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Feminism's Challenge: Articulating Alternatives to Unsustainable Hierarchies

Robert Jensen

"What is the most important challenge facing women in the 21st
century, and why?"

That one isn't easy for anyone to answer, especially in 300 words
or less. But that was the assignment from editors of the University of Texas'
web site for faculty members contributing to the "Many Voices of
Feminism" collection, which is online at

It is an especially tricky question for a man to try to answer. Rather
than pretending to speak for women or for feminism, I wanted to explain why I
embraced feminism as a method for analyzing hierarchy that could be useful in
all social movements. Although men often treat feminism as a threat, in the 20
years I have been involved in feminist projects I have come to recognize it as
a gift to men who want to understand and critique not only gender but other
oppressive systems. For me, feminism is a crucial part of the struggle for
social justice and sustainability.

Below are the 306 words that I came up with, not to answer the question
but to hint at the compelling reasons we all should commit to feminism and the
other progressive social movements that are necessary if there is to be a hope
for a decent future, or any future at all.

Given the disastrous consequences of the human assault on the ecosystem
that makes our lives possible, the most important 21st-century challenge for
women is the same as for men: Can we change the way we organize ourselves socially,
politically, and economically in time to reverse this ecological collapse? Can
we learn to live in sustainable balance with the non-human world so that we
might make it to the end of the 21st century with our humanity intact?

In facing these social, political, and economic challenges, I believe
women have a crucial contribution to make through feminism. My own intellectual
and political development is rooted in the feminism I learned from women, both
in the classroom and community. Much of my work has addressed men's use
and abuse of women and their sexuality in the sexual-exploitation industries:
prostitution, stripping, and pornography. But from those women I also learned
that feminism was not merely a concern for "women's issues"
but also a way of understanding power and critiquing the
domination/subordination dynamic that is central to so much of modern life. The
roots of that dynamic are in patriarchy, the system of male dominance that
arose only a few thousand years ago but that has been so destructive to people
and the earth. Patriarchy is incompatible with justice and sustainability.

The challenge for feminism is to articulate an alternative to the
illegitimate hierarchies that structure our lives: men over women, white over
non-white, rich over poor, First World over
Third. That isn't "women's work" but
"feminism's work," which we all should undertake, in
conjunction with the many other intellectual and political movements concerned
with real justice. If we can change the way we treat each other, those new
non-hierarchical social arrangements may help us solve the fundamental problem
of the destruction inherent in human domination over the non-human world.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert Jensen

Robert Jensen

Robert Jensen, an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, collaborates with Ecosphere Studies at The Land Institute. He is the author of several books, including The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men and  Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully. He can be reached at or through his website.

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WHO, South Africa Urge Nations to Lift 'Naive' Omicron Travel Bans

"The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic."

Brett Wilkins ·

EU Joins Rights Group in Condemning Israel's 'Day of Destruction' of Palestinian Homes

"Demolitions are illegal under international law and significantly undermine the prospects for peace."

Brett Wilkins ·

GOP 'Silence Speaks Volumes,' Says Ilhan Omar as Boebert's Bigotry Goes Unpunished

"Normalizing this bigotry not only endangers my life but the lives of all Muslims. Anti-Muslim bigotry has no place in Congress."

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Africans Should Be 'Applauded, Not Punished,' Say Advocates Amid Omicron Travel Ban

"What is going on right now is inevitable," said African Union Vaccine Delivery Alliance co-chair Dr. Ayoade Alakija. "It's a result of the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent, and speedy manner."

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Biden Drilling Report Blasted as 'Shocking Capitulation to the Needs of Corporate Polluters'

"Greenlighting more fossil fuel extraction, then pretending it's OK by nudging up royalty rates, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·

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