Radical feminism had its start in
small, leaderless, women-only

consciousness-raising groups, where
the topics of intense

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discussion came out of women’s daily
lives — housework,

serving men’s emotional and sexual
needs, menstruation,

pregnancy, childbirth, menopause.
From these discussions came

a theory of gender inequality that
went beyond discrimination, to

oppression, and a gender politics of
resistance to the dominant

gender order. Radical feminism’s
theoretical watchword is

patriarchy, or men’s pervasive
oppression and exploitation of

women, which can be found wherever
women and men are in

contact with each other, in private
as well as in public. Radical

feminism argues that patriarchy is
very hard to eradicate

because its root — the belief that
women are different and

inferior — is deeply embedded in
most men’s consciousness. It

can best be resisted, radical
feminists argued, by forming nonhierarchical,

supportive, woman-only spaces where
women can

think and act and create free of
constant sexist put-downs, sexual

harassment, and the threat of rape
and violence. The heady

possibilities of creating
woman-oriented health care facilities,

safe residences for battered women,
counseling and legal

services for survivors of rape, a
woman’s culture, and even a

woman’s religion and ethics forged
the bonds of sisterhood and

the rationale for separation from
men.

Radical feminism turns
male-dominated culture on its head. It

takes all the characteristics that
are valued in male-dominated

societies — objectivity, distance,
control, coolness, aggressiveness,

and competitiveness — and blames
them for wars, poverty,

rape, battering, child abuse, and
incest. It praises what women

do — feed and nurture, cooperate
and reciprocate, and attend to

bodies, minds, and psyches. The
important values, radical

feminism argues, are intimacy,
persuasion, warmth, caring, and

sharing — the characteristics that
women develop in their handson,

everyday experiences with their own
and their children’s

bodies and with the work of daily
living. Men could develop

these characteristics, too, if they
“mothered,” but since few do,

they are much more prevalent in
women.

Radical feminism claims that most
men have the potential to use

physical violence against women,
including rape and murder.

They point to the commonness of date
rape and wife beating, of

murders of ex-wives and former girl
friends. The commercial

side of this systemic misogyny, or
women-hating, is the way

women are depicted as sex objects in
the mass media and as

pieces of meat in pornography, and
the global exploitation of

girls and young women in
prostitution. Even more insidious,

they argue, sexual exploitation is
the common downside of

romantic heterosexual love, which
itself is oppressive to

women. The threat of violence and
rape, radical feminism

theorizes, is the way patriarchy
controls all women.