Tag Archives: radical

#GenderWeek: The problem is capitalist-patriarchy socialising boys to be aggressive

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The most common criticism of radical feminist theory is that we are gender essentialist because we believe that women’s oppression, as a class, is because of the biological realities of our bodies. Radical feminists define sex as the physical body, whilst gender is a social construct. It is not a function of our biology. It is the consequence of being labelled male/female at birth and assigned to the oppressor/sex class. The minute genetic differences are not reflected in the reality of women’s lived experiences. Gender is the coercive process of socialisation built upon a material reality that constructs women as a subordinate class to men. As such, radical feminists do not want to queer gender or create a spectrum of gendered identities; we want to end the hierarchical power structure that privileges men as a class at the expense of women’s health and safety.

This assumption is based on a misunderstanding of radical feminist theory, that starts from the definition of “radical” itself, which refers to the root or the origin: that is to say, the oppression of women by men (The Patriarchy). It is radical insofar as it contextualises the root of women’s oppression in the biological realities of our bodies (sex) and seeks the liberation of women through the eradication of social structures, cultural practises and laws that are predicated on women’s inferiority to men (gender).

Radical feminism challenges all relationships of power that exist within the Patriarchy including capitalism, imperialism, racism, classism, homophobia and even the fashion-beauty complex because they are harmful to everyone: female, male, intersex and trans*. As with all social justice movements, radical feminism is far from perfect. No movement can exist within a White Supremacist culture without (re)creating racist, homophobic, disablist, colonialist and classist power structures. What makes radical feminism different is its focus on women as a class.

Radical feminists do not believe there are any innate gender differences, or in the existence of male/female brains. Women are not naturally more nurturing than men and men are not better at maths and reading maps. Men are only “men” insofar as male humans are socialised into specific characteristics that we label male, such as intelligence, aggression, and violence and woman are “woman” because we are socialised into believing that we are more nurturing, empathetic, and caring than men.

Women’s oppression as a class is built on two interconnected constructs: reproductive capability and sexual capability. In the words of Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy, the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities is the foundation of the creation of private property and a class-based society. Without the commodification of women’s labour there would be no unequal hierarchy of power between men and women, fundamental to the creation and continuation of the Capitalist-Patriarchy, and, therefore, no need for gender as a social construct.

Radical feminism recognises the multiple oppressions of individual women, whilst recognising the oppression of women as a class in the Marxist sense of the term. Rape does not require every woman to be raped to function as a punishment and a deterrent from speaking out. The threat therein is enough. Equally, the infertility of an individual woman does not negate the fact that her oppression is based on the assumed potential (and desire) for pregnancy, which is best seen in discussions of women’s employment and men’s refusal to hire women during “child-bearing” years due to the potential for pregnancy, which is used as a way of controlling women’s labour: keeping women in low-paying jobs and maintaining the glass ceiling. Constructing women as “nurturers” maintains the systemic oppression of women and retains wealth and power within men as a class.

Even something as basic as a company dress code is gendered to mark women as other. Women working in the service industry are frequently required to wear clothing and high heels that accentuate external markers of sex. Sexual harassment is endemic, particularly in the workplace, yet women are punished if they do not attend work in clothing that is considered “acceptable” for the male gaze. The use of women’s bodies to sell products further institutionalises the construction of women as object.

There is a shared girlhood in a culture that privileges boys, coercively constructs women’s sexuality and punishes girls who try to live outside gendered norms. The research of Dale Spender, and even Margaret Atwood, dating back to the 1980s has made it very clear that young girls are socialised to be quiet, meek and unconfident. Boys, on the other hand, are socialised to believe that everything they say and do is important: by parents and teachers, by a culture which believes that no young boy would ever want to watch a film or read a book about girls or written by a woman. Shared girlhood is differentiated by race, class, faith and sexuality, but, fundamentally, all girls are raised in a culture which actively harms them.

Radical feminists are accused of gender essentialism because we recognise the oppressive structures of our world and seek to dismantle them. We acknowledge the sex of the vast majority of perpetrators of violence. We do so by creating women-only spaces so that women can share stories in the knowledge that other women will listen. This is in direct contrast to every other public and private space that women and young girls live in. Sometimes these spaces are trans-inclusive, like A Room of our Own the blogging network I created for feminists and womanists. Sometimes these spaces will need to be for women who are FAAB only or trans* women only, just as it is absolutely necessary to have black-women only spaces and lesbian women-only spaces.

There is a need for all of these spaces because socialisation is a very powerful tool. Being raised male in a patriarchal white supremacist culture is very different to being raised female with the accompanying sexual harassment, trauma and oppression. The exclusion of trans* women from some spaces is to support traumatised women who can be triggered by being in the same space as someone who was socialised male growing up. This does not mean that an individual trans* woman is a danger, but rather a recognition that gendered violence exists and that trauma is complicated.

It is our direct challenge to hegemonic masculinity and control of the world’s resources (including human) that makes radical feminism a target of accusations like gender essentialism. We recognise the importance in biological sex because of the way girls and boys are socialised to believe that boys are better than girls. As long as we live in a capitalist-patriarchy where boys are socialised to believe that aggression and anger are acceptable behaviour, women and girls will need the right to access women-only spaces however they define them.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/Womanist network. She can be found on twitter as @LeStewpot and @Roomofourown

Photo: Pixabay

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#GenderWeek: Respectful discussion is possible

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Discussing “gender” is one of the most contentious topics in popular feminist discourse. Many misunderstandings can be attributed to different usage of the same words; and to make matters worse, many of us have been traumatised during previous attempts to engage in political conversation about gender. The history between trans advocates and gender critical feminists is extremely hostile. Personal insults, condescending dismissals, and even threats of violence are not unusual.

Late last year, we were both invited to participate in a new Facebook group that aimed to bring radical feminists and trans advocates together to discuss gender. Unfortunately, critical analysis of gender was not tolerated and we were both quickly removed from the group. This was not entirely surprising, but we were disappointed as the idea excited us.

Gender discussion rulesWe wanted to continue the conversation, so we decided to start our own Facebook group. We decided that the new group should be ‘open’ in Facebook terms, so anyone with a Facebook account could read what was being discussed even if they didn’t want to participate. Secondly, anyone would be allowed to join the group no matter what their political opinions—liberal, conservative, anarchist, libertarian, or N/A. The only rule was to engage respectfully and in good faith with the other members. It would be a grand experiment! But still, we weren’t very optimistic about its potential longevity.

We were clear that the point of the group isn’t to change people’s views, but to build a greater understanding between everyone, and hopefully build some bridges.

In just four months, Discussing Gender Critical and Gender Identity has ballooned to more than 600 members. We currently have four moderators, all of whom are feminists and one of whom is a trans woman.

Generating discussion of gender is not difficult, but maintaining harmony in the group is our greatest challenge. Towards that end, we have also developed some very basic ground rules regarding language. By preempting some common stumbling blocks to discussion of gender, we’ve been able to sustain unusually long and interesting conversations. For example, in order to avoid the minefield of misgendering, our group policy is to use preferred pronouns or the plural-neutral they/their. Predictably, we’ve been criticized by some on both sides of the table, but despite occasionally removing a member from the group, we have had surprisingly few problems. As one of our trans members commented:

“I think this group is the first concrete step leading to a better understanding between trans people and gender critical feminists. Understanding does not mean agreement, but it can show that finally there is dialogue.”

From this first step, we have already begun challenging the idea that there are only a few views around key gender issues. There is a wide diversity of thought among trans people as well as among feminists; and the group provides a forum to explore these ideas. We have also begun discussing whether there are any areas of broad agreement or commonality within the group. Ultimately, we would like to identify issues that we can potentially work together on, leading to joint trans and feminist political activism.

We invite anyone who is interested in moving beyond hostility and into creative solutions to join our conversation on Facebook.

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#GenderWeek: Truce! When radical feminists and trans feminists empathise

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We wanted to explore the ground between the polarised, entrenched positions in the so-called “TERF-war”. Radical feminists on one pole, trans-inclusionary feminists and trans activists on the other. The disputed territory being women-only space, language and the ever changing legal framework surrounding gender.

Entrenchment leads to stalemate. Stalemate is no friend to progress.

We want to know how feminism can progress when it comes to these gender debates. Can we stop hurling abuse and start listening? What would happen if people in these polarised positions began to empathise with each other? Is it possible to find common ground and start building towards a shared vision of the future? Fighting common enemies?

We asked Finn Mackay, a radical feminist, and Ruth Pearce, a trans feminist, if they would help us explore the place between the poles, this no (wo)man’s land, with some radical empathy.

Finn Mackay:

The disagreements between some feminist theory and the growing movement for trans rights and recognition perhaps began most publically with Janice Raymond’s 1980 book The Transexual Empire and Sandy Stone’s famous riposte in The Empire Strikes Back. The main two critiques were that Raymond denied a history for trans people and stated that trans people are not ‘real’ men or women.

It’s not difficult to see why the latter would cause offence, and indeed Raymond does suggest this in her book. Mainly she is concerned with critiquing the medical industry and its pathologisation of gender in the clinics of the 1970s, which she sees as charm schools for gender stereotyping.

Raymond does not deny a transgender history; she is not naïve to the fact that gender rules are different around the world and are often flouted. However, Raymond argues that it wasn’t until legal and medical advancements that it became possible to talk about the identity of transexual.

This highlights an important distinction between gender and sex. I am not an essentialist; I believe gender is a social construct – by which I mean masculinity, femininity, camp, butch, high femme or androgynous, for example. Sex describes the biological features of our bodies, such as genitalia, reproductive capacity and hormones. In patriarchy of course, sex equals rank and gender roles are used, promoted and policed so that sex rank is obvious and unequivocal.

I don’t believe gender is natural, fixed or innate, but made and not born. It is made by all the stereotypes around us about how men and women are supposed to look, act and dress. Everyone works hard at their gender, it does not come naturally. Men and women work to live up to narrow and impossible gender ideals; they diet and spend vast amounts on cosmetics and plastic surgery. In that way we are all performing gender, and it is difficult to say if anyone is a ‘real’ man or woman.

Therefore, I don’t believe that trans people are any less ‘real’ men and women than anyone else, and I don’t believe trans women are ‘men’. I respect self-definition and use the pronouns individuals identify as; I would never refer to trans women as ‘he’ or to trans men as ‘she’. I agree that women-only spaces should be open to all women, including trans women. However, I also respect the right of all oppressed groups to self-organise. For example, recently a mixed feminist conference in Manchester held a workshop on girlhood sexual abuse which was open only to women assigned female at birth. I do not think it was right that the conference was attacked as a result.

I do not agree with the term ‘cis’ and do not use it. It suggests that all non-trans people are gender normative Stepford wives, which is far from the case. I do not get read as a woman in many daily interactions and experience harassment and violence as a result. I do not have the privilege of not being questioned about my sex and gender in the street, in passport control or in interactions with health services. I also do not believe that being categorised as female in a patriarchal world can ever be seen as a privilege, and the facts of sexual violence, marginalisation and poverty bear that out.

 

Ruth Pearce:

In you, I see the girls who spat in my face as I walked home from school.
In me, you see every man who has ever treated you like a lesser being.
In you, I see the boys who always wanted to pick a fight.
In me, you see someone who just won’t listen.
In you, I see my father, a man I’ve always considered to be wise and thoughtful, telling me that I’ll be outed by the press and kicked out of university for using the women’s toilets.
In me, you see a forceful male penetration of women’s spaces.
In you, I see a thousand tabloid headlines screaming “tranny”.
In me, you see a blind adherence to the oppressive system of binary gender.
In you, I see the doctor who tells me what I can and can’t do with my body.
In me, you see the stooge of a patriarchal medical system.
In you, I see how friends who have been beaten or raped were told that they brought it on themselves.
In me, you see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.
In you, I see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.

My truth and your truth are both derived from a fierce feminism, but somehow remain diametrically opposed.  Why is it that we disagree so much over the meaning of my body, over the meaning of your lived experience, over the existence of feminist events that exclude trans women?

I would tell you that my subconscious sex, the mental matrix that somehow marks the flesh I expect to see and feel when I behold myself, maps snugly onto the body I have inhabited since undergoing hormone therapy and genital reconstruction. I would tell you that for the last six years I have been happy and at ease with myself in a way I could never have been before.

I would tell you that yes, I agree that gender is a social construct which ascribes hegemonic power to the masculine. I would tell you that I, like you, am forced to negotiate a society where we cannot simply reject gender because we are constantly gendered by others. The body I inhabit, the things I enjoy, the manner in which I communicate, the clothes I prefer to wear all fit better into the artificial category of “woman” than the artificial category of “man”.

I would tell you that I too am subject to sexism and misogyny in many of their vile forms. My transness does not spare me. I would further tell you that I have experienced worse for being trans than for being a woman, although such unpleasant experiences have been limited by the privileges that come with my class background and the colour of my skin.

I would tell you that I believe in the importance of women’s spaces. I would argue that no group of women should be rejected from such a space.

I would tell you that I am a woman because I identify as a woman and because I move through the world as a woman. That I reject outdated ideals of “appropriate” female behaviour. That I rage against sexism and misogyny, and fight alongside my sisters for equality, for liberation, for choice.

I would tell you that this is my truth, and that there is no universal trans truth. I would ask you to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of trans truths.

And you would tell me your truth. You would tell me of the pain that comes from growing up as a girl and then living as a woman in a patriarchal world. You would tell me that I can never know what this is like, that I will always be male, that my chromosomes and life experience cannot be erased. You would tell me that you have a right to organise without me. That I should just leave you alone.

And our argument could roll on for a long time. I might draw upon the wisdom of black feminist thinkers to argue that there is no universal experience of womanhood. And you might respond that I, nevertheless, will always have with me the privileges that come with being raised as a boy. And I would say yes, I accept that, but seek to acknowledge and check this in the same way I seek to acknowledge and check my other privileges, and moreover this intersects complexly with the oppression I experienced growing up as a trans girl, learning to hate myself and unable to access hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Where does this leave us?

At the end of the day, we have to draw a line in the sand. So you read and write and share your critiques of my existence, and attend your conferences from which I am explicitly excluded. But I necessarily object to writings and events that actively oppose or undermine my liberation: articles that turn me into a joke or demean my struggle for survival, activists who out vulnerable children, keynote speakers who say that we are all rapists and call for the abolition of gender clinics.

I am left with no choice but to actively oppose the public manifestation of opinions that will do harm to myself, to my friends, to my trans sisters, to my trans brothers, to my queer and/or non-gender-specific trans siblings.

I oppose you not because I hate you, and certainly not because I oppose feminism. I oppose you because you would cause me harm.

And in doing so, you believe that I cause you harm.

And so the dance goes on.

Ruth’s piece is adapted from her 2012 blog post, which you can read here.

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RadFem UK launches

A new grassroots organisation, RadFem UK, launches this evening with an event in London, where feminist and journalist Julie Bindel will speak on the importance of radical feminism.

RadFem UK describe themselves as: “a group of committed, grassroots radical feminists who want to work towards building the Women’s Liberation Movement in the UK and developing relationships with other radical feminists throughout the world.”

Beth Aze from RadFem UK said: “It’s an exciting time for feminism in the UK, with more and more women identifying as feminists. RadFem UK stands for directing our energy where it needs to be in the quest for women’s liberation, against male violence in all its forms, including prostitution and pornography. Radical Feminists were a vital part of the earlier women’s liberation movements, and that is absolutely the case today.”

Speaking on behalf of RadFem UK, Ruth Greenberg told Feminist Times: “There is currently no one national organisation in the UK promoting radical feminism and its ideas. RadFem UK can begin to fill this gap, although we would welcome more radical feminist organisations.

“The women involved in RadFem UK are a small but varied group. We are all newer to radical feminism, having been radical feminists from one to ten years.”

Ms Greenberg added: “A lot of people think women won all their rights back in the 80s, but actually in many ways things continue to get worse for women. There has been a rise in pornography, trafficking and prostitution and domestic violence. We have a new wave of feminism building who are re-engaging with, and fighting back on these issues.”

The organisation is founded with seven key aims:

1) To get radical feminist ideas into the mainstream via media, community education, blogs, etc

2) To influence other activist groups toward radical feminist analysis (left groups, social justice, feminist networks etc)

3) To partner with or support other feminist/radfem groups to run successful grassroots campaigns and actions on issues e.g. against the abuse of women through prostitution, pornography, domestic violence and rape, and for women-only spaces, including support services and the right to self organise

4) To lobby governments around the world around issues that impact on women, e.g. for the Nordic model of prostitution and protections for the rights of females

5) To organise events around the country for radical feminists and potential radical feminists/allies

6) To recruit more women into the women’s liberation movement and to provide support, guidance and mentoring to new activists

7) To provide a platform for key radical feminist speakers who rarely have a voice

Although not yet officially launched, RadFem UK have already caused a stir. Ms Greenberg said: “we are aware of some opposition from a small group of radical feminists. Part of this is due to personal differences between individuals based on past personal relationships, but there are political differences too.

“RadFem UK is about openly organising as radical feminists. This includes organising radical feminist events and conferences that are open to any woman who is genuinely interested in radical feminism. We have no interest in policing who is a radical feminist and thus eligible to attend an event.”

The RadFem UK launch event takes place tonight at Housman’s Bookshop, from 7-8.30pm. This will be followed, on Saturday 8 March at 6pm, by a protest on prostitution policy at the Amnesty International UK Head Office, hosted by Abolish Prostitution Now and RadFem UK.

RadFem UK are also planning a two-day feminist festival, Femi Fest, in August.

Find out more at radfemuk.com or follow @RadFemUK 

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