Today I saw a post purporting to contrast radical feminism against queer politics, with the goal of trying to illustrate how “queer politics” are flawed and radical feminism is superior.
One of the major points was the idea that since “queer” is defined in terms of opposition to the norm, this means “queer politics” can have no actual goals and as the norm changes, “queer politics” must change to reflect that. So if believers in “queer politics” scored some sort of major paradigm shift, we’d all have to turn around and work just as hard to undo it.
This kind of analysis is so facile and juvenile it barely merits a rebuttal. You might as well claim that anybody who identifies themselves as a revolutionary is thus committing them to overthrow themselves in the event of a victory.
Outside of teenage stereotypes, even self-described rebels have causes. They are rebelling against something, and in the process, striving for something else.
The bit of conversational sleight-at-hand that’s at work here is comparing a descriptive phrase with a prescriptive one. Queer politics describes the politics of queer people, politics relating to queerness. That queerness has been constructed in terms of positionality relative to the dominant paradigm doesn’t mean that those of us who fall within that construction and claim it for ourselves are pledging allegiance to contrarianism.
Queer politics are politics that fit the description of “queer”, in short. If the world changes to the point that the label of “queer” loses its current meaning, people whose politics are queer will find a new label. That’s all. Though because such shifts take time, more likely we’ll have a generation gap for a while where some people describe themselves and their politics as queer, and others don’t, and there’s nothing remarkable or troubling about this because it happens all the time. Paradigms don’t change overnight, or everywhere at once.
Radical feminism, on the other hand, is not being used descriptively, not by most of the people who are claiming it. To an outsider, it might seem like a descriptive term: like other feminism, but more radical! To radical feminists, though, radical feminism is a concrete set of tenets. It is used prescriptively.
The funny thing about this is that “radical”, in the context that gave rise to “radical feminism”, has a similar meaning to “queer”: it refers to an extreme outlier. By the same logic that says that queer politics should change itself as soon as the mainstream changes, the day that radical feminism changes society is the day that radical feminism needs to change, too.
But the really hilarious thing is the way the writer was using this argument to set up queer politics as a sort of endless struggle for struggle’s sake while radical feminism is committed to actual change.
Doesn’t seem funny? Well, I had to think about it before realizing what struck me as weird about it.
I’ve talked before about how hazy the actual end game of radical feminism’s gender abolition is, but this post made me realize something else:they don’t have much of a start game, either.
Radical feminism isn’t even an Underpants Gnome plan, where there’s a clearly defined start and end but the middle is a mystery. There’s no beginning.
Think about it: radical feminists attack queer politics and liberal feminism for pursuing incremental changes within the system, for trying to evolve the paradigm or create more flexibility and mobility within it. They also claim not to believe in violence.
Well, there are two ways to change a paradigm. There’s the evolutionary approach, where incremental changes add up over time until you wind up with something completely unrecognizable, and there’s the revolutionary approach.
Radical feminists talk about what they’re doing in terms of revolution, but in the process, they completely eschew the incremental approach. This particular post I’m talking about made a big point about how personal choice and personal performance and how individuals live their lives can’t affect systemic change.
I’m not saying that radical feminists never do anything good for women or the world in general, but when they do, their means and ends are indistinguishable from libfems and queer activists. It’s when they stoop to performing triage on the wounded of patriarchy and when they deign to deal with the world as it is now that they get things done.
And they talk about these things as being distractions from the real work of dismantling patriarchy, just as they talk about their endless digressions into transmisogyny (that no one’s forcing them to make) as a distraction from the real work…
But there isn’t any real work. There’s no revolution. They couldn’t accomplish a revolutionary reinvention of society without seizing revolutionary means, which means being willing to violently overthrow the existing paradigm.
If you eschew incremental change, if you demean individuals who seek to expand their individual level of freedom within the current framework, but you aren’t willing or able to embrace revolutionary means on the scale of total nihilism (in the original sense of “destroying every atom of the old order to make way for a new one”), then there’s no option left for changing the paradigm.
Radical feminists regard embracing gender diversity and respecting gender as “strengthening patriarchy”, even though these things are anathema to patriarchy’s plans… but what’s the radical feminist plan for abolishing gender? I’ve written endless posts about how there can never be a final step because abolishing gender is a task that will never end, but seriously… what’s the first step?
I’m sure a radical feminist can tell me, but they’ll be leaving out the actual first part of the first step, which is, “Get everybody in the world to agree to…”
Somehow. Without incremental change. Get everybody in the world to agree to something, something, underpants, profit. It doesn’t matter what path they think will lead us to the gender-free utopia. We’ve somehow got to get everybody there, while rejecting individual progress and incremental change.
THIS is the real never-ending battle. Radical feminism is a doctrine that is designed to fail, over and over again, because they have a vision for how they think the world should be but no plan for reaching it.
Why? Well, there’s probably not a single reason, because life is seldom that simple, but here’s something to consider: mission-based movements lose their relevancy when their mission is completed. Or to put it in political terms: by hitching their carts to goals they have no means (and on some level, no intention) of reaching, the drivers of radical feminism create a permanent wedge issue in order to keep drawing in a steady stream of new recruits, and the new recruits can feel like they’re part of something epic.
There’s nothing romantic about incremental change, about scraping out space for yourself and your loved ones to live in and hoping that what we’re doing is weakening the power structure enough that the next generation will have a little more room to breathe.
This is, I think, why we’re seeing the emergence of so many very young radical feminists on Tumblr right now. The movement takes something visceral—like the reaction to people who transgress the sex/gender norm—and uses it as a rallying point, telling people that not only are their bigoted reactions NOT bigoted but they’re important and intellectual, and that they can join a revolution that will tear down the patriarchy and liberate women and abolish gender forever.
And step 1 is?
Well, they’ll get to step 1, the day they have to stop dealing with us, and dealing with liberal feminists who think that incremental change is helping, and dealing triage to the damage patriarchy is causing to real people here and now.
Someday, they’ll get to step 1.
But until then, they have the glory of the neverending battle.