In a previous post, I said I’m writing from a Christian Radical Feminist view. This may baffle or shock you: Does “radical” mean I hate men? Does it mean I will plant bombs in my women-favouring extremism? Not at all! “Radical” in radical feminism has to do with the word “root”: We look at the roots of patriarchy and sexism.
1) Radical feminism firstly means caring about class analysis, not just personal choice.
Where liberal feminists often focus on “choice”, radicals would look deeper and see what is behind these choices and what they lead to. For example:
Liberal feminist: Some women choose to do porn. I will not deny women their choices.
Radical (“root”) feminist: Today’s porn is mostly violent against women. Porn watchers are mostly men, getting off on cruelty towards women. “Cruelty is sexy” is rooted in misogyny and leads to (is a root of) rape.
Root feminism is about a new way of thinking. It is about systems not built on lording it over others. (Mar 10:42-44) My feminism is not satisfied with a female CEO in a company that exploits workers, or a female president in an unjust country. I dream of companies and countries where everyone – female and male – can have their talents developed, their gifts used, are paid a living wage, are respected, are encouraged to take up their family responsibilities, care about the environment, etc. A might-makes-right system is in itself an outflow of patriarchy.
2) Radical feminism is willing to ask what ideas and values are behind everything, and how those affect women. Porn, the economic systems of countries, marriage, prostitution, makeup, “kinky” practices, religious gender role views, ideas propagated by the transgender community, pro-choice, pro-life, etc., are all up for analysis, as every area of life is affected by patriarchy.
As a Christian Radical Feminist, I do not come to the same conclusions on all these things as my secular sisters. For example, the few times I read where secular RadFems mentioning Christianity, they believed that it is inherently patriarchal. I believe that patriarchy is a cultural belief, and its practices obscure true Christianity.
3) Christian feminists, including radical ones, believe male rule (patriarchy) is a result of the fall. (Gen 3:16 and surrounding passage) As such, bringing the kingdom of God to this world means fighting female oppression by men – restoration from the fall is a significant work of Christ, in which believers should share.
4) Radical (root) feminists also notice when a structure itself is built on male expectations, and equal opportunity within a male-made system is simply not feministic enough. For example, society treats male promiscuity differently from female promiscuity. One solution “sex positive feminists” came up with was to speak as positively of female promiscuity as of male promiscuity. But promiscuity is not in the best interest of women. They unequally bear the burdens of sleeping around.
As such, freedom from male oppression includes creating a system of values whereby the female body and mind and its sexual needs are equally prioritized. (It sounds a lot like Christian ethics, whereby the New Testament does not have double standards, and whereby promiscuity in men is certainly not praised.)
Another example: Where someone else would say women in sport should be paid the same as men, I see the popularity of watching sport- mostly about who is physically the fastest and strongest – as a male-dominated obsession with things in which men are superior. In a world where female and male perspectives and talents are equally valued, other kinds of competitions will be as highly paid and often watched.
5) As Christians, we are critical of misusing the Bible to oppress women. The aspect of this that take up the biggest part of this blog is so-called “Biblical gender roles” whereby men are on top and women below. But there are other aspects too: Double standards for sexual activity (the sin verses being used on women who sleep around, but forgiveness texts for men), calling women whose actions are disliked “Jezebels”, claiming that sin entered the world through Eve, claiming God is male1, etc.
6) Radical feminists do not see “feminine” and “masculine” as morally neutral or equal. Please notice, here, the difference between male and masculine, and between female and feminine: Male and female (and intersex) are biological sexes. These are not what we call immoral. Masculine and feminine are what radfems mean with the term genders , and are social constructs of how men and women are expected to dress and behave.
“Masculinity” says men have the right to feel stronger, smarter, and more capable than women, while women should restrict themselves in order not to “emasculate” men. Masculinity is to lead in the church and home and world, to take what is yours, to not ask for permission, to not show feelings. “Femininity”, on the other hand, is based on movement restrictions (from impractical shoes; through “a woman’s place is at home”; to keeping your knowledge, leadership skills, etc. tucked away so men will not be intimidated), about spending time and money on outward appearances, about being small and subservient. *
“Masculine” and “feminine” creates an oppressor class and an oppressed class. Women cannot be all God called them to be, and have to waste time and money on trivialities. It also discriminates against the poor: Those who cannot afford the right shoes, facial products, staying at home raising children, etc., are not deemed feminine enough.
Many things on gender lists should be denounced by Christians: The Bible warns against lording it over others, against hiding your light under a bushel, about the heart being more important than outward appearances. Other things on gender lists, like being gentle, and using your leadership gifts, are good for believers of both sexes.
7) We believe that safe spaces for women are important. Equality between the sexes does not mean abolishing women’s sports, women’s shelters, or women’s prisons. Since I serve a God who cares about the least, giving safe spaces to those more likely to be oppressed is the work of God.
8) We are critical of pornography and prostitution. Porn and prostitution, even when an individual woman allows it, is about men seeing women and children2 as objects of consumption. To see women as objects is the ultimate root and fruit of patriarchy. Pornography and prostitution also promotes female suffering (as does the sexual activities in the next point), which is incompatible with the Christian value of loving others as the self.
9) As a radfem I am are openly critical of sexual activities that are based on concepts of inequality, rape, incest or slavery. (I.e. sadism/ masochism, bondage, Doug Wilson’s “men conquer, colonize / women yield, submit, accept” dichotomy, Mary Kassian’s “sex is a metaphor in which men represent God and women the church”.) This type of things are not private matters which stay in bedrooms, but widely marketed. It is affected by, and affects, society’s attitudes towards women as inferiors. God did not make women inferior: God made both sexes in God’s image, to rule the earth. (Gen 1:27) In the bedroom, both the man and the woman have authority. (1 Cor. 7:4)
And the bad things you heard of radical feminists?
There seems to be two kinds of people who speak badly of radical feminism. The first sort has no idea what radical feminism is, but use it as a term for every negative stereotype (s)he has of feminists. (As in “Feminists are anti-family” – Hater of feminism. “I am a feminist and I love my family” – Feminist. “Not you, radical feminists are anti-family” – Hater of feminism.)
The other sort claims radical feminists hate “sex workers” and the transgender community. The slurs “SWERF” (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist) and “TERF” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) is often used.
But this is not true: As a Christian I am called to love people. For so-called “TERFS”, biological women who are transgender are as welcome in female sport/ prisons/ shelters as any other biological female – we do not exclude them for being transgender. The people “TERFS” hope to exclude from women’s sport/ prisons / shelters are not excluded for being trans3: All biological males, trans or not, are excluded for the same reasons. (On the points I numbered 6 and 7, many biologically male trans lobbyists want something which clash with what radfems believe women have a right to.)
Similarly, since radfems include some sex industry survivors, calling us “Sex Worker Exclusionary” is misleading. What makes it even more misleading is that men are never called “Sex Worker Exclusionary”, even though some men are very involved in making laws against the sex industry. Radfems criticize porn and prostitution as systems of oppression even when we know of (for example) individual strippers, calling themselves “sex workers”, who have the money and power to only work at clubs where they feel safe. We do not hate priviledged strippers, but the women and girls in the sex industry who need allies have stories very different from the priviledged minority who chose this. (See points 1 and 8.)
Are these views radical? Yes, in the sense of being based on root principles. Is it extremism to study evidence deeply in order to understand roots and fruits? Is it extremism to believe both sexes are in God’s image? Is it extremism to oppose things that harm women, whether gender role stereotypes or human trafficking? No! Radical feminism is not extremism. It is merely a systematic feminism which looks deeper than individual desires.
2Male prostitutes/ female-dominated pornography exist, but these facts does not change the way the bulk of prostitution and porn is about women as objects for consumption.
3If you want to discuss topics like transgenderism here, please stay within the comment guidelines (top right of the page). Trans issues are already borderline for being almost off topic. It was only mentioned to respond to the common, but false, “TERF” name-calling.