radical v. socialist feminism

Ann Ferguson aferguso at benfranklin.hnet.uci.edu
Fri Nov 18 19:08:41 MST 1994


	Rebecca questions whether radical feminism "grew out" of
socialist feminism in the 60s.  In my opinion, it was the reverse.  First
there was the New Left and the Civil Rights movement, then a radical
feminist tendency developed within that movement that although
anti-capitalist, was suspicious of Marxism because of the sectarian
groups that had insisted on a "unite and fight" line while being
explicitly sexist, particularly in the sexual liberation experimentation
of the period.  The radical feminists like Firestone and Dworkin were
initially not essentialist, but social constructionist about patriarchy.
However they tended to prioritize the patriarchal social construction of
sexuality and the power relations between the genders as the
psychological underpinning of other domination relations like class and
race. Cultural feminism developed as lesbian-separatism developed and
Daly, Barry and Dworkin became more essentialist and basically despairing
of working with men.  But at the same time, in the early to mid 70s, a
new autonomous socialist-feminism arose which I associated myself with,
which appropriated some of the early radical feminist insights yet argued
that capitalism and racism could not simply be reduced to aspects of
patriarchy but needed to be understood and organized against re their
particular historically based domination/exploitation relations.  This
grassroots socialist feminist movement set up community women's centers
and women's work groups to organize among women workers, for childcare,
for reproductive rights, for lesbian rights, against nuclear power, in
solidarity with third world liberation struggles, for school bussing and
against racism, etc, but as an autonomous women's movement that also
worked in coalition with men (e.g. attending the Peoples Bicentennial
Rally in Philadelpia in 1976, pro-bussing rallies in Boston, etc. etc).

	It was this socialist-feminist practice, autonomous yet
coalitional, that fed a lot of my generation academic feminist
theory-building.  On the other hand, the old radical feminist tendency
poured a lot of energy into anti-pornography activism or women's peace
encampments in Seneca Falls and the Women's Pentagon Action which was
anti-coaltional in nature (although some socialist-feminists also
participated in these actions).  This separatist practice just fed their
developing essentialist cultural feminism.  Although the autonomous
socialist feminist women's unions did not survive the 70s, succumbing to
various splits in various cities (e.g. lesbian/straight splits,
Marxist-Leninist sectarian splits, etc), many socialist-feminists went
into the academy and still remain politically active in both autonomous
women's actions and in coalition work, e.g. against the Gulf War.

	As for Tom Smith's supposed "trashing" of me, I have to laugh.
It is hard to respond to a position that is so hysterical and which
refuses to take one's position seriously.  It seems he could listen to
Justin Schwartz to some extent but not to you Rebecca or to me.  So I
figure either people can see what the subtext is, or not, but it is not
worth my while to dialogue with someone who isnt listening.

	Ann Ferguson
	aferguso at uci.edu


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