Pocochina’s Weblog

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in which our heroine is an embarassment to her undergraduate department

Posted by pocochina on September 18, 2007

So there’s this really interesting coversation at

womens_studies, posted originally by [info]demonista, asking for feminists born after 1970s if they identify as radical feminsts.  And I’ve been going back and forth on it, but I actually have no idea.

See, I’ve never felt the need to qualify my feminism.  I’m a feminst.  Duh.  I could line up my perpective on individual issues with the major branches of feminist thought, but by and large I tend to see that as a waste of time.  In fact, in general, I have a tough time identifying with a specific branch of feminsim, especially as broad ideological divides seem to make it just that much tougher to be effective.  That’s not to say that there’s no use in different types of feminism – I’m thinking particularly of feminisms particularly critical to marginalized groups (ie Lesbian, Jewish, Black, Chicana, Fat, Third World…I’ll stop now, but they all mean a lot);  at the same time though, I’m not sure feminism on its own doesn’t extend to all those particular groups.  I know my feminism, wherever it lies, is unequivocal about rights for all women and genderqueer persons (and men too, although they certainly fare much better in our world), regardless of how different our experiences are.

I usually identify pretty strictly as a Third Waver, based on my age (early 20s) and the age at which I came into calling myself a feminist (late teens, I guess?  sometime in high school), but I don’t buy the framework of antagonism between the second and third waves.  We’re facing different issues in very different eras.  Yes, there were major problems with second wave feminsm – I’m thinking especially of marginalization of WOC, poor women, and gay women; I’m also thinking broadly right now.  Constructive criticism of a movement is often healthy and useful, and I think that the third wave is far more diverse than the first or second waves; we’re concerned with more issues, and we’re more likely to question our own place in a societal hirearchy.  That’s good.  Do we need to listen to every nutbag Camilla Paglia/Katie Roiphe/whoever?  Nope!  But our diversity of viewpoints is a strength.  And I hope we get better at it.  It’s critical that women’s studies departments like mine keep getting even stronger about inclusive issues.  I went through a WStd major without one word by Gloria Steinam assigned, but damned if we didn’t read this bridge we call home twice.  (Okay.  I didn’t read it twice.  I skimmed some chapters the second time.  But if my thesis advisor asks, I read it twice, kay?)  And I don’t intend to tokenize by this example – it’s just an example, that is definitely a fair representation of my academic department.  And nobody deserves a fuckin’ cookie for that – it’s a start towards a just and inclusive philosophy.

I am a radical feminist in that when regarding something that’s part of a social structure or phenomenon, I do absolutely look at it through the lens of this happens in a patriarchy, so what does that mean?  But this doesn’t always, or even usually, bring me around to what tends to be a radical feminist perspective on a given issue.

Take sex work, which I’ve gone on and on and on about.  Sex work, in a vacuum, is inherently neutral.    Some feminists can’t imagine anything worse, some take part and wouldn’t give it up for anything.  But it happens in a patriarchy, so it’s all fucked up.  It means it’s almost always women selling sex to men – because patriarchy a) makes women the sex class and b) marginalizes queer individuals.  And those women selling sex are marginalized in a lot of ways, because they’re big dirty sex havers, and because the nature of their work makes them dependent on fitting in to a patriarchal beauty system.  Oh, and since we’re so scared of sex, it’s illegal, which means they’re subject to an overwhelmingly patriarchal criminal justice system.  Oh, yeah, and this patriarchal system that organizes people by class means that the poorer you start out, the more dangerous your life is.  Plus, our patriarchy is a racist bastard.  Or is our racist system totally patriarchal?  I dunno.  I have no idea where to start untangling all these different oppressions, and I’m not even sure it’s a good idea.  But my understanding of how patriarchy influences the world we live in – an understanding which owes a ton to the second wave radical feminists – leads me to a conclusion that’s way out of step with traditional radical feminism.

But as a law student, liberal feminism influences a lot of what I do, simply because it will be a huge part of my day to day life.  If I go to a big firm (possible, though unlikely), I’ll have to be concerned about equal pay with my fellow associates, and I’ll turn to liberal feminist thought for that, rather than saying “this firm is just another product of the patriarchy,” because I wouldn’t know how to get through my life on that perspective.  If I end up with a pro-choice organization, I’m not going to be saying that reproduction is fucked because it happens in the patriarchy, I’m going to be working to move the laws towards a more just framework to give other women a chance at equality – but I’ll still be mindful of the fact that I’m working in a patriarchy.  I’m not saying that radical feminism has no place in my life, or that radical feminists don’t work in those environments, just that my actions will more likely than not reflect a liberal feminist framework.

So…hm.  I don’t think radical feminism went out with the second wave, I just think it shows up in much different ways in the third wave, partially because we’re overall more likely to hear from different perspectives, and partially because we’re simply living in a different time period.

Am I a radical feminist?  Yes.  No.  Every other Tuesday.  I have no idea.

I’m a feminist.  Duh.

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