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Pre-2008 Posts

White Radical Feminists, Andrea Dworkin, CAM, Theory, Accessibility, Readability

On brownfemipower's Women of Color blog, a discussion has been under way over the past couple of days about Andrea Dworkin, Catharine A. MacKinnon, radical feminists and radical feminist theory, in general, its accessibility and readability, or not.  It's an interesting and honest discussion of the type that tends to flourish on WOC blog, which is one reason I appreciate it so much.

In that thread, brownfemipower (whom I appreciate and respect very much) posted:

brownfemipower said…
hey spotted elephant–let me make it clear why i am developing an aversion to ms. dworkin and ms. mckinnon, so that you don't think i'm just slamming the hell out of them or jumping on the bandwagon–i really like certian aspects of both of them–i love that they recognize and fight against violence, for one thing–i center violence against women in my work, so i have an immediate interest in what they have to say, and i respect and honor that they, when no one else would, give women the believability and trust–that is, specifically, they believed women's stories for the first time, without question or challenge. I think that is amazing and wonderful.
the part that i am becoming irritated by is that they both seem to (and i'll qualify what i am saying here, by saying i have only read, thus far, three articles and one book)–focus entirelly too much on the state being the answer to the problems they posed. How can they recognize that the state is the entity which has created support for and explicitly endorses porn/subjugation of women, but then think that the state is the entity to "fix" that problem? that is, if violence against women is a part of the very fabric of the state as it stands today, why does going to the state to "protect" women from the state make sense?Heart and I had the beginnings of this conversation in a different thread, and i have seen a lot of this throughout various feminist blogs–and i think it stands as the basic difference between radical feminists of color and radfems–radical feminists of color do not think that the state can save us from men, because the state perpertrates just as much violence against women as men do. As nubian has said before, you'll very rarely hear a radical feminist of color centralize "the patriarchy" in her work, because we don't believe that "the Patriarchy" is the be all to end all evil. In other words, the state is not "evil" because it is run by men–the state exists as it's own entity (regardless of who is "running" it)that creates and manifests itself through the use of "isms". Thus, the state has a vested interest in perpertrating Patriarchy, as patriarchy has a vested interest in perpertrating the state.similarly with white supremacy, abelism, transphobia, heteronormativity etc. They are all intertwined and dependent upon each other, and unless you confront the entire structure, you might as well just accept that the violence that porn endorses and creates will simply play out in another areana.I've seen a lot of feminists who don't like M &D because they say that these women are anti-sexual liberation–and on that, i haven't read enough to know about or have an opinion on. but I have read enough and organized enough around the issue of violence agianst women, and i don't believe for one minute that creating another law or rule will for one minute stop sexual violence or agression against women nor will it change the construct of society that normalizes violence against women. SO that is where i have the issue with them thus far–that all their great work may be very freeing and liberating in one sense, but it's like they open the box and then say here's a band aid, you know?

and i also wanted to stand in defense of turtle bella in that i think she wasn't necessarily talking about m&D specifically, rather more of the seriously in depth acadmic feminists that center a lot of theory and abstract language and ideas on their blogs. They are very hard to make it through some times, and they very rarely seem informed by other less academic-y bloggers who may have more experience in the real world than in academia. I myself find it very hard to make it through some blogs, and I have admitted on many occasions that I don't comment on some blogs because it is so academic centered, i know my bad spelling and non-academic speak would either get me ridiculed or ignored, so why bother? This inaccessibility has been a common critique made by women of color/poor women of academic feminist thought for a very long time, and i think it only makes sense that it would recreate itself in the blogosphere. (that is, some feminist blogs being rather inaccessible to other feminists and other feminists being turned off by or irritated by it)…

so i'm sorry spotted elephant, that you were put on the defensive–but i hope that i have made it more clear to you were i am coming from and where i think that turtle bella was coming from– ๐Ÿ™‚

5/19/2006 01:06:49 PM  

In response, here are excerpts of what I posted:

Hey, bfp, I wouldn't agree that Dworkin and CAM view the state as the answer for everything or for much at all– I just think they are pragmatists and realists and figure each of us has to do the best she can with the tools that she has available to her. MacKinnon is an attorney, and she's used her J.D. and her access to the legal system on behalf of women in ways that have resulted in ongoing threats against her life, thinking now of her representation of survivors of rape camps in Bosnia-Herzogovina. She uncovered an old, old law in the U.S. which allowed her to file suit against two of the masterminds of genocide and rape for genocide under Serbia's Slobodan Melosovic. She won a $600 million-plus verdict on behalf of these raped women and their children, the verdict was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and in part, it is her work on behalf of these rape victims which resulted in rape being recognized in international law as a specific crime against humanity, and as genocide, as opposed to simply as the collateral damage of war. :::rage::: She did this work pro bono — at her own expense, including traveling back and forth to Bosnia and Croatia during wartime — when survivors of rape camps sought her help.

MacKinnon is also basically the person responsible for sexual harrassment law. It was her work in representing two women who had been hideously sexually harrassed on the job, argh, can't recall the names of the cases now, one was against Meritor Savings Bank though. The two women she represented were both women of color.

Dworkin was, herself, a prostituted woman. She was also Jewish. She repeatedly, especially in her earlier work, spelled America, "Amerika," and never viewed it or any nation state, ultimately, including Israel, as any friend to women. At the same time, she had a passionate love for the most marginalized women, and again, she used whatever she could use on their behalf. I'm thinking maybe you believe the MacKinnon-Dworkin anti-pornography ordinance reflected a reliance on the state, but I don't think that it did. All that proposed ordinance would have done was allow individuals — women, men, girls, boys, transgendered people, all people — who had been harmed by a *specific* work of pornography to sue the people who created and sold it in civil court.

I would have to disagree that radical feminists look to the state for answers or trust the state. I sure don't. No radical feminist I know does. I don't trust the institutions of white male heterosupremacy at all, not a one of them– not medicine, not education, not law, not the military, not the church, none of them. In fact, I am a life-long anarchist? My old magazine was endorsed by Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed. At the same time, whatever power any of us may have to tap into these institutions some kind of way– it makes sense to me that we would use it. Not because we trust in the institutions or in changing laws or whatever, but because desperate times call for desperate measures. Any port in a storm, kind of a deal. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

I don't like using the word "patriarchy" because I don't think there is any consensus as to what it means, especially on the internet (!), but I do use the term sometimes just because of time and needing to say something quickly. But to be clear, I think that the problem is not exactly "patriarchy" — the problem is subordination– wherever it occurs, whether men of women, white people of people of color, human beings of the earth and its creatures, het people of gay and lesbian people, cisgendered people of transgendered people, regularly-abled people of differently-abled people. Having said all of that, *all* marginalized groups, affinity groups, identities, if you will, are gendered. You know? Within each marginalized or oppressed group, we have gender: men and women. Speaking not for all radical feminists, because none of us can speak for anybody but ourselves, but speaking for myself, my heart is for the women out of every marginalized, oppressed group. That's the feminism that speaks most deeply to me and that energizes me to do the work that I do. It's not men *as* men that I see as the problem, it's the subordinating power of maleness and the way it benefits all men, including in all marginalized groups, that I see as the problem. And I think it's safe to say that the radical feminists I most admire and work alongside take this position.

As to academic blogging, well, I am probably one of the people everybody is talking about. I'm sorry. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ It's a dillemma for me. On the one hand, I cannot get enough of feminist theory– I have devoted the better part of the last 10 years to it. I agree that inaccessibility is a problem and that troubles me. But I've also seen several absolutely kickass academic feminists, who have devoted most of their lives to women's issues, hounded off the internet because their writings were viewed as elitist and, again, too academic and inaccessible. I view that as a huge loss, and some of that is selfish– they are my friends. I want to talk to them on the net! I want their braininess out there for all the world to see and for misogynist assholes to find absolutely intimidating (which they do and did– my hounded-off academic friends were just HATED by white male woman-haters, especially.) I also want to be sharpened and stimulated by them and forced out of my own comfort zone, forced to think more deeply and carefully and rigorously about difficult issues than I might have before. But again, I do see the accessibility thing, the intimidation factor, and how it might work to silence feminists without an academic or theoretical background. But it seems to me that the academic bloggers are so outnumbered, aren't they? There are very, very few of them that I know of. Isn't there a place for them, for us? I mean, we don't come and clog everybody else's blogs with our long-ass theoretical posts, hopefully we don't, (and I hope that's not what I'm doing right now! Argh.) Reminds me of one time when I was explaining something to my older kids and some of their friends, and my now 28-year-old son busts out laughing and says, "Whenever mom talks about things like this, she sounds like a textbook." ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

I felt really happy and hopeful about the blog for radical fun day– I think we should do more things like that where we become a little less one-dimensional, shut up to the words we write. I think, too, that brilliance comes in all styles and packaged in all kinds of ways. I hate to think you might not post to academic blogs, bfp– you have one of the finest feminist minds on the internet in my opinion. I have honestly never even noticed these misspellings, etc. you're talking about. Same with most of the people who post to your blog– deep calls to deep, you know? (snip)

There are other interesting comments on that thread– I think it's well worth reading.

In part because of the thinking I've been doing as a result of this thread and for some other reasons, as well, I'm going to start a new blog devoted to radical feminists and radical feminist theory for women who want to talk theory, who have backgrounds in theory, or who are just interested in it.   The blog will focus specifically on the work, ideas, history and theories of radical feminists.

Here, I am going to really devote myself to making what is posted accessible and readable to everybody, including those with zero background in feminist theory.

I will be putting this new Women's Space blog up tomorrow. 




7 thoughts on “White Radical Feminists, Andrea Dworkin, CAM, Theory, Accessibility, Readability

  1. To start I’d just like to say thank you so much for this space you’ve created here. It is such a good resource.

    Secondly, I always have one of those sinking feelings whenever people start on about “too academic” or “too elite” in reference to articulate or competent women. I can’t entirely put my finger on it right now, but why do people want to shut out ideas ? I don’t get it.

    I’m not a feminist academic and my knowledge of feminist theory is basic to say the least, but I like to read anything that is expressed well – “academic” or not. So reading those two extracts you posted above, from brownfemipower and yourself, I liked them both. Neither seemed elite to me, both were easy to read. Academic is not the same as incomprehensible.

    As to being ridiculed or ignored on blogs – I’ve never noticed anyone being put down for lack of “academic speak”. Put downs to women’s genuine contributions always seem to be other reasons like having a different experience or being in the “wrong” group, the inability to engage with honest dissent. (I’m not talking about men and trolls here).

    So there’s my two cents. Thanks again for the forum.

    PS McKinnon and Dworkin I admire hugely, not because of their academic credentials but because they actually get out there and DO STUFF. We need MORE women like that not less !!

    Posted by anon99 | May 21, 2006, 8:33 am
  2. BTW your link at the start of your piece that says “discussion” doesn’t go to an article. (Dont need to post this )

    Posted by anon99 | May 21, 2006, 8:51 am
  3. Hey, anon99, thanks for your posts. I agree with them 100 percent, including with the fact that the link to the thread I was referring to was messed up. I fixed it and it should work now.

    I completely agree with you that what is academic doesn’t have to be incomprehensible! What is kind of aggravating is that often the same people who accuse white radical feminists of being elitist cite to writings that really *are* incomprehensible quite often, or which are just plain dense and thick with academic jargon, and for examples of that, Donna Haraway, Judith Butler and Diana Fuss come immediately to mind. Dworkin isn’t a difficult read because her writings are inaccessible or too hard to read; if she’s hard to read it is because she is uncompromising about male violence, and that *is* hard ot read. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ CAM’s writings are really dense, you cannot skim through them like you would a novel. But you can get a whole lot out of just a couple of paragraph of what she’s written, even if those paragraphs are difficult.

    I agree with you as to Dworkin and CAM: they got out there, they put themselves out there and they gave their lives to and for women. I cannot think of two feminists who have actually accomplished more for women — in a practical, down-to-earth way — than these two. Which is the real reason I think they are so criticized. That criticism has taken on a life of its own, people have heard it, they believe it, without investigating what these women actually *have* done. It’s frustrating.

    I think people want to shut out ideas when the ideas are threatening or really challenging for some reason. Or when they’ve had bad experiences with people who hold those ideas. Or when they do not respect or like or trust the people who are setting forth the ideas for whatever reason. It’s unfortunate how difficult it can be to separate the message from the messenger. I do it too. Whatever men write, for example, I have an immediate inner resistance to because I don’t trust men. Whatever Christians write, I have an immediate inner resistance to because I don’t trust them, either. And sometimes, I resist ideas because I’ve heard bad things about the persons with the ideas. The first time I picked up a feminist book, my hands shook, because I had been told repeatedly how dangerous the writings of feminists were to me. How glad am I today that I was able to get past that particular resistance!

    Anyway, thanks again for those good words, anon.


    Posted by womensspace | May 21, 2006, 3:06 pm
  4. I love that you love CAM so passionately. Your response is, I mean, wow, very breathtaking! I’m rather speechless! I feel all weirdly swoony!

    Looking forward to the new blog, though I’m sure you could discuss fun radical feminist theory stuff here, too. (I mean, you just did!)

    Posted by Edith | May 21, 2006, 5:54 pm
  5. Heart,
    When I replied on BFP’s blog, I was instantly sorry because for one thing, I know I have ultra defensiveness about Dworkin (which doesn’t lead to productive conversation) and second, I’ve only recently returned to feminism, so I don’t have the knowldege base to argue well.

    I criticized academic writing, and I stand by that. But to clarify, I mean “the academic style of writing” NOT the writings of an academic. I’m always eager to gobble up knowledgeable women’s thoughts. ๐Ÿ™‚ But-feminism aside for a moment-academic (style) writing just sucks! When I was in research, I could pick up a paper about my area-my little world of expertise-and be confused about what was being discussed! My experience of academic-style writing is that it is needlessly vague and confusing. In short, academic-style writing is simply bad writing. After all, we write so that our thoughts can be conveyed to and understood by others.

    I would never include your writing as being “academic-style” writing. You’re always quite clear in what you have to say. This year, I read my first Dworkin book, Life and Death, and I could not put it down. It was only painful because the subject matter hurt so much, it was not painful to read her style of writing. I was just delighted at how easy Dworkin was to read! Accessibility doesn’t have to do with the level of experience of the writer (anything from novice to PhD); it has to do with the clarity of the words.

    Posted by spotted elephant | May 21, 2006, 8:10 pm
  6. Hey, spotted elephant, I totally agree with you about academic-style writing. Thanks for telling me you wouldn’t include mine in there! I was responding more to other posters in the thread re accessibility of writing, but am glad you clarified.

    Edith: ๐Ÿ™‚


    Posted by womensspace | May 22, 2006, 4:10 pm
  7. I love complex academic feminist writing, and I love women who are academically gifted. It’s a very small part of the international universe.

    We all have needs for certain types of writing. Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon are actually quite easy to read. Dworkin has written extensively on literature, and I love her essays on Tolstoy and Joan of Arc, but that is for a semi-academic audience.

    I have a great love of literature in general, and the British romantic poets in particular. I love what used to be called a high culture — poetry, Shakespeare, First Corinthians, Chapter Thirteen, Christina Rossetti and on and on I go. I love the Middle English of Chaucer, and I adore British culture.

    To me, education and the life of the mind are simply delightful. It’s fun for me!

    I must admit I do have a problem reading bad grammar and bad punctuation, just as I have a hard time listening to people make a mess of nouns and verbs. Just as hearing one instrument out of tune in a symphony can also drive me crazy.
    My ears are very sharp— and this can be a source of pain to me.

    There is a place for every style of writing on the Internet, and everywhere actually.

    The point of feminism is that there is room for every woman here. We all have different needs. Some of us want life to be basic. Some of us place ourselves at the margins, and some of us are energized by working for the most basic of social change.

    I can only be honest about what I love! I can only be honest about what gets me excited about life and what makes me completely happy in the world.

    The way I see it, it is far harder to hear Clara Schuman than it is to overhear a pop tune. It is far easier to listen to terrible spoken English, than it is to hear it beautifully spoken (and I only mean the English of native speakers, not immigrants or people who use English as a third or second language).

    To me language is beauty itself, rather like a landscape painting or a sunset.

    Academic feminists are easy targets, because a university education is about an elite status worldwide. This kind of study does require time and resources.

    All feminism needs to be out there. The collective intelligence of women is just that — collective.

    Sometimes I think we get lost in the technicalities. Who can explain a taste for McDonald’s vs. Beijing duck, for example?
    Who can explain a love of fine wine vs. Lipton Tea? It just is.

    We need to honor that which we love, and honestly critique the ideas as ideas. We need to honor all feminists who do the work.

    We need to have compassion for those of us who must live in a world of music that drives us nuts, and words that have been misspelled. If women love the high arts, we need not go all crazy on them with charges of elitism. To me aspiring to elitism is a joy and a challenge. It is not a put down of women, it is simply something I do because I love that world.

    To quote a great poem is a joy to me. To play a Vivaldi concerto is a great success story for me.

    Let’s celebrate the life of the mind. We all aspire to different things in life. These are my personal interests and loves, what are your loves?

    Posted by Satsuma | November 16, 2007, 7:02 pm

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