I agree with Alphaville that I cannot compartmentalize my thoughts on radical feminism and ERE. They weave in and out of each other too much.
I will try and write an apologia of both beleifs.
Number one: I want to say one thing as radical feminism often gets one branded as a “TERF” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist)—while I do have critiques of some segments of the most popularly advertised trans movement, I do not consider myself trans exclusionary nor do I hate trans people etc etc. I just want to get that out of the way as it is my biggest fear when bringing up radical feminism. I can talk about my critiques of *some* aspects of the movement—but I do find the popular rhetoric of radical feminism to be entirely too obsessed with trans people and engaging in black and white thinking to the point that I’ve left almost all radical feminist spaces and now mostly read second wave feminists or studies from an academic perspective. Second wave feminism largely had nothing to say about trans people, and were mostly inclusive of them—however I do think they would likely be against some of the movement now, I do not think they would stereotype all trans people as bad/evil. However, even nuanced views like JK Rowling have people calling for a (literal) witch hunt—so it gets very tricky on this subject, but I would like to largely leave this part of radical feminism out except where needed.
With that out of the way
Radical feminism is the only type of feminism that cannot be advertised and used to further require consumption. In my opinion, that is why it is fought against by almost all public narratives. Radical feminists often talk about “choice” feminists or “liberal” feminists. The distinction here is that after second wave feminism, feminism was essentially rebranded to be consumable and to, instead of question the status quo, support it whole heartedly as a way to “empower” yourself.
It was also rebranded to be intersectional. Being intersectional is great—feminism should include all women… but should it also include men? Radical feminists distinguish women as a class and men as a class, they also say that women have been oppressed by men since the beginning of time on the basis of biology. With that view, which I agree with, including men in feminism makes zero sense. It would be like revolving BLM around the guilt that white people face for being racists. But modern feminism largely revolves around poor men and toxic masculinity that has become the excuse for all male abuse—and very rarely looks at the effects of this abuse on women. (This is largely changing in popular rhetoric and I am very happy about it—but growing up, the answer to men being abusive was to try and help them sort out their own socialization and gave zero onus for me to look at my own or to engage in literally any sort of boundaries—this was also largely supported by the mental health community).
The reason there is a distinction between “choice” feminism is because if you bring up certain things like makeup, high heels, etc—inevitably someone will come and tell you that “it is my CHOICE and I LIKE IT and how dare you try and tell me what to do! How can you be a feminist if you are telling women what to do!? And by the way, I find makeup and appealing to the male gaze EMPOWERING and I gain power from it!”
In this way, women themselves become very defensive when questioning the status quo. Sure, many women might enjoy wearing makeup and high heels and even objectifying themselves—no one is denying that. The question is why?
The answer is usually a broad mix of socialization, including shame, and the feelings of power they get from being sexually appealing to the male sex. If it is truly a simple “choice”—how come women who do not wear makeup are constantly told they look tired and sick for the simple, radical act of NOT wearing makeup. How come women who simply exist naturally—meaning not shaving their legs or armpits—are somehow making a radical political statement if they dare leave their house? Why does the simple act of existing bring with it infinite judgements and opinions on something as simple as your NATURAL appearance?
Saying it’s a choice allows you to keep engaging with these options under the delusion that you are in complete control of your choices without thinking critically of the societal norms and pressures to behave in a very specific way. Choice does not equal freedom. We should all know this, consumption often keeps people consuming by offering many choices, an overwhelming amount of choices—so that people will simply buy what is best advertised. For women, often the easiest choice is the one that is most commoditized. Women’s identity is often revolved around being consumable by narrow definitions that society has set up for them—which means being sexually appealing to men. Women and men both defend and encourage this as status quo. Because of this, many men and women will claim radical feminists are anti-women because they are not listening to what women want. In my opinion, that is like saying that questioning the culture of consumption is anti-independence or anti-freedom because consumers are choosing to consume.
I want to make it clear that I also engage in these “choices”—as I need to. I am not shaming women for having to perform the status quo to keep engaging in the world, I am simply asking that women think critically about the choices. I am also not asking women to feel shame or guilt for engaging in choices, nor to feel like they cannot partake in femininity in any way without being a traitor to feminism—again, I am only asking that we parse out and examine the way we interact with the world and how this world has taught us what is and is not acceptable based purely on the sex that we are born. Often the only women who can truly reject these gendered stereotypes without very noticeable backlash are privileged—often because they have enough wealth to not need to appeal to men (this is very uncommon even for the wealthy, but you will see that the wealthy do not engage as much in obvious plastic surgery, gaudy makeup of makeup at all, etc—I think this can be analyzed another time).
For instance, one of the critiques of the transgender movement is that *some* (not all) people within the movement reduce being a woman or a male to gendered stereotypes. In that way, many women who do not fit into female stereotypes of liking makeup and clothes and enjoying the male gaze are put into another box—if they do not act like women, then they must be men. I know this is not all transgender people and i want to make that clear, but I also, (anecdotally), know quite a number amount of women who detransitioned (meaning went through hormone therapy, binding, sometimes even mastectomies, before realizing they are not trans)—and they all speak of this pressure to fit themselves into a gendered box—because they did not perform gendered stereotypes well enough, society presented them with the option to simply not be a woman anymore.
(When you delve into radical feminism— you will find an extremely large number of the women in these movements to be detransitioners as well as ex or even current sex workers. This may be the reason for the absolute vitriolic hatred that these women have for the trans movement and men in general. I think they deserve a space to go through the grieving process—but it is unfair that their voices are then judged as the de-facto voices for radical feminism, when often their voices are being filtered through unbridled and barely processed trauma).
This is absolute commodification of identity. If you do not perform the way society wants you to be, you are placed into another box that society will find acceptable. There is only a very narrowly defined way of being an acceptable women—exist outside of that, you simply aren’t a women anymore. This is very recent and is, I think, a direct consequence of fourth wave feminism making “womanhood” a consumable, performative act.
(Again, I want to be clear that I do believe there are actual transgender people, I don’t believe all trans men are simply women who did not fit into a box, I am simply saying the above scenario has become more and more popular as, like femininity, trans identity has become a consumable product more than an inherent identity. And again, to be clear, I think for many people being trans IS inherent. Two things can be true at once)
In that way, identities are becoming more and more commodified. There is also a post-radical feminist movement. It went by the name of Vindicta (now deleted)—there used to be a subreddit for it. It essentially stated that it acknowledges the pressure society places on women, but women could weaponize their femininity to gain material power in society. In that way, it called for “looksmaxxing” including extensive plastic surgery, learning to be subversive and machiavellian, etc.
Because radical feminism offers no real solution except a utopian womyn’s land, female separatism, etc—Vindicta seemed more practical to me. Be sexually appealing, play stupid, etc etc—anything to gain power in a sexist world.
This is where ERE comes in. Engaging in Radical feminism leaves no solution—it stemmed from marxist analysis and like Marxism, it is very good at point out problems and very bad at offering any solutions. Solutions range from female separatism, political celibacy, smashing the patriarchy—etc etc. Radical feminist often refuse to believe that there will still be human greed, sociopathy, competition, etc in a world without men—just like marxists refuse to believe there will be anything bad in a world without capitalism.
The Vindicta movement offered a solution which was to play the game and win. Similar to the FIRE movement—increase salary by learning and understanding corporate politics and then one day you can finally be free after sacrificing your soul.
There is, as of yet, not an ERE answer for radical feminism—but I think there should be. ERE, in my opinion, IS the solution. Femininity should not be commoditized, and in that way you must separate yourself from an identity defined by others. You can only do that when you are not dependent on others to define expectations for you. It is a very similar feeling of stepping completely outside of the realm of society. Except, I think it is even scarier than ERE are contains more risk. Never-the-less, it is extremely important.
I will likely write more on how women are commoditized as products themselves—through porn, sex work, prostitution—and some radfems claim even the surrogate and adoption industry. (This becomes very apparent in third world countries or even countries like Russia)