Sick of this Dworkin crap

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.

Yeah, Patrick Smith’s latest column on air travel kind of sucks…

I get that screaming/crying children on planes are a nuisance. But in my considerable flying experience, only about 5% of them are, you know, poorly behaved and doing it on purpose. The rest can’t help it. Babies especially. Air travel can be hell on an adult body – it can also be hell on a small child’s body, and small children don’t yet possess the necessary coping skills to avoid causing a ruckus.

I feel hella bad for myself when stuck on a long flight next to a crying child – I also tend to feel bad for the child. And the parent. Because it’s not as if the crying itself is not bad enough – there’s also the dirty looks from everyone else.

There are some really awful, spoiled kids out there – but for most, irritating behaviour on airplanes, crying in particular, is not a choice.

Now here are some people who do, on the other hand, make a choice:

Pervy older guy who was a total sleazebag? Made a choice!

Dude who put his seat all the way back and didn’t want to raise it during meal-time (I was sitting behind him and couldn’t figure out how to eat, since I couldn’t unfold my tray properly. The flight attendant had words with him. Dude bitched both of us out)? Made a choice!

The people who get roaring drunk and start yelling/throwing up/otherwise being pricks? Are making a freaking choice!

Drunk woman who told my dad to “go back to Russia” after he expressed his displeasure at her nearly dropping her suitcase on him while she was standing up in the aisle? Made a choice!

People who sexually harass the flight attendant? Are making a choice!

Couples having incredibly loud, incredibly obnoxious fights on an airplane? Also making a choice. Look, I have some experience arguing with an SO while on an airplane. Screaming “FUCK YOU I KNOW YOU FUCKED THAT DUDE!!!” is kind of rude. Wait till you get to your hotel room. Really, I am sorry that she fucked that dude, dude. If it’s true and you’re not just making shit up, that is. But when you start screaming about it, it distresses me and it distresses the other passengers (and causes small children to start crying, incidentally.

People who make a horrible mess with their food and belongings and don’t bother cleaning up? Goddamn choice.

I could go on, but the point is – there’s good flights and bad flights. On the bad flights I’ve been on, kids have rarely been the problem, and even when they were, it was mostly over stuff they had no power over to begin with. And believe me, I’ve seen some HORRIBLE kids and even MORE HORRIBLE parents (and the worst, by far, was an English lady who smacked her kid around and yelled expletives at him). But they’re still a minority.

When people make blanket statements demonizing all children they’re also just demonizing mothers. Who are still primarily the ones taking care of children and who should stay at home with their brood until they’re all 18, obviously. Nothing sexist about that, right?

The New Year in Kiev, by Sasha Andrusyk
© Sasha Andrusyk. Kiev, Ukraine.

My blood pressure fell suddenly, like it sometimes does these days. I came alive maybe half an hour later after Sasha took this picture, when medicine was found.

The baby started moving just two days before. It woke me up on the train. It’s too early for me to actually feel kicks, but I feel it float to the surface from somewhere deep inside me, like a bobber, up to meet my hand or the Man’s hand, when we place it on my just slightly rounded stomach. The Man felt it move for the first time on New Year’s Eve, in a cafe on a central street in clean, sparkling, snowy Kiev. “Feel that?” I asked in between sips of hot chocolate. He did.

On the train to Ukraine, I had felt three gentle taps when I used my hand to trace the movement. It was like someone knocking on a door in the middle of the night. The train had been standing still in the snow, under the sudden stars, the snow clouds having parted briefly. I had been looking at the sky when I felt it. There was no motion, the only motion was inside me. “I’m taking you to visit the place where I was born,” I told the baby in case it didn’t realize, and then the train started again.

Infidelity, Russian-style

Hell yeah. World Cup.

But anyway…

I read Julia Ioffe’s piece on infidelity in Russia with great interest, particular because it was for Slate’s DoubleX, and I never really know what the hell I am supposed to make of that particular outfit. A part of me despises it, a part of me is continually intrigued.

Not surprisingly, I guess, I would up having mixed feelings about Julia’s piece as well. I thought it was spot-on about the habits of married men, particularly upper-class married men – but I was disappointed that there was so little mention of women cheating. It’s true that a woman telling a potential lover “hey, I’m married” won’t stop him, and Julia was right to point that out – but once again, women were presented as passive, pursued by dudes with no morals.

This isn’t the view I have of life in Russia at all, and while the plural of anecdote is not data (neither when it comes to Julia’s piece, not when it comes to what the rest of us encounter), it seems to me that a whole lot of married Russian women cheat. Most of my mother’s middle-aged friends admit to past and/or ongoing affairs. And even when it comes to the wives of the sought-after wealthy men profiled in Julia’s piece – those wives do get bored. I don’t know a whole lot of rich Russian dudes, but all of the ones I’ve been in regular contact with have the same story to share, and it’s a variant of “we got married, and then I was away on business a lot, and suddenly, she was sleeping with someone else.”

One guy I know had to confront his wife over a pregnancy that obviously had nothing to do with him, the husband. She wound up raising the baby with someone else – a self-help guru. And that’s just how some people roll.

The main difference is – the wives of wealthy Russian men don’t tend to brag about their escapades. If you’re in it because you have a sugar-daddy, you don’t want to spoil the entire thing by blabbing about your “extracurricular activities.” The man who has the financial power, on the other hand, feels more comfortable with asserting his ability to do whatever the hell he wants, because he’s just that fly!… Or so he thinks, anyway. Also, the risk of a male spouse getting violent over revelations of cheating is greater than the other way around. And let’s face it, there’s also the fact that because we live in a patriarchy, male egos are inevitably constructed as more fragile. Women, who mostly have an inferior social status, learn to sublimate their own egos while buttering up the men’s. As one of my young married friends put it, “I don’t want him to find out that I cheat, because it will freak him out and humiliate him way more than such a scenario could possibly freak out or humiliate me.”

All of this makes female infidelity less visible, but no less real.

Meanwhile, this part of Julia’s article struck me as plain odd:

Tanya, for her part, couldn’t take the knowledge that her husband was cheating on her. She divorced him even though she is 30 and has a child, which makes a woman essentially unmarriageable in Russia.

Do I live in some parallel version of Russia? Off the top of my head, I can think of something like dozens of examples among friends, relatives and casual acquaintances that prove this statement to be an extreme exaggeration.

Most of my older friends, both male and female, are partnered up. However, the majority of them are on their second or third marriage already. Most of them also tend to have kids from previous relationships. Many felt pressured to marry young and have kids – and then realized that “oh crap, this isn’t going to work out.” It’s a common phenomenon in Russia and elsewhere.

And kids come first, too. Particularly if you’re a woman. When I went through a huge break-up last year, I once lamented to a friend about how I may never fall in love again. “But you can still have a kid,” he replied. “Kid’ll love you, and you’ll love the kid – and that’s the most important thing, no?” “But I don’t want to do it alone!” I wailed. “Well, nobody wants to do it alone, but for you it’s better to be a single parent than single and childless!” He retorted. “You’ll have plenty of love in your life, that way.”

Now that I am, indeed, pregnant, none of my Russian friends or relatives even bother to ask me if I’m getting married. To them, that’s not the important thing. Their reaction is – “Hell yes! Natalia’s finally decided to procreate! Let’s drink in her honour while she eyes our beers jealously!”

Many people don’t get married again after having kids and then getting divorced – but a lot of them also don’t want to. An older woman in particular may not necessarily want to adopt a traditionally feminine role anymore. After three kids and two divorces, my aunt is amused by the propositions her boyfriends make: “He wants me to move in with him! Is he out of his mind?!” She’s middle-aged, and not conventionally attractive, but she still gets enough play – a good example of how life extend far beyond the stereotypes of “subservient, attractive young Russian woman” and “scary, sexless Soviet baba with a mustache on her upper lip.”

For a lot of Russian men, a single woman with children signifies a kind of normalcy that, I would argue, many American men do not see. I think that for a lot of Americans, particularly those of us who hail from more conservative parts of the country, a single mom signifies that SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAS HAPPENED IN THIS WOMAN’S LIFE!!! I feel that a lot of Russians, in urban areas in particular, have a more casual approach. “Oh,” they’ll say, “Guess her previous relationship didn’t work out.”

If anything, I feel that it’s single and childless women in Russia who really get the short end of the stick. There’s not a whole lot wrong with you if your marriage didn’t work out. But you’re ZOMG A VICTIM if you don’t have kids. Or better yet, you’re ZOMG A SELFISH MONSTER. In an odd way, it’s certain Orthodox scholars who have attempted to change this attitude, some of them writing pamphlets such as “Female solitude: why does everyone treat it like it’s horrible?” Of course, in their view, a single, childless woman should be in a convent, or at least way, way devoted to religion – but their refusal to plainly demonize such women is already a step in the right direction.

I think that Julia’s observation that Russian hedonism was first preempted by Russian consumerism is a good one – but I also feel that it applies to a certain segment of the population, as opposed to Russia on the whole. Even under the Soviet regime, the Russian artistic community, for example, was fairly freewheeling when it comes to relationships (when a famous playwright died in Moscow recently, I wound up in a room full of people who were all eagerly reminiscing about his mistresses and his wife’s lovers). And for your average middle-class Russian, the ability to stock up on colourful pairs of Uggs for the winter (I have discovered, way behind everyone else, that Uggs are perfect for Russia) does not translate into applying the same mentality to lovers.

Overall, I feel that the reality of relationships in Russia is much more mundane than it is portrayed in Julia’s piece. I see a lot of truth in what she says – I mean, since coming to Russia, I myself have been the Other Woman. Twice. And it’s not as if I haven’t been cheated on as well. But I also feel that tales of Russian hedonism are so popular among Western publications precisely of how outlandish they ultimately are. I feel that there is a certain level of projection there. “Those Russians! So barbaric! And kind of badass! In a barbaric way! When they’re not cheating on their wives, they’re busy putting out horrible Belomorkanal cigarettes on tiny baby kittens!” I mean, back in the States, you see a whole lot of cheating and divorce as well – to the point that no one’s really surprised by it. Maybe the real difference is that Russian society deals with failed relationships in a more offhand way. I don’t know if this necessarily proves Julia’s point – that infidelity is accepted in Russia. I think a whole lot of people just view it as the devil they know.