Radical feminism, by definition, seeks to dis-cover and examine the root of women’s global oppression by men, and the sources of male power. In our work, we have discovered that there are several key themes that appear over and over, and which transcend time and place — this is evidence that women’s oppression by men is class-based, that is, that women as a sexual class, around the world, share the experience of being oppressed by men because we are women.
In this series, republished in part from Radfem-ological Images, we present 17 themes for discussion and analysis. Like all radical feminists previously and presently, we do this because it is the truth, and radical feminists accept the truth no matter what it is, especially the truths about women’s lives and what men do to us.
We also hope that our radical feminist work will facilitate clear issue-framing in reformist politicking meant to better women’s lives in the here and now, and we have seen this radical influence in action, for example, in the Brennan/Hungerford letter to the United Nations which framed the issue of transgender and the need for sex-segregated space in terms of female reproductive harm.
In Part One, we present the following themes: Femicide; Fetishize female vulnerability; Handmaidens of the patriarchy; Harm reduction/refusal to name the agent; Joke’s on women; and Male bonding over misogyny.
Below are several common themes which function as the mechanisms of women’s real-life oppression by men and the foundations of male individual and institutional power; and some common manifestations of those themes:
Under patriarchy, women as a class are targeted for extermination. Women are murdered, disappeared, placed in harm’s way, tortured and raped until we die from it, but this is never addressed as a class issue or as comparable to other acts of deliberate, political genocide, even though it is. Modern women exist against an historical backdrop of the Burning Times in which millions of allegedly supernaturally-powerful women were persecuted, tortured and murdered, but this history — and its implications on modern issues of power and female “empowerment” rhetoric — is minimized, ignored and erased. The too-frequent rapes and murders by men of female-bodied persons exist within the broader context of global femicide (and necrophilia), but that context or the political implications of rape and woman-murder are never discussed.
Femicide supports male power. Males as a class are working very hard to destroy females as a class, and they are succeeding: globally, women are underrepresented due to “gendercide” against females, where female fetuses and babies are literally killed before or at the time of birth. In what the The Economist has dubbed “The Worldwide War on Baby Girls,” the extreme male-supremacist ratio of males to females in many regions simply would not exist in nature: in some places there are over 130 males for every 100 females due to gendercide. In some places at different times in history, according to census takers, no girls were found at all. The result is that males exist in unnatural numbers globally and share power and resources amongst themselves without sharing it with girls and women — power which they actually lord over girls and women and which includes mandatory PIV and rape. And unnatural numbers of males lording sexual power over girls and women, and where female infants are then killed and males aren’t, exacerbates and perpetuates the problem of “overpopulation” and specifically male global overrepresentation and unequal male political and physical power and resource-hoarding with no end in sight.
In popular culture, images of “powerful” women often include unnaturally-powerful women, even though historically the female “witch” was not politically powerful and was actually the victim of terrible state-sanctioned persecution including brutal torture — including sexual torture and rape — and murder. Also included as examples of femicide are gynecology and psychiatry, which Mary Daly noted are “tools of gynocide” used against women by men, who seek to cut, sedate, pathologize, and otherwise torture women and remove our wildness and creativity. The end-effect of such conflicting messages and “dueling realities” around issues of female power and powerlessness is thought-termination, where the implications and context of global femicide are literally unthinkable. This is, of course, deliberate, and keeps us stuck in ahistorical, apolitical discourses about power that are not reality-based, and do not challenge patriarchy or hold any promise at all of liberating women from male dominance.
Fetishize female vulnerability
Under patriarchy, women as a class are made economically, sexually, and physically vulnerable to men and to interpersonal and institutional misogynistic abuse. This occurs through social conditioning and exploiting biological realities as well as through systematic sex-based discrimination that deprives us of opportunities and autonomy, including sexual autonomy. Women’s vulnerability on every axis is a disaster for women and ruins women’s lives, and is the source of terrible pain and suffering for women, and yet women’s various vulnerabilities are simultaneously portrayed as being sexually charged. But from whose perspective is women’s impending doom sexy?
For example, women’s clothing and shoes are notoriously restrictive, painful, and do not allow for spontaneous movement, making women physically vulnerable to both the elements and to men’s whims, including male violence. When “properly” dressed, such as in overly restrictive or overly cumbersome clothing that is prescribed for women cross-culturally, women cannot easily run away from physical danger including sexual assault. Binding and otherwise restricting and harming women’s feet is especially fetishized across cultures, because healthy feet are critical to physical autonomy; in women, physical autonomy is not sexy, and women’s vulnerability, injury, and perpetual victimhood are. These imposed vulnerabilities are actually very dangerous, require extreme vigilance and planning for contingencies, and can and do cause serious physical and emotional harm to women, and this heightened risk and potential and actual female harm are both sexually arousing (for men) and (therefore) mandatory for women.
Female vulnerability supports male power. The entire world would look different if women were not deliberately made vulnerable by men and male institutions; in other words, if the playing field were level. Men and male institutions make sure it’s not, because economically and physically vulnerable women are easy targets for male abuse and men like it that way. Men’s relative and absolute physical and economic power increase as women’s decrease, where women are physically hobbled and where sex-based discrimination against women leaves opportunities on the table for men to share amongst themselves. When women make less, and spend more, money than men do, considering both the wage gap and women’s unpaid domestic labor as well as female-specific consumer spending such as hormonal contraceptives and fuckability mandates, men are left with more discretionary income with which they may further increase their economic power through investments, or further abuse economically vulnerable women through economic coercion within relationships, and by using prostituted women and porn. If women as a class weren’t made economically, socially and physically vulnerable to predators, and if male predators were without the financial and institutional resources to engage in vast and extremely profitable criminal conspiracies against women, global rape trafficking would end; similarly, prostitution and porn would no longer exist, and neither would marriage for that matter, to whatever extent each is dependent on vulnerable women being desperate enough for money to engage in PIV and sexualized abuse in return for economic security or a paycheck.
Handmaidens of the patriarchy
Under patriarchy, women often police other women’s behaviors, dress, or life choices and situations, engage in girl-fighting, handmaidensplain to other women how to shift their perspective to a more male-centric one or why a woman-centric perspective is wrong, and otherwise enforce patriarchal mandates on themselves and others. For example, girls or women might fight with each other over an individual man, while never acknowledging the possibility of eschewing all men and PIV-centric sexuality altogether; or a mother might be hypercritical of her daughter’s appearance, and enforce femininity or fuckability, while the father might stay silent or even disagree that the mother’s actions or values are appropriate. This female enforcing of patriarchal mores gives the impression that women are in control over their own and each other’s lives and destinies, or that men are individually or collectively kind, benign or blameless compared to women; this impression is incorrect, yet it is pervasive and normalized.
Handmaidens of the patriarchy support male power. By getting women to do patriarchy’s dirty work, the patriarchal agenda is advanced even within female-only or female-dominated spaces, such as the household and female friendships, and there is simply nowhere for girls and women to go to get away. While the role of the handmaiden obscures this truth, in reality, patriarchal mandates, all of them, regardless of who enforces them, benefit men and men only; girls and women who are stuck in patriarchal families, workplaces and communities are almost completely powerless to radically change patriarchal mandates or the anti-woman, pro-patriarchy value system, or to create a culture to benefit themselves. This dynamic of the female patriarchal enforcer invisiblizes who has the real power, what that power looks like, where it comes from, and how it is used: namely, men have power that they frequently wield over women, and use it abusively; it is sexual, physical, economic, and structural; and they get it from other men and male-centric institutions, and by abusing women through economic coercion and sexual violence, and decreasing women’s power through sex-based discrimination.
Harm reduction/refusal to name the agent
Under patriarchy, girls and women employ various strategies to mitigate the harms to themselves of living under a brutal patriarchal regime, such as utilizing contraception and abortion to mitigate the harms of dangerous PIV-centric sexuality, or not walking alone at night to avoid male violence including rape. When these harm reduction strategies are addressed, it is in the complete absence of context, where the agent of harm — namely, men, and male violence and male-centric values and institutions — is invisible and never named. Popular discourse around various methods of birth control — including abortion — are perhaps the most obvious, as are all ads for all medications, policies, practices and procedures meant to “cure” or “relieve” women’s suffering, but without ever acknowledging that the conditions necessitating treatment are patriarchy-derived and that under different conditions, these afflictions and stressors would be avoidable or even unheard of.
Harm reduction/refusal to name the agent supports male power. In their global campaign to increase their own power, men harm women, children and each other through aggression and violence, war, industry, and sexuality, to name but a few, and obfuscating that is politically useful. Examination of the realities of dangerous PIV-centric sexuality and male sexual violence against women and children — including who is perpetrating it — bodes poorly for men as a sexual class. When these harms are examined, and the agent(s) of harm named, such as by radical feminists, it logically suggests further inquiry into the patriarchal constructs of compulsory heterosexuality, marriage, and fatherhood; such analyses threaten to undermine male power and are to be avoided. Women are made to expend all of their time, energy and resources on the daily tasks of survival and have nothing left over to put towards examining the sources of their oppression or achieving their own ends, and we see pervasive advertising for a booming consumer market of female-specific products, devices, and services that allegedly improve women’s lives or rejuvenate us via consumerism, i.e. by doing something, but we are never meant to consider how women’s lives would improve if misogynistic or male-centric cultural practices that are specifically harmful to women were stopped.
Joke’s on women
Under patriarchy, women and women’s reality are mocked and dismissed, and the often brutal conditions that women must negotiate under patriarchy are the source of endless perverse pleasure for men. In fact, men’s perverse pleasure at the expense of girls and women is fundamentally what comprises male-centric comedy and we see this frequently, such as in rape jokes. In popular culture, comic situations involve women putting up with men who are not adequate or viable sexual partners, and this is seen as funny: men are even laughed at such as with the “bumbling husband” meme, but the joke isn’t on men, the joke’s on women, who often put up with incompetent men because they have little or no other meaningful choice. Men literally jumping out and scaring women is an emerging trend in advertising, where women respond very reasonably with shock, fear and horror at what is in actuality a real-life assault or battery, only to have their very reasonable fear responses dismissed and ridiculed, and their actual victimization justified and ignored.
“Joke’s on women” supports male power. Regarding the bumbling or oafish husband meme, it is clear to anyone observing that these men do not deserve the women who settle for them, but as entitled men, they are able to “get” women anyway. While these men are obviously not living up to the deal they struck when they became partnered or married, these men also obviously still demand and receive domestic and sexual services from their wives, and this fundamental inequality and the suffering women experience in unequal partnerships is the source of endless perverse pleasure for men. Similarly, men’s incompetence “in bed” is often joked about, but in reality, this is not funny: in reality, it normalizes PIV-centric sexuality, and invisiblizes the fact that many women are putting up with unpleasureable and dangerous PIV because they have to, where PIV for pleasure’s sake alone would never survive a cost-benefit analysis in a non-patriarchal context. And “joking” with women often is intended to and does place women at a disadvantage where they do not have needed information, or where they are made even more vulnerable to abuse and made to suffer extreme and unnecessary stress or worry. This and all the slights, inequalities and brutalities of women’s reality are not taken seriously even though they are very serious. The demonstrable fact that poking fun at men in these contexts is really a backhanded, yet very potent jab at women is often ignored, and we see men’s rights activists (MRAs) complaining about how these images allegedly harm men, with no proof of any actual harm, or how the bumbling husband meme or any media image is reflective of a real-life inequality or a source of powerlessness in men’s lives.
Male bonding over misogyny
Under patriarchy, men bond with each other through observing and perpetrating acts of misogyny, such as working in groups to sexually harass women, watching misogynistic pornography together, and sexually abusing women such as in sharing hired prostituted women and strippers, sharing sexual partners, gang rape, and woman-murder.
Male bonding over misogyny supports male power. Men increase their individual and collective power through all-male group-bonding, which creates relationships and networks through which they pass along opportunities and knowledge. This power-sharing over misogyny is often contextual, such as business deals that take place in strip clubs or where “business trips” are organized around or include buying prostituted women, where the women performing are economically coerced and exploited, and where female associates are either not invited or do not feel comfortable so are unable or unwilling to participate, and are denied opportunities that are in effect only available to men. Male bonding over misogyny creates a shared identity and group cohesion, where they reassure each other that they are not powerless sexual slaves, rape-objects, domestic servants, physically weak or saddled with children; women are. They build trust over knowing that they are part of the same group, the privileged oppressor class, and that they share experiences, perspectives, and values, namely, male entitlement, male supremacy, misogyny, and a willingness to abuse their male privilege, including harming and committing crimes against girls and women.
Please stay tuned for Part Two of this series, coming soon. As always, comments and further analysis are welcome below.