Radical feminism

Radical feminism is a perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts.[1]

Radical feminists view society as fundamentally a patriarchy in which men dominate and oppress women. Radical feminists seek to abolish the patriarchy in order to "liberate everyone from an unjust society by challenging existing social norms and institutions." This includes opposing the sexual objectification of women, raising public awareness about such issues as rape and violence against women, and challenging the concept of gender roles. Shulamith Firestone wrote in The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970): "[T]he end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally."[2]

Early radical feminism, arising within second-wave feminism in the 1960s,[3] typically viewed patriarchy as a "transhistorical phenomenon"[4] prior to or deeper than other sources of oppression, "not only the oldest and most universal form of domination but the primary form" and the model for all others.[5] Later politics derived from radical feminism ranged from cultural feminism to more syncretic politics that placed issues of class, economics, etc. on a par with patriarchy as sources of oppression.[6]

Radical feminists locate the root cause of women's oppression in patriarchal gender relations, as opposed to legal systems (as in liberal feminism) or class conflict (as in anarchist feminism, socialist feminism, and Marxist feminism).

Theory and ideology

Radical feminists assert that society is a patriarchy in which the class of men are the oppressors of the class of women.[7] They propose that the oppression of women is the most fundamental form of oppression, one that has existed since the inception of humanity.[8] As radical feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson wrote in her foundational piece "Radical Feminism" (1969):

The first dichotomous division of this mass [mankind] is said to have been on the grounds of sex: male and female ... it was because half the human race bears the burden of the reproductive process and because man, the ‘rational’ animal, had the wit to take advantage of that, that the childbearers, or the 'beasts of burden,' were corralled into a political class: equivocating the biologically contingent burden into a political (or necessary) penalty, thereby modifying these individuals’ definition from the human to the functional, or animal.[9]

Radical feminists argue that, because of patriarchy, women have come to be viewed as the "other" to the male norm, and as such have been systematically oppressed and marginalized. They further assert that men as a class benefit from the oppression of women. Patriarchal theory is not generally defined as a belief that all men always benefit from the oppression of all women. Rather, it maintains that the primary element of patriarchy is a relationship of dominance, where one party is dominant and exploits the other for the benefit of the former. Radical feminists believe that men (as a class) use social systems and other methods of control to keep women (and non-dominant men) suppressed. Radical feminists seek to abolish patriarchy by challenging existing social norms and institutions, and believe that eliminating patriarchy will liberate everyone from an unjust society. Ti-Grace Atkinson maintained that the need for power fuels the male class to continue oppressing the female class, arguing that "the need men have for the role of oppressor is the source and foundation of all human oppression".[10]

The influence of radical-feminist politics on the women's liberation movement was considerable. Redstockings co-founder Ellen Willis wrote in 1984 that radical feminists "got sexual politics recognized as a public issue", created second-wave feminism's vocabulary, helped to legalize abortion in the USA, "were the first to demand total equality in the so-called private sphere" ("housework and child care ... emotional and sexual needs"), and "created the atmosphere of urgency" that almost led to the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.[3] The influence of radical feminism can be seen in the adoption of these issues by the National Organization for Women (NOW), a feminist group that had previously been focused almost entirely on economic issues.[11]