The OCR DCT A2 specification lists body, difference and androgyny as the issues that you should consider within your study of radical and naturalist feminism.
You also need to know about Post-Christian feminism and alternative Christianity - both of which could be also described as 'radical'. There is a separate page for the theological radicals.
Radical feminists are concerned with many of the same issues as reconstructionists and liberals. Rosemarie Tong suggests that radicals are much more interested than either liberal or reconstructionists in the ways men have controlled:
Radicals also (as the name suggests) tend to propose more extreme solutions to the problems faced by women in society than either the liberals or the reconstructionists. As Tong warns, 'radical feminism is still evolving in many directions at once' and not all radicals think the same thing!
Shulamith Firestone (b. 1945) was a Canadian born feminist who in 1970 (when she was only 25) published a book called The Dialects of Sex. She was influenced by Engels and Marx and previous feminists like Simone de Beauvoir.
Firestone agreed with Marx and Engels that the history of the world was a history of class struggle. However, she rejected the idea that the class divisions were economic. She argued that the original division was between 'two distinct biological classes for procreative reproduction'. In the class (gendered) struggles that followed women have been disadvantaged due to their biological difference and this has enabled men to exploit them.
Unlike the naturalistic feminists (see below) who see women's role in childbearing as something distinctive to women and as such should be celebrated, Firestone believed that what was natural is not necessarily good.
She thought that women should be liberated from the 'barbaric' nature of pregnancy. In The Dialects of Sex she argued that far from being an amazing and wonderful experience '...childbirth is at best necessary and tolerable. It is not fun. (Like shitting a pumpkin, a friend of mine told me when I inquired about the Great-Experience-You-Are-Missing.)'
Women, as the exploited underclass, should 'own the means of production' and take control of the things used to exploit them. I.e. women must take control of childbirth.
Contraception and abortion provide women with some ability to control their own destiny but ultimately Firestone wanted to go beyond this. The Dialects of Sex was written before the first successful test tube baby, but she hypothesised that as technology developed it would become possible for babies to grow in artificial wombs.
Firestone's views about the family are among her most radical and controversial ideas. She thought that the traditional nuclear family was not 'natural' but was a cultural construct that developed from the need to raise children in a certain way. In addition, she thought that it was damaging because it was partly responsible for inequality in the world. There can be huge differences in the type of start in life that children get; some are born into privilege, others into deprivation. This is exacerbated by the principle of inheritance which allows parents to ensure that their own children are in a position to do well in the world by leaving them money and resources.
Firestone hypothesised that it would be better if children were not raised solely by two biological parents in the traditional heterosexual nuclear family unit. She thought that it would be better for children to be raised communally by a larger group of adults. She also thought that this would be better for children who currently are over-parented. She said 'The best way to raise a child is to LAY OFF!' By all accounts she herself had a turbulent relationship with her own father and clashed with him often.
Another way of creating a fairer society (according to Firestone) is the abolition of gender norms. Rather than expecting people to identify as either male or female society should remove these expectations. Biological sex then becomes unimportant; people become essentially androgenous. This would permit people to have more genuine free choice when it came to relationships. Heterosexual relationships would not be seen as 'normal' and homosexual ones as perverted/abnormal/alternative.
Thus Oakley's studies could be used to argue that Firestone's suggestions are at least plausible (and possibly desirable, Oakley also thought that the myth of motherhood was dangerous as women who do not want to be mothers end up feeling forced into it).
However, many feminists have challenged aspects of Firestone's approach.
If androgyny is at one end of the radical spectrum, at the other is naturalism which argues that bodily difference needs to be taken into account. Rather than try to be the same as men (arguably the aim of early liberals and of Firestone) women should celebrate their difference.
Unlike liberal feminism, naturalist feminism begins with the assumption that men and women are different and the biological differences between the two mean that men and women will reach fulfilment in different ways.
Naturalists argue that women must first discover the essence of what it is to be female and then work out how to facilitate women in fulfilling their essence. The challenge for naturalists is to disentangle what is actually part of the essence of women from what men have said is part of the essence of women.
The catagorise of liberal, social constuctionist and naturalist are used by Susan Frank Parsons in her book Feminism and Christian Ethics. She dates the origins of the naturalist approach back to the nineteenth century writer Mary Fuller who wrote 'women must leave off asking them [men] and being influenced by them, but retire within themselves, and explore the groundwork of being till they find their particular secret. Then ... they will know how to turn dross into gold.' Thus Fuller suggests that the key to identifying the essence of women is to have women, and not men, saying what the essence of women should be based on their own experience.
The question of reproduction and motherhood is one that is central to the naturalistic debate.
Mary O'Brien could be said to be a naturalistic feminist because she argued that rather than try to be the same as men (as liberal feminists wanted) women should celebrate what makes them different. Two of her most well known books 'The Politics of Reproduction' (1981) and 'Reproducing the World' (1989) set out her thesis that women should recognise the value of reproduction and motherhood and she was critical of feminists who failed to do this.
O'Brien argued that men are detached from most of the process of reproduction. She also pointed out that it takes place inside the mother and the father often cannot be totally sure that the child is his. Thus he is alienated from the process (which is why - in O'Brien's opinion - men feel the need to gain control in other areas of life). It is important to note that O'Brien is not saying that the alienation of men from reproduction is a good thing! She is simply drawing attention to the fact that men and women experience different challenges in life. She felt that feminism often fell short by beginning with the ways in which women are exploited rather than the ways that women are empowered. She was also wary of the use of reproductive technologies suggesting that it enabled the man to get something for nothing.
You might agree that motherhood (or at least the potential to be mothers and the biology associated with motherhood) is what makes women what they are. Biologically reproductive difference is what sets men and women apart (although on this basis you could say that men are defined by fatherhood). Motherhood might well be the aspect of life that people in general find most fulfilling and you might argue that women are privileged to be more intimately involved in the process of creating new life. Obviously from a traditional Christian perspective this idea reflects the idea of 'equal but different' found in the mulieris dignitatem and many traditionalists would agree that women are fulfilled (or even perhaps 'saved' as Timothy says) through reproduction and fulfilling her telos.
However, many other feminists would disagree with O'Brien. As you have already seen liberals like Harriet Taylor were dismissive of 'one animal function and its consequences' and suggested that many women were mothers only out of necessity as no other 'jobs' were available. Simone de Beauvoir said that a woman's attitude towards motherhood depended entirely on the circumstances under which she became pregnant and some women would resent their children. As stated above Ann Oakley suggested that the issue of motherhood is surrounded by myths. She said that it is a myth that all women want to be mothers, that they need their children or even that children need their mothers. (It is worth noting that Oakley is both a mother and grandmother). For many feminists, the idea that woman = mother is a patriarchal idea and if women aspire towards it then it might well be just because she has been brought up to think that way. Feminists tended to think in terms of freeing women from motherhood and ensuring that it was a matter of choice for women. Consider how Shulamith Firestone might respond to O'Brien's arguments.
Of course motherhood is not the only thing that could be said to be part of a woman's nature (though it is probably the most obvious).
Naturalistic feminists have also discussed to what extent women and men are different in their moral values and their ways of moral reasoning. Traditionally, women have been said to be more intuitive (and less rational), better at empathising and better at forming inter-personal relationships.
The Russian-born feminist (Red) Emma Goldman argued that the values that liberal feminists took to be self-evidently true were in fact male values. Liberal feminism encouraged women to aspire towards 'narrow respectabilities' rather than following her innate 'love instinct'. Goldman thought that women's moral intuitions, based on her maternal instinct for love could provide a distinctively female contribution to morality. She said that 'good and evil, moral and immoral are but limited terms for the inner play of human emotions upon the human sea of life.'
Virginia Woolf also suggested that women have an intuitive approach to moral reasoning which involves considering the way things are and how they could be different. Susan Frank Parsons summarised Woolf's views thus:
Women could also celebrate their difference from the perspective of their sexuality. Many radicals believe that patriarchy has tried to control women's sexuality and has regarded the sexually powerful woman as a dangerous/evil thing. Women have been taught that they must 'preserve' their virginity. Standards for men and women have not been the same and women have been taught to be ashamed of their sexual feelings. Radical feminism encourages women to embrace their sexual desires and enjoy their bodies.
To what extent do you think it is true that men and women have different psychological characteristics?
Perhaps it is logical - given the obvious bodily difference - that there are difference in male and female brains (and thus different characteristics).
However, is this an over-simplification and are naturalistic feminists guilty of reductionism and essentialism? Does naturalistic feminism trap women into the narrow roles that liberal feminism fought to avoid? Moreover, does it fall foul of the naturalistic fallacy by assuming that what is natural is automatically good.
The idea that men and women might have a different way of approaching moral reasoning is challenging to various branches of ethics that make right and wrong discoverable primarily through reason. Furthermore, suggesting that men and women might have different ethical values could potentially lead to very radical conclusions as demonstrated in the thought of Mary Daly.
Mary Daly's earliest work (The Church and the Second Sex) was fairly liberal/reformist in scope but over time she became more radical. In Beyond God the Father she explored the idea of androgyny as a possible solution to the problem of men being seen as normative and women as 'the other'. If humanity were not polarised into two 'types' then one could not be seen in relation to and from the perspective of the other. However, she ultimately abandoned the idea of androgyny (she suggested it was a patriarchal trick to try and keep hold of women and claim the best parts of their nature). Instead Daly embraced a radical form of naturalistic feminism which celebrated female difference.
However, 'femaleness' is not the same as traditional ideas about femininity.
Therefore, to understand what is a 'natural' female we need to first deconstruct the unnatural one!
Daly believed that men seek to control women and create their own morality (which she called 'phallic morality') for this purpose. In this idea we can see that Daly was influenced by Nietzsche who argued that 'God is dead' and humans have to make their own moral values. He thought that traditional (Christian) morality is all about control. According to Nietzsche people have been taught to value unnatural things like altruism and humility. This 'slave morality' has replaced a more natural 'master morality' which encourages people to strive to be successful and powerful.
Daly (and many of the less radical feminists before her) thought that the values that women were taught to aspire to (virtue, chastity, quietness of temper etc) made her easier to control and enabled men to flourish at the expense of women. Daly thus called on women to reject the male morality that she had been taught and to look within to discover her own moral values. According to Daly, traits which are intrinsically feminine (love and sharing) have been deformed by male morality into excessive versions of themselves. Thus love becomes self-sacrificing, self-abasing maternal love which turns women into victims. In order to reclaim the true value women need to first have the courage to reject male morality and become the things that male morality says that they should not be. Women then need to look within themselves and discover their own essence and power.
In her first truly radical book Gyn/Ecology Daly continued to argue that women should refuse to be 'tamed' or 'domesticated' women conforming to male expectations but should instead thrive as 'natural' or 'wild' women. This, she said, was impossible without separation from male society. According to Daly, patriarchy is endemic within male society and men try to control women at every turn. In Gyn/Ecology she explored the various ways that men had tried to control both women's minds and bodies and explored patriarchal practices from round the world like female circumcision in Africa and food binding in Asia.
To be a wild woman is to reject patriarchal values and embrace the things society condemns.
Susan Frank Parson provided the following overview of Daly's approach to ethics and morality.
Daly's desire for separation in society stemmed from her belief that men will always try to control women. For this reason Daly thought that it was impossible for a woman to thrive in a heterosexual relationship. Therefore, she advocated lesbianism in practice though she rejected the terminology.
Daly's re-invention of language is one of the most characteristic elements of her writing. She argues that language itself is a product of patriarchy. The terms that we use have certain meanings and implications that come from patriarchy and thus terms have to be reinvented or subverted to escape this patriarchal inheritance. The term 'lesbian' carries with it the implications of going against the sexual norm, being an outcaste within patriarchy etc - which is why Daly refuses to use it.
In an interview in 1999 Daly claimed:
Daly's feminism includes separatism. For her, anything less is doomed to failure because men are always out to exploit women. Whilst her ideas are extreme, she was not unique in her views. Charlotte Bunch and Jill Johnstone both argued that heterosexual feminists are not true feminists. They, like Daly, believe that women's sexuality has been shaped to suit the needs of men.
Critics of Mary Daly argue that:
However, Daly anticipated some of these criticisms.
Mary Daly was a theologian so to an extent her ideas are an example of a religious response to radical theological ideas.
Certain ideas like androgyny are explored by the likes of Elaine Pagels and (to a lesser extent) by more liberal feminist theologians who consider texts like Galatians 3:28 ('There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.') to promote a degree of androgyny by suggesting that gender is irrelevant. Christianity has often suggested that it is a person's soul rather than their body which is important (though other theologians have stressed that God creates soul and body and Jesus' resurrection was physical). Augustine taught that in their souls men and women were both in God's image. One could also argue that Jesus was a radical who challenged society and preached a radical message of his own in which family ties were not as important as love of God so in that sense Firestone's attempt to revolutionise society for the better could be viewed as a continuation of the Christian message.
However, her ideas about family are at odds with the traditional Christian teachings (honour your parents is among the ten commandments) and many traditionalists would object to the idea of androgyny and an end to male/female relationships as normative. They would argue that God created men and women to be different. Women are created for motherhood and given the gifts suitable to that role. Men are created to be dominant (wives should 'submit' to their husbands according to Ephesians 6). This is essentially the message that Pope John Paul II set out in the Mulieris Dignitatem in which he specifically condemned the 'masculinisation' of women whilst supporting the more liberal pursuit of equal rights. Furthermore, traditional Christianity follows Leviticus in considering homosexuality an 'abomination' so would not agree with Firestone's objective of having all forms of sexuality equally valid nor Daly's advocation of lesbianism.
Naturalistic feminism perhaps has more in common with traditional Christian values and the idea that women should be fulfilled by celebrating motherhood fits very well with the teachings in the Mulieris Dignitatem. That said, the emphasis on the female control of childbirth and childrearing might be said to go against the idea of man as first principle and woman as helper. Moreover, liberal Christian theologians and those wanting to reform the Christian teachings might challenge this view and regard it as essentialist and deterministic. Women are not mother's by 'essence', they are not destined for motherhood from birth. Feminist theologians like Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Rosemary Radford Ruether as well as Elaine Pagels would argue that Jesus' supported women who challenged the social norms of the day. Evidence from the Early Church suggests that women like Phoebe and Prisca did more than just be mothers and women should be offered the choice in how they choose to find fulfilment in life.
Separatist ideas like those promoted by Mary Daly appear to be at odds with most forms of Christianity which advocate forgiveness, reconciliation and agape love. Daly believed that her ideas were incompatible with Christianity (and thought that Christianity was at odds with feminism) hence she is regarded as 'post-Christian'.
When evaluating radical feminism you must be aware that not all radicals think the same thing! You need to evaluate specific ideas rather than general trends. The ideas included in the 'critiques' above will help you. That said, it is possible to make some very general comments.
On the other hand you could argue that radical feminism has merits because:
Great overview/analysis of different attitudes to motherhood here.
Very readable biography/obituary of Firestone published in the New Yorker. Contains several references to the feminist movement as a whole. Here.
First chapter of Shulamith Firestone's The Dialects of Sex here.
Evaluative essay on the feminism in Woolf's book 'A Room of One's Own' here.
Read Marge Piercy’s scifi novel ‘Women on the Edge of Time’ which explores the type of world that Firestone's ideas seem to envisage. Or Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid’s Tale for an alternative dystopian future. Alternatively, read online overvies/summaries here and here.
Rosemarie Tong Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction. Originally published in 1989, republished in 2013. Available to buy here (kindle editions also available for less).