This week we discussed the term “radical” – its history, its definition, its problematic past and present, and whether or not to reclaim the word, redefine it, or choose another term completely.
So to begin, the word “radical” is defined as: (1) of or going to the root or origin; fundamental; (2) favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms. Radical feminism is defined as a perspective in feminism which calls for a radical reordering of society in which white cisgender heterosexual colonialist (etc.) supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts. It advocates for the dissolving of oppressive structures in lieu of new structures. Liberal feminism, on another hand, is defined as another perspective within feminism which advocates working within the structure of mainstream society and government, and integrating women into this structure.
But radical feminism has not really lived up to its name – many feminists reject the term “radical” because of this. Around the 1980s, groups called TERFs and SWERFs emerged. A TERF is a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. TERFs purposely misgender transgender people and perpetuate violence and hate toward them. They reinforce ideas that conflate sex and gender and define women as those having certain genitalia and certain chromosomes. We know that this view is transphobic and dangerous.
SWERFs are Sex-Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists. SWERFs tend to infantilize sex workers, claiming they know what’s best for these folks and that consent can’t be given or received in situations where money is involved. Many support models for the legality/illegality of the sex industry (i.e., the Nordic Model) that have been rejected by sex workers. These actions take away the autonomy and protection of sex workers. This brings to the forefront a truth we all should know and work on every day: instead of assuming what is best for marginalized folks, we have to listen to and support them. They know best their own needs.
After discussing how the term “radical” is being used by TERFs and SWERFs (AKA “radfems”), we talked about how the term “radical” is used to disenfranchise or derail feminists. It is often used in a context in which someone is telling a feminist that their ideas are too far-fetched, too extreme. This tactic is used to make feminists feel invalidated and is used to silence them.
Next, we listed some “radical” everyday actions – actions that challenge the status quo, challenge current social and political structures and institutions. Some of these included:
- To be inclusive
- To think and act intersectionally
- To love your body
- To perform self-care
- To check your privilege
- To question institutional structures
- To educate yourself or others
- To take up space
- To exist in a society that does not want to recognize you
From here, we looked at popular advertising campaigns that both challenge and reinforce institutional structures – both radical and not. We looked at the Always #LikeAGirl, Pantene Shine Strong, Dove Real Beauty, and Covergirl #GirlsCan campaigns. While these campaigns challenge gender norms and promote body- and skin-positivity, they do so through selling women things to change or adjust their appearances. They use feminism to promote capitalism through the manipulative nature of advertising.
So, after all of this, the issue for us becomes – do we identify with radicalism? Can we redefine or rephrase it so as not to exclude transgender people and sex workers? Can we/should we reclaim radical from those who use it to invalidate feminists and those who use it to perpetuate hate or violence? We don’t have the answers.
Some of those in attendance at our meeting identify as intersectional feminists instead, so as to describe inclusion and separate themselves from exclusive radfems. Others self-identify as socialist feminists, believing that patriarchy and capitalism are inherently intertwined and to end one, we must end both. Others still identify as radical feminists and use the term to describe their rejection of neo-liberalism and emphasis on recreating sociopolitical structures, and believe it can be reclaimed from TERFs, SWERFs, and anti-feminists.
These issues are oh-so-complex, and are hard to fully capture even in one meeting or blog post. They are not easy to navigate. We simply want FSU to foster a safe environment to share thoughts and opinions about feminism and all its complexities, challenges, and shortcomings without judgment or fear.
Our next meeting will be Fluffy Feminism on October 19 in partnership with Mizzou’s own Fluffy GRLs! Hope to see you there!