Preface: I am going to run this through How Not To Be That Guy after I'm done, but if any of you readers find that my privelege is showing or that I'm guilty of a similar faux pas, please point it out.
I like to think of myself as a moderately enlightened modern man. I know about the invisible backpack, why there's no "straight pride parade", and why safe women-only space is different than a men-only gentlemen's club. I don't think I deserve praise, sex or special treatment for any of that.
To be honest, though, when it comes to Radical Feminism, I've always sort of written it off. "Well," I told myself, "I can see where that sort of thought was needed back in the 70s and earlier, but things have moved on since then, surely." The bits of Dworkin and MacKinnon's writing that I came across always struck me as out of touch with the world as I saw it, and at times felt actively hostile to me. (And here I realise that I was drifting into being That Guy, trying to make it All About Me.) For the most part, I'd settled into just ignoring the movement and its authors. It just didn't seem reasonable in a contemporary context. Browsing the wikipedia page on Radical Feminism didn't help much either.
Increasingly, though, I have been running into people who I feel are generally quite reasonable people, who don't seem to think that Dworkin et al. are unreasonable. This has lead me to conclude that I'm probably at least partly wrong. At a minimum, I haven't actually read an entire piece of Radical Feminist writing, so my opinion is largely an uneducated one.
In discussion with a friend, zie posited that Radical Feminism is similar to having a discussion with someone who is so angry that they can't quite think straight. A further suggestion was raised that it's valuable to have a vocal, extreme group so that more moderate feminist voices might seem like a reasonable compromise - a similar argument could be made about the role of PETA in a vegetarian context.
From what I understand of Radical Feminism, it focuses on the role of the patriarchy as the main oppressive force in society. The patriarchal model of dominance as the primary form of social interaction underlies pretty much everything we do. In particular, all sex is forced into a patriarchal context. Therefore, regardless of the intent of the participants, having sex happens in a oppressive context. Pornography is inherently harmful and can be directly associated with violent misogynist behaviour and attitudes, and prostitution is even worse. I've read a snippet by Dworkin which seemed to suggest that the best men can do for women is to just leave them alone. Don't talk to them, don't subject them to the Male Gaze, and don't force oppressive sex on them. I realise that a half-remembered snippet without any context is hardly clear, but that's the impression I got.
As someone who enjoys sex with women, I'm fairly uncomfortable with the world thus painted. My discomfort, however, isn't really a good reason to say it's wrong. Indeed, part of the unease I feel about Radical Feminism stems from the worry that it might be right. If so, I need to seriously inspect my love life. (You didn't think, dear reader, that I'd be able to make it through the whole post without trying to make it All About Me, did you?) At any rate, I feel that I should make an effort to at least understand Radical Feminism - even if I don't agree with it, I would like to be able to disagree from an educated position. At the very least, it should give me some practice in trying to read feminist writing without Making It All About Me.
Can anyone out there a) point me to something online that roughly covers the basics of Radical Feminism better than the wikipedia page, and b) suggest a book or two as a gentle introduction to Radical Feminist thought? From the snippets I've read, I'm not sure I'm quite ready to tackle Dworkin or MacKinnon directly. My next "serious" book is called "Feminisms", and is basically a first year women's studies book. Perhaps when I'm through that I'll have answered some of these questions on my own, or at least have more intelligent questions to ask.
I've tried to phrase this in such a way as to avoid implying that I'm entitled to having it explained to me. I'm also trying to avoid the Dancing Bear/praise thing (the point is not that the bear dances well, it's that the bear dances at all...). I've also been going over this piling on qualifiers for over a week now, so I'm just going to post the darned thing.