Monday, May 21, 2012

A very brief introduction to Radical Feminism

Or, "Yes.  I can still say with integrity that I am a radical feminist."

When I was enrolled in the Women's Studies Program at UMBC more than 20 years ago now, one of my all-time favorite courses was Theories of Feminism with Dr. Carole McCann.

It was a revelation.

I was already a feminist, but formal study of the feminist theory awed and astonished me.

public domain, via Wikimedia
I worked hard in that class, and I loved it.  The analysis that made even further sense of my real life and my experience, and also of so much more; the theoretical wranglings; the combination of mental gymnastics and hard practicality.  Learning and applying the rigors of feminist analysis.  Seeing how it all fit together.  The power of how it could be taken so much further.  Developing my sense of where I fit in with those who had gone before, and with the feminists I found around me -- my teachers, my sister students, activist friends in the community.

That level of feminist theory and analysis was not something I'd experienced when I was at Bryn Mawr the first time around. 

I was furious and crushed over having been forced to leave Bryn Mawr by the effects of sexual assault, by illness, by unthinking sexism in medical care, and by money and class.  I'd had to fight so hard to go to college in the first place, and then I'd had to leave.  Then I had to fight all over again to return to college, at UMBC.  And on top of it, I had to put up with the most incredible casual sexism on campus there.

And here was this silver lining, this life-changing, powerful, unexpected silver lining.  Not only in the form of the Women's Studies Program (now Gender and Women's Studies), but in all the courageous women -- in so many of my classes, not just my Women's Studies classes, and in the Women's Union and Students for Choice -- and in the courageous people of all genders, but especially the women, in the Gay/Lesbian Organization (which we got renamed the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alliance).  In the levels of engagement and activism. 

It was a revelation.

And as happy as I was when I managed to return to Bryn Mawr and complete my degree there, I really missed my sisters and the Women's Studies Program at UMBC, as well as in the wider peace and social justice activist community in that area.  

I still have all my reading materials from Theories of Feminism, in a box which came with me to Scotland.*  Including radicalesbians' "The Woman-Identified Woman," which I invite you to read here: 

radicalesbians, "The Woman-Identified Woman" 

Click here for the herstory of radicalesbians.  It rocks. 

I still identify as a feminist.

Frequent readers of this blog are unsurprised.

I have also said all along that I still identify as a radical feminist.

But when I was recently invited to a radical feminist conference where I found myself in such serious disagreement with the organizers that I not only can't imagine going, I can't imagine promoting the conference to anyone else, I found myself wondering:

Does my 20-odd-years-older self really still identify as a radical feminist?  If I look at radical feminism square-on, is that me?

So today, I went digging.

from the Wikipedia page on "Radical feminism":

Radical feminism is a current theoretical perspective within feminism that focuses on the theory of patriarchy as a system of power that organizes society into a complex of relationships based on an assumption that male supremacy[1] oppresses women. Radical feminism aims to challenge and overthrow patriarchy by opposing standard gender roles and oppression of women and calls for a radical reordering of society.[1]

Yep, that sounds like me.

from the page on "Radical Feminism":

Radical feminism is a philosophy emphasizing the patriarchal roots of inequality between men and women... Radical feminism views patriarchy as dividing rights, privileges and power primarily by gender, and as a result oppressing women and privileging men.

Radical feminists tend to be more militant in their approach (radical as "getting to the root")... radical feminists tend to... support cultural change that undermines patriarchy and associated hierarchical structures.

Radical feminism opposes patriarchy, not men...

Mmmm, yep, that also sounds like me.

(Actually, I agree pretty much entirely with that entire article, and encourage you to read it, since I don't have permission to quote it in entirety!)

Yes.  I can still say with integrity that I am a radical feminist.

Thanks for joining me on this little exploration.  I hope it's helpful for you in terms of some of the myths about what feminism is, and isn't.

More soon, I hope, on how my radical feminism doesn't include hate speech, and how hate speech promotes violence.  That, as they say, is another blog post. 

* Dr. McCann co-edited what looks like a wonderful book, which I must get my hands on:


Xochitl said...

Hi Stasa, This is my first visit to your blog - radical feminism caught my attention :)

One question, what was the rad fem conference you attended?

Glad to hear you identify as a radical feminist, I know several amazing women who do and I love them all!

Morgan said...

Xochitl! Hello, I'm so glad you stopped by! Thanks for your comment.

I write quite a bit about feminism. :)

I haven't attended any radical feminist conferences in a while. I'll be making another post about the one I was invited to but *won't* be attending because of the organizers' hate speech towards transgender women.

Yeah, I know a number of really amazing women who are radical feminists, too; I love them, and I am so grateful for their presences in my life!

Morgan said...

This is a post about my experience.

The comments on this particular post are not a place for people to explain their problems with feminism, or with radical feminism, or to explain why they embrace one label or not another, etc.

On the issue of transgender women's inclusion in radical feminism and radical feminist space: a) most of the transgender women I know actually are radical feminists; b) I am working on another post about cissexism and transphobia in radical feminism, and how radical feminism does not have room for hate speech or promoting violence. Bear with me until I get it finished, then check it out. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done, Staśa, though I should know better than to think I could just pop over here for a quick read. There's always a reading list with you, isn't there? ;-)

Jami Hart said...

Wow. This really takes me back to a time of renewed hope for my life and being able to have support for who I was rather than being isolated and alone. I was in my 30's when all this was happening and it changed my life.

Morgan said...

Blessed be!

(And thanks so much for your comment, Jami!)

Morgan said...

Cassandra, I can't believe I didn't say this back in June -- thanks for the compliment! :)