Saturday, 22 May 2010

In defence of angry women Pt 2

Apparently I'm a very angry woman. I kick things; throw things; shout obscenities out car windows at strangers and tear pages from books when I don't like what they are saying. I've had to stop myself reading Andrea Dworkin and her ilk because local libraries were sick of picking up the shredded pages.

Ah Andrea; the evil old witch died in 2005 but not before she had put back the cause of women's liberation by at least a hundred years. In 1976 she wrote a now seminal text in the world of radical feminism - Pornography: Men Possessing Women. It begins a life time of writing which will produce such gems as : pornography is the theory, rape is the practice and all heterosexual sex is rape.

Dworkin is wordy. It takes far too many pages in Intercourse (1987) for her to explain the one basic idea – heterosexual sex makes woman an occupied country – all such sex is rape. And if you thought you were liking it – then sweetheart, you were occupied body AND mind.

Dworkin is whiney. Here's an example, from the aforementioned Intercourse.

“There is a deep recognition in culture and in experience that intercourse is both the normal use of a woman, her human potentiality affirmed by it, and a violative abuse, her privacy irredeemably compromised, her selfhood changed in a way that is irrevocable, unrecoverable. And it is recognized that the use and abuse are not distinct phenomena but somehow a synthesized reality: both are true at the same time as if they were one harmonious truth instead of mutually exclusive contradictions. Intercourse in reality is a use and an abuse simultaneously, experienced and described as such, the act parlayed into the illuminated heights of religious duty and the dark recesses of morbid and dirty brutality.”

And that's not even half a paragraph of the beginning of Chapter 7; to get here you've already had to wade through SIX (count them!) chapters of similarly turgid, academic and highly whiney prose.

But most importantly Dworkin is wrong. In her famous testimony to the US Attorney General's Commission on Pornography in 1986 she said she didn't want to have obscenity laws used against pornographers because "Obscenity laws are also woman-hating in their very construction. Their basic presumption is that it's women's bodies that are dirty." But everything else she then went on to demand argued against this quite reasonable stand. Because there is no way to argue against pornography without ultimately arguing against all social, cultural, literary and artistic displays of sex and women.

And of course Dworkin is forced to end up doing just that. Make the argument that all depictions of women in a patriarchal heterosexist society must, by definition, be degrading – must be pornography. If the paradigm is one of male power and possession, how could it be otherwise?

So what does that leave us with? We have to get rid of every image of women – particularly nude images – god knows some bloke somewhere is jerking off over the Venus de Milo. And every image of heterosexual sex. Even the ones written by women – because we've all been tainted with the male, penetrative, phallus-hugging paradigm.

And that leaves us with nothing. It leaves women as asexual beings. In fact it makes us invisible. Better invisible than raped though. Perhaps better locked up in our houses, fully covered too.

Of course that was never Dworkin's solution. But it is the logical conclusion of a philosophy that sees men as the enemy in a war between the sexes. Dworkin's argument is devoid of any understanding of class, or the class-based nature of oppression; where the bourgeois family and the oppression it creates isn't there because men hate women but because capitalism requires it to survive. And her biggest hypocrisy is that all the piles of books and speeches and essays are written not for an audience of ordinary women stuck in lives of quiet desperation; but for other academics secluded in their ivory towers. This isn't an ideology of liberation, but of self-righteous intellectual masturbation.

Ultimately arguments against pornography, whether for censorship or in Dworkin's case for the prosecution of pornographers for civil rights abuses, end up being anti-sex and anti-women. In Australia the censorship laws mean that the female genitalia have to be airbrushed in photographs to appear smooth – almost pre-pubescent. Consequently young women are appearing in large numbers at the doors of plastic surgeons asking for the extra floppy bits to be removed – they think they are deformed!

But the harm is even more subtle than that. Anti-porn campaigners have made a generation of women guilty about enjoying sex. If you're lying there enjoying what Dworkin tells you is in effect rape, then that is going to screw with your head and your ability to keep enjoying it. Its no coincidence that Dworkin starts writing at the height of the Women's Liberation Movement – when western women at least have easy access to contraception and some control, finally, over how and with whom, they use their bodies. I'm no conspiracy theorist but it seems to me that telling people the thing they think is fun is actually a dreadful sin - ooops, I mean – an attack on their very existence within the socially constructed modern world view – is a good way to make them stop doing it.

The worst thing about all of this is that Dworkin didn't take all this reactionary bullshit with her to her grave. No, its still being pedalled as bona fide feminism in Women's Studies Departments and Wimmin's Rooms the country over. One academic I know of is happy to pontificate about how it is the fault of pornography that all men want is to ejaculate on women's faces. Yes, that's right, it comes as a shock to me too but apparently that's all that happens in every single piece of porn being made and in every heterosexual bedroom across the nation too – night after sticky night.

Now I haven't had time to do a SurveyMonkey on this and I doubt my school will let me put it up on the intraweb if I do, but I'm betting that such a survey of young men is NOT going to come up with facial ejaculation as their number one, favoured sexual activity. Isn't that right lads?

This is just one more piece of poorly researched knee jerk anti-sex, anti-fun reactionarism. What's the worst, most degrading thing this woman can think of? Someone cumming on her face. Aside from the fact that she clearly lacks imagination and has obviously not watched nearly enough porn to claim any expertise in the area – what is her problem? Where does she get off deciding what is and isn't appropriate sexual expression? Perhaps more pertinent – when does she get off?

Many years ago the then Women's Officer at Auckland University lectured me for several hours about how sado-masochistic lesbians were “fucking like the enemy” - in fact any activity that seemed in any way to mimic penetration was too. I thought this was somewhat unfair as at the time I'd cut out the middle person and had the enemy in my bed. Unfair or not, it taught me a lot about the way such people think.

In the end, they think sex is bad. Sex is dirty. And sex itself is oppressive. You can't fuck with the enemy and you can't fuck like him. Better not to fuck at all.

Dworkin spent her life as the life partner of an out gay man – John Stoltenberg. They were married, secretly, in 1998. Its just one of the stranger of many contradictions in her life. Clearly unable to negotiate her way through the minefield of sexual relations with women or men – she avoided it altogether.

The saddest and perhaps oddest chapter in her life was the publication of an article in The New Statemen in 2000. In it she claims to have been slipped GBH in a hotel in Paris and raped. When I first read the article I couldn't help myself, I was angry. I was angry because by the time I read it, it had been widely discredited. While the argument still rages ten years later, it appears that an ailing Dworkin made the whole thing up.

And why does this make me want to go dig her up and kick her in the kidneys? Because after a lifetime of telling women that what they do with their partners is tantamount to rape; she then has to go and borrow that experience too. Its a kind of playground one-up-personship that I find deeply offensive because in so doing she discredits every woman who has ever had to report a sexual assault and not been believed. Its a final, public and horrible case of the gossip who answers every re-calling of experience with “Me too.”.

That's not feminism – its self-hate on a level so grand nothing Dworkin's imagined enemy could ever do would be worse.

1 comment:

  1. I feel some nostalgia for those days in which women like AndreaDworkin and Robin Morgan and Kate Millett, etc. etc., pushed the boundaries past breaking point but in doing so made more reasoned arguments seem less aberrant and more normal. And they made both men and women sit up and take notice and ask questions. Men in particular had to examine whether they could manage to give up power and take on more responsibility.
    I disagree with her, however, that sexual intimacy with all male partners is rape. Just ask a rape victim about that one. And we women are not by implication all victims.