Why I No Longer Call Myself a Radical Feminist

imageWhat do you call a woman whose entire identity is wrapped around  twenty-five years of radical feminist activism? A women who woke up one normal  morning and taped up plastic bags filled with her collection of T-shirts and banners from every  protest and Take Back the Night rally she ever marched in. A woman who sealed up boxes of  pictures and press clippings and old video tapes that documented a quarter century of work.  A woman who assigned all the symbols of her life’s work along with an armful of books she contributed to a dank corner of the basement, climbed back up the steps empty-handed and said, “I’m done.”

For over fifteen years I still called myself a radical feminist. Why not? My beliefs haven’t changed. But recent debate questioning what feminism is and who is or isn’t a feminist have given me cause to reexamine my identity.   Feminism is a social movement led by women to advance women’s rights in a male dominated culture. This definition covers a broad agenda that isn’t limited to gender equality in the workplace or greater representation of women in government. It includes women having full control of their health care decisions including access to birth control and abortion.  It includes ending domestic violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault.  It includes ending the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children used in prostitution and pornography. Put succinctly, feminism is nothing less than a social movement organized to end the social, sexual and economic subordination under patriarchy.

From that perspective, a feminist is a woman who is actively engaged in advancing women’s rights as delineated above. The operative words being actively engaged. Not just believing in it. Not just reading about it. Not just talking about it. Being a feminist is  doing something about it.  And when I held myself up to that standard, I realized that I am no longer a feminist, let alone a radical feminist.

My life has changed considerably since I left the movement. My work now focuses on collaborative efforts to create opportunities that empower the poor and build bridges across race and class divides. But by no stretch of the imagination am I a feminist by definition and I don’t get to claim so by resting on my laurels.  If anything, I’ve evolved into a social change advocate in the broadest sense of the word. I no longer write theory, organize the masses or give orations at national conferences that poor and marginalized women couldn’t afford to attend anyway. Instead I raise funds for eager activists who are on the front lines and tireless advocates who are doing triage in the background. And it has demonstrated to me that feminism isn’t the only, or the most important work that needs to be done to build a just society. Working for the common good will enhance women’s lives as well – just not exclusively.

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4 thoughts on “Why I No Longer Call Myself a Radical Feminist

    1. Thanks for your comment Rachel. There are some very committed young women out there who are doing the work to build a new intersectional feminism and others who are still pushing forward on all the unfinished business of the second wave. I believe I can add to the conversation when invited, but the work no longer belongs to me.

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  1. I will go on as a radical feminist–I encourage I rest on my laurels and I make much more room in my life for animal rights. I give were I can–I’ve already given and given.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Dorothy. I think I’ve rested on my laurels long enough. The movement has moved on without me. Without us. I appreciate how gracefully you stepped aside and have refocused on animal rights. Me? It took 15 years to accept my “15 minutes” were over.

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