I have been quite a few years now around various “radical feminist communities”, enough to notice that the majority of women who claim to be radical feminist, lesbian feminist or radical lesbian feminist today don’t in fact get anywhere near the ethical, pro-woman and anti-violence behaviour they claim to believe in or embody. They are simply not the radical feminist or radical lesbian feminist community they claim to represent, but a sad parody of it, and actively prevent women’s liberation from men, from men’s control, men’s violence and parasitism.
This is a difficult topic and a difficult post, but the reason I venture to talk about this is because as radical feminists I believe we have a moral duty to take a stand against harmful behaviours within groups that claim to be radfem, and make it easier for us to identify it and disengage from it. It’s not about criticising women’s individual behaviour but seeing it as politicised destruction of female truth-sayers and male-organised erasure of radical feminism, the transformative and liberating kind. I want to take women seriously and hold each other responsible and accountable for our actions, and also want to be truthful about what represents itself as the radfem movement today and what consequences it has on women, so it can be discussed.
When we look at the more radical spectrum of feminism (this excludes the funfem, queer, pomo, liberal, conservative kind), within this range there are still quite a few ideologies to be found that are toxic to radical feminism. What’s confusing is that the women who buy into those ideologies claim to be radfem, which makes the phallacies more difficult to spot if we’re not used to it. They will say some things that make sense or that borrow from radical feminist theory (anti-rape, anti male violence, anti pornstitution, anti-queer, etc.) yet some aspects will feel like a false note, will feel wrong, empty, plastic, thought-terminating. Amongst those ‘plastic’ or ‘potted’ feminisms (terms coined by Mary Daly) we can find liberal influenced feminisms and reformist activism (the men can change trope), male-friendly feminism, “gender roles/dom-sub as the problem” feminism, radical lesbianism, pro-PIV or pro-relationships with men, intersectionality, refusal to see men as inherently violent – just to name a few.
I’m not going to go into those different ideologies specifically and how they trap women into murky male quicksands because it would take pages to take them down separately and it isn’t the point here.
The fact is that all those different groups have in common the following:
• they claim to be radical feminist / lesbian radical feminist;
• they repeat or produce key radical feminist ideas (anti rape, anti porn, anti prostitution, anti male violence against women, sometimes even anti-PIV or anti men)
• but their analyses are partially flawed or truncated or obfuscate some of the truth, whichever the male ideology it is intoxicated with;
• The women have reached a certain feminist consciousness but freeze at a given point because of a perceived interest in doing so (status, regognition, publicity, hierarchy, group inclusion, any male carrot)
• continually forwarding, developing and improving radical feminist thought and action is only secondary (or inexistant) to their aims;
• In practice, their relationships are ridden with violence which prevents women from moving, and they have to deny this violence in order to keep hold on their male carrot (whichever it is). This ‘freeze’ state is thus maintained through violence and brainwashing.
I’m going to focus on the last point because that’s the most important here. It’s not enough to dislike men, or be anti-pornstitution and anti-lots of things, or to throw some theory or quotes here and there. The base of radical feminism – before we even look at ways of understanding, naming and explaining men’s violence, how it affects us and how it works on many different levels – is to identify the danger and get away from danger. May I repeat: to get away from danger – whichever the danger, from PIV to physical and verbal abuse to mind control to exploitation, etc. If you identify actions that endanger your integrity and expose women to violence, our responsibility is to get away from it, and if we can, to encourage other women to get away from it and identify the source of danger – with all the deprogramming it may entail. Radical feminism, at its core, is about ending all forms of abuse against women and in our own lives, whether it is exercised by men or by male-colonised and mind-controlled women.
This is basic radical feminism and also very basic, common-sense ethics and human decency. When we see abuse in our groups, we need to 1) always empathise and side with the (female) victim, including ourselves, and refuse to identify to the abuser or give excuses for it – and 2) disengage as soon as possible from the abusive woman / group if she/they refuse to stop (with men it’s different, they are inherently abusive so we need to get away from them regardless). If the abuse doesn’t stop, there is no point in negotiating because she will continue to use you for her abuse as long as you are in her reach.
So: side with the victim, cut all proximity and contact with the abusive woman or group if she/they continue despite being warned, and warn other women about the abusive behaviour so they don’t get trapped into it either, to prevent new victims to be drawn in. This might mean leaving the whole group if the others happen to side with the abuser and try to shut you up for calling it out. It might be a difficult decision but it’s a necessary one, because it means leaving an unsafe, dangerous environment where the costs of staying are far too important, regardless of the perceived benefits. The world is big, possibilities are infinite, it is a lie and a reversal that your life and sanity depends on this group. And if it’s me being abusive, I need to stop immediately and thereby try to understand why I need to inflict pain on others or to control others, what pain or fear am I trying to escape by doing so, so I won’t repeat the violence again and again.
There is simply no change and no liberation possible if we continue to expose ourselves to some form of threat or violence, whichever the form of violence. It is antithetical to freedom, life-terminating, psychically and physically maiming. So at it’s most minimal, the point of radical feminism is to rid our lives not only from men but from all male instituted forms of relating based on life destruction, trauma, sadism and parasitism. This doesn’t disappear magically just because women get together in a same physical space. It requires deep, dedicated and continual change from the way men groomed us to be, so we can experience freedom.
Now back to the last point of the list. I said that the vast majority of those claiming to be radfem and representing the “radfem movement” aren’t, in fact, radfem. Yes. And really, the most striking aspect of this is the observation that in practice, their relationships are ridden with violence. I realised this in group after group, with disbelief (or not). To me the presence of interwoman violence is the most important factor to look at when judging whether I can trust a woman to be radfem or not, and it is also a matter of personal survival and personal safety – I can’t afford to expose myself to more destruction. And women who condone, excuse, deny violence, side with abusers or exercise some forms of violence themselves and especially refuse to stop when told, are not radfem and actively prevent women’s liberation. I’m saying this because it is important that women realise this and don’t repeat the same mistakes and stop doing them.
The kind of violence or disruption I have witnessed include:
1) the bystanders:
• Basically, they never side with the victims, rationalise the abuse and refuse to take a stand against it, identify to the abusers, continue to engage with them in spite of lots of evidence that they are destructive, deny the facts, etc. Subtle variants are:
• to indirectly or unwittingly drag other women into unsafe or abusive situations simply because they themselves are incapable of getting away from it. This is why bystanders aren’t safe to be around with either if they show no willingness to change.
• refuse to listen to the women victims when they say they were abused / badly treated by other women
• remain silent or “neutral” to maintain an imaginary sisterhood, which equates to siding with the abuse and abuser
• they’ll admit the abuse happened but won’t accept to see XYZ woman’s behaviour as chronically dysfunctional or toxic and therefore side with the abuser.
• they’ll admit that they themselves were badly treated but deny that it’s abusive, or minimise the harmful impact it had on them and rationalise that the benefits exceed the costs – therefore they can’t identify with the other victims
• they don’t accept the abuse happened so they will deny the abuse altogether and try to erase it from their minds by silencing the victims (accusing them of being divisive, of lying, exaggerating, trashing, of being unsisterly, etc.).
Bystanders form the majority of the non-movement and are in large part responsible for the undermining and sabotaging of radical feminism (or maybe, should I say, responsible for nothing else but the fraud of their non-movement, because once you disengage from them, they don’t sabotage your work any more because they don’t have access to you). Responsibility not in a punishment or guilt-tripping way but in terms of responsibility to stop, disengage and take an ethical stand against the abuse and disruption. So few women take that responsibility in the “community”, it’s shocking (or maybe unsurprising?).
The essential dynamic to understand with bystanders is that it works very much like victims of cult groups (which does mean that the groups in question function like cults). Radical feminism is perceived as a status or source of recognition that can be gained, lost or competed for (as opposed to a way of being and thinking regardless of where and with whom we are), and the group or the leaders of the group perceived as holding monopoly over delivering such “status” or recognition. The point is to “move up” to the leaders / and stay close to the group to continue to benefit from this recognition or magic status, or access to resources or audience, or whatever carrot. The leaders take advantage of their own scarcity as “radfems” (scarcity which is man-made) and of other women’s emotional deprivation to reinforce their dependency on the group and gain control. A common tactic to reinforce dependency is to alternate between love-bombing and abuse or domineering behaviour.
Victims will believe – to different degrees of course – that this group is their only means for emotional survival, that without this group there is no hope for women’s liberation, nothing else exists, they would be alone with nobody to help them and will suffer terribly (exclusion can be perceived as a matter of life and death, especially when it touches on trauma of childhood emotional abuse, this is not to be minimised). Their fear of being excluded or of losing the perceived benefits secures their loyalty to the group or leaders no matter how unethical, perverse, disruptive to radical feminism or abusive the leaders are. The bystanders must forsake their critical thinking and belief in their perceptions and be in denial of their own pain and suffering to remain in that group.
This is of course profoundly anti-radfem, and goes against women’s freedom. I believe we have a responsibility to stop supporting abusive behaviour, or if some don’t want to stop, to be at least a bit coherent and stop calling it radical feminist. We also have a responsibility to stop calling the bystanders and abusers of the non-movement, radical feminist, because doing so is participating in their fraud. It indirectly supports the destructive power of some women over others, allowing them to usurp radical feminism to recruit more victims, putting women in danger and actively preventing women’s liberation from men.
2) the abusers
• They are a smaller part of the non-movement and do the lion’s share of abusing and terrorising women, and are usually chronic abusers. I have witnessed such behaviours as:
• Generally functioning only in power-over modes, and driving out those who refuse to submit.
• Punishment of women who exercise individual, critical thinking
• Alternating between abuse, threats, and lovebombing
• Destroying, pillaging, exploiting, stealing women’s work in radical feminism, especially from women with no perceived status
• Contempt for women’s time, involvement and safety, extreme poor planning that strains or endangers women and saps energy
• Outing women and compromising their anonymity
• Economic control over women, or using economic resources to gain control over women
• Domineering behaviour, control of all processes of organisation at the expense of the group or group decisions, underhanded or under the table decision-making processes (for instance where the real decisions are taken outside of the meetings by a small minority and the collective meetings are merely used as a facade)
• Strong involvement in male-modelled politicking, careerism, activism, all based on male modes of power-over, control, competition, hierarchy, scarcity, sacrifice, dissociation
• taking over groups as a form of ‘coup’, and purging of all opponents
• Purging of women from the network who threaten their monopoly over xyz resource and control over the group, doing everything to prevent their access to resources or contacts.
• Pathological lying, chronic trolling
• Constant instrumentalisation of women to achieve dubious ends, and then discarding them if they are no longer of use / treating women only as useful means for ends
• Invasive behaviours (for instance blackmailing)
• Aggressive verbal / psychological behaviours: shouting at women, treating women like shit, insulting women until they cry, demeaning women, mocking them, humiliations, verbal attacks and public libel/accusation, guilt-tripping, gaslighting, manipulation and deceit, terrorising, causing panick attacks, etc.
• reprisals against women who denounce or name the harmful behaviours (usually by creating alliances against the name-caller, isolating her and silencing her).
• Securing of certain key positions, alliances and resources so they can continue to dominate and abuse with impunity.
• Sexual objectifying of women
• Sexually invasive and aggressive behaviours, including sexual assault
• Abuse within a lesbian couple, including physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
Disgusting list ey? These are horrible behaviours yet they are the norm in the ‘radical feminist’ non-movement. And those are the behaviours that the bystanders support. Sad picture. There’s not that much more to say about the abusers really, most has been said about how they organise their monopoly and control over women in the bystanders’ part. The most important thing to remember though is that abusive women rarely change in a fortnight, especially if they still have access to their victims. Unless there’s evidence that she can both listen to the victim and change her behaviour, that is, put an end to the harm in a short amount of time (because sometimes the former is possible but not the latter) the best thing to do both for the victims and for the abusers is to cut all ties with them, never to contact them again, and disengage from those who support the abuser, too.
It’s pretty simple in fact, and it changes your life! I personally feel much freer now that I’m not tied any more to those from the non-movement. I can tell you that non-abusive, non-dominating relationships between women are perfectly feasible and it takes you very far, it’s wonderful. And no more wasted time and energy reacting to the endless soul-destroying and life-sucking non-activity. The possibilities are so much more infinite.
To conclude, it is our responsibility to refuse to name destructive groups or behaviour as radical feminist, even if they claim to be so or are longstanding ‘radfems’, and to be very rigorous in our definitions of radical feminism. This isn’t about hurting women’s feelings and excluding women (from what?) but about being coherent between what we say and do, and acting ethically. It’s taking our liberation seriously and refusing to live in a world of violence and insecurity. It doesn’t mean we should all be perfect at once, but that we should strive to refuse violence and act on it when we see it in other women or ourselves – all women are capable of doing this. Women aren’t stupid, we know when things feel or are wrong or not. If we claim to be radfem when our behaviour says otherwise, it’s exactly like abusive parents who tell children not to do something while doing it themselves. It completely discredits the intended message, the messenger, and it’s lying. It is of no use at all, except to prevent women from accessing radical feminism. For those who think I’m harsh, well, what I find harsh is all the abuse and tolerance of abuse in the so-called radfem community, the harm it does to women.
read also the remarquable comments