April 12, 2005

Andrea Dworkin has died.

She was 58. The staunch feminist won widespread fame seeking anti-pornography legislation, on the theory that pornography caused rape: "Pornography is used in rape - to plan it, to execute it, to choreograph it, to engender the excitement to commit the act." She was a major cultural figure in the late 80s and early 90s, who wrote some amazing books that were quite readable if you didn't get too angry at some of the connections she made.

UPDATE: Susie Bright has a lot to say about Andrea Dworkin here:
It was Andrea’s take-no-prisoners attitude toward patriarchy that I always liked the best. Bourgeois feminists were so BORING. They wanted to keep their maiden name and have it listed in the white pages; they wanted to get a nice corner office in the skyscraper. When I was a teenager in the 70s I couldn't relate to those concerns. It was Dworkin's heyday....

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 f**ked that colors your world, pretty or ugly, and it was about time someone said so.
And here:
The contradictions between Dworkin's brilliance and her lunacy have always gotten under my skin. ... Every time I put down one of her books, I was impressed by her passion, and by the risks she could take with her imagination--- and yet I was also convinced that she was cracked. The more she attacked sexism, the more I felt imprisoned by her concept of sex itself. Her arguments for liberation folded in on themselves, in a victimized dervish dance; they became just another bar and stripe in the code of the double standard.
ANOTHER UPDATE: There are some interesting comments to this post, including one with the phrase "Shame on you, Prof. Althouse." The third comment says "Nice to see another Susie Bright fan," which made me stop and ask myself whether I am a Susie Bright fan, which made me remember I love Susie Bright's contributions to the commentary track of this DVD.

AND MORE: Dworkin said she liked George Washington, and that was enough for Richard Brookhiser. But there's more:
Later on, when NR twitted feminists for supporting a later president, Bill Clinton, I got a note from Dworkin pointing out that she didn't. I wrote a paragraph for "The Week," beginning with the old New Yorker lead-in, "A friend writes..."

Dworkin's prose was unrelenting, hard, clean and compelling. Florence King praised it (while disagreeing with many of her conclusions). She really meant it. R.I.P.
Ah, how that resonates! Feminism was only a means to an end for a lot of people who positioned themselves as the voices of feminism. Their abjectly partisan goals came to light when they supported Clinton and (especially) smeared Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. It was an appalling spectacle. I care a lot about feminism, but I have not trusted the self-appointed voices of feminism since then. Dworkin, for all her overstatements and wackiness, was truly devoted to feminism as an end. She didn't care enough about free speech and she was over-the-top in her aversion to heterosexual sex, but I mean to honor her with this post.

YET MORE: Cathy Young has comments inside and on Hit & Run. I respond to the Hit & Run piece and ask if I've been too kind to Andrea Dworkin here.

23 comments:

Richard Fagin said...

Of course Andrea Dworkin was cracked. She stated that ALL sex between a man and a woman constitutes rape. Thus, survival of our species, absent technological intervention, would depend on what Ms. Dworkin deemed to be criminal conduct. Ms. Dowrkin also believed that false accusation of rape against men was appropriate, if only to cause men to suffer some degree of powerlessness and humiliation. Ms. Dworkin's psychopathy is quite similar to that of Japanese soldiers during WW II - the former "victims" turned on their supposed tormentors with unchecked brutality. Good riddance, Ms. Dworkin. I hope you enjoy your stay in the hereafter with the Emperor's imperial soldiers. You might even learn what real rape is, as did the unfortunate women of Nanking. Shame on you, Prof. Althouse, for granting any dignity to a twisted, sick mind.

Adriana Bliss said...

Thank you, Prof. Althouse, for acknowledging a loud, if somewhat cracked, female voice in legal and cultural theory. While I may not have agreed with all of Dworkin's ideas, I never failed to walk away from a lecture about her or a reading without thinking, something that seems to have fallen out of fashion. As a woman, I know our divine power, and it is frustrating to see it misunderstood, miscategorized, buried, or worse, ignored. Through her written extremism, she brought light to issues which continue to confound all sides of the political spectrum. Being ignored was never her problem, thank goodness.

Judith said...

Richard Fagin seems to have escaped from an Andrea Dworkin screed! But most of us know most men aren't like that.

Nice to see another Susie Bright fan. :-)

Gerry said...

Rick Brookhiser of National Review has some interesting sentiments about Dworkin.

Judith said...

"I love Susie Bright's contributions to the commentary track of this DVD."

Before I clicked on the link I had a feeling which movie it would be . . . I love that movie and I am a nice heterosexual girl.

I have the first 5 years of On Our Backs - probably a collectors item now. I love the playfulness and gender flexibility of gay and lesbian erotica. The photos were really hot. I wish het porn was as much fun.

Wade_Garrett said...

Admittedly, I am not a Dworking expert, but I had to read some of her stuff in college, and in my eyes she is little more than a self-important, self-indulgent, attention-seeker and shameless self-promoter. Very few of my female classmates expressed admiration for her, but they quickly got over it. Once they got beyond their Sylvia Plath phase they quickly denounced Dworkin and all of her writings.

Claiming that all pornography inspires men to rape is akin to
claiming that everybody two reads The Great Gatsby is inspired to murder someone in a swimming pool. There are two possibilities: that she believed what she was saying, or that she aimed to be outrageous simply to draw attention to herself. I do not know which of the two is more obnoxious and reprehensible. The title of her last book was "The Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women's Liberation." Has there every been a title which screamed "BS!" more than that one?

Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

Richard Fagin: "Of course Andrea Dworkin was cracked. She stated that ALL sex between a man and a woman constitutes rape."

Where did Andrea Dworkin say this?

Richard Fagin said...

Rad Geek, actually, Ms. Dworkin said that a woman's true consent to sex was not possible with respect to sex with a man, and went on to explain such statement with political and cultural background. Most states' laws define sexual assault in some manner that Ms. Dworkin's statement arguably means the same thing as all sex between men and women constitutes rape. Dworkin's writings were a large part of the sexual cromes part of my crim law class at law school.

My comments about Ms. Dworkin were a good point badly made or not made at all. Shame on me. Sometimes a messenger is so personally vile, it doesn't matter if his pubilc statements sometimes include useful things. Nonetheless it seems that if the cause the vile messenger espouses is one favored by the elites, then the messenger is often raised to iconic status, when what is more appropriate is the historical dustbin. So it was with Andrea Dworkin.

Few people seriously argue that there is anything worth learning from David Duke or Father Coughlin, and rightly so. Yet Dworkin is someone who appears to be a man-hater (isn't that sexist too?) treated by some as a useful social critic.

So I ask Prof. Althouse - when David Duke passes on, are you going to say, "Good riddance!" or will you look for something good in his poison politics, and why? Is your relatively kind treatment of Andrea Dworkin consistent with this?

Ann Althouse said...

People who speak out on behalf of the oppressed can be admired -- with qualifications -- despite their anger-driven overstatements and misjudgments. Her angry overstatement limited how much progress she could make in the political sphere, so she wasn't really very dangerous, and she made a strong contribution to the debate, including energizing the people who argued back at her, like Susie Bright (linked in my original post).

Ann Althouse said...

And Camille Paglia.

Cathy Young said...

As a semi-regular reader of your blog, I am extremely disappointed by your positive comments about Andrea Dworkin.

I completely agree with Richard Fagin. Dworkin was a psychopath -- a pitiful woman to some extent, because she was so obviously sick; but unfortunately she acted out her sickness on a public stage, by demonizing not only men (and male sexuality) but women who have the temerity to enjoy heterosexual sex.


(Yes, Dworkin spent the last 20 years of her life living with a man, and she wrote warmly about her father and her brother. But it's possible to be a bigot and to make a few personal exemptions. By the way, Dworkin's companion, John Stoltenberg, was an avid follower of her anti-male views; he wrote a book called Refusing to Be a Man, and in his own writings described the penis as "an instrument of oppression.")

By the way, let's please not get into the tiresome discussion of whether or not Dworkin actually uttered or wrote the words "all sexual intercourse is rape." Read this chapter from Intercourse and see for yourself:

"Physically, the woman in intercourse is a space inhabited, a literal territory occupied literally: occupied even if there has been no resistance, no force; even if the occupied person said yes please, yes hurry, yes more."

"Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior."

"Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women."

I showed some of these passages to a friend who had never even heard of Dworkin before. Her immediate response: "She's writing about rape, not sex."

Here's a thought experiment. Suppose a man -- a very troubled men who had had horrible experiences with women -- wrote book after book arguing that women are evil sirens and parasites whose sole purpose in life is to sexually manipulate and destroy men.

Would anyone be hailing him for his "challenging" and "provocative" ideas? Would there be a lot of quibbling over whether he actually ever used the words "All women are whores"?

Yet you, Prof. Althouse, seem to embrace the left-wing double standard with regard to hate speech -- it's not really so bad if directed at "the oppressor" and motivated by concern for the oppressed.

I prefer to agree with Daphne Patai, a former women's studies professor who has written: "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."

Richard Bennett said...

Did Prof. Althouse just imply that middle- and upper-class white American women are "oppressed?"

Amazing.

Ann Althouse said...

Cathy, Mossback: My phrase "people who speak out on behalf of the oppressed" refers to Dworkin's writing, which is concerned with rape victims, pornography workers, prostitutes, etc. I think women have been oppressed throughout history, around the world, and that there is scarcely a more important concern, but it doesn't justify hate speech and it's not even helpfully dealt with by vilifying men. I'm just trying to explain why I don't vilify Dworkin.

Cathy Young said...

Thanks very much for your reply, Ann.

I'm somewhat confused -- you seem to be saying that speaking out on behalf of the oppressed doesn't justify hate speech, yet you won't "vilify" Dworkin (is it "vilification" to describe her as the hate-speech purveyor she was?) because she spoke out for the oppressed.

I share you concern with oppression, but as far as Dworkin goes... well, first of all, I think that describing all prostitution and pornography workers as victims is painting with a bit too broad a brush. Second, it seems to me that Dworkin's insistence on equating the situation of the average American woman with the plight of women who are terribly brutalized can only serve to trivialize the latter.

Ann Althouse said...

Cathy: this is a classic problem in American feminism: do you want to describe one big system that applies to all women or should you concentrate on the truly oppressed? I think it was important to describe sexism and to show how it implicated all women and that a lot of important successes were achieved through this move, especially in the area of employment. It really has been important to fight sex discrimination as it applies to the most successful women.

In the area of sexuality, I can see why people like Dworkin wanted to say to all the women who were smug about their own lucky lives and proud of their mates to say look closely at what you've got and start identifying with women at other levels of sexual happiness: empathize with them and see the problems. Dworkin and MacKinnon said that women had eroticized domination. That's not absolutely accurate, but it is one of the most powerful ideas I have ever encountered in my life. It's a truly scary, unsettling insight and a lot of the intense reaction to them is an unwillingness to lose what you want to believe is good.

Ann Althouse said...

And don't miss the later post I did, responding to Cathy Young, here. Young has a post on Hit & Run about this, and my response to that is in my newer post. More comments there too.

Josh Jasper said...

misjudgments. Her angry overstatement limited how much progress she could make in the political sphere, so she wasn't really very dangerous, and she made a strong contribution to the debate, including energizing the people who argued back at her, like Susie Bright (linked in my original post).

Not dangerous? The woman was, in part, responsible for getting books banend and LGBT bookstores raided in Canada. She tried that crap in the US. We're lucky she didn't get far.

So I think there's a case to be made that she was, in fact, a dangerous menace to freedom, and foolish when she didn't realize that letting the state censor pornography gave them the right to censor feminist writings as well. In fact, this happened when one of her own books was stopped at the border by a Canadian bluenose border guard.

Ann Althouse said...

Josh, my point is that political realities and constitutional rights blocked her overstated ideas from actually getting enacted. She was thus a character in a debate -- one voice in a dialogue -- and it accomplished something to have that debate.

Brian said...

Hey, Dworkin hated hetero sex, but she defended bestiality and parent-child incest. What's not to love?

Poustman said...

Although I don't subscribe to the view that it is unmixedly beneficial to look to the animals for guidance on human questions...

Does not the fact that all animal* reproduction involves intercourse mitigate against the idea that sex is somehow tyrannical or a construct of patriarchy? And wouldn't a 'brilliant mind' have seen this patently obvious fact?

*animal here meaning the correct phylum or whatever.

Josh Jasper said...

Ann: Josh, my point is that political realities and constitutional rights blocked her overstated ideas from actually getting enacted.

I'm not sure how you missed the part where her work in politics actualy did get books banned in Canada, and paved the way for bluenose censors to conduct regular raids on lesbian feminist bookstores, or for that matter, that her own books were banned. The banning was her intent, and from what I remember, she's on record as considering the bookstore raids to be a fair price to pay for banning as much porn as she could get banned.

Or you might only be considering the USA.

It's all fun and games until someone looses the right to free speech, folks.

Jean Ely said...

The physical fact of entry in heter intercourse does not necessitate violation, any more than a dinner guest is guilty of trespass because he physically enters my house. By ignoring the idea of consent, Dworkin not only vilifies men, she arrogantly makes women unenlightened participants in their own victimization. In addition she trivializes her own rape experience, because if all intercourse is violation, why should this experience be anything special to complain about?

Oliver said...

Robert Bork: Good riddance to Bork rubbish

Andrea Dworkin: Good riddance to Dwork rubbish.