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Whose Agenda Is the Feminist Agenda?

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“Every woman who remains in sexual relation to man is defeated every time she does it with the man because each single experience for every woman is a reenactment of the primal one in which she was invaded and separated and fashioned into a receptacle for the passage of the invader. . . . The female in relation to the man is only half a woman and a disadvantaged one at that. . . . You are who you sleep with. Thus the lesbian rightfully says she is the woman par excellence. . . .

“Gay revolution addresses itself to the total elimination of the sexual caste system around which our oppressive society is organized. . . . It is now recognized that any Marxist-Socialist analysis must acknowledge the sexist underpinnings of every political economic power base. Gay liberation cannot be considered apart from women’s liberation. . . . The mere feminist is an incipient revolutionary. She is a woman in revolt against her prescribed and confined feminine role but she has not yet envisioned the solution to her dilemma . . . The lesbian is the key figure in the social revolution to end the sexual caste system, or heterosexual institution . . . The issue keeps turning back over and over to the oppression of women. . . . The lesbian as practicing woman is now reversing the cultural appraisal of womanhood.”
Jill Johnson, Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution (1973)

“The word ‘homophobia’ defines fear of lesbians as irrational. . . . This is completely at odds with radical lesbian politics. We cannot think of lesbianism as a challenge to heteropatriarchal structures and values and simultaneously claim that there are no reasonable grounds for men (or heterosexually identified women) to fear us. . . If lesbianism is a blow against the patriarchy, the bonding of women against male supremacy, then it is entirely rational for men to fear it. Contemporary psychology evades these political implications of lesbianism and presents us as essentially harmless.”
Celia Kitzinger and Rachel Perkins, Changing Our Minds: Lesbian Feminism and Psychology (1993)

With several thousand words in draft awaiting completion of new installments of the “Sex Trouble” series, I felt an obligation to give readers a small taste of what I’m reading in radical feminist books. After all, you paid for these books — “Hit the freaking tip jar!” — that I ordered via Amazon, and it’s important that readers supporting this project know that they’re getting what they’ve paid for.

Johnson’s reference to a “Marxist-Socialist analysis” as a basis of her own lesbian-feminist agenda in 1973 is important to understanding what the feminist movement’s actual goals were at the outset. Johnson makes clear that “women’s liberation” is part of “the social revolution to end the sexual caste system” (i.e., heterosexuality), which she describes as “the sexist underpinnings of every political economic power base.” She wrote this more than 40 years ago, in a book praised by such feminist leaders as Gloria Steinem and Alix Kates Shulman. Considering what Kate Millett’s sister Mallory has recently written about the Marxist influence on the Women’s Liberation movement, doesn’t this seem rather significant?

When feminists talk about “patriarchy,” they mean that our society is one in which all women (collectively) are oppressed by all men (collectively); therefore heterosexuality is inherently oppressive to women, hence the reference by Kitzinger and Perkins to “heteropatriarchal structures and values,” i.e., what most people consider simply normal life. It does not matter, ultimately, whether any particular feminist is herself a Marxist or a lesbian; the movement of which she is a part is ideologically committed to these understandings of women’s oppression and demands a “social revolution” to overthrow the “system” of “our oppressive society.”

More than four decades after the rise of the Women’s Liberation movement (so-called “Second Wave” feminism), the question is whether what Johnson called “the oppression of women” (in 1973) by what Kitzinger and Perkins called “male supremacy” (in 1993) has been significantly ameliorated by feminism. The more any feminist in 2014 considers herself “radical,” the more likely she sees the glass half-empty, believing that women’s oppression has scarcely been eroded at all. Yet no feminist of 2014 can repudiate the original radicalism of Women’s Liberation while simultaneously claiming to be part of the same movement, nor can a contemporary woman call herself “feminist” without accepting the movement’s radicalism as now institutionalized within Women Studies programs and other feminist organizations. Otherwise, the label “feminist” has no useful meaning.

There is no such contradiction, however, if feminism is actually a political movement with a coherent understanding of its own purposes and goals. Insofar as feminism is indeed such a movement, then its purposes and its goals cannot be an ad hoc improvisation, continually revised, so that what feminism means on Wednesday becomes something different on Thursday. Nor can there be multiple and diverse “feminisms,” if such a movement is to claim to speak for the interests of all women. Otherwise, any woman could claim to speak on behalf of the movement, arguing for anything that happened to cross her mind.

Feminism must be one thing or another. It cannot be everything. And if radical feminists don’t speak for feminism, perhaps someone should explain that to the radicals. Good luck with that.

First published at TheOtherMcCain.com

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