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Thread: Andrea Dworkin

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    Andrea Dworkin

    I just picked up Heartbreak by Andrea Dworkin at the library... I feel like she's someone who I should have read by now, but I guess it's never too late. I'm a fairly slow reader and already 100 pages into it (an hour later!) I think she's fascinating. What do you all think of her (her writing, or her politics) and are there any other books by her that you would recommend in particular?

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    Her most famous/controversial book is called Intercourse. I haven't read it, but have read a lot of things where it is discussed.

    Mostly I'm just bumping this thread because I'm interested in what people have to say. My view of Dworkin has always been that she was a great feminist thinker with a few misguided ideas. But I wonder, too, if she's been vilified precisely because she was a famous feminist activist. For instance, I'm deeply skeptical of her anti-porn and anti-sex-work activism -- but I think it's as dangerous to uncritically affirm the sex industry. And I worry about some of the more uncritical versions of "pro-sex feminism" that are out there.

    It's all very complicated. And I think Dworkin made some really important contributions. And I wish that people had done more serious engagement with her ideas -- the positive and the negative -- rather than dismissing them out of hand,

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    The only thing I've read of hers is Intercourse. I felt like she was trying to piss people off - I'm only speculating here based on how I felt as I was reading the book, but I felt like I'd be totally with her thinking/reasoning for a bit and then she'd just go off the deep end. I appreciate that it can be important to be provocative, but she really started to lose me sometimes. Though some of this can be attributed to my dislike of her writing style.

    Some of it I did agree with - like that we really do live in not only a hetero-centric but also a male-centric society and that there is a perception that man-on-woman vaginal penetrative sex is the only "real" sex. But I wasn't into the whole penetration/violation bit. I think that her own violent sexual experiences probably colored her entire view of sexual relationships, which while that makes sense doesn't make her experiences valid for all of us.

    I didn't agree with her anti-porn activism, but then I never read her anti-porn work either so I may be basing that on hearsay.

    I agree with Xuli that she is both important and complicated. I'm really glad that I did read Intercourse and have been thinking about reading some of her other stuff, if I can get past her (totally irritating and distracting) style.

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    Quote Originally Posted by xuli
    Her most famous/controversial book is called Intercourse. I haven't read it, but have read a lot of things where it is discussed.

    Mostly I'm just bumping this thread because I'm interested in what people have to say. My view of Dworkin has always been that she was a great feminist thinker with a few misguided ideas. But I wonder, too, if she's been vilified precisely because she was a famous feminist activist. For instance, I'm deeply skeptical of her anti-porn and anti-sex-work activism -- but I think it's as dangerous to uncritically affirm the sex industry. And I worry about some of the more uncritical versions of "pro-sex feminism" that are out there.

    It's all very complicated. And I think Dworkin made some really important contributions. And I wish that people had done more serious engagement with her ideas -- the positive and the negative -- rather than dismissing them out of hand,
    Dworkin made very important contributions. Her work was used by the Canadian censorship people to block gay and lesbian porn from Canada, and to seize books on anal health a from small gay bookstore. Her work in the US has been good too- she was one of the people who promoted tolerance against differently-pleasured women (swingers, SMers) in the feminist movement, so that many of us are afraid to publically join our other feminist sisters for fear of being humiliated again. She promoted dialogue between men and women by making and insisting upon the unprovable assertion that at least 1/2 of all women have been raped, and by saying that all men are potential rapists. She claimed that all porn was evil and damaging, regardless of audience, purpose, or content; in other words, what you might do in your bedroom with a videocamera is equivalent to a snuff film or Devil in Miss Jones. She also said that all consensual sex between a man and a woman was rape because of the power differential.

    Whatever I may think of the porn industry or some male sex fantasies, I don't think Ms. Dworkin was simply slightly misguided. I think she was a very sad, emotionally disturbed woman whose horrifying sexual experiences drove her to the brink- and I say that because I've read Intercourse and some of her other work. She horrifies me. She and Katherine McKinnon are the fundamentalist lunatic fringe of the feminist movement, and their works are filled with hypocrisy and willful myopia about real women and their lives. Women, in fact, do read porn all the time- they call it 'romance novels'. They watch porn- they call it 'Desperate Housewives', or reading up on what Brad and Angelina are doing. Porn isn't always about men dominating women, or about men at all.
    I must say that I am not in favor of groups like Cake and Suicide Girls. I don't think Britney Spears and Jenna Jamison are good role models. I dislike mainstream porn because it's almost always insulting to both men and women, and refuses to see women's sexuality as fluid and not necessarily male-centered. However, the truth is most people watch porn because they think sex is dirty, not because they see it as life-affirming or beautiful. Many of my dominatrix friends try to get their clients to see that an exchange of power isn't role reversal- it means both people have something to bring to the table, and it doesn't have to be about pain or degradation.

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    hey anthrogirl, i don't have too much time to reply to this right now but i did want to say that i appreciate your opinion. i feel like her memoir was a lot less political and clearly a lot less polarizing than works like intercourse, which i haven't read. i feel that way because her memoir didn't strike me as all that radical actually, aside from the few mentions she makes of her views on pornography.

    i'll have to read intercourse and some other works and come to my own conclusion at some point. dworkin's website claims that she "didn't beleive in obscenity law," so if it's true that the canadian government used her arguments to ban gay pornography it (ostensibly) would have been against her wishes. the site also refutes other information about her that you mentioned -- like her saying that all intercourse is rape -- and has links to articles and interviews that support their stance. i'm not trying to play devil's advocate or disagree, because i'm just trying to find out other people's points of view and read more about her so i can develop my own opinion. she's clearly a really difficult person. even the back of the bookjacket for heartbreak says something about how because dworkin never let her wounds from abuse heal, they fuel her writing and politics.

    here is that website and the page i was referring to if you're interested:
    http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/LieDetect.html

    (edited to fix link)

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    I'm sorry what I said touched a nerve for you, anthrogirl. I am in no way trying to defend Dworkin uncritically, or to suggest that she got it all right. (I really meant what I said when I said I thought she had misguided ideas.) I have many, many problems with her. But I also think this part of your post raises some interesting questions:

    Quote Originally Posted by anthrogirl
    Her work was used by the Canadian censorship people to block gay and lesbian porn from Canada, and to seize books on anal health a from small gay bookstore.
    How much of a responsibility do writers/thinkers have in the way their work is used? I can think of some pretty nefarious uses of, say, Judith Butler too -- I've seen scholarship where Butler's ideas are used to argue that since gender is all a social construct anyway, there's no point in feminist activism at all! How much should I hold Butler responsible for others' careless readings of her work? And how much should we hold Dworkin responsible for the fact that her work, too, has been used very carelessly in extremely misguided activism? I mean, yes, there are horrible aspects of her work. I totally agree. But you also can't single-handedly walk into Canada and start making laws right and left because "Andrea Dworkin says so." So at some point we have to look at the fact that Andrea Dworkin put forth some ideas -- many of them deeply flawed -- in a flawed society, and put back some of the responsbility for the terrible ways in which her work was used on that society.

    I'm really just talking off the cuff here. I might decide tomorrow I disagree with all of this! But I think it's a really interesting issue -- to what extent we hold individual thinkers/writers accountable when their work reveals in very emblematic ways deep injustices in the culture that they are writing from. And I continue to say I haven't read Dworkin, just read people who cite Dworkin (both pro and con). But I do have a hard time with the fact that Andrea Dworkin's name will unleash more vitriol in a room full of feminists than Rick Santorum's -- and Santorum is actively making harmful laws, which Dworkin never did! I do think there's a problem there, and I don't think one has to be an apologist for Dworkin to think so.

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    Quote Originally Posted by xuli
    How much of a responsibility do writers/thinkers have in the way their work is used?
    good point. i was thinking along those lines as well, but couldn't have put it as well as you did.

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    Quote Originally Posted by xuli
    I'm sorry what I said touched a nerve for you, anthrogirl. I am in no way trying to defend Dworkin uncritically, or to suggest that she got it all right. (I really meant what I said when I said I thought she had misguided ideas.) I have many, many problems with her. But I also think this part of your post raises some interesting questions:


    Actually, it's not your fault, and I didn't at all think you were defending her. Like I said, I see her as a sad figure.

    Quote Originally Posted by anthrogirl
    Her work was used by the Canadian censorship people to block gay and lesbian porn from Canada, and to seize books on anal health a from small gay bookstore.
    How much of a responsibility do writers/thinkers have in the way their work is used?

    A lot, if they were alive when people misused it, and they were warned that it could be misused. In her favor, Dworkin was upset that her work was used that way, only because she was dismayed by the i]politics[/i] of the people who used her work. She wasn't upset, so far as I can tell, by the content of their censorship- after all, she advocated censorship. McKinnon isn't at all sorry. She wishes they had gone further.

    I can think of some pretty nefarious uses of, say, Judith Butler too -- I've seen scholarship where Butler's ideas are used to argue that since gender is all a social construct anyway, there's no point in feminist activism at all! How much should I hold Butler responsible for others' careless readings of her work?


    Not at all, since that's what it is- careless reading. Dworkin's work wasn't carelessly read. It's quite clear- men are rapists, all porn hurts women, and so on. That's the problem- there's no nuance. During her lifetime, feminists tried to talk to Dworkin about her stance, but she wasn't interested. As for McKinnon- she's a law professor. She fully well understands civil liberties and how people can misuse people's right to them. She doesn't care, as long as it saves one woman from degradation. This is the same argument being used to keep gay lit out of schools, stop abortion, and a lot of other things.

    I once had the displeasure of sitting next to one of McKinnon's law student/minions at dinner. I walked away feeling like a Jew sitting with a member of the Nazi Party in 1930- and that's not hyperbole. She sniffed at the idea of actually loking at porn. After all, she knew what it was. She told me women didn't watch porn, and she knew her Dworkin by heart. She came thisclose to calling me male-identified for saying that I had not only read porn and enjoyed it, but plenty of women had- they had read the Beauty books by Anne Rice, and romance novels. I knew this was true because I had worked in a bookstore for a while, and those novels had flown off the shelves. She essentially told me I didn't know what I was talking about. Whenever I've talked to hardcore Dworkinites, I've heard the same thing, even though not a single one has admitted to taking the time to speak to a porn producer/consumer or sex worker of any kind.

    And how much should we hold Dworkin responsible for the fact that her work, too, has been used very carelessly in extremely misguided activism? I mean, yes, there are horrible aspects of her work. I totally agree. But you also can't single-handedly walk into Canada and start making laws right and left because "Andrea Dworkin says so." So at some point we have to look at the fact that Andrea Dworkin put forth some ideas -- many of them deeply flawed -- in a flawed society, and put back some of the responsbility for the terrible ways in which her work was used on that society.

    No- but no one has made laws based on Judith Butler. They have made them based on Dworkin and McKinnon, in some cases with their blessing. That's what bothers me.

    Going to bed now- and no, I'm not angry. It's a valid discussion. Feeling passionate about something isn't necessarily the same as being angry.

    I'm really just talking off the cuff here. I might decide tomorrow I disagree with all of this! But I think it's a really interesting issue -- to what extent we hold individual thinkers/writers accountable when their work reveals in very emblematic ways deep injustices in the culture that they are writing from. And I continue to say I haven't read Dworkin, just read people who cite Dworkin (both pro and con). But I do have a hard time with the fact that Andrea Dworkin's name will unleash more vitriol in a room full of feminists than Rick Santorum's -- and Santorum is actively making harmful laws, which Dworkin never did! I do think there's a problem there, and I don't think one has to be an apologist for Dworkin to think so.
    [

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    Quote Originally Posted by anthrogirl
    No- but no one has made laws based on Judith Butler. They have made them based on Dworkin and McKinnon, in some cases with their blessing. That's what bothers me.
    Just a quibble though -- a number of legal challenges to affirmative action have relied upon strict social-constructionist scholarship (not Butler specifically, but others who take a similar approach and work more on issues of race). Moreover, the Supreme Court hearings over Colorado's infamous Ammendment 2 (legalizing discrimmination against gay people) involved testimony from a number of classics scholars, who were basically debating social-constructionist versus materialist views of identity. So yeah, laws have been argued (if not outright "made") based on careless readings of social-constructionist theoretical perspectives, among which Butler's is one of the most famous.


 

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