Friday, June 3, 2011

Thoughts on Reformist vs. Revolutionary Feminism

In Feminism is for Everybody, I was struck by hooks' sharp differentiation between reformist and revolutionary feminism. If you read the passages below, you can see that hooks identifies herself as one of the revolutionary feminists, whom she refers to as "we," while she refers to reformist feminists as "them." Certainly, hooks makes a salient point when she recognizes that achieving the goals of reformist feminists has not ended sexism. One of the complaints of anti-feminists is that women are trying to be like men, what hooks says of the reformist feminists. Revolutionary feminism, as I understand it at least, would change the system so that there is no longer this perception of women trying to be like men-women are trying to be women, are trying to be people. It is these artificial men/women roles that are the problem, in my mind. And these roles result from what hooks is fighting against, a patriarchal society, a hierarchy of domination. Let's take away the idea that power hierarchy is permissible. But what do we put in its place? This is what anarchists and communists have been struggling with for centuries now.

Reformist feminism is short-term, revolutionary feminism is long-term. What about those who think reformist feminism is enough? Don't criticize them, educate them. Accept them where they are. There is a long road ahead and change takes time. This is where I am more reformist than revolutionary, I wouldn't advocate militarism or overnight change. It's just not realistic, in my mind, for achieving the ultimate goal. Instead of setting up a dichotomy of reformist vs. revolutionary, of unilateral vs. multilateral feminism, consider this an ongoing forum, a discussion and negotiation between different views.

"Reformist thinkers chose to emphasize gender equality. Revolutionary thinkers did not want simply to alter the existing system so that women would have more rights. We wanted to transform that system, to bring an end to patriarchy and sexism...The vision of "women's liberation" which captured and still holds the public imagination was the one representing women as wanting what men had. And this was the vision that was easier to realize. Changes in our nation's economy, economic depression, the loss of jobs etc., made the climate ripe for our nation's citizens to accept the notion of gender equality in the workforce." (hooks, 5)

"Reformist feminism became their route to class mobility. They could break free of male domination in the workforce and be more self-determining in their lifestyles. While sexism did not end, they could maximize their freedom within the existing system...Lifestyle feminism ushered in the notion that there could be as many versions of feminism as there were women...Obviously this way of thinking has made feminism more acceptable because its underlying assumption is that women can be feminists without fundamentally challenging and changing themselves or the culture." (hooks, 6-7).

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