Monday, January 30, 2012

An Anti-racist Radical Profeminist Critique of a Socialist Review of White Radical Feminism

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(The NOTES section was revised and added to on 1/31/2012.)

The excerpted writing below is from Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal. You may click *here* to link back to that site in order to read the whole article. You may also link back by clicking on the title just below:

Socialists in the Australian women's liberation movement


The author is Margaret Allan. She is a member of the national executive of the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia. This article is based on an educational talk to the party's congress, held in Sydney in January 1999.

Below is the section of that article on Radical Feminism, reproduced here for the sole purposes of radical pro-feminist political analysis and discussion. 

I have not altered the content of the text in any way other than to add footnote numbers which may refer you to comments below the original writing, within this blog post. The section by Margaret Allan is reproduced here in full, but again keep in mind it is part of a larger piece of writing. Please refer back to that for the context in which the following discussion occurs.

Radical feminism
First I will look at radical feminism. “Patriarchy” was the word used by Engels[1] when describing anthropologically the different types of family or kinship units that have existed. He called families, clans or other social groupings that traced descent through the mother's side matrilineal. Descent traced through the father's side was patrilineal. Matriarchal or patriarchal were used to describe situations in which the auhtority and power over the group were invested in either the woman or the man.
The term patriarchy was redefined by radical feminism, and put into common usage, to refer to whole social systems controlled by men through their control of women's reproductive functions. That is, women are seen as oppressed because of their biology and their role as child-bearers.[2]

Adherents to patriarchy theory tend to agree on these four points:
  1. Patriarchy expresses the totality of the social relations of male supremacy and female subordination.[3]
  2. Patriarchy has existed in all known socioeconomic formations, though most analyses tend to focus on the particular features of capitalist patriarchy.[4]
  3. Patriarchy is a hierarchical system in which power and control are vested in men to effect and reproduce their domination over women. Patriarchal relations are said to be reproduced through the sexual division of labour and patriarchal ideology.[5]
  4. Patriarchy unites men across class lines. Their unity is based on the fact that although men hold different degrees of power within the patriarchy, all men dominate at least some women.[6]
Radical feminist arguments are explicitly or implicitly biologically determinist -- women are “naturally” caring, sharing, nurturing peaceful beings -- a stabilising force in society, whereas men are prisoners of their raging hormones, aggressive, warmongering.[7] Men cannot control their animal-like instincts -- they rape women and are violent, so for women to survive, they must separate from this threat to them and their children.[8]
An extreme view held by some radical feminists was summed up by Kimberley O'Sullivan in Girl's Own, a Sydney-based radical feminist newspaper, No. 5 1981:
Wimmin and men are two different species. Not different races within the one humanoid species but different species who evolved separately and differently. Wimmin are biologically and morally superior but men hold power by force of arms.[9]
The flaw of any theory that relies on this notion of patriarchy (our theory is also based on patriarchy, but as Engels defined it) to explain women's oppression is that it counterposes the liberation of half of humanity to the liberation of the other half. All men are said to have a primary interest in women's oppression.
Like liberal feminism, this type of radical feminism is fundamentally a bourgeois feminist current. While liberalism seeks to humanise capitalism through reforms -- getting more women into positions of power, etc. -- both tend inevitably to develop a reactionary aspect because of their insistence that capitalism is not founded ultimately and necessarily on class exploitation, and therefore on women's oppression.
The two most influential and original statements of radical feminism were Kate Millett's Sexual Politics and Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex: the case for feminist revolution, both published in 1971.[10]
Since then, writings from academics such as Andrea Dworkin (a vehement supporter of censorship, who says that pornography is the theory, rape is the practice)[11] and Renate Klein and Robyn Rowland in Australia have been influential. One of the main centres for radical feminist theory in Australia in recent years has been women's studies courses at Deakin University in Geelong. This is also the base of finrrage, Feminist International Network Resisting Reproductive and Genetic Engineering, which campaigns against the use of science to violate and manipulate women's bodies and their reproductive capability.
They oppose all reproductive technology -- including things such as IVF technology and the use of RU486, the morning after pill, on the basis that male doctors experimenting with women's bodies is another form of the violence that is naturally a part of men's attitudes and behaviour. This is an ironic reversal for radical feminism, which originally argued in favour of reproductive technology to free women's reproduction from men's control.
We have argued against radical feminist views consistently, in many different forums. One area was the censorship and pornography debate, on which we wrote and distributed a pamphlet encapsulating our opposition to censorship as a path to stopping the sexual exploitation of women.[12]
One section of radical feminists advocate separatism as political practice, based on their analysis of the origins and nature of women's oppression.
The identification of men as the enemy led many radical feminists to the conclusion that women should separate themselves from men politically and socially. Lifestyle preferences for all-women households, personal relationships, cultural institutions and even communities, were often promoted as the key to liberation.
This often leads to the assertion by some separatists that a “true feminist” is one who does not have sex with men, and is celibate or a “political lesbian”.
Most radical feminists in the second wave eventually went into academia or worked in women's services such as rape crisis centres and women's shelters.[13]
NOTES:

My overall critique of the discussion about radical feminism is four-fold:

--it relies on anti-radical, anti-feminist academic assessments of radical feminist work
--it is very white-centered and white supremacist
--it ignores crucial writings by white radical feminists and radical feminists of color that directly address and contradict the points made above
--it reproduces and reinforces many of the anti-radical and anti-feminist arguments made by well-published corporate pimps and other white male supremacists interested in defending their right to rape and traffic in women and girls and otherwise maintain rule over female human beings

1. There has been a fairly thorough rejection of Engel's understanding of women's oppression based on family relations as Engels understood them. That some non-feminist Socialists still prefer to hold to his theories when better theories by radical feminists exist only means to me that some people prefer to believe, sexistly, that men (or Socialists) are the best theorists, including on matters relating to women and women's liberation. Very generally speaking, I don't find this to be the case at all. I don't think it is because men and women think and theorise differently due to biological or natural factors. Instead, I think that men's minds, as shaped and structured in patriarchal and woman-hating societies, learn to abstract reality and organise theory around hypothesis--well away from the scary feelings and emotions men dread consciously including into their intellectual work, while many feminist's minds, in response to patriarchal conditions in which men's abstractions about women are part of the problem, learn to be able both to abstract reality and keep theory grounded in it. For more discussion on what's wrong with Engels, please see the following links to a four-part post by Stan Goff. I will add that many white het men there were willing to read a pro-feminist (Goff's) and feminist critique of Engels (MacKinnon's) only because a white het man with Socialist cred produced and published it.
Why the Left should drop Engels on Gender, part 1

Why the Left should drop Engels on Gender, part 2

Engels and Gender, part 3

Engels and Gender, Last Installment

2. This goes against the bulk of radical feminist writing I'm familiar with. See, especially, Catharine A. MacKinnon's radical feminist critique of such biologically deterministic viewpoints in Feminism Unmodified and in Toward A Feminist Theory of the State.

3. I'd argue that other systems of oppression carry within them the means and methods to reproduce male supremacy. White supremacy and capitalism, to name two, are infused with patriarchal (male supremacist) power structures, values, and practices. White supremacist notions of Race are also sexed. Class positions are infused with sexual meaning. Thus, if a woman is poor and of color she is subordinated socially, sexually, and economically in multiple ways, with each reinforcing her subordination to rich white men and to various groups of less economically powerful men. We may note how this manifest in the global trafficking of girls and women, predominantly poor girls of color to predominantly rich white het men. This horrific reality cannot and ought not be understood or analysed only in terms of patriarchy, capitalism, or race oppression. It is the weaving together of the three that identify key features of the atrocity. Similarly, the higher incidence of rape of Indigenous North American women by white het men, compared to the also-alarming rate of rape of white women by white het men, cannot either.

4. This conclusion, proposed by some white-centered and/or European-centered feminists, ignores and further marginalises of the work of many other radical women of color, particularly Indigenous and Black feminists who note how white or European patriarchy is currently globalised. See, for example, Yurugu, by Marimba Ani.

5. Another key site of male supremacist (or patriarchal) oppression is the sexual subordination of women by men through normalised sexual acts and sexual behavior as men experience and define it. Among other radicals, including many male socialists, the oppressive nature (as opposed to the "natural power") of sex expressed and enforced by men over and against women has largely been ignored or relegated to the realm of the "natural".

6. It is not only that patriarchal societies function to allow and encourage all men to dominate at least some women. With female human beings denied basic human rights such as access to private safety and sustained dignity, and with so many girls and women surviving (or not surviving) sexual assault and other misogynist atrocities and gynocidal practices, boys are encouraged to dis-identify with girls, men are encouraged to dis-identify with women, and males on the whole are supported in engaging in misogynistic practices which simultaneously homosocially bond males to one another and socially subordinate women to men in various ways. One example of this may be seen in the normalised rapist practices of young men in college and university fraternities. Men across class and race from region to region in many places--but not universally--are seen as more manly by other males if they engage in such practices. In such places, the man or boy who refuses to degrade or assault women or girls in front of other males is understood by the men present to be "less of a man"; he loses sexual status among those patriarchally positioned to confirm it. See note 2 for more.

7. Even if reviewing white feminist writings alone, this is not generally the case. No radical feminists I have ever read or known make such a case, and in fact argue exactly the opposite: to be a radical and feminist is to believe in the humanity of men against much evidence that men value being inhumane to women. See, for more, Andrea Dworkin's speech to 500 men, "I Want A Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which Their Is No Rape".

8. No anti-rape or anti-pornography radical feminist-identified women I know or have read believe that men are "naturally" prone to rape, to batter, or to otherwise exhibit masculinist or patriarchal aggression against girls and women. To be an activist is to believe that such behavior and systems which promote it are "not natural". The only women I know who do believe this are not "Radical Feminist" identified. Instead, some are Radical Lesbian identified.

9. For a good example of how this was challenged within a predominantly white branch of the US Women's Movement, please see: "Biological Superiority: The World's Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea", by Andrea Dworkin.


10. This would be true only according to mostly white academics who only consider white authors and activists to be worthy of writing about, reviewing, and critiquing. That white editors compile the writings of white writers is nothing new and ought not be seen as an indication that women of color were not and are not centrally involved in all realms of radical anti-patriarchy activism.

11. This is inaccurate in three respects:
  1. Andrea Dworkin was not an academic. She as a front-line Women's Liberation activist and author. She quit college before graduation. She marched in streets to protest women's subordination to men. She didn't teach except once in Minneapolis (a course on pornography, and also a course on literature), while also doing non-academic activist work.
  2. Andrea Dworkin was not "a vehement defender of censorship". She was against all state censorship and was opposed to the ways her ordinance was (mis)used in Canada in a censorial manner. She wrote eloquently about what censorship is and she and MacKinnon wrote about the myth--perpetuated by corporate pimps and spread by liberal academics who defended them--that their stance on pornography was pro-censorship. For more, see Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Womens' Equality. See also, Andrea Dworkin, "Against the Male Flood: Censorship, Pornography, and Equality".
  3. Andrea Dworkin never said or wrote "Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice". The quote belongs to Robin Morgan. Dworkin said "Pornography is the practice; rape is the practice." Andrea understood pornography materially, not primarily or centrally as an idea or a theory; it is one white and male supremacist (racist patriarchal) industry that makes sexual subordination socially existent, marketing rape as entertainment primarily for men. Meanwhile, pornography's defenders--including those who materially profit from the industry--see it as only idea, fantasy, and subjectively determined. (One wonders how they got so rich only engaging in thinking.) Dworkin and MacKinnon have argued convincingly against such a determination. (Source: *here*.)
12. I have witnessed how debates among Socialists misunderstood--often willfully--Dworkin's views and activism on the issue. She was a key proponents and crafters of a radical feminist anti-pornography law, and other actions against the industry, and she's already been miscategorised above. This doesn't surprise me as anti-radical feminists in Socialist and Libertarian circles commonly and purposefully misrepresented the positions and actions of radical feminists against pornography. The Socialist anti-feminists I'm aware of did this, in part, as a means of protecting the power of men against women practiced and promoted in industry pornography.

13. The whole "wave theory" of feminism is academic mythology as much as anything else, steeped in narrow white- and euro-centric understandings of activism and liberation struggles against men's cultural and systematised subordination of women. Asian, Black, Brown, and Indigenous radical feminists, self-defining as such or not, are usually written out of such "wave theories", or are marginalised in special chapters or sections on race--as if women of color must only ever speak for people of color as a class, never for women as a class. The above discussion by Margaret Allen, unfortunately, perpetuates this euro-centrism and white supremacy. And the supposition that a great many radical feminists went into academia is in itself classist; most radical feminists are poor women of color globally, with little to no access to the academic institutions run by ruling class whites and men.

I hope that future discussions among Socialists about radical feminism demonstrate more awareness of the many theories and practices of radical feminist women of color, and also don't distort the political viewpoints of white radical feminists usually misinformation provided by corporate pimps and their defenders and apologists.

I encourage radical and feminist activists to offer comments at the original site.






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