in praise of andrea dworkin

I discovered Andrea Dworkin pretty recently, and her writing is amazing for its hatred of euphemism. A profile of her by Ariel Levy compares her to Malcolm X:

And Dworkin’s friends could forgive her for her anger because of what it had earned her. “This is dangerous but I will say it: I think Andrea was like our Malcolm. And people who—feminists, even—raised their eyebrows at her supposed extremism or her intransigence or her fire took secret glee from that. In the same way that the black community grieved horribly and openly when King was assassinated, but when Malcolm was killed? Even some of the people who said, ‘Well, he was always violent,’ they were devastated,” says [Robin] Morgan. “Remember where Malcolm X came from? Malcolm had been a pimp, Malcolm had been a hustler, Malcolm had been a drug addict. It’s the militant voice, it’s the voice that would dare say what nobody else was saying . . . and it can’t help but say it because it is speaking out of such incredible personal pain.”

Traumatized people act like traumatized people, and everybody hates that. It’s bewildering for me that the seeming majority of women don’t agree with Dworkin. I was wary about starting Intercourse, expecting it to be “the book that says all sex is rape.” Instead I was stoked because I was reading a book all about how to treat each other like humans! Not everybody gets it, I guess?

But Andrea Dworkin was always more famous for being Andrea Dworkin than anything else. Never mind her seminal works of radical feminism, never mind her disturbing theorising that our culture is built on the ability of men to rape and abuse women. For many, Dworkin was famous for being fat. She was the stereotype of the Millie Tant feminist made flesh – overweight, hairy, un-made-up, wearing old denim dungarees and DMs or bad trainers – and thus a target for ridicule. The fact that she presented herself as she was – no hair dyes or conditioner, no time-consuming waxing or plucking or shaving or slimming or fashion – was rare and deeply threatening; in a culture where women’s appearance has become ever more defining, Dworkin came to represent the opposite of what women want to be. “I’m not a feminist, but … ” almost came to mean, “I don’t look like Andrea Dworkin but … “

…The attacks on Dworkin were not only personal; they also applied to her work. John Berger once called Dworkin “the most misrepresented writer in the western world”. She has always been seen as the woman who said that all men are rapists, and that all sex is rape. In fact, she said neither of these things. Here’s what she told me in 1997: “If you believe that what people call normal sex is an act of dominance, where a man desires a woman so much that he will use force against her to express his desire, if you believe that’s romantic, that’s the truth about sexual desire, then if someone denounces force in sex it sounds like they’re denouncing sex. If conquest is your mode of understanding sexuality, and the man is supposed to be a predator, and then feminists come along and say, no, sorry, that’s using force, that’s rape – a lot of male writers have drawn the conclusion that I’m saying all sex is rape.” In other words, it’s not that all sex involves force, but that all sex which does involve force is rape.

She had a bad reputation for being all borderline-y, after being sexually traumatized by a bunch of men. Sigh…This stood out to me as an extreme double standard:

While much of this was brilliant, there are few who could agree with all of Dworkin’s work. Her exhortation to vengeance was unpalatable to many; she said that “a semi-automatic gun is one answer” to the problem of violence against women, and that she supported the murder of paedophiles: “Women have the right to avenge crimes on their children. A woman in California shot a paedophile who abused her son; she walked into the court and killed him there and then. I loved that woman. It is our duty as women to find ways of supporting her and others like her. I have no problem with killing paedophiles.”

You can’t actually get more mainstream than the existing policy:

In prison, there is no creature lower than a sex offender. Even snitches get a pass before these guys. SOs, chomos, pedophiles—the nicknames all mean the same thing, and they help average convicts differentiate themselves from those they like to believe are the real monsters.

A recent report from the Associated Press suggests inmates in the California state prison system are getting killed at twice the national average, with sex offenders disproportionately likely to meet their demise inside—which is awful, but not too surprising given how much hatred is directed at those inmates. But why would one state stand out so much from the rest?

“That’s the culture in California prison,” Kilo, a Blood doing life in California under the three strikes law, tells me. “It’s taboo and pretty much all the races make an issue out of it, as far as dealing with child molesters and stuff like that. But the Hispanics and the whites—they really make a big issue out of it, as far as stabbing them and getting them out of the prison population.”

Since half the country (or something) openly supports torture, it stands to reason that more than just Andrea Dworkin believes in violence against pedophiles. Should prison be punitive or rehabilitative? Regardless, the most “extreme radical” thing about Dworkin was the thing we’re already doing (the article criticizing this was in the Guardian, to be fair, and the US is an international outlier on the death penalty). It seems completely unrealistic to me that someone in modern society could not hear that sentiment expressed. It was, like, a major reason for crowds to gather and lynch people.

I think what bothers people about her work is that they’re uncomfortable empathizing about anything too bad that’s happened to someone. From the Ariel Levy article again:

Years later, Dworkin’s comrade Susan Brownmiller, the author of the radical feminist classic Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, spoke out against Hedda Nussbaum’s complicity in the murder of her daughter, Lisa Steinberg. In response, Dworkin published a piece in the Los Angeles Times called “What Battery Really Is,” in which she tried to explain her experience—Nussbaum’s too, she asserted. “When I would come to after being beaten unconscious, the first feeling I would have was an overwhelming sorrow that I was alive. I would ask God please to let me die now. My breasts were burned with lit cigarettes. He beat my legs with a heavy wood beam so that I couldn’t walk. I was present when he did immoral things to other people. I didn’t help them. Judge me, Susan.”

These experiences formed the basis of Dworkin’s worldview. She wrote about them in her first book, Woman Hating, and in some way or other, these nightmarish pieces of her reality were picked over, deconstructed, and retold in everything she ever wrote. If you have never experienced such things, it can be very difficult to relate to Dworkin’s world, with its incessant images of nuclear war and the Holocaust. Sometimes, when you are reading her work, it can be almost impossible to reconcile the world around you with the world on the page.

But for many of the women who would show up to hear her lectures, these were the mundane details of life as a woman who’d been battered or molested or raped. Dworkin offered an unmitigated conception of the victim—a word, she said, that had a taint, but shouldn’t. There was no such thing for Dworkin as a “prostitute,” for example, there were only “prostituted women.” For them, Dworkin was a savior goddess, a knight in shining armor, and part of that armor was fat. Dworkin would stand before her followers onstage, huge and hollering, an evangelical, untouchable preacher for the oppressed.

The Guardian profile mentions that she had a Holocaust fixation as a kid:

Dworkin described a Jewish childhood dominated by family memories of the Holocaust. At a time when the subject was simply not mentioned, Dworkin says she was obsessed: “I’ve been very involved in trying to learn about the Holocaust and trying to understand it, which is probably pointless,” she said. “I have read Holocaust material, you might say compulsively, over a lifetime … I have been doing that since I was a kid.” Her mother was often ill, but her childhood in New Jersey was happy, until the age of nine, when she was sexually abused in a cinema.

Because of a Jehovah’s Witness Holocaust survivor in the family, I thought about the Holocaust a lot, too. I can’t speak for Jewish people, but there really is something about knowing you belong to a group that was murdered en masse in the Holocaust and then people around you still hate that group. There’s not some kind of bizarre disconnect between the Holocaust and your everyday life, which is the horror of the whole thing. You’re surrounded by smug people who don’t even know they could carry out a Holocaust if they were put in that situation.

I have no perspective on how badly or not I was bullied, in the grand scheme of things. I can say that I know what it is to be physically overpowered and degraded in front of other people. I know what it is to have a concussion from my head getting slammed into a wall for my “Curly Sue” mulatto hair (by a black kid with short dread twisty things from the 1990s). It didn’t happen to me, but there was a day I walked into the bathroom and saw one of the other weird kids (mom with a psychotic disorder if I remember right) getting held upside down while his head was shoved into a toilet by a group of older kids. It makes me SO ANGRY that people pretend ordinary people in their social circle don’t have horrible sadistic tendencies, and that we somehow aren’t openly barbaric. It’s not pretty.

Often, Dworkin was offering lurid, excruciatingly precise accounts of something sexually hideous, as in this description of her uncle: “He stuck his penis down the throats of at least two of his children when they were infants—I assume to elicit the involuntary sucking response.” Another writer might simply have called him a child molester.

Dworkin’s treatment of sex was frequently garish and grim, but sometimes—whether or not she intended it to be—her writing on the subject was much more ambiguous. The writer and sex radical Susie Bright has pointed out that Dworkin’s first novel, Ice and Fire, is an undeniable retelling of the Marquis de Sade’s Juliette. Dworkin hated De Sade; she devoted an entire chapter to his personal and literary crimes in one of her most famous books, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (in which she asserted, “He both embodies and defines male sexual values”). In that same book, Dworkin described in painstaking detail the goings-on in various examples of smut, including the book Whip Chick: “Pete fucks Cora. She has the bum suck her ass, then her cunt while Pete fucks her in the ass. After all have come, Cora orders the bum to clean Pete’s genitals.” This goes on for pages. Sometimes, when you’re reading Dworkin, it can be difficult to determine whether you are supposed to be offended or masturbating.

Dworkin herself would say that this kind of a reaction was evidence of a mind that’s absorbed the propaganda of the patriarchy and eroticized the subjugation of women. “If, for example, she writes about a violent rape and a reader finds it arousing, it means that the socialization process she writes about—the sexualizing of the domination of women and our own annihilation—has worked,” says Catharine MacKinnon, with whom Dworkin famously crafted legislation that would allow people to sue pornographers for damages if they could show they’d suffered harm from pornography’s making or use.

This is also about not using bullshit euphemisms, which only help the assholes of the world obscure their nature. The way Dworkin describes it, you have to see the thought process of the child molester. It exposes the essence of the cruelty, which is using other people like objects (incidentally the problem with capitalism).

Yeah, the long blow-by-blow summaries of porn in Pornography are long. The point I think Levy missed is that the works being summarized are a whole lot longer. She summarizes Story of the Eye in a few gross pages, but it’s a fraction of the length of the book. They’re just completely matter-of-fact plot summaries with all the artsy language removed. It’s showing, not telling, what it is to read something like that at length. If it’s horrible, and you know for a certainty that it’s popular with people you know, then what the fuck, right? Is that how we’re seen by our loved ones, and is it good for businesses to encourage them to see us? That is, to see us not as people but as things.

This is the part of human nature that people don’t want to look at:

The beautiful Jewess ravaged and dragged through the streets by her hair is still enticing, still vibrantly alive in the pool of sexual images that mystify the Jewish woman. But the Nazis in reality created a kind of sexual degradation that was–and remains–unspeakable. Even Sade did not dare imagine what the Nazis created and neither did the Cossacks. And so the sexualization of the Jewish woman took on a new dimension. She became the carrier of a new sexual memory, one so brutal and sadistic that its very existence changed the character of the mainstream sexual imagination.

The concentration camp woman–emaciated with bulging eyes and sagging breasts and bones sticking out all over and shaved head and covered in her own filth and cut up and whipped and stomped on and punched out and starved–became the hidden sexual secret of our time. The barely faded, easily accessible memory of her sexual degradation is at the heart of the sadism against all women that is now promoted in mainstream sexual propaganda: she in the millions, she naked in the millions, she utterly at the mercy of–in the millions, she to whom anything could be and was done–in the millions, she for whom there will never be any justice or revenge–in the millions. It is her existence that has defined contemporary mass sexuality, given it its distinctly and unabashedly mass-sadistic character.

The Germans had her, had the power to make her. The others want her, want the power to make her. And it must be said that the male of a racially despised group suffers because he has been kept from having her, from having the power to make her. He may mourn less what has happened to her than that he did not have the power to do it. When he takes back his manhood, he takes her back, and on her he avenges himself: through rape, prostitution, and forced pregnancy; through despising her, his contempt expressed in art and politics and pleasure. This avenging–the reclamation of masculinity–is evident among Jewish and black males, though it is in no way limited to them. In fact, in creating a female degraded beyond human recognition, the Nazis set a new standard of masculinity, honored especially in the benumbed conscience that does not even notice sadism against women because that sadism is so ordinary…

It is her image–hiding, running, captive, dead–that evokes the sexual triumph of the sadist. She is his sexual memory and he lives in all men. But this memory is not recognized as a sexual fact, nor is it acknowledged as male desire: it is too horrible. Instead, she wants it, they all do. The Jews went voluntarily to the ovens.

Horrible, but undeniable because it really took place. We have to reckon with it. This is what we mean when we like war and torture. Andrea Dworkin makes the modest proposal that there’s something wrong with masculinity in a culture that encourages that possibility.

One lesson of the Holocaust is personal responsibility, which is anathema to our way of life. Our way of life is to take no responsibility whatsoever and then accuse the victims of our negligence of low moral standards. Dworkin hated hypocrisy, and she pointed it out more than other people.

I think what I have in common with Dworkin is an unwillingness to accept bullshit about the other side’s good intentions. Instead of being so defensive, people should thank Dworkin for pointing out parts of themselves that they need to work on. They should work on those things until they can read Dworkin without feeling threatened. The people around them would appreciate rising to the status of humans.

WTF is this, anyway?

Dworkin: I demand to be treated like a human.
Everybody else: STFU, fat crazy bitch.

I remember hearing the term “Donkey Punch” as a joke in high school. Well, they made a movie.

It ends with Sanders throwing a couple right hooks to Luv as he unloads in her colon. She then craps his offering into her hand (some of it misses her hand as she gets some good distance on her jizz crapping) and then eats it. Let me just take a second to say that shitting out and then eating semen is one of the most grotesque things to ever become semi-mainstream in the porn world. It’s not just limited to the award-winning “Cum Shitters” series of films; it will just crop up in a regular porno movie like “Interracial Ass Breeder 2.”

Things take a turn for the dramatic in the third scene, which features Alex Divine. Divine’s mascara begins running tearfully within seconds so that she looks like some bizarre cross between Amy Poehler and Tammy Faye. The male actor in the scene relentlessly gags, punches, slaps, steps on and otherwise abuses Divine throughout the scene. He also slaps her stomach really hard at several different points and Divine very obviously does not like this. By the halfway mark Divine hates her contractual obligation. She’s wincing, getting bitchy and just generally not being a team player when it comes to slapping and hitting her during sex. Finally, during the donkey punching finale, she starts screaming and demands they stop filming as the guy is donkey punching her in the head.

What makes this dramatic finale great is that “Cram” and “Grip” “Johnson” appear on screen in a special follow-up to the donkey punching. Along with them is Alex Divine who is flexing her distended asshole at the camera like some sort of anal bodybuilder. They proceed to apologize for “that dumb bitch” who “totally fucked up the most important part of the scene.” She continues to be somewhat bitchy, which is understandable, and they act like stupid assholes, which is also understandable. They slap her and pull her hair, she spits at them. The best line is Cram’s, “there’s no wrong spot to hit a woman,” which if it saw broader release would go down as one of the all time greatest lines in film history for a variety of reasons.

The final scene features Haley Scott, who looks extremely cute for the ten or fifteen seconds at the beginning of the scene during which she is not screaming while being slapped. The scene also has an amusing beginning, which I have converted to an animated GIF to please your senses.

The reviewer wrote that it’s “one of the most morally repugnant pornographic movies I have seen,” with his other hand firmly around his penis. Andrea Dworkin made the obvious point that these things happened to real people, and being treated like that will haunt you forever. That is not good. Apparently a controversial point to make.

Dworkin elicited intense reactions from people—they didn’t just disagree with her, they hated her. To her detractors, she was the horror of women’s lib personified, the angriest woman in America—large, furious, ranting. And it wasn’t all a concoction. She really did say that romance is “rape embellished with meaningful looks” (in a speech she gave in Bryant Park at a “Take Back the Night” march in 1979) and that “men are shits and take pride in it” (in her memoir, Heartbreak). She really would yell at her audiences: “The First Amendment was written by slave traders!”

Dworkin wasn’t big on compromise, and she wasn’t one for looking on the bright side. Much of society is set up specifically to assist people in their process of ignoring the horrors of the world. Dworkin’s agenda was the opposite. She had little sympathy for anyone with too weak a stomach to dwell with her in the darkness. “The worst immorality,” she wrote, “is in living a trivial life because one is afraid to face any other kind of life—a despairing life or an anguished life or a twisted and difficult life.”

The First Amendment was written by slave traders! She had to yell because even Ariel Levy doesn’t understand that the First Amendment was written by slave traders, with all the horrors of slavery implied by that. Dworkin was making the observation that, since the First Amendment is used to protect Donkey Punch, it seems relevant that the people who wrote it did stuff like Donkey Punch to black women IRL, so maybe their way of thinking about the issues is biased. She had to yell because it’s not real for people on a felt level. She’s trying to communicate a highly unpleasant experience, the kind that makes people hope for death. People like her. Speaking about it to others makes them angry because they feel entitled to dehumanize you as much as necessary to prevent the pain of empathizing with something like that. Are we against dehumanization or not?

If we’re not against Donkey Punch, are we against anything? The problem with modern life is that there’s something like Donkey Punch lurking behind the surface of everything, because of “this wicked system of things,” as the Jehovah’s Witnesses call it. They knew all about the Whore of Babylon.

So it’s interesting to me that I have an affinity for Dworkin, whose most controversial move was to ally herself with the Christian right against pornography. The Witnesses believe in denying yourself sinful pleasures and praying for the Lord’s guidance to avoid temptation.

I’ve experienced traumatizing things, I grew up thinking about the Nazis murdering people like me, and I have resulting psychological issues. Dworkin was crazy. I’m crazy. The point is that these things are so bad that they permanently fuck people up, so we have an important moral duty to prevent them. Most people feel we have an important social duty not to remind anyone of them.

The thing is, bad enough things will cause complex PTSD, which features “Loss of, or changes in, one’s system of meanings, which may include a loss of sustaining faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair.” Bad enough things will change your values and priorities, such that any anger you express seems perfectly appropriate to the seriousness of the issues under discussion. And yet everyone is more worried about preserving the perpetrator’s good name, because perpetrators are great at manipulating people and they win all the time. Sigh…

Is that sigh a sign that there’s something wrong someone? Really? Isn’t it more like the resignation that comes from being repeatedly failed by everyone all the time? We can’t unsee the bad parts of reality to make other people feel better, and it wouldn’t be healthy in the first place if we could.

There’s a real, serious problem with empathy out there, from not listening to people with undivided attention.