Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction

Radical Feminism

Summary, Chapter 2

Charlotte L. Graham


In Rosemarie Putnam Tong's survey of feminist theory, Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction, she uses chapter two to describe the perspective of radical feminism. She divides this category into camps, the radical-libertarian feminists and the radical-cultural feminists, and then shows how two parties with the same basic theory and goal can have startling differences and multiple conflicts in pursuit of this goal.

Tong defines a radical feminist as one who "insist(s) the sex/gender system is the fundamental cause of women's oppression." (p. 46) Unlike the liberal feminists who work within the system for change, the radical feminists want a new system altogether. The current state of affairs promotes a sexism which "is the first, most widespread,...deepest form of human oppression," so it must be changed. (p. 47)

Despite their agreement about the cause and general solution of women's oppression, Tong illustrates two very different methods for achieving this state. The radical-libertarian feminists wish to do away with the concept of femininity and its accompanying reproductive, mothering and sexual roles. They aim for an androgenous society which combines both masculine and feminine characteristics for the individual as well as for society. The radical-cultural feminists, however, reject masculinity as a desirable quality and encourage women to embrace femaleness only. Women should emphasize traits culturally associated with women and deemphasize traits culturally associated with men.

These two approaches for creating a new system often are at odds with each other over the application of their theory. Tong discusses their conflicting ideas about sex, reproduction and mothering. The radical-libertarians advocate all forms of sexual expression and freedom as long sexual pleasure is achieved for all parties. They find both heterosexual and lesbian relationships acceptable and consider any form of sexual restrictions to be cruel. Pornography is seen as a way for females to control female sexuality. On the other hand, the radical-cultural feminists see male sexuality as flawed.

This means that lesbian relationships are prefered as only lesbians are capable of consensual sex. Pornography is seen as a way for males to control female sexuality.

When it comes to reproduction and mothering, radical-libertarian feminists see reproduction as women's main weakness. They are against biological motherhood and the sooner all reproduction can be done artificially the better. They see no biological imperative for reproduction and propose the possibility that motherhood is a misplaced attempt to fullfill ego needs. In direct opposition to this, radical-cultural feminists see reproduction as a woman's main sourse of power (this is why men are always trying to control it) and advocate natural procreation. It is the institution of motherhood as controlled by men that is bad, not motherhood itself. If women could be mothers on their own terms, everything would be great.

Tong ends chapter two with a critique of radical feminism. This theory of women is shown to be ensnared by rigid roles and stereotypes which ignore the flaws of women. It is also described as being ahistorical by social feminists which sets up the transition into the third chapter.