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What is the Difference between “Regular” Feminists and “Radical” Feminists?

Posted by Curt on Friday, 25 June 2010

Coined by Rush Limbaugh, one of the most popular terms for "radical" feminists.

Few things bug me in a conversation about feminism more than the distinction people make between “regular” feminists and “radical” feminists.  There are various other synonyms for those terms I’ve seen used – perhaps the most popular being the terms Christina Hoff Sommers employed in her book Who Stole Feminism?, where she describes those “regular” feminists (the ones who advocate gender equality first and foremost) as “equity feminists” while deriding leftwing “radical” feminists as “gender feminists”.  Anti-feminists utilize these terms a lot and it is annoying for the simple fact that they are so subjective that they are essentially a useless distinction.

After all, consider it: Very few people will describe themselves as a radical.  Or if they do, they generally put a more positive, rebellious spin to it which may or may not correlate with others who are lumped in as radicals.  In any case, they will view their stance as correct and thus the difference between a “regular” and “radical” feminist in their eyes would be totally different from that of an anti-feminist or even what I’d consider a “casual” feminist (a person who would describe him or herself as feminist or are at least sympathetic to its goals, but not very active in it and may not have a very deep understanding of the nuances of it – I believe this group composes the majority of all feminists).  Because of this difference, who is a “regular” and “radical” feminist totally depends on who you’re talking to.

And this is why I cannot stand it.  The terms tell me absolutely nothing about the position of the feminist being described as a result.  Broadly speaking, I generally understand it to mean the difference between a conservative feminist and a liberal feminist, but even the terms conservative and liberal are so relative that they’re near useless.  After all, notice how ring wingers complain about liberal bias in the media while left wingers complain about conservative bias in the media – it tells you nothing about what position the media actually takes.  It tells you more about the position of the individuals saying that more than anything.

This is what is known as the “hostile media effect”.  It is in many ways the opposite of confirmation bias (that we tend to selectively pay attention to the things which confirms our views) in that it states we tend to pay more attention to (or notice) views which contradicts our views, hence why it’s considered a form of disconfirmation bias.  The result of this would be perceiving something like the media as always to the “left” or “right” of where we stand, depending on your exact position.  The difference between “regular” feminists and “radical” feminists works in the exact same way – “regular” feminists are what I am (or the position I consider to be for what I believe is gender equality) while those “radical” feminists are what those misandrous female supremacist nutcases (note: the provocative word choice does not necessarily reflect my own views).  And indeed, as I’ve said, that will shift tremendously based on who you’re talking to.  It’s also why those so called “radical” feminists tend to disparage the distinction – it doesn’t say anything about them, but rather, only attempts to discredit their positions.

It is also an incredibly lazy distinction in my opinion.  Feminists themselves do have a core set of beliefs, but they vary in significant ways – for example, you have individualist feminists, sex-positive feminists, lipstick feminists, etc.  The distinction is lazy in that by labeling them all “radicals”, you forgo any notions of intragroup variances within feminism.  Anti-feminists in particular are guilty of this as, from what I’ve seen, they often portray feminism as a monolith, a sort of a hive-mind; the only distinction is between “equity” and “gender” feminists, where they tend to view conservative feminists, pro-life feminists, and feminists who believe the claims of female oppression are exaggerated, etc. (typically those feminists who are outcasted by the more left wing feminists) in that more positive light.  When this is done, anti-feminists rarely develop any real understanding of feminist theory at all – they won’t understand power dynamics, they won’t understand why feminists don’t consider female privileges a “privilege”, they won’t understand their politics of victimization, and a wide array of other nuances in feminism.  And this really hurts anti-feminists because by failing to understand this, they make it very easy for feminists to refute their ideas and dismiss them.

I would not consider myself to be an anti-feminist.  This is because I do not believe that feminism is totally wrong; rather, I believe that feminism is so one-sided that its interpretations and theories are misconstrued to the point of being false.  As a result, I do not see feminism as mutually exclusive to gender equality, but rather, needing balance and to be used in conjunction with a movement for male empowerment and thus an increased emphasis on gender equality as a whole.

Of course, this doesn’t exactly make me a feminist either.  My position, if I were to label it, falls right in an awkward middle ground between feminists and anti-feminists, where I am neither and my positions may defy common notions of where I should stand.  The result is that I believe a number of feminists and anti-feminists alike will have a tendency to view GEM with the hostile media effects – viewing me as perhaps more hostile to them.

If I were to guess, I’d probably think that I’m far more critical of feminists in this blog than I am of anti-feminists.  This isn’t because I’m not critical of anti-feminists (this post itself should show that); rather, it’s because I view feminism as larger and more influential, thus the bigger problem if you will.  Feminism is also a lot more complicated than anti-feminism – anti-feminism is simple in that it’s simply the outright rejection of feminism and not a whole lot of theory behind it (which makes anti-feminism very reactionary).  Feminism is very complicated and because so many anti-feminists appear to make fools out of themselves when criticizing feminism, I’ve really been trying to clarify important concepts in feminist theory this last month and will probably continue to do so in the future so that they quit it and encourage them to give it some thought.  This is also to show feminists that I do understand their theories and am willing to debate in good faith.

I’d anticipate that if I ever manage to become large enough to attain a regular reader base, it would probably be composed primarily of anti-feminists, “casual” feminists, and all who fall in between (if they ever took my words to heart, they wouldn’t label themselves at all).  I do not see too many full on feminists ever frequenting this blog, but who knows.  I’d be very glad if a few did as I would think such views need to be expressed in discussions.  I’d just ask one thing – refrain from using subjective distinctions and word choice.  They don’t say anything and that’s why they happen to be one of my biggest pet peeves.


2 Responses to “What is the Difference between “Regular” Feminists and “Radical” Feminists?”

  1. lee said

    try gail dine, or sheila jeffrys both self described themselves as radical feminists.

  2. Seth said

    Great article and great points. I’m probably standing in the same place as you but I’m really just starting to learn about the topic.

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