An important part of being a feminist for me means continually re-evaluating my views, not only in light of new/conflicting information and experiences, but also just as a matter of habit. The last thing I would want would be for my views to coalesce into a blind dogma, ignorant of the reality it desires to shape. The worst consequence of such an occurrence is that it can lead to harm against real people, because the whole point of my feminism is to be liberatory and anti-oppressive, to help and to do no harm, and to be critical rather than polemical. As such, I have come to an important realization: radicality for radicalness’s sake is not a good policy.
This may seem contradictory to what I have written before, but trust me I don’t intend it to be. I still deeply believe in the power of a radical feminist politics. But that radical feminist politics be radical with a lower-case “r”. Upper-case “R” Radical feminism has a number of problems, as I’ve come to realize, that invalidate as authentically feminist. That is not to say that the entire school is wrong, or that it has nothing to offer; that is far from the case. My personal beliefs about the way the patriarchy operates take many cues from such analysis. But there is an intractability, and consequently an untenability and an inhumanity, in certain (and unfortunately dominant) strains of radical feminism. I’ve been spending so long trying to critique a feminism that I saw as too lax and de-politicized, for fear that I would fall pray to some misogynist notion or another, that I’ve ignored the converse completely: I’ve missed many the strengths that sex-positive third wave feminism offers.
To be sure there are problems with third wave feminism, and these are what I was trying to address in my self-education. I still cannot fully reconcile issues of the sex industry, pornography, cultural sexualization, and other such issues with my own feminist consciousness. But, just as, if not more, importantly, I cannot reconcile the transphobia, lack of intersectional analysis, implicit slut-shaming, and similar problems of Radical feminism with any authentic social justice theory or praxis. I am obviously not the first, and hopefully not the last, to make this realization.
The question is where do I go from here, then. As best as I can determine, I must remain unsettled; I do not know enough. I will continue to educate myself, not just through reading theory and taking courses, but also through meeting real people, and learning about and taking seriously their real lived experiences. The are real power relations, institutions, significations, and systems that perpetuate oppression in a way that seriously questions how free our choices really are, but the refusal to respect individuals’ self-determination and self-identifications solely because of prejudice or dogma is straight-up bigotry. So there is value in some Radical feminist analysis, just as there is value in some third wave feminist analysis. The key is not take either to be the absolute truth, but to critically evaluate all feminist schools in the context of the situation, the historical power relations present, and the real lived experiences of those involved. Anything less doesn’t do justice to the wonderful powerful force that is feminism, which stands for the liberation of all and the condemnation of none (save for misogynists, rapists, transphobes, homophobes, racists, et. al; but remember too that everyone has the power to learn, be educated, change, and grow, and that everyone deserves the opportunity to do so and the possibility for acceptance of their growth and for forgiveness). I have a lot to learn, but the enjoyment is in the process, not the conclusion. With any luck, this will be a journey that doesn’t end.