Why am I a feminist but not a radical feminist?
AKA: I don't work for you darling.
It is a poorly kept secret that there are well mapped cracks in the growing gender critical movement. In the crudest of terms there is a division between “radical feminism” and a type of grass roots activism that loosely uses the terms of second wave feminism and allies with radical feminism but also associates freely with a type of classic liberal approach that is common in the centre and heaven forbid… on the right.
Like many people I come from a theoretical approach that is a mix of my own political culture and my academic training, I also have a religion. I am 51 years old and have been a lifelong student of the discipline I chose to study at university that is almost mockingly called “humanities”.
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My own perspective is that the theory of gender identity, gendered violence and gender equity are a set of strategies that are part of an entirely experimental international theory of population management. The theories that now litter the humanities, including queer theory are the result of many years of top-down funding in the attempt to make the humanities “vocational” as policy centres for government.
It is no accident that this suite of “intersectional” ideologies have been carefully crafted to bypass public accountability, to create a moral system within the state. The integration of moral systems into the state, like the church, like Islam is a way to resist any accountability of the state to the people, to public accountability. This is because states with an inherent moral system have authority in the state itself, rather than the people or the crown. States claiming authority in themselves is fascism, with or without the charismatic leader. The new fascism is via the regulatory capture of institutions.
What we are facing is a shift away from liberalism and in response I have clung to the principles of public accountability and liberalism generally, but I have also returned to my political and cultural roots in class politics and feminism. As we fight this thing we do so from different traditions and backgrounds, many of us having our politics ground in the words that have been appropriated by the movement we fight.
Radical feminism, like many theoretical approaches has a base ideology and an agreed solution. I will be using generalisations here for the purpose of broader understanding. Radical feminism is based in a Marxist materialist class approach, which I agree with largely even though I am not a materialist or a Marxist.
I was trained in a section of post structuralist cultural studies where we were not encouraged to take on philosophies, but use models of analysis to describe structures of power. The post structuralists were not reinventing Marxism or even taking class analysis to culture, they were expanding analysis past the restriction of overarching or totalising theoretical frameworks. But of course, they had bias, of course they had European ideas, they were European intellectuals, many from a Marxist tradition. But the idea that we can examine these men’s lives and come to the base of the evil that it befalling our political systems is just a silly distraction.
The right calls the modern left “cultural Marxism”, and for a long time I thought that they were partly correct. I could see that a theoretical oppression structure is being placed in culture in order to manage culture. Foucault himself noted that you have to make things knowable to make them governable. Cultural intervention as a social justice healthcare is the core of the approach in modern western governments, and it is leading to old-fashioned tyranny.
What the right don’t seem to understand is that Marxism has always been cultural. Classes are economic, Marx was at his core an economist, but they are also cultural. When Marx wrote the working class were a cultural and an economic class much more so than they are today. Any group generationally locked into an economic system will form a strong cultural class, because cultural systems develop to give meaning to people’s position in society, just as cultural systems will always give meaning to sex. Culture is the message we send our children from our parents about who we are and how we are to live in the situation we find ourselves in. This does not always mean our culture is good or right or locked in stone, particularly in a time of structural economic change.
Marx himself, on a journey to the seaside lamented that it was less enjoyable because of all the cockneys (have a read of Mary Gabriel’s Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the birth of a revolution). The champion of the working class was culturally very upper class, he was just poor because he wouldn’t work on an iron lung.
Radical feminism has a way of understanding the culture of sex (gender) as a system where one class oppresses the other. How much male oppression of women is innate ad how much is culture is a question for the ages, and here is where we have our meeting with power and government.
If the universal phenomenon of male pattern violence and particularly sexual violence is innate, then all we can do is protect women and empower women and girls to protect themselves. If male pattern violence is cultural then we have a mandate and a moral responsibility for the health of the female population to intervene into the culture, and particularly the culture of masculinity. This is an area where intersectional or government aligned feminists and radical dissident feminists agree, at least in part, and where I don’t.
International studies do show that in societies that are very misogynistic and have no women’s rights are very bad for the health and safety of women and children. This is a simple truth, but there is no evidence that any society has ever eradicated male pattern violence through culture. In addition, we run into the problem of all utopian theories.
The power we need to give to government over human culture to create this perfect society is so absolute that we are more likely to end up with a tyrannous government who oppress women. Governments lean to tyranny if permitted, and tyranny is always bad for women and children, prove me wrong. Additionally, governments who are not accountable to the people almost always side with capital over the people and leave markets unrestrained to do the kind of exploitation that markets are prone to.
You see my problem is not that I am not left wing, it is that I am working class left, the working class left worked to shield the vulnerability of the worker, the working-class feminist saw that the women were the most vulnerable type of worker even across race and disability. Shielding vulnerability in the new left has been exchanged for the utopian idea that government can fix culture, an idea that government now use to bypass public accountability. Government has funded the shit out of the arms of feminism that have said that government can fix male violence with culture because it gives them a moral mandate to intervene in the culture of everyone who has a sex. But that doesn’t include radical feminism, because radical feminism is sticking to female as a sex and a political class based on material reality. That makes it little use to governments.
Victorian domestic violence charity Our Watch claim that the focus for domestic violence should be “primary prevention” where gender is considered the driver of violence. I have spent many, many hours that I will never get back, reading the research that underpins this theory, and its highly theoretical and empirically unsupported, heavy with international references and entirely state funded. The policy of “primary prevention” uses funding from the taxpayer, earmarked for the protection of women, in an experiment of population management that has no interest or potential in preventing violence against women, quite the contrary.
Our Watch receives tens of millions of dollars from the tax payer and openly admit that “primary prevention” is entirely experimental and the “evidence” they site in their rationale (p17) is a word-salad of obfuscatory nonsense.
So, I don’t believe in the dream of intersectional or radical feminism. I am a working-class leftie and a second wave feminist as so many women in this movement are. I think that humans are a mix of biology and culture that I don’t have the expertise to fully understand.
As a student of culture, I believe that childhood is like a very long fourth trimester of human growth, I believe that culture is the system of messages we get passed down and that we pass down. Culture is billions of interactions, volumes of messages, it is gestures and music and food and bias and loving and hating, all tagged on top of the genetic coding and possibly integrated into the genetic coding. Culture is the software that we didn’t make, and we don’t fully understand, but it belongs to groups of people not governments.
I don’t know where the line is between culture and biology, but the slate is definitely not blank, and even if it where I don’t believe we can ever give the state the right to code humans in any way, because the state is inherently tyrannous. That is a foundation principle of classic liberalism that I agree with it.
I hate the new institutional bourgeois left, I dislike the new reactionary right, the centre I guess is where I dwell with a bunch of other weirdos. Feminism is women resisting the state, and right now radical feminists are a key part of that, but they can’t really cancel people from feminism, sorry about that. There is no evidence that the women who fight for rights are all involved in a universal struggle to seize the means of cultural production to radically re-order society. I mean maybe there are some ancient tablets, but history indicates that effective women’s activism is a grass roots endeavour aimed at the protection and empowerment of women and girls from men and from the state.
My week has reminded me of that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer gets called into the boss’s office to be sacked and Kramer replies to the boss, “but I don’t even really work here”, the boss replies, with immaculate Seinfeld timing; “that’s what makes this so difficult”.
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Thanks for this analysis Edie. I’m with you; please start the new WSPU! I’m also not a radical feminist and (I just had this discussion with my Mum) I find it difficult to call myself any sort of feminist, because liberal feminism’s so bloody awful. Come to think of it, I’m not a believer in any ideology as people tend to get trampled in the name of ideas. I enjoy your writing and as I have never done Cultural Studies, I learn a lot too. Thanks.
• ... cracks in the growing gender critical movement
• Radical feminism has a way of understanding the culture of sex (gender) as a system where one class oppresses the other. How much male oppression of women is innate ad how much is culture is a question for the ages ...
• If ... male pattern violence is innate .... If male pattern violence is cultural ....
• I think that humans are a mix of biology and culture that I don’t have the expertise to fully understand. ...
• I don’t know where the line is between culture and biology, but the slate is definitely not blank ..."
A fairly solid bit of analysis in general, but while I can’t say much towards any of your comments about and related to Marxism, I think the five listed points above speak to the crux of the matter.
As I’ve argued recently in another comment here, it seems the biggest problem with much of feminism in general and radical feminism in particular is its tendency to rather dogmatically insist that gender is just a matter of culture, that it was hatched in the inner sanctums of “The Patriarchy” with the sole intent of “oppressing” women, that the slate is indeed blank. I think you’re entirely justified to wonder where “the line is between culture and biology”, but the evidence seems clear that both contribute, in varying degrees depending on the traits in question, to the various personalities and personality types that are subsumed under the rubric of “gender”. Failing to acknowledge those facts tends to preclude optimal solutions to their worst consequences.
ICYMI, UK lawyer and Substacker Helen Dale had a fairly illuminating, if not damning essay on “Feminising Feminism”, the pretext for which was a review of Louise Perry’s “The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century”. A couple of particularly damning comments related to the above:
• ... a counterblast to the braindead feminism I encountered at university. Pseudoscientific feminism never took me in ...
• ... [Perry’s book] represents a sincere attempt to anchor feminism in reality.
• ... led [Perry] to do what no feminist theorist has done before: take biology seriously."
That seems to be the biggest problem with far too much of feminism – a rather pigheaded and dogmatic reluctance to “take the biology seriously”. Offhand, it seems there’s more than a bit of value in the concept of gender – at least, as many argue, as a synonym for those personalities and personality types. Where much of feminism seems to have gone off the rails is in “thinking” that those personality types – AKA gender – don’t have their roots in significant personality differences by sex that are, in turn, based on fundamental bedrock biological differences.
As I’ve argued here, much of gender is incoherent and quite antiscientific claptrap, but there are some worthwhile elements and perspectives that might reasonably be put on a more scientific footing: