Queer vs. radical feminism, the hoedown

Honey, I’m hooome! Well, there’s no better way to kill your blog stats than by wandering off for spontaneous spots of meditating in the woods. Oh well, I’m sure all that good karma will mean I get famous in another life. So, where were we? Oh yes, ranting about queer feminism. Here it goes:

Is this really a hoedown? No it’s not, because a hoedown is a country dance, and no matter how many wonderful things you can do on the internet, you can’t dance on it (unless you jump up and down on your laptop, but maybe that’s taking things too literally). I just like using the word because it has ‘ho’ in it, and we all know how queer feminism has practically become synonymous with sex positivity, perhaps even too much. Anyways.

A coupla months ago someone misread my blog as an attack on radical feminism (it’s the subtitle). I was shocked, truly, because I have always identified as a radical feminist. What? I hear you cry? You? But you’re not a lesbian separatist into non-penetrative sex living in a commune in London! To which I reply, not I’m not. And do you know why I call myself a radical feminist? Because I always thought it meant just that; radical feminism.

I don’t know how I managed to miss this, but watching documentaries about the 70s Women’s Rights movement and reading all that feminist theory, I still never associated the term radical feminism with that movement. I always called those guys Second Wavers, or lesbian separatists (tongue-in-cheek with love and appreciation). I mean, yeah, they were radical feminists but so am I! Talking to my friends however, it seems I am the only feminist in the world who doesn’t have this association. Oh well. I always did have my head in the clouds.

Following this shockhorror moment I looked up radical feminism on Wikipedia, to try and sort out my confusion. The opening definition of radical feminism reads:

“[Radical feminism] focuses on the theory of patriarchy as a system of power that organizes society into a complex of relationships based on an assumption that male supremacy oppresses women”

And I’m like, yeah, I can dig that! I think patriarchy produces male supremacy which in turn oppresses women. Go radical feminists! Yeah! But then talking with a friend, they point out a general feeling from the queer feminist side that radical feminism is too hard on men and blames them for a fucked-up system which isn’t entirely their fault. And I think, yes that’s true, patriarchy isn’t wholly the fault of men, but by God do they participate in it and enjoy it! Then my friend suggests that queer feminists are so down on radical feminism because the latter is seen as a movement which fails to recognise plural gender identities. And I think, yeah, I guess I have this association too. I think of the failure of Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival to allow transwomen to attend, and how respected Aussie feminist Germaine Greer is so nutty when it comes to trans rights.

But then we come to queer feminism and my feeling that queer feminism, at least in Berlin, stands for values which end up reproducing really fucking sexist dynamics. I think of the vast femmephobia here, or the valorisation of transmasculinities at transfeminities’ cost and the fact that very few queers will stick up for women when we are sexually harassed. I used to call myself a queer feminist, but I don’t anymore, because I now associate it with traditional masculinity-is-better-than-femininity sexism. This is quite sad really, when you think about it.

The main problem I have with queer feminism is that it seems to think of ‘woman’ as an outdated category. That we are so beyond the boring realities of people being ‘men’ and ‘women’ and now live in a multiple-gendered world which makes these categories obsolete. But I wonder, why can’t some of the old stories about sex and the new ones about gender both be true? Why can’t both women and men exist, as well as other gender identities? Why can’t some people have an experience of being a man or woman which aligns with mainstream ideas about what they are, and some not? Some men really are fucking male and masculine and heterosexual. Some women are inherently feminine and attracted to masculinity. It doesn’t mean he or she is brainwashed. There are so many realities in this world that we can’t even begin to understand. And none of this, none of this, changes the fact that we live in a sexist world in which women are daily harassed, abused and murdered.

Queer feminists spends so much time fighting for the rights of transmasculine folks, that we end up acting out the same rejection of women that happens everyday, all over the world. Guys, WOMEN STILL EXIST! And our reality sucks.

Radical feminism also needs to remember that sexism doesn’t only affect women and to acknowledge that there are more than 2 sexes and genders in the world.

I guess in terms of my politics I have a foot in both camps. Like many ‘old-school’ feminists, I think there are inherent differences between maleness and femaleness that can’t be accounted for by cultural conditioning. I also think that maleness and femaleness aren’t determined exclusively by biology. We know very little about gender and it seems obvious there are more than two genders and sexes (aside: I remember with fondness a very special former colleague who instead of generally accepting that there are multiple gender identities, insisted that we can count them and that there are 58!).

I would like to find a feminist language that includes and argues for the rights and needs of everybody, even when those rights and needs are different. Feminism has to mean that we will recognise the different positions of women and men (queer or straight, trans or cis), queers, transmasculine folks, transfeminine folks, people of colour and from different economic backgrounds, religions plus many other positionings that I can’t even think of!

Ah, I guess this is what meditating does to you. It make you go all mushy inside and say, Guys, why can’t we all just love each other? Come on, let’s have a big group hug.

I know we’re very busy reclaiming a lot of words are the moment like, prude (yes I am fighting for that one) and slut and queer, but I want to add two more to the list: ‘radical’ followed by ‘feminism’ pronounced in a sincere, celebratory, non-derisive way. As a feminist I appreciate all former movements and see the flaws in my own. I know that my own feminism has some massive gaping holes, and I trust that we mostly all just have good intentions and are doing our best. I am also a perfectionist, and I want us to do even better. Yay radical feminism! Yay queers! Yay us!

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10 thoughts on “Queer vs. radical feminism, the hoedown

  1. thänx for letting me read this – I totally agree with the opinon, that “There are so many realities in this world that we can’t even begin to understand.” oh – and: it might be, you checked out the wrong kind of meditation 🙂

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Hi Durbahn, thanks FOR reading this! And why the wrong type of meditation? Man I am so filled with the love of the universe right now! ;-p

  2. feministplus

    Great post! I absolutely think that the radfem/queerfem dichotomy is a false one, and it only serves to isolate us from each other and reduce cooperative campaigning. I’ve been taught so many lies about the failings of second wavers, from people who didn’t do any better, then when I started to actually read things I found they were not true, and weren’t good reasons to write off their ideas. E.g. yes, some radfems *are* horribly cissexist, some aren’t, and some are trans themselves. Or yes, some second wave writing is colonialist and/or racist, but no more so than the rest of white feminism. So yes, lets build bridges and group hug and celebrate our shared feminism!

    P.S. Could you put a gap in ‘transwomen’ etc? So that it’s just like ‘women’ with any other adjective, like ‘Christian women’ or ‘unemployed women’, rather than making it seem like ‘trans’ fundamentally changes the woman-ness? Here’s a somewhat angry explanation: http://takesupspace.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/put-the-goddamn-space-in-transwoman-transfeminism-transmasculine-etc-language-politics-1/

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Hey feministplus, thanks for the compliment 🙂 It’s both interesting and helpful that you referred me to that article. I’ve been wondering what the difference between ‘transwoman’ and ‘trans woman’ is for a while and unable to find anything about it in my short searches. The two points made make sense, so I’ll change my writing of trans woman/man etc from now on. On the second point: I like the subtitle and what it suggests, but I got really confused in the 3rd paragraph. I get this ” cis women’s womanhood is the gold standard, trans women’s womanhood is always lesser in this scheme” but what is the difference between a gender quaternary and binary as you see it?

  3. feministplus

    Ooh, interesting question… I’m cis, so by no means an expert, but I think this is what she’s getting at.

    So there’s your standard gender binary, which is also a sex binary, which expects that we’ll have certain traits, needs, inclinations etc based on what’s in our pants. (And therefore not only erases people whose genders are not in that binary, e.g. genderqueer people, but also put binary-gendered trans people in the wrong box.)

    Then there’s your interlocking gender binary, which recognises two genders, and cisness and transness, and recognises that these are two different categories of things. Like gender and eye-colour are two totally separately categories. That your answer for one doesn’t in any way affect your answer for the other.

    And then some cis people, understanding the basic fact that many trans people do identify within the binary, have the decency to use ‘woman’ and ‘man’ to refer to the right people (so not blatantly misgendering them), but see them as a exceptional kind of that gender, so exceptional that they’re “not really”. So you can see this in lots of places, e.g. events that specify ‘this is open to women and transwomen” or people who say “I date women, men and transmen”. So the gender quaternary is a little bit better than the standard cispatriarchal gender binary, because it takes baby steps towards correctly gendering binary-gendered trans people, but still shits on them pretty bad. And still erases the non-binary folk.

    [You can also often see evidence of a gender ternary, which is where trans people are similarly excluded from the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ but lumped together into a third. For example, when you see awful phrases like “men, women, and trans people”, or “male feminist allies, make sure you take your lead from women and trans people.” This article conceptualises the gender ternary as really saying ‘men, women and freaks’ http://radtransfem.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/genderternary-transmisogyny/%5D

    As with most things, it’s not just the language that matters, but also how that reflects/affects material oppression. For instance, in current UK law, as a transsexual person you can get a Gender Recognition Certificate (if you jump through the right hoops) which changes your birth certificate and is meant to completely change your legal gender. But then there are other laws which mean than in certain crucial areas, you can be treated not as a that gender but as ‘someone who has undergone gender reassignment’ and therefore discriminated against, e.g. being sacked if your boss thinks that they would lose custom because you’re trans. Yeah. That’s law.

  4. feministplus

    Well, that was a ridiculously long answer. It would be really helped by tables to illustrate different models, though, so I’m going to turn it into a blog post! Because I love tables.

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Haha! Link me to your blog post when it’s done. I want to see gender in a graph! Thanks for the long answer and explanations. I can see the logic behind all the points you make. But isn’t there an argument to be made that if you explicitly state trans people are welcome at an event, then trans people who might not know if they would be welcome might be more likely to come? Or the use of ‘trans’ to mean transgender people in general, as a substitution for ‘outside the gender binary’ and therefore not including necessarily in the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman.’ These are the two meanings behind the explicit event invitations to trans people we use in Berlin. I can see how the use of trans is othering, but in a transphobic society isn’t there an argument to be made for being explicitly inclusive?

  5. feministplus

    Oh yes, definitely. Especially where things are women or men only. I think it’s more a question of how you phrase it, and what else you include it with. For instance, there’s a world of difference between ‘open to women and transwomen’ and ‘open to women, including trans women, lesbian and bi women, women from all cultural and social backgrounds, and of all ages. The entrance is step-free.’ Or something similar. Or if you’re wanting to explicitly include people who aren’t within the gender binary, my impression is it’s best to say something like, ‘open to all feminists of any gender or none, including men and women who are trans, and everyone who doesn’t have a binary gender’ or something like that.

    Like I said, I’m no expert, but those are things I’ve heard from people impacted by this stuff.

  6. Pingback: Are You Kinky? The Anniversary Edition « Diary of a Lipstick Terrorist

  7. Superb post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this
    topic? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a
    little bit further. Appreciate it!

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