[Paleopsych] NYT Op-Ed: Who Was Afraid of Andrea Dworkin?
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Sat Apr 16 13:34:49 UTC 2005
Who Was Afraid of Andrea Dworkin?
April 16, 2005
By CATHARINE A. MacKINNON
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
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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