“Elevatorgate” Challenge #3

A bunch of people involved in the furor over Rebecca Watson saying, “Guys, don’t do that,” went around pointing fingers and calling people “radical feminists.” The implication was that being a radical feminist was somehow a bad thing–you know, radical.

The problem is that, in the context of feminism, “radical” means “at or of the root.” “Radical” feminism is the proposition that institutions in a sexist culture tend to be designed to perpetuate the sexism. It recognizes two things–that those in power shape the world to suit their needs and desires, including the desire to hang onto power, and that culture is self-perpetuating. In essence, it’s Newton’s First Law for society.

How does this “radical” notion play out in reality? One example would be jobs that penalize for parental leave in a society in which women do the vast majority of care-giving. Another would be male ownership and management of the media production companies responsible for determining what culture is “mainstream” and what remains underground. Others are as simple as the application of cognitive biases, such as in-group bias in a world where gender is considered an important part of identity or just-world beliefs in an unequal society.

Radical feminism fit right in with the rest of the big radical movements of the late 60s and early 70s. Those movements–championing civil rights, questioning the basis for foreign wars, rejecting consumerism–pointed out that our society, by design, gives weight to certain ideas and people over others, regardless of merit, much as the atheist movement is doing today. The derisive connotation of the word “radical” comes from the marginalization of these ideas, painting them with the naturalistic fallacy as unrealistic or dangerous.

Yes, there were a few feminist theorists of the time who suggested that this understanding required that institutions be torn down and replaced. Again, this was in keeping with the general ethos of the human rights activism of time. These are the people that anti-feminists still point to when they want to claim that radical feminism is just too…radical by modern standards. However, the truth is that recognition of how our institutions are biased has become mainstream, and the consensus on how to deal with it involves changing the institutions instead of dismantling them.

To use my examples from above, where we now have parental leave policies that may still slightly disadvantage parents who use them, we used to have a situation in which women were fired when their employers found out they were pregnant. Underground culture is now merely alternative but much more easily available. We have collected data that can be and has been leveraged to demonstrate that bias is just that. We now have institutions that are less sexist, due to the work of radical feminists.

Yes, this also means that we have divorce courts that recognize fathers’ roles in their children’s lives and that award alimony to men. We have family leave policies that benefit fathers and male caretakers as well. We have federal agencies that recognize that men can be sexually harrassed. We have a greater variety of masculine depictions in the media from which to choose role models. We have masculine norms that don’t rely on violence or the capacity for violence. Radical feminism has dug into the roots of male oppression as well.

Given all that, the challenge is this: Explain to me why (other than not being post-colonial) being called a radical feminist should be seen as anything other than a compliment.

“Elevatorgate” Challenge #3
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53 thoughts on ““Elevatorgate” Challenge #3

  1. 1

    Any fule kno that. A radical feminist is someone who objects to people who call women bitches and cunts and/or talk about kicking women in the cunt. Obviously that’s a terrible thing. Therefore, being called a radical feminist is a devastating insult.

  2. 3

    Again with the straw people.

    Radical feminist = someone who, through their words or actions, demonstrates that their aim isn’t the laudatory goal of removing the acknowledged power differential, but reversing it in their favour. Just like most revolutions end up with a new dictator replacing the old one, the goal of the radical feminist seems to be to replace the patriarch with a matriarchy. Thus, they’re resisted not only by the “menz”, but by every thinking person whose goal is true equality.

  3. 5

    Tristan, who’s been using that definition you just gave? Because I’ve seen you guys jump around from radfemz to gender femz to fembitches to every point in between.

    Would you be honest with us and admit it’s just a poorly defined stand in for a group you don’t like? There really is nothing wrong with that except that you chose a word that was already had a very clear definition and history.

  4. 6

    No argument from me, Stephanie. I think you’re quite right.

    I had been thinking about this a bit lately, initially because of a comment – maybe on this blog – about how men not being awarded custody is also a problem caused by patriarchy. I hadn’t considered that before, so I’ve spent some time pondering that instance and others. I think it is a problem of patriarchy, and that men (to a much lesser extent, but still some extent) are also oppressed unfairly by the system.

    And today I see you’ve written something right in line with what I was thinking, so … yeah. No argument from me.

    As for people who might take up the challenge, I expect people will just pick apart what ‘radical’ means, and it’ll always be defined as whatever they need to make their point.

    That might even be justified, since you asked why they thought it was an insult. They may well have a definition that makes it so, even if you didn’t take it that way. For me, my definition is much closer to how you describe it, so my gut says that it’s close to the common usage meaning.

  5. 7

    Apparently I was late with the comment!

    I second Jason’s question, and would like to rephrase it a little: why is that your definition of radical feminism Tristam?

    Feminism, whatever the qualifier, is about equality. Equality in all the various human endeavors. You can be as radical and militant as you want, but the goal is equality. If it’s not, you are no longer talking about Feminism.

    I’ve read quite a bit of feminist lit and I’ve never come away with that sort of definition. I HAVE encountered very small groups of people that do advocate for a matriarchy, but as far as I can tell pro-matriarchy people don’t overlap much with feminism. They just use feminism as a way to recruit — like Mormon’s using some ambivalent Christian’s theology as a hook to getting them to wear magic underwear.

  6. 8

    Anecdata: I was fired for being pregnant. In 2001.

    Wasn’t I lucky to be working at two part-time jobs with no health benefits? And even luckier to then have one part-time job with no benefits?


  7. 9

    Explain to me why (other than not being post-colonial) being called a radical feminist should be seen as anything other than a compliment.

    Because that’s the intended meaning. Oh, sure, the words sound very much the same as ones with a different meaning in your native tongue, but assuming that they mean the same thing you do by those words can get you into at least as much trouble as wearing a coat and cold-weather gear when someone tells you to dress for 30 degree weather.

  8. 11

    I had been thinking about this a bit lately, initially because of a comment – maybe on this blog – about how men not being awarded custody is also a problem caused by patriarchy.

    I really don’t know how much of a problem this is objectively (as in, how often are fathers removed from their children’s lives.) As with much of the shit women live with, the question may be somewhat moot because the fear of it is always there [1].

    One of the hallmarks of an oppressive system is that it motivates by fear (and fearful rumor) as much as by example.

    And, yes, I speak from personal knowledge.

    [1] I should point out that keeping men afraid of losing their children is not beneficial to women.

  9. 12

    Well, being a Radical Feminist with capital letters is different from being a feminst who is radical. The specific group of thinkers so named generally had kind of a… Distinctive take on women’s power. That is, to say, an intensely transphobic and often racist one.

    I don’t think that was what was meant, though, so don’t consider this post an attempt to answer to the challenge…

  10. 13

    Ophelia, that’s about as good an answer as I ever got to #1 (because ignoring people’s self-determination is rude, not bad, except when it’s bad, but we won’t talk about that) or #2 (You lie!).

    Tristan, can you manage to answer Jason and besomyka’s questions? Also, do you know what a strawman argument is?

    D. C., quite true, but empty insults don’t tell me much except that they haven’t got any substantive ones.

    Nentuaby, that’s part of why I mentioned post-colonial feminism.

    sillybit, to the best of my knowledge, the only anti-sex radical feminists are the ones who’ve been badly victimized and are, personally, done with the experience. The anti-BDSM ones are generally historical, before people understood fetishes or sexual role playing very well.

    Porn is kind of interesting. Yes, there are radical feminists who are anti-porn across the board. A few of them are stubbornly not evidence-based on the topic. That’s hardly exclusive to radical feminism, however. Many radical feminist now note the difference between the problematic (collective) institution of porn and individual instances of porn production or consumption that may be more egalitarian. And the institution itself has changed in response to radical feminism by having more pockets that are egalitarian. It’s worth noting, too, that many of those who champion safe working conditions for sex workers are informed by radical feminism or identify as radical feminists.

    Basically, there’s no monolithic view of sex of any sort within radical feminism any more than there is outside of it. However, radical feminism has made some important contributions to modern thinking on the topic.

  11. Gvc

    A bunch of people involved in the furor over Rebecca Watson saying, “Guys, don’t do that,” went around pointing fingers and calling people “radical feminists.”

    The reason why the thing blew up as it did was radical dishonesty like this.

  12. Gvc

    And well, people who use the label “radical feminist” have become known for their radical dishonesty. And so that is why it is a pejorative.

  13. 16

    You mean like your comment, Gvc? Because we have evidence that a large number of people went around pointing at people saying “radical feminist”. For instance, Stef McGraw who pointed at Rebecca Watson and said “how dare you say men shouldn’t ever flirt with women!” when she said nothing of the sort.

  14. 18


    By whose definition, Tristan? Because that’s not the definition the rest of us are using.

    Well, you could go by the dictionary definition – but then, for consistency, you’d have to accept the dictionary definition of atheism:

    Atheism, n: the doctrine or belief that there is no God.

    Or, you could stand back and watch the words and actions of those in this community who actually call themselves by, or are comfortable with, the term “radical feminist”. Me, I prefer to do the latter. And what I see when I do so is a core group who keep pushing ideas which go far beyond equality, and instead create a brand new “privileged class”.

    And julian:

    Because I’ve seen you guys jump around from radfemz to gender femz to fembitches to every point in between.

    “You guys?” Nice kneejerk generalization there. I challenge you to find a single post where I’ve called anybody anything of the sort. Hell, for that matter, I challenge you to find a single post where I’ve called anybody any of the naughty names that are giving so many people such vapours.

  15. 19

    I have to admire your ability to set up a straw man.

    There are a number of problems with the bundle of ideas encompassed in feminism. I think there is broad agreement on the central tenet, that government should facilitate all persons of either sex in their pursuit of happiness. However, some of the fallout from this laudable movement have resulted in inequitable treatment of men, particularly in the areas of family law, false rape accusations, and affirmative action.

    I agree with you that there’s nothing wrong with being a radical. It’s misandry, both conscious and unconscious, that we’re speaking up against.

  16. 20

    I think a brief visit to the OED clarifies this one nicely:


    ‘The problem is that, in the context of feminism, ”radical” means “at or of the root.”’

    That’s the etymological meaning of “radical” in all contexts. “rādīc-, rādīx root” + “āl-em (-ālis, -āle, stem -āli-) adjectival suffix = ‘of the kind of, pertaining to.'” Obviously, modern usages diverge from this strict etymological interpretation to greater or lesser degrees. In the OED listing, apparently when “radical feminist” is used as an endonym (a handy ethnolinguistic term unfortunately lacking from the OED; roughly, “how members of a focal group refer to themselves or aspects of their culture, environment, &c.”), “radical” is meant in sense A.7.a., while when it is used as an exonym (correspondingly, “how people outside the focal group refer to the focal group, &c.”), “radical” is meant in sense A.7.b.

    I am generally in agreement that endonyms should be preferred over exonyms, but the gist is you’ve got different groups using the same word in different senses. Critics of “radical feminism” (used as an exonym) might clarify the matter by substituting “extreme” for “radical” (unless “extreme” also has a conflicting meaning of which I am unaware). Of course, one might object that there’s nothing wrong with being an extreme feminist, either, but at least confusion arising from different meanings for a single word might be avoided.

  17. 21


    The dictionary contains two definitions of atheism:

    2.disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

    Your argument is invalid.

    Radical feminism is basically the view that gender – as in defining traits like nurturing or aggression along masculine and feminine lines – is pretty much arbitrary bullshit designed to perpetuate oppression.

    While, as we are in a world of some six billion people, there probably are women who would like to see the rise of matriarchy in order to replace patriarchy – these women are a vanishingly small minority, and are inherently not radical feminists due to the fact that such a system would be based upon assuming the gendering of emotional traits is valid.

  18. 22

    Bruce: so, what you’re telling me is that a term can have more than one meaning, and that the “first” or most commonly-used meaning may not necessarily be the best descriptor of the thing that term relates to? Yeah… if you don’t mind, I’ll stick with what I observe happening, rather than what people tell me is happening.

  19. 23

    D. C., quite true, but empty insults don’t tell me much except that they haven’t got any substantive ones.

    Seems to me that covers the great majority of cases outside of a certain in-group term of art. Etymology aside, “radical” is usually interpreted as “extreme.”

    Which, in context, has me thinking “radical feminist” is about as useful an expression as “radical heliocentrist.”

  20. 24

    I don’t see anything wrong with ‘feminism’, ‘radical feminism’, ‘extreme feminism’, or any other sort of feminism.

    What’s the problem with working or fighting for equal rights exactly? Isn’t that something all fair-minded people should want?

    As to the accusation that ‘radical feminism’ is about favouring women’s rights over men’s, that’s a bit like saying affirmative action is all about suppressing the rights of white men. Sure, some people think that, but they are dumbasses.

  21. Sas

    I am on the Watson side of the whole Elevatorgate situation, but I can tell you that if a person self-identifies as a Radical Feminist (not just being called that by a MRA), then it definitely comes as a warning signal to me, because there are so many Radical Feminists that hate trans women. It’s from as far back as Janice Raymond (with her influential hate-screed The Transsexual Empire), to the present with the likes of Julie Bindel (who gleefully spreads misinformation about medical transition).

    There are probably lots of self-described Radical Feminists who don’t hate trans women, but that label immediately puts me on my guard. Schrodinger’s Transphobe, I suppose.

  22. 26

    Tristan @ #22

    Yeah… if you don’t mind, I’ll stick with what I observe happening, rather than what people tell me is happening.

    Of course, personal observation is the best source of information. After all, there is no such thing as confirmation bias.

  23. 27

    Tristan has made several assertions throughout these challenges that he’s been unwilling to corroborate in any way. I’m pretty sure this will be one of those. It’s interesting to note the circularity of the “radical feminism” argument made in this context, though. What Rebecca said was nonsense because it was supported by radical feminists, and you could tell that they were radical feminists because they were agreeing with Rebecca about the topic.

    Also, a number of people specifically identified as “equity feminists” in making the point that the “radical feminists” participating in these discussions were somehow to be viewed as bad just for being radical feminists. They knew exactly what radical feminism was.

  24. 28

    Sas, you’ve got excellent reason to be wary. Again, though, I’m not sure that there is a particularly higher incidence of transphobia within radical feminism. There is, however, that extra bitterness of finding people who say they’re fighting for equality “but not for you” and who find it easier to chastize their allies than the powerful people they need to be focused on.

  25. 29

    “Elevatorgate” continues to mystify me. A stranger invites Rebecca Watson to his hotel room for “coffee” at 3 am. She points out on her blog that this is a really, really bad idea for guys to do. The reasons should be obvious. Even as a guy, who has never had to worry about the possibility of being assaulted in a stranger’s hotel room, I can see that.

    Why is this even controversial?

  26. 30

    @d cwilson @29: You got me. I don’t understand what’s controversial about it, either. It just requires a little empathy to understand what Rebecca was saying.

    And even if one disagrees, so what? She still had the right to voice her opinion and feelings about the incident.

    As it happens, her point was an important one.

    Did EG mean any harm? Probably not, but that wasn’t the point. There are ways to behave that don’t cause others to feel threatened, and there are ways that do. Cornering someone in a lift in the middle of the night is one of those behaviours to avoid.

  27. 31

    I think there is broad agreement on the central tenet, that government should facilitate all persons of either sex in their pursuit of happiness.

    Is this the central tenet of feminism?

    However, some of the fallout from this laudable movement have resulted in inequitable treatment of men, particularly in the areas of family law, false rape accusations, and affirmative action.


    False rape accusations have always been around so it is hardly the invention of feminists. Some women lie about being raped. Why? Usually because they are in a terrible situation and terrified of wht’s about to happen to them. Does that excuse their crime? No. But the picture you’re trying to create of women simply making up rape stories is gibberish. It in no way reflects reality. Especially considering how incredibly rare it is even by the police’s own estimation.

    Affirmative action is not sexist nor racist. It does not deny whites, men or anyone else opportunities they already have. It creates opportunities that otherwise not be there for underprivileged. And affirmative action for women (from what I understand) is pretty much nonexistent. Feminism has not caused the inequitable treatment of men whatever you MRA’s believe.

    And just what do you mean by ‘family law?’

  28. 32

    Yeah… if you don’t mind, I’ll stick with what I observe happening, rather than what people tell me is happening.

    Selection bias aside, you’re also sticking to what you believe people want, instead of what they’re telling you they want. And you’re doing everything you can to judge them based on what you believe about them, instead of what they actually are.

  29. 33

    “You guys?”

    Yes, you guys, Tristan. You’ve been defending ERV and Company since Ms. Zvan started these challenges despite them never having been mentioned. Now I’m mentioning them. And ‘them’ is a group you’ve admitted to being a part of so I’ll stick with my original statement.

    And what I see when I do so is a core group who keep pushing ideas which go far beyond equality, and instead create a brand new “privileged class”.

    Oh? And how have the ideas of these radfemz gone beyond equality and instead begun to create a new privileged class? Better yet what are these ideas you’ve observed?

  30. 34

    A few months ago, I ran across an article (I think on Manboobz, though it might’ve been one linked to by them) that pointed out that about 90% of the truly legitimate complaints of the MRAs would, in fact, be addressed by supporting feminism and the eradication of patriachal structures. (FREX: If there IS an actual bias in child-custody cases towards the woman, then that is directly derived from the gender-based notions of “woman = nurturer” and “man = provider”. Dump that concept, and the bias will disappear–again, if it really exists, and I admit I’m nowhere near an expert on the statistics involved to make a statement either way.)

    About the only one that feminism itself wouldn’t directly address was infant male circumcision in Western nations. And even then, since the predominant sources for that practice were patriarchal institutions, inducing a re-examination of the principles of those institutions without a patriarchal reference could easily result in the elimination of IMC.

    So, yeah, where do I get my radical (male) feminist card, please?

  31. 35

    (Arrrggghh… damn lack of an edit button. I meant, “90% of the few truly legitimate claims…”. That’s an important modifier for me to have left out.)

  32. 37

    A radical feminist is a feminist with an unpaired electron!

    A radical feminist is the square root of a feminist!

    A radical feminist is totally gnarly, dude! Like, cowabunga!

    *ahem* All joking aside, when people say “radical feminist” what they mean is “extreme feminist” which implies taking feminism *too far.* Hence the insult: you take this whole feminism thing way too far!

    Of course I don’t see what the problem is with taking it ALL THE WAY to equality. Just sayin’.

    Also I feel a lot more misandry from MRAs who whinge when their precious privileges are infringed upon, because they’re uniformly colossal turdbrains, and generally think that all men are troglodytes like themselves, when in fact many men are awesome people who know women are people (not support systems for vaginas/uteruses/boobs), don’t feel boxed in by a ridiculous gender binary, and express their masculinity in healthy ways without feeling the need to demonize the feminine in order to feel like “a man.”

    I mean, the implication that men are a monolithic body full of all-hunters-no-gatherers with an uncontrollable urge to spread their seed like wild animals, incapable of feeling empathy for women at all, whose fragile egos demand that they hyper-masculinize everything because the worst POSSIBLE thing is to be accused of being “girly” or “gay” or “a pussy” is, I think, pretty damn insulting. So if you’re going to accuse anyone of misandry, I really don’t think the feminists are the ones to be pointing fingers at. They’re not the ones trying to enforce the narrowly defined gender roles and demonize any male showing a trace of femininity, after all.

  33. 38

    Talk about straw men. You have all built this idea of an ” MRA” out of nothing but imagination.

    What IS an MRA, please? I would love to hear that. What does one look like, if not in fact just another incarnation of “the boogieman”?

  34. 39

    Alukonis: your perpetuation of that stereotype of men, and even your refutation of it reeks of misandry on your part.

    And please define for me your idea of “the feminine”? I can’t wait to hear that….

  35. 41

    You have all built this idea of an ” MRA” out of nothing but imagination.

    Actually I’ve built mine out of reading what self-described MRA’s write on sites like inmalefide. So have several other posters. I’m pretty sure Ms. Zvan has been dealing with MRA’s for a while.

    What IS an MRA, please?

    It stands for men’s rights activist but unlike actual activist very little attention is paid to actual activism work. Instead it’s usually about how evil feminism is and how women secretly control everything.

    What does one look like, if not in fact just another incarnation of “the boogieman”?

    Like any other member of society. Much like racists, rapists, murderers and Bernie Maddof’s, they look like someone you’d pass on the street walking to work.

    Hope that helped.

  36. 43

    @arguably MRA, thanks for accusing me of misandry when I was pointing out what it looks like. Do you also accuse ethnic minorities of racism when they point out racist slurs used against them?

    As for “the feminine” I was rather vague because the way people define it is mostly connotative, rather than denotative. But just as an example, if a man were to do stereotypically feminine things like wear makeup and dresses, he would face a lot of gender policing from mainstream society trying to force him back into a traditionally masculine gender role. Now what is “masculine” and “feminine” changes with time, but gender policing always has the same goal, which is to force people to conform in order to preserve privileged hierarchies.

    And of course women wearing pants or dressing in a masculine way is not seen as unusual (present-day, mind you, not historically) because of course everything masculine is awesome and everything feminine is wimpy and sucky, which is misogyny, not misandry. Because some men define masculine as not!feminine, they must demonize all things women do to feel like men, and as women start to do more things that men do, these men are forced into a smaller and smaller role of hypermasculinization. Keep in mind that men are not the only policers of this gender binary, there are also women who strive to enforce strict gender roles. These are also the people who will make statements like “REAL men don’t [insert activity here, e.g. practice veganism]” Anyone who paints one gender with a broad brush sans qualifiers is most likely using sloppy reasoning, had that cultural upbringing and never examined it, or is outright malicious towards one gender.

    This is really just the merest tip of the sociological iceberg of gender expression and relation, though. I myself would not claim to be an expert, though I have spent a good deal of time reading about this topic. I advise you to look up some literature yourself if you have further interest.

  37. 44

    Obscurantist troll is obscurantist. And I am tired and bored of people’s inability to deal with one piece of an issue, which is why these challenges exist. Into moderation you go, arguably MRA, until I have the time and attention to figure out whether you’ve actually made an argument that hasn’t already been dealt with or is even applicable to the challenge–whenever that may be. Feel free to answer again in a less baroque manner, however.

  38. 47

    There is a certain ideology of “seduction” that is at play which dictates the assumptions involved in many of those discussing Elevator Gate.

    This ideology operates unconsciously.

    Those who operate from those assumptions do so because that are powerfully attached to certain unconscious beliefs about sexuality, the nature of consent and submission, and their roles as men and women.

    Those assumptions limit the freedom, sexual freedom, and overall wellbeing and dignity of both genders.

    Enlightening people to those unconscious structures is no simple task though and it will require more than just intellectual debate.

  39. 49

    Stephanie, I’m with commenter Sas. You wouldn’t call it a compliment because radicalism involves trans criticism which is an absolute deal breaker for most. Forget porn and prostitution. Nothing closes more doors to this wing of feminism than criticism to the gendered brain theory. Radicals argue gender is cultural and bad. Non radicals argue gender is innate, sexy and fun. An example.

  40. 50

    Jose, not all radical feminists are transbigots, that’s why the term Trans* Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) was coined a few years ago, to point out that TERFs don’t speak for all RFs.

    Your understanding of where radicals and non-radicals stand on “gendered brain theory” also seems to be counterfactual. For instance, I am sure that the retiring editor of Feministing who was quoted on that blog (and why was the author so coy about her name, which is Jessica Valenti) who said that gender could be sexy and fun would also vigorously argue that it is not innate at all – she even mentions in that very same quoted paragraph that he believes people should be free to choose and express their gender identity without being limited by stereotypes of biological essentialism.

    So, is she a radical because she acknowledges that gender expression is cultural, or is she a non-radical because she believes that gender expression can be sexy and fun? Perhaps do you have rather less understanding of the fundamentals of feminism than you think?

  41. 51

    “Sexual Identity Hard-Wired by Genetics, Study Says”

    “I dont dispute the fact for even a heartbeat, the physiological, genetics, and neurological evidence of being born transgender is very strong.”


    So, if you’re correct and she doesn’t agree with trans theory regarding gender “at all”… I don’t want to be the one to break the news to her that she’s a bigoted hateful transphobic terf who is denying people their basic humanity (I’ve been told that). Do you?

  42. 53

    I don’t think gender (gender anything) comes from within, but it’s rather we do to one another. But anyway, that at #48 was my reason for it, if it isn’t convincing enough that’s alright.

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