Monday, April 18, 2005

Andrea Dworkin: RIP

I'm certainly no expert on Andrea Dworkin having only read "Right Wing Women" but you didn't have to read her to be aware of her popular impact. Having grown up in the radicalizing atmosphere of the late sixties, early seventies I was aware of the groundswell of grassroots feminism wherein ideas, theories and manifestos germinated and proliferated in profusion. Perhaps this is why I didn't find much that was attributed to Dworkin to be particularly original. It seemed to me that I had been exposed to most of her ideas in embryo as they gestated among the uncited rank and file.

Finally, I took time to read her. I don't think it can be denied that she was a skillful and passionate writer. Still, "Right Wing Women" struck me as profoundly wrong headed and since its argument was bound up with all the strands of her arguments about patriarchy and heterosexuality I concluded that she was off track there as well.

After all this time I still recall (albeit a bit hazily) the two passages that informed my judgement. In the first she was outlining the inherent oppressive and brutal character of male/female sex. In an aside she chose to emphasize "...particularly deep thrusting.." I remember thinking 'How seriously can we take someone who thinks they can micromanage the individual sexual behavior of billions of human beings? How seriously can we take the opinions someone who evidently believes, with absolute certainty, that she can define the essence of such intimate acts for all people in all circumstances?' I kept reading though.

Which brings me to my second recollection. Dworkin described her confrontation with what she regarded as blatant anti-Semitism amongst right-wingers at a conference in Texas. The anti-Semitism consisted of conference attendees not being shy about asking her if she was Jewish.

Being a native southerner with many friends who hale from the north east, I'm aware that questioning people about their religion is not a common practice there. However, the case in the southern states is precisely opposite. It would be unusual if, upon making an acquaintence, people didn't inquire about church attendance, etc. Evidently Dworkin had no notion of this.

The two instances are significant, I think, in that they illustrate that the source of her greatest strength was also the source of her greatest frailty. As her passion grew directly out of her personal experience so did her misjudgements. She didn't see that, while we inhabit systems of social, sexual and political constructions,we do not experience them in identical fashion. Individual experience is not interchangeble, no where less so than in the intimate depths of the human psyche.

I don't agree with those who say this failing defines her as insane . Damaged surely. Disturbed? Almost certainly. All of which is finally beside the point. Andrea Dworkin's truth was her own, for each of us to accept or reject according to our own experience.

What's worthy of thought and discussion is not why so many reject her theories but why her words, her experience, have resonated with so many.


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