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Radical Feminism: Definition, Theory & Criticism

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  • 0:01 Definition of Radical Feminism
  • 0:40 Radical Feminist Theory
  • 3:01 Criticism of Radical Feminism
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Deborah Teasley

Deborah has 4 years of teaching experience and a master's degree in program development & management.

The different branches of feminism were all controversial for their times, but none of them were as provocative with their theories and as extreme with their solutions as radical feminism. In this lesson, we will unpack the oftentimes fanatical and uncompromising ideals of radical feminism.

Definition of Radical Feminism

Radical feminist beliefs are based on the idea that the main cause of women's oppression originates from social roles and institutional structures being constructed from male supremacy and patriarchy. The main difference between radical feminism and other branches is that they didn't concentrate on equalizing the distribution of power. Instead, they focused their efforts on completely eliminating patriarchy by transforming the entire structure of society. More specifically, they wanted to get rid of traditional gender roles.

Radical Feminist Theory

Radical feminism was a branch that formed during the second wave of feminism in the 1960s. At this point in time, women had won the right to vote and were working more outside of the home. In addition, the United States had gone through the sexual revolution which had lowered the pressure for people to be strictly monogamous and had given them more room for sexual expression.

In other words, life for women had greatly improved over the previous half century. However, women still experienced oppression on a regular basis. Would you have felt satisfied knowing that you could now work outside the home but would not be viewed as equal? Or knowing that you were going to be paid much less than a man that did the exact same job as you?

The sexual revolution had also brought some freedom to sexual expression. However, there was still a lack of reproductive rights. For example, how would you have felt if you didn't have the right to access birth control? Radical feminists believed that these were deliberate power plays by men and that the institutions and systems that supported this oppression were just the tools they used to maintain control.

Unlike other forms of feminism that viewed power as something positive as long as it was evenly distributed, radical feminists believed that power was mostly something experienced in a dualistic system of domination and subordination, with one party always experiencing oppression. This system was an outrage to radical feminists, and as a result, they tended to be militant with their efforts, calling for direct action against patriarchy and male supremacy. They organized sit-ins and demonstrations at various events that they felt supported these systems and institutions of oppression.

One of the most memorable demonstrations was the Miss America protest of 1968 which was staged by the New York Radical Women. This event was what gave birth to the mythical image of the 'bra-burning feminist'. Bras were not burned at this demonstration, but they were tossed into a trash can with other items including high heels, eyelash curlers, cosmetics, wigs, and magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Playboy. This was done in protest against what was seen as the ridiculous standards of beauty to which women were held.

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