography, either by somebody else, or by an unfortunate set of circumstances. The feminist anti-pornography movement was galvanized by the publication of Ordeal, in which Linda Boreman (who under the name of "Linda Lovelace" had starred in Deep Throat) stated that she had been beaten, raped, and pimped by her husband Chuck Traynor, and that Traynor had forced her at gunpoint to make scenes in Deep Throat, as well as forcing her, by use of both physical violence against Boreman as well as emotional abuse and outright threats of violence, to make other pornographic films. Dworkin, MacKinnon, and Women Against Pornography issued public statements of support for Boreman, and worked with her in public appearances and speeches.
Radical feminists hold the view that pornography contributes to sexism, arguing that in pornographic performances the actresses are reduced to mere receptacles – objects – for sexual use and abuse by men. They argue that the narrative is usually formed around men's pleasure as the only goal of sexual activity, and that the women are shown in a subordinate role. Some opponents believe pornographic films tend to show women as being extremely passive, or that the acts which are performed on the women are typically abusive and solely for the pleasure of their sex partner. On-face ejaculation and anal sex are increasingly popular among men, following trends in porn. MacKinnon and Dworkin defined pornography as "the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures or words".
Radical feminists say that consumption of pornography is a cause of rape and other forms of violence against women. Robin Morgan summarizes this idea with her oft-quoted statement, "Pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice." They charge that pornography eroticizes the domination, humiliation, and coercion of women, and reinforces sexual and cultural attitudes that are complicit in rape and sexual harassment. In her book Only Words (1993), MacKinnon argues that pornography "deprives women of the right to express verbal refusal of an intercourse".
MacKinnon argued that pornography leads to an increase in sexual violence against women through fostering rape myths. Such rape myths include the belief that women really want to be raped and that they mean yes when they say no. It is disputed that "rape myths perpetuate sexual violence indirectly by creating distorted beliefs and attitudes about sexual assault and shift elements of blame onto the victims". Additionally, according to MacKinnon, pornography desensitizes viewers to violence against women, and this leads to a progressive need to see more violence in order to become sexually aroused, an effect she claims is well documented.
German radical feminist Alice Schwarzer is one proponent of the view that pornography offers a distorted sense of men and women's bodies, as well as the actual sexual act, often showing performers with synthetic implants or exaggerated expressions of pleasure, engaging in fetishes that are presented as popular and normal.
Radical lesbian feminismEdit
Radical lesbians are distinguished from other radical feminists through their ideological roots in political lesbianism. Radical lesbians see lesbianism as an act of resistance against the political institution of heterosexuality, which they view as violent and oppressive towards women. Julie Bindel has written that her lesbianism is "intrinsically bound up" with her feminism.
During the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1970s, straight women within the movement were challenged on the basis of their heterosexual identities perpetuating the very patriarchal systems that they were working to undo. A large fraction of the movement sought to reform sexist institutions while "leaving intact the staple nuclear unit of oppression: heterosexual sex". Others saw the logic of lesbianism as a strong political act to end male dominance and as central to the women's movement.
Radical lesbians criticized the women's liberation movement for its failure to criticize the "psychological oppression" of heteronormativity, which they believe to be "the sexual foundation of the social institutions". They argued that heterosexual love relationships perpetuate patriarchal power relations through "personal domination" and therefore directly contradicted the values and goals of the movement. As one radical lesbian wrote, "no matter what the feminist does, the physical act [of heterosexuality] throws both women and man back into role playing... all of her politics are instantly shattered". They argued that the women's liberation movement would not be successful without challenging heteronormativity.
Radical lesbians believe lesbianism actively threatens patriarchal systems of power. They defined lesbians not only by their sexual preference, but by their liberation and independence from men. Lesbian activists Sydney Abbot and Barbara Love argued that "the lesbian has freed herself from male domination" through disconnecting from them not only sexually, but also "financially and emotionally". They argue that lesbianism fosters the utmost independence from gendered systems of power, and from the "psychological oppression" of heteronormativity.
Rejecting norms of gender, sex and sexuality is central to radical lesbian feminism. Lesbianism as a political act represents an ability to create identity from all aspects of the human condition, both masculine and feminine, while rejecting societal identities that are imposed onto bodies by a culture. Radical lesbians believed that "lesbian identity was a 'woman-identified' identity'", meaning it should be defined by and with reference to women, rather than in relation to men.
In their manifesto "The Woman-Identified Woman", the lesbian radical feminist group Radicalesbians underline the necessity of creating a "new consciousness" that rejects normative definitions of womanhood and femininity, which center on the powerlessness. This redefinition of womanhood and femininity means freeing lesbian identities from harmful and divisive stereotypes. As Abbot and Love argued in "Is Women's Liberation a Lesbian Plot?" (1971):
As long at the word 'dyke' can be used to frighten women into a less militant stand, keep women separate from their sisters, and keep them from giving primacy to anything other than men and family—then to that extent they are dominated by male culture.
Radical lesbians reiterate this thought, writing, "in this sexist society, for a woman to be independent means she can't be a woman, she must be a dyke". The rhetoric of a woman-identified-woman has been criticized for its exclusion of heterosexual women. According to some critics, "[lesbian feminism's use of] woman-identifying rhetorics should be considered rhetorical failures". Other critics argue that the intensity of radical lesbian feminist politics, on top of the preexisting stigma around lesbianism, gave a bad face to the feminist movement and provided fertile ground for tropes like the man-hater or bra burner.
Views on transgender topicsEdit
A woman's voice was almost never heard as a woman's voice – it was always filtered through men's voices. So here a guy comes along saying, "I'm going to be a girl now and speak for girls." And we thought, "No you're not." A person cannot just join the oppressed by fiat.
Some radical feminists, such as Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, John Stoltenberg and Monique Wittig, have supported trans-inclusivity, while others, such as Mary Daly, Janice Raymond, Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer, Sheila Jeffreys, Julie Bindel, and Robert Jensen, have argued that the transgender movement perpetuates patriarchal gender norms and is incompatible with radical-feminist ideology.
The argument against trans inclusion states that since trans women are born male or assigned male at birth, they are accorded corresponding privileges in society. Even if they choose to live as women, the fact that they have a choice in this sets them apart from people born female. Their insistence on 'being women' is seen as another form of entitlement stemming from their privileged position. Further, these radical feminists reject the feminine essence concept of transsexuality (the idea that there is a "female brain" or innate feminine feeling). They believe that the difference in behavior between men and women is the result of socialization; Lierre Keith describes femininity as "a set of behaviors that are, in essence, ritualized submission".[d] In this view, gender is not an identity but a caste position, and gender identity politics are an obstacle to gender abolition. They hold the same position with respect to race and class. Julie Bindel argued in 2008 that Iran carries out the highest number of sex-change operations in the world because "surgery is an attempt to keep gender stereotypes intact", and that "[i]t is precisely this idea that certain distinct behaviours are appropriate for males and females that underlies feminist criticism of the phenomenon of 'transgenderism'." (According to the BBC in 2014, there are no reliable figures regarding gender-reassignment operations in Iran.)
By contrast, trans-inclusive radical feminists claim that a biology-based or sex-essentialist ideology itself upholds patriarchal constructions of womanhood. Andrea Dworkin argued as early as 1974 that transgender people and gender identity research have the potential to radically undermine patriarchal sex essentialism: "Work with transsexuals, and studies of formation of gender identity in children provide basic information which challenges the notion that there are two distinct biological sexes. That information threatens to transform the traditional biology of sex difference into the radical biology of sex similarity". More recently, in 2015, radical feminist Catherine MacKinnon said that "male dominant society has defined women as a discrete biological group forever. If this was going to produce liberation, we'd be free... To me, women is a political group. I never had much occasion to say that, or work with it, until the last few years when there has been a lot of discussion about whether trans women are women" - and further, "I always thought I don't care how someone becomes a woman or a man; it does not matter to me. It is just part of their specificity, their uniqueness, like everyone else's. Anybody who identifies as a woman, wants to be a woman, is going around being a woman, as far as I'm concerned, is a woman."
In The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male (1979), the lesbian radical feminist Janice Raymond argued that "transsexuals ... reduce the female form to artefact, appropriating this body for themselves". In The Whole Woman (1999), Germaine Greer wrote that largely male governments "recognise as women men who believe that they are women ... because [those governments] see women not as another sex but as a non-sex"; she continued that if uterus-and-ovaries transplants were a mandatory part of sex-change operations, the latter "would disappear overnight". Sheila Jeffreys argued in 1997 that "the vast majority of transsexuals still subscribe to the traditional stereotype of women" and that by transitioning they are "constructing a conservative fantasy of what women should be ... an essence of womanhood which is deeply insulting and restrictive." In Gender Hurts (2014), she referred to sex reassignment surgery as "self-mutilation", and used pronouns that refer to biological sex; she argued that feminists need to know "the biological sex of those who claim to be women and promote prejudicial versions of what constitutes womanhood", and that "use by men of feminine pronouns conceals the masculine privilege bestowed upon them by virtue of having been placed in and brought up in the male sex caste".
Radical feminists who hold these views have been called transphobic and trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs). Some feminists say the use of the term TERF is hate speech due to the way it is used, or a way to silence women through guilt by association.
Early in the radical feminism movement, some radical feminists theorized that "other kinds of hierarchy grew out of and were modeled on male supremacy-were in effect specialized forms of male supremacy". Therefore, the fight against male domination took priority because "the liberation of women would mean the liberation of all". This view is contested, particularly by intersectional feminism and black feminism. Critics argue that this ideology accepts the notion that identities are singular and disparate, rather than multiple and intersecting. For example, understanding women's oppression as disparate assumes that "men, in creating and maintaining these systems, are acting purely as men, in accordance with peculiarly male characteristics or specifically male supremacist objectives".
According to Ellen Willis' 1984 essay "Radical Feminism and Feminist Radicalism", within the New Left, radical feminists were accused of being "bourgeois", "antileft", or even "apolitical", whereas they saw themselves as "radicalizing the left by expanding the definition of radical". Early radical feminists were mostly white and middle-class, resulting in "a very fragile kind of solidarity". This limited the validity of generalizations based on radical feminists' experiences of gender relations, and prevented white and middle-class women from recognizing that they benefited from race and class privilege. Many early radical feminists broke ties with "male-dominated left groups", or would work with them only in ad hoc coalitions. Willis, although very much a part of early radical feminism and continuing to hold that it played a necessary role in placing feminism on the political agenda, criticized its inability "to integrate a feminist perspective with an overall radical politics", while viewing this limitation as inevitable in the context of the time.
- Willis (1984) doesn't mention Chicago, but as early as 1967 Chicago was a major site for consciousness-raising and home of the Voice of Women's Liberation Movement; see Kate Bedford and Ara Wilson Lesbian Feminist Chronology: 1963-1970 Archived 17 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine..
- MacKinnon (1989): "Sex forced on real women so that it can be sold at a profit to be forced on other real women; women's bodies trussed and maimed and raped and made into things to be hurt and obtained and accessed, and this presented as the nature of women; the coercion that is visible and the coercion that has become invisible—this and more grounds the feminist concern with pornography."
- Dines (2008): "The porn that makes most of the money for the industry is actually the gonzo, body-punishing variety that shows women's bodies being physically stretched to the limit, humiliated and degraded. Even porn industry people commented in a recent article in Adult Video News, that gonzo porn is taking its toll on the women, and the turnover is high because they can't stand the brutal acts on the body for very long."
- Keith (2013): "Female socialization is a process of psychologically constraining and breaking girls—otherwise known as 'grooming'—to create a class of compliant victims. Femininity is a set of behaviors that are, in essence, ritualized submission."
- Willis 1984, p. 117.
- Firestone 1970, p. 11.
- Willis 1984, p. 118.
- Willis 1984, p. 122.
- Willis 1984, p. 123.
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If “TERF” were a term that conveyed something purposeful, accurate, or useful, beyond simply smearing, silencing, insulting, discriminating against, or inciting violence, it could perhaps be considered neutral or harmless. But because the term itself is politically dishonest and misrepresentative, and because its intent is to vilify, disparage, and intimidate, as well as to incite and justify violence against women, it is dangerous and indeed qualifies as a form of hate speech. While women have tried to point out that this would be the end result of “TERF” before, they were, as usual, dismissed. We now have undeniable proof that painting women with this brush leads to real, physical violence. If you didn’t believe us before, you now have no excuse.
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- Media related to Radical feminism at Wikimedia Commons