Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Andrea Dworkin, Men's Rights Advocate

Last night I accidentally got dragged into some right-wing anti-feminist thing on Twitter about how there is a war on men because their good reputations are all besmirched when someone is accused of rape. (Oh no, if only there was some kind of system to help men defend themselves!) After I got done muting everyone involved, I decided to re-read Andrea Dworkin's Right-Wing Women, much of which consists of her account, published in 1983, of the National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977. (Chaired by Bella Abzug, the conference produced a National Plan of Action which… well, it didn't go well. RIP, ERA.)

Right-Wing Women, in one MAN'S opinion, should be regarded as a foundational intersectional text; the entire argument of the book is about the relations of anti-Semitism, racism, age, poverty, sex work, welfare and hatred of gay people, all as related to hatred of women. Yet somehow it's often not regarded as intersectional "enough." Fine, fine. I'll let you grad students have at it. At least we should regard it as an important historical text regarding the time that right-wing Jews and evangelicals began to collude—when a largely quite anti-Semitic group of people began to embrace Zionism. (It is also the best example of Dworkin as a reporter.)

People love to misunderstand Dworkin, often with the intention to discredit; lumped in with anti-transgender feminists, for example, when she very much was a friend to trans people. (She of course also suffered from derailing herself early and often on other topics!) But what's also notable about her and much of her generation is that they came out of, and were involved in, the anti-war movement—a movement that doesn't hardly exist now, even as we are locked in a state of permanent war—a state that affects some people greatly, but so many people almost not at all.

The number one criticism of feminism by men's rights advocates (who run the gamut from mildly reasonable to total wackjobs) is that men's bodies are treated as disposable, and that feminism doesn't recognize this. Men are historically cannon fodder, they argue. (This is true!) But this is something that second wave feminists like Dworkin knew all about. In fact, woven throughout Right-Wing Women is a strong thread of anti-"misandry."

This section, in particular, picks up a thread that always itches the men's rights fellows—where she criticizes the common idea that women are better, more spiritual, more in-touch with nature. Dworkin is pointing out here, as with the evangelical women she spoke with earlier, that she believes this is a TRAP used to trick women.

And here, near the end, she takes a hard line that many people I know would not enjoy or endorse—but many would, and the men's rights crowd would certainly appreciate it. If the fear is that feminism somehow (IDK HOW, but okay) subjugates men, well, Dworkin's brand of feminism is quite clearly expressed as only absolute equality, free from any bias and baloney about what a woman or man "is," can do, or can be.

28 Comments / Post A Comment

Matthew Phelan (#10,133)

Dworkin has deserved a fairer shake for a while now. Thanks for writing this.

Also, photos of the original text look great. More people should blockquote this way.

278882357@twitter (#285,396)

Speaking as a women's studies major, sex worker and sex worker rights advocate: nope.

Dworkin's work is largely responsible for the shift in feminist thinking about prostitution as an issue that can't be addressed through the criminal justice system to one that MUST be addressed that way. Radical feminists used to be pro-decriminalization until the very liberal idea of carceral feminism began to dominate the discourse, and Dworkin + Mackinnon's attempt to legislate away misogyny through censorship of pornography as a cultural product instead of a site of stigmatized labor really cemented carceral feminism as the 'radical' solution. Unsurprisingly, this kind of pro-police, pro-prison white radical (in name only; it's actually the definition of liberal) feminism has had devastating effects on the most vulnerable women, particularly Black women, trans women, and street-based workers. Dworkin does not deserve a re-reading as a proto-intersectionalist. Intersectionality was created by and for Black women as part of a critique of the legal system. In other words, it is pretty much the opposite of Dworkin's feminism.

Yeah, much of the pornography work and basically the entire body of work of Catharine MacKinnon I find largely baffling. I've tried for decades to understand how they got to that point; largely I still don't. (Particularly MacKinnon, who… yeah. Not a fan!) But I really like some of Dworkin's writing on sex work, and I find it really resonant. Obviously it's deeply informed by her experiences with sex work, and with forced sex work, and with a lot of crappy stuff that existed in the pornography industry, and situations of inequality. But mostly I have a hard time understanding why they couldn't, just a little, accept that some of our experiences might be different! (Obviously as you know we see lots of echoes today of people who are unable to accept difference in lived experience; it nearly always ends in the ruin of an idea.)

I totally hear why Dworkin is cast out from the approved literature, and I get it. I still think it's a shame, in some ways. Particularly that her writing about homophobia as a component of sexism isn't endorsed more broadly outside of certain circles. As well, her writing about Jews, and about class. She was willing to make strong and brilliant connections where some others were not. (I can still however see why some people would find the pornography and sex work stuff a total dealbreaker though.)

Danzig! (#5,318)

@Choire Sicha this is the woman who coined the term "concentration camp orgasm". I have no idea why it would be hard for you to grasp a doctrinaire tendency in Dworkin's writing. I mean, it's almost as if the elements of intersectionality in her work were incidental to its purpose.

The supposition of Dworkin against academic feminism is also pretty strange. If her work lives anywhere, it's in the hermitage.

Oh, I was saying I didn't understand why *Dworkin* and friends couldn't grasp why other people's experience might be different. I have no problem seeing such a thing. :)

(Although part of what I always admired about Dworkin was her absolute black and whiteness about so much; I know it's not a great quality, and I don't usually enjoy it, but the sheer force of the rhetoric is pleasurable.)

Sure though: I'm old enough to remember when gay books and magazines first started getting seized and destroyed at the Canadian border as pornography, and when they started raiding bookstores. (Right-Wing Women was less than ten years old when I first read it.)

It seems fine to me to take what's valuable from some thinkers and reject the rest. There's certainly a doctrinaire way to think about what good feminism is (cc Roxane Gay), but in my experience you lose a lot when you cut all non-right-thinkers off. But that's probably fine for some; I don't have a lot of gay fellow travelers, so I'm comfortable having bedfellows who aren't at all aligned with me across all their views. (Some tenets, of course, are nonnegotiable.) In the end, no one was ever more vociferous about the manifestations of misogyny than Dworkin, and I think that's valuable. YMMV, etc.—totally reasonable!

Jane Donuts (#2,857)

@Choire Sicha "It seems fine to me to take what's valuable from some thinkers and reject the rest."

Please continue to beat that drum.

@278882357@twitter Fuck off. I am a prostituted woman, I have worked in the "sex industry" since I was 14 (that's 13 years, now 27). The inclusion of pornography on screens in my "work place" has made my "job" so much more dangerous. I do not want the legalized prostitution industry of my country (New Zealand). My Pimp takes most of my earnings and doesn't provide us with either employee rights nor independent contractor freedoms (like to choose my own rate to charge), and he and the men who sexually violate me are protect by law and I have now the obligation to a pay a SECOND pimp aswell, "income taxation". No. I do this and put up with this in order to survive. What I WANT is education, opportunity, job offers with equal pay and status to men, cheaper psychological therapy, health insurance, a fucking LIFE. You want to call prostitution "sex work" and make it easier for others to exploit you, fine. Don't act like you represent the rest of us, I've never once met a woman at work who freely choose this role. Sit the fuck down.

Dworkin is my Hero

Danzig! (#5,318)

@Chelsea Tornade-Hoe@facebook that all sucks but here in the US, criminalization has proven to make sex workers (sorry not sorry) as a whole less safe and as active criminals, they aren't technically allowed to do things like "have bank accounts" or be afforded contingencies like insurance. The survival sex worker is further marginalized in the criminal regime, forced indoors, denied mutual support etc etc I'm sure you've heard it all before.

I know many survival sex workers who are very radical, misandrist, whatever, but they recognize that the justice aspect of dismantling sex work as an organ of patriarchy is far far far outstripped in importance by the necessity of securing the least dangerous day to day life for themselves and the people they love. Decrim's what they want and they'll advocate for it whether you like it or not. What would you propose instead? The Swedish model? It certainly sounds like where you're coming from here.

@Danzig! Obviously I'm advocating for the Nordic Model, not to criminalise victims of prostitution.

I know what you are trying to do by the way
And New Zealand is not a 3rd world country. We have the same pro "sex work" rapists here as in America.

278882357@twitter (#285,396)

And as someone who also does porn? And experienced awful conditions there, too? Nah, nope, you do not get to blame me for your own abuse, or speak over me to try to make my on-set working conditions worse by driving them underground.

I'm not blaming you for your abuse. I'm blaming the people who abuse you. I know exactly why you "choose" to be in the sex industry because I made the same "choice". But you need to realise that just because better options were not available for you to choose from and you have settled for "sex work", doesn't mean better options shouldn't be available to you, and that feminists shouldn't work to make better options available to you and to prosecute the people who exploit and abuse you.

And since apparently it wasn't obvious,
I don't blame you for MY abuse either. Fucking lol.

I only blame you, for mis-representing the truth.

You have to lie and act like you enjoy it while you're doing it or more acurately having it done to you. And it's become a habit, I get that ok I do. But you are not doing yourself or any other girl or woman any good by lying here and now. You are only helping rapists and pimps.

278882357@twitter (#285,396)

@Chelsea Tornade-Hoe@facebook Apparently the internet ate my whole other comment. I don't have the energy to re-type it. But basically, the abuse that both you and I've experienced? Is already illegal. Everywhere. Under your laws and mine and the Nordic model. But your model– unlike mine here in the US, unlike the Nordic model– gives you de juro access to the criminal justice system, all without fear of losing your housing or education or child custody. THAT is what decrim is about. It's not about who's choosing their choice; it's about mitigating the harm. I want all these options and more, and I need to be able to have a fucking house in order to do that.

278882357@twitter (#285,396)

@Chelsea Tornade-Hoe@facebook I'm not telling you about your experiences, don't tell me mine. You've missed the whole point and then some.

The sex industry is not the only industry that is degrading, but it is the only industry that is degrading because of the "work" itself. It is not a job like any other job. If you could get a job serving salad, I understand that is not an empowering job to you and you feel you can do more than that. And I agree. But serving salad is a job that does good for the community, it's a job that needs to be done. If you got paid the same money you get now making porn, to serve salad, would you serve salad instead? Of course you would no question about it. But maybe serving salad isn't your dream job, maybe you want to go to university and get a phD so you can do *insert dream job here* I don't know what your dream career is. I'm just here saying I want you to resurrect your dream, and stop telling other people stuck in the sex industry with you to bury theirs.

No the abuse is not already illegal in my country, and you're here peddling to make it legal in yours. Prostitution and Pornstitution are abuse. Being paid to be abused doesn't make the abuse disappear.
It is still rape.

Based on what you've said here, it's pretty obvious that you are posing as a "sex worker" and that this isn't your actual job.
Under the Nordic Model, the prostituted is decriminalised, but the abusers aren't. If you're saying you can't turn to the criminal justice system under this model, you've just outed yourself as an abuser.

278882357@twitter (#285,396)

@Chelsea Tornade-Hoe@facebook You aren't even responding to facts at this point, so I really don't have anything else to say.

278882357@twitter (#285,396)

@Chelsea Tornade-Hoe@facebook My twitter handle is Lori Adorable. Feel free to contact me there. Best of luck to you.

Freddie DeBoer (#4,188)

Dworkin is in the unusual position of having her positions both misrepresented as more radical than they were and also having them watered down in a misguided attempt to defend her. The latter is worse.

Great to see you Freddie.

Freddie DeBoer (#4,188)

@Choire Sicha you too!

beschizza (#1,421)

Came for the Dworkin, hoped for some Paglia, left slightly confused about definitions within feminism again. tl;dr never read the comments, especially the civilized ones

Rodger Psczny (#3,912)

Didn't Susan Faludi write a book on this?

Matthew Phelan (#10,133)


I'm really sorry, everybody! I don't disagree with anyone here. It may help to note that this was just the first time — in my life, personally — that I've read or heard a reasonable acknowledgment of Dworkin's better qualities. That's pretty much it.

"Fairer shake" < "placement on every women's studies syllabus and academic canonization"


tryanmax (#285,608)

Using second-wave feminism to defend fourth-wave feminism's missteps is a bit like defending Nixon because he was from the same party as Lincoln.

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