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Last updated 26 May 2019
As the term implies, radical feminism is firmly outside the mainstream of feminist thought. As they see it, the problem within a patriarchal society is that of gender inequality. Radical feminists firmly believe that we must transform the entire basis of society towards a celebration of feminine values and virtues. Only by opposing centuries of patriarchal oppression can society be reordered along a matriarchal basis.
Under a more gynocentric approach, women could enjoy fulfilling and meaningful relationships without the need for men. Unlike other strands of feminist thought, the role of males is entirely marginal within radical feminism. Whereas liberal feminists believe that men can assist progress towards feminist goals, and socialist feminists have faith in the predestined role for the male proletariat, radical feminists have no specific role for men whatsoever. This is sometimes referred to as the redundant male theory.
As with radicals of any number of ideological perspectives, they remain very much on the margins of political debate with little opportunity to frame the contours of debate. Their principal contribution to feminism is in terms of raising consciousness about the pernicious character of female oppression and in their advocacy of women-only communes. Radical feminists have also tried to change the way we conceive of issues largely within the private sphere. For instance, Susan Brownmiller (1975) argues that patriarchy creates an ideology of rape designed as a conscious process of intimidation. Women are therefore kept locked in a state of fear, and even men who do not rape women benefit from the fear and anxiety that rape causes.
One of the most radical voices within the feminist tradition is that of Andrea Dworkin. Like other radical figures within the feminist movement (such as Marilyn French and Sheila Cronon), Andrea Dworkin rejects the mainstream assumption that men are somehow redeemable. Dworkin has no faith in the ability of men to adopt an entirely different set of values and behavioural traits. This had primarily centred upon her critique of pornography and how it enables men to own and possess women’s bodies. She also claims that those institutions which formalise the relationship between men and women (such as marriage and the nuclear family) are deeply patriarchal. The man is both the head of the household and – as the breadwinner – exerts direct economic power over his wife. Dworkin therefore concludes that “marriage is an institution developed from rape as a practise” and that “intercourse as an act expresses the power men have over women.” As a solution, she advocates a form of separateness to free women from the shackles of patriarchy. Yet perhaps her most notorious quote is that “all men are potential rapists” – which has to some extent left her open to the charge of misandry.