Radical Feminism Frequently Asked Questions
What is radical feminism?
There are many branches of feminism. Radical feminism takes aim at the root cause of the crisis facing women: the system of violence that keeps people divided by sex with a dominant class (men) and an oppressed class (women).
This system of violence is called patriarchy, and over the past two thousand years it has come to rule most of the world. Patriarchal civilization is based on exploiting and consuming women, living communities, and the earth itself.
Radical feminists seek to liberate all women from oppression. We side with women resisting male violence in all its forms, including rape, porn, prostitution, female infanticide, and forced birth. We are dismantling misogyny (hatred of women), biophobia (fear and hatred of nature), and lesbophobia (fear and hatred of lesbians).
Radical feminists in DGR are committed to overturning this brutal patriarchal culture in defense of the earth, the source of life; and our sisters, women around the world.
Do radical feminists want a world dominated by women?
Dee Graham addresses this in her book Loving to Survive (page 243):
Whereas patriarchy imagines matriarchy as a matter of reversal in the power relation between men and women, matriarchy requires a rejection of the dichotomous thinking on which this male fantasy is founded. Matriarchy is a completely different form of organization than patriarchy, emphasizing what Miller describes as power with, as distinct from power over. Love and Shanklin define matriarchy as a society in which all interpersonal relationships are modeled on the nurturant relationship between a mother and her child. According to these authors this nurturant mode would inform all social institutions. The goal of the nurturant relationship would be to strengthen 'the unique will of each individual to form open, trusting, creative bonds with others.'
Why are some people accusing Deep Green Resistance of transphobia?
Deep Green Resistance has been accused of transphobia because we have a difference of opinion about the definition of gender.
DGR does not condone dehumanization or violence against anyone, including people who describe themselves as trans. Universal human rights are universal. DGR has a strong code of conduct against violence and abuse. Anyone who violates that code is no longer a member of DGR.
Disagreeing with someone, however, is not a form of violence. And we have a big disagreement.
Radical feminists are critical of gender itself. We are not gender reformists–we are gender abolitionists. Without the socially constructed gender roles that form the basis of patriarchy, all people would be free to dress, behave, and love others in whatever way they wished, no matter what kind of body they had.
Patriarchy is a caste system which takes humans who are born biologically male or female and turns them into the social classes called men and women. Male people are made into men by socialization into masculinity, which is defined by a psychology based on emotional numbness and a dichotomy of self and other. This is also the psychology required by soldiers, which is why we don’t think you can be a peace activist without being a feminist.
Female socialization in patriarchy is a process of psychologically constraining and breaking girls—otherwise known as “grooming”—to create a class of compliant victims. Femininity is a set of behaviors that are, in essence, ritualized submission.
We see nothing in the creation of gender to celebrate or embrace. Patriarchy is a corrupt and brutal arrangement of power, and we want to see it dismantled so that the category of gender no longer exists. This is also our position on race and class. The categories are not natural: they only exist because hierarchical systems of power create them (see, for instance, Audrey Smedley’s book Race in North America). We want a world of justice and equality, where the material conditions that currently create race, class, and gender have been forever overcome.
Patriarchy facilitates the mining of female bodies for the benefit of men – for male sexual gratification, for cheap labor, and for reproduction. To take but one example, there are entire villages in India where all the women only have one kidney. Why? Because their husbands have sold the other one. Gender is not a feeling—it’s a human rights abuse against an entire class of people, “people called women.”
We are not “transphobic.” We do, however, have a disagreement about what gender is. Genderists think that gender is natural, a product of biology. Radical feminists think gender is social, a product of male supremacy. Genderists think gender is an identity, an internal set of feelings people might have. Radical feminists think gender is a caste system, a set of material conditions into which one is born. Genderists think gender is a binary. Radical feminists think gender is a hierarchy, with men on top. Some genderists claim that gender is “fluid.” Radical feminists point out that there is nothing fluid about having your husband sell your kidney. So, yes, we have some big disagreements.
Radical feminists also believe that women have the right to define their boundaries and decide who is allowed in their space. We believe all oppressed groups have that right. We have been called transphobic because the women of DGR do not want men—people born male and socialized into masculinity—in women-only spaces. DGR stands with women in that decision.
When Radical Feminists use the term “gender,” what do they mean?
Is Radical Feminism essentialist?
No, most definitely not. Essentialism is the idea that gender is biological, not social. So boys are naturally aggressive and adventurous, while girls are nurturing and emotional. Gendered behavior is attributed to brain structure, hormones, or both.
Feminists have fought essentialism since the beginning. Biological essentialism has been used to excuse everything from women’s exclusion from education to men’s sexual violence. Those in power need to naturalize their dominance and the subordinate group’s submission: if society is actually arranged by nature or god or the cosmos, then there’s no point in fighting it. The ideology of essentialism can be very effective at foreclosing resistance.
Think about race. Race is not biologically real. Politically, socially, economically, race is, of course, a brutal reality around the globe. The concept of race, however, is a creation of the powerful. If we want a just world, the material institutions that keep people of color subordinate need to be dismantled. And the concepts of “whiteness” and “blackness” themselves will ultimately be abandoned as they make no sense outside of the realities of white supremacy.
Many people are confused when asked to apply the same radical analysis to gender. But from a feminist perspective, the parallels are obvious. Are there differences in skin tone across the human species? Yes. Why do those differences mean anything? Because a corrupt and brutal arrangement of power needs an ideology called racism. Are there differences in the shapes of people’s genitals? Yes. Why do those differences matter? Because a corrupt and brutal arrangement of power—patriarchy—needs an ideology called gender.
Patriarchy is a political system that takes biological males and females and turns them into the social categories called men and women, so that the class of men can dominate people called women. Gender is to women what race is to people of color: the ideological construct that underlies our subordination.
So we are firmly against the notion that gender is biological. In fact, it’s the genderists who make essentialist claims for gender. In their view, men and women display domination and submission, respectively, not because of social conditions, but because we have different brains. Gendered behavior is natural, they say, a function of our biology. The claim is often that prenatal hormones create these propensities, and that the “wrong” hormones can produce the “wrong” brain. Hence it is possible to have a man’s body with a woman’s brain.
We find it very strange that we are accused of essentialism when we believe the exact opposite. Gender is socially constructed to the root, and those roots are soaked in women’s blood. We aim to dismantle it. If gender was a product of our biology, that wouldn’t be possible. We reject the idea of a female brain as firmly as we reject the idea of a “Negro brain.” And we will never accept that femininity is natural to women. It is the ritualized displays of submission created by trauma and demanded of all oppressed groups in a social hierarchy. We refuse to submit and we encourage women everywhere to resist.
For further reading:
Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine
Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences by Rebecca Jordan-Young.
The Emperor's New Penis by Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen
Aren't you just reaffirming gender when you create women-only spaces?
No, we are acknowledging gender and its terrible harms when we create women-only space. We are fighting gender, with its demands for feminine submission and its assertion that women exist to take care of men.
Gender is socially and politically very real and very deadly. It is the structure of women’s oppression. Individually feigning “gender blindness” does not make gender go away: only radical action on a broad political scale can accomplish this. Gender is not just any social construction, but a social construction specifically designed to privilege one class (males) at the expense of another class (females).
Acting as if gender does not exist cannot counter it: on the contrary, that only helps to mask a system of oppressive power. No one would suggest that the working class could fight capitalism by abandoning their class consciousness. Likewise, people of color have long been adamant that “racial colorblindness” only serves the project of white supremacy by hiding the existence of oppressive race relations. By being conscious of their group condition, women and men can remain aware of their own relative oppression or privilege, which is necessary when combating systems of oppressive power.
The creation of women-only spaces ensures that women in our organization have a liberatory space to work, organize, and bond, free from the negative impact of men. All oppressed peoples need their own space to feel some moments of freedom, create community, and overcome submissive and self-hating behavior. All oppressed peoples have a right to draw a boundary, including women. DGR is committed to defending the right of women to define our own space.
How does radical feminism intersect with race and class struggles?
Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, and Barbara Smith, among others, were integral to the Second Wave of radical feminist theory. Many women of color and poor/working class women made sure that race and class issues were grappled with in a way that previously had not been addressed across the Left. This was essential, since some Second Wave feminist individuals and groups who made contributions to radical feminist theory and practice were unaware of their race and class privilege, which alienated women of color and working class women in the movement. The women mentioned above made sure that these overlapping systems of oppression were recognized and highlighted.
The sadistic systems of racism and classism intersect with patriarchy. All women are oppressed for being female, but this oppression takes different forms and degrees of severity along the lines of race and class. The sex-caste status of females as a class does not cancel out the differences of experience between women of differing racial and economic classes. White, middle/upper class, and otherwise privileged women have a responsibility to prove themselves as allies to women of color. Only after this trust and solidarity is established will women be able to organize collectively to overthrow male power.
If radical feminism asserts that male trans people still retain male privilege, how does it account for the violence directed at them?
All biological males benefit from patriarchy. No internal identity or emotional state can change the material reality of those benefits. Only changing the material conditions—ending patriarchy—can end those benefits.
Having said that, people who don’t conform to gender stereotypes face risks. They are hated because they are proof that gender is not natural. All systems of power have to naturalize their hierarchies, for obvious reasons. It is much harder to fight a social order that was created by God, or nature, or evolution. Male supremacy has to claim that masculinity and femininity are biologically or even cosmically real. Women who resist femininity and men who refuse masculinity are living proof that patriarchy is not inevitable. They might even serve as an inspiration to the rest of us to go on a wildcat strike in the gender factory. Such people will, of course, be punished with ridicule, censure, and even violence.
But all women are subjected to men’s ridicule, censure, and violence. Women who conform to femininity are punished and women who resist it are also punished. Global statistics on male violence show exactly how viciously men punish women for the sin of simply being female. Either path–resistance or conformity–leads to potential rape, torture, and murder. Andrea Dworkin called that “the barricade of sexual terrorism.” All women live inside it, whether we resist or do our best to conform. Nothing we do individually will free us. There is no way out except to destroy the barricade, brick by brick.
Gender exists because the people on top—men—need to know who counts as human and who is an object, a thing to be used. That has to be made very clear, both ideologically and visually. That’s why Jews were forced to wear yellow stars—they had to be visually demarcated as subhuman. That’s why women’s and men’s clothing is so different. Until very recently in western societies, it was illegal for women to wear men’s clothes. In Iran, it’s not just illegal for a barber to give a girl a “boy’s” haircut: it’s punishable by death. The visual demarcation is crucial to the ideological demarcation of human and non-human, subject and object, person and thing. Women’s clothing both advertises us as sexually available and constrains our movement: we exist to be used and, just in case we get other ideas, we can’t get away.
At the center of all of this is rape. As Catharine MacKinnon put it so succinctly, “Man fucks woman; subject verb object.” Men need to know who is in the fuck-object category. They need that category to be absolute because they need to know that they will never be in it. They know too well the sadism that they’ve built into their sexuality. This is the deal they make with each other: don’t do it to me, do it to her instead.
People who don’t conform to gender throw a wrench into the works. If men can’t tell who is a man and who is a woman, how will they know who is human and whom to use, whom to fuck? This is why homophobia springs from misogyny. The divide between human-subject and fuck-object has to be absolute to keep men—real men—safe from each other, physically and ideologically.
This is why people who don’t conform to the visual demands of gender are punished so viciously by men. Men invested in masculinity are terrified of the possible confusion. They can’t have the smallest hint of “gayness” attached to themselves, and the idea that some men might end up in the fuck-object category is horrifying. Their fear is based on a very real assessment of men’s sexual sadism and the endless punishments meted out to those fuck-objects. So men who don’t conform have to be punished until they do, to keep all men safe.
The only way to stop this is to dismantle male supremacy. No one belongs in the fuck-object category: not women, not gay men, not people who don’t conform for whatever reason. The socialization that creates gender—the violence and violation that men and boys do to girls and women—has to end, and the power that demands gender’s existence conquered. When that happens, patriarchy will be over and the concept of gender will have no meaning.
What about two-spirits or other indigenous third/other gender roles?
Non-indigenous people have no right to an opinion on this issue.
What about children who identify with the other sex or with the gender they weren’t assigned from a young age?
These children are simply acting like themselves. If patriarchy and its gender-straitjacket didn’t exist, neither would this question. It’s unbelievably frustrating that in this day and age we still have to argue that it’s okay for girls to play rough and tumble and for boys to play dress-up, as kids and for the rest of their lives if they want.
It’s gender that is the problem, not the children, and definitely not the children’s bodies. Right now there is a frightening push to medicalize non-conforming children, including “treatment” with dangerous and experimental drugs. It is profoundly regressive to chemically and surgically alter children to get them to conform to gender caricatures. And some of the children on whom these experiments were done have already come forward with regrets. (See links below.)
In fact, research shows that the majority of children who have symptoms of “gender dysphoria”, when not “treated” with some form of medical intervention, will grow up to be happy, healthy, non-gender dysphoric adults, most of whom are gay or lesbian. What’s happening is the medical erasure of gay and lesbian youth. We should be very concerned about this social trend as the latest version of eugenics.
Some further reading:
Isn’t the act of denying someone’s self-proclaimed identity an act of violence?
No, it is an act of disagreement. That is what it means to live in a pluralistic democracy. We are going to disagree, sometimes vigorously, sometimes painfully.
Over the course of peoples’ lives, our identities change many times. Indeed, as radicals, we actively question and abandon many of the identities to which we have been socialized. This is both healthy and necessary work.
Our point is that identity is not sacrosanct. Identities can be oppressive to ourselves and to other people. An example would be white people’s racialized identity as white people. Breaking the identification with the category “white” does not relieve white people of their privilege—they’re still white in a racist world—but it is an important stepping stone to fighting racism. So we don’t think there is anything wrong with questioning identity as such.
To assert that questioning the legitimacy of gender can be equated with denying the existence of a person is implying that humans cannot exist without gender. We do not accept this. We do not accept that gender, or any oppression, is inevitable or natural. We can do better than the caste-system called gender.
What about the emotional well being of men who can't/don't do masculinity well enough for society to leave them alone?
First, it’s not “society’ that won’t leave them alone. It is men. Men are the ones committing violent crimes to enforce masculine norms in other men.
Second, you will not be left alone when you challenge male power or any power. The powerful will try to subdue any signs of resistance to their order. We all have to come to terms with that in the best way we can. Some of us make our personal lives as safe as possible and hope for the best. Others of us make our lives a battle cry and intend to fight the power until the end. But that’s each person’s decision.
Third, we encourage all men to fail at masculinity! That’s the only hope this planet has. As for men’s emotional well-being, they are much better off refusing to play the Real Man game.
But if the implication is that it’s women’s job to take care of men, we reject that. Men need to take care of themselves and each other. We want to point out that this question of men’s emotional well-being is a central one to way too many people. No one has ever—not once—asked us about women’s emotional well-being, or implied that it’s men’s job to take care of women, even though it’s men who are committing the violence.
Men commit 95 percent of the violent crime and 98 percent of the sexual crime in the US. Men need to confront other men. They need to stop each other from committing violence, both against men—in their endless wars, for instance—and against women.
 Dworkin. “Against the Male Flood: Censorship, Pornography, and Equality,” p. 270.
 Dworkin, Right-Wing Women, p. 122.
 Clothing has also been legislated by class. Such laws are called “sumptuary laws.” A brief history is here.
 Mackinnon, p. 124.
Dworkin, Andrea. “Against the Male Flood: Censorship, Pornography, and Equality,” in Letters from a War Zone, (New York, E.P. Dutton), 1988.
Dworkin, Andrea. Right-Wing Women. New York: Perigee Books, 1978.
MacKinnon, Catharine A. Towards a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.
Zucker, KJ. Gender identity development and issues. Child Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics North America 2004, 13: 551-568.
Fine, Cordelia. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2010.
Jeffreys, Sheila. Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West. London: Routledge, 2003.
Jeffreys, Sheila. Unpacking Queer Politics. Camrbridge, UK: Polity Press, 2003.
Jordan-Young, Rebecca M. Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010
Smedley, Audrey. Race in North America. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2007.