**Massive disclaimer: I do not identify as Radfem. I do not claim to speak for RadFem. This post is entirely based on my personal experiences and observations. If I misrepresent RadFem theory, I apologise.
I always knew I was going to end up writing a post like this. But recent events have pushed it further up the agenda. And I guess it follows on pretty neatly from my previous post on ‘Hairy Man Hating Lesbian’ feminists. ‘Cos, let’s be honest, RadFems are mostly who people are talking about when they make that particular reference. And if you aren’t convinced, just glance over this, otherwise excellent, article by Tom Mendelsohn which appeared on the Independent website:
I read this article, and initially I was all on board. A take down of the ‘Mens Rights’ movement (cos, y’know, men have it so tough), referencing the down-right misogynistic comments appearing under *any* article which even hints at feminism. A further comment on the backlash to feminism-I’m with you! My fingers are hovered over the keys, prepared to wholeheartedly commend this article to my (admitedly rather tiny number) twitter followers.
And then he slips in this little gem:
‘The rad fem man-haters are dying off these days’.
Contextually, he uses this to point out why feminism shouldn’t be scary to the menz (well colour me not at all shocked that it ends up being ‘what about the menz’), but what he is actually doing is othering RadFems, and essentially blaming the backlash and the MRMs on RadFems.
To be entirely fair to the author, if you spend any time at all looking around the internets, you will find any number of opinion pieces ‘taking down’ radfems. In fact, if you just search for radfem on twitter, you will get any number of arguments. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
So I guess this article was one thing. The second thing that pushed ‘what about the RadFems’ into the front of my brain was something that happened in my own circle. I am part of a small local group of feminists (which I will not name) who spend a lot of time discussing online, sharing links, organising actions, all that fun stuff. A link was posted to a website which has a distinctly RadFem bent, and in the resultant conversation, one of our member left. And she left because she couldn’t be a part of a group which supported RadFem theory.
Now groups are fluid. People come, people go. But the idea that one aspect of feminism was so inherently toxic that a woman who id’d as a feminist would chose to leave, troubled me greatly.
RadFem is the monster-under-the-bed of feminism. It is she-who-must-not-be-named. It is insta-death to conversation. And I want to talk about why this is, and why I am not running away from the RadFems. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short!
If you check out the definition of RadFem on Urban Dictionary (I know, not exactly the OED, but often useful to see what people-ok mostly men-think), the first thing you will read is ‘An ideologue who acts under the decades-outdated belief that gender, sexuality, and all parts of the human mind are learned and have no basis in biology’. Now what is wrong with that sentence? Oh yeah, the ‘decades outdated’ part. But regardless, the rest of it has some basis in fact (I’m as shocked as you are). RadFems (on balance, for the most part, taking into account variances of individual approach) do not believe in biological predeterminism. They don’t believe that women are designed by biology to be or do any given thing. They don’t think, for example, that women are inherently bad at maths and good at ‘nurturing’ (if you are interested in this sort of thing, check out Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine-a really excellent, and thoroughly researched, read). And they believe that gender is a social contruct. Neither of these views are specific to RadFem theory. And, frankly, neither of them seem to me to be toxic, scary (unless women in maths scares you), or so far out of the overton window as to justify the running and screaming that happens when you say ‘RadFem’ (BOO!). In terms of socially constructed sexuality, there is a huge amount of reading out there on the concept of ‘compulsory heterosexuality’. And if that is too far for you, we can at least agree that the media as a whole, and society in general, is hugely heteronormative. Heterosexual relationships are seen very much as the default setting, homosexuality as an aberration. People live their whole lives pretending to be what society tells them they must be, only ‘coming out’ years later.
So, what’s next. Ah yes, ‘Radfems are most commonly seen trying to ban pornography’
Here’s what the menz are scared of. RadFems are antiporn. Yeah, I have no problem with that. Porn is bad (mm-kay). No really, it is. The technical concept/definition of porn, that of sexually explicit or arousing imagery, is fine. RadFems are not antisex (no, really, I don’t care what the internet told you). But. Porn as it exists now, today, in this world, in the society we inhabit, not in an imaginary one where everything is fine, is really really bad. It’s bad for women, it’s bad for men, it’s bad for children. It’s just bad. And men (*insert standard disclaimer regarding Nigel here*) are addicted to it, and terrified that it’s going to be taken away from them.
Next? ‘or lecturing parents about what they must teach their children lest they be responsible for raising a rapist.’
Ah. Well that’s just weird. Because the opposite to this, is the idea that rapists are born. Rapists are not born (*insert standard disclaimer regarding the 1 rapist in a thousand ‘born broken’), they are made. They are made by a society that teaches that women are commodities for the use of men, that women’s role in society is to be sexually available to men. So, just maybe, by teaching our young men to respect women (at the very least!!) we can create a world where women aren’t seen as meat. And if you don’t think women are seen as meat, you aren’t looking at the same world I am.
For the last point, I don’t need to look at Urban Dictionary. I can look at twitter, or any board or blog or website that critiques RadFem theory. The charge is ‘transphobic’. This is a tough one. And I am not going to try to deconstruct RadFem theory and how it relates to trans-theory here. I don’t know enough about either subject. But what I will say is, rather than condemn RadFem theory as being inherently transphobic, maybe we should be reading about it? Like actually looking at RadFem theory, not what its detractors say it says. I have interacted with a number of women who ID as RadFem. And, to me, it seems that their critiques of trans-theory do not come from a place of hate. That is not to say that there are not women who id as RadFem who do not behave in ways that may be seen as being transphobic (I am not going to say that they are, or are not transphobic, because I don’t know their motivations.) At the very least, they could be said to be harsh and uncompromising in their language. But even taking that into consideration, it seems to me to be shortsighted in the extreme to automatically throw out RadFem as being transphobic if we aren’t even willing to look at what the theory is.
I’m not saying we should all jump onto the radfem train. I’m not saying I necessarily agree with all aspects of radfem theory. But I cannot see any reason why the very mention of RadFem makes us all scatter in terror. RadFems are, whatever else you may think, very women-centric. And that is to be applauded.
I guess what I am saying is very similar to my first post. Why are we allowing ourselves so be divided up in this way? Why are we throwing other women under the bus so readily? Maybe we should stop and think and talk to them first?