Discussion group: radical feminism

This picture shows the start of our discussion group on radical feminism.  With 14 attendees, including two magnificent facilitators, we started off by brainstorming what radical feminism is, does and is concerned with.

Soon we had listed: direct action, being loud, rape and sexual violence, revolutionary feminism, separatist feminism, women-only spaces and sisterhood, gender, human trafficking, prostitution, being rooted in women’s experience, the quality of radical feminism as a self-theorising movement, a movement embracing all women (we asked: is this universalising/essentialising?), being uncompromising, not being self-apologetic or necessarily providing answers, a specific women’s struggle ([i.e. not subsuming feminism to other oppressions), pornography, anti-capitalist feminism, a critical movement, pro-choice issues and bodily autonomy, radical lesbian feminism, equality, being heard, economic freedom.

The words circled in red were the topics we decided to split off into smaller groups to discuss, with which we combined some of the other topics. Our five small groups were on:

  • Direct action and being loud, uncompromising and non-apologetic
  • Rape, sexual violence and consent
  • Revolutionary and anti-capitalist feminism
  • Separatist feminism, women-only spaces, sisterhood, a basis in women’s experience and lesbian feminism
  • Gender

I joined the discussions on direct action and then for the second round, on separatist feminism and women-only spaces.  For both of these topics, it felt like we needed a whole separate discussion group session on them; and both felt really exciting to talk about.

In the direction action group we talked about what feminist direct action is: using your body to disrupt space in some way (see our recent action in H&M).  Another example is the Million Women Rise march on Saturday 3rd March which some of us are going to.  We agreed that for those of us who aren’t comfortable or don’t feel safe using our bodies in space to do actions, that support for those of us who were doing this was equally, integrally important – doing media or photography work, organisation, emotional and practical support etc; so it’s important not to see those taking ‘action’ roles as taking more risk or working harder.  In fact, we acknowledged that those of us who feel able to engage in direct action can do so because of the privileged position that we’re already in, whether thanks to education, class, race, gender identity, or other forms of privilege.

We then moved on to talk about separatist feminism and women-only space.  One of the discussants in this group had us all riveted by describing her experience of women-only communities on women-owned land in the UK.  We were also really excited to hear about Women in Tune, a women-only music festival in Wales.  (This event currently doesn’t have a policy on trans women, although it sounds like there is a chance this might change in the foreseeable future).  As we went round the group, the theme that kept coming up in regards to women-only space was safety.  Not only objective physical safety, but the feeling of safety that came from being in women-only spaces, and how this felt like a revelation to some women when they experienced this for the first time, because we hadn’t realised we hadn’t felt safe before.  Allied to this was a sense that in women-only spaces, we could finally have the head-space to try and find our sense of ourselves as women outside of patriarchy; a difficult if not impossible task, but one that can only be begun in a women-only space, I think – allowing ourselves to be able to explore what we would be like if we could say, feel, think and do what we wanted to without having to be aware of offending or provoking our male friends, allies, or enemies.  While we didn’t idealise women-only space as being necessarily always safe or welcoming to these discussions, the consensus seemed to be that this space was helpful in these explorations.

This discussion was so exciting and powerful that it led to the idea of a Feminist Action Cambridge away weekend at a youth hostel, creating our own women-only space.  I’m going to look into this, so keep an eye on your inbox for more details (or join our mailing list if you’re not on it already).

The other small group discussions reported back to the whole group at the end.  The group on rape and sexual violence talked about consent, and how we are socialised into feeling like we should always ‘consent’, and the social pressure that goes along with that.  They also discussed how radical feminist talk on sexual violence tends to be met with male anger, so it’s a difficult discussion to have with men; and even for women it’s a difficult discussion to have, and how a lot of the writing on this is pretty heavy to read.

The group talking about revolution also talked about women-only spaces and how these are key to revolution.  They discussed how existing revolutionary spaces tend to be non-inclusive of women, and the intersection with other oppressions that was relevant to this discussion.  The film Women’s Army of Revolt was suggested as something the group might be interested in watching to continue this discussion.

The group on gender talked about how we are gendered by others around us reading our gender – this is something we are obliged to react to.  They wondered what we can learn from societies with different gender norms or ideas to ours; and what it would mean to challenge the binary notion of gender that we have in our society.  (As I wasn’t at the last three groups described, please add things that I’ve missed out in the comments.)

Finally, we came together and shared our discussions, and had a brief discussion of the question of ‘how do we live as radical feminists?’  People had a lot to say, including:

  • not apologising/refusing the ‘good girl’ model
  • learning women’s self defence and how to claim space (we are hoping to have a workshop on this soon)
  • women-only spaces
  • conflict resolution workshops
  • being kind to oneself – no guilt, self-care
  • being picky with male friends and lovers
  • not allowing any casual sexism
  • demanding support from men (I particularly liked this idea: someone said she deliberately goes to men for emotional support rather than asking women to provide it all the time, to give men an opportunity to make up for the destructive work that patriarchy has done)

Then we went to the pub, which was great.

I got a lot out of this discussion group, and others said they did too.  It was really thoughtfully facilitated, with discussions of how to keep the space safe, as well as accessibility around not using theoretical language that might exclude some people.  I felt really privileged and excited to be part of such a radical and dynamic group, which keeps challenging my ideas and my feminism in productive and generative ways.

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One Comment on “Discussion group: radical feminism”

  1. rachelette says:

    I really enjoyed this discussion group, it felt like we took feminism to the next level!
    It was wonderful to talk about lesbian feminism in its own right – I feel that there needs to be more communication between lesbian/bi feminists of different generations and backgrounds so that our history and culture doesn’t get lost.
    It was great to spend time with such a diverse and thoughtful group of women and thank you Veronica for writing this up so that those who couldn’t make it can still share the conversations.


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