labrys, études féministes/
Moving Forward Together – or Not
Radical feminism calls for revolutionary change in social and political systems in order to achieve justice for women, whereas Liberal feminists opt to work within the present system to achieve the same goal. On issues like pornography and prostitution, radical and liberal feminists have been in conflict over the years while, on other issues, there has been agreement. This paper asks: Could there be an opportunity to move forward together? Based on the assumption that “any movement needs both radicals and liberals” (Andrea Dworkin), the various strands of today’s new and emerging feminist movement, i.e., popular, libertarian, majority liberal and radical, are analysed here with a view to finding some common ground. The central question posed is: Where does radical feminism fit in today’s Women’s Liberation Movement?
Key-words: radical feminism, liberal, popular, libertarian conflict, common ground.
On 9 October 2012, Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, delivered a most powerful and confronting speech in Parliament, a speech which has become  known as the “misogyny speech”. From the moment Julia Gillard became Prime Minister, her authority was undermined relentlessly by the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues in the Conservative Coalition, by conservatives in the media and, even, by some in her own party. Before and during her time as Prime Minister, she endured constant derogatory comments aimed at her personal appearance:
“On what should have been one of the proudest days of Gillard’s political career, she bungled it with a less than flattering haircut and a frumpy ’80s tapestry print jacket… Get yourself a stylist your own age.” Anita Quigley. Daily Telegraph. December 2006
“She looks like a real weakling.” Mark Latham. Sky News. August 2010
“You’ve got a big arse, Julia, just get on with it.” Germaine Greer. ABC. Q&A. March 2012
There were criticisms, also, of her personal choice not to have children:
“I mean anyone who chooses to remain deliberately barren… they’ve got no idea what life’s about.” Senator Bill Heffernan. The Bulletin. May 2007
“She has chosen not to be a parent… she is very much a one-dimensional person… she just doesn’t understand the way parents think about their children when they reach a particular age.” Senator George Brandis. ABC Radio. January 2010
“She has showcased a bare home and an empty kitchen as badges of honour and commitment to her career. She has never had to make room for the frustrating demands and magnificent responsibilities of caring for little babies, picking up sick children from school, raising teenagers. Not to mention the needs of a husband or partner.” Janet Albrechtsen. The Australian. July 2010
Also, there were endless threats of violence:
“Burn the Witch”. Placard at anti-carbon tax Rally. March 2011
“Put her (Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney) in the same chaff bag as Julia Gillard and throw them both out to sea.” Alan Jones 2GB radio. July 2011
“(Australians)… ought to be out there kicking her to death.” Grahame Morris (former Prime Minister John Howard’s staffer turned lobbyist) Sky News. April 2012
In addition, Kevin Rudd, the member of her own Party who she replaced as leader is reported to have denounced the Prime Minister as a “childless, atheist, ex-communist”. March 2012. [Kevin Rudd denies that he spoke those words.]
Julia Gillard was, by her own admission, a feminist and member of the Left faction of the Australian Labor Party with a long association with the Trade Union movement. She was a lawyer and an excellent communicator and negotiator. For 12 years prior to becoming Prime Minister, she had been a successful politician and, notwithstanding the constant insults thrown at her, she was widely regarded as a competent Prime Minister in charge of a competent government from 2010 to 2013. If she were asked to categorise herself as a feminist, she would probably place herself as a Socialist or Marxist feminist, but certainly not a radical feminist. That is what makes her misogyny speech so remarkable because it surely rates as one of the most powerful, most courageous, most radical speeches ever to be delivered in a Parliament anywhere in the world.
The initial reaction to the speech by mainstream media in Australia was to criticise it and accuse the Prime Minister of “playing the gender card”. Their intention, no doubt, was to minimise its impact and allow it to disappear from sight. But social media would not let it die. Within a few short hours of the misogyny speech being loaded to YouTube, it had had millions of hits and was the talk of women around the world. At last, someone with political authority had named misogyny, and it resonated with women immediately. The outpouring of support from Australian feminists all the way along the continuum from conservative to radical was phenomenal. Books appeared (Summers 2013; Walsh 2013; Delahunty 2014). Facebook pages, Twitter and blogs were buzzing – all protesting at the way Prime Minister Julia Gillard had been treated by politicians and journalists, and shouting their support for her and her sentiments on misogyny in the strongest possible ways. On this one issue, there was unprecedented unity among feminists of all political and philosophical persuasions.
Since that time, it has become apparent that there is a new and emerging interest in feminism among women of all ages in Australia – and a new courage. Such a situation is to be celebrated but, in full awareness of the aptitude of society’s powerbrokers for gathering up social movements and turning them into vehicles for their own use, it is to be celebrated with caution.
With this example of unity around the issue of misogyny as a backdrop, the purpose of this article is to take a look at the burgeoning feminist movement in Australia and other parts of the world and ask: Where does radical feminism fit in this 21st Century version of the Women’s Liberation Movement? Keeping in mind Andrea Dworkin’s words:
" I’m not saying that everybody should be thinking about this in the same way. I have a really strong belief that any movement needs both radicals and liberals. You always need women who can walk into the room in the right way, talk in the right tone of voice, who have access to power. But you also need a bottom line (Katherine Viner “She never ated men”. (The Guardian 13 April 2005)
Maybe it is time for radical and liberal feminists to explore the possibility of common ground.
It must be said at the outset that, while there appears to be no chance of unity around certain issues, there may be some cause for hope of a more united front around other issues.
New and Emerging Feminist Movement
In countries like Australia, there is an obvious stirring among women. It is too early to say if it represents the beginning of another spiral similar to those identified by Susan Faludi as occurring throughout history when women have had enough of the unequal and exploitative treatment meted out to their sex under patriarchy (Faludi 1991, p. 67), but something is happening. There is movement across the feminist spectrum: popular, libertarian, liberal and radical feminism.
On the surface, it appears that much of today’s movement is a kind of pop feminism – popular for the moment, but soon to be replaced by something else. The main value of such fads, e.g., “slut walk” and “red lipstick day”, would be that of prompting participants to think for a brief time about the issues they are seeking to raise. SlutWalk Chicago’s Facebook page expresses the aim as:
"SlutWalk has become a worldwide movement, working to challenge mindsets and stereotypes of victim-blaming and slut-shaming"
The Facebook page of the more recent phenomenon, Red Lipstick Day (Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence Around the World), calls it:
" A movement to support women of courage and strength – the heroes and survivors of sexual violence, abuses and female circumcision"
There is a school of thought in Social Psychology which encourages disempowered people to take on the disparaging naming thrown at them (“she dressed like a slut”, and “her red lipstick gave out the wrong signals”). The idea is that the act of turning the insults into something positive and claiming them as one’s own will take the sting out of the insults and empower the person so vilified.
Miranda Kiraly and Meagan Tyler, editors of Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism refer to today’s popular feminism as “feminism-lite” and “fun feminism”, the kind of feminism “that does not offend or overtly threaten existing power structures”, a feminism that “has lost all sense of intellectual rigour or political challenge” (2015, p. ix).
This does seem to be true. Fads such as slut walk and red lipstick day are symbolic gestures by women who generally mean well, but the belief that demonstrating in such ways will lead beyond the symbolic to any kind of deep-seated change in society’s attitude toward women, is a mistaken belief. It must be said, however, that if these and other expressions of popular feminism allow women to feel that they are doing something to speak out against sexism and misogyny, there is no reason to disparage them in their efforts, but it is appropriate to challenge the participants to move beyond the superficial into more deep-rooted political analysis.
Libertarian Feminism (or Sexual Liberal feminism)
Radical feminists and sexual liberals have a long history of battles fought and wounds that have never healed. It is inconceivable to radical feminists that sexual liberals claim to be feminists while at the same time supporting and advocating for industries that are unquestionably anti-women.
In the United States in the early 1980s, a group calling itself the Feminist Anti-Censorship Task-Force (FACT) opposed in court the Ordinance against pornography designed and presented by Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin (1983) to the City of Minneapolis. MacKinnon later described the intervention by FACT as “an act of extraordinary horizontal hostility” (1990: 9). She said: “At this point, for me, the women’s movement that I had known came to an end” (p. 9). Referring to radical feminism as “feminism”, she went on to explain:
" What is the difference between the women’s movement we had and the one we have now...? I think the difference is liberalism. Where feminism was collective, liberalism is individualistic [...[ Where feminism is socially based and critical, liberalism is naturalistic, attributing[ ...] women’s oppression to women’s natural sexuality [...] Where feminism criticizes the way in which women have been socially determined[ ...] liberalism is voluntaristic, meaning it acts like we have choices that we do not have[ ...]"(MacKinnon,1983: 12).
Another example of the split between radical feminists and sexual liberals was that outlined in The Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, edited by Dorchen Leidholdt and Janice Raymond (1990). The book is a collection of papers presented by radical feminists at a conference convened to challenge “an ideology and a program that, they asserted, was undermining feminism in the guise of being its best friend” (p. ix). The papers focused on the damage sexual liberals were doing to the feminist movement through their support of pornography, prostitution, reproductive technology and other sexual and medical practices harmful to women. One of the speakers, Sheila Jeffreys, said:
"The libertarians have an agenda on sexuality that is in fundamental opposition to that of feminists. Where feminists seek to transform sexuality in the interests of keeping women and children safe and ending women’s inequality, the libertarians seek to promote and legitimize the traditional sexuality of dominance and submission. They eroticize practices that rely on power imbalance, such as sadomasochism, butch and femme, and so-called erotica that display women’s humiliation and degradation (Jeffreys,1990:25).
Another speaker, Andrea Dworkin, stated in no uncertain terms that those who support such woman-hating practices as pornography and prostitution are not feminists.
"Anybody who fronts for those who hate women, who produce woman hating, who produce pornography, who celebrate woman-hating sex, those people are not feminists. ... when something hurts women, feminists are against it. The hatred of women hurts women. Pornography is the hatred of women. pornography hurts women. Feminists are against it, not for it "(Dworkin,1990: 39-40).
To this day, libertarian feminists continue their wholehearted support for pornography, prostitution and reproductive procedures in the name of “the rights of the individual”, using concepts such as “choice”, “empowerment” and “personal agency”, with seemingly no ethical analysis of the harm caused to women by those industries. The Sex Workers’ Rights movement around the world has taken on the language of empowerment as a way of countering what they refer to as anti-sex radical feminists, calling themselves “sex positive” and “sex radicals” who advocate for a woman’s “right to sexual freedom”.
Their hatred of radical feminists is evident everywhere – in books, articles, websites and campaigns. Accusations abound that radical feminists are “sex phobic” and that they deny women’s right to “choice” and “agency”.
Liberal Feminism (or Majority Liberals)
While libertarian feminists focus single-mindedly on what they call “sexual freedom”, the liberal feminist majority take a much broader view. Many radical feminists have, in the past, mistakenly lumped all non-radical feminists together in one liberal basket and implied that those who are not outspoken about their opposition to prostitution and pornography must necessarily agree with their libertarian sisters. Discussions with many liberal feminists, as well as a careful reading of their written work, reveal that that is simply not the case.
While it cannot be denied that they, also, focus primarily on the individual and agitate for the personal empowerment of women, the fact is that most commit themselves to fighting for the rights of women wherever they believe those rights are eroded. This commitment was demonstrated by their wholehearted support of Julia Gillard’s sentiments on misogyny. Traditionally, liberal feminists have fought for equal opportunity in education and employment, for equal pay, for the right to contraception and abortion. They have agitated for more women in politics, in the teaching ranks of universities and in the Board rooms of big business. On issues of men’s violence against women in all its forms, they protest strongly and pressure governments to act on the urgent need to stop the violence and the murders of women at the hands of men.
Radical feminists find no reason to disagree with any of the above. The issues on which there is disagreement are, once again, around prostitution, pornography and medical procedures such as IVF, surrogacy and cosmetic surgery. Many liberals see no harm in such “lifestyle choices” provided they are embarked on in moderation. So-called erotic pornography, for example, is acceptable to them while hard-line violent pornography is not. Prostitution that is a work or lifestyle “choice” is acceptable, while trafficking is not. Radical feminists, on the other hand, make no distinction for the reasons discussed in the next section.
In Australia, a recent initiative of majority liberal feminists and feminists who refuse to categorise themselves at all is the Facebook page “Destroy the Joint”. Having led the charge against sexism and misogyny and having spoken out strongly in support of Prime Minister Julia Gillard during and after the attacks on her, they were confronted with another challenge. Right-wing radio broadcaster, Alan Jones, announced to his radio audience that “women are destroying the joint”. In his tirade against women, he named women who had risen to positions of power in Australia: Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Victoria’s Police Commissioner Christine Nixon and Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore. Feminists responded by setting up a Facebook page which they describe in this way:
" This page is for people who are sick of the sexism dished out to women in Australia, whether they be our first female Prime Minister or any other woman").
Destroy the Joint, with more than 60,000 likes, continues to be a vibrant space where feminists of all philosophical persuasions are invited to participate according to the guidelines of the site. Views that they deem to be extremist, either from the right or the left, are excluded, but generally the discussion is inclusive and robust.
It is in the area of domestic and family violence that radical and majority liberal feminists appear to be on the same page. After several high-profile murders of women and children at the hands of their partners and fathers recently, Federal and State governments in Australia have begun to take the matter seriously. A committee drawn together by the Federal Government has developed a 12-year Plan aimed at reducing violence against women and their children, with targets to be met every three years. 
Some State governments have also commissioned consultations and committed to responding to the recommendations brought forward in the reports resulting from those consultations. Indeed, so great is the concern in Australia about the extent and severity of men’s violence against women that the State of Victoria has announced a Royal Commission to enquire into the “epidemic” in detail.
Radical and liberal feminists together have pushed for many years for the issue to be taken seriously by politicians and community leaders, and are delighted that something is finally happening.
Like many in the liberal majority, radical feminists despair over the continued erosion of women’s rights under patriarchy, but their focus is not primarily on influencing individual leaders or working to empower individual women. Radical feminists maintain that the only way to improve the lot of women and children is to change the system at its root. Working within a patriarchal system designed by men for the benefit of men will not work, they insist. Incremental changes within a biased system can be, and usually are, turned around to benefit those who have the power, namely men. Radical feminists name men’s violence against women, rape, sexual harassment, online abuse, pornography, prostitution, and the sexualising of women and children by the fashion and advertising industries as examples of the need for total change. While radical feminist voices can be heard in all of the areas mentioned, the loudest voices are heard around pornography, prostitution and men’s continued violence against women.
What distresses radical feminists is the idea that women and women’s bodies are commodities to be bought and sold, objects of entertainment to be ogled and masturbated over. The wholesale commitment of governments and big business to globalisation and neoliberalism is responsible, they maintain, for entrenching the exploitation of women. The market is all-powerful. Nothing else matters. Indeed, women who agree to sell themselves in prostitution are praised as entrepreneurial because it is simply a matter of “selling their assets”.
What disturbs radical feminists even more is the number of liberal feminists who give their assent to such exploitative and degrading practices in the name of personal choice.
The assumption that pornography and prostitution are legitimate activities under democratic systems of government using the defence of free speech has been questioned and discounted by radical feminists contrasting “free speech” with “fair speech” (MacKinnon 1994; McLellan 2010). An important anthology supporting the radical feminist stance is Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography (Stark and Whisnant 2004). Another excellent anthology Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism has just been released (Kiraly and Tyler 2015).
From the early years of Second Wave feminism till now, radical feminist opposition to pornography has been loud and consistent. It is oppression, subordination and silencing of women dressed up as free speech (McLellan 2010, pp. 64-75). In a hard-hitting collection of articles, Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry, edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray (2011), Julie Long speaks of a growing resistance to pornography in the United Kingdom in terms of strong feminist anti-pornography activism (pp. 259-65). Matt McCormack Evans describes an Anti Porn Men Project also in the UK (pp. 284-7). Gail Dines writes about the anti-pornography movement in the United States. Stop Porn Culture! is a movement of long-time anti-pornography activists “dedicated to challenging the porn industry and the harmful culture it perpetuates” Gail Dines, Rebecca Whisnant and Robert Jensen produced a powerful slideshow called “Who Wants to be a Porn Star?” which is used as an educational tool by Stop Porn Culture! and other groups around the world (pp. 266-7). Pornland: How Porn has Highjacked our Sexuality, also by Gail Dines, is a strongly radical and very influential work (2010).
Australian academics and activists, also, continue their work to counter pornography and the sexualisation of women and girls (Jeffreys 1990; Tankard Reist 2009; Tankard Reist and Bray 2011; Liszewski in Tankard Reist and Bray 2011; Kiraly and Tyler 2015).
Included in the Tankard Reist and Bray anthology is a powerful piece by Australian radical feminist Helen Pringle in which she critiques The Porn Report, a pro-pornography work written by academics Alan McKee, Katherine Albury and Catherine Lumby in 2008. Pringle called it “A Studied Indifference to Harm” (pp. 122-31) and concludes her article by saying:
"Like many academic defences of pornography, he Porn Report delights in its supposed unconventionality. In fact, its argument is tired and outdated with little bearing on the brutal reality of ; popular pornography today.The fact that pornography users are, like McKee himself, “intellectually ompetent individuals” (McKee, 2005a, p. 81) does not excuse the project’s studied indifference to the harm enacted in and by the sexual subordination and cruelty that defines modern pornography" ( Pringle,2011:. 131)
As the prostitution industry grows around the world, radical feminist voices protesting against it grow even louder. Well known anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking voices include: Kathleen Barry 1979, 1995; Catharine MacKinnon 1993; Melissa Farley 2004; Gunilla Ekberg 2004; Julie Bindel 2006, 2007; Sheila Jeffreys 2008, 2009.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) is a long-standing and influential international organisation based on radical feminist principles, with branches in many countries around the world.
Abolish Prostitution Now (APN) is another international movement, described as an “Alliance of Women for the Abolition of Prostitution”. When the Alliance was launched in 2013, Kathleen Barry was quoted as saying:
"This new movement to end prostitution now has come together very quickly and is growing rapidly because courageous survivors are telling the world exactly what is done to them when they are bought by men to use for prostitution. Women around the world are showing that we are fed up with men’s patriarchal privilege to buy women for their own sexual and violent uses, to humiliate and demean them." 
In addition, Kathleen Barry offers an answer to the question: “Why is prostitution a violation of human rights?” An excerpt from her article that appears on the APN webpage reads:
" Objectifying a human being, reducing her to a commodity to purchase, is an abusive act of power. It violates the person’s human dignity and obliterates her human rights. One need not be beaten for their human rights to be violated. Nor do they have to prove they did not consent. Further, global human rights, unlike rights articulated under market economies, assumes that in conditions such as slavery or under apartheid, protection of human rights applies to everyone of that class." 
Abolish Prostitution Now is currently waging a campaign in many parts of the World to influence governments to introduce the Nordic Model which criminalises the purchase of sexual services rather than the sale. Those in the Sex Industry who profit from the prostitution of women are vehemently opposed to the Nordic Model for the very reason that radical feminists favour it: because, in Sweden and other countries where it has been introduced, it is serving as a deterrent to men looking to buy the sexual services of women. For a detailed discussion of the Nordic Model, see “Demanding Change: Understanding the Nordic Approach to Prostitution” (CATWA, 2013). It is important, too, to acknowledge Swedish feminist Gunilla Ekberg (Ekberg 2004) who has worked long and hard to establish the Nordic model which is already in effect in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, and under serious consideration in France, Israel, Northern Ireland and Ireland. Discussions are also beginning in the United Kingdom, Finland and South Korea. As the Model continues to spread globally, radical feminists are hoping that it will bring a greater consciousness of the oppression that is at the root of the practice of prostitution.
Men’s Violence against Women
This, it would seem, is the one area of feminist endeavour in which there is virtual unanimity among feminists. Men’s violence in all its forms (physical, emotional, sexual and economic violence in the home, rape, sexual harassment and intimidation, stalking, online violence, and so on) is unacceptable and must be eliminated. In the general community, there exists a degree of sympathy for perpetrators, but both radical and majority liberal feminists demand that men take responsibility for their violent behaviour and work to change it.
“Perpetrators need our help” attitude
This is the attitude held by Men’s Rights activists and others in the community who cannot bring themselves to believe that men in such great numbers are deliberately abusive and violent toward their partners or ex-partners. Some spread the erroneous view that women are equally violent in relationships, that men make up one-third of victims of violence in the home and that women provoke men to such a degree that they lose control and lash out. What they are saying is that men are not totally to blame for their violent behaviour and that women must take some responsibility.
What men in these situations need, they insist, is understanding and help, not condemnation and punishment. They recommend Anger Management courses or individual counselling to help a man deal with his underlying frustrations and learn new ways of dealing with his anger. Some counsellors and psychologists even interpret the violence as a sign that there is a relationship problem and recommend marriage or relationship counselling for the couple, and family counselling for the whole family.
“Perpetrators must be held accountable” attitude
Feminists, both radical and majority liberal take a very different view. They maintain that the root cause of the problem in relationships where violence occurs is, in fact, the perpetrator’s violence, whether it be physical or emotional or both. Any intervention must focus on the violence, they insist, and it is the perpetrator’s responsibility to stop his violence. At that point, he does not need counselling or Anger Management but, rather, a commitment to a program aimed at behaviour change.
In the minds of workers in Domestic Violence services and other Women’s Centres, a woman’s safety and that of her children is paramount. The establishment of Women’s Refuges in many countries around the world acknowledges the urgent need, when violence occurs, to get women and children to a place of safety as a first step. From there, a woman is usually advised of her options and helped to find a way forward.
Many of the Services in the Women’s Sector in Australia were established in the 1970s and 1980s by feminist groups who then lobbied governments to fund the work that they were doing. In those early years, the feminist approach to the issue was prominent: women and children were to be kept safe while men who were perpetrators of violence were to be required to participate in behaviour change programs. Sadly, the police and the court system have, all too often, taken a stance more sympathetic to perpetrators, but feminists have always held strongly to their belief that violent behaviour must be confronted.
As feminist workers in Women’s Services and on Boards of Management have grown older and retired, there is evidence that a more sympathetic stance is being adopted in some places with the employment of staff who are not feminist and who prefer the “softer” attitude toward men who are violent. Where younger feminists have moved into positions vacated by older feminists, however, a strong commitment to behaviour change continues.
Conclusion: Where does Radical Feminism fit?
This has been an exploration of some of the more prominent strands of feminism and an attempt to open up the question: Where does radical feminism fit in all this? Is there any common ground that ought to be explored so that radical feminists can find their place in today’s burgeoning feminist movement? Not only would it benefit individual radical feminists to feel less isolated from the rest of the movement but, also, the movement, as always, needs radical feminist voices. It does seem that there is some common ground between radical and majority liberal feminists in relation to the fight against domestic and family violence and, also, to the fight against the extreme misogyny evident today.
While this paper has focused on Andrea Dworkin’s “strong belief that any movement needs both radicals and liberals”, it must be said that the latter part of her quote is crucial for radical feminists: “But you also need a bottom line” (2005). The building of bridges advocated in this paper must never be attempted at the expense of the bottom line and radical feminists need no reminding of what their bottom line is. For them, the struggle for women’s liberation is not about being popular with the male majority, nor about individual freedoms, choice and empowerment. It is about “interrogating patriarchy and the global institutions that sustain it” (McNally in Kiraly and Tyler 2015: 108). The aim is to uncover the ways in which women are exploited, trivialised and degraded within the existing system, reject the system as it stands, and work to bring about revolutionary change. This is radical feminism’s bottom line. The challenge presented in this paper is that of finding common ground while maintaining the integrity of the radical feminist position.
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Dr Betty McLellan is a feminist ethicist, psychotherapist, author and committed activist of long standing. She is Adjunct Associate Professor at James Cook University in Townsville (Australia), and Chair of the Management Committee of the Queensland Women’s Health Network. With a focus on both the personal and political, she successfully combines her work as a psychotherapist with a broader emphasis on feminist ethical analysis and activism. Betty is the author of four books: Overcoming Anxiety (1992); Beyond Psychoppression: A Feminist Alternative Therapy (1995); Help! I’m Living with a [Man] Boy (1999, 2006) published in 16 languages; and Unspeakable: A feminist ethic of speech (2010).
féministes/ estudos feministas