People who are fans of Andrea Dworkin’s writing insist that she was too ahead of her time for men or women to really get her. I agree in part. Dworkin was, by all evidence, a woman of superior intelligence whose work changed a lot of people’s lives – whether leading to some form of political awakening or else.
One of my own favourite quotes from Dworkin goes like this:
“My fiction is not autobiography. I am not an exhibitionist. I do not show myself. I am not asking for forgiveness. I do not want to confess.”
I don’t necessarily relate to the first part (and as a sidenote, I think the distaste Dworkin had for showing herself had a lot to do with her blanket hatred of pornography), but I’ve always found the combination of statements here to be very powerful.
What I really don’t like is when people decide to swoop down on me or friends of mine, and quote fervently quote Dworkin at us, usually with the implication that we have yet to be introduced to the body of her work.
Here’s the thing – I am familiar with her work and her ideas. Sadly, I view a lot of those ideas in particular as self-defeating and counter-productive, or else downright eerie. And I don’t mean “eerie” as in “OMIGOD, they were just too revolutionary to handle.” I mean “eerie” as in “damn creepy, like if one of my fundamentalist relatives taught a college-level course in sexual ethics and replaced ‘hell’ with ‘sex’ in her lectures.” Too many pseudo-Dworkins in my life already, most of them leading destructive lives, for me not to draw some obvious parallels.
Dworkin’s obsession with “fucking” and “women getting fucked”, for example, has a distinct Old Testament flavour to it (and tends to ignore gay men, bi men and dudes who don’t identify as either but still like to get down for some penetrative action with other dudes). Penetrative sex can come with a lot of negativity and trauma attached, but merely viewing it from that angle is pretty limiting – and this is exactly what many Dworkinites do. As Susie Bright put it in her famous obituary of Dworkin:
“I loved that she dared attack the very notion of intercourse. It was the pie aimed right in the crotch of Mr. Big Stuff. It was an impossible theory, but it wasn’t absurd. There is something about literally being fucked that colors your world, pretty or ugly, and it was about time someone said so.”
Hell yeah. It’s also an experience that men and women share, whether literally or by being able to relate to one another. With few exceptions (Thomas Beatie, anyone?), men cannot get pregnant – and pregnancy remains a life-changing and potentially life-threatening event for women. Many men, on the other hand, risk social ostracism and even violent death if it is revealed that they enjoy being penetrated. There’s lots to talk about here. It is beyond doubt that mainstream attitudes toward penetrative sexual intercourse must change across the board – but reactionary statements about the so-called horror of the practice set the whole process back.
The reason why I bring up Dworkin right now has to do with people who insist on trolling this website while utilizing – and sometimes even plain hijacking – her writing. On this site, I now outright ban people who talk to me as if I’ve never experienced violence, sexual violence in particular. I don’t owe them any explanations, nor do I have to justify myself to them. However, I do wish to address this particular instance of trolling, because it so neatly exemplifies many of the disconnecting factors within Western feminism, to me:
[Persons starts out yelling at me about "embracing the fun-fem label"]
It makes me sad, at 18 years of age and on a full financial ride to a good school (better than the male-dominated campus of Duke), that Im ahead of people like you.
So apparently this young woman will never have to deal with the hell of student debt? Well, mazel tov on that latter bit, for sure, but here’s a tip for later: lecturing someone while simultaneously waving around your privilege and/or assumed privilege? Probably not going to get them to listen. It’s a familiar standard of behaviour, though. “Listen to me, because I’m better than you.” Honey, nobody who is confident in her ideas actually acts like this.
You say youre pregnant with a ‘patriarchal oppressor.’ Do you know what words like that mean? Are you going to take responsibility when your son is old enough to be violent toward women? Do you know what bringng [sic] more men into the world means?
The funny thing about bringing people into this world – you don’t know how they’re going to turn out. I’m sure that Jack the Ripper’s mother had no crystal ball handy. But you do the best you can, because that’s the only way to ever get anywhere, once you’ve made the choice to have a child.
Another funny thing about bringing people into this world – you have no idea what the world has in store for them. Will they be drafted into some stupid war? Claimed by some preventable disease? You don’t know any of these things. You just swallow your fears and keep on going.
Something tells me that the cub will kick some ass in this world – and his father and I will do our best to steer him to kick the right kind of ass. What we will not do is apologize for having a boy. I will never question my future kid’s self-worth in that particular manner, and won’t let anyone question his self-worth in that manner. Navigating male privilege as a parent is one thing – debating the ethics of having boys is straight out of dear Adolf’s eugenics handbooks. And “I am not asking for forgiveness. I do not want to confess.” Shaming mothers is a popular pastime, even in feminist communities, but screw that.
I doubt you got pregnant via arrtificial insemination; therefore, you have a lot to think about with regard to sex and fucking and women getting fucked. Your life very obviously evolves around the phallus, around the man, right now, and this is exactly how men want it (why else did you get married?). Andre Dworkin was very eloquent when writing on this subject, you should read her before running your mouth on radical feminism. [A bunch of links to creepy websites were creepy people discuss other people's personal lives creepily]
Didn’t get pregnant via artificial insemination? Why, this might mean that she’s not a virgin… Anyone who’s not a virgin in the traditional sense of the world naturally dedicates her life to “the phallus.” I’m not sure what that means in practice, but it sure sounds entertaining.
See, this is kind of a twisting of Dworkin already, because while the lady did have some weird opinions, she correctly recognized that belittling and punishing women for engaging in sexual intercourse was something that people who view women as lower life-forms truly excel at. Otherwise, the most common insult used against a woman wouldn’t be… yeah, exactly.
If you think radical feminists insult you, just think about the fact that the men insult you too, only much worse.
Oh, so it’s OK for a woman to belittle another woman for engaging in sexual intercourse, because, um… No, sorry, that got old years ago.
Maybe through insult some women can be urged into a greater awakening.
Oh, I get it! So when my dad tells me he wants to lose weight and wants me to support him, I should turn around and call him a “fat fucking slob.” For his sake. I’m so glad I’ve got 18-year-old feminist scholars who recently discovered the word “phallus” to teach me the finer points of consciousness raising, political organizing, improving one’s lot, etc. I could apply my newly acquired skills anywhere, and totally win, you guys.
Beucause [sic] there is nothing worse than a woman who claims the feminism mantle but does nothing toward a real revolution.
Here’s a list of things I consider to be really revolutionary: Listening to sex-workers and former sex-workers of all stripes, working towards making the lives of sex-workers and former sex-workers safer, challenging transphobia, organizing around issues like healthcare, childcare, the rights of women serving in the armed forces, (the list goes on and it’s damn long), continuing to bust myths around sexual violence (re: the idiotic response to the assault on Lara Logan, for example), resisting attempts to police women’s appearance, helping raise a generation that will not internalize most myths on sexual violence (yeah, this is where parental responsibility would come in, I’d say), make sure said generation actually has a planet that’s not totally destroyed to live on, etc.
Let me be honest – I’m a writer and a journalist, not an activist. What Joan Didion once referred to as the “irreducible ambiguities” of fiction is the main context I operate within. Yet as a writer and journalist and person who often has a public platform, I do what I can when it comes to political issues I consider important. I want to do more, and will keep on doing more. While you’re busy discussing “the revolution” in the commenting sections of various blogs, other people are out there doing shit. Sometimes, I even get to be one of them.
It’s easy to take Dworkin’s name in vain. Or show up on other people’s blogs to dissect their personal lives, because, as Clarice Starling might say, pointing that high-powered (or not even that high-powered) perception at yourself can be frightening. But all of that is only tangential to feminism. Feminism, to me, is mostly about being practical. It’s about stuff I can do and want to do and Dworkin, God bless her, had very little insight into actual desire.