Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005) was a polarizing figure among feminists since she brought an Old Testament prophet’s fervor to the task of taking the logic of feminism to extreme lengths. And she was not illogical.
But she was also a physically and psychologically unattractive person, a Jabba the Hut-shaped stereotype of an unbalanced feminist. According to her own accounts of her life, her physical presence frequently turned men into the rapists they always were deep down. Her 2000 announcement that she had recently been drugged and raped while unconscious in her Paris hotel room was not greeted with much credence or sympathy even by other feminists. We’re supposed to never question the victim but Dworkin had played her hand a few too many times, and in the wake of Feminism, Inc.’s defense of Bill Clinton, feminists were tired of her.
Here’s John Dolan’s 2005 obituary for her.
Still, she was an interesting person in that she would occasionally notice things, from which she would draw feminist nerd conclusions and propound them fiercely: e.g., she was anti-pornography, a battle she appears to have lost overwhelmingly. She was a member of the Awkward Squad.
Like many famous feminists of her generation, she was highly ethnocentric, largely ignoring her own culture’s ancient patriarchal traditions while attacking the broader culture. Her 2000 book Scapegoat: Jews, Israel And Women’s Liberation contended:
Throughout history, argues brilliant feminist critic Andrea Dworkin, women and Jews have been stigmatized as society’s scapegoats. In this stunning and provocative book, Dworkin brings her rigorous intellect to bear on the dynamics of scapegoating. Drawing upon history, philosophy, literature, and politics, she creates a terrifying picture of the workings of misogyny and anti-Semitism in the last millennium. With examples that range from the Inquisition, when women were targeted as witches and Jews as heretics, to the terror of the Nazis, whose aggression was both race- and gender-motivated, Dworkin illustrates how and why women and Jews have been scapegoated and compares the civil inequality, prejudices, and stereotypes that have framed identity for both groups.So it came as a shock to her highly developed ethnic loyalty when she finally visited Israel in 1988 to discover that it had a sabra culture that prized the manly military virtues. From a 2000 Guardian interview article:
Unlike many on the Left, including the Jewish Left, Dworkin was never anti-Israel. She attributed to the country ideas about socialism and equality which were indeed part of the founding vision, right up to the Declaration of Independence. So that 1988 visit, her first, came as a big shock: “I was devastated by the situation of women, so the obvious thing for me to ask was, why are Jewish women so subordinated and treated so badly, have so few rights? I met with a lot of activists, feminists, and I came back to the United States really, really angry that feminists who had been to Israel a whole lot more than I had, had basically been keeping all this stuff secret. It enraged me. And I couldn’t shake it. And that’s why I started writing.”Aspergery folks who don’t get what other insiders understand tacitly can be useful guides to us outsiders in understanding society.
What she found in Israel was a male-dominated, militaristic society. Okay, women did compulsory military service but not in combat roles. The rabbis had to declare Golda Meir an honorary male before they could recognise her as prime minister. She understood why Israeli men were such tough nuts but was furious at the effect on society. “Pacifism was dead, killed by the Nazis along with the six million,” she writes. “There would be no more feminised, gentle, Jewish males, no more ‘Yid’.” With the death of the bookish “nebbish” – the Woody Allen type – the new, tough Jews emerged, not victims but the invincible Israeli army. Jewish machismo turned the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence, which specifically spoke of equality and women’s rights, into a travesty – “Debased men need to degrade women . . . Once debased, men become powerful men, the degrading of women becomes a state protected right.”Is Woody Allen “the Woody Allen type?” (If you asked Woody Allen who he most resembled in fictitious cowardly persona, underlying personality, work ethic, longevity, etc. he’d probably say Bob Hope.)
The assumption here that, unlike in Israel, Jewish men in America were highly respectful toward women is not upheld by studying industries they flourished in, such as Hollywood, pornography, or Las Vegas. For example, D.W. Griffith’s WASP Victorianism made him more open to working with women on a basis of respect, and more sensitive to the horrors of rape (most famously expressed in Griffith’s Birth of a Nation), than the moguls who came after him. But that’s almost completely forgotten — I was in my 50s before Paleo Retiree, who grew up in upstate New York (Ground Zero of 19th Century WASP feminism), pointed it out to me.
Being fairly logical, Dworkin in effect took seriously Gerald Ford’s joke that there will never be a final victor in the battle of the sexes because there’s too much fraternizing with the enemy. Dworkin thus came up with a logical way to reduce fraternizing with the enemy:
So now we come to what Andrea Dworkin wants and it is this: she wants women to have their own country. But that’s mad, I said to her. Why bother discussing it? It isn’t going to happen. To which she has a reply – didn’t they say that about Israel? And didn’t the world think that Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, was a crank? The Jews got a country because they had been persecuted, said that enough was enough, decided what they wanted and went out and fought for it. Women should do the same. And if you don’t want to live in Womenland, so what? Not all Jews live in Israel, but it is there, a place of potential refuge if persecution comes to call. Furthermore, Dworkin says, as the Jews fought for Israel so women have the right to execute – that’s right, execute – rapists and the state should not intervene. I couldn’t really believe she was serious, but she is.Now, obviously, that’s a really bad idea. But the reasons it’s a bad idea are highly illuminating — it serves as a r eductio ad absurdum of feminist thinking — which is why you never hear about Dworkin’s proposal.
“The last chapter – that’s my favourite chapter,” she said, regarding the section of her book proposing a nation state for women, and her face lit up when I referred to it. …
But that’s not going to happen, I protested, again. “It might happen, it could happen,” she said. Then we began to talk about this women’s country. Wouldn’t it wind up exactly like Israel itself – a utopian dream which like all utopias, inevitably turns out not quite as expected? “No, I don’t think it would be an ideal place,” Dworkin agreed. “Women tried to establish co-ops and communes throughout the 70s and a lot of them broke down, not because of outside pressure but because of internal politics. I’m not saying that’s the only solution but I’m saying it’s an incredible thing to overlook as a possibility. We’ve never dealt with the issue of sovereignty and I think that’s because we’ve never understood that what we want we can only get through a really serious political movement.”