Open Letter from Radical Women to Antony Loewenstein
We are writing to you on behalf of the Australian section of Radical Women (RW), an international socialist feminist women's leadership organisation. RW describes ourselves as the left wing of the feminist movement and the feminist wing of the Left. We write in response to your article, 'Feminism lite' is letting down the women who need it the most.
We are the voices of the feminist movement that you disappeared.
As a feminist man, you have the right and indeed, the responsibility, to participate in feminist debate. We welcome your critique of liberal (or bourgeois) feminism. Although your confession of trepidation over a feminist vitriolic backlash is insulting, it is not the main issue.
The feminism that you criticise well is liberal feminism -- a tendency in feminist thought that believes women can be liberated under capitalism singly through legal reforms, such as "equal opportunity" to be represented in public office or in the corporate boardrooms. This is a betrayal of most women, whose lived reality is as you describe:
"...benefits taken away from single mums; sexual violence which affects all women, but especially already vulnerable ones; endemic racism which leads to parents of colour scared to have their child shot by police forces; lack of unionising or legislation which leaves women without working rights worldwide; the right not subject to rape threats and abuse, online and offline; equal pay for equal work."
Liberal feminism ignores the origins of women's oppression: class division that is held up by patriarchy and racism.
By labelling liberal feminism as "western" and "mainstream," you perpetuate two serious problems. Firstly, these terms hide the class nature of liberal feminism, which aligns it to capitalism. It's no surprise that liberal feminism enjoys the public stage and that Julia Gillard, Hillary Clinton, Anne Summers et al get the spotlight as feminism's face and voice. They serve profit by fostering the illusion that women's equality and capitalism can co-exist.
Secondly, these terms disappear anti-capitalist feminism. You say: "In many of my books, female voices challenge a corrupt and militarised capitalist system, and it's these characters that inspire me." You fail to name these inspirational women. These anti-capitalist feminists fighters are indeed worldwide, and we're also here inside the belly of capitalist imperialism.
We are the socialist feminists disappeared in your critique. We are the global daughters of the socialist women who founded International Women's Day a century ago and who pioneered socialist feminism. We come from the same revolutionary tradition of our sisters outside "the West." Socialist feminism is the strong ideology that believes women will be liberated through the overthrow of this private property system, replacing it with one based on shared wealth, equality, cooperation and solidarity (ie socialism).
Those leading the struggle for social, economic and political equality are the very women you correctly identify as betrayed by liberal feminism -- those most exploited and oppressed by capitalism. These women include socialist feminists -- radical working class women organising, sustaining and leading the struggle at the grassroots.
Like any movement emerging from oppression, the feminist movement is contradictory and divided, principally along class ideological lines. The three main contending thoughts are: liberal feminism, socialist feminism, and radical feminism (which puts sex above class, identifying men as the source of women's oppression). What coheres feminism as a movement is the struggle for women's equality. What divides it is how we will achieve this: through reform or revolution. This is why revolutionary socialist feminism is a critical actor in the movement. We must not be disappeared.
Debbie Brennan and Gaye Demanuele,
for Radical Women