This is my third feminist blog now, (the previous two are deleted), and I deliberately didn’t write the word “radical” on this one. However, if you have been reading for a while, you will know that I fall into the category of “radical feminist.”
I probably fall into several categories though. I also consider myself a “lesbian feminist” and I’m also a socialist so perhaps I could fall into the category of “socialist feminist.” But I haven’t been interested in reading up on the theories and beliefs behind these labels so that I can choose the right label for myself. That would be missing the point. Feminism isn’t a movement to evaluate your beliefs and then decide on the right label, it’s a movement to liberate women from oppression. When you scrutinize your beliefs and feelings in order to make sure you are applying the right label to yourself, that’s identity politics. You are welcome to explore your beliefs and apply a label if you want, but that doesn’t really accomplish anything.
Radical means root, and all feminists should be attacking patriarchy from its roots. All feminism should be radical. All workers are oppressed by capitalism, so if feminism is going to liberate women it needs to liberate us from capitalism. So all feminism should be anti-capitalist. If you do a material analysis of the world we live in you can clearly see where oppression comes from, and all oppression needs to be ended.
I’m in several feminist groups on Facebook, and this is where I get most of my feminist discussions. I’ve seen how the labeling of different sorts of feminists divides the movement. Particularly, I’ve seen how women play “purity politics” and claim that if a woman does X, Y or Z then she can’t be a radical feminist. This is where “radical feminist” becomes an identity that one can only label oneself by meeting certain criteria. This is identity politics. To maintain the purity of the identity “radical feminist” by kicking out those who don’t measure up does not liberate women from oppression.
In the feminist groups that work well, women are allowed in based on some general shared beliefs, such as for example, the belief in women’s humanity and the belief that we are an oppressed class under patriarchy. However, there is still room for respectful disagreement, and it is not required that women embrace a certain label or that their personal lives fit certain criteria.
The groups that don’t work well or that die out are the groups where some women are trying to “kick you out of feminism” for doing the wrong thing, such as wearing makeup or having a male partner.
I don’t believe in kicking people out of feminism unless they are actively working against women’s rights. For example, if someone was campaigning to make abortion illegal, then of course I wouldn’t consider her a feminist. But if a woman is actively working toward women’s liberation and happens to also like wearing mascara, I’m not going to kick her out of the movement—that would be counter-productive. We need to put forth an analysis of why our personal behaviours support patriarchy, and we need to change our personal behaviours where it is possible to do so, but change can sometimes take time and we can’t expect perfection of everyone.
One of the worst issues in feminist groups is where radical feminists believe that only lesbians are real radical feminists and that any women who are partnered with men are helping to uphold patriarchy. When women are insisting upon this belief, straight women in the group feel unable to speak or feel the need to apologize, the group loses its cohesion, and sisterly support vanishes. I have labelled myself “lesbian feminist” in my blog header, but I disagree with the lesbian feminist assertion that any woman can choose to be a lesbian. I’m always mystified when lesbians claim that all women are lesbians. It seems to me that anyone who is actually a lesbian understands painfully well that lots of women are straight. This is one of the painful things about being a single lesbian—searching for a lover and wondering why so many women are into dick.
Heterosexuality is compulsory, and it’s a social institution, but if you changed the culture and took away patriarchal control over women there would still be women attracted to men. It’s a real sexual orientation as well as a tool of social control. I do like the concept of political lesbianism, but as I have explained before, not every woman can choose to be a lesbian even if she would like to be—being a lesbian necessarily includes a romantic or sexual attraction to women and not every woman feels this. I think the concept of political lesbianism only makes sense if you consider that women will be more likely to discover their attraction to women and their need to reject heterosexuality while engaged in the women’s movement, and therefore women’s politics can influence her desires and behaviours. This doesn’t mean that women can manufacture sexual feelings for women due to a political analysis, it only means that women who are capable of being attracted to women will be more likely to discover these feelings and act on them if they are politically feminist. Lesbianism should be promoted as a positive choice for those women who can choose it, but that doesn’t mean that women who are exclusively heterosexual or who are bisexual and partnered with men are necessarily “handmaidens of the patriarchy.”
When women start insisting that all hetero-partnered women are handmaidens who are upholding patriarchy, there will be no more productive conversation at that point and the group will die. I’m in a group where there are a mixture of different sexual orientations and political beliefs but we all agree that women should be liberated from oppression. Straight women have been able to discuss their relationships with men and how to navigate situations without their conversation being shut down, and it has been very productive.
I believe that radical feminism (i.e. women’s liberation) is for all women, regardless of their personal characteristics. I’m not interested in kicking people out of feminism for silly reasons in order to make the group smaller and purer—I’m interested in making the group bigger and stronger.
When women engage in personal behaviours that uphold patriarchy, we need to put forward an analysis of the situation and provide practical support for women in leaving those behaviours. Loudly kicking them out of feminism before they’ve had a chance to figure it out is not helping the movement.
I am a radical feminist but I’m not a part of the clique who wants to make the movement smaller. I think that all women can work to liberate us from oppression and I will work with anyone who is willing to work with me.