Adventures In Feministory: England's Revolutionary Feminists

feministory 

Feminists have long struggled with some non-feminist's notions that our mantra is man hating. While that is not true of feminists as a whole, that was the main focus of a movement in the UK in the late 1970s. Called Revolutionary Feminism and lead by Sheila Jeffreys, the movement advocated political lesbianism and the complete denouncing of heterosexual relationships, which they felt was the only ultimate way to liberation. It did not matter if you slept with women or not; to be a true feminist, to them, was to be a lesbian. In 1979, they wrote Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism, which further pushed the Revolutionary Feminists into embodying that man-hating stereotype, which the media and non-feminists latched on to in an attempt to discredit the feminist agenda in general. Yet their impact on the feminist movement was much larger than the controversy that surrounded them for their literature and ideals.

While perhaps extremist in their main tenants, the RFs were also concerned with ending violence against women, primarily in the sex industry and in the streets. In 1977, a serial killer deemed the Yorkshire Ripper was murdering prostitutes in Leeds. The police decided the way women could be safe was to stay inside after dark, as opposed to addressing the man murdering them, and they instituted curfews. In response, the RFs organized the first "reclaim the night" rally in England. RFs marched through the streets chanting "Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no". Reclaim The Night has since become an annual call to women's safety, a celebration of survivors of domestic violence and an empowering rally that takes place in cities across the world. It is called Take Back The Night in the US. Although the first Reclaim The Night rally was organized under the radical belief that all men could be rapists, these rallies are now an integral part of the fight for women's safety. "We demand the right to use public space without fear," their mission statement says. A simple request, but one that over 30 years after the first rally is still not a reality.

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Rapists

"the radical belief that all men could be rapists"

How radical is that belief? It depends on the context. When I was a teenager (late '80s), I remember reading that every study that had been done could not distinguish a "normal" college-aged male from a convicted rapist when it came to his attitudes towards sex and a man's "right" to sex from a woman. In that sense, every man could be a rapist, as far as anyone--including trained psychological researchers--could tell. Now, whether he would end up raping is something else.