Radical Feminism: Readings for a Course
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Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2007 09:58:20 +1100
From: Bronwyn Winter <bronwyn.winter AT ARTS.USYD.EDU.AU>
Subject: Re: Radical feminism and Transphobia - vocabulary & definitions
first, re the transgender discussion, perhaps those listmembers who were
subscribed a year ago or thereabouts (perhaps more recently) will recall a
lengthy list discussion on feminism and the politics of 'gender
reassignment', to which i and many others now posting on the trans issue
contributed at some length. no doubt joan has archived that discussion and
has perhaps made it publicly available. if not, perhaps we can ask her to.
i see little point in rehearsing all those arguments again. a couple of
brief points, however, before picking up on judith ezekiel's contribution on
defining radical feminism (NB there is also a publicly available archived
WMST-L discussion from several years back on this very topic - from the
1990s in fact. once again, i was a frequent contributor to that discussion,
which many listmembers found extremely useful [i.e. the discussion not just
2 brief points on transgender that i don't remember covering in previous
1/ i completely agree that calling people bigots and transphobic does
nothing to support arguments or advance discussion. the term phobia means
fear, it is individualising and pathologising/medicalising, and suggests
that like arachnophobia, agoraphobia or any other phobia, it can be dealt
with by some sort of phobia-reducing psychological treatment. i am not
'frightened' of TGs and have had constructive relationships with some in the
context of 'queer'activism as well as the arguments over how 'women's
space/lesbian space' is defined and unconstructive relationships with others
in the context of both. just as i have constructive and unconstructive
relationships with all sorts of people.
it is not about individuals or their individual choices, just as feminist
critiques of any other choices (e.g. the army, heterosexuality, housewifery,
motherhood, capitalism etc) do not mean that we are damning to hell every
woman who has ever been, or is, in the army, heterosexual, a housewife, had
children, run a small business (the case of feminist booskhops for example)
and so on. such critiques, even strongly worded, are not 'phobias'. they
are political critiques and should be read as such.
2/ radical feminist critiques of gender and transgender political approaches
to gender are not the same thing, as a recent post suggested they were.
radical feminist critics of 'gender' argue that 'male' and 'female' should
no longer be social markers. 'gender reassignment' does not challenge
male-female social markers, it challenges the notion that social 'gender'
identities are biological/innate. on that point, many and even most radical
feminists and TG theorists would agree. what we often vehemently disagree
about is what to do about it.
second, re judith's desire for clarification as to what we mean by 'radical
feminism'. radical means 'root'. radical feminism means getting to the
root of oppression. namely, according to radical feminists, male domination
and the division of society into two classes: a superior male one and an
inferior female one. radical feminists see this oppression as fundamental,
as crossing over all others - and often as the model from which others draw
. e.g. i myself have written about racist and colonial ideologies as virile
and as feminising racialised men (even in hypersexualising them as
'bestially' virile) - which doesn't mean women can't be racist or benefit
from race privilege, this is not the point. it is about systems and
structures and ideologies of domination.
male domination is also the only one that is ever justified in the name of
'privacy' or 'love'. the public-private divide is essential esp. in modern
so-called 'democracies' to maintaining that oppression. many french
feminist historians and theorists have written about how revolutionary
france had to create this divide and the discourse of 'nature' to keep women
in their place because church and monarchy were no longer there to do it.
radical feminists have thus argued that religion, the family and sexuality
are key sites of women's oppression. they have been criticised for ignoring
race and class but if you read the work of much-maligned radical feminists
andrea dworkin and catharine mckinnon, you will see that they do no such
thing. if one is to criticise radical feminists, then one should do so on
the basis of what they did and didn't actually write and do, not on
fictional constructions created in order to demonise. judith has noted
clearly that radical feminists have been involved in activism on race and
class issues from the outset. she is right.
however, it is important to note that radical feminism emerged within a
context: that of critiquing marxist and liberal accounts of male domination
and women's oppression. a shift in focus was essential. the 'main enemy'
as christine delphy put it (despite her recent ventures into pally relations
with islamists, i respect her earlier work), had to be named. its location
- the home, the family, sexuality - had to be named. NB delphy also analysed
the family as an economic unit and women's role within that domestic
economy. while i'm talking about france, let me mention (again) in passing
that some of the most important radical feminist (well, in this case radical
lesbian) theoretical work on racism and the discourse of 'nature' therein,
has been done by colette guillaumin.
anyway, the context in which radical feminism emerged may have made it more
exclusively focused on the family and sexuality for a time or in some
contexts, leading to the almost immediate criticisms from liberals and
another vocabulary point: i dislike the term 'cultural feminist' as i think
it has been invented by people who wish to discredit some radical feminists.
i find it unhelpful and not particularly meaningful. what i find more
helpful is to point out that, just as not all marxists agree with each other
on everything, not all radical feminists agree with each other on
everything. i have at times wanted to reject that 'label' as it has put me
in some sort of political straitjacket imposed both from 'within' and
'without'. radical feminists are not a monolithic body all chorusing in
to take the controversial example of sheila jeffreys. i think sheila is
right about many things. i think she is dead wrong about many others, and
do not hesitate to say so; there are many aspects of her approach i
thoroughly dislike. but public name-calling is not a way to engage with
what she writes. if one is to give energy to critiquing sheila's work, one
needs to read it, to engage with it, and to discuss it, rather than
participating in some sort of game of chinese whispers in which mud is
slung, labels are attached and personae and politics constructed and their
hall-of-mirrors images reproduced, sometimes by people who have not even
read their work.
i have points of disagreement with many other radical feminists, some of
whom are dear friends. e.g. i don't see entirely eye to eye with renate
klein about biology, but this does not make me dismiss her work out of hand
or decide that radical feminism is all bad because of it.
my point being that if we are going to discuss radical feminism, and in
particular radical feminist*s*, we need to bring to that discussion *at
least* as much sophistication and nuance, and respect for individuals, as we
desire in other discussions. most importantly, we need
a/ to stop personalising this discussion, making it 'all about me' as soon
as something we cherish (or is even central to our lives) is politically
b/ as judith suggests, and as i have suggested above, for different reasons,
to stop making sweeping generalisations about what 'radical feminism' is and
what radical feminists think.
Dr Bronwyn Winter
Dept of French Studies School of Languages and Cultures
Mungo McCallum Building A17
University of Sydney NSW 2006
email: bronwyn.winter AT arts.usyd.edu.au
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 12:24:46 -0500
From: gray <gray AT TCNJ.EDU>
Subject: Re: Texts on Radical feminism
Thanks to all for another round of responses to my inquiry, and for a
fascinating discussion of problematics surrounding 'radical feminism.'
I'll restate my original call here, just to re-focus. I have a student who
is intrigued by anarchofeminism, did an independent study on it last
semester, and now is working on institutionalizing the study of
anarchofeminism here by writing a course proposal and syllabus. She decided
to title the proposal 'radical feminism' because she wasn't sure a whole
course on anarchofeminism would work. But based on the responses here, I'm
not sure what she wants to do is really 'radical feminism' as it is
'defined' in textbook descriptions of the second wave. I think she really
means just "radical." She surely does not want to stay stuck in US/western
definitions of radicalism, and would be horrified to create a course that
centralizes women's oppression over other oppressions. We'll be working out
these questions as we go along this semester. She's also interested in
strategy and practice--what have 'radical'/revolutionary feminists actually
Further thoughts welcome,
gray AT tcnj.edu
The College of New Jersey
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 09:49:11 -0800
From: Kiesa Kay <oleander_cottage AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: Texts on Radical feminism
If she's into history and radical women who've made a difference, you might
want to have her take a look at THE RED VIRGIN by Louise Michel, a French woman
active in the Paris Commune who was exiled and imprisoned. I'm sure you've told
her about Mary Daly and Gyn/Ecology, and she certainly already knows the
memoirs of Emma Goldman. ("If I can't dance, I don't want to be in your
revolution.") It might be fun for her to take a look at the ways that these
women have written about their own lives as well as the ways that others have
She also might enjoy this webpage:
kiesa AT oleandercottage.com
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 12:20:56 -0700
From: Eileen Bresnahan <EBresnahan AT COLORADOCOLLEGE.EDU>
Subject: Re: Texts on Radical feminism
Janet Gray writes: "I have a student who is intrigued by
anarchofeminism.... She...would be horrified to create a course [on
radical feminism] that centralizes women's oppression over other
I don't think it is correct to say that radical feminism "centralizes
women's oppression over other oppressions." Radical movement feminists
generally opposed the creation of what were called "hierarchies of
oppression" among lived oppressions and generally supported liberation
struggles broadly. However, women in the 1970s who argued that women in
the West are oppressed were generally met by wails of protest from those
on the "male left" who asserted that the term "oppression" could not be
applied to Western women, or (perhaps) to any women in terms of how they
were treated and classified as women. Therefore, radical feminism spent
quite a bit of time and energy showing that women, both in the West and
elsewhere, are oppressed as women. This sometimes shaded into assertions
that all women who are oppressed are oppressed primarily as women. Women
of color in the movement, however, quickly corrected this viewpoint and it
was not prevalent among the people Echols (with whom I tend to agree)
calls "radical feminists" though it persisted longer in the tendency we
even at the time called "cultural feminism," which strand includes both
essentialists like Mary Daly and lesbian (but not feminist) separatists.
Radical feminists also argued that the "sex/gender system" which lies at
the basis of patriarchal social organization is the root of all
oppression, because it sets up the "psychology of domination" (as
Firestone put it) in the family. The argument is that people are fed in
the cradle the idea that some people are superior (men) and some are
inferior (women) and they then go on to generalize this logic to other
groups in later life, laying the basis for other "isms." This is what
radical feminists meant when they said women's oppression is "first" and
"at the root of other oppressions." Radical feminists wanted to reform
the family so that children would not learn that some people can rightly
be exploited by other people and believed that if this were made
unthinkable all domination would eventually become unthinkable. (However,
because radical feminists insist that individual men get real benefits
from the oppression of women, radical feminists were also pretty
pessimistic that the family could be meaningfully reformed short of
Gray also writes: "what have 'radical'/revolutionary feminists actually
To which I can only reply, "Huh?" Surely this question can't be what it
seems; but if it is, there are several histories out there.
"Radical feminists," as I am using the term here, are the group to which
Rosemarie Tong in Feminist Thought refers as "libertarian radical
feminists." I have always been bugged by this terminology (though I've
used the book in courses many times) since no radical feminist I ever knew
would have claimed the "libertarian" label, which refers to strain of
liberalism. Radical feminists disdained the liberal and the bourgeois,
but instead read the anarchists, especially Emma Goldman, and were also
heavily influenced by Marxism (given the left-movement origins of the
"autonomous women's movement"). However, they also deeply mistrusted the
Stalinist tendencies of the American left, which often also indulged in
sharp condemnations of radical expressions of sexuality, which at the time
included homosexuality and lesbianism. As I've written on the list
before, the first time I encountered the term "politically correct" was in
reference to leftists' tendency to be preachy about personal behavior and
"political responsibilities." Yet radical feminists also were very
serious about their own views of political responsibility and what they
often saw as liberal society's over-emphasis on personal life and
individualism. They tried to avoid being either "ultra-left," i.e.
expecting people to act as if the revolution had already occurred before
that had happened, or "bourgeois individualist," i.e. focused on private
life to the exclusion of politics and communal life. They also mistrusted
"hip culture," which they tended to see as another aspect of the
bourgeois. Therefore, not surprisingly, most radical feminists spent some
time in separatisms that were, as Alice Walker has famously put it,
"sometimes, for health."
Associate Professor and Director
Feminist and Gender Studies
14 E. Cache la Poudre
Colorado Springs, CO 80903
ebresnahan AT coloradocollege.edu
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 10:03:56 -1000
From: Hannah Miyamoto <hsmiyamoto AT MSN.COM>
Subject: Re: Texts on Radical feminism
Thank you, Janet, for clarifying that your student is interested in going
beyond Radical Feminism as practiced after 1967. I hope this helps; here
are useful sources on feminism in the Communist Party USA before 1957, a
period in which radical women and men struggled to reconcile their
resistance against race, class, and militarist oppression with their desire
to eliminate gender oppression. These sources are taken from a paper I
researched in 2003 (also forwarded under separate cover). I recommend
looking closely for anything by Amy Swerdlow and Kate Weigand. Also google
names like Peggy Dennis and Jessica Mitford; you'll be surprised what turns
Dennis, Peggy. The Autobiography of an American Communist. Westport, CT:
Lawrence Hill & Co.; Berkeley, Calif.: Creative Arts, 1977.
[Dennis was wife of CPUSA General Secretary Eugene Dennis, federal prisoner,
Frantz, Marge. "A Longtime Woman Activist in the Party, August 22, 1981."
The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents. Ed. Ellen
Schrecker. Boston: Bedford, 1994. 103-04.
Gordon, Sarah. Interview with Vivian Gornick. The Romance of American
Communism. New York: Basic, 1977. 130-35.
Gluck, Sherna Berger. "Mary Inman." Encyclopedia of the American Left.
Ed. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford
Healey, Dorothy and Maurice Isserman. Dorothy Healey Remembers A Life in
the American Communist Party. New York: Oxford UP, 1990.
Kaplan, Judy, and Linn Shapiro, ed. Red Diapers: Growing Up in the
Communist Left. Urbana, IL: Univ. of IL. P, 1998.
Mitford, Jessica L. A Fine Old Conflict. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.
[Mitford (1917-1996) was an avid Party member, instilling her social
conscience in her daughter, a civil rights activist. An entertaining book
of a woman who "fought the good fight," never regretted it and never
compromised the ideals that made her fight. A collection of Mitford's
letters was just published, http://www.slate.com/id/2158868/]
Schrecker, Ellen, ed. The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with
Documents. Ed. Ellen Schrecker. Boston: Bedford, 1994.
Swerdlow, Amy. "The Congress of American Women: Left-Feminist Peace
Politics in the Cold War." U.S. History as Women's History: New Feminist
Essays. Ed. Linda Kerber, Alice Kessler-Harris, and Kathryn Kish Sklar.
Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of NC P, 1995. 296-312.
Weigand, Kate. Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women's
Liberation. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins UP, 2001.
Committee on Un-American Activities, U.S. House of Representatives. Report
on the Congress of American Women. October 23, 1949. Washington: U.S.
Government Printing Office, 1949.
---. Report of the Committee on Un American Activities to the United States
House of Representatives, Eightieth Congress: Investigation of Un American
Activities in the United States. December 31, 1948. Washington: U.S.
Government Printing Office, 1949.
Jones, Claudia. "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!"
1949. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought.
Ed. Beverly Guy-Sheftall. New York: New Press, 1995. 108-23.
In addition, three books have been published about and reprinting essays by
Voltairine de Cleyre, American anarcho-feminist of the late 19th and early
20th centuries, but I presume your student was consulting this literature
previously. If not, search for that in a bookstore website, and also google
hsmiyamoto AT msn.com
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 16:34:49 -0500
From: Karla Mantilla <kmantill AT UMD.EDU>
Subject: Re: Texts on Radical feminism
Here is a pretty comprehensive list of radical feminist books and articles,
which was compiled at this blog:
http://www.feminist-reprise.org/fembib.html. There are links to a few of
the articles on the blog.
*Radical Lesbian Feminist Theory*
Spinster and Her Enemies, Sheila Jeffreys
A Passion for Friends, Jan Raymond
Call Me Lesbian, Julia Penelope
The Lesbian Heresy, Sheila Jeffreys
The Lesbian Body, Monique Wittig
Politics of Reality, Marilyn Frye
Willful Virgin: Essays in Feminism 1976-1992, Marilyn Frye
Lesbian Ethics, Sarah Hoagland
Sister/Outsider, Audre Lorde
*Radical Feminist Theory - General/Collections*
Love and Politics, Carol Anne Douglas
The Dialectic of Sex--The Case for Feminist Revolution, Shulamith Firestone
Sisterhood is Powerful, Robin Morgan, ed.
Radical Feminism: A Documentary Reader, edited by Barbara A. Crow
Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed, Renate Klein and Diane Bell
Feminism Unmodified, Catharine MacKinnon
Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf
Sexual Politics, Kate Millett
Radical Feminism, Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone, eds.
On Lies, Secrets and Silence, Adrienne Rich
Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals, Marilyn French
Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law, Catharine MacKinnon
Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression,
Life and Death, Andrea Dworkin
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Gloria
Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga, eds.
The Whole Woman, Germaine Greer
Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution, Sonia Johnson
Right Wing Women, Andrea Dworkin
Homegirls: A Black Feminist Anthology, Barbara Smith ed.
Fugitive Information, Kay Leigh Hagan
Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, bell hooks
Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot, Pearl Cleage
What is Feminism? De Clark, Feminista!, vol 3, no 10
Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, Maria Lugones
In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, Alice Walker
*Feminist Theory - Specific Areas*
Female Sexual Slavery, Kathleen Barry
Women, Lesbians, and Prostitution: A Workingclass Dyke Speaks Out Against
Buying Women for Sex, by Toby Summer, in Lesbian Culture: An Anthology,
Julia Penelope and Susan Wolfe, eds.
Ten Reasons for Not Legalizing Prostitution, Jan Raymond
The Legalisation of Prostitution : A failed social experiment, Sheila
Making the Harm Visible: Global Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls,
Donna M. Hughes and Claire Roche, eds.
Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress, Melissa Farley
Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, Christine
Stark and Rebecca Whisnant, eds.
Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Andrea Dworkin
Pornography: Evidence of the Harm, Diana Russell
Pornography and Sexual Violence: Evidence of the Links (transcript of
Minneapolis hearings published by Everywoman in the UK)
Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller
Rape In Marriage, Diana Russell
Secret Trauma, Diana Russell
Loving to Survive, Dee Graham
Unleashing Feminism: Critiquing Lesbian Sadomasochism in the Gay Nineties,
Irene Reti, ed.
The Sex Wars, Lisa Duggan and Nan D. Hunter, eds.
"Sex, Lies, and Feminism," Charlotte Croson, off our backs, June 2001
How Orgasm Politics Has Hijacked the Women's Movement, Sheila Jeffreys
"A Vision of Lesbian Sexuality, Janice Raymond," in All The Rage:
Reasserting Radical Lesbian Feminism, Lynne Harne & Elaine Miller, eds.
"Sex and Feminism: Who Is Being Silenced?" Adriene Sere in SaidIt, 2001
"Consuming Passions: Some Thoughts on History, Sex and Free Enterprise" by
De Clarke (From Unleashing Feminism).
"No Dobermans Allowed," Carolyn Gage, in Lesbian Culture: An Anthology,
Julia Penelope and Susan Wolfe, eds.
For Lesbians Only: A Separatist Anthology, Julia Penelope & Sarah Hoagland,
Women-Only Spaces: An Alternative To Patriarchy, Jennie Ruby
Exploring the Value of Women-Only Space, Kya Ogyn
Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, Barbara Ehrenreich
and Deirdre English
For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women, Barbara
Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
The Hidden Malpractice: How American Medicine Treats Women as Patients and
Professionals, Gena Corea
The Mother Machine: Reproductive Technologies from Artificial Insemination
to Artificial Wombs, Gena Corea
Women and Madness, Phyllis Chesler
"Women, Health and the Politics of Fat," Amy Winter, in Rain And Thunder,
Autumn Equinox 2003, No. 20
Changing Our Minds: Lesbian Feminism and Psychology, Celia Kitzinger and
Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich
The Reproduction of Mothering, Nancy Chodorow
Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, Sara Ruddick
The Sexual Contract, Carol Pateman
"A Radical Dyke Experiment for the Next Century: 5 Things to Work for
Instead of Same-Sex Marriage," Betsy Brown in off our backs, January 2000
V.30; N.1 p. 24
Intercourse, Andrea Dworkin
The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male, Janice Raymond
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Judith Butler
Unpacking Queer Politics, Sheila Jeffreys
"Men in Ewes' Clothing: The Stealth Politics of the Transgender Movement,"
Karla Mantilla in off our backs April 2000
"Teena Brandon: The Unmaking of a Lesbian," Carolyn Gage
Speaking Freely: Unlearning the Lies of the Fathers' Tongues, Julia Penelope
Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary, Mary Daly
Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, Mary Daly
The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe, Marija Gimbutas
Woman, Church and State, Matilda Joslyn Gage
The Women's Bible, Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Pure Lust, Mary Daly
The War Against Women, Marilyn French
Backlash, Susan Faludi
Surpassing the Love of Men, Lillian Faderman
AntiClimax, Sheila Jeffreys
Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicles of a Feminist, Robin Morgan
The Creation of Patriarchy, Gerda Lerner
The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, From the Middle Ages to
Eighteen-Seventy, Gerda Lerner
Why History Matters, Gerda Lerner
A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft, ed.
The Elizabeth Cady Stanton-Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence,
Writings, Speeches, Ellen Carol Dubois, ed., Gerda Lerner, Elizabeth Cady
The Suffragette Movement, Sylvia Pankhurst
In Our Time: Memoirs of a Revolution, Susan Brownmiller
Women, Race and Class, Angela Y. Davis
Myths of Gender, Anne Fausto-Sterling
Sexing the Body: Gender and the Construction of Sexuality, Anne
If Women Counted, Marilyn Waring
For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange, Genevieve Vaughn
Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression, Lisa
Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser
The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf
Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Susan Bordo
The Invisible Woman: Confronting Weight Prejudice in America, Charisse
Women En Large: Photographs of Fat Nudes, Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie
With the Power of Each Breath: A Disabled Women's Anthology, Susan E.
Browne, Debra Connors, and Nanci Stern
Lesbian Feminist Fiction
Conditions of War, Lierre Keith
Skyler Gabriel, Lierre Keith
Sister Gin, June Arnold
The Cook and the Carpenter, June Arnold
Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy
Between Friends, Gillian Hanscombe
Nothing Happened, Ebba Haslund
The Wanderground, Sally Miller Gearhart
Ammonite, Nicola Griffith
The Female Man, Joanna Russ
On Strike Against God, Joanna Russ
Accommodation Offered, Anna Livia
Martha Moody, Susan Stinson
Fat Girl Dances With Rocks, Susan Stinson
Venus of Chalk, Susan Stinson
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