It is time to end the tolerance of transphobia in radical feminist circles, argues Ray Filar
“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”
Simone de Beauvoir
People chat a lot of shit about radical feminism, mostly because they don’t know what it is. Unsurprisingly, it regularly makes the top five on well-known television programme, Most Widely Misrepresented Ideologies (a show I would be happy to create and host, if there are any BBC commissioners reading this). It’s a shocking, challenging kind of feminism and deliberately so.
Common to all strands of radical feminism is the belief that we live in a patriarchy, a male supremacist society in which a primary oppression is of women by men. What distinguishes radical feminism – what gives it its strength, its passion, its edge – is the further claim that more than women’s full participation in the system devised by men is needed for liberation. Radical feminists argue that what we need is a fundamental restructuring of society from thought upwards. If I had a hammer, I’d smash patriarchy; you know the drill.
As we are often brought up to think that women and men are equal and that everything is now lovely gender-wise; it can be difficult to engage with women writers who take a sledgehammer to the shaky foundations our lives are built on. But nobody said creating a feminist society was going to be easy and why should it be? The harassment, distortion and denigration that radical feminist writers and activists face is partially a consequence of misogyny, but it is also a knee-jerk defensive reaction to the potency of their ideas.
Maintaining such a rigorous opposition to patriarchy and its effects has, on occasion, led in the wrong direction. Transphobia is the great shame of modern radical feminism. Thirty two years since Janice Raymond’s transphobic diatribe The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male was published, we are still struggling to clear our heads. Her book functions as the beginning of a sub-genre which incorrectly uses the label radical feminism as cover for outright hatred.