Back when I was an undergraduate, pursuing my degree in Women’s & Gender Studies, “radical feminism” had a very different meaning.
There was liberal feminism, the “add women and stir approach,” wherein women are simply integrated into the existing political system and legislative changes eventually level the playing field. And then there was radical feminism, the notion that our political and social systems are inherently patriarchal, and that a complete overhaul of the existing institutions would be the only way to achieve true equality.
As a feminist, I fell into the latter category — I believed that, yes, the current system favors white, cisgender men, and that simple policy changes would not achieve social justice.
Of course, policy changes and women in politics are all worthy goals, but they create change at a glacial pace, and do not tackle the rampant misogyny that creates barriers for women in the first place, nor does it challenge the cultural attitudes that uphold misogyny. It does not address change on a systemic level, whereas radical feminism seeks to change the system and the culture at large. Rather than giving women a piece of the pie, radical feminism wants to bake a whole new pie.
Some radical feminism includes the abolishing of capitalism. Some includes the abolishing of patriarchal religious institutions. The bottom-line, though, was that revolutionary action was needed to address misogyny on a political, social, and cultural level.
This was my understanding of radical feminism. It was shaped by the writing of radical feminist bell hooks, who I was first introduced to in my intro course as a freshman in college. And as a transgender person, calling myself a radical feminist was never in conflict with my gender identity, because like hooks, I truly believed that feminism was for everybody — it need not conflict with our diverse and complex identities.
However, in recent months, I’ve noticed that radical feminism has taken on a whole new meaning.
Namely, radical feminism — at least the dominant subgroup calling themselves radical feminists — is gaining attention for being transphobic. They are often seen perpetuating the idea that biology is destiny, and that you can only be a woman if you are born with a vagina. Without the lived experience of being socialized as a woman, and the magical hole between yours legs that makes it official, you cannot call yourself a woman.
Whereas my transgender identity and my feminism never came into conflict previously, suddenly it seems like being a radical feminist is not compatible with being trans. However, I refuse to redefine my feminism because of a fringe group that wishes to exclude my community from their feminism.
And I’ve got news for any radical feminist who is trying to push a blatantly misogynstic and transphobic agenda — you do not speak for me.
Your notions of “radical feminism” are not the universal ideology for all feminists who call themselves radical. And certainly, your feminism does not speak to me, and does not speak for me.
And further, just to be clear: Any kind of feminism that upholds the idea that biology is an objective fact that predetermines your destiny as a human being is inherently misogynistic. Essentialism has always been used as a tool by the patriarchy, and any ideology that upholds essentialist arguments feeds into misogyny.
I am amazed at this resurfacing of essentialism within a so-called feminist community — it’s just oppression with a new coat of paint. Even though sexism itself is based on the flawed idea that our biology determines who we are, apparently we now have a variety of “feminism” that argues the same. Feminism has spent centuries denouncing the idea that sex is an objective reality, but suddenly we have a whole bunch of “feminists” who believe that sex is an undeniable fact, and the only factor that makes a woman who she is.
I shudder when I imagine a world where the only thing that defines a woman is her genitalia.
Women are more than just vaginas. Women are more than their silhouettes. Women are more than their bodies. If your feminism argues that women are women merely because of the bodies they possessed at birth, your feminism is objectifying women and reducing them to their parts.
If your feminism believes that gender is not fluid and personal, that gender is not an experience and a relationship to one’s body, your feminism is horseshit.
I’m a radical feminist, because I believe in a vision where gender is a journey, an intimately personal experience. It is an interplay between internal reality and social circumstance. Gender is a way of expressing one’s self. Gender is playful, gender is explorative, gender is radical; gender is an identity, not a prophecy based on what the medical establishment decides is a feminine or masculine body.
Because for me, a doctor’s opinion of what my genitalia says is far more arbitrary than my personal truth that I have known and experienced for years.
I belong to myself, every inch of me, and I do not consent to gender being imposed upon me. My body is mine to define. My identity is mine to declare. To say otherwise is to perpetuate the violence that happens against transgender people every single day. To say otherwise is to perpetuate the violence that happens against women every single day. To say that our bodies do not belong to us, that our identities are only for others to assign — that, my friends, is a feminist issue. Autonomy and self-determination? Those are trans issues. And since the dawn of time, those have been women’s issues, too.
And in my feminism, there is abundant room for trans women. In fact, in my feminism, trans women are the future of feminism. There’s room for all my genderqueer cuties. There’s plenty of space for intersex folks, who are existing proof that biology is not binary, biology is not clear cut, that biology is arbitrary at best and oppressive at worst. In my feminism, there is room for everyone, and there is validation that our identities are ours to proclaim.
In my feminism, my RADICAL queer feminism, gender is a deeply personal experience that we define. Because imposing our notions of biological absolutism onto another person’s body is not feminism. That is violence.
I don’t know what radical feminism is anymore, but I know what my feminism is — just like I know what my gender is. I am a boy, and I have a vagina. There are plenty more like me. And if I make you uncomfortable, you know what? I’m glad.
The radical feminists I keep hearing about are complaining that the term “woman” is being stolen from them. What was once their identity, bestowed upon them by the power of their vaginas, is now being used by those darn trans women. If that’s your concern, guess what! There’s a whole new term you get to have all for yourselves.
It’s called “cis woman.” And guess what? It’s all yours.