The Dworkin Whitewash
What's with all the posthumous adulation of loony feminist extraordinaire Andrea Dworkin? The New York Times gives Dworkin's sister-in-censorship, law professor Catharine MacKinnon, a platform to celebrate the late writer/activist as a Nobel Prize-caliber genius, misunderstood by the world and maligned by "minions of the status quo" (such as, presumably, American Civil Liberties Union president Nadine Strossen, who coined the brilliant term "MacDworkin" to describe the duo and their followers). The Boston Globe published an equally glowing eulogy by Wheelock College professor Gail Dines (my own considerably more jaundiced view runs on Monday). I was especially taken aback when the usually reasonable Ann Althouse, University of Wisconsin law professor and blogger, decided to "honor" Dworkin with this tribute. Althouse notes that in contrast to the "blatantly partisan" feminists who flocked to Bill Clinton's defense when he was accused of sexual misconduct, "Dworkin, for all her overstatements and wackiness, was truly devoted to feminism as an end." All right, so Dworkin was nonpartisan in her demonization of men and male sexuality ("What needs to be asked," she notoriously told a British writer on Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, "is, Was the cigar lit?"). That's a good thing? And what is this "feminism" she was dedicated to, anyway? It certainly wasn't liberal feminism, anti-censorship feminism, or pro-sex feminism, all of which she despised.
The bottom line:
Whatever her defenders may say, Dworkin was a relentless preacher of hatred toward men ("Under patriarchy, every woman's son is her betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman" -- Letters from a War Zone, 1989, p. 14). Yes, she apparently had genuine and even warm affection for some men in her own life, and spent her last 20 years with a male companion she eventually married (John Stoltenberg, a MacDworkinite feminist and practically a poet of male self-loathing). But no one would absolve a male misogynist on the grounds that he loved his mother and sister, or had a devoted wife who embraced his ideology.
Whatever her defenders say, Dworkin was anti-sex. No, she may not have ever written the actual words "All sex is rape" or "All sexual intercourse is rape." But she did extensively argue, in particular in the 1987 book, Intercourse, that (1) all heterosexual sex in our "patriarchal" society is coercive and degrading to women, and (2) sexual penetration may by its very nature doom women to inferiority and submission, and "may be immune to reform." A chapter from the book, filled with such insights as, "Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men's contempt for women," can be found here. (Again, if a male writer had written book after book arguing that women were evil creatures whose sole purpose in life is to sexually manipulate and destroy men, would we spend a lot of time quibbling over whether he actually used the phrase, "All women are whores"?) In the 1976 book, Our Blood (p. 13), Dworkin had this to say about a feminist transformation of sexuality: "For men I suspect that this transformation begins in the place they most dread -- that is, in a limp penis. I think that men will have to give up their precious erections and begin to make love as women do together." (Gee... can you say "castrating"?)
It's sadly obvious that this supposedly bold and visionary prophet was, in actuality, insane. (Among other things, she described the Caesarian section as "a surgical fuck" by "the new rapist, the surgeon.") So why the praise? Is this really little more than slightly over-the-top rhetoric in defense of the oppressed? Is challenging the very existence of sexual intercourse really a wonderfully bold and provocative idea, as even pro-sex feminist and frequent Dworkin target Susie Bright seems to think? Why the lack of stigma against anti-male bigotry?
In her Times op-ed, MacKinnon complains that Dworkin's brilliant ideas have been "marginalized." Clearly, they haven't been marginalized enough; and that's bad news for women, men, and feminism.
By the way, the best critique of MacDworkinism can be found in Daphne Patai's outstanding 1998 book Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism. I leave you with Patai's observation: "Cultivating hatred for another human group ought to be no more acceptable when it issues from the mouths of women than when it comes from men, no more tolerable from feminists than from the Ku Klux Klan."
UPDATE: Today's New York Times, in the Week in Review section, features a piece on the praise bestowed on Dworkin by some conservatives. Actually, one of the curious aspects of Dworkin's "legacy" is the extent to which appropriating her language helped social conservatives attack freedom and equality for women without appearing anti-woman. I recall Terry Jeffrey of Human Events, a few years ago, saying on the late, unlamented Crossfire that the sexual revolution was "violence against women." And just the other day at the blog of the Independent Women's Forum, Charlotte Hays referred to women being wounded in combat in Iraq as "state-sanctioned violence against women." In a way, it makes sense. The MacDworkinite focus on violent male abuse of women completely obscured the fact that at least in Western history, patriarchy far more commonly took the form of paternalism and special protections for women. Thus, this ideology played straight into the hands of the neo-paternalists.
UPDATE, again: My Boston Globe column on Dworkin is now online.
madpad | April 17, 2005, 10:02am | #Something is wrong, and men have to change to fix it.
I don't buy that men have to do all the heavy lifting.
Just what do you expect men to DO? Change their behavior so women don't have to come of sounding like nags?
Why shouldn't women have to change their approach to one more effective than either nagging or becoming as feminist?
Since men stopped going on quests, both men's AND womens roles have changed.
Men are not solely responsible for the changes so why should we be solely responsible for adapting to those new roles.
The mere idea that men have to do all the changing reduces women to a "passive responder" status.
Men and women continue to change and adapt to everchanging social rules (and roles).
Some will cling to old models of behavior and some create clunky new ones (like radical feminism). They are just attempts to understand and deal with these changes.
As cynical as I am, IMHO men and women seem to lurch forward absorbing these changes.
The inertia seems to (eventually) take the most effective snippets from any particular ideology and chuck the rest of the garbage.
Sometimes it moves back before moving forward. And it never hits everyone all at the same time everywhere in the world. But move it does.
Declaring the "Men Have To Change" simply doesn't say anything at all.
It places ALL the responsibility for action on men. Gives ALL of the credit for correct behavior to women. And assumes that ALL men and women everywhere are essentially the same.
It's as pointless a statement as "men are pigs", "sex is rape" and "women are goddesses".
David T | April 17, 2005, 2:23pm | #
There's an interesting article in *The Times* (London) about something which I don't think Cathy Young emphasizes enough--*right-wing* praise for Dworkin (which actually is logical enough, given the Right's dislike of sexual freedom):
"Some of the kindest obituaries of Dworkin have come from conservative writers such as David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W Bush who coined the phrase 'axis of evil' about Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
"Frum was introduced to Dworkin and her husband by the left-wing British writer Christopher Hitchens. 'Despite myself, I was impressed,' Frum said. 'When I met her she was increasingly immobilised by illness but her mind ranged free.'
"According to Frum, she was revolted by Bill Clinton's behaviour towards women and supported the work of evangelical Christians against sex trafficking. Dworkin also had 'little use for an anti-war movement that made excuses for Saddam Hussein or Islamic extremism'.
"He added: 'In one respect at least, she shared a deep and true perception with the political and cultural right. She understood that the sexual revolution had inflicted serious harm on the interests of women and children ? and ultimately of men as well.'
"Stoltenberg said Dworkin 'enormously enjoyed' meeting Frum and his wife, the writer Danielle Crittenden. 'It was a scintillating evening,' he said. Dworkin also enjoyed taking tea with Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and a consultant on family values for the Bush administration.
"'I was struck by her intellectual seriousness. She grappled with some very hard, deep truths,' said Gallagher. 'When most people think of Andrea Dworkin they think of her assertion that intercourse is rape, but what I remember is her claim that sexual intercourse is not intrinsically banal.'
"A lot of conservatives used to say, 'Oh, she's a lesbian', as if that explained her views on sex but she really wanted to transcend the body."
Cathy Young | April 17, 2005, 8:26pm | #
Thanks for the comments, everyone!
Laura Miller's piece in Salon
was good, though she could have been tougher on Dworkin.
Maybe the people cutting Dworkin a little posthumous slack are just uneasy with the number of ugly necrophilia and corpse-mutilation fantasies celebrating her death that have appeared these past few days.
There was definitely some ugly sentiment expressed in the H & R thread you mention, but as Jesse Walker says, there is a certain irony in the fact that Dworkin's brand of extremism would bring out exactly the kind of ugliness in a few people that she saw in all men.
Anyway, the proper response to such ugliness is certainly not to celebrate Dworkin's oeuvre
-- it's to point out that she does deserve a measure of compassion as a very disturbed, very unhappy person.
Pavel -- thanks for the link to the Globe article! I actually missed that. Amazing story about the pro-Dworkin sentiment on that porn site.
David -- ironically, at the time you posted the London Times
article, I was working on the update to my blog post about the New York Times
article on Dworkin and the right.
And suddenly my thoughts form a creepy cross-connection with the character of Carrie's mother in the Stephen King book, screaming that menstruation and breast growth aren't normal biological functions, but a sign from God that the girl in question is evil.
Even if Andrea Dworkin had NOT pushed for social policies and laws I find repugnant I STILL would not have supported her, because any philosophy based upon the assumption that there is something inherently evil about a basic human biological function is a philosophy which can't be anything other than fucked up.
That's an excellent
point! There is, in fact, a rather creepy resemblance between the misogynist view that menstruation makes women "unclean," and the Dworkinite loathing of erections (and penetration).
To Henry and thoreau: I always
call 'em as I see 'em, guys. On a lot of issues, I think there are good/valid points on both sides. Not here.
And what's that about a stiletto heel? How sexist! *grin* If I'm going to wield a sharp weapon, I much prefer something like this
Robert Mandel | April 18, 2005, 11:49am | #Could you cite an example of something intelligent she said? Because I've seen her quoted a lot in this and other forums, by both her enemies and her admirers, and it all sounded like the usual half-baked wafer-thin college-freshman bullshit philosophy to me.
Dan, don't you know that's how the overqualified for nothing "learned" keep their jobs. They create pseudo-academic fields, then create the secure jobs to inculcate their ideas into willing sycophants, and have all their colleagues colalborate in the game. They create their departments, and usurp academic culture. VDH said it best
:"I would eliminate anything that has the word "studies" in it: ethnic studies, women's studies, cultural studies, American studies. That would free up about 25 percent of the current therapeutic curriculum." (but of course, he's a real academic, so I'll get blasted)
When other academics agree that's she's brilliant, then by default, she's brilliant. I've no doubt that Dworkin, et al., were at one time serious students and scholars, but as they found the only way to attract attention was to be ever more radical, and it was path to mainstream, then suddenly their radicalism became
mainstream, and they were the leaders. It's simialr to when we won the cold war, the military was thinking, "holy crap, what do we do now?"
Perhaps with the Churchill affair, Columbia U., and other examples, the glass houses will come crumbling down. The simple fact remains that she was a writer of inanity, amusing at best, disgusting at worst, harmful to some, empowering to a few, a point of ridicule and an example of all that's wrong with "academia".
Skeptikos | April 18, 2005, 1:20pm | #
I really liked what Cathy had to say, and thank you for pointing us to the quote "Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men's contempt for women,". That may not be the same as saying penatrative sex is rape, but it sure is damn close.
I disagreed with everything she said, but I have read a lot of her writing, and in a weird way think she was important. Why? Like a poster above pointed out, there are plenty of men who say things like "all woman are whores" and get away with it.
I mentioned to a male friend last week that Dworkin had died, his response "lets go masturbate on her grave". Hmmm....stuff like that doesn't excuse Dworkins anti male stance, but it sure does explain it. But what the hell, it's not like highschool principals would have special ed students raped on stage and then tell the parent not to call police...Right?
"One witness's statement said a boy pulled the girl onto the auditorium stage, ordered her to be quiet, pushed her to her knees and forced her to perform oral sex on him.
"If you scream, I'll have all my boys punch you," the boy told her and then hit her in the face, causing her mouth to bleed, a student told the investigators."
"One of the three assistant principals, Richard Watson, said he had found the videotape and then viewed it with other administrators. Their conclusion, they told investigators, was that there had been no coercion."
I don't know...Ms. Dworkins evil seems to be a bit smaller than the people who gave wings to her complaints.
And I still hate her, but I know where she came from.
Poustman | April 18, 2005, 6:10pm | #
While I understand that there is indeed some powerful benefit to referring to groups of persons, especially when dealing with widespread social issues, I think this approach, however common and even intuitive, has its limits.
Referring to 'men' and 'women' in the context of groups of oppressors and oppressed seems, possibly more than any other generalization, to forget that in the end only *indivuals* ever actually suffer (or experience) anything. Even when large numbers of persons go through the same experience, they each suffer as individuals. Since we are not collective beings, we do not have any particular 'collective' experience, just common experiences which each of us go through uniquely.
Therefore I am always at least a little itchy beneath the waves of rhetoric about 'men', 'women', or racial or ethnic or any other groups. It has been pointed out elsewhere that considering white, middle-classed women as oppressed *in general* is dubious. How much more *all* women? Even the subset of women who have had sex with men . If a given iindividual woman was/is oppressed, that demands redress. But because one, or many, or even millions, of women have been or are being oppressed does not mean that all, or even most, women are oppressed.
Similarly with the advantages of being male, or the common sins of males. If a given individual has an advantage or does something reprehensible, he (or she) has it or does it. Not all he's or she's.
I realize that slogans like "Stop Violence Against Women" are more catchy and therefore useful than "Stop Violence". But to an individual man being violently oppressed, or an individual women *not* being so, the slogan seems unhelpful.
IATC | April 25, 2005, 12:12am | #
"I recall when Susan Brownmiller wrote, in Men, Women and Rape, that all men were guilty of the rape of all women, signifying that a woman who had never been raped had been raped by a man who had never raped her. That was when I learned who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop."
Collateral rape is possible, when a jail guard rapes one female inmate, he is imposing a regime of sexual tyranny on all the inmates.
Similarly there are streets in London, Utecht, Antwerp etc. which have rape as a routine risk. It is a tyranny of something.
Most kerb-crawlers abuse children (they really do), and so prostitution is what it really is.
It is often the same with school abuses. Abu Ghraib (for example) happened because of the Dworkin effect, no other outcome was possible.
The females detainees had lost the facility of speech before the pornography was filmed.
That was a 'group' response to what they witnessed happening mostly to others.
The soldiers knew they could get sex fun by butchering the males in front of the females. One does not work in Pa corrections without understanding leverage.
That being the pornography shown to congress of course.
Nobody in the US seemed to work out that the females were in the same place, at the exact same time, with the same torturers. None of whom would teach chivalry at Camelot.
Why did so many hope for chivalry? Did Dworkin not teach us what always happens?
Often there are not enough good apples to crew a motorcycle. That was part of the message. It was ultimately that simple and that sad.
The art of writing a modern column is apparently not to reflect upon fact, but upon bias, and the more slant the better. I think that was what Cathy Young was trying to do.