radical v. socialist feminism

Rebecca Hill hillx018 at maroon.tc.umn.edu
Wed Nov 16 16:11:44 MST 1994

   Thanks to Anne F. for clarifying categories of Marxist, radical, and
socialist feminisms -- this seems a reasonable distinction to
me......although I would argue that radical and socialist feminisms have
much in common since radical feminism basically came out of socialist
feminism. I would (following Alice Echols) refer to Dworkin, Barry, et al
as "cultural feminists" who appropriated and destroyed the revolutionary
potential of radical feminism by making essentialist arguments based on
women's nature and bashing the left in general as "male." Weren't
some of the people who called themselves radical feminists in the mid-60s
socialist feminists who wanted to define themselves as "radical
feminists" for strategic reasons? - to define themselves as autonomous from
the leftist movements where some felt their identities were subsumed under
male leadership?
  As for Tom's comments about radical feminists as "irrational" and
 "invidious"  thinkers who merely "stumble upon" interesting theories, it's
hard to know where to begin. I could point out that "irrationality" is the
category which has historically been used to devalue women's writing and
thought in the interests of maintaining male control over public debate of
important political issues. (Think of Hawthorne's commentaries on
female scribblers, for instance, or Freud's analysis of hysteria) This
wording seems to me about as ideologically loaded as referring to African
American theorists as "savage" thinkers.  To suggest that
theorists that you may disagree with  (such as Kate Millet, Robin Morgan,
Mary Daly, and who knows who else) are simply "stumbling upon" theories
that you agree with seems to me to be profoundly ungenerous and
intellectually lazy.

   As for Lulu, I don't know what to think about this. I agree
that Justin Schwartz's comments to Lulu about economic theory did seem
to come from a position of male authority - he thought "she" was
qualified to speak on sexism, but not on Marxism. On the other hand, as I
was reading Lulu's posts on exploitation, I was thinking, "Who is this
woman and why is she making these problematic arguments? Clearly, she's one
of those anti-feminist Marxist "politico" types who feels she's not
oppressed because of gender, and prioritizes class over everything else." I
tried to be open minded, but it was hard.

  Some might refer to this attention to gender as "sexist," but I think
that reference to an existing system of relations and to one's positions in
that system of relations in regards to other people has also been called
"consciousness" by someone we all admire. In fact, it is
through this philosophy of materialism in Marx that feminists and other
theorists have adopted the "standpoint" epistemology that argues that the
oppressed see their oppression better than the oppressors do. In this line
of analysis, to remark on one's state of disempowerment
is to exhibit "consciousness."
   To argue, as Tom does that to point out one's oppressed position in
society, or to point out offensive behavior etc. is "irrational" and
"sexist" and the product of some kind of defensive mental illness is to
argue that "sexism" does not exist as an oppression. It becomes not an
oppression based on power, but an illness created by ....... (could it be
women's irrationality?)
   In this scenario, women's analysis of their own
position in society is not understood as an analysis, but as an example of
twisted thinking produced by the misguided belief that gender matters in
our experience of the world. Hence, to talk about "sexism" or "gender" is
to be sexist, and the solution is for women, I believe, to shut up, stop
sowing dischord and get with the program. (Tom Smith's words to me were, I
believe, "are you working for socialist revolution or do you just go around
sowing dischord? - another way of saying this is "why are you being such a
   An analagous argument would be to say that the proletariat is sowing the
seeds of "class war" in an otherwise peaceful and classless society. It is
to argue that the idea of classes is itself the problem, and that such a
theory of class is merely a fiction in the minds of the workers, who are
the deranged and irrational products of a "classist" history which
incorrectly tells them (all the time) that society is divided into classes.
With this mistaken understanding, these workers then attack the innocent
and suffering ruling class with charges that are really examples of
"reverse classism."  We should not of course, listen to these charges, but
understand them as the rantings of irrational and sick minds. THe logic
fails to impress me.

-Rebecca Hill


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