I have just had the pleasure of reading Denise Thompson’s book. It is my part of my personal on-going exploration of feminist theory and thought.
Although I have worked for many years as a feminist activist, particularly in the field of male violence against women and children, and have thus read and discussed feminism, I hold some trepidation in writing this blog.
I claim no expertise in feminist theory – but am in the process of learning and developing my knowledge and want to share my journey with you. I can only hope that I can do justice to Denise Thompson’s book which I highly recommend.
This blog is not going to cover all the range of issues that are discussed in the book. Rather I will attempt to focus on her understanding of radical feminism.
What is feminism?
One of the initial statements that Denise Thompson makes is that the question is not ‘Who is a feminist?’ but ‘What is feminism?’ She goes on to define feminism as the logic of feminist theory and practice. It is a theory which at its core is the recognition and acknowledgement of male domination, where the male represents the ‘human’ norm at the expense of a human status for women.
“It is the opposition to male domination which makes feminism relevant to women wherever they are situated, however differently they are excluded from recognition as human…and for deciding the extent of our limitations and constraint” (p.69)
Feminism is therefore not an identity; not a lifestyle choice. Neither is it a pronouncement or dictatorial or a dogma teaching us how to live one’s life. However, we are responsible for how we behave within our oppressive conditions. Therefore feminism does not “…lay down rules, regulations, prohibitions and prescriptions for individuals to follow.” (p.50)
“To define feminism as an identity as a ‘feminist’ is to remain caught up in the ideology of individualism” (p.71)
The Personal is Political
Denise Thompson accepts the concept that the ‘personal is political’ in that it acknowledges and challenges the dichotomy of the ideological construction of public/private distinction. But she also argues that personal experience must be informed by an understanding and acknowledgement of the social order of male domination and its impact on this experience.
“There is no sphere of personal life which escapes relations of domination” (p.25).
We must acknowledge the social conditions within which experience is already embedded.
Feminist Theory and Practice
Feminist theory and practice is consistently evolving as research, discussion and debate continue.
“Theory is vital if feminism is to clarify where it has come from, its meanings, its values and aims if it is not to become bogged down in dogma, infighting, irrelevance and eventual silence”. (p.33)
We do not want equality
Thompson also argues that it is not equality that we want. We do not want to enter that male world, where hierarchies of power exist. That does not free us from male domination.
“None of the feminist standpoint theorists, unequivocally identifies agreement with male supremacy as the link which ‘transforms ‘women’s experience’ into feminist politics.” (p.17)
We have a long history
Thompson also critiques the idea of waves of feminism. She argues that this is due to the loss of women’s history. Women’s struggles against male domination have rarely been documented.
“Feminism, in the sense of women defending their own interests in the face of male supremacy, is of much longer duration than the last three decades, and hence to call this latest manifestation ‘second wave’ does an injustice to the long history of women’s struggles on their own behalf.” (p.2)
Race and Class
She also discusses, in depth, issues of race and class, and how feminism is central to “politics and race and class”. If it is not central, women will be excluded.
“As long as feminism is conceived as commitment to human decency and dignity for all, it is already a commitment to opposing race and class oppression.” (p.93)
Thompson continually returns to the concept that male domination is central to feminist politics. She also acknowledges that “…women experience male domination differently depending on where they are situated in relation to race, class or any other social location.” (p.93)
‘Radical Feminism Today’ was first published in 2001, but many of the issues that Thompson addresses are still very relevant today. I have covered only a brief snapshot of the range of issues that are discussed in ‘Radical Feminism Today’. They are the ones that have caught my immediate attention and I believe are still worthy of feminist attention. I strongly recommend it.