Monday, April 18, 2005


This Cathy Young post at Hit & Run makes me feel rather more confident about my earlier remarks re: Andrea Dworkin.

To give a rough precis of the blogospheric debate over Dworkin: her critics say she was anti-sex and anti-male, her (left-ish) feminist supporters say she was neither, and her (probably unsought) supporters on the right appreciate her anti-sex views.

Now then, the clarifying context that is supposed to dissolve the notion that Dworkin hated men or sex is that her various claims to the effect that heterosexual sex is intrinsically degrading to women are only true within a patriarchal system. Well, fine. So it's not an eternal truth. Still, I do wonder just how long our own civilization has been a Dworkinian patriarchy. Pretty much the whole thing, right? So to Rad Geek and Ampersand et al.: Isn't the onus on you guys to explain how, according to the Dworkinian theory of sex, every living male who has had sex with a woman (which includes me, most of my friends, you guys if you're straight, surely some of your friends, and quite of few other decent folks as well) isn't guilty multiple instances of coercion and degradation, if not rape?

Is anything really gained when we learn that Dworkin's view of heterosexual intercourse as "the pure, sterile, formal expression of men's contempt for women" is only supposed to apply to intercourse in a patriarchal system? (I guess that means that while I have mistaken love/lust for gender-contempt at least I-won't-say-how-many-times, I can blame that contempt on the larger social system---or maybe it's my fault as an individual as well.) Seriously, who the fuck is Dworkin to make preemptive declarations about the emotional status of a sexual relationship, knowing (as is obvious) nothing about the individuals involved but armed with an explanatory framework that (of course!) trumps the dynamics of their relationship? These sorts of cringe-making historical (and ahistorical) theories, from Marxism to Objectivism to crass Invisible-handism to MacDworkinism are linked to one another by their absolute indifference to individual autonomy and their commodification of individuals as gears in some cosmic or historical machine.

Like G.E. Moore knowing the skeptics were wrong because he knew "here's a hand," I know that sex---and that includes regular vanilla heterosexual man + woman penetrative intercourse---can be fun, mutual, consensual, free of degradation or coercion, and yes, loving, even if the glass ceiling on women's pay remains (unjustly) in place. I know further that I'd much rather live in a society like ours that sustains a Dworkinian patriarchy than one in which Dworkin's transformation of sexuality is realized:
For men I suspect that this transformation begins in the place they most dread -- that is, in a limp penis. I think that men will have to give up their precious erections and begin to make love as women do together.
Forget castration. This is a depiction of the bizarro-world Handmaid's Tale.

And last a utilitarian point. As Young writes:
[O]ne of the curious aspects of Dworkin's "legacy" is the extent to which appropriating her language helped social conservatives attack freedom and equality for women without appearing anti-woman. I recall Terry Jeffrey of Human Events, a few years ago, saying on the late, unlamented Crossfire that the sexual revolution was "violence against women." And just the other day at the blog of the Independent Women's Forum, Charlotte Hays referred to women being wounded in combat in Iraq as "state-sanctioned violence against women." In a way, it makes sense. The MacDworkinite focus on violent male abuse of women completely obscured the fact that at least in Western history, patriarchy far more commonly took the form of paternalism and special protections for women. Thus, it played straight into the hands of the neo-paternalists.
If Dworkin and (especially) MacKinnon wanted to distinguish themselves from the paternalist right, they could have avoided teaming with it to write anti-porn legislation. So tell me how exactly Dworkin "achievements" weren't a huge net minus for the cause of female freedom.


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