I've been pre-occupied for the past week or so, with a lot of conflicted feelings about feminism as a movement and radical feminism as a distinct philosophical branch in particular.
I've been debating with myself why this even bothers me so much, and why it's not simply a matter of noting, "Well I am this kind of feminist, those ideas about trans* people and pornography and sex work I simply don't agree with" and getting on with it.
I've also been wondering about the ethics of my discomfort, and whether my concern for a feminist theory that is able to be radical yet inclusive of trans women is really just another cis woman trying to theorize about the bodies and lives of trans* people so that I can feel better. A lot of cisgender people have spent untold amounts of time (decades, centuries?) theorizing about trans* people's bodies, sexualities, identities, socialization, psychological features, etc., because of "what trans* people will mean for us politically," instead of a sincere concern for trans* people as people. Perpetuating that activity just to assuage a certain level of guilt about being a white middle-class feminist would be wrong, and the makings of a pretty shitty ally. But it's also true that I can't just ignore the conflict between theory and lived experiences. Theory should be bowing to lived experience, adapted and changed to make room for actual people's lives to take precedence over "theoretical people." And, I mean, theory is a thing that's important to me.
I think there are two basic reasons why this occupies so much of my brain...
Reason one: because of the actions of some people who call themselves feminists (sometimes but not always specifically radfems), there are many people, especially in the trans* community and sex work that have been aggressively hurt in the name of "feminism" and women's liberation. This is no less bothersome to me than Palestinian Refugees who are actively persecuted, discriminated against and bombed by the Israeli State in the name of "preserving Jewish heritage" and Zionism, to me, as an American with Jewish heritage. People have been hurt and abused so thoroughly, that the label "feminist" makes them cringe. That harm is wrong, full stop.
But that harm also means that the labels I identify with make me a potential threat to people I care about, to people that I want to be in alliance with and that I want to work with. Audacia Ray has mentioned previously how she no longer uses the label "Sex Positive" because it fails to be useful and in fact has done great harm to the people she works most closely with, sex workers and sex workers rights activists. Her decision was based on sensitivity to the feelings of people she works with, recognizing that the labels we wear can be unintentionally hurtful to others, and making those feelings more important than a personal preference for a particular label.
I fervently believe in the usefulness of feminism as a movement, political perspective and in claiming it as an identity. ... But if I ever abandon either the concept of radical feminism or the feminist label all together, it will be for the same reasons as Audacia.
The other major reason, is that I also believe, or want to believe that there is a lot of potential in radical feminist thought that has been tossed to the way-side by radfems in favor of rabid ideological sterility. I find that a lot of mainstream feminism, "third wave" or sex positive or whatever you want to call it feminism, doesn't mention radical feminism's influence. That nobody studies texts by radical feminists, and few know what their arguments really posited, only what the generally anti-feminist mainstream media has regurgitated. I find that many feminists don't know what radical feminism even is, and that's both sad and frustrating.
I also find a lot of problems with the idea that there's a certain kind of feminism that's "the bad kind of feminism," which as I mentioned before, runs the risk of allowing liberal feminism, or third-wave or post-structural or sex positive feminism off the hook on their own problems, and it works as a means of policing how openly feminist someone can be when there's this specter lurking constantly in the corner of "the 'bad' kind of feminist." Demonizing radical feminism as being "racist" allows "third wave" feminists to ignore problems of racism and transmisogyny and femmephobia in their feminist movements. "Oh, that's Second Wave stuff, we've solved all that. We're Intersectional now!" No, I promise you, you/we are really not, any more than the U.S. is all "post-racial" now.
And there's also the niggling feeling that comes from, I suppose, the idea that my beliefs are still worth interrogating because I'm not perfect and neither are my positions.... that the question of, "is this feminism really doing any good?" Radfems aggressively charge that all other so-called feminists ("funfems") are really brainwashed and actually helping the patriarchy by not properly opposing it. That's a pretty aggressive charge, and it's a typical argument of a radical political ideology, that one is perpetrating their own oppression. But it's not always inaccurate. (Although it is usually misguided in that, if nothing else, it doesn't convince anyone to be more open to a new political way of thinking because it just makes people defensive but more often is about a lack of more nuanced analysis...) Many people do support and reinforce the ideologies and systems that contribute to their own oppression, or to the oppression of other people that are similar to them. Women can be anti-feminist, people of color can be racist towards their own race or towards other races, trans* people can oppress other trans* folk and fucking shit gays and lesbians can oppress other queers who don't as neatly assimilate into a heteronormative society as they do. For example: plenty of poor folks are anti-welfare because they think welfare is about black mothers being lazy and getting rich off the government's teat by having babies, even though the vast majority of welfare recipients are white folks.
So yeah, just a minor existential crisis or whatever, no need to panic.