Perhaps you’ve heard of the linguistic concept of “marked” words. People say “female doctor” but not “male doctor” because it’s assumed that most doctors are male–the male doctor is just the “regular” doctor while the female one is the anomaly. Here, “female” is marked. Likewise, people say “male nurse” but not “female nurse” because it’s assumed that most nurses are female.
When we call ourselves “radical feminists” instead of just “feminists,” we concede that we are a special weird faction of feminists. We concede that the other feminists, the ones some call “liberal feminists” but who generally call themselves simply “feminists,” are the standard kind.
But that is both incorrect and a tactical error on our part. “Feminism” has a meaning. It is those other feminists, not us, who have abandoned feminism. We want women’s liberation. Those who defend practices which enslave women, such as the porn industry, depart from feminism. We want to work for the collective good of women. Those who favor individual expression over an analysis of patriarchal oppression depart from feminism. And those who have not read and will not read the foundational works of their predecessors (second wave feminists), because they’ve been told not to, are the ones who betray the movement they purport to belong to.
Feminism is still feminism even if some have bastardized it and marched for opposing causes under its name. We should not give up the word “feminist” to fake feminists any more than we should give up the word “woman” to fake women.
We are not a special kind of feminists to be compared to the “regular” feminists, and we should not allow ourselves to be labeled as such. We should simply call ourselves “feminists.”
If someone gets confused about where our positions fit in among all the other positions being called “feminist,” good! We should infiltrate fake feminism with real feminism, not allow fake feminists to infiltrate and indeed take over a movement that is rightfully ours.
Of course, “radical” in this context means “root.” Radical feminism is feminism that examines the roots of women’s oppression. If we find it necessary to modify the word feminism to call out this distinction, which we argue will occur infrequently, we recommend using the term “roots feminism.” This prevents opponents and bystanders from believing or pretending to believe that the “radical” in “radical feminism” means something like “extremism” (which they are wont to do).
And yes, we know the word “rad” is in the URL of this site, but we needed to get your attention.
More on words we should reject here and here.