Radical feminism is the only solution to men’s ongoing ‘sexual misconduct’

Radical feminism challenges us to be better than our patriarchal culture asks of us — to reject patriarchy’s glorification of control, conquest, and aggression.

“I’m not surprised,” women say, in response to the flood of revelations of sexual “misconduct” by men, especially men in positions of power.

But none of us — women or men — should be surprised, because the United States is a patriarchal society and in patriarchy men routinely claim the right to own or control women’s bodies for reproduction and sexual pleasure. Men — liberal and conservative — know that just as well as women.

In such a society, conservative and liberal men will often disagree in public about the conditions under which they can rightly claim ownership. Conservative men argue for control of women within the heterosexual family. Liberal men argue for more expansive access to women. In public, the policy debates about reproductive rights and sexual access rage on. In private, conservative and liberal men claim their “right” to do as they please, which is why women sometimes find it difficult to tell conservative and liberal men apart when it comes to behavior.

What kind of world has that produced? A sexually corrosive pop culture (both in dating practices and mediated images), with expanding sexual exploitation industries (primarily prostitution and pornography), and routine sexual intrusion (the spectrum from sexual harassment to sexual assault). Women are routinely objectified in pop culture, reducing complex human beings to body parts for male pleasure. Men routinely buy and sell those objectified bodies for sexual pleasure, in person and on screens. And when men believe they can take those bodies without challenge, some men do just that.

Male or female, we should not be surprised when in a patriarchal society — a society based on institutionalized male dominance — men exercise that dominance. Of course patriarchy is not static nor unidimensional, nor is it the only system of illegitimate authority. Patriarchy in 2017 is not exactly the same as in 1917; patriarchy in the United States is not the same as patriarchy in Saudi Arabia. Race, class, religion, and nation affect how patriarchy plays out in a specific time and place.

Patriarchy also is not immune to challenge. Feminism makes gains, patriarchy pushes back, and the struggle continues. Women advance in business, politics, and education, and men assert their control over women’s bodies where they can get away with it.

Radical feminism is the term for that component of the second wave of feminism (in the United States, the phase of the movement that emerged in the 1960s) that most directly confronts men’s sexual exploitation of women. In the three decades that I have been involved in radical feminist projects, this analysis has become more useful than ever in explaining an increasingly corrosive society, the mainstreaming of sexual exploitation, and the epidemic levels of sexual intrusion.

Yet both conservatives and liberals routinely dismiss radical feminism as dangerous, out of date, irrelevant. Why would an analysis that offers a compelling explanation of social trends be ignored? My experience suggests that it’s precisely because of the power of the radical feminist analysis that it is avoided. U.S. society is unwilling, or unable, to confront the pathology of patriarchy, a system of illegitimate authority woven so deeply into the fabric of everyday life that many people are afraid of naming it, let alone confronting it.

I remember clearly my first exposure to radical feminist ideas, when I was 30 years old, in the late 1980s. I knew that the women making these arguments, specifically about men’s exploitation of women in and through pornography, had to be crazy — because if they weren’t crazy, I not only would have to rethink what I had learned about the sex/gender system in patriarchy but also change my own behavior. But radical feminism wore me down — with evidence and compelling arguments, along with an undeniable emotional honesty. Once I let myself listen carefully, radical feminism not only explained the oppression of girls and women but also helped me understand why I had never felt I could live up to the pathological standards of masculinity in patriarchy.

I had been taught that feminism — especially radical feminism — was a threat to men. I came to understand that it is a gift to us. Not the kind of gift that makes one feel warm and fuzzy but instead challenges us to be better than our patriarchal culture asks of us, to reject patriarchy’s glorification of control, conquest, and aggression.

I’m about to turn 60, and the half of my life lived with a feminist analysis has not always been easy, nor have I magically overcome all my flaws. But radical feminism allowed me to stop worrying about how to be a “real man” and start figuring out how to be a decent person.

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men, and Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully. He can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu or through his website: robertwjensen.org. To join his email list, visit: thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html.

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  • Freegoddess

    Thank you for all that you’re doing, Robert. Now, let’s raise the stakes for men. If they continue to oppress women, we must associate this behaviour with a cost that is unacceptable to them. I’d love to see women collectively stop all domestic work everywhere. Everything except childcare tasks would be abandoned. That would just be the beginning.

    • susannunes

      Just don’t live with men. Period.

      • Amy

        That’s my personal choice, but for the women who do live with a man, a show of female solidarity like Freegoddess suggests is a great start

        • Dana

          And if the men they live with are particularly horrible, they’ll be beaten or worse for not doing anything around the house.

          Also, if you’re *not* living with a man, and you don’t clean your own house, you’re going to wind up disgusted with yourself and possibly sick sooner or later.

          We need to work harder to teach girls and women to live independently. Enough of this focus-only-on-abortion-and-woo-woo bullshit, start teaching girls how to manage money and teach them self-defense moves and maybe even how to properly handle a gun*. (I said “maybe.” A certain contingent of FC readers likes to shit themselves any time someone suggests something like this–spare me, please, we’ve all heard it.) And for crying out loud stop trying to destroy one another. Women run straight into the arms of men because other women treat them like the enemy. From mom and sis to man-sniping best friend right on down to cranky co-workers and even those ridiculous libfems who prioritize MTTs over their own political sisterhood. Enough already.

          I’m heterosexual but honestly if women had been better friends to me over the years, my life would have been SO different. And I don’t mean get together and talk about makeup and guys either. Apply the Bechdel Test to your own life. No matter what they’re calling it now.

          —–
          [*Yes, I know some female gun owners wind up dead from some guy using their own gun against them. I also know the USA does not require extensive firearms safety training in order to qualify someone to own a gun. We need to teach one another a sense of self-preservation and basic safety awareness and not those stupid avoid-rape checklists they pass around the internet either. Real in-person teaching. Consciousness-raising groups again, maybe. Something.]

  • Zoë Lafantaisie

    Wonderful – thank you!

  • FierceMild

    Thank you, Mr. Jensen, for speaking out in solidarity with women. I would especially like to recognize you for choosing to seek justice because it is right and for doing so long before this moment of public acknowledgement of systematic injustice to women.

  • Macarons & Sakura Tea

    Kudos to you, Mr. Jensen. You have my utmost respect.

  • therealcie

    Thank you, Robert, for being thoughtful about your own actions and for being brave enough to do what’s right.

  • shy virago

    I like the last line “stop worrying about how to be a real man, and start figuring out how to be a decent person’.

  • BornACrone

    Radical feminism is the only solution to whether we will continue to exist on this planet.

  • MermaidJayne

    This was wonderful. At first I thought it was written by a woman because I didn’t check the author byline. Also because I’ve only seen truthful analysis of radical feminism/patriachy/sexism from women only. It was only by the end that I realised it was written by a man.
    Which speaks volumes about your thoughts and content since there’s a lack of defensiveness/wanting to stand up for feminism but not really/superficial male feminism. And also shows that if men really wanted to get it, its possible.
    Cheers and thanks for the solidarity.

  • Omzig Online

    I am very glad the trans cult hasn’t managed to get Mr. Jensen fired or no-platformed, though I’m sure they have tried. I’ve read a few nasty opinion pieces about him from liberal “feminists,” but he remains relatively unscathed and gainfully employed at UT Austin. This is most likely due to the fact that he is male.

    Still, I am very glad to hear his voice in feminism. And I really, really appreciate the considerable risks he takes every time he speaks out against patriarchy, porn, prostitution, and the trans cult.

  • Topazthecat

    John Lennon is a great example of people can change and are not fixed to be a certain way as a man or a woman.Yoko changed John into a much better person as a pro-feminist man and the feminist changes *are* for the better, and many pro-feminist men have recognized this too! They say it has freed them and allowed them to develop and express more of all of the shared common *human* traits,emotions,behaviors,abilities and reduce and prevent male violence against women and children etc. Definitions of “masculine” and “feminine” differ across time periods, and in different societies.

    John Lennon is a great example of how feminism changing limited artificial gender definitions and roles,changed him for the much better. John as a child and teenager had a lot of traumas that permanently psychologically damaged him,but because of his and Yoko’s beautiful loving relationship,and as he said she was a feminist before he met her,(and he said that because she was a feminist before he met her,they were going to have to have a 50/50 equal relationship which he never had before) he went in to primal scream therapy and Yoko went with him and he dealt with all of his pain and anger for the very first time at age 29. When John was a young guy,he was often drunk getting into fist fights with men,hitting women,and womanizing including cheating on his girlfriends and then his first wife Cynthia.Of course Paul,George and Ringo did the same with all of the groupies all 4 of them had while touring from 1963-1966. I hadn’t watched these Mike Douglas shows in years until December 2010 when it was the 30th anniversary of John’s tragic crazy murder by the crazy horrible piece of sh*t that had been a huge Beatles fan since he was 11,and John had been his faviorite Beatle and gave him an autograph on his new album for him only a few hours before he shot John 5 times and killed John right in front of Yoko .

    Out of the 5 Mike Douglas shows that John and Yoko co-hosted for a week that was taped in January 1972 and aired in February,a young criminal lawyer Rena Uviller(she went on to become a Supreme Court Judge) who worked with juveniles was on, and she,Mike Douglas,John and Yoko were discussing the then very recent women’s liberation movement. George Carlin was on too. Rena said,she agrees with Yoko,that the idea of Women’s lib is to liberate all of us,and she said ,I mean we could talk hours on the way men really suffer under the sex role definitions.Yoko agreed with what she said too. Rena said that men don’t really realize they have only to gain from Women’s Lib,and that she thinks that maybe with a little more propaganda we can convince them. John then said,yeah there is a lot to gain from it,just the fact that you can relax and not have to play that male role,he said we can do that,and he said that I can be weak,( but notice how then in a male dominated gender divided,gender stereotyped,sexist society,and even unfortunately still now in a lot of ways,the “female” role was defined as the weak one,and the male role as the strong one) I don’t have to protect her all the time and play you know that super hero,I don’t have to play that,she allows me to be weak sometimes and for me to cry,and for her to be the strong one,and for me to be the weak one. John then said,and it really is a great relief,after 28 years of trying to be tough,you know trying to show them,I don’t give a da*n and I’m this and I’m that,to be able to relax.and just be able to say,OK I’m no tough guy forget it.

    Rena then said,I think in some funny way,I think girls even as children,have a greater lattitude because a little girl can be sort of frilly and feminine or she can be a tomboy and it’s acceptable,but a little boy if he’s not tossing that football,there’s a lot of pressure on him.John said,there’s a lot of pressure,not to show emotion,and he said that there was a lot of pressure on me not to be an artist,to be a chemist and he said he discussed this on another Mike Douglas episode. Rena said that unfortunately some of the leaders in the Women’s Liberation movement fall victim to being spokesmen,for Women’s Lib, and yet at least in public personality they seem to really have a certain amount of contempt for the hair curled housewife and there is a kind of sneering contempt,and she said I think it’s a measure of their own lack of liberation.And Yoko said it’s snobbery,and Rena said yeah,they really don’t like other women,but I’m sympathetic,and Mike Douglas then said a sexist woman-hating statement,saying,well women don’t like other women period. Rena said,no see that’s very unliberated and Yoko said, in response to what Mike Douglas said,that’s not true,that’s not true.And John said,you see they are brought up to compete with men.

    Yoko said that even though in Japan they say they don’t have much of a woman problem and women already had some liberation,there is still a long way to go that she really agrees with Rena that so many female liberation movement people basically hate women,and we have to first start to understand women and love them whether they are housewives or not,and she said that snobbery is very bad and we have to somehow find out a way to co-existing with men,and she asked Rena don’t you think so and she said most definitely. George Carlin said,that actually many successful women are acting out male roles just like a lot of blacks think they escaped are acting out white roles.John also said that he thinks that women have to try twice as hard as to make it as men,and he said you know they have to be on their toes much more than a man.

    On another Mike Douglas episode from the same week,former actress and acclaimed film maker Barbara Loden was on and Yoko had requested her as a guest.John asked her ,Did you have any problems working with the men,you know like giving them instructions and things like that and Barbara said,I did, but I think it was because I was afraid that they would not accept what I said,and I wasn’t quite that authoritative in my own self.John said it’s certainly a brave thing to do,and Yoko said it is. Mike Douglas asked Yoko if John’s attitude had changed much towards her since The Female Liberation Movement,and at first Yoko says John’s attitude from the beginning was the same,and that they met on that level.John then says,twice, I was a male chauvinist and Yoko says,yes he was a male chauvinist but,and then John says,Can I say how you taught me,and Yoko says yes.John says,How I did it in my head was,would I ask Paul or George,or would I treat them the way I would treat a woman? John then said,it’s a very simple thing maybe it’s fetch that or do that ,and I started thinking if I said that to them,they’d say come on get it yourself,and if you put your wife or your girl friend in the position of your best friend,and say now would I say that to him,then you know when you’re treading on some delicate feelings.

    Mike Douglas said years later that after this week of John and Yoko co-hosting his show,many young people who had never watched his show before,(and his main audience was middle America and people older than their 20’s and even mostly their 30’s) told him they loved the show,and that it was great and his ratings went up high for those shows.Even if John didn’t always live up to his feminist ideals and beliefs in his personal life,(although he did with Yoko because of her and this why and how he emotionally evolved into a caring,nurturing,house husband and father to Yoko and Sean),just the fact that he spoke out as a man in support of the feminist movement on a popular TV show back in early 1972 when most of the sexist male dominated woman-hating society looked down at it and considered it crazy which in some ways it’s still unfortunately wrongly misunderstood(and it’s really the male dominated,sexist,woman-hating society that has always been so wrong and crazy!),and the fact that John was (and still is) greatly admired and influential to many young people male and female,he did *a lot* to legitimize it and show it was rational,reasonable,needed and right!

    A few months later he was performing Woman Is The Ni**er Of The World on The Dick Cavett Show and then months after that live in Madison Square Garden. In his very last radio interview done by Dave Sholin etc from RKO Radio just hours before he was tragically shot and killed, John said I’m more feminist now than I was when I sang Woman Is The N**ger,I was intellectually feminist then but now I feel as though at least I’ve put not my own money,but my body where my mouth is and I’m living up to my own preachings as it were. He also said what is this BS men are this way, women are that way,we’re all human.He had also said that he comes from the macho school of pretense of course *all* men really are they are just too conditioned all of their lives to realize and admit it.And he said that men are trained to be like they are in the army,and that it’s more like that in England but he knows it’s this way over here too,he said that they are taught as boys and men don’t react,don’t feel,don’t cry,and he said he thinks that’s what screwed us all up and that he thinks it’s time for a change. John also said in his last radio interview,isn’t about time that we destroyed the macho ethic? And he then said where has it gotten us all of these thousands of years? Are we still going to have to be clubbing each other to death? He then asked,do i have to arm wrestle you to have a relationship with you as another male? Can we not have a relationship on some other level?

    https://www.thenation.com/article/lennons-last-interview-sixties-showed-us-possibility/

    Barbara Graystark of Newsweek interviewed John September 1980 and part of what she said to John is,You’ve come a long way from the man who wrote at 23,”Women should be obscene rather than heard.” And she asks John how did this happen? And John said that he was a working-class macho guy who was used to being served and Yoko didn’t buy that. John then said that from the day he met Yoko,she demanded equal time,equal space,equal rights. He said that he said to Yoko then,don’t expect him to change in any way and don’t impinge on his space. John said that Yoko said to him then she can’t be here because there’s no space where you are everything revolves around him and that she can’t breath in that atmosphere. John then says in this interview that he’s thankful to her for the ( meaning feminist education.)

    http://www.beatlesinterviews.org/db1980.0929.beatles.html

  • Second Waver

    Radical feminism says it like it is. It lays out bare the reality of patriarchy and what it does to women. We need to radicalise feminism, go back to the second wave. Make it about women, and women only again- without being called ‘exclusionary’ or some such nonsense.
    I have great respect for Prof Jensen’s work he is amazing.