Andrea Dworkin when she was young
I guess I am going to have to have a special, running series here devoted to dispelling myths about Andrea Dworkin.
Over at Alas guest blogger Blue wrote a post critical of the last article Andrea Dworkin published before she died, an article about her struggles as a disabled woman. In general, Blue criticizes Dworkin’s essay for not being as politically astute or radical, in Blue’s opinion, as Dworkin’s specifically feminist writings were. She also remarks, almost offhandedly, that she isn’t much a fan of Dworkin in any event. Others join in with the same sentiments. Criticizing Andrea Dworkin seems to be unfailingly good times for lots of people. But beyond that, as Delphyne commented, why pretend some essay doesn’t match up to radical feminist writings someone isn’t that impressed with in the first place? Sort of like me criticizing a Susie Bright article on radical feminism for not being Susie Bright enough! My point in writing such an article would be what? To explore the ways Bright’s new article, which I don’t appreciate, might be more or less of what I already don’t appreciate about her other articles?
So much of the Alas thread just seemed like it mostly had to do with — again, some more, still, but whatever — discrediting Dworkin because… because why. Because she was human, I guess. Not a goddess. Not perfect. Not even alive any more, for that matter, gone to her grave, where we are all going to go one day. There seems to be a sort of morbid, almost sour grapes-like, fascination (as in, “You can’t die, I haven’t finished criticizing and attacking you yet!”) with discrediting Andrea by exploring all of the ways her writings and acts might possibly have been “inconsistent,” or even (or maybe hopefully or gleefully) , gasp, hypocritical. Because of course th rest of us, including her critics, never act or behave or think in ways which are inconsistent or hypocritical, no, no. Everyone’s feminist execution is impeccable and flawless.
I think both radical feminism and Dworkin have been and continue to be fundamentally misunderstood by most feminists. Sometimes I feel as though Dworkin’s work is intentionally misunderstood and mirespresented. Delphyne expressed that perfectly in the Alas thread; what she said there is well worth reading.
But I will say this: Dworkin was a writer. Writing was her life’s work. One thing pretty much all writers do is, they process their experiences in their writing as they are having them. I am a writer, too. I often have the experience of not really knowing how I even feel about a thing until I begin to write about it. Even when I write about something, and begin to make sense of whatever it is I am writing about, my first writings will be just the beginning of an ongoing process of working my ideas through. There will be more writings, more processing, more making sense of things. I have often had the experience of someone grabbing me by the metaphorical collar and saying to me, in so many words, “But didn’t you write thus and yay over here last year/five years ago/10 years ago?” Well, yeah, I did. I’m a writer. I write everything. I write my whole entire life and have for decades, everywhere I can write it. But what does what I wrote there, at that stage of my process, have to do with what I’m writing here right now, at this stage? No one can ever be shut up to what they said or wrote at any given moment of their life, but particularly not a writer, who has dedicated herself to writing for all of her life and writing her life. All we can say about this essay is, this was Andrea Dworkin, beginning to make sense of the experiences she described. She wrote about being oppressed as a woman over almost 40 years’ time. She lived as a woman and girl for 58 years. Her writings reflected her increasing radicalization as a woman and her ongoing process, thought, analysis, critique. She had been disabled for a comparatively short period of time; she’d been female forever. Had she lived to write more about her disability, her writings would have reflected the ongoing working through of her ideas, making sense of her experiences. What sense does it make to grab at this one essay she published on this subject and attempt to compare it with 40 years of political writing and activism on women’s issues?
I posted the article Blue linked to to my boards shortly after Dworkin’s death and then posted a few of my responses as follows:
My favorite parts:
“The sidewalk is heavy with pedestrian traffic. They are so unselfconscious, these normal walkers. They have different gaits; they move effortlessly; each dances without knowing it. I used to be one of them. I want to be again.”
“I learn three rules in my occupational therapy classes: never hold on to anything that moves; if it rains or snows, stay inside, even if that means cancelling doctors’ appointments (to those medicalised this is nearly profane); and kick the cat – if a cat curls up in front of your feet, kick it away. I learned to use my crutch to kick the cat. I will go to hell for this.”
“Doctors tell me that there is no medical truth to my notion that the rape caused this sickness or what happened after it. I believe I am right: it was the rape. They don’t know because they have never looked.”
“I am supposed to lock it when I walk and unlock it when I want to sit. The brace is worn under my pants leg so no one can see it. Each manipulation is distinct: in public locking it makes me look as if I am masturbating, and unlocking it makes me look as if I am fondling my thigh.”
HA! (Obviously my commentary!)
“John had been told that I was dying. I forgot that in hospitals when one is dying, nurses abrogate the rules. John was allowed in after visiting hours; nurses would pull the curtain around my bed and let him lie with me. This was my happiness.”
What a writer, goddamn it, the woman was amazing.
I think as these quotes evidence, this was an essay in which Andrea was beginning the long process of making sense of her situation, her disability, her life. This wasn’t a scholarly essay or an editorial or even an opinion piece. It was a lament, it was mourning, it was rage, above all it was so very, very human, as Andrea Dworkin quintessentially was, complete with wry humor and self-deprecation and allusions to her deep love for her husband. How bizarre, in this context, to chide her for the “less than political” content of the piece, as though she isn’t allowed to publish anything that is not political if she wants to! By the same token, how bizarre, in this context, to chide her as though everything she wrote were not political in the most deeply personal, and honest, and powerfully moving, and therefore, radically feminist, of ways.
If someone would like a list of all of the ways that Andrea Dworkin’s beliefs and behaviors were “inconsistent” at any point in time, hell, I could provide a lengthy list. But her critics’ turn wou be next. Everybody who is honest can provide a lengthy list of their own inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and so on at various points in their lives . We all have them. So what? I will never provide any such laundry list about Dworkin, and one reason is, she never laid claim to any sort of perfection, to perfect consistency, or to anything remotely superhuman or angelic and never expected the same of any other woman. That being so, what’s up with these ongoing attempts to discredit her as though she had? Dworkin’s writings changed the world, and will continue to change the world, in large part because she was willing to write with absolutely scrupulous, passionate honesty about what it means to live as a woman in this world. She took the risks, and the hits women take when we dare to lay it all out there, sparing nothing. It’s hard for anyone to argue with the truth of women’s lives; there is really no argument but to call us liars (as many are more than willing to do, as feminists commit not to do). Women’s truth-telling is powerful. For this truth-telling Andrea Dworkin will always be hated, and so these attempts to discredit her will continue wearyingly and tiringly on. The truth is just too great a threat to a male heterosupremacist world to allow to allow it to go unchallenged.
Pony, I’m sorry for the treatment you received over there . You didn’t deserve it. I’d have supported you, but honestly, Dworkin being dead now, especially, I can hardly bring myself to hang around anywhere where her blood — even though she no longer has any — appears to be in the water. Her work, her life, her writings speak for themselves and will continue to. They really don’t need any defense (which is not to say I fault you for trying, good on you for it.) But if her writings do seem to be under attack, my experience is, any defense will fall on deaf ears. I don’t have the energy for that kind of fighting any more.