Hands Off By John Erickson

This post is written in conjunction with the Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue project sponsored by Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Lincoln University Consortium,  Claremont Graduate University, and directed by Grace Yia-Hei Kao.

John Erickson is a doctoral student in Women’s Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University.  His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by his time as the director of a women’s center and active member in the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements.  His work is inspired by the intersectionality of the feminism, queer identity, and religious political and cultural rhetoric.  He is the author of the blog, From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter at@jerickson85.

I find it little ironic that I am writing about Mary Daly’s formidable “anti-male” book Gyn/Ecology.  I remember reading the book when I was a sophomore in college and I owe much to Daly and her opus because they helped me to identify as a radical.

I know my position in feminism is sometimes misunderstood.  I have often found myself on the defensive end when someone asks me the question: “Why are you a feminist?”  However, although my identification as a feminist is always changing and growing, the label “RADICAL” is one I proudly wear on my chest everyday.  

If you were to ask some of my closest friends to describe me, I’m sure they would start off by telling you that I speak my mind and oftentimes have opinions that tick people off.  More specifically, they will tell you that I have “radical” opinions and that I am not afraid to say them aloud.

Although I have many “radical” opinions, I am often involved in heated conversations/debates/ and sometimes arguments when it comes to my stance on abortion.

It is here, in which Daly and I begin to have some common ground and common opinion.

No matter what, I strictly believe that men should have no say when it comes to a woman’s body before, during, or after a pregnancy (if she so chooses to have the fetus or invoke her constitutional right to get an abortion).  I also do not believe that he should have any say whether he is her partner, spouse, husband, boyfriend, hook-up, or whatever symbolic term men often use to make a woman feel like she is suppose to ask for his opinion or be guilted into going through with a pregnancy even though she may not want to.

Daly states that “men have been lamenting for centuries, [their] immortality is out of [their] own control,” because they are not in charge during a woman’s pregnancy.   I could not agree more with Daly.  Men are not the ones “carrying” the fetus.  Men are not sacrificing their bodies to bring a new being into the world.  Men are not equal in this participation.  Men are secondary in terms of pregnancy and women’s bodies and as we have seen in terms of recent political debate over Roe v. Wade or even with women gaining better access to birth control or health care during their pregnancy, men (and some very lost women in my opinion) love to inflict the control and power they do have in other ways.  They do this not because “they care about the unborn ‘child’” growing inside the woman, but rather to get back a piece, no matter how small, of the power and control they lose to women throughout a pregnancy.

As we have seen via the Robert Byrn incident that Daly writes about, certain men (and women) love to go to congress in the name of “women’s bodies and un-born children” everywhere.  They love to pass laws making it practically impossible for a woman to obtain an abortion or counseling for one.  They love to pass out literature showing the remains of a deceased fetus or plant it on your car windshield while you are at the mall.  More specifically, certain men (and women) love to infiltrate women’s bodies by passing laws that force women to have penetrative ultrasounds and listen to the fetus’ heartbeat before choosing to have an abortion (For more information about this, please read: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/28/us/28abortion.html).

It is usually around this point that men (and women) like to start giving me these “hypothetical” scenarios for me to ponder in relation to my “radical” opinion and hopefully force me to change or stagger in my opinion.  Many of these scenarios are too lavish to write down in accuracy in this short amount of space but the overall point is that no matter what, people do not share my same opinion.  People like to challenge me on this issue because they feel uncomfortable and I strike a chord at some of their core ethical, moral, and religious beliefs.  When we bring these outside factors into the question, I believe that we get further away from the truth of the matter at hand.  At the end of the day, the issue comes down to choice and the choice a woman has over HER body.

My simple answer to many of these scenarios is: “When you force a woman to have a penetrative ultrasound (without knowing the background as to why or how she became pregnant) to determine whether or not she wants to go through with an abortion, give the child up for adoption, or carry the fetus to full term and care for it, you inflict upon her a double rape scenario.  You not only inflict a sociopolitical rape over her body, but also a medical one as well when you “force” her to have a penetrative ultrasound.

My retort back to the individual (or group) I am talking with is then: “How does it make you feel to medically force a penetrative rape upon a woman’s body in order to gain a fraction of control back over a woman’s choice to have an abortion?”  While some do not answer, and most cannot bring themselves to, few walk away labeling me as a person who is “too radical” to have a conversation with and I couldn’t be more proud of that.

Upon reflection, maybe this is the point.  Maybe members of society have to start being seen, heard, and viewed as “too radical” in order to change public discourse.  Maybe, in order to gain back control over an individual’s body, one has to rustle a few feathers.

I am proud to call myself a radical.  I am proud to call myself a feminist.  I’m a radical feminist in the making and I am proud to call Mary Daly the Goddess I look up to for wisdom and inspiration.

Daly is the radical hag who rustled some feathers, ticked people off, and changed the world because of it.

Categories: Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue, Foremothers, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, LGBTQ, Mary Daly, Power relations

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31 replies

  1. John: Thanks for your post Here is something for you to ponder: despite your prolific use of the word, it actually wasn’t clear to me why your stance on abortion was “radical” as opposed to, say “liberal.” A more “radical” opinion would not just affirm the autonomy and bodily integrity of women, but might do other things, such as seek to interrogate the conventional understanding of gynecology as a medical profession whose sole purpose was to help women (a la Chapter 7 of the Second Passage of Daly’s Gyn/Ecology).

    Might you clarify or else respond to other ways in which you are “radical” like Daly and others are?


  2. HI John, I appreciated reading your post and love that you identify yourself as radical. I strive to be radical, but I don’t always get there! Like you, Daly has been incredibly influential in the development of my feminist and theological viewpoints. While I don’t always agree with her arguments, she is a foremother who certainly deserves homage. Where would we be today without Daly?

    I find your views interesting on pregnancy and abortion – you’ve left me with some questions I am going to spend pondering for a while. Thanks for this post!


  3. John, I have to say that I agree with you regarding your argument that women should have the complete and final say over their bodies. I liked your use of 100%. I have known too many girls that became pregnant and were too scared to tell their parents, boyfriends, etc… that they wanted an abortion. They felt obligated to carry to term. It sickens me that “obligated” is the word that one of these girls used when explaining her story to me. Like the others, the social pressures around this girl became an additional burden, never mind the unwanted fetus. And she did what was expected of her. She remained pregnant and had her child. She sacrificed her body and her future not for the life of her child, but for the wishes of others, wishes that did not coincide with her own. This girl told me once that “that’s what I get for being too young to have sex.” She saw it as a punishment that she deserved for having sex as a teenager. (we punish the girl for having sex, but somehow the guy who had sex with her gets to have his way–promiscuity vs. conquest) That’s the message that she received when she realized that getting an abortion would upset those around her.

    Some of the other girls turned to drugs, and some are barely scraping by now. In the past, I have asked more than a dozen heterosexual couples how they feel about the issue of abortion. Many of the women responded that if they were to decide to seek one out, they would want to tell their partners without the fear of interference. All of the women said they would feel too guilty getting one and hiding it from their partners. Many of the men I have spoken with feel that when they are in relationships, they are entitled to have some say about the issue, but admit that the final word should be the woman’s. Some of the men said an abortion without permission would be a ‘deal-breaker.’ None of them expressed having any guilt for imposing their own desires on their partners. What would your response be to those people who are attempting to foster relationships around egalitarian ideals? Is any say too much for men in these relationships to have when it comes to this topic? Or is some conversation acceptable as long as the final decision is ultimately the woman’s?


    • “What would your response be to those people who are attempting to foster relationships around egalitarian ideals? Is any say too much for men in these relationships to have when it comes to this topic? Or is some conversation acceptable as long as the final decision is ultimately the woman’s?”

      I think those are great questions, Katie. As someone who does attempt to foster an egalitarian relationship, I would invite my husband’s input in a decision over abortion, and he would want to give it. I agree that the final decision should be mine, but my idea of a healthy partnership entails discussion and input over such a life-altering (for both of us) decision.

      John, it was so interesting to read your take on this. I very much appreciate Mary Daly and her dismantling of our language and symbolic world that have oppressed women. However, reading her work this weekend has confirmed to me that I lean more towards being a liberal feminist than a radical one, since I am drawn to the idea of a world in which men and women work together to dismantle oppressive systems and construct inclusive ones. I was struck as I was reading that there seemed to be no place for men in her framework (at least in what I have read so far.) She writes on p. 2 “However possessed males may be within patriarchy, it is their order; it is they who feed on women’s stolen energy.” I was uncomfortable with the idea that all men, even the ones who are working to end gender based oppression, were written off here as inescapably feeding into the problem (that’s how it came off to me — I’m open to other interpretations.) How do you feel about this? Do you feel that there’s space for someone like yourself, who is so vibrantly feminist, within Daly’s framework? Where do men like you fit into it? Is there a place for you in her world?


      • Caroline, I really appreciate the way you explained your position here. I commented earlier that John left me with questions to ponder – and you so well articulated my thoughts and feelings with your comment. Like you, I believe that my husband and I have a partnership, we make decisions together. And, when thinking about the men in my life – my father, brothers, nephew – likewise, I think they should share in partnerships with the women in their lives.

        I also struggle with any stance that excludes men. Daly’s work has been critical in the development of my own feminist and theological viewpoints, but I really appreciate Ruether’s definition of feminism as the affirmation of the full humanity of women AND men. I don’t think exclusion is ever acceptable.


      • Do men have a place in Daly’s feminism? To say that is a loaded question is an understatement but if I were to answer, I would have to answer with an : “I don’t know but my educate guess would be no.”

        To start off, I have been going back and forth as to what Daly would think about a man posting on a Feminism&Religion blog about her text Gyn/Ecology. What would Daly say to me when she states that: “Patriarchy and men are the problem,” and all I do is simply agree?

        Daly and Ruether are from two very different camps and as men in feminism, we are caught someone in the in-between.

        After reading Sam’s comment on Katie’s blog about Daly’s exclusion of men, I wonder what would be the response of feminist men rather than the conservative men Daly had at her school if they were told they couldn’t take her class. Would exclusion happen if the men wanting to take Daly’s class where feminist men?

        The answer to me is yes. Whereas Dr. Kao below talks about Daly’s growth in her work, I feel that if Daly does grow, she grows in the way in which she becomes more radical and although she does offer questions and insights to her work (i.e. the Lorde dispute and her response to Lorde) Daly position as a radical, to me, would not budge. While she might acknowledge the growth of men in feminist practice, her arguments in Gyn/Ecology would still remain steadfast. The identification of becoming a “radical feminist” is a process that takes time and more importantly, one that someone has to actively employ in the daily lives. Do we all fit into Daly’s characteristics of a radical feminist? The sad answer is no and I fear that she, like Gina stated below, Daly essentialized the idea of what a radical feminist is and does to the point where no one (maybe not even her at times) can embody 24/7.

        These are all great comments and I wanted to preface I did not want to create a position where we start saying “you are not radical enough” or “you are too liberal.” If we do this then we enter a form of the current conservative political battle going on where each candidate for the Republican nomination avidly states that they are “more conservative” than the others on a daily basis. These questions are important though because they do show how this “I’m more feminist than you,” or “You aren’t a feminist because…” is present in feminism today no matter how hard people try to not exclude anyone.


  4. Dear Grace
    Thank you for your comments. I appreciate you asking for a point of clarification.

    I want to start off my points first with a response to your question about a “liberal” vs “radical” stance. I personally feel that identifying as “liberal” is easier to do than identifying as a “radical.”

    I believe if I were to call my opinion about abortion “liberal,” it would signify that my “opinion” was changeable, i.e., “I have a “liberal” opinion about issues but am willing to “change” after listening to people/groups/etc.” A “radical” stance does not allow for this type of permeability.

    I believe my opinion is “radical” because I am unwilling to change it because I believe that a “liberal” opinion about women’s bodies and abortion does a greater injustice to the overall issue because people allow for “opinions to change” rather than, like with Daly’s account, stay firm and strong in their belief in the sake of reexamining and regaining the power that was stolen away from women’s lives and women’s bodies by patriarchy.

    Furthermore, I believe that in having a “liberal” vs. a “radical” opinion about abortion is exactly what men and patriarchal culture want women to have because it helps give back a small portion of control to them.

    If “liberal” means that one can “change” their opinion whereas “radical” does not allow for this option, then men still have the chance to change a woman’s mind when she is considering having an abortion.

    Identifying as a radical, to me, means that one remains strong and steadfast in their opinions, no matter what, rather than liberal and changeable.

    More importantly, I see this struggle of individuals identifying as “radical” feminists happening right here in Claremont as well as Women’s studies as a whole, i.e. people entering these programs identifying as “radical feminists” and leave them as “liberal” ones. For example, a friend of mine in a women’s studies program identified as a “radical feminist” at the beginning, and then a year into the program, after having meet a man and fallen in love, gotten pregnant, and changed her name as to “appease” her husband identified as a “liberal” feminist because her positionality had changed. Identifying as a “radical” feminist is not easy because it is a way of life and mental mindset and not a performance or symbolic comfortable sweater one can easily take on and off at will. A radical feminist DOES NOT change whereas a liberal feminist, to me, does. In order to have true radical view, one has to, like Mary Daly, say that hard truth no one wants to hear but needs to in order to change society for the better.

    I appreciate you bringing up the issue of gynecology. I feel that up until women being allowed into medical schools and women becoming a prominent force within the field, we still had a power system that did not empower or help women but more importantly gave control of women’s bodies and women’s health back to men.

    A radical opinion of gynecology would be that men continued to rape women’s bodies and use their position as patriarchs to decide what was “best” for women before, during, and after issues of not only pregnancy but also women’s health in general. Specifically, with this passage of these strict abortion laws, what does it mean for a male gynecologist to now have the power to inflict more pain upon women’s bodies by forcing them to submit to a procedure such as penetrative ultrasounds. The more important question that needs to be asked is: What do we call women who do these procedures to other women and what is their positionality within the context of the abortion issue?

    After reading your comment I was drawn to this video clip of the movie Patch Adams in which Patch, the main character, is in charge of welcoming a group of Gynecologists around campus. What we see if both humor in his statement as well as the serious recognition that all these gynecologists are white men walking “into” a women’s cervix to talk about her health. (Please skip to 1:50 to view the clip I’m referring to). Although the clip is funny, it brings about asking serious questions as to women’s gynecological health in general. More importantly, although Roe. v Wade existed, what did it mean for men to still have the power to examine and invade women’s bodies as shown in this clip.

    Thank you for your comments Grace, Gina, and Katie. I appreciate them.


    • Hi John,
      I appreciate your powerful commitment to a woman’s choice and authority over her own body and your identification as a feminist. I do want to say though, as someone who identifies as a liberal feminist, I have very mixed feelings about how you define the difference between a liberal and radical feminist. Is it your intention to imply that the identification as a liberal feminist somehow makes one less invested or committed to their feminist ideals? Or that somehow those ideals are less firm? Or, on a theo/alogical note, that change-ability need be “compromising” or a weakness? If I am misunderstanding you, please let me know.

      … I cannot help but think about feminist history and the ways in which people were often unjustly excluded from or disallowed the label “feminist” by some groups because their views differed or were considered too moderate to be countable… too ‘under-committed’…. among the “under-committed,” were often women who chose to stay in heterosexual relationships, those women who celebrated their work in the home and those women who chose to ally themselves more strongly with racial rights issues than gender rights issues…

      It makes me very very uncomfortable to somehow be identified in your above response as someone who’s feminism is “easier”….. my feminism is not a sweater I take on and off, nor is it a performance; I live it every day and I live it passionately. Radical is powerful and I think, often very impactfull and helpful; but I believe the diversity of feminisms gives feminism is general authenticity, humanness and ultimately, I think, strength and renewed life.

      It is very important to consider the power involved when we try to define what feminisms count and what feminisms somehow do not, or are a performance. :(


    • John: The disagreements between “liberal” and “radical” feminists are alive and well, as you no doubt know, but I, too (like Sarah) would encourage you to rethink your characterization of the differences. You are probably right that liberal feminists are more socially acceptable within the broader society and that it may be an “easier” path for feminists to trod (although I would still like to register that the feminism is still an “f” word in many sectors, whatever “brand/school” of feminism one espouses). While there are definitely differences in political platforms, rhetoric, and calls for change, I would encourage you NOT to characterize the difference as one of radicals being obstinate/unwilling to change in contrast to liberals’ mutability for two reasons: (1) openness to change by the force of the better argument (i.e., by persuasion) is generally understood to be a mark of mature scholarly thought (not one’s feminist credentials), and (2) if radical means “I won’t change,” then folks like Mary Daly couldn’t themselves be called “radical” in light of the various evolutions of thought that they’ve been through (e.g., some easy examples for Daly include her abandoning of terms she used to use in her earlier work, such as “God,” “androgyne,” or “homosexuality”).

      Philosophical reasoning is demanding and the very best philosophers are willing to suspend, even for thought experiments alone, belief systems that either seem so patently obvious to them and everyone else or are otherwise the ones they would stake their life on. Thus, fully committed theists when reasoning philosophically have been willing to consider and construct “proofs” for the existence of God, philosophers working on the problem of other minds have been willing to entertain total solipsism (i.e., the idea that there is only mind out there – their own), and philosophers of science have been willing to doubt the existence of the external world (due to the unreliability of the senses). All of this might sound like total nonsense from the perspective of the man or woman on the street (because what “normal” person REALLY questions the existence of other minds, of the world, etc.), but that is what some of the best of philosophers have done.

      To sum up, what I wish for you is what I wish for all of the students with whom I work: the courage to go all the way where inquiry leads you–whether that eventuate in an affirmation of the positions you already hole, or in an abandoning of them (for something else) if that is what emerges as a result.

      Glad you are in this class so we can all journey and learn together.


  5. John,
    The terms “radical” and “liberal” are just that, terms of identity that are subjective and certainly open to critique. Ways in which we measure an individual’s stance as this or that can, I feel, hinder the conversation.

    Im my own reading of Mary Daly I have found selections that I agree with, but overall, Daly is an essentialist when it comes to her understanding of women and her exclusion of maleness from the web of humanity. This I contend, can never be fruitful or productive. If the message of feminism is situated in exclusion and anger, it will never work or see long lasting change.

    To have an abortion, in many circumstances, is a choice that is riddled with emotional challenges that can have long reaching affects on the woman. While it may be the best solution, this alone does not negate the pain that she may experience before, during and after. To have your husband/partner involved in a supportive manner allows a measure of comfort and tenderness to infiltrate an otherwise desperate decision that, as you point out, is ultimately hers and hers alone.

    As I continue to traverse and encounter feminism with religion or spirituality, I find a kinship between it and how I view and interact with the divine presence in my life. So many times one will inform the other, meaning, absent a position of love my feminism can be shallow and void of compassion with the other, particularly with those I disagree with. And here is where I believe the feelings of the man must come into play. For some (and this goes for women as well), the use of abortion is non reflective, meaning one simply moves forward and on with his/her life. But for some women and men, it is a profound loss, coupled with regret that the timing and circumstances could have been different.

    Do I support a woman’s right to choose? Yes, I do. But I also understand that in many cases the pain for her partner is measurable as well. To disassociate from this reality does a disservice to two human beings struggling with “the” decision.


    • Cynthie,
      By no means did I mean to state that it was a “hard” choice that women have to make and I apologize if you think that I did. That was not my intent.

      I think that it is great for men to be there for support of their wives/girlfriend if they so choose to get an abortion. Furthermore, that is where the “voices of men” in the abortion decision ends for me because in the end, the fetus is in the woman’s body.

      Yours as well as Caroline’s posts remind me of this weeks episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Christina, a determined surgeon, chooses to have an abortion because she does not want a baby because she wants a career. Her husband, Owen, cannot deal with this because he wants kids and he wants to have a family. Over the course of their “break” (the summer hiatus) Christiana and Owen were not together because he could not get over the betrayal she was inflicting upon him. It was not until Meredith, the show’s protagonist, tells Owen that she has not gone through with the abortion yet and that if he does love her he will be there for her because Meredith’s mom, who was very much like Christina, chose to have a baby (Meredith) and inflict the pain and punishment upon her because her career hurt as a result rather than having an abortion because Meredith’s father wanted a family. A woman, has to tell a man to stop thinking about himself and his “future” kids, and start thinking about the woman that he “loves.” What Meredith has to state to him is that it, to use your own words, was “painful” for not only him but also Christina.

      I am brought back to Daly’s statement that men are too concerned with their own immortality to give women a free and non-judgmental support they need to go through with an abortion. Can men truly ever move past their embedded norms of manhood, progeny, and family dominance? These issues are still so embedded in social culture that they appear in primetime TV dramas as well as numerous other places.

      While there are men that can (as shown in this blog by the partners of Caroline, Gina, and others) support their wives in ways that change social and gender relations among men and women, I feel that most men (and here is where I essentialize) cannot and I emphasize this next point from experience. While we can state how one “might” react in the situation about abortion, until it actually occurs we do not know how one might react.

      I feel honored that I get to live in “two worlds.” One of feminist thought and then one of “male thought.” What I mean by both of those is that I get to sit in classes and learn and listen to the histories by and about women and the work being done to make the world a better place for all. But on the flip-side, I also see a world where men (and here is where there Wisconsinite comes out) sit around a table of beer and talk about their wives/girlfriends as objects they possess and do whatever to. Although I challenge them on these positions, at the end of the day, their opinions remain the same. We can count ourselves in the company of many “educated” men but at the end of the day, how many of us know someone who has “changed” because of a man and what that man wants? I know I speak from experience when a friend of mine was faced with this same issue and her once “supportive and loving boyfriend” became the monster that was only obsessed with his unborn child and not the life of his girlfriend. Gender power and gender dynamics are still very much alive and well, no matter how hard we try to change them and that is why Daly’s radical opinions are needed.

      We have great men in this world who struggle and support their wives/partners alongside them no matter what but then we also have men (and they are typically the ones in power) who sit around a table of beer and talk about women like objects and commit many of the crimes Daly refers to upon women on a daily basis.


  6. John,
    I enjoyed reading your blog and I really liked the title “Hands Off”. I want to say that I agree with you in that women should have 100% control over their body including the freedom to choose whether or not to have an abortion without any regards to what men think. However, I am wondering if the abortion scenario is contextualized in the framework of relationality. Is it not feminist for women to seek support, comfort and advice from men who they are in close, intimate relationships with? I am not sure I would feel comfortable taking a “radical” stance and completely stifling the male voice. (And I’m speaking from my own context from being in an intimate relationship with a man.) Analyzed from a care perspective, perhaps the most immediate response would be to focus on the relationship closet to oneself; whether that is the relationship with the woman and child or the woman and the (presumably) man. Which holds more significance? Personally, I would feel that my relationship with my partner would need to be taken seriously in this type of context; therefore, I would want their opinion and I would look to see how my (our) decision would affect the relationship in the future. Relationality and mutuality should be taken seriously if we are going to have an ethic of just-love within human relationships. So maybe theoretically I agree – I think it is harder when we look at actual lived realities and folks’ personal relationships.


  7. As to this discussion of these terms ‘radical’ and ‘liberal,’ I found myself thinking back to an early section of Žižek’s Plague of Fantasies. In what was really a throw-away comment, he reviews a quite interesting study about political leanings, which, if you will bear with me for bringing in a patriarchal line of philosophers (no less psychoanalysis, perhaps famed for its reduction of so much that is “woman” to “penis envy”) for a moment, I think his discussion of “German conservatism/metaphysics, French revolutionary radicalism/politics and English moderate liberalism/economy” offers an interesting perspective on the notion of “taking off our sweaters” to which John Erickson so oddly attributes feminist liberalism :

    “In a traditional German lavatory, the hole in which shit disappears after we flush water is way in front, so that the shit is first laid out for us to sniff at and inspect for traces of some illness; in the typical French lavatory, on the contrary, the hole is in the back – that is, the shit is supposed to disappear as soon as possible; finally, the Anglo-Saxon (English or American) lavatory presents a kind of synthesis, a meditation between these two opposed poles – the basin is full of water, so that the shit floats in it – visible, but not to be inspected. No wonder that Erica Jong, in the famous discussion of different European lavatories at the beginning of her half-forgotten Fear of Flying mockingly claims: ‘German toilets are really the key to the horrors of the Third Reich. People who can build toilets like this are capable of anything.’ It is clear that none of these versions can be accounted for in purely utilitarian terms: a certain ideological perception of how the subject should relate to the unpleasant excrement which comes from within our body is clearly discernible…” (pp. 3)

    Broken down in this bodily way (a method which I do not think Mary Daly would be opposed even if I am filtering Erica Jong through a patriarchal screen), we get a pretty funny view of conservatism, but also an interesting observation about what it takes to be ‘radical.’ While I am all for standing one’s ground in a debate and refusing to mitigate our feminist conclusions or theories or commitments or so on for the sake of congeniality with the patriarchy of our boyfriend or society, et cetera, there are sacrifices that must be made in order to maintain the level of righteousness it takes to stand in the face of patriarchal adversity. One of those sacrifices is distinct in Mary Daly’s work. Her passion is marred by an apparent blindness to groups other than her immediate socioeconomic and racial class so much so that the introduction to Gyn/Ecology reads as a kind of sad apology to the entirety of black feminism. The absence of the black goddess in her work remains unresolved. Her apparent sorrow – the unclaimed excrement (byproduct) of insisting on her Standpoint as the only one. Daly is both inspiration and lesson, the specter that hangs over feminism and other liberation movements of limitations and violence within our own will to power.

    I want to explain that the reason I brought in Žižek is to point to the fact that the delineation between these classifications or modes of political action is a long-standing structure set up by the patriarchy (Žižek follows Hegel follows… ) not dissimilar to the other kinds of dichotomies that Daly points to and attempts to spiral into oblivion by writing her book in such a fantastic way. The difference between ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ is a construct, an assumed political set of poles that indicate “inherent” qualities really only shaped by some man’s porcelain cast of a toilet bowl. Daly’s witches and hags shit on the road and in the forest, on their way to *somewhere else*.

    For this reason and others, I find John’s comments about ‘radical’ and ‘liberal’ feminists somewhat unexamined. In the effort to affirm or proclaim his male feminism, radical or otherwise, he establishes a hierarchy between “true” feminism and beastly sweater-ed pretenders whom immodestly doff their garb outside of the bedroom when the kitchen has gotten too hot. I, for one, don’t think it is appropriate that an ally would walk into the kitchen (one who “true radicals” like Mary Daly would not have invited in) and show me the shame of my nakedness or otherwise assess the quality of my “purity”. The move from ‘radical’ to ‘liberal’ feminism is a way of spiraling – a path that will be traversed many times in our movement outward; it is a way of interacting with a world as a woman not in terms of fashion or some other construct, but as a way of dealing with an intensity of complex issues that is often extremely uncomfortable. To suggest that liberal feminists wear their convictions as some kind of accessory that can be taken off and put on at will is a complete misunderstanding of the point. It is a very poor metaphor, which has not taken into account the fact that vaginas cannot be worn like a sweater.


    • Dear Melody,
      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate what you have to say but do not agree with your assessment, which of course is the reason we are commenting/discussing here :)

      I believe that I talk about radical feminism as a way of life and identity (and nowhere in my comment do I mention the “ease of taking off ones vagina,” for I believe that inference is your construction and not mine) and not as a body part that you state at the end of your comment.


      • Also, as a question, do women who identify as feminists get mad when someone says you are not radical enough? Does it hurt more that a self-identified radical male feminist is pointing it out? Specifically, I am drawing similarities to the statement men and women get sometimes like: “You are not man/woman enough!” Is feminist identity intricately tied to female biology (read: vagina) or as a way of life that men and women can embody together? Can someone ever truly be “feminist” or “radical” enough?

        Would the statement hurt less if a woman were to say to you: “You’re not feminist enough!” or does this intricately bound identification cross gendered/social boundaries and hit a core emotional level in all of us regardless of gender?

        Also, I would like to make it very clear from your statement of:
        “I, for one, don’t think it is appropriate that an ally would walk into the kitchen (one who “true radicals” like Mary Daly would not have invited in) and show me the shame of my nakedness or otherwise assess the quality of my “purity,” that I identify as a radical male queer feminist. I do not identify as an ally. And if you say that I “cannot” or “could not” then the hierarchy that you are talking about that I created is recreated in your argument and you are the one now going around telling someone “You are not a feminist because…”

        This type of blame game or accusatory manner is a two-way street in which no one wins. But like with your metaphor, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Radical feminis dialogue is hot. It’s infuriating and sometimes it makes one questions their most inner beliefs as we have shown here. However, it is because of these dialogues and the “hotness” of the kitchen that we discover new ways together rather than apart.

        I wish I could have this dialogue with you over a cup of coffee and not on a blog because I wish to truly tell you that I appreciate your comments and even though we disagree please know that I am not offended and I hope that I have not offended you in the process.


      • Hi John,
        Well, this may be a bit off the mark now that other diligent responders have caught up the main point of your post to begin with… However, I’d like to thank you for your response to my post and try to make clearer the object of my initial response. When I pointed to the difference between radical and liberal (and conservative) cultural practices, I was trying to look at a historical line of delineating those terms; one of not only political leanings/lifestyle – “multiple [identities] working for a whole change” (per an earlier response of yours), but one connected to a whole line of Anglo-national associations acquired through war and post-war relationships, architecture, literature and other methods of the general dissemination of western patriarchal standpoints. In other words, I was pointing to the intense complexity of the political body (as in person, not group) which the terms “radical” and “liberal” attempt to describe – one which, I might point out, even Žižek does not impose on with an artificial hierarchy. This hierarchy, the view of one position (radical) as the “true calling” of feminists, is your construction (granted one shared by many activists), but is nevertheless one which is in-addition-to the patriarchal discourse already hanging over the heads of so many women, or in fewer words: an individual assertion of authority and yes, a male authority passing judgment on a woman’s exercise of voice.
        I found your question quite valid, “Is feminist identity intricately tied to female biology (read: vagina) or as a way of life that men and women can embody together?” and the answer is yes and yes. As a liberative dialogue, the eventual aim of feminism seems to be one of transformation where men and women can relate differently or “embody [feminism] together.” Yet, is there an alternative outlook available to males – one which both denies and celebrates patriarchy as inherited right – that differs from the conditioning a female experiences? Of course there is. Creating a feminist community is not about denying our differences. This was why I brought up the issue of the black goddess in Mary Daly’s work, because all feminists have to deal with the kinds of power they wield. In some ways, my aim was a gesture of community: comparing your sweater metaphor to Mary Daly’s introduction – a way of saying that yes, I see that you are a feminist and that all feminists face one type of challenge or another with the execution of their projects. And also yes, it was also a way of pointing out what I saw as insipient Patriarchy within the mode of your communication – the general difficulty of the radical standpoint to regard other positions as relevant or transformative, combined with a very poorly chosen metaphor about accessorizing. In a later response you wrote: “The only thing I ask you do is to “Own It.” Own your identity” as though a liberal feminist was, again, discarding her identity like a sweater as though that identity was easily purchased. And more, that the liberalism within her feminism was a fundamental contradiction to the nature of feminism? Carol Christ’s comment on “radical” and “liberal” points to a difference in perception and approaches that I admit I am somewhat inclined to disagree with. However, your comment names the correct and incorrect, the true and untrue –it’s a matter of imposing a false dichotomy which is reductive of all of feminism and ahistorical.
        In your response you asked “Would the statement hurt less if a woman were to say to you: “You’re not feminist enough!” or does this intricately bound identification cross gendered/social boundaries and hit a core emotional level in all of us regardless of gender?” First off, it’s possible that you misunderstood my analogy of standing naked in the kitchen as a factor of vulnerability. What I was trying to do was celebrate a moment of supposed indecency of a woman’s body embodying a multiplicity of responses and strategies. You seem to think that I was “hurt” and asked me if that “hurt” was mitigated by the gender of my critic. I noticed the other time you used this term was to describe your feelings after having been “ripped to shreds” by radical feminists (“I was hurt at the time…”) and can only guess that your intention was empathy – a moment of a kind of powerlessness/rejection we both share in reaching the same “core emotional level.” So let me get this clear – My response was emotional? By critiquing the relationship of a person to their own power, I’m not engaging another scholar – I’m being emotional. Examine your response. Even if your intention was not to condescend, your language places me in a long line of “let’s not get emotional.” Later on you offered to sit down over coffee, but in another response you wrote: “If someone has a problem with it, then I am always here to listen and have a good cup of coffee with but no one can tell me how to identify, just like I cannot as well.” So in other words, your final lines were conciliatory? You wanted to make me feel better? Because logical discourse “just won’t work?” Let me take this moment to politely decline.
        I’m certainly not trying to be another arbiter of rejection; heaven knows feminists need more men to identify as queer radical feminists, which sometimes means putting up with a whole lot more than “you’re not feminist enough.” But as a white feminist (which is one of the many identities I am forced to own on a daily basis whether or not I always want to), I have learned that sometimes my voice is oppressive, even when I think I am saying the same thing a black feminist is saying. Exclusion is not always a matter of hierarchy, as you suggest. (“And if you say that I “cannot” or “could not” then the hierarchy that you are talking about that I created is recreated in your argument and you are the one now going around telling someone “You are not a feminist because…””) “Hierarchy” refers to actual structural regimens of order such as patriarchy, which feminism has worked hard to dent. Nowadays it’s used as a rhetorical device – another form of ridicule against “hypocritical feminists” when they’re only trying to say they can speak for themselves.
        I’m not offended. I never was. When I attended my first conference in Grad School, I realized that listening was a difficult skill that I was going to have to learn fast if I was going to become a professor one day because, damn, it’s harder than it looks…


  8. I think it is safe to say, that throughout history, pregnancy has been deadly for women. Men take no risk forcing their penis into a woman’s vagina, and in fact what males consider sex is exactly the same act that is considered rape.

    And the ideal naturally, is for critical mass of women worldwide simply saying no forever to male sexual invasion of their bodies. And an end to the 24/7 heterosexual indoctrination machine that makes women so afraid to choose to be lesbians in the first place. And this is a choice for a huge percentage of women.

    What I wonder is why men don’t create their own spaces to study Mary Daly, rather than taking up valuable classroom time away from women who want to study together? Why bother disrupting women’s powerful conversation? What is preventing a male only Mary Daly philosophy class at Claremont or other theology schools?

    Radical feminism is about putting all one’s energy into women’s liberation, and our overthrow of patriarchy– the rape culture, the forced PIV, the horror that is male gynecological practice.

    Even women who are feminists are afraid of this, there is always the fudging…ok some men are ok, but really men need to take full responsibility for their own education in feminism.

    Telling isn’t it that so few men took Mary Daly up on her offer to educated men separately. I’ve seen a few things online from a few men who did study with Mary privately. But the truth is, men are afraid of radical feminism taken to its full power, just as most women are. To hedge your bets within male supremacy is just too tempting… and women fear a very radical uncompromising stance a lot of the time.

    Are we meeting enough women and bringing the radical feminist message to them? Do women have enough time to educate men, when our feminist resources are spread so thin? And if men want to study feminism, shouldn’t they pay a huge price for this, say $450 an hour, or as much as a corporate titan gets per hour? What if women’s powerful discoveries cost that much? As a man, what would you actually pay? And no, whatever you are paying for this education does not compensate women for the sacrifice we have made to found radical feminism. Nor does it honor the sacrifices Mary Daly made to stand her ground and educate women, and keep the wolves out of the sheep’s pen. No matter how well intentioned a man may be, I think taking up space in our classes is just not right at all.


  9. What is anti-male about women wanting our own space? What is anti-male about not wanting males in a classroom, when we know they might be rapists, we know they might be viewing porn? Was it anti-white to be a black nationalist? Was it anti to want freedom from tyranny?

    I want a space free of male domination, and I don’t ever want to compromise with men over issues of my liberation. And no, you can’t share my space, because you are the oppressor, and I don’t negotiate with terrorists ever.


  10. I try to have 100% control over my space in all ways. That means, in my off time, I can choose a life centered around women. I choose not to associate with men in my free time, because I don’t want to compromise on the radical notion that I am free, and I don’t want to hang with the oppressor ever.

    Ideally, I’d like a job in my field free of men as well. That’s how strongly I feel about freedom from the oppressor, and I get disgusted every time I see men in women’s studies classes or taking these jobs away from women on campuses. Women’s studies is by for and about women, the rest of the world is one big MEN’S studies program!! Go, educate men, teach them, leave me out of it.


  11. Hi John, thanks for your post. I have no doubt that you and I agree when it comes to the political/legal question of abortion/women’s rights. It seems as if we both think that laws should (continue to) exist that give women 100% control over their own bodies, especially regarding pregnancy. However, I was deeply troubled by the following sentences in your post:

    “I also do not believe that he should have any say whether he is her partner, spouse, husband, boyfriend, hook-up, or whatever symbolic term men often use to make a woman feel like she is suppose to ask for his opinion or be guilted into going through with a pregnancy even though she may not want to.”

    My problem is twofold. First, you seem to present the issue as if the opinions of the partner (or boyfriend, spouse, fiance, etc.) are always negatively oriented to those of the woman’s. In other words, let’s say that my partner becomes pregnant and she does not want to have the child. But she is having a difficult time with this decision. Can I not offer her support? I might tell her that she is right to consider that facts that having the child would be very burdensome on our financial situation, that her (hypothetically preexisting) health issues are perhaps more important, etc.

    Second, I don’t think it is fair to overlook the cooperative nature of raising a child that is present in many relationships. Surely her decision will have a great effect on both of our lives. While I agree with you that I should not have any legal agency in the matter, I disagree with you that I should not have any say as to whether or not my partner goes through with the pregnancy. Sure, it is not my decision. But it is philosophically troublesome to assume that one (the woman in this case) can make such a decision completely detached from those elements in life (in this case – me, her family, friends, etc.) which have great pull and influence on her as a person. We all seek the advice of those we care about when working our way through serious decisions; it seems impossible to do so otherwise.


  12. John, thank you very much for this post. I must admit that autobiography of identity is one of my favorite kinds of narratives to read and I deeply appreciate your contribution to an understanding of how a male feminist identity can be constructed. And the awesome part about blogging is that I get to be totally nosy and ask “I’m still curious why this and not that?”

    In an earlier discussion thread you mentioned that you are a “radical queer feminist” and not an “ally.” You touched a bit of this in class (and darn it, I missed talking to you after class to ask you more about this question in person). I would like to hear more about why you rejected ally so thoroughly.

    The question of “queer” v. “ally” is one that I have thought about in my own identity for a long time. Goodness knows that my politics of questioning gender and sexual norms in culture, desire to have a sex-positive environment, global avocation for equal rights for LGBTQQIA people, recognition of the violence that comes into play when crossing cultural gendered norms, enjoyment of gender-bending, and exploration of the heteronormative-washing that is imposed upon our canonical texts make me feel very much like a queer individual.

    Yet even though that lens forms how I see the world, I still claim the identity of ally over queer in large part because of a willingness to recognize my heteronormative privilege as a person attracted to the opposite gender. In fact, the reason I could not easily identify as queer”was because I recognized in the end it would be a choice for me. For all my sympathetic and passionate avocation for equality, I cannot undo the fact that I will not received with any kind of violence or rejection by the world because of my partner.

    So if not ally, may I be so curious (and very possibly rude) as to ask how do you navigate your male privilege as a radical feminist? I ask in large part because I would very much like to hear from someone in a parallel position of being deeply committed to a cause of equality, but not someone that personally experiences that injustice.



    • Hi Ruth!

      See I told you I would respond, just took me a while.

      Wow! What a great question and one that I find very difficult to answer. I must say I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time.

      I want to make sure I answer your entire post so I am going to go through the questions one by one:

      “Yet even though that lens forms how I see the world, I still claim the identity of ally over queer in large part because of a willingness to recognize my heteronormative privilege as a person attracted to the opposite gender. In fact, the reason I could not easily identify as queer”was because I recognized in the end it would be a choice for me. For all my sympathetic and passionate avocation for equality, I cannot undo the fact that I will not received with any kind of violence or rejection by the world because of my partner.”

      I think you summed it up very well when you said, “You could not identify as queer because you chose so.” I think the issue of choice is very interesting within this discussion. Do we chose to be who we are or do we become it? (an issue not easily solved within this discussion obviously)

      I think when we discover our positionality within the social, political, and sexual contexts we are placed in we begin to mold the person we are/will become. Whereas you do not feel it is a choice for you to identify as queer I believe it is a choice and the right choice for me to identify as a radical queer male feminist.

      Is it all choice? Do personal beliefs play a part? Sure, but the spiritual side of me believes we become who we are suppose to become because of some type of divine grace. I believe I was always meant to be a “radical queer male feminist.” It was a path and way of life I embraced, pushed against, and slowly molded with my own. Hey, if I would have listened to my parents, I would be in Medical school right now. But I felt something deep and personal that day when I walked out of my Plant Biology class. I felt it again as I switched my major to Women’s Studies. I feel it everyday I fight for a better world for individuals from all walks of life.

      Now, how does my privilege as a white man come into play? How do I negotiate it? If you review an earlier blog entry I made on this site it might answer more of your questions than I can here but I always position myself with my male privilege in terms of my radical queer identity.

      I talked with Dr. Kao about this at the WSR salon following our class last week. Although I may be able to pass and perform as a white straight male, the moment I speak, I “show my hand” so to speak. Other white, straight men (or just straight men in general) notice that I no longer am “one of them” but rather an outsider. Although I can pass, the moment I speak, the power I had while I was passing, is gone partly. (Note: I am not stating that ALL my power is gone but the power I am left with is one I still have to negotiate within the context of radical feminism)

      I am vulnerable. I am weak. It is within these contexts that I begin to discover the power and passion that radical feminism makes me feel. For me, while I may have “shown my hand,” to the male-world, I began to craft a new identity. The is an identity where I mold my queer identity with my radical feminist beliefs that make me feel a part of something more.

      I also wanted to talk about how in class a male student once said that “men feel patriarchy the same way as women.” I tried to pull this line once in a feminist course I had at another school. In a room with radical feminists, I was, to say the least, ripped to shreds. Although I was hurt at the time, they made me realize that I, do not, and it was within this outsider context that I began to work my way into feminism to mold an identity in which I write about own experiences in contrast to patriarchy and no longer identify on “traditional radical feminist” terms but rather ones that I created and defined myself.

      I identify as a radical queer male feminist become it is one that is unique to me and me alone, whereas everyone else’s identity, in the context to feminism, either radical or not, is different also. We are NOT all one identity but rather multiple ones working for a whole change. I feel completely comfortable defining myself within these terms. If someone has a problem with it, then I am always here to listen and have a good cup of coffee with but no one can tell me how to identify, just like I cannot as well.

      If you want to identify as an ally then that is great. If you want to identify as a queer feminist, then hey, I say more power to you. The only thing I ask you do is to “Own It.” Own your identity. Work it into your life. Mold it into your being. Be comfortable with you who are because for those of us who have struggled with our own identities for a long time, an identity is not a performance but a way of survival. And to me, that survival is integrally connected identifying as a radical queer male feminist.


  13. Interesting discussions. On the question of liberal feminist I don’t think it means un-radical , but it usually means not questioning the enlightenment liberal tradition, asking for women’s rights — for example being for women’s full participation in the military but not questioning the military itself. Radical feminist to me has meant questioning down to the “root” of the problem in ways of thinking that that are also found in the enlightenment traditions of rights.

    On working with men or having women’s spaces, I don’t think this needs to be an either-or. In other words I agree with Daly that it is important for women to be with other women for spinning and sparking and hearing each other into speech. This is why I do not have men on my Goddess tours. I agree with Daly that for some women the presence of a man, esp a man who is uncomfortable with too much women’s stuff or too much anger or whatever, willo lead some women to cater to them rather than searching inside themselves for their own opinions and feelings. However, this does not have to be an absolute separation. One can love women’s spaces and also love men and be part of mixed groups. It does not have to be an either – or.

    Many of my classes ended up being women only and often a very special feeling developed. This was not changed by having one feminist man in the class if the man was sensitive and was there more to hear what women have to say than to exercise his own ego. On the other hand, I have had men in my classes who have inhibited discussion, I think of one who thought he was feminist but who felt he had to express what he called “the man’s point of view” in response to every single statement made by women in the class. I can imagine that at BC where most students are catholic this problem could have been intense if one or more good catholic boys felt he had to speak for the jesuits or the pope every time mary opened her mouth.


  14. Thinking about some of the comments I read here yesterday, I think some of the women may be missing the point. Of course women should have the CHOICE to consult their partners and any other significant men in their lives before making a decision to continue a pregnancy or not. And if they CHOOSE they can ask their priest or rabbi or psychologist or doctor or anyone else. The point for me is that a woman should not be required by church or state to do so and that after she consults whomever she wishes to (OR NOT), she and they should still understand that THE FINAL DECISION IS HERS, BECAUSE IT IS HER BODY!!!


    • I agree. Thank you for clearing that up. However, I am not sure that this is what John is supporting in his post, but I could be wrong. It was a little unclear to me.


      • Jeff,
        Without sounding too radical, sure, why not talk about it with a man. I will say though only in relation to my own personal experiences involving these types of situations: the men who were involved in these conversations with their wives/girlfriends/hookups/etc no longer saw the discussion as “woman asking for a man’s opinion” because his vision was blurred by the fact that it was his child within his wife/girlfriends/hooksup’s body.

        It is a difficult choice and one that should not be made alone (as shown by Cynthia’s great comment) but I honestly think that the results might be better for women’s lives and women’s voices if it were asked amongst a community of women rather than alone and with a man. Now you might not like that opinion based on your own personal/ethical/moral beliefs and I respect that.

        Can men truly get past what Daly calls their “obsession with their own immortality?” I think that we do have men who can, as shown by the women throughout this blog that have strong and effective partnerships with their husbands, but that realist side of me doesn’t believe men, as a social whole, are able to do this.

        The whole matter is a personal choice. If you chose to have the abortion with or without the male or if you chose to include his voice within your decision. My point is that I don’t think men should have any say whatsoever. But that is my choice, just like it is the choice to agree with me or not. :)


  15. Hi John- should I say ” you go bro!” Very proud that someone from your social location, can have such strong and passionate feelings for women and their bodies. I completely agree, that it is a woman’s choice. I just can’t help and think of my husband though when it comes to making the choice to abort a potential child. I can’t help but feel he would be so abominably ticked off (for lack of better words!) that I did not include him in my decsicion making process. So, my feelings though in alignment with yours, that it is usually a woman’s choice, because it is her body, I think the situation should be taking into consideration. If there is a spouse or partner involved that’s in it for the long run, I think the choice does belong to both–since after all the other party was involved in “creating”. However, and this is a big caveat, if the woman was raped, or was in a “hook-up” situation, or in a loveless marriage,partnership etc. anything that shouuld make the woman feel that she would not be supported by the other creator of the baby, than I absolutely think it is her sole discretion. Thank you John.


  16. I wish to be as concise as possible and skip over all of the twenty dollar words and phrases we use to sound overly polite when we disagree with someone’s views and just go for it:
    This entire argument feels contrived. I feel the author wanted to write something “edgy” and felt he somehow needed to “prove” how feminist he is and so he blogged what he knew would be a controversial view in one of the most brashly offensive ways possible. It is not, however, his fault. If you’re upset, blame Daly. After all, these are apparently all her ideas. Isn’t it fun how many times he reminds you that he’s only restating what Daly said?
    But that can’t be right–he can’t just be parroting another scholar because, after all, his ideas are so radical.
    In case you missed it–he’s radical. Did you catch it? Radical. Radical. Maverick. Oh, sorry….wrong overused word. I meant radical.


    • Dear “Critical of Bad Posts,”
      Your response is rude, contrived, and frankly in bad taste. This is a site for academic discussion not insults, bad behavior, or bullying behind a name like: “Critical of Bad Posts.” If you wish to bully people without divulging who you are or your position within feminism that is your choice but please keep it off a site where people are serious about scholarship, activism, and promoting healthy dialogue.


    • Dear Critical of Bad Posts: Please note our comment policy. The purpose of this site is to create dialogue and expand borders. Your comment, as well as your chosen identity, do not contribute to this overall mission.

      While I disagree that your comment qualifies as “cyber-bullying,” I do think it crossed a line and offered little value to this discussion. While there will certainly be disagreements and constructive criticism is welcome, mean-spirited comments are not acceptable. My hope is that you will consider contributing to discussions in the future and offer sincere comments and thoughts in a respectful manner that contribute to the overall dialogue.


  17. Also, you might want to consult a lawyer before you start cyber bullying someone especially on online forums. It is ILLEGAL in California and you can be prosecuted. Please keep your cyber bullying, cyber harassment, and bad form off of this site where people are trying to participate in serious discussion.



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