Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Where's Andrea Dworkin When We Need Her? by JMP

image of book cover is from here

What follows is a cross post from the M-L-M Mayhem! blog. With gratitude to JMP for permission to publish it here. Please click on the title just below to link back to her blog.

Where's Andrea Dworkin When We Need Her?

The recent and brutal gang rape in BC sadly demonstrates, once again, that the late and much-maligned Andrea Dworkin is not an outdated dinosaur. Her analysis of misogynist violence, the institutions and ideology connected to patriarchy, is not something we can easily dismiss. Her speech "I Want A Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape" is still tragically relevant: there was never any truce and this most recent example of misogynist warfare is another terrible instance, in a long list of patriarchal violence, of the ongoing oppression of women.

Somewhere in the counter-revolutionary late 80s the unrelenting feminism of the Dworkins was shunted aside for the so-called "sex-positive" feminism of the 3rd Wave. The sexist violence continued but it became taboo, in certain chic feminist circles, to ask about the normative grounds of this violence, the institutional and ideological props for the material reality of patriarchy. It was just not fun to imagine that Dworkin's critique of pornography and its connection to rape culture still possessed validity. If anything it was "anti free speech" and no one bothered to ask whether, regardless of the tactical problems connected to Dworkin and MacKinnon's attempt to legally associate pornography with hate speech, there was a contradiction between liberal notions of free speech and oppression.

The left in this country has always had a problem with liberalism. That whole "right against right but greater force decides" reality of liberal "equal rights", critiqued by Marx, has so often been ignored in the flurry to embrace some pseudo-radical notion of individual liberty. Suppression of dissidence has often devolved into saccharine "free speech" movements that empty the politics of the original dissident act, ignore the systemic situation of oppression, and never bother to ask "whose free speech and for whom?" And thus Dworkin is furiously denounced as an enemy of free speech while the misogynist corporate mogols, with their armies of lawyers and publishing connections, were allowed to prevent her free speech.

Dworkin makes us all feel a little uncomfortable, though it is somewhat odd that many feel uncomfortable without having read any of her work. Since we have the "sex-positive" feminists around to denounce her for us (a sad label since it assumes that Dworkin, without any real evidence besides hearsay, was "sex-negative" - a language slur like how the anti-abortion right calls itself "pro-life") we can feel good about our pornography and never once question how it is ideologically connected to instances of real world rape.

And yet the ugly world of misogynist violence continues, the patriarchal war persists, and we have not at all moved beyond that world of rape-celebration that Dworkin was trying to reveal, examine, and demystify. Ms. Marx, in a recent entry, examined the shocking pro-rape culture surrounding this recent act of oppression: not only was the gang rape posted on Facebook, but the comments under the posting were all the sort of comments one would find on a porn site: she wanted it, she was asking for it, women want to be gang-raped, she's a whore, she's a slut, it's funny...

The parallel between the consumption of real world rape and pornography, a connection analyzed by Dworkin, is not forced. In fact, counsellors and experts at rape crisis centres have been making the same parallel in their comments about this specific rape. One of these counsellors even pointed out that we live in a culture where rape is acceptable; the persistence of pornography (and here I do use the term in the way Dworkin would use it not in the way it's been watered down to include "feminist pornography", etc.) helps make it acceptable - just like the persistence of racist imagery in the media helps make racism acceptable. As Daisy Kier, spokesperson for the Vancouver Rape Relief and Womens Shelter, said:

"The whole mythology sold to men and the fantasy perpetuated through most pornography is how women are willing participants who really love sex and really want five men having sex with them. That is a predominant image and theory that's being put out by pornography."

Perhaps Kier's comment isn't "sex positive" but, as Dworkin would remind us if she was still alive, rape is not sex positive. And if pornography is ideologically connected to rape then maybe, just maybe, we should realize that it's not "sex positive" either. Dworkin understood and examined the "predominant image and theory" of pornography decades ago; the analysis is still relevant today.

But hold on there! Dworkin is just a little too "crazy" (or maybe the appropriate sexist term would be hysterical) isn't she? She wants to take away my porn and make me feel guilty! She's a "misanderist"! She said some things about sex that I never read but that I heard that she said that make me feel uncomfortable! I'd rather read some nice, safe, "sex positive" third wave feminism: they're real feminists because they make me feel good about myself.

There are times when I feel that Andrea Dworkin is the feminist equivalent of Frantz Fanon. Both are stylists as well as theorists and readers who do not take the time (or rely on bad readings rather than read the actual text) fall into the trap of focusing on the surface form rather than reading for content. The number of bad readings done on the first chapter of Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth are rather significant, and it is quite common for someone to complain that Fanon is outdated now that we have the nice and safe post-colonialist theorists to replace him. Bhabha instead of Fanon because, hey, I really don't like what that Fanon guy is saying about violence. Like Fanon, Dworkin was interested in practice. Like Fanon, Dworkin was interested in engaging with the material reality of a specific oppression. Like Fanon, Dworkin makes us uncomfortable because she's talking about real world violence and demanding change, something that always makes readers uncomfortable - especially those readers whose privilege is contingent upon the oppression being critiqued. And like Fanon, as this recent instance of misogynist violence should demonstrate, Dworkin is still and sadly relevant.

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