Wither Goes Radical Feminism?
By Kathleen Barry
Congratulations to all of you who have acted with so much courage to face down the anti-feminist trans, the Mens Rights Activists, (MRAs) and men’s war against women in general. Your feminist determination stands powerfully against their threats, their lies, their stupidity, their meanness and hatred of women and the conference is going forward.
I have followed closely all that has been posted on the struggle to make this conference happen, and as the conference approaches, I find myself very concerned about the potential effects of the anti-feminist attacks. Bottom line, feminism is most vulnerable to men’s Divide and Conquer strategies simply because they so often go unrecognized for what they are. Recently on the internet there have been more than enough examples of how feminist anger at our enemies gets turned against each other.
Divide and Conquer – the favored strategy of oppressors everywhere. Anti-feminist trans and woman hating MRAs, have in mind nothing short of destroying radical feminism ultimately by turning women against each other. How do I know that? Anti-feminist men are not very inventive – they repeat and repeat and repeat the same strategies. They wear down our energy, fray our nerves and try to diminish our hope. As seen from their aggression both last year and this in London, they will not relent. They expect that feminists will turn on each other.
Behind these most obvious women-haters are legions of men at war against women. They make feminism essential to women’s survival from abusive husbands to rapists, to johns or punters, to those issuing death threats against many of you. Whenever radical feminists meet, we come together from histories filled with justifiable rage, rage that can become a powerful force against woman-haters but can bring feminism down when it is turned on each other.
Make no mistake about the significance of this conference: the future of radical feminism/women’s liberation is at state. Should infighting or “horizontal hostility” begin to foment, please remember that this conference is not about individual personalities or who said what to who that led to hurt or misunderstanding. It is about women’s liberation everywhere. No matter what happens between and among us, the only way we move forward is in every moment to keep our eyes on what we want to achieve for and with women globally. The way I have kept going all these decades when nerves get frayed from being under attack, is to remind myself that – its not about me personally or her personally (even though and especially when it hurts very personally) – the only thing that matters in the moment is whether or not we are moving toward the liberation of women or backing off from it and if the latter how can we turn around and get on track.
Radical Feminism is not about any one issue. Our movement launched in 1967-68 from a promise to ourselves to never narrow our issues, to never let our movement become driven by one issue – legal equality, equal pay – whatever. We saw the error of the nineteenth century woman’s rights movements that ultimately focused almost exclusively on the vote even though they started out with the widest possible platforms. In other words, every aspect of the patriarchal domination of women is a radical feminist issue. That is, the personal is political.
In those days, our enemies were those, especially the ACLU, who funded lesbian sadomasochists to attack the feminist anti-pornography movement. Lesbian sadomasochists found our struggles against sexual violence did not validate their chosen sexual behaviors. Sound familiar? Through the ACLU, defenders of pornography, lesbian sadomasochists allied with heterosexual women engaged in S&M to organize FACT – the Feminist Anti Censorship Taskforce. They killed the feminist anti-pornography movement. But radical feminism could not have been decimated had our movement not devolved to a one issue, one strategy campaign.
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.
I wish I could be with you as originally planned. But please take this note as a commitment to our continued struggle.