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.
I've read a lot of Dworkin's books, but I read them a long time ago, and I really can't remember the extent of "her demonization of men and male sexuality," which I don't agree with. I remember finding a lot of rousing and provocative ideas in those books and a real passion about harms done to women. I think I was careful about what I wrote; my honoring of this woman who had just died was not unqualified. I'm glad Young thinks I'm "usually reasonable" but I'm going to defend myself and say that this was another example of my being reasonable.
Here's what Young wrote in the comments section to my original post (linked above):
As a semi-regular reader of your blog, I am extremely disappointed by your positive comments about Andrea Dworkin.... 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."
The accusation that I "embrace the left-wing double standard" was a response to something I wrote in the comments: "People who speak out on behalf of the oppressed can be admired -- with qualifications -- despite their anger-driven overstatements and misjudgment." And I wrote a comment later explaining this:
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.
I'm sorry I just don't have the heart to point out the shortcomings of the woman's work. She just died! I alluded to some disagreements I have, and I don't have a problem with the substantive content of Young's post other than that I obviously don't think I departed from my usual reasonableness.
Young points out this op-ed in the NYT by Catharine MacKinnon, which I somehow missed yesterday. MacKinnon's point is that Dworkin was mistreated and that "[h]ow she was treated is how women are treated who tell the truth about male power without compromise or apology." It's not surprising that people reacted strongly to the very harsh things Dworkin said, and it's simplistic to call what she said "truth" and leave it at that. It was dramatic overstatement for effect. She provoked a big argument -- as did MacKinnon -- and I don't see how you can blame people for fighting back on the important subject of sex.
And much of the mistreatment MacKinnon describes is the typical lot of the writer. People talk about writers' work without taking the trouble to read it all the time. People misstate and twist the meaning of what people say all the time. And people mercilessly ridicule public figures for the way they look -- though surely Andrea Dworkin got a particularly harsh version of that treatment. Dworkin made people really angry, and even if there was a good measure of sexism in that response, a lot of the nastiness was returning in kind what she dished out. That is part of being taken seriously.