Today’s post is part of an exchange I did with Rebekah Markillie, a fellow feminist blogger! She’s sharing why she is a radical feminist, and what radical feminism is. (If you’d like to check out my post about why I am an angry feminist, you can find it here.) Be sure to leave a comment below and let Rebekah know what you think!
What comes to mind when you hear or read the words: “I am a Radical Feminist”?
A man-hater with hairy armpits? A loud-mouth standing over a trash can, burning a bra? A feminist that excludes trans folks on principle?
To be fair, the popular narrative about radical feminism paints radical feminists (radfems for short) as enraged, misandristic bullies. This is what I thought, too.
When I first discovered feminism for myself and began exploring feminist philosophy, I saw radical feminists as feminists who took feminism too far — who flipped male supremacy into female supremacy. I was quick to judge radfems because I thought they were doing a disservice to the movement by being radical which to me, essentially meant delusional, crazy.
I had all of these assumptions about radfems: they don’t understand how persuasion and argumentation works; they don’t understand that men have issues too; how can they expect everyone to be lesbians? But I’ve learned that it was actually me who didn’t understand how power structures maintain power.
Radfems have a bad reputation, and a lot of radfems have been, and are currently, exclusionary towards the trans movement and intersectionality. But I want to change all of that. I want to present a more forward-thinking, intersectional radical feminism. I want to challenge the notion of the “crazy radical feminist” or the “TERF” because radical feminism is vital to abolishing patriarchal oppression.
My own liberal feminist beginnings
Feminism and feminist activism were very important to me in high school. I grew up in a deeply conservative town, surrounded by racism, classism, and sexism. Feminism became the driving force behind my rebellion against my conservative upbringing. When I moved to Portland, Ore. for college, I was desperate to learn more.
At the time, I was what is described as a liberal feminist — most feminists today are liberal feminists. Liberal feminism recognizes gender inequality as a political issue; women can take action and make choices to achieve their liberation.
These are feminists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Gloria Steinem — women who have worked to ensure women have representation in our society. I wanted to see more women like them (not the racist ones to be sure). I wanted to see women CEOs and women presidents and strong female characters in books, movies, and television shows. I wanted the pay gap closed, every glass ceiling shattered. I wanted to walk the streets without being fearful of attack. I wanted birth control and abortions-on-demand.
Why Radical Feminism?
In college, I read works by Simone de Beauvoir and Catharine McKinnon and Luce Irigaray. I talked to philosophy and sociology professors about gender and class oppression versus kyriarchy versus patriarchy. I began to understand how entrenched male supremacy is in everything we know as an intelligent species.
Let me back up a little…
Thanks to The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, many feminists accept the idea that women occupy a space of otherness. Getting existential for a second here: otherness is what creates self-identity — it’s what you are not so you understand what you are. Women are women because they are not men, and men are men because they are not women. To make that less confusing: you construct your idea of self based on what you are in comparison or in relation to something else.
In a male-dominated society, otherness manifests as women becoming the sounding boards for male identity because men control the culture. In a male-dominated society, men are autonomous beings and women are relative beings. In a male-dominated society, men create the female identity.
As it dawned on me through my philosophy and sociology classes, if we accept we live in a male-dominated, patriarchal society, we must also accept that the female identity is something we had no control in creating.
Womanness, as we understand it to be, is a manifestation of the patriarchy.
After learning this, I started questioning everything — even my feminism. Liberal feminism became less appealing to me because liberal feminism advocates that women achieve liberation by entering the masculine playing field through employment opportunity and politics — essentially assimilating in a male supremacy. But if the masculine identity was created under a male supremacy, women still wouldn’t have equality in that world. Moreover, if women wanted to be taken seriously in a male supremacy, they run the risk of adopting male-supremacists ideals.
I started to see the connection between patriarchy and slavery, patriarchy, and racism, patriarchy and class struggle — other power structures that have been created by men and perpetuated by men to maintain their male supremacy.
I didn’t want women to become pseudo-men and perpetuate other power structures and sources of oppression. I didn’t want women to rise to the top of a hierarchy that leaves so many others in the dust.
As one of my close friends who is also a radfem put it: I am a radfem because “radfeminism is not about hoping women assimilate to the current system in order to gain ‘equality,’ it’s about recognizing the flaws of the current system and seeking to subvert [or] change them.”
I want the system to come crashing down.
Radical Feminism — what is it?
If you look at the Radical Feminism Wikipedia page, the definition of radical feminism is pretty simple: radfems argue that patriarchal power, or male supremacy, is the primary source of oppression all women and other underrepresented genders experience. The “radical” aspect comes from, you guessed it, Latin; radicalis which means “to have roots” (like the vegetable: radish) and radix which means “essential.” Radical feminists see all forms of oppression (class, race, age, ability, etc.) as being rooted in patriarchal oppression.
Radfems are not misandrists. Radfems want to see patriarchy abolished in political, social, and economic spheres. Radical feminism just takes everyday feminism to a systemic level.
Thinking systemically, I strongly believe that radical feminism can be intersectional and trans-inclusive. But just like all movements, it needs to be refreshed and reshaped to fit new developments in theory and discourse.
To most radical feminists, patriarchy only includes sex-based discrimination — this is where TERFs and gender critical feminists come into play. With newer theories about gender being explored and the rising concerns voiced by trans activists, I believe that an effective radical feminist perspective of 2017 needs to expand patriarchy to include both gender and sex-based discrimination. If gender is accepted under male supremacy, there is no need for radical feminism to be trans-exclusive.
How does a Radfem take down The Patriarchy?
Good question. A lot of radical activists are still trying to sort that one out.
As I see it, radfem activism doesn’t differ that much from other feminist activism. It just requires you to commit additional effort to questioning your motives, behaviors and taking action to hold yourself and others accountable. Here are five examples, both big and small, that confront the status quo:
- Participate in public protests like slut walks that call out rape culture and other misogynistic narratives about women.
- Put anti-patriarchy stickers in public places like bathroom stalls and drinking fountains — props if you make them yourself or if you support independent artists.
- Try to use gender neutral language when talking about groups of people — no more “hey guys.” I’ve been working on this for the better part of two years and it still gets me sometimes.
- If you live in the U.S. write letters to your local and state representatives to push for legislation that helps and protects ALL women and underrepresented genders — like that pesky Obamacare.
- Research organizations before you buy their products or make donations — some organizations, like THINX (the period underwear company), are not “feminist” because they are not supportive of their employees and models.
Radical feminism isn’t easy. It doesn’t support the popular narrative that someone can just call themselves “a feminist” and be a feminist. Radical feminism requires messy, difficult discussions with yourself and your values.
I understand that radical feminism has a long way to come before it becomes accepted in progressive and Leftist discourse, however, feminism will not be successful unless it abolishes the very structure that manufactured inequality and oppression.
Rebekah Markillie is a radical feminist writer, graphic designer, and activist. She writes a monthly RadFem newsletter called “What Up Radical Feminist?” She can be found on Twitter @r_markillie or on her blog rmarkillie.com/blog.
What kind of feminist are you? Share in a comment below!