A Very Short Summary of Radical Feminist
Theory and Practice
by Holly Graff
1. Radical feminists are theorists who endorse at least several of the following claims:
a. The oppression of women is historically the first kind of oppression, and it is the model that develops the psychology that underlies other forms of oppression based on class and race.
b. The oppression of women by men is a system called patriarchy. This is an almost universal system existing in virtually every known society.
c. Patriarchy is based in an oppressive family structure within which women's sexuality and reproductive capacities are controlled. It is supported violence against women and threats of violence against women - particularly if women step outside the roles assigned to them in the family
d. Organized religion and many other cultural structures - even language itself - support patriarchy.
e. Compulsory heterosexuality is oppressive, and women should be encouraged to choose lesbianism.
f. Given the deep roots of the oppression of women, the liberation of women requires revolutionary change that challenges a full range of patriarchal institutions including the family.
g. Some radical feminists thought that there
was something fundamentally wrong with males that made them inclined towards
violence and made them derive psychological fulfillment out of dominating
2. Contemporary radical feminism arose in the late
1960's. It was particularly associated with the consciousness-raising groups of
this period. Many of the "classic" radical feminist articles such as "The
Politics of Housework" grew out of such groups and were in turn discussed by
hundreds of other groups. Many of the participants in these groups were women
who believed that they had suffered oppression within the other progressive
movements of the 50's and 60's (civil rights movement, anti-war movement, new
left, etc.). The important conclusion that grew out of the groups was the
insight that "the personal is political."
3. Many radical feminists prioritized the struggle against violence against women since they saw that violence as upholding patriarchy. Radical feminists often were the driving force behind rape crisis hotlines and shelters for women subjected to domestic violence. In speaking out and organizing against violence against women, radical feminists transformed the discussion within our society. Their efforts successfully ended the silence about rape and domestic violence and helped to begin changing our criminal justice system. Many radical feminists took a stand against pornography, because they viewed it as propaganda for patriarchy and violence against women. This was more controversial and was rejected by many other feminists.
4. Radical feminists were also involved in speaking out and organizing for the right to choose abortion.
5. Radical feminists emphasized the creation of alternative institutions and women-only spaces. They were involved in cultural initiatives such as women's music festivals.
6. Important examples of works by radical feminists:
Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex
Kate Millett's Sexual Politics
Mary Daly's Beyond God the Father
Catherine MacKinnon's Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law
Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape
Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room (novel)
Audre Lord’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – A Biomythography (autobiographical fiction)
Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution and The Dream of a Common Language (poetry)
Author: Hollace Graff
Oakton Community College
Updated: January 31, 2012