I’m sure many of you saw the headlines last week. “Pro-rape blogger organizes meetings for men across U.S.—Including Seattle, Everett” “Pro-Rape International Meetup Day” “RooshV Plans ‘Rape Should Be Legal’ Meetups”. If you haven’t heard, this was a day of meetups around the world planned by Roosh Valizadeh, the owner of the misogynistic blog “Return of Kings.
Thankfully, the meetups did not happen, at least officially, because there was an uproar on social media protesting them.
This uproar was inspiring, and overall, effective. But it made me think: where is the radical feminism pulling our culture in the opposite direction, to counterbalance the RooshVs of the world?
First, I’m happy that there are no direct equivalents to RooshV in the feminist world. His hate-filled doctrines are of a tone and intention that do not belong in any movement.
But the point stands: when it comes to certain aspects of gender, particularly with women’s sexuality and reproductive health, the scales seem to be tipping in a conservative direction over the past few years. And those radical voices, as much as we try to discount them, matter a lot.
You might be thinking, instead of more radical feminism, wouldn’t it be better to have an increase in more moderates?
I would love an increase there too, but we can’t do without our radical feminists.
This is because of something called the Overton Window. This fancy term basically just refers to the range of ideas around a topic that the public will accept. It changes constantly, being pulled in one direction or another.
Let me explain. If you’ve seen the movie Selma (which I highly recommend), there’s a scene that portrays this concept well. Martin Luther King Junior is planning a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, demanding equal voting rights for black Americans. He has been treading extremely carefully, because he knows this action has the potential to influence national law, and supporters have been facing severe violence.
A few days before the march, Malcolm X shows up. He wants to give a speech in favor of MLJK’s march. But Malcolm X does not exactly have a reputation for treading carefully, so when he meets with Coretta Scott King, the decision maker in this case, she initially denies his proposition, because of the risk of damaging their movement.
But she changes her mind when Malcolm X says one thing.
“I thought that if the white people understood what the alternative was that they would be more inclined to listen to your husband. And so that’s why I came.”
In other words, Malcolm X was offering to use his radical reputation to pull the Overton Window --what the public would accept--in the direction of civil rights. This would move MLKJ’s more moderate views towards the center of the window, garnering him more public support.
A more local example of this concept is Dan Savage, Seattle LGBTQ activist, who explained his role in moving the Overton Window for LGBTQ rights in an interview with Seattle Met last year. As he put it, “When you’re trying to move the center, you need people at the edges screaming and yelling. You need the unreasonable people for the reasonable people to move in. This is my life.”
When it comes to gender in the past few years, particularly with women’s reproductive health, the Overton Window has had a lot of weight put on the conservative end.
Women’s health clinics being violently attacked and intimidated. Politicians making misogynist comments with little consequence to their career. False Planned Parenthood smear campaigns (which have been disproved). Leading 2016 presidential candidates demanding to ban abortion in all cases, even rape and incest. Our government threatening to defund women’s health services.
These actions are extreme. What’s worrying is that they seem mainstream. A sure sign that the Overton Window has been pulled sharply in a conservative direction, and away from gender equity.
Can you think of any actions on the other side that are this extreme? Any individuals or groups that are as radical? It’s quite difficult to draw many to mind. Though the radical feminist movement had quite a large participation rate in the 1960s and 70s, with explicit goals to achieve personal and political equity, that movement has dwindled. This can be seen as a success in some regard, because the things they were fighting for have become normalized. But certainly not everything.
We cannot ignore the fact that we're slipping back. Rights we thought we had firmly won have become eroded. We’re starting to think that restricting women’s sexuality and reproductive health is normal.
So yes, we need radical feminism. We need those people at the edges to drag the center forward. Though we may not always agree with everything they do, as feminists, we cannot, we must not, dismiss them. Even if we don’t agree with each other 100% of the time, we still must respect and acknowledge their role in the movement towards gender equity.
What’s the call to action? I’m not sure yet. I was hoping you would help me out with that one.
In part, it’s a call to the media to cover more radical feminism stories. In fact, to make women’s voices heard more overall. There is much more action around gender equity than we are aware of, because our media chooses not to cover those stories. And that, in itself, is an act of misogyny.
In part, it’s a call to our political representatives to actually represent us women—not represent what they think we should be.
In part, it’s a call to us, feminists, to be radical, and to support radical feminism. We tend to be hard on ourselves, and each other, in the feminist movement, and I think we can work on that.
In part, it's a call to everyone, to be politically active and demand change that actually works for us. We tend to think we're powerless when it comes to politics and determining laws. We're not.
Let’s get our window back, bitches.