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Radical feminism is a branch of feminism that views women's oppression (or patriarchy) as the basic system of power upon which human relationships in society are arranged. It seeks to challenge this arrangement by rejecting standard gender roles and male oppression. The term Militant feminism is a pejorative term which is often associated, usually by detractors, with radical feminism. Typically, radical feminism is seen by people other than adherents as a form of identity politics.

The term radical in radical feminism (from Latin rādīx, rādīc-, root) is used as an adjective meaning of or pertaining to the root or going to the root. Radical feminists locate the root cause of women's oppression in patriarchal gender relations, as opposed to legal systems (liberal feminism) or class conflict (socialist feminism and Marxist feminism).

Radical feminist theory and ideology[edit | edit source]

Radical feminists in Western society believe that their society is an oppressive patriarchy that primarily oppresses women. Radical feminists seek to abolish this patriarchy. They also believe that the way to deal with patriarchy and oppression of all kinds is to attack the underlying causes of these problems and address the fundamental components of society that support them.

While Radical feminism posits that the root cause of all other inequalities is the oppression of women, some Radical feminists acknowledge the simultaneity or intersectionality of different types of oppression which may include, but are not limited to the following: gender, race, class, perceived attractiveness, sexuality, ability, whilst still affirming the recognition of patriarchy. [1] See also sex-positive feminism for a sex-positive feminist critique (though sex-positive feminism is often held up in contrast with radical feminism).

Patriarchal theory is not always as single-sided as the belief that all men always benefit from the oppression of all women. Patriarchal theory maintains that the primary element of patriarchy is a relationship of dominance, where one party (commonly males) is dominant and exploits the other party (generally women) for its own benefit. Patriarchal theory notes that dominant men use violent hierarchical social power to control non-dominant men as well as women. Overall, Radical feminists believe that eliminating patriarchy, and other systems which perpetuate the domination of one group over another, will liberate everyone, from an unjust society. However, critics of radical feminism claim that the true aim of radical feminists is often not only to abolish the (claimed) existing patriarchy but simply to replace it with a different structure where some parts of the society (usually men) would be discriminated against.

Radical Feminist Movement[edit | edit source]

Roots of radical feminist movement[edit | edit source]

Radical feminism emerged in the late 1960s simultaneously within liberal feminist and working class feminist discussions. In the United States it developed as a response to some of the failings of both the New Left and the liberal feminist National Organization For Women. Initially mainly concentrated in big cities like New York, Chicago, and Boston, radical feminist groups spread across the country rapidly from 1968 to 1972.

In the United Kingdom feminism developed out of discussions within community based radical womens' organisations and discussions by women within the Trotskyist left. Radical feminism was brought to the UK by American radical feminists and seized on by British radical women as offering an exciting new theory. As the 1970s progressed, British feminists split into two major schools of thought: socialist and radical.

In 1977, another split occurred, with a third grouping calling itself "revolutionary feminism" breaking away from the other two.

Australian radical feminism developed slightly later, during an extended period of social radicalisation, largely as an expression of that radicalisation. Those involved had gradually come to understand that not only the middle class nuclear family oppressed women, but also social organisations which claimed to stand for human liberation, notably the counter-culture, SDS or Marxist political parties. Often Marxist feminists found that their own parties effectively silenced them, and that the methods used were patriarchal. Women in counter-culture groups related that the gender relations present in such groups were very much those of mainstream culture.

Based on their experiences in these groups, the women made the conclusion that ending patriarchy was the most necessary step towards a truly free society. As a form of practice, Radical feminists introduced the use of consciousness raising groups (CR groups). These groups brought intellectuals, workers and middle class women together in developed Western countries. During these discussions, women noted a shared and repressive system regardless of their political affiliation or social class. These consciousness raising sessions allowed early radical feminists to develop a political ideology based on a woman's view of the world, as opposed to other possibilities, such as the Marxist ideology that was popular at the time. Consciousness raising was extensively used in chapter sub-units of the National Organization For Women (NOW) during the 1970's.

The feminism which emerged from these discussions stood first and foremost for the liberation of women, as women, from the gender roles of society. This feminism was truly radical in both a political sense, and in the sense of seeking the root cause of the oppression of women. Radical feminism described a totalising ideology and social formation which dominated women in the interests of men. This formation was called patriarchy (government or rule by fathers).

Action[edit | edit source]

Groups such as New York Radical Women and Redstockings regarded the personal as political, an attitude developed from exercises in consciousness raising. Consciousness raising helped radical feminists develop a communal and sisterly bond that emboldened them to speak out against the patriarchy. Groundbreaking writings emerged, such as Anne Koedt's essay "The Myth of Vaginal Orgasm" and Kate Millet's book 'Sexual Politics'.

In addition, radical feminists also took direct action. In 1968, they protested against the Miss America pageant by throwing high heels and other feminine accoutrements into a freedom garbage bin.[1] In 1970, they also staged a sit-in at the Ladies' Home Journal.[2] Finally, they held speakouts about culturally sensitive topics such as rape.

Social organisation and aims in the US and Australia[edit | edit source]

Radical feminists have generally formed small activist or community associations around either consciousness raising, or concrete aims. Many radical feminists in Australia participated in a series of squats to establish various women's centres, and this form of action was common in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During the mid 1980s many of the original consciousness raising groups had dissolved, and radical feminism was more and more associated with loosely organised university collectives. Since that period, radical feminism has generally been confined to activist student ghettos, inspired in part by famous intellectuals. However, occasionally, working class groups of women have formed collectives dedicated to radical feminism.

In many cases, due to state repression or cooption, the social organisations formed by radical feminists in the 1970s and 1980s were rendered ineffective. In Australia, many feminist social organisations accepted government funding during the 1980s, and the election of a conservative government in 1996 crippled these organisations.

While radical feminists aim to dismantle patriarchal society in a total historical sense, their immediate aims are generally concrete. Common demands include expanding reproductive freedoms and changes to organisational sexual culture (a common demand in US universities during the 1980s).

Radical feminism and Marxism[edit | edit source]

Some strains of radical feminism have been compared to Marxism in that they describe a "great struggle of history" between two opposed forces. Much like the Marxist struggle between classes (typically the proletariat and bourgeoisie), radical feminism describes a historical struggle between "women" and "men". Radical feminism has had a close, if hostile, relationship with Marxism since the 1970s. Both Marxists and radical feminists seek a total and radical change in social relations and consider themselves to be on the political left. Despite this commonality, as ideologies Marxism and radical feminism have generally opposed one another. In practice, however, activist alliances generally form around shared immediate goals.

Some radical feminists are explicitly avowed Marxists, and attempt to explore relationships between patriarchal and class analysis. This strain of radical feminism can trace its roots to the Second International (in particular the Marxists Rosa Luxembourg and Alexandra Kollontai). These strains of radical feminism are often referred to as "Marxist feminism".

Other radical feminists have criticized Marxists; during the 1960s in the USA, many women became feminists because they perceived women as being excluded from and discriminated against leftist political groups.[3]

References[edit | edit source]

Works cited[edit | edit source]

  1. Alice Echols. Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975, 92—101, University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0816617872.
  2. Alice Echols. Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975, 195—197, University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0816617872.
  3. Alice Echols. Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975, 135—137, University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0816617872.

Additional references[edit | edit source]

  • Mary Daly. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. 1978
  • Anna Coote and Beatrix Campbell, Sweet Freedom: The Movement for Women's Liberation. 1987
  • Catharine MacKinnon. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. 1989

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

el:Ριζοσπαστικός φεμινισμός es:Feminismo radical fr:Phallocratie he:פמיניזם רדיקלי fi:Radikaalifeminismi sv:Radikalfeminism zh:基進女性主義

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