subtexts in radical feminism
There was a time, not long ago, when rousing anthems on feminism engaged me and enraged me about the patriarchal society we live in. Now I’ve delved a little deeper into radical feminism, I’m attuned to the subtext and feel dismay at the illogical messages rooted in alienation and inequality.
Let’s take extracts from a quote recently lauded by The Arbourist (full quote here).
1. Sexualised violence
We cannot both celebrate sexualised violence and have freedom from sexualised violence.
I agree. But for many radical feminists in these circles, any penetrative heterosexual sex is sexual violence, often equated with rape. Not joking.
Why is this bad for women? Because common garden heterosexual sexual intercourse is not evil. Moreover, most women are not sexually assaulted in their lifetime and most men are not sexual abusers. Yes, the numbers are disturbingly high and society needs to change, but preaching a theory that presents the world in such a foul light fills everyone with fear. And for the far too many women who have been victims of sexual violence, can it really help them to frame basic heterosexual sex as rape? I shouldn’t think so.
2. Selling sex
We cannot normalise male entitlement by saying “men need access to sex and therefore we, as a society, must maintain a class of women who are available to satisfy men’s desires” and also expect to build a society wherein men don’t feel entitled to sexual access to women.
I agree. This brand think that selling sex is inherently harmful and I agree it certainly is at this point in time. But I can’t agree with their attitude that it is blanket immoral: I know we can never be sure how human society will evolve.
Why is this bad for women? Keeping prostitution illegal stops people selling sex having any control and ensures it continues to be stigmatised as a way of earning money. Given where society is, given how universal selling sex is in human societies, my reasonable starting point for improving conditions for women earning money in this way by making it legal, not by keeping it underground. Remove stigma and see where those selling sex themselves choose to take it. Prostitution isn’t something we can wish away or stamp out by force: the best we can do is provide a framework that maximises women’s choices within it, and their choices for leaving.
We cannot say “women are more than pretty things to look at” but also tell young women that desirability will empower them.
I agree. Women are bombarded with messages that their value lies in their appearance. But these radical feminists believe there is no such thing as gender difference and that everyone is naturally gender neutral.
Why is this bad for women? If you enjoy being feminine and attractive within the current framework, you are immediately branded. Although I like personally like the vision of a gender neutral society, I don’t see how it sits logically with the differences I observe in every single human, and the clear broad groups people choose in terms of expression. Both women and men enjoy looking attractive to other people, and as creatures who respect art and nature, most of us enjoy looking at attractive people. Society is never going to strip such a basic and natural human instinct away for some false sense of equality. Both women and men can be pretty things to look at, and more.
We cannot confront rape culture while normalising the very ideas that found it: male entitlement, sexualised violence, and gender roles that are rooted in domination and subordination (i.e. masculinity and femininity).
I agree with some of this. I can’t see that the term ‘rape culture’ helps as a broad brush across the world, because I’m quite sure the vast majority of men in most countries don’t support or commit sexual violence of any kind. Where sexual violence is a problem, certainly male entitlement is a problem, and the sex industry doesn’t help this.
Why is this harmful to women? Note the final section about gender roles, and the harmless passing reference to masculinity and femininity. This version of radical feminism uses these seemingly benign references as a hammer to hit trans people. Trans people are inconvenient to their theory on human gender, so they are trying to redefine them, undermine them and erase them. If a human born with the physical structure of a female wants to express themselves throughout life in a masculine way, and identify themself as a man, this gives the gender role of ‘masculine’ a connection to ‘man’ that doesn’t come from indoctrination. When people make a conscious choice of the role they are comfortable with, these radical feminists try to find a reason within their rigid framework, and come to conclusion that trans people are wrong about themselves. And do they therefore treat trans people as another victim of the patriarchy? No, it appears not. Many of them dedicate their lives to ridiculing and vilifying trans people, as if such a tiny group of extremely vulnerable people actually have an impact on feminism in general.
This is where we reach the bottom of the barrel with this fringe movement within feminism. What can we do? Every political and ideological movement in the history of human beings has extremist groups and unsavoury spin-offs.
The only problem comes when they claim the whole movement as their own, and suck people in with a generic call to arms in the name of equality, all while attempting to hide to ugly truths at the very heart of their beliefs. And here it comes, claiming ownership of feminism:
While, the arguments I’m articulating here do, effectively, constitute “radical feminism,” in that it is a kind of feminism that “gets at the root,” I am defining something even more straightforward than that: Feminism – a real and definable thing that holds meaning!
Feminism can accept that heterosexual sex is enjoyable, while tearing down the patriarchy. Feminism can accept and support women who sell sex, while tearing down the patriarchy. Feminism can accept that women and men generally have different styles of expression, while tearing down the patriarchy. Feminism can embrace trans people and how they choose to express themselves, while tearing down the patriarchy.
How’s that for a rousing speech? With no subtext.