What do radical feminists actually believe?

Feminism advocates for the equality of men and women.

Radical feminism says that we should get rid of male supremacy everywhere we find it. Now, I don’t think that is too radical. Men and women should be equal.

The part that many people have trouble with is when we say that women have traditionally had it worse, so we need to improve their position. The power of men has been embedded into the structures of society.

This means that it feels like men are being harmed, when actually feminists just want to even up the scales and take away the unfair advantages that have been given to men throughout history.

Feminism is still a good thing for men. It recognises the unfairness faced by men in certain situations such as child rearing and offers solutions to help unroot these challenges.

Have you ever cursed radical feminists?

You probably have read columns in newspapers that criticise them, but they often have a hidden agenda or are driven by money. Can you name many of these radical feminists? Most people can’t.

Here is a whistle stop tour of some of the feminist thinkers that have shaped this inspiring philosophy throughout history. The few lines that I have been able to give each writer don’t do them justice and the list barely scratches the surface.

I am also male and don’t want to sideline the women who live this reality. But I hope this is still useful – it gives you a bit of a primer in their views and opportunities to explore further.

The story of radical feminism generally starts in the 1960s, but provocative ideas that startled society came much earlier.

When I did a module at university on the most important political philosophers, Mary was the only female on the course. She was one of the first feminists, at a time when men dominated public life.

She published a book called ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’ in 1792. It doesn’t seem particularly radical today, but you have to put these things in their time. In this book, she challenged all the thinkers around her who didn’t think women should get an education. Women deserve the same rights as men.

People at the time thought women were either property, decoration, or domestic servants dressed up as wives. She dared to disagree.

Fast forward to the 20th century, when radical feminism comes into its own. De Beauvoir flagged, in the late 40s in a book called TheSecond Sex, some of the ideas that have become the foundation of our understanding of gender today. She looked at how women have been treated throughout history.

Men fundamentally oppress women, by treating them as their opposite. Differences between them have been wrongly used to justify why they are inferior. They have been conditioned to be passive and dependent.

Her 1963 book ‘The Feminine Mystique’ is credited with sparking the second wave of 60s and 70s feminism.

Imagine going to your reunion and realising that everyone is unhappy but can’t quite put their finger on why. That was what Betty did to uncover the subject matter of this book.

After interviewing classmates from Smith College at their 15th anniversary reunion, she realised that they were unhappy and felt unfulfilled in their lives as housewives.

These women had perfect lives, or so society told them. Comfortable homes and husbands. The media, run by men, depicted this as a dream life. Career women were portrayed as unhappy.

But would you be happy with just this today? They had to conform to the expectations of being a housewife. She theorised that the main escapes for these women were sex or vicariously living through their children.

So far, none of this seems remotely controversial. But radical feminism’s bad reputation has to come from somewhere. Valerie Solanas is one of the most high profile of what internet commenters might call man-hating feminists.

She wrote a manifesto that urged women to "overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex".

She was a troubled woman, becoming convinced that Andy Warhol was stealing her work. She bought a gun and shot him along with others after he rejected her work.

Her radical spirit and militarism is seen as highly influential in inspiring radical feminism. All political philosophies have extremes, so you can empathise with half the human population who are oppressed for most of history.

Solanas was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and her end goal aren’t widely accepted today. We should accept some of her criticisms of society and frustrations. We shouldn’t stereotype all of radical feminism with the views of some of its members.

Now we have a collection of radical feminists that take a harder line against some of the social problems that they believe have negatively affected women.

Susan Brownmiller, along with others such as Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon have picked out pornography, prostitution and sexual violence as key factors for radical feminism to address.

She argues that rape has always been defined by men and used them to keep women in a permanent state of fear. When you look at the movements in universities around the world today, trying to educate people on rape culture, this is the intellectual legacy they are drawing from.

Brownmiller cleared up many common myths about sexual violence. She has said that rape was about violence rather than male lust, women did not invite rape and do not enjoy making accusations about it.

Like many old-school feminists, she has since made some troubling comments, and even blames women for drinking too much and being sexually abused by the culpable perpetrators.

However, she was influential and helped pave the way for women to have more rights. Laws followed that stopped men getting away with raping women just because they were married or dating.

This collection of feminists often criticise pornography and prostitution for legitimising rape culture. Sexual violence is also glorified in the media. Debate exists, though, so it’s unfair to say that radical feminists all share a position on these topics. Many people are now trying to reclaim feminist friendly pornography and empowering sex work.

Moving towards the modern day, radical feminists have started to look at intersectionality. This is a fancy term that basically says that we should look at how different identities can interact with each other when you look at how someone experiences life. For example, a white woman and a black
woman face different experiences. Poor women and rich women also have differences.

She chose not to capitalise her name so that the substance of her writings could shine through rather than herself become the focus.

She challenged many of the radical feminism that came before her with an accessible philosophy that welcomes feminist men. Her philosophy is about replacing male domination in society with a system of love and mutual respect. We shouldn’t seek power, suppress our emotions and resort to anger and violence.

If you look at the world through an intersectional lens, you can see how narrow some parts of feminism can be. For example, some feminists that have experiences as white middle class women, face their main struggle in white collar workplaces where they need to break the glass ceiling.

The radical part here is that recognising that other women are affected by their different lives and need to struggle in every parts of their lives, at home, in their communities and elsewhere.

Our final radical feminist brings us right to the modern day and some of the issues that she raises are still hotly contested. Julie Bindel is a lesbian feminist who stresses the central link between her sexuality and political beliefs.

Some radical feminists have emphasised the lesbian identity as emancipation from the domination of men in society.

However, it is homophobic and mean to say that all feminists are man-hating lesbians, just because some choose to speak from the multiple experiences of discrimination and oppression that they have faced.

Other radical feminists have said that they are made to feel guilty for sleeping with women and disagree with making lesbianism compulsory for feminists.

Like many of her radical predecessors, she also asserts that prostitution should never be made illegal.

She is particularly controversial, though, for some of her opinions on other members of the LGBT+ community. Bisexuals are apparently hedonistic and selfish for not being lesbian. She has also notoriously been accused of transphobia for denying that trans women are women.

People have included her in a category of TERFs (Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists) who deny the rights of transgender women. The main criticisms of these feminists are that they argue for the rights, fluidity of gender, autonomy and respect of women, except transgender women.

These radical feminists often counter with their own arguments. They say that womanhood is not just about the mental reality of feeling like a woman but also the experience of female sex eg biological challenges, the realities of growing up as female in an oppressive world.

They also claim that gender reassignment surgery is just a way of keeping gender stereotypes intact. Rather than trying to preserve the gender binary of male and female by presenting and transitioning from one to the other, they would prefer to unpack gender into more complex and fluid forms.

These are complex debates but the rights of trans women should not be up for debate. They deserve respect, but as a highly oppressed and stigmatised group that faces violence and severe mental health issues, we need to unite to support them, rather than exclude them.

It can be seen from this brief flight through the history of radical feminism that there are many contentious issues. The stereotypes of evil, man-hating, bra-burning lesbian feminists does come from somewhere, in that radical feminists have some fringe and extreme thinkers.

Nonetheless, they raise valuable criticisms of society and have helped change women for the better. It was once radical to imagine that women weren’t the property of men. Soon, many of these ideas will become common-sense.

Don’t criticise radical or extreme feminists for everything that happens to men. Backlash is tempting when you feel injustice. Instead, find out what feminists actually have to say about the topic, such as fathers looking for custody of their children, because often you might agree with them.

Read more about feminism.

What do radical feminists actually believe? What do radical feminists actually believe? Reviewed by Ciaran McCormick on 21:46 Rating: 5

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