Feminism is a social ideology focused on addressing sex-based discrimination and gender equality. The ideology has provided a foundation for many women’s rights movements worldwide that have protested for equal economic status to men, reproductive rights, and marriage equality, among many other things. The fundamental idea is that males and females are equal and deserve the same access and opportunities within society.
During the 20th century, after feminism had gotten global attention, the second wave of feminism began. During the 1960s feminism divided into several different strands of ideology. The three key types of feminism are Marxist feminism, liberal feminism, and radical feminism. More recently, intersectional feminism has risen massively in popularity.
The ideology behind feminism opposes the patriarchy, not men altogether. To claim feminists are man-haters is to claim that men and the patriarchy are inseparable, which is not true. However, Robin Morgan (a radical feminist) has famously stated “I feel that man-hating is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them”.
“I feel that man-hating is a viable and political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”Robin morgan
What Is Radical Feminism?
So, what is radical feminism? Well, radical feminism is a strand of feminism that opposes the entirety of the current political and social structure of society, which are all tied to patriarchy. Radical feminists view the oppression of women as the foundation for other forms of oppression – such as the oppression of lower classes and black people. This form of feminism is largely focused on the perspectives of women and those targeted by misogyny.
Radical feminists aim to dismantle the current social, economic, and political structures that patriarchy is built on. This differs from liberal feminism’s approach, which involves making adjustments within the current system by integrating women into the public spheres that are dominated by men.
Radical feminism promotes the value of liberation over equality. By focusing on the liberation of women from the patriarchy (rather than equality within the same oppressive system) radical feminism draws attention to the social structure that oppresses women. Patriarchy is deeply rooted within the systems and institutions that form society. The current system promotes the sexual, economic, political, and social domination of women.
Society currently holds an anti-woman pro-male balance which forms a culture of androcentrism. This feeds into all institutions, which are designed to promote androcentric hierarchies.
What Is Radicalism?
Radicalism is defined as ‘the beliefs or actions of individuals, groups or organisations who advocate for thorough or complete social and/or political reform to achieve an alternate version of society’.
Differing from liberal feminism’s approach, radicalism is not really interested in pragmatic reform and often involves militant action to bring about a revolutionary change to whole cultures. Radicalism tends to revolve around “getting to the root” of the problem.
Brief History of Radical Feminism
Radical feminism developed during the second wave of feminism which spanned the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. However, this specific ideology is rooted in the wider humanitarian movements of the mid-20th century.
Many women were involved in the anti-war and New Left political movements but were excluded from power by the men that took the forefront of these platforms, in spite of there being a clear focus on empowerment. In response, they formed liberation groups specifically for women and built on the radical methodology of their original humanitarianism.
During the late 1960s, the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) emerged. This was a diverse social movement that was most popular in the United States because of its coalition with the Civil Rights Movement. The group sought the cultural liberation of women and greater personal autonomy and freedoms. “Radical Feminism” was used to describe the more revolutionary and thorough sections of feminism that fought for drastic and conclusive cultural reform.
One of the key issues for radical feminism is the matter of personal autonomy for women and, more specifically, all aspects of reproductive rights. The most well-known aspect of reproductive rights, of course, is the right to an abortion. This is seen as vital for the rights and equalities of women.
Personal autonomy also involves (more generally) the right to make a person’s own decisions and choices in all spaces – education, home life, employment, etc. Radical feminists believe that all women have the right not to have a child but, on the other hand, that all women also have the right to have a child, as long as it is solely their decision.
Another key focal point for radical feminism is the issue of pornography. Pornography is an industry designed to harm women. The industry has powerfully integrated into modern popular culture – with ‘pornhub’ being one of the most searched terms on the internet.
Pornography is problematic for a variety of reasons and for a host of different communities. For women specifically, pornography often depicts the aggressive sexual domination of teenage girls and, when paired with the neglect of our sex education curriculum, encourages dangerous sexual habits in young people that lead to violence and sexual assault.
Rape and Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is one of the main issues for all brands of feminism. The oppression of women is fed and perpetuated by sexual violence and the domination of women.
Radical feminists view rape as an exertion of power and not simply seeking sex. When a man rapes another person (male or female), it is to assert dominance over that person and secure a position of superiority. This is why rape is used as a war tactic and was also used during slavery to emasculate black men into subservience.
In a modern setting, young girls are taught to fear sexual assault at all turns. Because of this, from a young age, girls’ ability to discover and express their own authentic identity is highly limited. Movement is restricted. Appearance (e.g., clothing, cosmetics, etc) is controlled. Social behaviour is also strictly managed. The fear of sexual assault and rape is a structural agent that terrorizes girls and women into compliance with patriarchy under all these restrictions that boys and men are not subject to.
Prostitution and Sexuality
Within the feminist community, there is much debate about what sexual liberation actually is for women. The answer varies from culture to culture, but also from person to person. For some individuals, sexual liberation involves expressing your sexuality, having sex and perhaps wearing revealing clothing. This image of sexual liberation is fairly prominent within the liberal feminist community.
However, women’s sexuality is constantly exploited for the insatiable sexual appetite of the patriarchy because modern society is entirely androcentric. The majority of mainstream content and media is geared towards men and if it’s not specifically directed at men then – at the very least – it is made digestible and bearable for them. Everything in a modern setting is designed in some way to accommodate the needs of males. For this reason, many women practice abstinence and wear modest clothing to conceal their bodies rather than showing them off.
Sex work and prostitution are seen as exploitative and dehumanising by radical feminists. This is because, in spite of the fact that many sex workers may find it empowering, teaching girls and women that promiscuity and constant sexual activity is liberating only provokes the exploitation of women.
To contextualise the issue, it’s important to ask the question: are women engaging in the activities of sexual freedom on their own terms?
At the intersection of economic and sexual oppression is prostitution. Here, female bodies are brought directly to men (the wealth and power holders) as an asset to be used, usually in exchange for money or other items of economic value. These interactions result in the exploitation and abuse of women and radical feminists believe this only prevents social progress for women.
The topic of transwomen has brought division to the radical feminist agenda. On one side of the issue, radical feminism views trans people as in need of another form of gender-based liberation that compliments their own anti-patriarch ideology, which supports trans rights and existence.
On the other side of the issue, some see gender norms being complied with and perpetuated in trans identities – the same gender norms that are used to oppress women. From this perspective, some tend to scrutinise transwomen because they are seen as personifying gender stereotypes that radical feminism is attempting to remove.
For this brand of radical feminism, a new community was born: Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERFs). TERF is a violent, international movement that often compromises its ideals to align with those of conservatives – simply to promote anti-trans policies and ideologies. They aim to get rid of trans people entirely, with a focus on transfeminine individuals.
As a result of the trans-exclusion that TERFs push, many have chosen not to align themselves – or at least not refer to themselves – with radical feminism because feminism today is trans-inclusive and intersectional. More and more feminists (especially radicals) identify with intersectionality and view it as vital in promoting women’s liberation and equality worldwide.
Methods and Action
Radicalism tends to be quite sceptical of political action, involving policy reform and legislative change because this is seen as following the initial system and only really making minor policy changes rather than making a revolutionary change that redefines an entire culture.
Radicals tend to focus on cultural change, which means they don’t tend to participate directly in politics (i.e. by lobbying, petitions, etc). By enacting change in a cultural environment, radicals undermine the political sphere and the associated hierarchical institutions.
Radical feminists use consciousness-raising groups to raise awareness for women’s issues. These groups educate women on the ideals they follow and the socialization process under patriarchy. The goal is to reconstruct gender relationships in private spheres as well as public spheres by promoting an understanding of gender roles, gender expectations, and the agents of oppression within society.
Culturally, this may be done by hosting art and culture events, such as plays, performances, and public demonstrations.
Socially, radical feminists are also in favour of political lesbianism and celibacy to prevent the exploitation of their bodies from men and patriarchy. From an academic perspective, radical feminists also contribute to and participate in women’s studies at universities.
Criticisms of Radical Feminism
One common criticism of radical feminism is that at the time of its conception, radical feminism lacked a racial lens. White women dominated the movement (as they did most branches that didn’t have a specific focus on women of colour). When it was developed during the 1960s, radical feminism had no understanding of intersectionality and the issues facing other women.
Building on this, radical feminists believed that “the liberation of women would mean the liberation of all” but this implies that all identities are uniform and unvaried. The lack of intersectionality denies the true nature of reality, which is that all identities are multi-layered and intersecting.
Radical feminism was initially designed to liberate the image of one universal experience of ‘woman’, which extends to ignore the fact that some women do have privilege and hold positions of power in society. From this perspective, not all women may be considered victims.
However, this begs the question: if every woman’s experience is multiple, intersecting and varied, who’s experience is “real”? Generalising the ideology (and agenda) from the perspective of one experience in an attempt to liberate ALL women does not account for the views/needs of others. Other people’s experiences are erased, meaning the roots of their issues are ignored.