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Liberal Feminism

(69 Posts)
Doobigetta Mon 06-Feb-17 22:28:56

I'm confused. When I studied feminism 20 years ago, liberal feminism meant fighting for equality without changing the basic structure of society. So equal pay, the right to financial independence, not having access to certain occupations blocked because of your sex, etc. And radical feminism, on the other hand, believed true equality could only be achieved by fundamentally restructuring so that, for example, the state paid a wage for being a SAHP. But the definitions seem to have changed- "liberal feminism" seems to be shorthand for the "sex positive" stuff that started to appear in the 90s and is frequently not feminist at all, and "radical" feminism is just, well, normal feminism. Am I missing something? And if not, where did the proper hardcore separatists go and what is that called now?
I am NOT trying to be goady by asking this, please don't take it that way.

venusinscorpio Mon 06-Feb-17 22:45:36

I think it's a really good question and other people here will probably have some interesting views on it. Unlike you I didn't read any academic feminist theory until reasonably recently, although I have considered myself a feminist since my early teens.(I'm guessing we're roughly the same age) So I don't have any insights but would like to hear what people think.

M0stlyBowlingHedgehog Mon 06-Feb-17 22:49:08

No, I know exactly what you mean. 20 years back I'd have described myself as a liberal feminist. But was deeply suspicious of the porn industry for instance (largely because the right-on lefty men who seemed to want to devote a lot of my time and energy to reading the books they want to lend me on how wonderful porn was also seemed to have, shall we say, ulterior motives?)

I've changed a bit - motherhood does that to you, really brings you into head on collision with the fact that biology matters (one respect in which I was hideously naive was that I did not get Germaine Greer at all. Nor did I get the distinction between biology as the material conditions underlying oppression, and biology in the sense of biological determinism - was a bit dim that way). But more I think, as you say, the goal posts have been moved, massively. Liberal feminism has been utterly coopted by forces deeply opposed to the liberation of women. It's all pro-porn, and "so long as a woman makes a choice, that makes her chosen path feminist..." (really missing the distinction between the ability to make choices as a necessary end result if feminism is to have succeeded, versus the choice itself, which could be feminist, neutral or anti-feminist).

Prawnofthepatriarchy Mon 06-Feb-17 23:03:17

I think it's a good question too. I only wish I knew the answer. I'm a second wave feminist but was considered a bad one back in the day because I wore make up and slept with men. Now I appear to be a radical feminist.

I think the fundamental difference is class analysis. I am a feminist because I know that although some women are doing very nicely, if you look at averages across all women there's a systematic disadvantage to being a woman as opposed to being a man. This is true in the UK and the situation is even worse in plenty of other places.

Liberal feminists don't seem to do this. If they did they wouldn't be able to bang on about how liberating sex work is, or knock themselves out being pro porn. Because class analysis tells us that both these beliefs are utter bollocks.

ErrolTheDragon Mon 06-Feb-17 23:40:26

Interesting... I never did study feminism, most of what I've learnt has been from MN, but what you're saying makes sense. One thing which has affected terminology, it seems, is the use of 'radical' as part of a slur as in TERF, SWERF - applied to 'normal' feminists who don't buy into some of the new (often misogynistic) orthodoxies.

MrsTerryPratchett Tue 07-Feb-17 00:00:11

I'm a second wave feminist but was considered a bad one back in the day because I wore make up and slept with men. Now I appear to be a radical feminist. Ditto. Back in the day not wanting to live in a Marxist feminist lesbian collective was tantamount to internalized misogyny. Now I'm all rad and shit.

YetAnotherSpartacus Tue 07-Feb-17 00:03:14

I wrote a shorter version of this on another thread once (I did study feminism, but I don't 'get' the curent wave).

In the olden days (second wave) liberal feminists were those who believed in quite simple equality for women, change via legal reform and in the capacity of education to effect change. They were exemplified by NOW, Betty Friedan and probably most mainstream women who called themselves feminist. Their position is almost mainstream accepted now in most places (maybe not in Trump's US). The kinds of things they argued for were better rape laws, recognition of rape in marriage, access to contraception / abortion, girls in boys subjects, etc., equal pay for equal work and challenging stereotypes. They were upholders of the sex / gender distinction (they argued it was harmful to women), but also put a great emphasis on choice (i.e. women should be encouraged to work because this will give them economic equality, but it should be their choice to do so / not do so). So if you recognise liberal values such as the worth of education, equality, rights, freedom of choice, etc. then you are probably a second wave liberal feminist.

There were always tensions in liberal feminism. For example, most did not openly support porn and prostitution (some did, no 'type' is ever completely homogenous), but few openly campaigned against porn or for prostitution reform, partly (not wholly) because they did see it as 'choice' and also because they considered it to be contradictory to argue for abortion on the basis of freedom of choice / rights to one's body etc. and they against prostitution.

The modern mob seem to have resolved this dilemma by emphasising some elements rather than others. Whatever the current wave is (third? fourth?) has morphed this into a more libertarian model maybe even with anarchist undertones. It is significantly different from that of the second wave. There is more emphasis put on choice (and less thought about and critique of this concept), the s/d distinction has been replaced by thinking about 'gender as about choice' and there ia more emphasis on free-enterprise, women as entrepreneurs, etc.

Modern liberal feminism is peppered with a fair amount of postmodern understandings of identity / queer theory and pop feminism from teh intarwebs. I also think that a lot of the shift began back in the 90s in the height of the porn wars and when exponants of the sex industry were co-opting feminism and feminists to make their case that women entered porn and prostitution through choice and often for pleasure (the 'equal orgasm approach', whereby it was argued that sexual equality was also about women having the same kinds of sexual responses and freedoms as men, etc. - yes a simplification and a problematic perspective).

Note - radical feminism has changed too.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 07-Feb-17 00:12:01

I was waiting for the green man at the crossing on my way home, and thinking about this thread.

It struck me that the green man says it all. It's just a stick figure. But if it were a stick figure with a skirt people would start making jokes about the crossing being ladies only.

A stick man is understood to mean "everyone". A stick woman means "women only". Men are the default. Women are secondary.

Which is what the great feminist text The Second Sex" says. Only much longer and infinitely better written.

DeviTheGaelet Tue 07-Feb-17 07:59:29

Great thread! I don't have much to add. Good point about the green man prawn
yet great post. Again. Am in awe of your posting skills star

Mrsfrumble Tue 07-Feb-17 10:32:07

Modern liberal feminism has apparently crept up on me and taken me by surprise. I'm in my late 30s and haven't formally studied feminism, but has a sort of awakening in my late teens and devoured the meager "women's studies" section in our local library. I read the Ariel Levy book (Female Chauvanist Pigs, I think it was called) and agreed with her argument which doesn't seem that long ago to me.

Then I saw SWERF used on here for the first time (with the poster suggesting that SWERFS were as awful people as rascists and homophobes) and I was genuinely surprised that this is apparently now a thing. It made me realize how sheltered I must be, and got me wondering exactly how my feminist views should be more inclusive towards sex workers.

venusinscorpio Tue 07-Feb-17 10:39:14

And the person who said that is so young. It's sad that that is her idea of what feminism has to be, she didn't seem to understand that being what she called a SWERF and grouped with racists was a feminist woman wanting to end the exploitation of women by men, she's just bought into these male centred ideas.

venusinscorpio Tue 07-Feb-17 10:43:46

What possible reason does she think radical feminist women are against the sex trade for? I can't imagine how you can be so passionate about social justice and not be able to see at all that there are valid arguments you can make against it, even if you don't agree. I see the validity of some liberal feminist viewpoints on it, although I don't agree.

Mrsfrumble Tue 07-Feb-17 10:53:18

I agree venus. This Upworthy article similarly took me surprise, especially the "crusty old white dudes want to ban it, so it must be awesome" angle.

venusinscorpio Tue 07-Feb-17 11:06:11

What an inane, poorly argued article that is.

ErrolTheDragon Tue 07-Feb-17 14:15:45

Some of what seems to be going on (esp on social media) in the name of 'liberal feminism' is deeply non-liberal. Liberalism is (generally) about individualism, accepting differing opinions and behaviours, isn't it? But it seems now that 'libfem' fora are dominated by groupthink, the suppression or vilification of anyone with the temerity to challenge their new orthodoxies. A person who is liberal surely doesn't tell others to STFU?

venusinscorpio Tue 07-Feb-17 14:23:45

They do it under the guise of creating "safe spaces" and being "inclusive". It's very insidious and difficult to challenge without looking like someone who doesn't mind offending people.

TeiTetua Tue 07-Feb-17 14:44:47

Prawn, they do have some "green women at the crossing" in Germany. See
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ampelm%C3%A4nnchen and look down at the bottom. An idea that clearly is needed.

Notwhatiexpected Tue 07-Feb-17 14:51:07

Placemarking, I am learning/getting so much from these boards. X

ErrolTheDragon Tue 07-Feb-17 17:18:57

"safe spaces" and being "inclusive".

It's a logical impossibility for 'Safe spaces' (i.e. denial of free speech) to be 'inclusive'.

Inclusive of everyone except older and wiser feminists who don't swallow hook, line and sinker their dogma on SW and/or transgender issues? People who want to defend actual safe spaces for women?

venusinscorpio Tue 07-Feb-17 17:25:36

Yes, they don't have a problem not being inclusive of us!

M0stlyBowlingHedgehog Tue 07-Feb-17 17:33:05

My response to anyone who accuses me of being a SWERF is to explain that no, I'm a PPERF (pimp and punter exclusionary radical feminist). And then point them at the invisible men project.

HelenDenver Tue 07-Feb-17 17:46:39

Thank you all for great posts on this.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 07-Feb-17 18:00:03

Thank you for the green woman link, Teiterua. Spent a little while reading about it, and the guerrilla artist who one night swapped a lot of green men for people doing other things. grin

This safe spaces stuff is ludicrous. If universities are not going to be places where wide ranging discussion can take place then what are they for? I know when I was a student my friends and I thought we knew best about everything but we didn't try to make it official policy.

Of course the other thing about the young is that they think they invented sex. This libfem idea that camming is liberating glorifies making yourself into an object, playing along with the pornification of women, which is the very opposite of what feminism hopes for.

And without any class analysis, they do not perceive that TW display male privilege. They see that transracial is offensive but don't get that transgender is just as appropriative. They angrily defend TW as the most oppressed of all women, and shut down debate if you ask why they are centring men in their feminism.

They will grow up, of course, and feel as silly about some of this as I do over some of my wrong headed beliefs. We live and learn. That's one of the best things about life.

HelenDenver Tue 07-Feb-17 18:06:50

"This libfem idea that camming is liberating "

Is this a libfem idea?

I'm with OP; I feel definitions have moved.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 07-Feb-17 18:07:37

As for SWERF, it makes as much sense as saying that people trying to get safety precautions put in place for African mineworkers are doing so because they must hate the mineworkers. Of course, it's quite the opposite. They seek to protect them from danger and immoral employers, just as those who work to combat the sex trade do.

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