Radical feminism is a branch of feminism that values dismantling the patriarchal power structures and sex-based roles that oppress women. “Radical” refers to the Latin radix meaning “root.” Radical feminist theory critically analyzes the power structures that oppress the female sex. The radical feminist movement works towards achieving safety, wellbeing, autonomy, and liberation for all women.
Radical feminism is the political movement for women to work towards abolishing patriarchal dominance. Radical feminists focus on cultural changes that erode patriarchal structures and reject the notion that a woman’s “role” within society is to be that of a “lesser class.” Radical feminism strives towards women’s liberation.
Radical feminism involves an analytical framework that creates what are commonly known as radical feminist positions. Radical feminists identify, analyze, and discuss—through multiple lenses—the roots of women’s oppression within social and economic contexts. Each radical feminist position is formed from an analysis of why the position liberates women as a class.
The core tenets that form the radical feminist framework are: solidarity with all women; class-level analysis; biological sex (sex) and sex-based stereotypes (gender) as the fundamental inequality in society; and the dismantlement of the patriarchal hierarchy.Further reading
Women across the world endure their own distinct forms of female oppression rooted from their society’s specific patriarchal systems. Women, as a sex-based class, face oppression because they are female in male-dominated societal systems. Because of the understanding that the root of a woman’s oppression stems from societal systems that favor men, all women’s experiences with misogyny and sex-based oppression can be acknowledged within radical feminism.
By acknowledging the reality that comes with being female in any human society, radical feminists can work together to analyze misogyny within all cultures. Radical feminism recognizes that each woman's life experience is affected by other societal factors such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, education, and wealth. Radical feminism acknowledges strength in solidarity and strives to unite all women in their liberation.Further reading
Women's autonomy is the core human right of a female person to make decisions about herself and her body of her own free will. Radical feminists want women to be able to choose what they feel is right for themselves without the threat of patriarchal punishment or the influence of male-centered coercion behind their actions.
This includes a woman’s rights to:
Women are whole human beings, not wombs. Radical feminists prioritize the health and wellbeing of the woman and the right for women to make the most-informed healthcare choices for herself that she feels are in her best interest. Radical feminists are for women's rights to have control over whether or not to have children, to be pregnant, to use birth control, to give birth, to have an abortion, and to sterilize herself.Further reading
Abortion is a part of women’s healthcare and bodily autonomy. No human is obligated to be forced to keep another human alive. A woman should have full autonomy over her body, over her life. It is not her fault that a fetus needs to use her body to survive. No human has the right to use the life of another human.Further reading
Gender is a social class applied to biological sex. A person’s sex is innate, while gender is a series of roles, expectations, socializations, cultural practices, and personality traits applied to a sex. Radical feminism recognizes that the experience of womanhood is not merely a socially constructed gender, but the collective experiences endured distinctly by female humans, whose biology situated them as the oppressed group within patriarchal societies. Radical feminists recognize that gender is a way of oppressing women, and they wish to do away with the sexist notions of gender in social relationships and public policies.Further reading
Radical feminism believes that “masculine” and “feminine” behavior is a result of sex-based role (gender) socialization. Stereotypical behavioral patterns of male violence and female docility are not inherent, they are socialized. “Masculinity” is toxic because it is based on how males are socialized within patriarchal systems to value domination and violence. Boys in patriarchal societies are inoculated with this harmful mentality from the day they are born, and then provoke each other into maintaining their misogynistic socialization throughout their lives. Male humans within patriarchal systems sort themselves out in an aggressive hierarchy amongst each other, while also violating and abusing female humans in their social displays of dominance. The concept that men are violent “by nature” is bioessentialist and antithetical to radical feminist theory. Socialization is learned, and what is learned can be unlearned.Further reading
Gender is a social construct formed from stereotyping the sexes. Gender criticism is not about resisting progress or returning to the norms of rigid conservative gender conformity, it is a feminist critique of how society has ended up as a highly gendered regressive system in the first place. Gender criticism provides jusifications for why sex-based stereotypes (gender) need to be dismantled in order to free human beings from the constraints of gender. While “gender critical” often gets inaccurately used to mean “anti-transgender,” the term is feminist in its origin and accurately describes one of the paths towards women’s liberation: critique the means by which the patriarchal hierarchy is enforced (gender) and then dismantle the socialized sex-based roles and stereotypes that oppress women and girls.Further reading
Radical feminism questions how much of human culture is based on patriarchal assumptions. This involves analyzing the notions of marriage, motherhood, traditional family structures, organized religions, and systems of government.
Society has persistently pressured women throughout millenia into believing her worth and safety is dependent on her ability to partner with a man. Radical feminists challenge the notion that a woman “needs a man” in order to be complete in her life. A woman is a whole human being on her own. A life partner is someone with which a woman finds comfort, respect, and love, crafted from genuine connection, not societal expectation.
In any relationship, radical feminists do not recommend women to be financially dependent on men. Financial dependence on men can create the potential of abuse and difficulty leaving due to the power imbalance in the relationship. A woman achieving financial independence gives her freedom and ability to make choices in her own self-interest instead of for survival.
Marriage is noted to have historically been a transaction between a father, the “owner” of his daughter, passing “ownership” to another man, her husband. In many marriages, men benefit from the emotional, mental, and physical labor of women. Marriage continues to carry patriarchal notions to this day, starting from “societally benign” concepts such as the expectation that a woman and her children take on her husband’s last name.
Radical feminists criticize the “nuclear family,” where women are commonly isolated in a suburban home with their spouse and children, and instead support family structures that provide a woman with a large safety net of family and friends who can assist in child rearing.Further reading
Patriarchy and religion are deeply intertwined. A majority of the world’s organized religions attempt to maintain and legitimize patriarchal power structures. Abrahamic religions especially are scorned for their misattribution of the creation of humans to men, when in reality, every man to ever exist was formed from the flesh of woman.
Radical feminism does not censor women’s stories of misogyny under the fears of being seen as “Islamophobic” or “persecutory.” Radical feminism centers women, and as such, the voices of ex-Muslim women are given room to speak. Hijabs, niqabs, burkas, chadors—these are all misogynistic and controlling ways to oppress, dehumanize, and erase women. Any religion that coerces a woman to cover herself, simply because she is female, is misogynistic.
Renouncing religion is not required for a woman to participate in radical feminism, but religions are not protected from feminist criticism and a woman’s individual involvement in religion may be critiqued, like any choice a woman may make, via class-based radical feminist analysis. Radical feminism focuses on protecting women, not ancient patriarchal religions.Further reading
Radical feminists criticize the governmental systems across the world, molded from patriarchal foundations. Women and women’s rights are frequently an afterthought in many governments around the world. Catharine MacKinnon pointed out the uses of “brotherhood,” “himself,” and “his” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in her article “Are Women Human?” written in 2006, and this language still has not been changed today. Government systems frequently view women not as whole human beings, but as mere incubators, destined to produce more bodies for the state.
Movements based on radical feminist values have sprouted in places like South Korea, where young women are refusing to have children or be in heterosexual relationships due to the government’s policies which frame women’s bodies and their reproductive capacity as tools for the state’s “future-making.” The South Korean women’s movement, originally known as 4B, was based on four principles: no to heterosexual marriage, no to childbirth, no to dating, and no to heterosexual sexual relationships.Further reading
Prostitution, pornography, and surrogacy all fall under the selling of women through abuse of their female bodies. Women are not objects to be sold, used, and abused. The sex and surrogacy industries are powered by human trafficking and the commodification of women.
Prostitution is paid rape. Sex is a consensual act between the people involved; consent cannot be purchased. A prostituted woman does not want to have sex with her “clients,” she wants their money. Prostitution objectifies and dehumanizes women, oppressing them sexually, mentally, and economically.
Prostituted women themselves admit that they experience symptoms of trauma response before being prostituted:
Here a prostituted woman admits if she cannot “afford to” cancel on a “client,” she “pushes through” the prostitution. She attempts to soften the language and phrasing of her reality, but seems to admit she is earning her livelihood by getting raped.Further reading
Pornography is the degradation of women’s sexuality, sold for male entertainment. Porn is a form of prostitution: women are still being paid to get raped, only now her rape is filmed and mass-distributed for boys and men to masturbate to. The pornography industry is rife with rape, abuse, and coercion. Pornography not only harms the women involved in the videos, both physically and mentally, but also the viewers, psychologically and sexually.Further reading
Surrogacy is the renting of women’s organs, further suggesting women are a commodity. It is illegal in most countries for one to sell one’s own organs, because it is acknowledged to lead to the exploitation of the lower class, yet surrogacy manages to evade scrutiny. A majority of commercialized surrogacy is outsourced to disadvantaged women in developing nations. Surrogacy can severely harm and injure the surrogate woman—pregnancy carries severe health risks, including risk of death. No person has the right to have a woman gestate a child for them. Women are not incubators and children are not products to be bought and produced on demand.Further reading
Radical feminism acknowledges that women’s oppression is because of the biological reality of being a female human. Postmodernism and queer theory are subject to changes and personal interpretations, while the physical realities of being a female human are not.
Queer theory originally was well meaning in its beginnings, with the intention of decentering heterosexuality and gender conformity as the “status quo” and promoting the acceptance of homosexuality and gender nonconformity. Queer theory has since been appropriated to promote the reinforcement of gender conformity, via transgeneder activists equivocating biological sex and social gender, and silencing the voices of gay men and lesbians, as their sexualities became demonized as “genital preferences.” The promotion of this new “queer theory” has especially targeted and disenfranchised lesbians.Further reading
Kinks frequently include the fetishization of slavery, rape, incest, pedophilia, pain, and abuse. Kinks can result in physical abuse, emotional abuse, and trauma. What a human wants to do, sexually, reflects on who they are or possibly what trauma they haven’t worked through. Someone’s “sexual self” is not separate from their “regular self” — if a person wants to act out a rape fantasty, then they are aroused by rape.
Hurting a woman is not suddenly justifiable if a man orgasms to it. “Aftercare” is trauma bonding. “Breath play” is an attempt to normalize the strangulation of women. “BDSM” is abuse.Further reading
The beauty industry profits off degrading women’s self esteem. Constantly cyclic beauty standards and fashions keep women insecure, making them think their self-worth is dependent on their physical attractiveness. Women are frequently socialized as young girls to be valued based on their appearances and looking pretty, with sexist parenting leading girls to believe women are meant to be ornamental objects to placate the public. Women are humans, not smooth, unaging, decorative dolls. If makeup is “empowering,” why aren’t men doing it?
Radical feminism encourages women to acknowledge their inherent value is not based on external beauty. Women do not need to wear makeup; women do not need to remove their body hair; women do not have to spend every moment worrying about fleeting youth and beauty. It is unfortunate that a woman being content with her natural human face, body hair, and wrinkles is still considered “radical” to this day.Further reading
Radical feminism, with its focus on class analysis, is collectivist, not individualist. The collectivist nature of radical feminism is typically the hardest stance to work with, as it requires women to introspect on how their individualistic choices might be harming women as a class. This is opposed to the allure of individualist liberal feminism, or “choice feminism,” where anything a woman does is “feminist” because it is “her choice.” In liberal and choice feminism, there is no requirement for a woman to analyze the reasons behind her choices, and therefore no potential to come to difficult and unappealing conclusions about her choices; there is no need to ever stop making personal choices that may be detrimental to women as a class.
Radical feminism critically examines the choices women make and the underlying reasons for those choices, and how those choices ripple across women’s lives and collective experiences. Why is it overwhelmingly women who choose to wear makeup? Why is it overwhelmingly women who choose to remove their body hair? Why is it overwhelmingly women who choose to become prostitutes? Is wearing a hijab, niqab, or burka truly a free choice?
In radical feminist discourse, “because I like it” or “it’s my choice,” is not a conclusive answer when analyzing patriarchal practices and performative femininity. “Makeup makes me feel confident!” Why? “I think my legs look better hairless.” Why? “I feel happy after my breast enlargement.” Why? “I feel empowered wearing my hijab.” Why? “I like being hurt during sex!” Why? In radical feminist discussions, the focus is on the liberation of women as a class, not on justifying and affirming an individual woman’s choice.Further reading
While radical feminism analyzes what harms women as a class, it also recognises that women are making choices in unequal systems that are biased against them. Therefore, there is no judgment towards the individual woman who makes imperfect feminist choices in order to survive in her society. Keeping this in mind does not invalidate the understanding of the power dynamic in which men as a class extract economic, emotional, social, physical, sexual, and reproductive power from women as a class.
For example, radical feminism can assess and explain how makeup harms women as a class, how it upholds patriarchal values, yet this criticism of beauty culture isn’t a judgement of a woman who may choose to wear it to survive in a society structured against her, like an actress who is expected to wear it for her profession. Radical feminists can recognise that analysis shows what harms women as a class without excluding, judging, or demeaning women who may feel they are trapped performing femininity in their circumstances.
Acknowledging harm to women as a class is not judging women as “less than” for being the victims of female socialisation and unequal systems stacked against them. Women can show up for radical feminism without needing to be a perfect radical feminist—radical feminists aim to not hold women to the unfair double standard that is conditioned by female socialization.
Radical feminism is for all women, including all those with limited choices trying to survive in a patriarchal world. Class analysis is not a meant to be a personal judgment, personal attack, or demand to be a “flawless” feminist; it is a request to reflect and analyze where women can be more women-centric and pro-women.Women of the world, unite!