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November 3rd, 2007


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03:34 pm - Problems with Radical Feminism
Obviously (to me at least) gender equality has a fair way to go, in many ways it's doing better than racial equality in the US, but that's only because racial equality in the US remains utterly dreadful, and according to a number of measurements, racial inequality is actually getting worse. However, despite having great problems with the gender inequality in the US, I have little tolerance of radical feminism. The fact that so much of it (even when many proponents claim otherwise) is based on an essentialist view of human nature, where men and women are fundamentally different in profound moral and psychological ways automatically inclines me to dismiss it, and the critique of radical feminism posed by third-wave feminism seems exceedingly sound to me.

However, my biggest problem is the frequent attitude of radical feminists towards transsexuals, especially since I have many friends who are transsexual and transgendered. I've most commonly heard of this in relation to male-to-female transsexuals, with the most infamous (and vile) example, because the bigoted (and ultimately ludicrous) writings of Janice Raymond .

The problems of radical feminism were again brought far to close to home yesterday, when I talked with Aaron on the phone. He is at a conference on gender, speaking on panels and attempting to publicize his book What Becomes You (which, I just found out is up for a Lambda award). He was exceptionally upset, because of the general attitude towards transsexuals at this conference. Expression of these attitudes included various other panelists (some of whom were sitting on the same panel he was when they said this, knowing he was transsexual) making comments ranging from how transsexuals inherently support the oppression of women because they reinforce binary gender norms (which would only carry weight with me if the person saying it was committed to living as androgynous life as possible, which is essentially never true with the people making such statements), to comments about both MtFs and FtMs as "being coerced into mutilating" their bodies, how FtMs betray their gender, and all manner of similar bigoted nonsense. From the language Aaron described, it was clear to me that this bigoted discourse was coming out of a radical feminist perspective. Clearly, radical feminists have finally discovered that FtMs exist and many radical feminists loathe them as much as they hate MtFs.

I very much consider myself to be a feminist (primarily being a liberal feminist , with significant Marxist tendencies), but I have no more patience with many radical feminists than I do with equally essentialist Republicans.

In any case, for me, an excellent general rule is that anyone who spouts hate at any group because of what the members of that group inherently are, or because of activities that members of this group perform that only affect themselves is not worth listening to.
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed

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Comments:


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From:xuenay
Date:November 4th, 2007 01:10 am (UTC)
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Raymond is also known for The Transsexual Empire: the making of the she-male, a 1979 book on transsexuality, a manifesto which contends that male-to-female transsexuals are part of a plot on the part of men to infiltrate the women's movement.

. . .

That's the biggest piece of utter nonsense that I've heard in a while.
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From:heron61
Date:November 4th, 2007 01:51 am (UTC)
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Most definitely, and yet you can find no shortage of feminist message boards where radical feminists clearly believe that nonsense. Such are the people that I think hold half the blame for the fact that so many young liberal women in the US do not consider themselves to be feminists (the other half of the responsibility clearly lies with the right-wing controlled news media and the anti-feminist media backlash that started in the 1980s).
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:November 4th, 2007 02:27 am (UTC)
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That sounds like something out of a comedy sketch.

"Why are so many men turning into women? I'll tell you why: they're trying to TAKE OVER WOMANHOOD!"
"Uh-huh. I'll just be... going over there now..."
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From:rjgrady
Date:November 4th, 2007 04:49 pm (UTC)
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One disturbing phenemon I've noticed is people quoting whacktoons like Dworkin without ever reading her books. Then I get accused of critiquing something I don't understand. Of course, I've actually read Dworkin.

I don't think radical feminists are really feminists at all. I think they're basically misanthropes who happen to be female and feed off bigotry. Many archetypal beliefs (het sex = rape, for instance) are extremely unflattering to women.

To me, feminism means humanism + egalitarianism. I think "radical feminism" is frequently anti-humanist; they would probably counter that humanism is patriarchal and misogynist, and I would announce they're misanthropic whacktoons.

My opinions on feminism are largely immune to however much men and women are like or unlike each other. The most important aspects of feminism to me are freedom, opportunity, and security. I think, for instance, a woman ought to be able to pursue a career and remain childless without being judged by society. Likewise, childrearing is a very involved business that does not get the respect it deserves, and if someone wants to devote a good part of their life to that, that should be respected, too. In our current society, women who work on their careers get criticized for not having families, and those who devote themselves to their families are criticized as living in the 1950s. Women can't win. Obviously, the deck is still stacked against them.

As for the transexualism issue... my god, if the radical feminists really believe what they write, wouldn't they feel transsexuals warranted their own isms? The idea that out of billions of humans, every single one of them is born into and reacts to the same gender environment is just ridiculous. Gender change isn't a question of political dichotomy or gender stereotypes; is is a matter of personal aesthetic and liberty. Soemone who buys a Miyata isn't enforcing large-small vehicle role dichotomy, they are simply choosing a vehicle that suits their needs, tastes, and identity.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:November 4th, 2007 06:29 pm (UTC)
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I actually know that MTF's honor womanhood. There is nothing quite like being adored without reservation for your femininity and femaleness. To know that there are actually people out there who are willing to go through Goddess-knows-what to attain something bio-females are born with and are taught to denigrate puts a whole new perspective on things. I actaully am learning to appreciate my femaleness more because of my transwoman friends, who are far more enlightened about gender than I am.
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From:hereville
Date:November 4th, 2007 06:40 pm (UTC)

Dworkin

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I've read some Dworkin, and I disagree with her often. But I tend to assume anyone who dismisses her ideas by calling her a "whacktoon" probably is critiquing something they don't understand.
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From:rjgrady
Date:November 5th, 2007 04:07 am (UTC)

Re: Dworkin

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It is perhaps inconceivable I could read her work and find it lacking in morality, humanity, or logic. So be it.

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From:hereville
Date:November 4th, 2007 08:06 pm (UTC)
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Sorry to post twice, but I forgot to comment on this, and really feel I ought to:

Many archetypal beliefs (het sex = rape, for instance) are extremely unflattering to women.


The problem with "archetypal" beliefs like "hex sex = rape" is that virtually no radical feminists believe that, or have ever said that. It's a myth.

I agree with Heron61 that transphobia in the radical feminist community is a big problem. But I'm concerned that sometimes rightful criticism of radical feminist transphobia becomes a segway into recycling irrelevant, unfair, often untrue, attacks on radical feminists. (Speaking of relevancy: Did Dworkin ever write an attack on trans people? If she did, I'd like to know; but as far as I know she never did.)
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From:rjgrady
Date:November 5th, 2007 03:44 am (UTC)
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Dworkin's good for all sorts of lovely nuggets like this one:

"Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine."

"Romantic love, in pornography as in life, is the mythic celebration of female negation. For a woman, love is defined as her willingness to submit to her own annihilation. The proof of love is that she is willing to be destroyed by the one whom she loves, for his sake. For the woman, love is always self-sacrifice, the sacrifice of identity, will, and bodily integrity, in order to fulfill and redeem the masculinity of her lover."

"A commitment to sexual equality with males is a commitment to becoming the rich instead of the poor, the rapist instead of the raped, the murderer instead of the murdered."

"Marriage as an institution developed from rape as a practice. Rape, originally defined as abduction, became marriage by capture. Marriage meant the taking was to extend in time, to be not only use of but possession of, or ownership."

While one can argue my understanding of the material, I am satisfied that I am sufficiently familiar with it.
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From:hereville
Date:November 5th, 2007 09:08 am (UTC)
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You claimed that an "archetypal belief" expressed by radical feminism is that "het sex = rape." When I challenged that, you produced four quotes. But none of the four quotes says anything that can fairly be understood as "het sex = rape."

"Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine."


Talking about this quote (from "Letters From a War Zone," so it was probably written in the 1970s or very early 80s), Dworkin explained: "Germaine Greer used to write about what she called the 'little rapes' and she meant, for instance, when a man takes you out on a date and he drives a hundred miles somewhere and then says 'Either put out or walk home' and you have to decide between complying with his demands or facing the unknown dangers of the walk home. I mean women are put in that situation a lot, that hasn't changed."

Dworkin's argument is correct; that kind of behavior is indeed often called seduction (especially in the 50s-70s, Dworkin's formative years), and it is often barely distinguishable from rape.

Whether you agree with Dworkin's argument or not, however, she certainly wasn't arguing that all het sex is rape.

"Romantic love, in pornography as in life, is the mythic celebration of female negation. For a woman, love is defined as her willingness to submit to her own annihilation. The proof of love is that she is willing to be destroyed by the one whom she loves, for his sake. For the woman, love is always self-sacrifice, the sacrifice of identity, will, and bodily integrity, in order to fulfill and redeem the masculinity of her lover."


Do you understand that Dworkin is describing a point of view that she's criticizing? If I say "Sexists think women can't work as well as men. Women should stay in the home," it's not fair to quote me saying "Women should stay in the home" as if that were a view I'd advocated.

The quote is from "The Root Cause." Dworkin is criticizing literary pornography, and in an aside, criticizing anti-female aspects of conventional "romantic love" ideals. I don't know if it's a fair argument regarding literary pornography in the 70s, but it's a fair argument regarding a lot of comics porn I've seen. Regardless, thinking a lot of porn is misogynistic isn't saying all heterosexual sex equals rape.

"A commitment to sexual equality with males is a commitment to becoming the rich instead of the poor...."


She's saying "equality with men" is a bad idea if in practice it means women changing to become as men are, because both men and women are warped by our sexist society. Instead, the entire conventional sexual script has to be rejected and replaced with something new.

What she isn't saying is "het sex = rape."

Regarding quote for, it's obvious that criticizing the patriarchal origins of marriage is light-years away from saying that "het sex = rape."

To settle the question, one more quote, from Moorcock's interview of Dworkin (bold added by me):

Michael Moorcock: Several reviewers accused you of saying that all intercourse was rape. I haven’t found a hint of that anywhere in the book. Is that what you are saying?

Andrea Dworkin: No, I wasn’t saying that and I didn’t say that, then or ever.


And as far as I can tell, she never criticized trans people. Which makes attacking her in a thread about people who are bigoted against trans people not only unfair but bewildering.
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From:rjgrady
Date:November 5th, 2007 02:51 pm (UTC)
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"But none of the four quotes says anything that can fairly be understood as "het sex = rape." "

Well, I suppose if you ignore the one where she calls the state of being male a "rapist," I suppose. Look, you can't defend Dworkin on the argument, "She never actually says het sex is rape," when Dworkin herself interprets everything around her as she pleases. She calls men rapists, she claims in "Intercourse" that the female body is by nature unprotected from male intrusion, and she also says there that intercourse with a man may not be "what society calls rape" but is "dominance." When you say, "what society calls rape," you are calling out that it is not called rape, presumably with the meaning that at some level it is.

Anyway, this isn't my livejournal, and arguing about Dworkin on the Internet is one of my least favorite things to do. Bottom line: my disdain of her work comes from reading it, not from something I heard from someone. Claiming that attacks on Dworkin are based on ignorance... are ignorance. If her work is misinterpreted, perhaps it should have been written better. But more likely, in my mind, her work says a lot more about the writer than the writer herself knows.
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From:hereville
Date:November 7th, 2007 02:55 am (UTC)
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That's a good point, about this being not our blogs.

Heron, I do want to respond to RJ's most recent comment (if RJ doesn't want to respond to me in turn, that's fine), but maybe I should do it on my own space. Do you mind if I link to this discussion from my blog?
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From:heron61
Date:November 7th, 2007 04:21 am (UTC)
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Not at all.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:November 4th, 2007 06:22 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! Another thing that pisses me off about radical feminists is the attitude that any woman who dresses to get the attention of men or flirts with them is "making a sex object of herself." What's wrong having people look at you if you're interested in them? In other words, they're calling any woman who dresses sexily a stupid whore. What kind of feminist does that???

The kind that gets in bed with the religious "right" to pass anti-pornography ordianances. GRR!

And then these people can't even spell: "womon" and "womyn" are two of more minor ways they abuse the Engligh language for the sake of politics.

I am actually a Camille Paglia fan for this reason: because she pisses off the radical feminists.
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From:risu
Date:November 6th, 2007 07:33 am (UTC)
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Essentialism is a pickle.

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