I am a feminist. My definition of a feminist is anyone who, like me, feels that men and women should be treated equally. I think that everyone should be supportive of gender equality, and therefore, feminist.
Some feminists are radical feminists. Traditionally, this means that they believe our current society is inherently patriarchal, and therefore, to achieve gender equality, it must be completely overthrown. Here, I define a “radical” feminist as any feminist that behaves in a radical way. Behaving in a “radical way” includes behaviours that some would call “extreme,” “progressive,” “revolutionary,” “attention-grabbing,” and so on.
When I say “modern” feminists, I’m referring to those that are products of and participants in the Third and Fourth Waves of feminism, from the 1990s and onwards. Most likely, the feminists reading this are modern feminists. I’m a modern feminist, myself. I don’t hate modern feminists, and certainly not all of them act out the behaviours I’m about to call out.
That being said, I think it’s time for many modern feminists to gain some respect for radical feminists of both past and present, as well as to stop dismissing their chosen forms of protest.
The term “radical feminist.” makes many people uncomfortable. Images of irate, aggressive women, bras aflame and legs unshaven, may come to mind. I know many women and men who cringe at the word “radical feminist” or use it as mockery or a joke. Most recently, I’ve noticed self-identifying feminists distancing themselves from radical feminism completely. Just check out some of the tweets relating to the Slut Walk and you’ll see women cursing out and mocking other women who participate.
“I’m not angry, I don’t hate anybody, I’m fine,” seems to be the new manifesto of modern feminists, who distance themselves from anything that isn’t calm and unthreatening. But, isn’t moving past the constraints of “calm and unthreatening” the entire point?
Stop me on the street and ask me if I’m mad about female oppression and gender inequality. I’ll give you a huge “yes!”. Why shouldn’t I? Gender inequality is threatening to all women. So be angry about it. Be threatening. When did that become such an atrocious thing?
A person I’m friends with Facebook shared an article a few days ago showing topless women protesting reproductive rights. They had pasties over their nipples and slogans written on their bare stomachs and chests. The poster had captioned it: “I don’t understand what this does for women. They’re coming off really aggressive and angry. That’s not a good look. Not cute.” Comments below echoed the sentiments, saying that this isn’t the right way for feminists to protest, that these girls should put their clothes back on.
Feminists that act too radical and out-of-the-box are getting shunned for it. As if feminism, in itself, isn’t and hasn’t always been radical.
Jessa Crispin, author of Why I’m Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto sums up my thoughts well in her book: at some point, feminism has lost its identity in the pursuit of universality and become toothless. What used to be a criticism of culture has been mellowed to the point that it neatly fits into the current system.
“Feminism used to be outside the culture. It used to be a way of criticizing the culture. It used to be a way of imagining a different kind of culture. But somehow in the last 10 years or so, feminism became another part of the culture,” Crispin says.
There was once a time when the very thought that a woman is a person was considered radical, never mind the idea that these things deserve rights. In the same way that outsiders used to criticize and scoff at feminists, many modern feminists now criticize and scoff at radical feminists.
Feminism will never be accepted by every single person in the world; it’s just impossible. There will always be those who don’t think it’s necessary, and don’t agree with it – and that’s fine. So why are some feminists trying so hard to water down the cause so it’s easier for everyone to swallow?
“I’m not angry!” “You know, lots of women have it worse than me, I really shouldn’t be complaining that much.” “You’re making people uncomfortable when you protest like that.” “Those girls are really extreme. . . You don’t need to be that extreme.”
“Those girls”, meanwhile, are causing change.
For decades, radical feminists have been causing dramatic change with their out-there, extreme protests and ideas.
Take Mary Wollstonecraft, for example, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. In her time, the ideas of equality between sexes, equal access to education, women being single, women having relations out of wedlock, and a classless society were beyond radical, and she experienced backlash for these opinions. In exchange for that backlash, she is still well-known today by many.
What about militant suffragettes, who petitioned radically for the female vote? They smashed windows, destroyed mailboxes, cut telephone wires, and many died for the cause – for the vote that many women and modern feminists enjoy. And Coco Chanel, who dared dress women in pants when it was socially inappropriate to do so? As well as Sojourner Truth, a former slave who spoke passionately about racial inequalities in her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech? bell hooks, who encouraged “radical openness” in teaching, thinking and learning. Consider Ellen Willis, the co-founder of the Redstockings and a vehement speaker on women’s sexuality – a taboo topic?
I could go on and on, listing more influential and radical women. Do you think these women wasted their time apologizing for their radicalness? Do you think they assured those around them that they’re ‘not angry’ and avoided aggressive debates? Do you think they scoffed and turned their backs on sisters who screamed, took their clothes off, smashed things in the name of the cause?
No. These women were radical and made changes that have benefited many, many women for decades, including the modern feminists that treat them with disdain today.
Modern feminists, radical feminists, feminists of every type are fighting the same gender equality battle.
The more feminists that exist and are passionate about this cause, the better, and everyone should choose how they want to express that passion. It’s okay to be radical and angry – you’re more than allowed, I encourage you, in fact, to be angry about the threats to women’s safety and rights that still exist today world-wide – and it’s okay to argue and protest.
Be memorable; be out-of-line. Feminism is and hopefully always will be radical, a counterculture, and a demand for change. There’s no point in pretending it’s not a threat, because threatening the status-quo is an incredibly important part of feminism. Be threatening to the status quo, and be forceful, or you risk going unnoticed and not making change.
It worked for Wollstonecraft, Truth, hooks, and Willis, it works for the “sluts” on the front-page paper and your Facebook feed, and it’ll work for you.