Radical feminist movement

Radical Feminism: Feminist Activism in Movement, by Finn Mackay

Times Higher Education free 30-day trialFinn Mackay has a mission: she aims to restore the revolutionary edge to feminism by reclaiming the political stance of radical feminism. In her view it has been undervalued, especially in contemporary feminist scholarship. The founder 11 years ago of the London Feminist Network, Mackay’s energy in rebuilding the feminist movement that she wants to see has been quite remarkable. This book, which is her account of the successes and challenges of this task, is a useful undertaking, and places it within its historical background and current global reach.

As she argues, we all tend to reflect the political outlook that first leaves its mark on us. As a teenager in a progressive family in rural Scotland in the early 1990s, Mackay was busy reading about the women-only peace camp at Greenham Common, before making her way, aged 17, to Yorkshire to the Menwith Hill Peace Camp (renamed Womenwith Hill by the female campers). There she made contact with older feminists including Alison Garthwaite who, along with Sheila Jeffreys, was a key voice of the militant revolutionary feminist current that appeared at the end of the heyday of second-wave feminism, in the late 1970s.

A feminist, anti-capitalist revolution is Mackay’s goal, and her means are to build upon women’s ‘self-organization’

When she moved to London in the early 2000s, still only in her twenties, Mackay found little in the way of bold feminist activism, and, with much bravado, decided to rebuild the movement herself. At the first meeting she called in 2004 to initiate an activist London network, only six women turned up, but that number multiplied quickly as the new London Feminist Network revived the Reclaim the Night marches of three decades previous. In the UK, these marches began in Yorkshire in 1977, in the midst of the serial sex killer Peter Sutcliffe’s attacks on women. The events were inspired in part by Take Back the Night, feminist protests against men’s violence towards women that had appeared earlier that decade in the US, and in part by European initiatives.

Without doubt, there has been an impressive and much-needed resurgence of movements against violence against women that draw attention to the brutal reality of the endemic, and in many places increasing, mistreatment and abuse of women by men around the globe. In this work, Mackay draws upon accounts from 25 activist women she interviewed for her doctoral research, and is convincing when she records that engaging in these marches brought an empowering sense of pleasure, agency and collective identity to the women involved. She is also clear and succinct in her summaries of radical feminism, which she sees as identifying women and men as two distinct political classes, and having four defining beliefs: in the universality of patriarchy and the need to end it; in the need for women-only spaces and political organising; in recognising male violence against women as a keystone of women’s oppression; in seeing institutions of pornography and prostitution as examples of male violence.

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She is such a fool.

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