Notes from RadFem 2013

June 16, 2013


Many of you have asked for my impressions of RadFem 2103, a radical feminist conference that recently occurred in London, UK. This was the second conference in a row in London.  I was lucky enough to be able to attend both conferences. I have tried to wait for jet lag to wear off before I wrote this, but it hasn’t happened yet, so I am writing this somewhat informally in the interest of getting something down on virtual paper. As you know, RadFem 2013 has been the subject of much internet speculation and gossip, along with Men’s Rights Activists/Trans Rights Activists/Liberal Feminists doing their very best to sabotage the conference so it wouldn’t happen.

Well, they all failed and yes, it did happen.

If you are a woman, and you have never been in a woman-only environment, I would strongly recommend that you try it. It is just a different dynamic than mixed space. So that was a balm for the soul straight away, even before any woman spoke!

The first day featured powerhouse presentations from Rachel Moran, Cherry Smiley, Lierre Keith, Julia Long, and Sheila Jeffreys, among other women. I missed the workshops on the first day because I sat outside and talked to Rachel Moran for a long while. If you haven’t gotten her book, Paid For, you should. It’s a searing account of her life in prostitution and her emergence from it.  I also cannot recommend highly enough Julia Long’s Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism.  Being around such incredible, intelligent women was an honor.936394_472308959510535_821920470_n

That night, we attended the social at another venue. Prior to the social, we held a book launch for Rachel’s book, and Rachel once again delivered a searing indictment of those who talk about prostitution as “just another job.” It was wonderful to socialize with all the fantastic women at this event, and I sadly had to leave earlier than I would have liked.

Day Two kicked off with a lesson in sisterhood and community building from Femi Otitoju, and Sheila spoke again about compulsory heterosexuality and women-only space. I gave a talk that day as well on the lies told by Trans Rights Activists to support the “need” for “gender identity” legislation, including the myth of cis oppression (there is no cis), and the myth of the Anti-Trans Violence (here’s a clue – it’s men who commit violence against Trans people). More workshops followed, which you can read about in the Programme.

There have been a number of radical feminist bloggers who have criticized the conference as “reformist” or not legitimate radical feminism. To those people, I would simply say, maybe you should consider stepping out from behind your computers and coming out in the open to meet with other feminists. The suggestion, also, that the women in attendance are not “legitimate radical feminists” is just more divide and conquer bullshit. It’s tedious, and it defies the reality of the amazing women in attendance who do important work in their communities for women. I agree it’s important to not lose the plot or shift the goals of what we are trying to accomplish, but writing off efforts wholesale without actually bothering to participate in them or learn about them says more about the critic than the target of the criticism.

We are now seeing a number of conferences with a women-only radical feminist attendance policy, from next month’s RadFem Rise Up to another conference being held on the west coast in September. Indeed, we are already seeing two separate and distinct efforts to organize RadFem 2014 in London next year!

All of this is good – the more of us who speak out, the better for women; the more of us who organize these conferences, the better for women. It’s not as if there’s limited space for this kind of activism. Every woman can contribute.

Kathleen Barry wrote an excellent piece marking this moment in our shared herstory that I published on this blog. I want to highlight the following:

At its best, radical feminism is the cutting edge of the women’s liberation movement. It propels feminism forward as it takes on issues that others refuse to touch and engages daring strategies. But we will be delusional if we write those other women off as liberal. Feminism will stagnate without radical feminism and a mostly uncontested anti-feminist backlash moved in. But radical feminism needs the larger base of the women’s movement for building protest and the new alternatives we create for women. We do not need to separate and show radical feminism as apart from the women’s movement.

You Rad Fems have brought back our movement. That is why there is so much at stake for all of us in this and the other Rad Fem conferences and meetings this summer and fall. The best anti-dote I know to divide and conquer is feminist sisterhood as it grows through consciousness raising. CR solidifies feminist sisterhood, a vital, personal and political woman bonding that is our reference point when patriarchy divides us into its groupings – from couples to classes to nation-states. Where is sisterhood now – sisterhood? Maybe I’m just yearning for the good old days, but I wonder how we can go forward to confront our enemies without it.

Sisterhood – let’s build sisterhood. To that end, to build sisterhood, there have been a number of radical feminists who have trashed me over the years; no doubt, these women feel gravely harmed by me. To them I say, I forgive you and I wish you well. Seriously. Go forth and do your good works as you will. We don’t have to like each other to not shit on each other.

And I hope that you, the reader, will consider joining us in these conversations, as you are able. There are no leaders, no one is more important than anyone else – if you have a commitment to ending male violence against women, eliminating pornography and prostitution from the planet, and working towards the abolition of gender, radical feminism is where it’s at.

Plus, we are hilarious. And you can’t fight the funny.994299_473368899404541_1687512584_n


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About Cathy Brennan

Gender Atheist.

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24 Comments on “Notes from RadFem 2013”

  1. red Says:

    Indeed it is exciting. I do believe radfem 2013 has moved us forward and I’m grateful for the work of all.

    But we are women. Where is the money to come from for two London conferences in one summer? It’s a financial burden for most women to attend ONE conference, and if we cannot support both, low attendance might create problems for the organizers.

    Could one of these radfem 2014 conferences held in the United States?

    • bugbrennan Says:

      Plan one! I agree a US conference would be great. Radfem Reboot in Portland was great.

      • red Says:

        That would be one more conference, not one re-located conference. Again, how are radical feminists, who have expressed desire but no finances to attend even one conference, to attend two London conferences in one summer? This is a rhetorical question, because it’s not possible for more then four or five. We are disabled, unemployed, living on benefits, old, with children, students and those working but under time constraints. Don’t get me wrong, I want LOTS of rad fem conferences, strategically placed and planned.

    • bugbrennan Says:

      The organisers live in the UK, so, no, I don’t envision them flying to the US to plan a conference here. US women should plan US conferences if they want them.

  2. Liza Says:

    Kudos to all for planning and having the Radfem13 conference. I wasn’t able to go, nor would I want to travel so far, but I did follow along on twitter (as I do for many varied conferences) and it seems that you all had very interesting and important discussions. Plus all the networking, and friendships made and solidified.

    I recognize that it’s very hard work to organize a conference. I’ve done it, and it’s not easy. But it is possible. There’s room for dozens of radfem conferences all around the world. For women who can’t travel far, or don’t want to, think about the possibility of hosting one in your region. Even a small one.

    Back in the 1970′s and 80′s there were so many of these kinds of gatherings, and mostly they were wonderful. Mostly they were attended by women who lived locally, and were even more effective for that. Why not?

    The hardest thing in this day and age is having a gathering for WBW. For that alone, I’m sure radfem13 was amazing.

    • red Says:

      But is there room and women’s money for two in one location in one summer Liza? That was my question.

  3. femmeforever Says:

    West Coast September 2013? Where can I get more info?

  4. lizacowan Says:

    Red, It is my understanding – please correct me if I am wrong – that RadFem happened in London in 2012 and 2013. Once per summer. If the women locally can afford the time and money to organize and attend more than one per summer, that’s great for them. Right? Why not? I don’t think that what has happened, but the more the merrier.

    • red Says:

      Two radfem conferences in one city one summer. Fewer attendees for each, rad fems being scarcer than hen’s teeth, smaller budget then to cover the speakers and who wants to pay $1500 to travel from Wisconsin to London to socialize, so I think there has to be a draw ‘name’ or three, which costs money. For most rad fems the budget is shot with one such excursion. If.

      There was a lot of fundraising for 2013 attendees and for the conference proper by donation, and many who did not even think of attending for financial reasons, and the conference organizers (I read on open site) are in debt for this VERY successful conference. I would expect a really ‘meaty’ conference. I wouldn’t pay the fare to get there to drink beer and shoot the breeze. We are rad fems, not fun fems. We pride ourselves on substance.

  5. naefeartie Says:

    Point of clarification. The first Radfem2014 that was announce intend to survey women about their preferred location. It will be in the UK as that’s where most of the organisers live, but London is mighty expensive, so maybe women will want a venue that’s more accessible to those on a budget. Only one of the conferences has stated that it WILL be in summer and it WILL be in London.
    Also, nothing is set in stone about the date for that conference…it doesn’t have to be in the summer (again, the most expensive time for travel and accommodation). Every effort is being made to ensure that it will be as and affordable as possible.

    And yeah, organising stuff in your own back yard is a great idea.

    • bugbrennan Says:

      Thanks for the info, naefeartie!

    • red Says:

      Nope, only concerned with these two, for now. Backyard conferences come after we establish our brand which was begun at the 2012 event. I’d like to see us get back there. Consistency sends a message. As I said, I don’t think our conferences belong to the organizers, but to our movement as a whole.


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