Monday, August 02, 2010

5 Years On: The Passing of Her Holiness, Andrea Dworkin

I came across this while looking through some of my old writings. This was written right after Andrea Dworkin's death, and I wish I had found it a few months earlier so I could have posted it for the 5th aniversary. Anyway, better late than never.

I think the post is interesting, because at the time I was seeing the stirrings of a major backlash against sex-positive feminism and unfortunately, the last 5 years have proven me right. At the same time, I think I had some good insights as to why this was happening, and where the sex-positive movement needs to take the thunder out of the radfem/abolitionist critique of sexual exploitation.


This entry is kind of belated, but then I found out about it kind of late. Andrea Dworkin died last week. Blogland is filled with discussions about her, and interestingly, a lot of the commentary is positive. (Even on the Suicide Girls message board, several SG models were vociferously sticking up for Dworkin and were ready to tear a new asshole on the (male) poster who dared to trash her. The fact that girls who quite openly and proudly doing softcore nude modeling have such a soft spot for AD speaks volumes about the weird charisma and reality distortion field that woman had.) Perhaps this can be chalked up to not wanting to speak badly of the dead, and of the feeling that Dworkin took a lot of shit for her ideas and actions and that too much insult had been thrown her way already.

I'm not sure I'm so inclined to be quite so charitable, though I'm past the age where I'd get any great pleasure dancing on somebody's grave, either. There's much talk about what a maligned figure Dworkin was, but the fact is, when it came to attacks, she certainly gave as good as she got.

Many of us remember all-too-well the laws that Dworkin and MacKinnon tried to enact back in the '80s. These broadly-written ordinances would have opened to crippling lawsuits anybody who produced any work of sexual expression that fell short of MacKinnon and Dworkin's narrow ideas on politically correct sexuality. And that's not to mention the frequent bitter attacks and even death threats toward other feminists who dared disagree with the idea that sexuality wasn't 100% male-dominated evil.

Dworkin's protestations about her supposed victimization was just so much posturing – she lost vicious fights that she clearly started and then complained when she took some hits. What's left out is that if her side had won, they would have beat down their opponents at least as severely. Its all too easy to posit Dworkin as a victim – if you totally ignore the way she treated others.

There's a lot of commentary about how Dworkin really didn't hate men, but this really seems to be disingenuous. In practice, the only men she didn't seem to positively loath were men like her partner, John Stoltenberg, who were really little more than a loyal poodles. She deeply hated male sexuality in any form that actually existed. If the situation had been altered – if a straight man said that he didn't hate all women, just the ones that weren't deferent to him and didn't hate gays, just gay sex, he'd rightly be seen as clearly sexist and homophobic. Dworkin's says the same things about men and she gets treated like she was some great egalitarian! Gotta' love double standards.

It's kind of ironic how her death followed just a week after Il Papa JPII. In some ways, Dworkin was kind of the Pope of a certain brand of radical feminism. Her writings on sexuality were quoted as dogma by some, much the way some Catholics treat Humanae Vitae as the last word on sex. Dworkinistas may or may not treat her writings as infallible, but they certainly treat it as holy writ that's not to be trifled with by the uninitiated, commonly complaining that unless you've read her entire body of work "with an open mind", you have no business criticizing her ideas at all. Never mind that these people want everybody to be subject to laws inspired by Dworkin's ideas, whether we've actually read them or not.

On another note, though, one thing I've been impressed by from several blog commentaries is that Dworkin isn't taught much in Womens' Studies courses, which surprises the hell out of me, since anti-porn authors pretty much monopolized feminist scholarship around sexuality up through the early '90s. It seems there was a backlash within feminism against that perspective just as there was in much of the rest of society. Womens' Studies can be very cliquish and exclusive and when the next generation of sex-positive/queer/pomo/third-wave types made their way up in that discipline, I guess many of them turned the tables and excluded Dworkin and company. This is unfortunate in that Dworkin is now getting a reputation as this great suppressed feminist thinker and sex-positive feminism is increasingly being seen as a sell-out status-quo.

If feminist and left blogs are any indication, there's a real backlash brewing against sex-positive ideas. Perhaps this is because sex-positive feminists are seen, wrongly in my opinion, of offering a blanket apology for the entire porn industry no matter how badly all-too-many pornographers treat their talent. This gets back to one of the more lucid points I've seen raised by Camille Paglia concerning political correctness, that if leftists or liberals shut down discussion of certain ideas, those ideas will be taken up and used by the Right. If we take anti-porn feminism to be a kind of right-wing within the feminist movement, we can certainly see this – progressive sex-positive feminists don't deal effectively with some of the more problematic aspects of the sex industry, so anti-porn feminists come out looking to some like only ones offering an effective solution.