This recurring feature, curated by Pilgrim Soul, directs Harpy readers to important feminist thoughts and concepts as spoken by some of her favourite feminists on and off the web. The appraisal of the value of these snippets is, of course, entirely Pilgrim Soul’s, and does not necessarily reflect the views of other Harpies. Feel free to discuss in the comments here.
Today’s Feminist Food For Thought comes to us from Andrea Dworkin. If you haven’t read Dworkin before, you are likely most familiar with her name as a sort of feminist swear word that gets tossed around whenever issues related to sexuality come up in feminist discussions. Here is what I would say to those of you who immediately experience a shiver on hearing the name of the woman who allegedly said all intercourse was rape (n.b.: she said no such thing): read Dworkin before you dismiss her. You may not like everything she has to say. But she does not say what most people assume she does.
In that vein, for our first Dworkin Food For Thought (there will be others) I have chosen a passage from a 1983 speech in which she addresses a conference of anti-sexist men. Full disclosure: this is a piece I would call Dworkin for Beginners, because she doesn’t get quite so deep here into her views on say sexuality or prostitution. And she’s a little less polemical than usual probably mostly because she feared for her safety if and when she spoke her mind frankly in a group of men. But I wanted to give people a way in. And also to prove that she wasn’t completely averse to giving men a way out of sexism.
I have heard in the last several years a great deal about the suffering of men over sexism. Of course, I have heard a great deal about the suffering of men all my life. Needless to say, I have read Hamlet. I have read King Lear. I am an educated woman. I know that men suffer. This is a new wrinkle. Implicit in the idea that this is a different kind of suffering is the claim, I think, that in part you are actually suffering because of something that you know happens to someone else. That would indeed be new.
But mostly your guilt, your suffering, reduces to: gee, we really feel so bad. Everything makes men feel so bad: what you do, what you don’t do, what you want to do, what you don’t want to want to do but are going to do anyway. I think most of your distress is: gee, we really feel so bad. And I’m sorry that you feel so bad–so uselessly and stupidly bad–because there is a way in which this really is your tragedy. And I don’t mean because you can’t cry. And I don’t mean because there is no real intimacy in your lives. And I don’t mean because the armor that you have to live with as men is stultifying: and I don’t doubt that it is. But I don’t mean any of that.
I mean that there is a relationship between the way that women are raped and your socialization to rape and the war machine that grinds you up and spits you out: the war machine that you go through just like that woman went through Larry Flynt’s meat grinder on the cover of Hustler. You damn well better believe that you’re involved in this tragedy and that it’s your tragedy too. Because you’re turned into little soldier boys from the day that you are born and everything that you learn about how to avoid the humanity of women becomes part of the militarism of the country in which you live and the world in which you live. It is also part of the economy that you frequently claim to protest.
And the problem is that you think it’s out there: and it’s not out there. It’s in you. The pimps and the warmongers speak for you. Rape and war are not so different. And what the pimps and the warmongers do is that they make you so proud of being men who can get it up and give it hard. And they take that acculturated sexuality and they put you in little uniforms and they send you out to kill and to die. Now, I am not going to suggest to you that I think that’s more important than what you do to women, because I don’t…
But as long as your sexuality has to do with aggression and your sense of entitlement to humanity has to do with being superior to other people, and there is so much contempt and hostility in your attitudes towards women and children, how could you not be afraid of each other? I think that you rightly perceive–without being willing to face it politically–that men are very dangerous: because you are.
What’s funny to me is that even now men are STILL defending aggression as part of their sexuality – see the comments thread here. So what’s Dworkin’s prescription for What Men Can Do?
The men’s movement seems to stay stuck on two points. The first is that men don’t really feel very good about themselves. How could you? The second is that men come to me or to other feminists and say: “What you’re saying about men isn’t true. It isn’t true of me. I don’t feel that way. I’m opposed to all of this.”
And I say: don’t tell me. Tell the pornographers. Tell the pimps. Tell the warmakers. Tell the rape apologists and the rape celebrationists and the pro-rape ideologues. Tell the novelists who think that rape is wonderful. Tell Larry Flynt. Tell Hugh Hefner. There’s no point in telling me. I’m only a woman. There’s nothing I can do about it. These men presume to speak for you. They are in the public arena saying that they represent you. If they don’t, then you had better let them know.
Then there is the private world of misogyny: what you know about each other; what you say in private life; the exploitation that you see in the private sphere; the relationships called love, based on exploitation. It’s not enough to find some traveling feminist on the road and go up to her and say: “Gee, I hate it.”
Say it to your friends who are doing it. And there are streets out there on which you can say these things loud and dear, so as to affect the actual institutions that maintain these abuses. You don’t like pornography? I wish I could believe it’s true. I will believe it when I see you on the streets. I will believe it when I see an organized political opposition. I will believe it when pimps go out of business because there are no more male consumers.
You want to organize men. You don’t have to search for issues. The issues are part of the fabric of your everyday lives.
Any Harpy readers um, know men like this? Who speak up in their daily lives when they hear sexist/racist slurs from their friends? I know a few, myself, but I can’t say they seem that common to me. But these men will get all up in arms at the slightest vague implication that they might be sexist.
But more fundamentally, what I think Dworkin (and Mackinnon) contributed best to the movement was beginning to talk about what equality might look like in something other than totally base and empty terms like “the equal duty to do the dishes”:
I want to talk to you about equality, what equality is and what it means. It isn’t just an idea. It’s not some insipid word that ends up being bullshit. It doesn’t have anything at all to do with all those statements like: “Oh, that happens to men too.” I name an abuse and I hear: “Oh, it happens to men too.” That is not the equality we are struggling for. We could change our strategy and say: well, okay, we want equality; we’ll stick something up the ass of a man every three minutes.
You’ve never heard that from the feminist movement, because for us equality has real dignity and importance–it’s not some dumb word that can be twisted and made to look stupid as if it had no real meaning.
What say you, readers?