[Paleopsych] NYT Op-Ed: Who Was Afraid of Andrea Dworkin?

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Who Was Afraid of Andrea Dworkin?
April 16, 2005


    ANDREA DWORKIN, an inspiration to so many women, died last week at
    the age of 58. Over the course of her incandescent literary and
    political career, she also became a symbol of views she did not hold.
    For her lucid work opposing men's violence against women, she lived
    the stigma of being identified with women, especially sexually abused

    Instead of being lionized and admired for her genius, instead of being
    able to earn a decent living as a writer, Andrea Dworkin was
    misrepresented and demonized. In the words of John Berger, she was
    "perhaps the most misrepresented writer in the Western world."

    The range of her literary contribution alone - 13 books spanning
    fiction, literary criticism, journalism, speeches (no one could move a
    room like she could), essays, history, political analysis - is
    exceptional. But there was no Nobel Prize nomination. Her voice was
    fresh, her ideas original and powerful, her perceptions and moral
    principles fearless, her eloquence oracular, direct and riveting.

    "Men have asked over the centuries a question that, in their hands,
    ironically becomes abstract: 'What is reality?' " she wrote in an
    essay titled "A Battered Wife Survives." "They have written
    complicated volumes on this question. The woman who was a battered
    wife and has escaped knows the answer: reality is when something is
    happening to you and you know it and can say it and when you say it
    other people understand what you mean and believe you. That is
    reality, and the battered wife, imprisoned alone in a nightmare that
    is happening to her, has lost it and cannot find it anywhere." Her
    profound abilities only made publishing a constant struggle. She would
    not be silenced, but her speech was not free.

    Lies about her views on sexuality (that she believed intercourse was
    rape) and her political alliances (that she was in bed with the right)
    were published and republished without attempts at verification,
    corrective letters almost always refused. Where the physical
    appearance of male writers is regarded as irrelevant or cherished as a
    charming eccentricity, Andrea's was reviled and mocked and turned into
    pornography. When she sued for libel, courts trivialized the
    pornographic lies as fantasy and dignified them as satire.

    Andrea Dworkin exposed the ugliest realities of women's lives and said
    what they mean. For trusting the knowledge of her own experiences of
    battering, rape and prostitution, for listening to harmed women, for
    standing up for women with humor - "now the problem with telling you
    what it means for me, bertha schneider, to be in an existential
    position is that I dont have Sartres credibility," she wrote in a
    short story - lyricism and brilliance, she was shunned. Critics and
    reporters often talked about her ideas without reading them. She was
    tortured by editors, some of whom she considered censors ("police work
    for liberals").

    Only power did not underestimate Andrea Dworkin. Threatened by this
    Jewish girl from Camden, N.J., the minions of the status quo moved to
    destroy her credibility and bury her work alive.

    Andrea Dworkin saw through male power as a political system - "while
    the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true," she said - and
    exposed the sexual core of male supremacy, the heart of the male
    darkness. She stood with, and therefore for, sexually abused women. So
    she was treated as they are treated, denigrated as they are
    denigrated. She was the intellectual shock troops, the artistic heavy
    artillery of the women's movement in our time. She took its heaviest

    And she wanted to change the face of this earth. Our idea of
    empowering harmed women to sue pornographers for civil rights
    violations they could prove were done to them would stop the
    pornography industry in its tracks.

    "Pornographers use our bodies as their language," she said. "Anything
    they say, they have to use us to say. They do not have that right.
    They must not have that right." She concluded: "They do benefit from
    it; and we do have to stop them." Such work is risky to do at all. It
    costs a woman's life to do it well.

    Because of her subject, because of the substance of her ideas, and
    most of all because of her effectiveness at expressing them, Andrea
    Dworkin faced especially naked misogyny: "woman hating," which is the
    title of her first book. How she was treated is how women are treated
    who tell the truth about male power without compromise or apology. It
    is why few do.

    This warrior for women was gentle, sweet, loving, raging and deeply
    vulnerable. "Being stigmatized by sex," she wrote, "is being marked by
    its meaning in a human life of loneliness and imperfection, where some
    pain is indelible." She was well named Andrea. It means "courage."

    Catharine A. MacKinnon, a law professorat the University of Michigan,
    is the author of "Women's Lives, Men's Laws." She was an editor, with
    Andrea Dworkin, of "In Harm's Way."

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