Andrea Dworkin R.I.P

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Andrea Dworkin who held views so monstrously silly that, were it not for the serious harm they do, they would provide hours of amusement has died. May she rest in peace.

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Deep sigh.

Actually Steve, much of Andrea Dworkin's writing was a lot closer to Joannes Paulus Magnus's writings on sexuality than most people would ever realize or admit.

I was introduced to Dworkin's work around the same time as I was introduced to "Love and Responsibility" and both had a huge impact on my thinking. Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon accomplished oceanic feats in the anti-pornography movement and in doing so were almost entirely marginalized by the Left, including the feminist movement, and ignored by the Right, for doing so. Like my hero Karol Wojtyla, Dworkin and McKinnon were uncompromising in their insistence that women must never be viewed or used as a sexual object....I could go on and on.
Her thought cannot be "reconciled" with his, but if I had the time and money to go back and do a PhD in philosophy, I could draw many connections.

Your post reinforces my belief that I will go to my grave without finding a single person who, like myself, knows Dworkin's work and JPII's work equally and actually sees a profound connection.

I've lost with Andrea Dworkin's work over the last decade or so, and hope to revisit it at some point. She also wrote very movingly about Israel. She was a major thinker in my view, one of the secular world's best, way before her time, and I will miss her.

This is a link to one of my favorite pieces by Andrea Dworkin. I particularly like it because she discusses her Jewish identity.

I hope you take the time to read it Steve and in turn, reconsider your wrongheaded dismissal of a woman who was in fact both a moralist and a great writer.

Dear Kate,

I have read wide and long in the Dworkin opus. And while I might find some ground for agreement on Israel, the vitriolic view of marriage as a form of sexual commodity is not commensurate with John Paul's teaching. I quote directly from Intercourse (p.137) , "sexual intercourse remains a means or the means of psychologically making a woman inferior."

Dworkin's philosophy is a dinstinctively non-Butlerian feminist deconstructionist post-modern hegemony-seeking redaction of prior feminist writers. That she worked for some most excellent causes cannot be denied; however, this does not make her philosophy particularly compatible with the Holy Father's personalism or theology of the body. That she had what might be termed "personalist" concerns--particularly with regard to the exploitation of women in pornography cannot be denied; the unfortunate reality is that Dworkin's irreducible dichotomy was "oppressive male" "oppressed female." Her writings reiterate this frequently. Any admiration I might have for her good work would have to be qualified by this observation. Men are nearly demonized and ALWAYS oppressive even if unintentionally so and as a by-product of societal constructs.

Dworkin has a tremenous amount to answer for on the negative philosophical side. Her good work cannot be discounted, but her chief feminist stream of thought is unfortunately contaminated by a rampant suspicious minandry; to deny this is to gloss Dworkin's career and imbue her with a geniality that simply does not exist.

That there may be some correlations with the Holy Father's thought, is entirely possible. But I think we do her thought an injustice if we elide the essential elements that give rise to my "wrong-headed dismissal."

I liked Dworkin--I liked the way she stirred people up and got them thinking about things. I did not care for her views on a large number of issues, and I found some of her "thought" to be profoundly silly, overly influenced by Michel Foucault and the entire deconstructionist jihad.

I admire Dworkin for standing up and saying what she believed, but I do not admire tha majority of what she believed, nor do I think it a particular advance in human thought and relations.



Dear Kate,

To make my point more pointedly--I challenge anyone to find a single female over whom I exercise any form of control, oppressive or otherwise, including that beautiful creature I am privileged to call a wife. Dworkin simply didn't connect to the everyday reality of most men. Most of my bosses are women. Much of my daily structure is defined by women.

That Dworkin should be unable to see what women really were and the power they really held is just one example of radical silliness. I often wished I could invite her into my life and have her show me how I oppressed anyone. For the vast majority of us, she would be hard-pressed to find much other than simply scrambling to stay employed and to stay on top of the workload.

You do not address injustice with accusation. She noted many injustices, she simply bought into the wrong attribution of those injustices. For example, in one workplace of which I am aware all male employees were strongly cautioned to make no mention whatsoever of how a woman looks, dresses, or otherwise presents herself. So while I might be able to say to another man, "This is casual day, why so dressed up," were I to say the same thing to a woman, it would be grounds for dismissal and tort lawsuit under sexual harassment practice. (She'd never win the lawsuit, but I still wouldn't have a job.)

If this miraculous transformation in society is even partically attributable to Ms. Dworkin, you can see why I would look askance at her work.



Steve, your views of Dworkin's work are far more nuanced than the smug and dismissive paragraph you posted about her death would ever had led me to believe had you not allowed me the privilege of this comment box. I am really glad to see this. From your more lengthy, balanced, and thoughtful posts that followed mine, I can see that you do have some appreciation for her work, although I suspect you and I would come out with different interpretations.

I think Dworkin's work must be read as a whole. Unfortunately, parts of it are so inflammatory and provoke such a visceral reaction in some readers that it colors how they read the rest of it. (This phenomenon is not unique to Dworkin--I've found people do the same thing with my favorite philosopher, Plato.) I'm not qualified to discuss philosophy at a sophisticated level--I do not have the language or academic jargon, I'm a tradeswoman with a keen lay interest in philosophy and literature who has far less time to read and study than I would like--but I do believe given the chance to sit down and discuss and debate this intelligently with you, I could put forth a strong argument that much of her thought has far more in common with JPII's "Theology of the Body" than you think. You might not agree with my at the conclusion, but I do think I could argue it. I suspect my love for JPII is as deep as yours. I specifically love him as a female who has, in my own life experienced (as did Dworkin and as do many women, both Christian and non-Christian), sexual violence from a stranger and physical abuse at the hand of my (now estranged) husband.

And I do believe that on balance Andrea Dworkin did God's work here in the world, and paid a great price for it, even if most people in the world ,and those who read this blog, do not recognise this.

And from reading your blog I am sure you are a wonderful man who cares deeply about all people, including women.

Pax Christi, my brother. I enjoy your blog.

Dear Kate,

Part of the difficulty with written communication is that we tend to read into. What I said in my original post about Dworkin was not intended to be read as either smug nor dismissive, but rather a strong objection to some of the implications of Ms. Dworkin's writing. I strongly object to statements made generally about "men", which while undoubtedly true about SOME men, are not universally true.

That, is entirely beside the point. I am sincerely sorry that you read what I wrote as dismissive. It wasn't intended to be so. I will miss Ms. Dworkin, despite my objections, because she was a distinctive voice. I may have had disagreements, but I also admired her courage in standing up against the pro-pornography feminists. She is absolutely correct on the matter of exploitation of any person. It happens that the majority of our pornography is heterosexual, but that doesn't justify homosexual pornography nor does the right to free speech.

In some way the world is diminished with every person who departs this life. So it is with Ms. Dworkin. I do believe that she acted in good faith, if not always out of the best will. And I, for one, will miss her.

Because I disagree does not mean that I dismiss. Please accept my apologies for that reading. I intended critique--not dismissal; and I certainly intend no disrespect. I think I would have enjoyed talking to Ms. Dworkin, although that will have to remain speculative.

And frankly, I am in no position to discuss the intricate details of her philosophy either. I understand enough to know her antecedents, and little more. But I've read a great deal by and about her and I would be interested in someday talking to someone who admired and loved her ideas and who could articulate the relationship they saw with the ideas of the Holy Father. Undoubtedly there are similarities, but I must also say that there are undoubtedly great differences.

Thank you for enlivening this little post with so much kind and interesting commentary. And thank you for the kind words about the site. I will endeavor in the future to make more clear what I actually intend so that it does not appear to be disrespectful.

You will find if you read on long enough that I think it is always all right to criticize, sometimes harshly, an idea--it is never all right to condemn a person--that is God's alone. (Although I will note that there are a great many who disagree with me very strongly with the latter half of that statement. Ask them--I still like and respect them--right Jack?)



I was wondering if Dworkin asked to be buried in an all-female cemetery until I was told, to my astonishment, that she was married. To a man.

Dear TSO,

Ms. Dworkin was a woman of extraordinary contradictions, as each of us is in our own ways. Sometimes we fail to live up to our rhetoric, in this case, I believe it is to her credit.




Had you taken the time to read Dworkin's work with any degree of genuine attention and care, you would have realised she was not a separatist.

I am always extremely annoyed (and, to be honest, hurt to some degree) at the pervasive tendency of many intellectuals--who know little or nothing about the Catholic faith and have no intention of remedying this gap through study, dialogue, etc.--stereotype, caricature, misunderstand, and misrepresent it in the most brazen way. I put this tendency down to both bigotry and intellectual dishonesty.

Because of this tendency, and the frustration and distress it can and does cause, I expect thinking Catholics to adhere to a higher standard of intellectual honesty across a broad political, religious, and cultural spectrum. Generally in my experience they do, but I have been discovering recently that they seem to have a huge blind spot regarding Andrea Dworkin. I think, sadly, that this diminishes us all.

Andrea Dworkin is and will always be one of my heroes. She was a powerful intellectual and a courageous moralist of uncompromising conviction. She actually tried to do something about a form of horricif and soul-destroying suffering that most people choose to ignore--even those who "know it's wrong" simply sit in their houses wringing their hands about it.

I'm very surprised so few people--even smart people of faith like I presume tso to be since he is reading this blog- can see this. Then again, when one reflects on the fate of Joan of Arc, the fact that life can be so tragic, paradoxical and ridiculous should come as no surprise to me.

Sorry, that last comment of mine was meant for tso not Steven. My cut and paste function did not work.

Dear Kate,

What you must realize and acknowledge is that Ms. Dworkin has received very bad press, and frankly wasn't her own best front person. As a result, a casual acquaintance with Ms. Dworkin's person and works is likely to give you a less-than-perfect perception of her.

I agree with you that one needs to encounter as closely as possible the "real thing" before any decisions or evaluations can be made; however, unfortunately, the press and media have not made that a particularly appetizing proposition. But you are a remarkably good ad*vertisement for her. Already I have come to respect your reserve and your integrity. Keep encouraging people to encounter the Dworkin you know and you'll change the world, one person at a time.

God bless you.



* my spam-blocker blocks the word dvertisement

What you must realize and acknowledge is that Ms. Dworkin has received very bad press, and frankly wasn't her own best front person.

Steven, Yes, many of Dworkins characteristics, certain things she said at times, and the way she said things, were counterproductive. One might argue that had she "boxed clever" she would have, in practical terms, achieved more. I agree with you on that. But as for the seem to have missed much of my point. This is the same press whose members have, increditly and with a straight and indignant face (I have seen two such articles in major newspapers in the last few days) blamed Karol Wojtyla for the AIDS crisis in Africa. My point being, shouldn't we, because of our own painful experience as thinking Catholics, view much of whaat the press says about any controversial thinker with some degree of circumspection (is that a word? not sure but you know what I mean)? If not, I don't feel it's consistent or fair to then turn around and voice complaints about a press that demonizes and misunderstands Catholicism whilst swallowing whole its prejudices against Andrea Dworkin (who was vilified, I believe, largely because she made so many postmodern secular baby boomers extremely uncomfortable about how they behave in their personal lives).

My point is that, we, as Catholics, should lead by example in all things.

I want to add that to say that Andrea Dworkin supported the Anti-pornography movement is to diminish her legacy. For many many years Andrea Dworkin (along with Professor Catherine McKinnon) WAS the antipornography movement. She was practically a lone voice, and took a great deal of flak for this from both sides of the political spectrum.

Speaking strictly personally, it is poignant-- and not insignificant--to me, that she died so soon after the Holy Father. I have for many years stored her books right next to my copies of "Love and Responsibility" and "Crossing the Threshold of Hope."

Pax Christi


Dear Kate,

No, I don't miss your point. In fact, I support you in continuing to spread your understanding of Ms. Dworkin--I was simply putting in my two cents worth on why that would be an uphill battle. While we do not agree on the value of all of Ms. Dworkin's work, the loss of any person from among those we know is a sad thing--not a bad thing, and not eternally sad, but sad for the moment at least. Ms. Dworkin added a certain spice to the stew.

If not, I don't feel it's consistent or fair to then turn around and voice complaints about a press that demonizes and misunderstands Catholicism whilst swallowing whole its prejudices against Andrea Dworkin

One thing humanity is not is consistent--and as you are well aware fairness is an abstract that is rarely practiced. What is sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander in human interactions. While we can see from the inside how unfair the press is to the Catholic Church in general, it sometimes stretches our abilities to see that same functioning outside. This is not to argue the point that we should try to do so. But humanity is notoriously inconsistent and wayward in its likes and dislikes.

But you are correct, we should lead by example. I'm simply offering the reality behind the mask. It is unlikely to happen unless reasonable people, like yourself, continue to show how sensible and sometimes sensitive Ms. Dworkin's philosophy could be. That was all I was trying to say--not that you shouldn't defend or stop trying--merely that it will be a hard row to hoe. But that's okay because Ms. Dworkin did not back down in the face of opposition, John Paul the Great did not do so, and we should take a lesson from those who are our heroes. Opposition should simply strengthen charity.




I wrote to you:

I will go to my grave without finding a single person who, like myself, knows Dworkin's work and JPII's work equally and actually sees a profound connection.

It's taken over five years, but mission accomplished. A very young, very orthodox, and very intellectually brilliant Catholic friend of mine has just written to me, with zero provocation or knowledge of my feminist background let alone this thread (our friendship is centered mostly around discussions of gnostic infilitration into Catholicism and Protestantism, and in the culture at large):

astonishing how much radical feminists have in common with cultural conservatives

So I guess this proves I am not a complete freak of nature.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 12, 2005 11:25 AM.

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