What kind of feminist is ok?

I’ve been following comments to a recent post at Kiwipolitico with a sense of resigned deja vu.

Anita’s original post can be summarised:

The reality is that we all know people who rape, just as we all know people who have been raped. I’m talking about the fact some of the people we know have raped people they know, and they way they’ve talked about sex and dates and partners so we’ve had every opportunity to hear that true consent isn’t an issue for them.

This isn’t a women vs men issue – both men and women are raped, both women and men rape, and every single one of us is able to stop our friends and family raping.

I thought Anita was asking us to think about how we talk about sex with others, and encouraging people to talk about sex in ways which make it explicit mutual sex is desirable.  By doing this, she’s suggesting the ways we think about sex and rape will change.

She’s been uber-careful with her language, pointing out rape is about lack of consent, and both men and women can be perpetrators and victims.  She’s probably even underplayed the extent to which rape is gendered.  Bluntly, rape is predominantly though not exclusively a crime perpetrated by men.

But the comments to this post are extraordinary, despite the carefulness of Anita’s main points.  Several male commentators rock up to assert they don’t know anyone who rapes, and tell Anita why she might think otherwise:

poneke on January 31st, 2009 at 9:52 am

“The reality is that we all know people who rape”

Again, you speak only for yourself. Are you just setting out to be offensive? Or are you with those who say that any act of heterosexual sex is rape by the man involved?

My emphasis.  And:

rainman on January 31st, 2009 at 10:02 am

Sorry, but no, we don’t. I honestly don’t know any rapists. Not saying it’s impossible for someone I know to lead a secret life or have a dodgy past, but most people I know would do something about it if we became aware of someone we know committing rape or any other major crime. Your reality may allow you to know “people who rape” without dealing to the issue, mine doesn’t.

And then:

rainman on February 1st, 2009 at 10:53 am

I have been enjoying Kiwipolitico so far but if it’s going to turn into a timewarp to tired old 60s “all men are rapists” feminism, y’know, there’s better things to have on my RSS feed list. Yes the gender problem is still here, but old thinking didn’t solve it then and won’t now. Clue up.

But perhaps my favourite:

Tom Semmens on February 1st, 2009 at 1:30 pm

As for your we all know men who rape that is completely offensive tosh, unless you have decided to apply some sort of radical feminist interpretation of what constitutes rape that is so broad as to demean the offence and render any sort of sensible discussion impossible.

As you often do Anita, you’ve had dogma brain explosion and taken your starting point to far.

It seems to be hard for some men to accept that as well as a victim of sexual violence, there is a perpetrator, and we may even know him – especially if we know a victim.

In raising the point even as gently as she has done, Anita has been characterised as a radical feminist who just might think all heterosexual sex is rape.


Shutting up feminist critique takes a variety of forms, from yelling at feminists they just “need a good shag” to telling us we’re not real feminists.

Then there is the technique of describing people as “pussies” when you think they are a little wimpy.  Names for women’s bodies are pretty much always fair game I guess.

Time for me to come out.

I’m a radical feminist.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, this means I believe men, as a group, receive benefits and entitlements and access to resources denied to women, as a group.

It doesn’t mean I think all heterosexual sex is rape.  It doesn’t mean I hate men.  It doesn’t mean anything other than believing gender discrimination is a type of oppression which will not disappear if capitalism changes radically, will not disappear if skin colour were to become irrelevant to everyone’s life chances and experiences.

I don’t want to fight for things many liberal feminists believe in.  I don’t want, for example, women to fight in armies anymore – or less – than I want men to fight in armies.

I believe sexual violence is the defining characteristic of gender discrimination.  The possibility and reality of being raped, sexually harassed, leered at, groped, sexually assaulted etc change how all women live our lives.  We have to think about the risk of sexual violence when we walk home at night, when we choose partners, when we get drunk.

This is soul destroying and ugly.  It, quite literally, makes loving sexual relationships impossible for many, many women (and of course, some men.)  And it does not disappear in communist societies.  It did not lessen when apartheid began to be dismantled in South Africa. 

Having a sensitive, careful discussion about how we might prevent rape dismantled by using “radical feminist” as a disparaging term disappoints me hugely.  It should not be acceptable to any of us to see careful critiques of sexual violence shut down by characterising them as man-hating.

Just as it should not be acceptable to any of us to see careful critiques of Israeli aggression shut down by characterising them as anti-Semitic.

Hat tip to you Anita – and much solidarity from this radical feminist.

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.
Rebecca West 1913

24 thoughts on “What kind of feminist is ok?

  1. I try to avoid gendered language about rape because I don’t believe that, at its root, rape is a gendered crime. I reckon rape is about power, and as long as we have a gendered power imbalance we will continue to see rape as a male crime, but talking about it that way makes it seem genetic and uncontrollable.

    Maybe I’m wrong, maybe if we did eventually correct the power imbalance in society we would still see more men than women raping, maybe rape is coded into men’s minds somehow. But… in the meantime I will try to keep seeing rape as an act of domination and hold on to the idea that the seeds of rape are in power not or genes.

    I guess part of my reasoning is that I want to remember that raping is not about “other people”, it’s about everyone, even people like me. Otherwise I’m going to sound like all the people in that thread who said “oh no, not my friends and family”

    • Hey Anita – yeah, I completely agree that rape – or deciding you have the right to have sex regardless of what the other person you are with wants – is about power. Sexualised power. Not something intrinsically “male” at all – or all men would rape, and they don’t; and no women would rape, and some do.
      I’m just trying to acknowledge that right now in our world sexual violence is predominantly perpetrated by men.

  2. Thing that got me about that thread was how people took it all so damned personally, as if it was explicitly directed at them. I demonstrated that the logic in Anita’s post was statistically sound – leaving the only reasonable course of action to accept the argument – and yet people didn’t, because they felt that doing so would make them somehow culpable for some unspecified offence committed by some unspecified person that they know, even though they don’t know which person, what offence or under what circumstances. Not that they could reasonably be expected to know!

    It’s maddening, like evolution, and climate change – people just don’t accept things which challenge their weltanschauung.


    • Hey Lewis,
      yes, I agree – and should have noted how impressive your arguments in the original comments were in this post – because not only did you challenge the derailing very successfully, but you did it with both stats and logic. Cheers to that.

  3. I just had to pull out of that thread for fear of getting far to frustrated to be coherent. Two thumbs up to Anita and commenters like Lew!

  4. Pingback: Of course you know a rapist. « Nakedthoughts’s Weblog

  5. Society has had ‘men are bad’ shoved down their throat for decades. And soon it will be in our schools as prevention for rape.

    It is stupid to keep saying, “Women suffer more than men” or “Men are worse than women”.

    People just turn off and the problem will never be solved.

    Sometimes you may want to ask yourself what you really want.

    Do you want to solve the problem?


    Or do you want to attack men?

    Feminists seem more interested in putting men down than they do in fixing the problems.

    Feminists need to take a step back and let normal women take the reins. They are at least man friendly in their tactics.

    • Feminists are normal women, Mareika.
      And the literally hundreds of thousands of feminists staffing safe-houses and refuges and rape crisis centres all over the world are trying to “fix the problems” as you put it.
      I’d suggest you try spending some time volunteering at your local Refuge and find out what feminists really do. You might make friends with the other normal women.

  6. Since you initially posted this I’ve been wondering about whether I actually am a radical feminist. It’s not a label I’d avoid, but also not one I’d use because I’m not sure it captures the nuance that sums up my views.

    I think the problem is power imbalance; between women and men, but also between the poor and the wealthy, those disabled by health or society and the abled, GLBTQ and het, not-white and white, not-English-speaking and English-speaking, third and first world and so on.

    So in some ways I’m a radical feminist, because I see the cause as being knitted into the very fabric of our society – social, political and economic power inequalities between women and men, and that the only solution is unravelling and reknitting without that damaging imbalance.

    In other ways my view that the cause is not, at its very root, a gendered one might make me not a feminist at all; I think power imbalance is at the root of a huge range of ills, and gendered power structures are only one of a number of symptoms.

    • Hey Anita,
      absolutely fair enough. I wasn’t actually trying to say you were a radical feminist – but that I certainly identify as one. I was responding more to the attempt to shut down careful discussion of sexual violence as “radical” and “man-hating”.
      I share your concerns about power imbalances in terms of race, class, sexuality, etc etc etc. I think you can identify as a radical feminist and also acknowledge that race positions women’s experiences of sexual violence very differently say, or that being a women in a conflict zone means sexual violence is a different way to how women experience peace time. And I absolutely agree that unknitting gender oppression whilst leaving other oppressions intact is not exactly useless, but certainly not enough.
      Labels have limited usefulness. There are problems for me in some radical feminist positioning around the sex industry for example – though I share a conception of prostitution as being exploitative and existing due to power imbalances.
      Again, this does not have to be gendered – I have been offered sex for sale by men when travelling in countries in which my skin colour marks me as privileged. But as with sexual violence, prostitution is constructed through ideas about “normal” gender behaviour (men “need” sex, it’s natural etc etc), and women’s choices around prostitution are socially constructed too (we can earn more selling sex than many jobs, in many cultures sexually active women are socially punished and disadvantaged). These are interesting discussions – probably worth a few more blog posts 😉

  7. Pingback: On rape and consent « In a strange land

  8. ludditejourno, how much say does the volunteer get?

    How much do the refuge workers get to say?

    I know women who have run refuges that think the leaders are insane.

    I don’t think women who care about rape or DV victims are insane although it can be challenging to work in this field if you have been a victim which is mere common sense but, what sort of reasoning do the places women are working really have to the outside world and the way actions are affecting society as a whole.

    I ask women to “also listen to the other side, the other human being in this” and ones that can come out of the hate have actually asked me to make formal complaints.

    Feminism is about humanity. Not “women have suffered for thousands of years by men and it is our turn to make men suffer”.

    • Hey Mareika,
      I completely agree feminism is about a better world for women and men. How many of our men are damaged by masculinity telling them they cannot express themselves emotionally? What does this lead to? Suicide attempts, drug and alcohol misuse, violence.
      I don’t think I quite understand your questions here though? Refuge philosophy is to walk beside women – not judge them and tell them what to do – they get that everywhere else. Is that what you mean by “say”? And of course there are women who disagree in the Refuge movement, just like everywhere else.
      Let me know if this doesn’t deal with what you were asking.

  9. Hi again ludditejourno,

    I agree with what you say for men’s emotions. There are some horrid stories of mums and dads telling their young boys to harden up instead of giving them a hug and I know how sports can be tough on men.

    But if that is what we are trying to encourage (sympathy for men so they can express themselves emotionally) then why are we not accepting that they too are victims to women?

    Refuges also get women admitting it is them who is the violent one and it can’t always be traced backed to being the man’s fault.

    BTW, I don’t have a problem with refuges. But I wonder what this means.

    ***Refuge philosophy is to walk beside women – not judge them and tell them what to do – they get that everywhere else.***

    I have never heard a refuge explained this way.

    This is why the refuges are a place where the law can’t touch a woman and yet the woman can set the law with 100% professional help onto anyone outside of it.

    Is there anywhere men can do this? Will children soon be able to do this?

    What if the woman has committed murder? Or child abuse? Is that somehow blamed onto the man for the benefit of the woman?

    • Hey Mareika – men learning to express themselves in more fulfilling ways is part of feminism – but just part. There are other issues too – like rape and domestic violence (a woman being killed every 5 and a half weeks in NZ by her male partner; 3 men killed by a female partner in the last 5 years); like pay equity (where women still lag behind men even when their qualifications are the same); like domestic work (who does it?) etc etc etc.
      You make statements about Refuges which are very, very, very different from my experiences over more than a decade. We may have to agree to disagree here.
      My experiences of women being violent to men (in the work I have done and through personal connections) has been self-defence and retaliation. Sure, their male partners will tell you all about it – but when you ask men if they were scared, without exception they will scoff. So we are talking about quite different levels of violence in my experience. We are usually talking about primary abusers “playing the victim” a la Tony Veitch.
      You are just wrong that the law cannot touch women in Refuges, and I have no idea where you got that idea? Or why it would be desirable.
      I’m sorry, I feel like we are having a discussion where so much of what you say is inaccurate, I don’t even know how to talk. Someone seems to have terribly misinformed you about Refuges, the law, and the facts of who abuses and the harm done. Have a look at the Family Violence Clearinghouse if you want some statistics – 90% plus of protection orders for women against male violence, and as I say, a woman KILLED every five weeks.
      I hate violence of any kind, no matter the perpetrator, and I have helped male victims of violence in many contexts. But it is not the same as violence against women.

  10. I just had to come back to say, “May be my train of thought went too far with refuge philosophy”.

    Maybe the philosophy is not being carried out in women’s refuges and that is something that is needed. Women are very capable of making good choices in good surroundings as men and children of age.

    Maybe we have 2 different sides clashing in the refuges because women are certainly being told what to do. It is almost like a step program.

  11. I need to pull your comment apart to take it all in.

    ****There are other issues too – like rape and domestic violence (a woman being killed every 5 and a half weeks in NZ by her male partner; 3 men killed by a female partner in the last 5 years);****

    I know the lady (high up) personally who is doing the statistics now.

    14 women and 8 men roughly die each year from DV. The statistics have been calculated wrong over the years.

    But still, that’s only 22 men/women out of 4 million. Hardly enough to treat men differently than women.

    **** like pay equity (where women still lag behind men even when their qualifications are the same); like domestic work (who does it?) etc etc etc.****

    Single women earn more money than single men as women are more qualified. The difference is that women are not working full time as mothers in most cases.

    One way to tackle this problem is being sought by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They suggest new mothers should get less time off work and new fathers more.

    EHRC Commission chief executive Nicola Brewer said: “Changing the way we approach parental leave could be one way of tackling the gender pay gap.”

    You can only bring men down in hours or force all mothers to be in full time work and children in childcare.

    ****You make statements about Refuges which are very, very, very different from my experiences over more than a decade. We may have to agree to disagree here.****

    I have been involved for 16 years. Gosh, where does the time go but that doesn’t make me better than you. I have also seen women use the refuges as a place to stay on holidays.

    *****My experiences of women being violent to men (in the work I have done and through personal connections) has been self-defence and retaliation.*****

    I too have experienced this but I have also experienced nasty women. Sometimes it is their upbringing, sometimes peer pressure and sometimes they blame the men for not standing up to them.

    **** Sure, their male partners will tell you all about it – but when you ask men if they were scared, without exception they will scoff.****

    That’s why it is better for males to ask these sorts of questions. Men still feel women expect them to be providers and protectors. Women still judge men’s sensitivity sometimes and it is a risk for men to come out and say they are scared of women. Especially when we continue to keep them out of the DV picture.

    ****I hate violence of any kind, no matter the perpetrator, and I have helped male victims of violence in many contexts. But it is not the same as violence against women.****

    I hear you. I too don’t like violence.

    But I have personally seen women beat men badly. A big woman can do a lot of damage to a small man. Even a little woman can do damage if the big man is not the violent type.

    • We are writing books here 🙂
      Just a couple of things – most men killed in domestic violence situations are killed by other men. Old partners killing women’s new partners, brothers, fathers. So that figure alone is enough – a woman every five weeks, and a man (by female partner) three in the last five years.
      RE: childcare – third option – make workplaces more child friendly and value both mothers and fathers enough to allow time off to care for children properly.
      Men scoffing at being scared – this comment comes from men who work with men in family violence situations as well as my own experience.
      I find the comments you’ve made about Refuges being places where the law is not upheld even more surprising if you’ve been working in Refuges for 16 years?????
      But in agreement over all violence being wrong. I hope the cases of violence you have seen you have reported – we’ll only stop violence when all of us stop tolerating it.

  12. Books are good. It is nice to hear your point of view.

    ***I find the comments you’ve made about Refuges being places where the law is not upheld even more surprising if you’ve been working in Refuges for 16 years?????***

    I guess it is because I am picking on certain cases. One is where fathers are given full day to day care and the mother (unhappy with the court decision)takes them and is helped by refuges to hide, even fleeing countries.

    Another is when there is charges for violence. Refuges become the support for women facing violent charges and can and do help her defend them under the idea that she has been abused and did so in self defence.

    But I want to learn more about the difference in men and women violence. Most gay and lesbian couples have a top and bottom relationship where one partner plays the head. Heterosexual relationships do the same thing. Sometimes the male is the top (head) and other times the female is the top (head).

    How do you understand men and women to be different in gay and lesbian relationships?

    What happens when domestic violence happens in their relationships?

    And is there any females who kill other females in the statistics?

    I am trying to understand why we need to treat men differently than women.

    • Hey Mareika,
      the Hague Convention, which returns children removed from the country by one parent to the country they were living in to decide custody arrangements, was set up because abusive fathers were taking children away from their mothers and “hiding” overseas.
      But lawyers are now concerned it is used in exactly the opposite way, by parents seeking to continue abusing and controlling their partners and children. There are numerous examples of this in New Zealand over the last few years.
      Refuges helping women leave the country? Only, in my experience, with the help of the Police because the Police cannot guarantee she will be safe. I’ve worked with the Police to temporarily move women out of the country while a particularly violent perpetrator is being found – but Refuge funds have never extended to overseas trips for clients. In fact, we often struggle to pay for cabs!
      Your comments about same-sex relationships are incredibly stereotypical. Maybe time to do some reading and talk to some gay, lesbian and bisexual people? Because I’m not convinced they would recognise your descriptions of their relationships.
      We need to treat men differently – ie recognise gender as a risk factor for harm – because gender is a risk factor for harm. Men can and do choose not to be violent every minute of every day – so we know it’s not inevitable that men are violent. But the facts of who is harmed, of who is in hospital, of who is killed, of who self-refers seeking help from stopping violence services, of our overflowing Refuges is that male violence continues to have tragic consequences in New Zealand.
      I don’t really have anymore to say about this. Good luck with violence prevention.

  13. ludditejourno, I do like you. But you are, well I don’t know where you are.

    At the lesbian ball last year we all spoke of the hardship of men openly and gays are worried too.

    I am sad for you. If the majority walked the street tomorrow you and your radical sisters would be out of a job.

    But even if we don’t get you… the next movement of feminists will.

    Don;t forget that you walk beside women and not judge them. Feminism is forever changing and they are not seeing men the way you do anymore.

  14. I’m sorry, did I just read your post correctly Anita? “maybe rape is coded into men’s minds somehow.”

    That is even more warped than suggesting that “we all” know people who rape, and are therefore implicated in allowing it to happen.

    Your comments about one of the most serious issues of our time are about as helpful as someone declaring “women are somehow coded into being submissive”.

  15. Pingback: NZ Single Parents Trust » Is it time to ‘Balance the Genders’ in Domestic Violence?

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