Dworkin Hard, or Fantastic First Semester!

Sorry again for the delay in posting! I’ve been back home for break for the last week or so, and I’ve been so swamped that I just now got the chance to get back to blogging.

As you can probably infer from the title, I just completed my first semester of college, which, needless to say, was amazing.  Not only did I learn a lot, but I also made some wonderful new friends, got involved in some great activities, and really was able to figure out some things about how to manage my life.  I know this is a pretty cliché way to discuss one’s first college experiences, but it does fit the bill.

Something that I wrote about last time was a desire I had, and have had for a while, to try and educate myself about radical feminism, and to try and incorporate some of its teachings into my feminist worldview.  To that end, I checked out Woman Hating and Right Wing Women by Andrea Dworkin from my college’s library; I had been meaning to read Dworkin for a while, and I’m glad that I finally got the chance to do so.

While I think Dworkin has many important points that are still relevant, there are some pretty problematic things in both of the books.  They are the standard (informed) feminist criticisms: a lack of real intersectional analysis (claiming that women have other “sites of primary emergency” than gender is not enough), an implicit essentialism and more explicit transphobia (the discussion of transsexuality (Dworkin’s terminology) in Woman Hating is deeply problematic, though comes across as at least trying (though failing) to be sympathetic), and some troubling claims about the erotic nature of children and animals, as well as an endorsement of incest.  On this last point, I’m fairly certain that Dworkin must have evolved as she continued to write; Woman Hating is the only one of these two books to make such claims, and it seems to have been forged in the fires of the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  I would think that a more developed analysis of systems of oppression (especially patriarchy) would realize that the power relations inherent in our world, in any world, make it impossible for children or animals to consent to such relations.  The incest claim is also particularly disconcerting in light of the considerations of relationships of domination inside the patriarchal family; however Dworkin seems to have recanted this assertion in Right Wing Women.  In all, I was pleasantly surprised by much of what I found in Dworkin’s work (for example, the calling out of both the Left and the Right for failing to address women’s equality in any meaningful way, the concept of a sex-class system (problematic but not untenable), and in particular this quote: ” ‘We’re all just people’ is a stance that prohibits recognition of the systematic cruelties visited on women because of sex oppression” (Right Wing Women, p. 217, Perigee Books 1983); nonetheless, when Dworkin was problematic, she was very problematic.  This doesn’t mean that I’m going to reject what she has to say out of hand, or radical feminism as a whole; quite the opposite, I’m going to continue to attempt to integrate what works from this body of theory with what else I have found useful from all throughout feminism.

The other book I’ve read so far over break is Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, which was a stark departure from the work of Dworkin.  I really liked this text.  Anzaldúa’s concepts of mestizaje and code-switching are really fantastic, and the it’s precisely this code-switching (embodied by the use of both Spanish and English within the body of the text) that makes the book such an engaging read; if you are not fluent in Spanish, you have to really work to get the full benefit from the piece, which makes you interact with the text in a new way.  To paraphrase a point Anzaldúa made in an interview in the book’s appendix, she attempts to create a philosophical mestizaje, and to take good pieces from the philosophies of all different cultures.  I really like this idea;  I think too often I have myself convinced that if I just read the right books and blogs, take the right classes, quote the right theorists, believe the right things, say the right words, and think the right thoughts that I’ll be completely free from prejudice; that I’ll have become some kind of irreproachable social justice entity.  This is obviously wrong-headed and problematic; to be irreproachable is to be unable to be held accountable, and this idea also assumes that there is some kind of end state, that if I work hard enough, one day I’ll be “done”.  But I can never be done, and I don’t want to be done; life is a constant process of growth, learning, progress, and change.  It might not even be linear progress; there will be sticking points, and there will be back-tracking, and there will be mistakes.  But it is the willingness to learn from those mistakes, to hold myself accountable, and to change my mind and admit when I’m wrong that keep me going.  That’s why I’m still trying to work with all this theory; I want to try to think and believe and act as justly as possible, though that is both a moving target and an unattainable goal.  It is not, however, pointless or futile.  This is about the real lives of people, about trying to make sense of our complex experiences and identities in a fundamentally unjust and unequal world.  Change is coming, but it will and must be a continuous and continual process; I’m not going to “solve” oppression on my own, especially with my privileged background and identity.  It’s arrogant to think that I can.  I can, however, as an ally, as an activist, and as a decent human being, try to make the world a little bit brighter.  That’s something we should all strive towards.  One theory, one author, one philosophy, idea, talking point or epiphany is not going to save us; but the best of all of these, and the constant critique of our beliefs, or our foundations, and of ourselves and our cultures will guide us on our way.

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