Radical Feminism Versus the Gauzy Apple Pie Version

Caliban and the Witch - FeminismI was chatting with Elizabeth last night on Facebook. The subject of feminism came up and I wrote, “I’m not exactly sure what a feminist is. I guess I’m one because I like women. Equality, sure…” And the conversation went on to different subjects from there. But today, I started reading Silvia Federici’s book, Caliban and the Witch. And it got me thinking about feminism in a deeper sense.

Many years ago, I was on the blog of a friend of a friend. She had written something about the subjugation of women. And I posted what I thought was an encouraging comment. But I used the phrase “radical feminism” to discuss what she had been talking about. She went ballistic. It was pretty clear to me that my use of the phrase was tantamount to calling her a “feminazi.”

Indeed, entering “feminazi” into Google causes it to spit out: “a radical feminist.” But this is wrong, as I will get to in a moment. I had two reasons for using the term. The first was that the woman responsible for my intellectual and political awakening was a radical feminist. The second was that the word “feminism” has largely lost its power.

What Does “Feminism” Mean?

At this point, what does it mean to say you are a feminist? Nothing really. It says something about you if you aren’t a feminist. But feminism itself has fallen into the “mom and apple pie” category of something so nonthreatening that only psychopaths are against it. And what is the point of that?

Caliban and the Witch is an explicitly Marxist look at sexual politics. Marx, understandably, saw things from a male perspective. He saw capitalism as a transitory system between feudalism and socialism. Thus it was a good thing. This is something most people miss about Marx: he was one of capitalism’s greatest admirers. Federici is not convinced, since she looks at the subject from a female perspective. She’s particularly interested in witch trials that became much more common during the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

I’m very much with her on that, although I come at it from a different perspective. The move from feudalism to capitalism just changed the way that we divided up private land property. There has never been a serious attack on what is, ultimately, an absurd system. Federici’s feminism is in the service of answering a question, “Why are women subjugated?” In fact, in the preface of her book, she discusses the two dominant feminist theories: Radical Feminism and Socialist Feminism. The former focuses on patriarchy whereas the latter on systemic oppression of all people.

Making Feminism Radical Again

I find this far more satisfying than gauzy notions that eventually we will get sexual equality through laws and norms. And that’s because when you have an unjust, unequal society, it’s always going to be bigoted against women, racist, and so much more. It reminds me of Nicole Aschoff’s great book, The New Prophets of Capital. As I described it, “The fundamental idea with all of [the ideas of these titans of industry] is that the problems that capitalism creates can be fixed by capitalism itself.”

And I don’t believe that. Yes, I will vote for the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate because that is the system that we have. But I am fundamentally at odds with the vast majority of my fellow Americans about the system itself. What’s more, I think we have DNA problems that make us naturally hierarchical. We need to get past that.

So where am I on the issue of feminism? Am I a feminist? Sure — in the same way I’m a Democrat. But I’m also a Radical Feminist. And a Socialist Feminist. We must fix ourselves. And we must fix the system. If we don’t, Homo sapiens probably don’t have but a few thousand years left.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

10 thoughts on “Radical Feminism Versus the Gauzy Apple Pie Version

  1. I don’t know if I agree that feminism has become non-threatening. While I haven’t had the harassment that my feminist friends have had online, I have seen it. The death and rape threats have driven multiple women off of social media platforms like Twitter because of the toxic stew of hate that identifying as a feminist results in being flung at you. When someone says “I will rape your five year old daughter” like they did to Jessica Valenti, that scares you as a woman even if you never receive the threat yourself.

    As for the difference between feminism and radical feminism: Feminists want women to be able to go out in public without having to worry about the vast laundry list of things to worry about that are specific to our gender. RadFems, at least my impression of them, are a lot more likely to demand that men be subjugated to stop the worry from even starting. They also don’t get that transwomen are women.

    So being a feminist does mean something very different then being a non-feminist or a radfem and why your feminist friend got mad at you.

    • Not my friend. A friend of a friend. A friend would have understand my goodwill. Also, I didn’t call her an radical feminist. I was talking about radical feminism. But if people would slow down and read and not just jump on a term, such misunderstandings could be avoided.

      Feminism in the political world has devolved into discussions of equal pay — something everyone at least gives lip service to supporting. Something like gamergate has never been heard of by vast majority of people. But they fall rather well into the genre of oppression that also includes witch trials. It’s critically important stuff. But I’ll bet the first thing that popped into their minds when they hear the word “feminism” is breast cancer awareness month.

      We can get lost in words. But the base definition of feminism from Merriam-Webster is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” What normal person is against that? Your saying “I’m a feminist” will not shock anyone I know (even though what you actually mean by it might). My saying “I’m a Marxist” will shock a lot of people I know. The point isn’t to shock. But once a word is “apple pied” it is meaningless. It can be taken back, but that takes work. Modifiers are really useful!

      • Obviously people don’t read since I didn’t say you called her a radfem. I said what I thought the difference was and why it would make a person angry.

        • After all that I wrote, that’s your response?! A snarky line about the first paragraph? I know, I know: you don’t care about the rest. I’m used to it. Don’t worry about me. I’ll just sit alone in this room reading Radical Feminist literature…

          • I thought we already talked about it.

            And no, feminism hasn’t devolved into just talking about equal pay! It talks about rape culture, cat calling, online abuse and a dozen other topics. Which is why it makes people angry still even though most will say they are for equality (and why men call themselves humanists or equalists.)

    • There’s a deep hatred many American men have for women. It comes out online all the time, and is often barely suppressed in real life. I don’t understand it. I think it has something to do with class; lower-class men in places where unions died long ago are outgunned by more successful guys in the dating pool. (When I moved from the West Coast to Minnesota, my dating life went up immediately; men who aren’t office professionals aren’t looked down upon here to the degree they are in Portland or LA.) But that’s just one factor. There could be many more. I don’t get it.

      • One of the points she makes in the book is that systems of control of male workers is part of the same system that causes men to oppress women. (She always puts the word “oppress” in quotes for reasons that are not clear to me, but I guess is because the word implies victimhood, which she wishes to avoid?) Anyway, I haven’t finished the book.

          • It’s an academic book. I’m not sure I would recommend it. I’m largely reading it against my will. Although it has gotten better. But it’s a lot like reading a philosophy text: it goes slowly.

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