The Trouble With Radicalism

10 Aug

I disagree with Quixote’s assessment that several male commentaries, including my own, about men and feminism are somewhat illegitimate. While I’m mindful of reinforcing the “feminists hate men” narrative, that the lowest common denominator (or some misogynist tool) would turn “men can be feminists too” into “those broads are femi-nazis!” is largely unavoidable. Also, I don’t think of these comments as broadly representative of either Feministe or its commenters; I just used it as a jumping off point to discuss a debate I thought, in popular discourse, had been settled.

But I shouldn’t have been so surprised that there were still women out there asking if men can be feminists, as feminism–like so much else–isn’t a monolithic movement. My reaction should have been “Wow, there are still those sort of radical feminists out there? How quaint.” Our beef is with radicalism (or at least a particular strain of it).

I gave up the radical’s critique that “you can’t tear down the master’s house with the master’s tools” a long time ago because, as it so happens, the master doesn’t have a monopoly on his tools. This is why I think it’s still fair to take issue with feminists who think men can’t be allies–feminism is a more effective movement if men are working against patriarchy too. Moreover, Mike raises an important concern:

Their movement has been unbelievably successful in a shockingly short period of time, and I desperately wish they wouldn’t minimize those of us who feel that what they call the patriarchy is actually deeply harmful to those of both genders.

That patriarchy has been a pox on both genders is an old idea. The poet Adrienne Rich described it as “a world masculinity made/unfit for women or men”. Recognizing that men have, in some ways, screwed things up for themselves, avoids the essentialist tendencies that Mike rightly finds frustrating and mind-boggling .

More men identifying as feminist (or included as allies) makes a movement stronger because it widens the scope of support. The more people you can legitimately include, the stronger your political position. Radical feminists (or anti-war activists or environmentalists) want to narrow the scope to enforce some sense of purity, which has the deleterious effect of weakening your political power. Besides, taking up this issue combats the oft heard “I’m not a feminist, but…” in which someone goes on to tell you that they support all sorts of gender egalitarian causes, they’re just not a feminist. This is the same sort of thing liberals have had to deal with for the past twenty years, where many people support liberal causes but identified as “moderate” or (shudder) “independent” because they didn’t want to be associated with the liberal label. I don’t want conservatives or certain radical feminists defining feminism for me, so I argue we should push against the extremes to build the largest coalition possible.


5 Responses to “The Trouble With Radicalism”

  1. Lola Lyndon August 10, 2007 at 5:38 pm #

    I agree. Just as you don’t have to be a minority to support anti-racism efforts — you don’t have to be a woman to be in support of Feminism.

  2. quixote August 11, 2007 at 10:09 am #

    I completely agree with your points about men and feminism. Mostly, I just questioned the usefulness/appropriateness of us responding to a few extreme commenters in a forum that was partially intended to internally talk-down those with the extreme views — part of Jacyn’s post, paraphrased, could be “Hey people, maybe men can be feminists and one can even be in a relationship with one and still be a radical feminist.”

    Anyway, I never hesitate to identify as a feminist — and I’ve never had my use of the term challenged.

  3. tigrejones August 13, 2007 at 2:30 am #

    labels are always problematic, for feminism or anything else. people ask me far more frequently if i’m a christian than if i’m a feminist, and i don’t know quite what to say. yeah, i hope to live a life where you reject wealth and embrace the poor, where you knock over the tables of commerce when they threaten to cheapen the significant, where you love your neighbor as yourself. but i dance, drink, curse, and think anyone who hates “fags” is an asshole spitting in the face of all jesus stood for. so, i don’t know what to say?

    are you a feminist? are you working for equality, not ogling chicks, doing the dishes, speaking out against injustice? then i think, as you say, most women working for equality would embrace you (if not literally) as a feminist.

    my main beef with your post i have decided is that i would prefer you use the term “extremist” than “radic al”, because i like the term “radical” when “progressive” or “liberal” get too annoying :).

  4. paxamericana August 13, 2007 at 8:15 pm #

    “my main beef with your post i have decided is that i would prefer you use the term ‘extremist’ than ‘radical'”

    I understand the distinction you want to make, but “extremism” is a muddy concept and often involves violence (e.g. The ELF is more than a radical environmental group, it’s extremist). I don’t see women who think men can’t be feminists as “extremists” but rather as kooky.

  5. Lola Lyndon August 14, 2007 at 3:08 am #

    You can delete my earlier comment that’s still awaiting your moderation. I went and read the thread you’re discussing and commented there.

    It was much worse than I had even anticipated. Hahaha!

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