When I talk to “sex positives”, leftists or liberals, I often get told my Radical Feminist opinions about sexuality to them sound like conservativism of the worst kind. This certainly has nothing to do with me as a person, because it is far from new: This accusation has been hurled at Radical Feminists ever since Radical Feminism came into being.
The confusion of right-wing ideology and Radical Feminist analysis always struck me as the purely emotional fear of persons who are afraid to have taken their orgasms from them and lazy thinking combined with what I call ‘sloganism’, the tendency to simplify everything into easily digestible mindbits.
On the one hand sloganism has to do with communication style (e. g. demonstration signs, facebook, or twitter), on the other it seems to be a trait of human nature to feel the need to put everything into little boxes in order to tidy up a messy world.
This leaves out that even a single sentence contains multiple and complex layers of information:
I) It is said in a particular context of time and place and by a speaker who is rooted in both.
II) It is embedded in a bigger worldview.
III) It ″embodies″ a bigger amount of analysis and thought work, comparable to an acronym which ″embodies″ a multi-word sentence.
IV) It may also include a directive for action which is also based on analysis and worldview.
If all context is missing, the slogan stands alone and is open for the individual hearer’s interpretation. In this case, the slogan tells more about the hearer than about the topic it is about.
In my teenage years I read a quote by Ayn Rand, “We are all brothers under the skin – and I, for one, would be willing to skin humanity to prove it.” I was an European teenager and didn’t have the slightest idea who she was – and, indeed, whether a person named Ayn was male or female – , what her politics were and from which text the sentence came from. I read the statement as a radical anti-racist sentiment making use of a strong metaphor, because I was a teenager prone to strong metaphors and confronted with a newly elected government which included a racist, proto-fascist right-wing party.
My interpretation says nothing about Ayn Rand, but a lot about me and the place where I lived.
If there is context, I) and II) are most obvious and accessible.
To stick with my example about Ayn Rand: I looked up who she was after her name appeared on The Simpsons. I don’t remember the exact episode, but Agnes Skinner (?) is reading a novel by Ayn Rand, because she is attracted to the author picture which she considers to depict a good-looking man. Lisa (?) then corrects her that Ayn Rand is a woman. I was a young, isolated dyke who had been mistaken for a boy before, so I immediately made the assumption that Ayn Rand must be like me. Off I went, excited to find a Lesbian novelist, maybe even a feminist who would give me food for my budding Lesbian feminist mind. Even today I remember the profound disappointment when I found out what kind of politics Ayn Rand represented, and a deep self-disgust about how I had liked her quote, but had been too lazy to look up the author.
I didn’t bother to find out about the text context afterwards, and even less about the details of political analysis in other texts after that. Or, in other words, I refused to learn about III) and IV).
To get back to the topic, I will now try to show this with an example which is notoriously brought up by liberals when they want to point out that Radical Feminism and right-wing ideology are really just the same:
Slogan: ″Prostitution is not a good thing.”
Time, Place, Speaker: 2013, church, catholic priest [I was raised catholic, so I just take this as one example for countless other forms of right-wing ideology.]
Worldview: There is an allmighty god who has created the world and gave a clear law for all human beings to live by. We know about god’s will because of the bible and other holy texts which are skillfully interpreted by the catholic clergy.
Analysis: Two thousand years of theological debate. God made man and woman. They have natural, inborn traits and were created in relation to each other: Man is created to father children and provide for his family, woman is created to bear children, care for them and nurture the family. Both are created to be strictly monogamous, and sexuality is possible only between one man and one woman (hence, no divorce). Therefore there are only two options: Either to stay entirely virgin and celibate, or to marry. Marriage can’t be defined as anything else than between man and woman, and has to be open for children (so, no contraception, no abortion).
Prostitution by definition exists outside monogamy and virginity, therefore it is against god’s will and the order of creation of man and woman.
Directive for action: Both the prostitute and the client are sinners. Everyone has to be either virgin and celibate or heterosexually married with children/heterosexually married open to have children/heterosexually married and celibate. Therefore prostitution has to be stopped (by either providing help or punishment, depending on the time and place) and those involved will find forgiveness in god if they repent.
Slogan: ″Prostitution is not a good thing.”
Time, Place, Speaker: 2013, Feminist rally, Radical Feminist [the following is MY analysis. I can’t speak for any other Radical Feminist or for Radical Feminists as a group.]
Worldview: We live in a patriarchy, which means women as a class are oppressed by men as a class. This oppression can and will be ended by women against the will of men who are unwilling to give up their power.
Analysis: Prostitution is founded in the fact that women under patriarchy as a class are poorer than men as a class, both in terms of income and property. At the same time women as a group are often denied education and job training (see for example the global illiteracy rates). These circumstances create economical pressure on women.
At the same time prostitution feeds the male demand for both available sex and exertion of power, while it functions as a tool of oppression.
It divides women from each other, e. g. ″honourable″/″dishonourable″, whore/wife, poor/rich etc and gives men control (e. g. prostitutes are controlled by pimps, non-prostitutes are controlled with the threat of ″You don’t want to end up like her″, the concept of female virtue in general or, the newest twist: ″Why don’t you want to be like her?”).
It has a gaslighting function, e. g. pimping as ″protection″ or the prostitute as ″economically independent entrepreneur″, the ″sexually liberated woman” or the ″empowered woman″.
It weakens women by equalising money with consent and endangers women’s health and safety (e. g. through violence by pimps and
clients rapists, STDs, drugs and poverty).
Therefore, prostitution is normalised, institutionalised and commercialised rape.
Directive for action: Buying women has to be illegal and socially ostracised like all other forms of violence against women. Women in prostitution have a right to all kinds of support, the shame lies with the
clients rapists, and them alone. In a non-patriarchal society there will be neither a male demand for buying women nor the need for women to prostitute themselves, and the very idea of buying a human being will be unconceivable.
How anyone can believe that Radical Feminism and right-wing ideology are the same is just beyond me. I have to assume that the equation of the two is done deliberately and consciously to smear Radical Feminism, nothing else.
Until recently, this would have been the point at which I would have stopped to think. This would have been my conclusion. But today I don’t think this is the end of it. It can’t be, because my analysis is dealing with the theoretical arguments of ideology, which is not all there is.
In fact, I never once have been asked for my analysis or have been offered analysis in turn. Nobody ever started a discussion with me which was concentrating on the theory and methodology of feminist analysis.
What I got were pseudo-arguments like these:
″You are a Lesbian, what do you know!” [This has to do with the Born-This-Way explanation for homosexuality. If homosexuality is genetic, I am of course genetically unable to judge heterosexual behaviour.]
″You are almost fascist!” [This needs explanation. It refers to the theories of Wilhelm Reich (1) who was very much loved among leftist circles in the 1970s in my country. This gives you an idea of the age of the man who told me that.]
″You are uptight/prudish.”
″This is your catholic upbringing showing.”
″You have a victim mentality!”
″You don’t know anything about women.”
″That’s not our [feminist] theory anymore.” [By a student, and meaning: You are outdated.]
There is one thing what all these pseudo-arguments have in common: They all include the word ‘you’. They all imply that the problem is with the feminist, not with the feminism – or rather, they don’t even get so far to make a deliberate decision to rather address the speaker than the subject. They just don’t think about the subject at all, because they can’t see beyond the speaker.
My point is: This behaviour is not just laziness or an abstract need to put the world into orderly boxes.
This is the essence of male (and male-identified) entitlement. Would two men, meeting on the often-lauded ″marketplace of ideas″, say, an anarchist and a libertarian, would they use arguments on each other like the ones above? The very thought is absurd, because men take each other seriously, even if they disagree. But when a feminist is speaking, she is always only a woman.
This also ties into the capitalistic worldview which has hijacked feminism.
Capitalism – with its individualisation and personalisation of success and failure, its fairy tale of self-regulation equating fairness, and its glittery consumerism – is such a dominant model for world explanation that liberal feminists are not even aware of the influence it has on their thinking.
Liberal feminism does not fail to address the problem of personalised pseudo-arguments. Often it does. Popular liberal feminist sites are full with articles, essays and posts on stupid things someone said. Ann Coulter (2) says women shouldn’t vote because they are too dumb (= personalised pseudo-argument)? Rush Limbaugh (3) calls Sandra Fluke a slut (= personalised pseudo-argument)? Some What’s-his-name-again (4) says feminists act out against bad fathers ( = personalised pseudo-argument)? There will be liberal feminists writing personalised takedowns (5) of it; joking about it; seething about it.
But liberal feminism fails in political analysis.
Liberal feminism puts individual choice and agency above everything else. May it be in questions of prostitution, of ‘gender’, of sexuality, it always comes down to this:
″Well, as a feminist, virtually anything a woman does is empowering.”
Sounds familiar? It was Lisa Simpson (6) who ″said″ it. And liberal feminists, in their seemingly innocuous and quirky obsession with pop culture of course love her (7).
I liked The Simpsons as a teenager. I learned about Ayn Rand on The Simpsons and subsequently about myself. But at some point I realised that my personal likes are just not the point.
It doesn’t make me a feminist to like The Simpsons, because they are not real. Lisa Simpson is not real. She is a product sold by the Fox Network.
That ″feminists″ take something serious that comes out of the Fox Network just because the product is marketed to exactly match their consumerist desires, is more than telling. It is the very same kind of shallow thinking that makes liberal feminism promote pornography: Far from looking at what lies beneath, they – in the name of and with the backup of postmodernist academia – are happy to remain at the very surface which is deliberately designed to meet their needs e. g. for ″feminist″, ″female-friendly″ or ″ethical pornography″.
If the surface looks agreeable, liberal feminists fail to dig any deeper. They bring up personal choice – one can like pornography or not – and thereby take away any possibility of criticism. Everything comes down to personal like and dislike, and, as the proverb goes, personal taste cannot be a matter of quarrel. You like this, I like that, where is the problem?
But Radical Feminists do dig deeper. Radical comes from Latin radix, the root. Radical Feminists dig down deep into the toxic layers of patriarchy to see what lies beneath the surface.
What has been seen cannot be unseen, they say. Radical Feminists can’t unsee the layers and layers of patriarchy they have traced like careful archeologists. This is why Radical Feminism is a hard, uncomfortable path to walk, and why so many women choose to return into feel-good surface feminism by deliberately blinding themselves and forcing themselves to forget.
And here we are back where this post started. One of the blinding tools liberal feminists use is what I called ‘sloganism’ at the beginning. They take a faint surface resemblance of slogans (″Prostitution is not a good thing″) to ″prove″ Radical Feminism and right-wing ideology are both fundamentalist collections of commandments and prohibitions. Since they don’t look beneath the surface, they don’t see that there is a difference between ‘Thou Shalt Not or else the invisible supermale in the sky will punish you’ and ‘I have seen the roots, I have seen the suffering, I cannot bring myself to do this’.
When I live my daily life – and I strongly suspect that in this regard I’m not the exception among Radical Lesbian Feminists – I don’t carry an internal rule book with me and have to pay attention to stick to it. In Radical Feminism, there is no concept of ‘sin’ or ‘lapse’ or the idea of a rule which has to be kept against a strong internal urge to break it. There can’t be, because Radical Feminism isn’t based on authority.
Radical Feminism is empathy, solidarity and love between women, and that’s the complete opposite.