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April 12th, 2005


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10:50 am - Dworkin
So Andrea Dworkin died. She said that sex in our society often involved coercion and was vilified as a harridan who claimed that 'all men are rapists'. (Some) sociobiologists say 'rape is a successful male reproductive strategy' and are lauded as commendably objective and cool headed. Political power shapes judgements.

There is so much violence and abuse going on, and it isn't seen. The suffering of selected individuals is scrutinised with minute attention and emotional engagement, but other examples of suffering are ignored. Once you get to know people (*), and present yourself as someone who will listen in a non-hostile way you hear many stories that are disturbing and enlightening. So much unnecessary suffering. So much selfishness and thoughtless violence.

My strongest emotional reaction sometimes is 'why aren't they screaming?' Why aren't we all screaming? Dworkin was a vivid extreme personality who was screaming. Perhaps all art ought to be screaming.

(*) On reading - this sounds patronising. I know you know all this already; I know you are open listeners who hear all sorts of confidences. I'm just sort of drawing attention to it.

EDIT # 2 Read this eulogy for Dworkin by a pro-pornography feminist, a beautifully written piece from an 'enemy'

http://susiebright.blogs.com/susie_brights_journal_/2005/04/andrea_dworkin_.html

(20 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:cruisedirector
Date:April 12th, 2005 07:02 am (UTC)
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Not patronizing, but I must admit that I found reading Dworkin one of the most disempowering things I have ever done, and felt more violated by her far-too-facile "A woman has a body that is penetrated in intercourse...violation is a synonym for intercourse" discourse than I've ever felt by making a choice to have heterosexual intercourse (and she suggested on more than one occasion that a woman cannot make a decision to have heterosexual intercourse NOT under some kind of coercion, because of all the literature, science, pornography etc. to which we have been subjected). Telling me that I am by definition, as a woman, too much a victim to choose and understand for myself what empowers me versus what victimizes me is no kind of feminism I want any part of. I feel as reduced to some essentialist category of "woman" by reading Dworkin as I do by reading any 18th century scientific text.
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From:communicator
Date:April 12th, 2005 07:54 am (UTC)
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Yes, I know exactly what you mean. In another way I think of Dworkin as a person shouting and shouting, perhaps making herself offensive in the process, but a necessary warning. I don't personally feel violated by intercourse, but at the same time I think we (en masse) turn our faces away from the degree to which sex isn't pleasurable to many women.
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From:hafren
Date:April 12th, 2005 11:29 am (UTC)
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If both alike equally do enjoy it,
Why does one sell it and the other buy it?


(Christopher Marlowe, translating Ovid)
[User Picture]
From:archbishopm
Date:April 13th, 2005 06:46 am (UTC)
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'Cause one has lots of money
and the other has kids to buy food for, honey

:-D
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From:cruisedirector
Date:April 14th, 2005 11:38 am (UTC)
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I think there is an enormous difference, though, between arguing for every woman's right to refuse sex or to point out all the flaws in the way what counts as "normal" heterosexual relations in a culture is pathological, and suggesting that every woman who chooses to have heterosexual relations is contributing to the oppression of women who do not want to have heterosexual relations because they are participating in the broader culture of pornography and violence. There's no respect for women's choices there, and because she was out there saying such things, she made it that much harder for people who were trying to address much more complicated issues like what effect the hypersexualization of young girls in the media has on adolescents or how the line between sex and violence gets blurred in popular entertainment. Once someone has suggested that all heterosexual intercourse in a culture can be seen as violent or coercive, it becomes much too easy to ridicule that notion, and much more difficult to point out the ways in which violent, coercive sex are in fact treated as normal without someone saying oh, you're just one of those Dworkin followers. I sympathize with her anger, but I don't think she helped women.
[User Picture]
From:archbishopm
Date:April 12th, 2005 07:24 am (UTC)
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I know you are open listeners who hear all sorts of confidences.

You must be mistaking me for some nicer archbishop. :-D
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From:communicator
Date:April 12th, 2005 07:50 am (UTC)
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In your case, they call it 'confession' and you can set penance.
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From:sex_and_tea
Date:April 12th, 2005 08:49 am (UTC)
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I always found Dworkin utterly obnoxious and completely un-nuanced in her writings on sex and pornography. Her essentialist view of female sexuality are highly disturbing.
If, following Dworkin, phallic fantasy is contaminated by power, this tactic seems to say that, if it is essentially perverse and violent, then female sexuality shall be defined as its opposite: as not-violent and non-perverse, a pure and natural pleasure uncontaminated by power, standing outside of history. Women become gentle, as-sexual or possibly inherently lesbian beings which is a rhetoric that is all to familiar and insured a nice fit with the conservatives when it came to the highly theatrical anti-pornography debates in which Dworkin played the role of the ultimate victim pleading with the male senators for the “powerless race” of women.

Dworkin is far from empowering. As long as we emphasise woman’s role as the absolute victim of male sadism, we only perpetuate the supposedly essential nature of woman’ powerlessness and help maintain it.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:April 12th, 2005 09:01 am (UTC)
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I don't think what Dworkin says is the whole story, but I think she is an unspoken bit of the story. Here is a link you might be interested in, it is a discussion of Dworkin's death by Susie Bright, who takes the opposite view to Dworkin: pro-sex, pro-porn, and yet has something positive to say about her 'enemy'.

http://susiebright.blogs.com/susie_brights_journal_/2005/04/andrea_dworkin_.html

I know it’s strange that I have such a tragic affection for her, when she apparently only had loathing for my kind... Every time you hear some preacher/politician talk about “violence against women” or how something is “degrading to women” tell them to to send a royalty check to Andrea Dworkin and ask them what they’ve done lately to empower female sexual authority.

I think I like her passionate anger.
[User Picture]
From:sex_and_tea
Date:April 12th, 2005 09:26 am (UTC)
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Thanks for the link! I can understand your love of that anger and to some extent Brights affection for Dworkin, though I can't share it. What always stuck with me was: "She was a dangerous lady, with no class analysis, no psychological insight-- a scary combination" Part of this lack of appreciation might stem from the fact that I'm from a much later generation.

There was something interesting at the very end of Brights article: "She was the animator of the ultimate porno horror loop, where the Final Girl never gets a chance to slay the monster, she only dies, dies, dies." This collapse of horror and pornography is quiet fascinating. Up until a few years ago it was still quiet common that when academics and journalists discussed pornography they turned to horror movies rather than to actual porn, as if it were the same thing. Some of the main movies discussed during the anti-porn debates were "snuff" movies(rather obviously made with special effects). I just found it amusing to see it here again.
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From:temeres
Date:April 12th, 2005 10:59 am (UTC)
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(Some) sociobiologists say 'rape is a successful male reproductive strategy'

Yup, count me in on that one.

Also count me in on the team who don't reject the sociobiological just because it udermines a touchingly dogged faith in the naturalistic fallacy.
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From:communicator
Date:April 13th, 2005 01:07 am (UTC)
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I've explained before why I don't think rape is a good way to pass on genes (where 'good' means reproductive efficiency) - but my point is that Dworkin is vilified for (allegedly) making the same point that scientists are lauded for. However, I think the point is factually incorrect.
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From:temeres
Date:April 13th, 2005 10:32 am (UTC)
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Rape might not be a particularly 'good' (as in reproductively efficient) method of passing on the genes, but it is *a* method, and potentially successful enough to justify the attendant risks.

'Justify' in a purely gene-transmission sense, I hasten to add.
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From:communicator
Date:April 13th, 2005 10:49 am (UTC)
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Well, the risk is of your death, and the likelihood of passing on your genes is pretty low, given the huge array of events that need to take place between the act and a child growing to adulthood. Concubinage, on the other hand, is a 'good' strategy for passing on genes, because it doesn't involve fighting to the death with the person you hope to mate with, and it provides the mother with at least some modicum of shelter and resources during the child's growing period. Rape is not a reproductive act at all, which is why unlike other sex acts it is indiscriminantly extended to men, children, and old people.
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From:temeres
Date:April 13th, 2005 12:59 pm (UTC)
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Rape can be a reproductive act if it is the only, or most readily available, means of passing on one's genes. It's certainly a high risk strategy, but not so high as to make it unviable. Some rapes do result in pregnancy, after all.

However, I'm not suggesting that reproduction is the only factor involved here. There are others, which is why, as you say, it's extended to victims where reproduction is an impossibility. But the reproductive dimension shouldn't be discounted. It might not be the whole of the story, but it is important.
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From:redstarrobot
Date:April 14th, 2005 09:20 am (UTC)
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Successful means reproductively efficient. It doesn't mean one generation of genes passed on, it means efficient enough to prevail against other genotypes through the generations. Without reproductive efficiency, you're not looking at a competitive and therefore lasting strategy. If rape isn't reproductively efficient, it's not reproductively successful. Moreover, there's frankly little difference between justifying the gene-transmission sense and justifying the act. Society is formed not so we can be civilized and have televisions, society is formed so the species perpetuates itself more successfully. Arguments over socially acceptable or beneficial behavior are, at core, arguments over utilization of resources for the perpetuation of the species.

From a biological perspective, rape stands far more chance of success with species that have R-type reproductive strategies, because it inherently meets all the needs of R-type offspring; however, most species that reproduce with an R-type strategy don't do it bodily, so rape isn't really an option. Homo sapiens have a strong K-type strategy, which makes rape a non-competitive reproductive strategy, because it fails to fulfill the needs of K-type offspring. Occasionally resulting in a pregnancy is not equivalent to passing on genes or successfully reproducing, let alone having a successful reproductive method for the species.
[User Picture]
From:temeres
Date:April 15th, 2005 11:42 am (UTC)
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Successful means reproductively efficient. It doesn't mean one generation of genes passed on, it means efficient enough to prevail against other genotypes through the generations.

What is successful, in terms of efficiency, for a population as a whole is not necessarily successful - or indeed viable - for individuals within that population. The optimum human strategy is pretty much what we see - long term monogamy, serial or otherwise, with or without a bit on the side. But there are individuals who for various reasons are excluded from that strategy, or for whom it is not considered sufficient. That's why we have prostitutes. And rapists.

Without reproductive efficiency, you're not looking at a competitive and therefore lasting strategy.

But 'efficiency' isn't an all-or-nothing affair. It's relative, as in the classic hawks-and-doves model. A strategy need only be efficient enough to maintain a niche for itself, without having to eliminate all the competition.

Moreover, there's frankly little difference between justifying the gene-transmission sense and justifying the act.

There are two dimensions of justification here. The first is from the actor's perspective of risks vs rewards. Do the potential rewards justify taking the potential risks? And for rapists, whatever their motivation, the answer is clearly 'yes' at least some of the time because if it wasn't there'd be no such thing as rape. In that sense their actions are justified, if only to themselves.

The other dimension, the moral one, is in a whole different ball park, and in this case I think most (I'd like to say all, but let's be realistic) people would agree that there is no moral justification for rape whatsoever. With most criminal acts, it's possible to imagine situations, however contrived and unlikely, in which they might be regarded as, if not morally impeccable then at least mitigated by whatever other factors are brought into play. I suspect that constructing a scenario in which rape might be the morally preferable option would be not impossible but probably particularly artificial.

however, most species that reproduce with an R-type strategy don't do it bodily, so rape isn't really an option.

No, but there are cheating strategies. Some fish pair up to spawn, and it is not unknown for an unselected male to drive off a female's selected partner in order to fertilise her eggs with his sperm. In at least one species of squid, some males masquerade as females in order to slip past rival males for much the same end. Rape is a cheating strategy. It works. Maybe not very well, but well enough. Too well, even.

Homo sapiens have a strong K-type strategy, which makes rape a non-competitive reproductive strategy, because it fails to fulfill the needs of K-type offspring.

In what way? Rape produces offspring, of that there is no doubt - Pinker cites 32,000 annually in the US alone. Some will be aborted, though that is - in evolutionary terms - a very recent option. The rest will be brought to term and raised in some kind of home environment. Not necessarily an ideal one, but then the same is true of a lot more children conceived through consensual sex. There is no predetermined failure to 'fulfil the needs' of a child simply because it was conceived by a rape.
[User Picture]
From:emeraldsedai
Date:April 12th, 2005 11:05 am (UTC)
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In a sort of One Degree of Separation, I was just conversing on Friday with a friend who was once friends with Andrea Dworkin. She was saying that she had written to Andrea in the last year, and was unhappy about getting no response.

They had been comrades in feminist battles in the 80s, and it's possible that my friend valued their association longer and more highly than Andrea did. My friend today says:

I remember sitting on bleachers in a park across from the Statue of Liberty listening to Andrea speak. She was just such a great ranter and raver. I was spellbound. And I remember when she came to [my town], as a favor to me, to speak at a NOW conference. She came to my house for dinner and consumed an enormous amount of food. When I got ready to take her back to the hotel, she insisted that I wrap up all the leftovers for her to eat in her room later. And I remember, too, how soft spoken and sweet she was.

When she found out I was to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Hustler she called me to thank me. She called me regularly for some time. And when my heart was breaking from an ended relationship, she sent me a book about Collette, with a note to tell me she was thinking about me. There is more, but I just want you to know she did more than eat a lot of food!!

My friend's feminism, once highly political and nearly militant, was strongly influenced by her association with Andrea, and she managed to communicate some of the political aspects of those values to me.

My current political involvement--though not primarily feminist--arises directly from this friend's influence and example.

No one can perceive all the ripples of their life and work. Andrea Dworkin probably wouldn't be interested in or the least bit impressed by my small activism, but there's a direct line of descent. Her passing resonates with me.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:April 13th, 2005 01:09 am (UTC)
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I suspect Dworkin has been very ill for a year or more, which might be why she cut down on correspondence. I like what you say about ripples.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:April 13th, 2005 01:18 am (UTC)
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I'm glad of her writings but they depress and frighten me as well. I think the male view of women is broader and more various than the picture she paints in her books, and yet I suppose she would agree with me, but say that her work brings to the surface the shadow that is ignored.

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