Features, Feminism, Politics

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Dismiss Radical Feminism

My advice on feminist issues is seldom – oh, all right – never requested. The recent, shall we say, clusterfuck over at New Matilda has ended my usual reticence. Jack Kilbride, a Melbourne university student, offered a few tame and clumsily expressed opinions on feminism as it is currently practiced. To summarise: he considers himself a feminist; he thinks that the fight for gender equality is one of the defining issues of our time; he prefers the strategy of Emma Watson and the HeForShe campaign to Clementine Ford’s feminism of the gutter; he argues, rather cutely, I think, that people should try to be nicer to each other.

Only the last part really ought to be controversial, as it came gift-wrapped in a stupid and risible and perhaps even dangerous package: if feminists would stop being so nasty about online abuse, online abusers would stop being so nasty. Respectability, if it’s still a virtue, is overrated anyway. Kilbride’s argument was rightly called out for being wrong.

The commenters and responders went further, though. For them, Jack wasn’t just ill-informed, he was also a misogynist. So, here is my unsolicited advice: Don’t throw the word ‘misogyny’ at every man with an obtuse opinion. Do so, and you will denude the word of all its meaning and all its power. There are actual misogynists out there, and they work very hard at their craft. To put young Jack on a par with them is to rob those individuals of the very hard work they do. Jack Kilbride does not hate women. He is not an apologist for those who do. Language matters, as some of us still maintain. I say this, dear Reader, because if you happen to be a man, you are a misogynist too, according to the gaggle of radicals who prosecuted Jack Kilbride in New Matilda. To sum up: Kilbride is a misogynist, men are at fault by their mere existence, and they must be excluded from the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality (although the latter doesn’t count for anything in radical feminism, anyway).

To begin, then, with Ellena Savage, who thought it terribly clever to make an inexpensive and fatuous jibe about Jack’s surname. Yes, it’s Kilbride. Like kill bride. Hahaha. Not a good start. Things didn’t improve much, though. Kilbride had drawn a fairly reasonable distinction between himself and the men who prove their misogynist credentials every day. Savage will have none of this; there is no distinction:

“So why are cute, nice, educated guys chauvanists (sic)? What, with all their female friends and access to great troves of female thought from all social strata, could they possibly see in old-fashioned woman-hating? Like Kilbride, they simply don’t know that they are patriarchs, because they are the patriarchy. And the patriarchy is invisible.”

And, consequently, rather ill-defined. Savage boldly declares that all men are complicit in sexist culture, no matter what they do. One can’t win. Next, there is Xiaoran Shi, who proves, along with Jack Kilbride, that awful writing won’t prevent you from publishing with New Matilda. She also took issue with Kilbride’s insistence that he is not a male predator. Read the following, which I will charitably call a sentence:

“The outsourcing of blame entirely to this manufactured ‘other’ is an attempt to evade the trauma of confronting one’s own complicity with the patriarchal apparatus, which in turn, substantiates the circumvention of a progressive morality that would have otherwise prohibited one from exercising his gendered power.”

This translates, roughly I think, as fuck you, Kilbride, you misogynist bastard!

He isn’t the only target, though: “Simply put, no man can fully exculpate himself from the burden of institutionalised misogyny.”

Again, you are guilty, and you haven’t even done anything yet. Finally, and in unimprovably ridiculous fashion, there is Aicha Marhfour. She argues, contra Kilbride, that men can’t be feminists anyway, because “They do not experience the oppression and inequalities that women do, and so they are not allowed into the movement working to address them. It’s simple.”

It’s also impracticable, as well as insulting to any man who honestly engages in this struggle, and to any woman who finds this support even slightly agreeable. Mahrfour has access to information, though, that no one else has ever claimed. According to her:

Any man claiming to be a feminist is wanting one, or all of the following things:
1. To nudge women over and take things over For Himself
2. Praise and admiration for being such a good guy
3. To impress a woman so that she will sleep with him, provide emotional labour, date him, or do something without expecting reciprocation
4. To talk over a woman and invalidate her opinions

The arguments expressed above lend themselves to a single and depressing conclusion: the goal of gender equality is obsolete because the existence of men is unfortunate and undesirable. A male feminist is immediately a suspect, a tool of the patriarchy, or an example of a new and insidious misogyny. A plan for man’s extirpation is left unstated, although it’s nice to remember that Clementine Ford has endorsed it. #KillAllMen

This is creepy and fanatical. You’ll notice, I hope, that all these writers are proscribing debate, rather than endorsing it. They all prefer jaunty sneering to engagement with one of Kilbride’s main arguments: Emma Watson and the HeForShe campaign offer a more meaningful alternative to radical feminist ravings. He was concerned with tone and offence, which was a pity, because he should have been concerned with practical results.

HeForShe is undeniably bold. Elizabeth Nyamayaro, an advisor at UN Women, makes the case for the widest possible comradeship and compares the movement to some of history’s greatest and most important struggles:

“We were filled with trepidation that women would not understand why this new movement is important, why we need to include the rest of the population. But at its core, HeForShe is a solidarity movement . . . you really can’t argue with men and women working together for the betterment of all.

Things actually happen when people come together. The world came together in the 19th century and ended slavery. We came together in the 20th century and we ended colonialism and of course apartheid.”

Is there anything even mildly objectionable here? The brand of radicalism practiced by Savage et al can have its ‘likes’ on Facebook. Go ahead. Take them. The HeForShe campaign takes place at both the grassroots and the highest levels of global governance, governments and corporations. It makes practical demands and then demands that they are better achieved. It asserts that the membership among its ranks is never enough. What’s wrong with that?

I like best the implied commitment to internationalist solidarity; it used to mean something to the radical Left.

2015 saw the most significant setback in Afghan women’s rights, and the Taliban has proven, yet again, what it wants for its society: half of the population illiterate and uneducated and hidden and made victims of ghastly sexual violence. Violent machismo in Colombia has seen a resurgence, too, and men have taken to throwing acid in the faces of ex-girlfriends. Here are some misogynists worthy of the name. This week in Saudi Arabia, women were finally given the right to vote. Where is the demand that this is still not good enough? Depressingly, I could continue.

I can say this without diminishing at all the oppression of women in Australia, especially those who face online abuse. Women’s rights are either universal, or they are not. I can say this without demanding that anyone just be nice to each other, or adopting a kill ‘em with kindness philosophy. In fact, my own preference for those who practice misogyny in its theocratic and Islamist variants is that they actually be killed.

But Savage, Marhfour, Shi, and others, I’m sure, would have every single man in a box marked misogynist, sexist and useless; every single man, poor things though we are, excluded from the project of gender equality. To do this is to refuse to be intellectually serious, about the meaning and application of words, and the realisation of practical and crucial goals. I maintain that this brand of radicalism compares unfavourably to what else is on offer, that is, a feminism that strives to achieve something real, acknowledges that men have a role, and demands that we get the hell on with it.

Remember that all this started because Clementine Ford contrived to have a man fired. Name and shame? I’m on board. I have no sympathy for the newly unemployed Mr Nolan. Online abusers need to be countered every single time. The same standard of discourse and etiquette applies to our online and real world interactions. There is no excuse. Social media rules and legal mechanisms have serious catching up to do in this area, and impatience is understandable.

I wouldn’t want to be accused of having wholeheartedly defended Clementine Ford. I suspect that a part of the backlash against New Matilda and Jack Kilbride is that the Left dared to utter a word against her. There’s a hint of this, too, among the poor fools threatening a boycott of New Matilda.

How dare they have to click on something they find disagreeable?

I’ll only credit Ford for her use of some very creative profanity (Have you ever heard the word ‘fuckbag’? I hadn’t). But Ford makes no distinction between her journalistic and polemical energy and the abuse that she delivers to her Twitter interlocutors. She has also called Miranda Devine “a fucking cunt,” and said of Rita Panahi that “no matter how hard she tries, she’ll never be a white man.” Ford isn’t being clever or enlightening here. Nor is she advancing a debate. She is being reliably humourless and unpleasant, and by her own standards, one assumes that she has alerted Fairfax to the nature of her own conduct and is awaiting and expecting dismissal.

I won’t hold my breath, though. At its best, Ford’s brand of feminism inspires anger and passion and purposefulness. That’s great, but at its worst, it’s a synthesis of outrage and masochism that masquerades as bravery, as well as an aversion to feminism’s successes elsewhere. Watch out, though, for the end product of abuse for its own sake. Such a style risks becoming the mirror-image of the Internet’s male losers and abusers. By all means, keep it up, if that’s the real goal. Who’s to say that a debased and degraded form of gender equality isn’t within your grasp?

Timothy Cootes has written for various online magazines, including The Big Smoke, Quadrant and Writer’s Edit. You can read more of his essays and reviews at his website.


  1. Pingback: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Dismiss Radical Feminism | Timothy Cootes. Essays. Reviews.

  2. Andrew says

    “Is there anything even mildly objectionable here?” (about HeForShe)

    Yes, and more than mildly. It’s even reflected in the title itself: that self-same garbage assumption about an invisible, ubiquitous Patriarchy that is holding down all women, and in which all men are complicit. The further assumption that women are totally helpless and that only this Patriarchy they claim to hate can save them. The speech by Watson that reiterated all the same bullshit claims they always throw around, such as presenting domestic violence as Violence Against Women, when proper studies show that women actually commit more domestic violence than men do.

    A valiant effort at pretending that feminism is a good thing if only these radical feminists would go away, but it’s just that: pretense. It’s all radical, it all presumes a cosmic, Manichean struggle in which men are the villains, and it’s all unmitigated fucking garbage.

    • Camus says

      It’s quite clear that you don’t understand feminist critique and theory whatsoever.

      • Vince says

        Well it should be no problem whatsoever to detail exactly how his definition of the Patriarchy, as an omni present force oppressing all women that all men are complicit in and benefit from, is wrong. Right? I mean, surely you have a plethora of examples of prominent feminists, popular in the mainstream, defining the idea otherwise, right?

    • George Millo says

      What’s your source for the claim that women commit more domestic violence than men do?

  3. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I remember when being to blame for all the ills of the world because of your mere existence was still called “Original Sin”.

  4. Carmi Turchick says

    The crux of the issue is that these so-called “feminists” want to claim 1) Women and men are no different at all, every apparent difference is cultural and 2) women are good and men are evil, all bad in the world is done by men and only men, and even the men who try really hard to be good are still evil. Of course, these two firmly held beliefs are mutually contradictory, and both are incredibly wrong factually.

    And then they get pissed off about people refusing to identify themselves as feminists when they believe in equality.

  5. I disagree with much of this. I found the He for She nothing but offensive. When will there be a He for She? When will women show even just a scrap of love and concern for men? When? I’ve never, ever seen it! Will I ever see it in my lifetime? To me it borders sick! I see endless concern from men towards women, but never a single scrap for men. Not a SCRAP! So FUCK YOU! .. is my attitude. I’ll go further. If men’s statistic were women’s we would be sleeping in a pink t-shirt every night. A retired judge recently says false sex abuse allegations against fathers are the “new court weapon” by mothers. Tell me of something more sick than that? And finally, evidence in how women define “equality” with their being no Minister for Men. Look at all the women standing up for “equality”. Not a single one! Not one! It’s all a joke to me. From “pay gap” lies, to false domestic violence statistics, it’s all like a foul joke. I have always stood up for women, until waking up. No more. Let’s watch to see how many women stand up for “equality” and a Minister for Men.

  6. And also this..

    “Remember that all this started because Clementine Ford contrived to have a man fired. Name and shame? I’m on board. I have no sympathy for the newly unemployed Mr Nolan. Online abusers need to be countered every single time.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. Why is Miss Ford still employed? What if ANY man said “kill all women”? A sociopath? To be condemned? Lynched? That’s what would happen to a man. By it not happening to women these are the things that cause misogyny to go through the roof! Who would support such a sociopath? Many do! All women! Sick stuff! Endless sickness and hate. That’s all I get from women. Don’t expect to be loved back when all you can do is HATE!!!

  7. I think you run the risk of dismissing the radical critique because of a few (maybe singular?) personalities. Liberal feminists have been wildly successful in the west at removing the overt institutional barriers to equality, but the radicals at least have a point that law isn’t the only barrier. Sure, many of them get together in the great circle jerk that is the internet and become awful in their echo chambers.

    Which is not to say that I think they’re necessarily right, but liberal feminists dismiss the critique at their own peril. The most instructive case study is the radical fems who have rejected out of hand any liberal push back. Accept the critique for its utility, and don’t let the objectionable personalities get in the way.

  8. Terrence Koeman says

    I think that what prompts the misandry of the third wave is the (unconscious?) realisation that any equality of the genders will be maintained “by the grace of men” as it were.

    If “all men” colluded to subjugate “all women” tomorrow there’s really nothing that women can do to stop it. Biology has conspired to make sure men will always win such a theoretical fight, no matter how hard feminists wish gender is just a construct.

    This perceived sword of Damocles (aka “Patriarchy”) can really only be solved by either taking away men’s advantage in strength or else decreasing the percentage of men globally so combined they couldn’t overpower women (didn’t some radfem actually and seriously propose only keeping 10% of men around for breeding?).

    This third wave misandry is nothing but irrational fear.

  9. Farid says

    “Social media rules and legal mechanisms have serious catching up to do in this area, and impatience is understandable.”

    We should be legally free to express anything we want. In fact, laws should be irrelevant as to what we think and what we say. Let bad ideas be shamed out of existence, not legislated. When you begin to legislate what people can say then you open the path to making dissent illegal.

  10. Horatio says

    Broadly agree with the thrust of the article, but I think you’re still being rather uncharitable to Kilbride.
    “…it came gift-wrapped in a stupid and risible and perhaps even dangerous package: if feminists would stop being so nasty about online abuse, online abusers would stop being so nasty”

    But he doesn’t say that if feminists stopped being nasty online abuse would stop tout court or that online abuse is fundamentally caused by feminists being nasty. He says- entirely plausibly that certain kinds of vitriol (typified by Ford’s outpourings) merely isolates men who we need ultimately to convince.

  11. It’s nothing more than a power struggle over the definition of words. Man (n.) : A predatory subhuman who preys upon women and enjoys rape as well as oppression. See also: Enemy, animal, sadomasochist, chauvinist, rapist.

    That’s the entire feminist movement.

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  13. Nic says

    Mr Cootes, you seem to be holding Clementine Ford to a standard of behaviour that you do not require of yourself. Quoting from above:
    “dismiss radical feminism” (title)
    “…gaggle of radicals…” and “…radical feminist ravings”
    “…brand of radicalism…” and “…masochism that masquerades as bravery”
    Yet despite your deliberate choice of demeaning and misleading words – you apparently also believe that “language matters”!???

    Language does indeed matter. So I ask you Timothy, why you feel the need to publicly degrade those women whose political opinions you do not personally agree with – by using dismissive and belittling terms like “gaggle” and “ravings”? and imply that women who do not subscribe to male ideals of femininity with expressions like “masochism that masquerades as bravery”? (What on earth makes you think Clementine Ford is not genuinely brave? because she uses profanity? Please enlighten us on how one fights patriarchy in a polite and demure way?)

    Radical feminists are neither a gaggle, nor do they rave. Sometimes, however, they do get battle-fatigue and make remarks out of anger and/or monumental levels of frustration. Clementine Ford is very brave and has no need of machismo – for she fights as a woman! Women are amazingly strong creatures (sex-based oppression from birth has seen to that). However, your choice of words – unlike hers – is not due to any sort of justified battle-fatigue, constant bombardment of abuse, or sex-based oppression – but from something else entirely…

    As for your use of the term “radicalism” – this is a misuse of the definition of radical in this context by incorrectly applying it to the radical feminist movement – i.e. you imply it is a ‘crazy extremist’ brand of feminism. (Interestingly, the Suffragettes and Women’s Liberationists of the 1970s were also belittled with words like ‘ravings’ and ‘gaggle’ in their day)!!

    Radical feminism is actually an academic social and political approach to women’s studies. Radical feminist analysis aims to understand the ROOT cause of the inequality of the sexes (which it concludes is patriarchy) and highlights the serious impact of sex inequality i.e. the prevalence of male violence against women, sexual assault, prostitution, female infanticide, forced pregnancy, forced marriage, etc. Radical as in ‘origin’ or ‘root cause’ (from the Latin radic-, radix). It does seek radical social change (‘the overthrow of Patriarchal rule’) but it is not a movement of irrational zealots, as people enjoy to believe. People scared of the RF movement like to convince others that it is just a bunch of hysterical women – through spreading misinformation and the use of subtle condescension and dismissiveness – just as you, Tim Cootes, did by using phrases such as “ravings”, “brand of radicalism” and the implication of silliness by your use of the misogynist term ‘gaggle’ (we all know that radical feminists are women after all – and that men are never described with terms like ‘gaggle’). Because if something is silly you need not take it seriously, right!? and there is nothing more ‘silly’ than a group of women that does not seek male approval (as silly translated honestly means dangerous).

    Most importantly, radical feminism seeks to liberate ALL women from oppression.

    Yes, radical feminism is different to other forms of feminism – as it does not seek to placate men or integrate with the patriarchal hierarchical system in place. Liberal feminism – even at its best – when effective really only serves to improve the lives of a small number of women, (primarily wealthy/middle-class, white westerners). Instead, radical feminism demands of men that they give up their privilege entirely – this is obviously why men are so quick to “dismiss” radical feminism without ever seeking to understand it.

    I suggest you take a couple of hours out of your busy life to research what radical feminists actually think and what it is they really want from men – maybe even talk to some radical feminists – or at the very least, stop dismissing them with words designed to demean – otherwise what you just end up doing, is proving their point!

    As for your personal opinion… as a man (yes, I said it) what you don’t understand is what life is like for a woman – especially a feminist woman. Girls and women live in a state of low-grade hyper-alertness due to male violence, we battle sexism and misogyny (big and small) on a daily basis FROM BIRTH – and feminists of all persuasions are fighting to change that.
    Feminists are warriors – and as such they are targets – and what they almost all report is that their detractors hold them to a higher standard than almost everyone else – an impossible standard in fact – women and feminists must be above reproach to be credited. Feminists must never make a statement without backing it up with numerous statistical sources and their delivery must be of an impeccable standard and in a way that doesn’t offend anybody.

    So, slagging off any feminist makes you – not a misogynist – but an ungenuine person. You do not understand the plight of women if you attack or criticise one of them for fighting their way or being who they are. Your public criticisms of Clementine Ford reveals that you want to imagine yourself a feminist without actually being one – and it shows you are a person without compassion. Your words above are not helping me – a women. By criticising one of the few feminists that actually get a voice in the public arena you have harmed my cause and my status. You may – from your moral high-horse believe you are helping women – but I can assure you that are not – you are only serving to silence women even more.

    With friends like you, Timothy Cootes, who needs enemies?

  14. Lily says

    Would the author use the word “gaggle” to describe a group of men? Our culture and our language is loaded with real misogyny. We should acknowledge it. I agree that taking down individuals is simple-minded and cruel.

  15. I’m somewhere in the middle of both ‘sides’ because it seems when it comes to feminism vs. anti-feminism (ie succumbing to the ‘patriarchy’) you can only be one or the other? As a woman who has worked for a good number of feminist groups I have seen the discrepancies and disrespect toward women from men (ie something as minor as using the word ‘gaggle’ to describe women might have been just an off the cuff remark by the author with no malicious intent, however when you see this pattern of silly and dismissive language used frequently enough you start to observe a real pattern of disrespect toward women, almost like an invalidation and brush off). I’ve also seen in different online comment sections, with topics that have absolutely nothing to do with feminism the vitriol and poison of hateful men toward women for something as simple as women wanting a female hero action figure to represent female strength for themselves of and/or for their daughter. All of a sudden women-haters (and I call them that intentionally) spew poison and nastiness and turn it into a feminist debate when all that was spoken of was a female hero toy.

    On the other hand, I have personally experienced over and over again the oppressive nature of women (feminists included) not just toward men, but to the women they are supposed to be supporting themselves! Actually the majority of the abusers and oppressors I’ve dealt with have been women! It is a special type of betrayal and hypocrisy. I’m pretty much done with this new wave of modern feminism after dealing with yet another feminist, woman of color, boss who I once saw as a role model, but over the years has reduced herself in my eyes as nothing more than a power hungry, unself-reflective, entitled-victim, BIG Sister (aka Brother) abuser, that snuffs out not only the views of men, but all of the women she is supposedly trying to help. I came to that agency with no voice after working with other women in power, then thought I had found a place where I could rebuild my voice, only for it to be stolen again by women in power. Only this time, I won’t be leaving with my head down, because now I see these power hungry women and so-called feminist types for what they are. And many of them are not necessarily working for women, they are working for themselves based on my personal experience.

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