Over Her Dead Body:
Part 1: Background
When Intercourse was first published in 1987 it was met with both stunned silence and a stunning level of virulent misogyny, aimed squarely at Andrea, rarely noting or dealing with anything substantial from the text itself. It, like Andrea, was ridiculed in the press and rejected in powerful social circles as preposterous. This substantial portion of the propatriarchal public seemed to be utterly incapable of dealing with either the person or her writings as they were. Stereotypes were proliferated discrediting Dworkin, her analysis, and the insights she brought to her thorough examination of, and challenges to, mainstream sexual politics.
Regarding Intercourse specifically, The New York Times in particular, but not alone, "didn't get it." Their review was both silly and stupid. The unkind press and other public portrayals of her said much more about the "portrait artists" than they did about her. Andrea was a profoundly compassionate person who cared deeply about the possibility, as untenable as it was urgent, that women could one day be free from male domination. But if you listened to printed shouts and verbal whispers--all slanderous, salacious, and slicing, you'd think Andrea was a hybridized human, comprised of parts both monstrous and psychotic. These portraits of her were surreal and I remember them well.
When the Tenth Anniversary edition of this feminist classic came out in 1997, Andrea, in a new preface, succinctly addressed the politics of the responses the book had gotten thus far. It was important to see her well-chosen words introduce her much maligned text. Too much was taken from Andrea in her life, but she had her books--she wrote them and made sure they said exactly what she wanted them to say. White male supremacist society did a lot to try and distort her and that work, but the books' content was always hers and hers alone: there were still some things to be grateful for. Her collected articles, essays, and transcribed speeches, as well as the longer theoretical works stood strong and uncompromised against this on-going onslaught. Quotes could and would be taken out of context, of course, but no one could undo what she had written between the covers of her books, not even those who most despised her carefully reasoned and revolutionary politics. One could feel certain that, at least there, you could count on the truth being told her way.
As was the case throughout Andrea's life as a published writer, these critics--almost always deeply misogynistic--insisted on utilizing old patriarchal ways of interpreting Andrea's radical views. But her views constituted a uniquely intellectual and visceral, cognitive while corporeal, approach to doing feminist theory. Nowhere was this more evident than in Intercourse. It was Dworkin at her literary best to date, offering new language to describe dimensions of a personal-political reality no one dared discuss. And prior to this book there had been virtually no complex political-emotional-intellectual language available to talk about it.
Andrea addresses this directly in Intercourse: "There is an awful poverty here, in this time and place: of language, of words that express real states of being; of search, of questions; of meaning, of emotional empathy; of imagination."
As Catharine MacKinnon put it, "As Andrea Dworkin has said quite a long time ago, women's situation requires new ways of thinking, not just thinking new things." (MacKinnon, 2005: 25)
Until the day she died, exactly two years ago, her work and life have been thoroughly mischaracterized, in disgusting and derisive ways, by critics across the political spectrum who cannot think in new ways.
Not long ago, at Borders, I saw a newly published Twentieth Anniversary Edition of Intercourse. Aside from the utterly boring, inane cover design, what struck me was that Ariel Levy wrote a foreword to it. I was perplexed that there was writing by someone else in the volume; Andrea's words speak for themselves--she said what she wanted to say about this book in the 1997 edition's preface; why a new foreword now that she is gone? I knew that Levy had come to some public prominence in feminist and non-feminist circles with her engagingly written investigative book, Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005). It focuses on how the production of an increasingly pornographic culture (or "raunch" as Levy puts it) is shaping contemporary U.S. society, much to the detriment of predominantly white young women. Also contained in the book are popular lies about Dworkin and the radical feminist antipornography movement, presented as historical fact. (See pages 63-66.) She is also known as the person who wrote a despicably antifeminist article on Andrea in the June 6, 2005 issue of New York magazine hoity-toitily entitled "The Prisoner of Sex." Norman Mailer's 1971 book of the same name is his misogynistic and vindictive response to the feminist classic Sexual Politics (1970) by Kate Millett. Recycling this title, New York demonstrates how in quasi-literary circles, antifeminist references have no expiration date. They open Levy's article with this synopsis:
"A victim of abuse as a child, briefly a prostitute as a young woman, Andrea Dworkin married a gay man and spent three decades fighting hypersexualized America. She lost."
Two years ago, I was alerted to the fact that Levy perceived Andrea as a used, confused, and defeated soul, none of which was true. After reading Female Chauvinist Pigs last year, it was clear Levy also sees the patriarchal problem as "raunch culture" or hypersexuality rather than all forms of white male supremacy including men's endemic violence against women, raunchy or not.
It was a couple of months after Andrea's death that I read New York's feature article. I was upset by it while not surprised. In fact, I agreed with some close friends, "It could have been worse!" With few exceptions, when it came to reading what others have written about Dworkin, "not bad" was as good as it got. Having just reread it recently, I must retract that assessment: it is an unabashedly, inexcusably woman-hating piece of tabloid journalism. Levy's writing--its approach, style, and content--reminds me of John Stossel's pro-status quo liberalism on 20/20; and that's not meant as a compliment. My upset contained some disgust that a professional writer would misuse formerly private information about Andrea, collected through personal interviews by Levy, melded with very selective bits of Andrea's memoir, Heartbreak, to concoct a counterfeit Dworkin with enough anecdotes to make it seem authentically biographical. To now see her foreword in the new edition of Intercourse made me nervous, to say the least.
I hoped that regardless of the tone and content of Levy's book and the New York piece, she might have since comprehended what Andrea was exploring in Intercourse, communicating that rather than recycling the lies in F.C.P. and the botched biographical focus of the article. I also hoped she'd be able to speak as a younger feminist to other young women who might not otherwise pick up and read Andrea's work, perhaps especially this vilified volume. Levy, in this new foreword, readily admits that handling this material trivially and in an unsophisticated manner is insufficient and unacceptable. So it was with apprehension, but an open mind, that I took a seat in my local Borders and read on. I also deeply hoped, despite my apprehension, that by the time I finished it, I would acknowledge a challenging accomplishment and say to myself and then to others: "That was a befitting foreword by Ariel Levy. Brava to her!"
But by the time I finished it, I was overwhelmed by a sense of bewilderment and bereavement. The foreword wasn't much more than a revamped version of the New York piece, except this version seemed especially spurious, its misogyny more couched than was the case in the magazine article.
It is exactly two years since Andrea died: I hope Nikki Craft and I are but two among many critical voices who fully understand how this turn of events could likely impact Dworkin's legacy and even the future of [so-called, ; ) according to Nikki Craft] feminism. We hope some will join us in expressing these concerns.
Part 2: Typical Antifeminist Tactics
Below are a half-dozen common antifeminist tactics routinely employed to discredit and demean feminist writers and activists:
1. Physically objectify or unduly focus on the body of the feminist:
2. Psychologize and isolate the feminist:
3. Further portray the feminist as "a kind of woman" seen through patriarchy's distorting lens:
4. Undermine the feminist's work or reputation:
5. Promulgate lies and distortions:
6. Politically compromise and conceptually contain the feminist:
Radical feminist writers' work is never supposed to be "met" on its own terms, by the reader; there is no imperative on privileged people to do their homework, so to speak, before approaching the radical woman's material--inside or outside the academy. However, whole college courses and books for Dummies exist to help us with the basic concepts and framework, the analysis, the terminology of the "great and influential ideas" of dead white men; I've read several of them. If I'm in the academy and I don't get it, I am advised to take the intro course again, or to please stop wasting everyone's time with my misunderstandings and inaccurate interpretations. I might be advised to speak with someone "in the know" before approaching the great white man's work again. And if I do, I will be asked to metaphorically remove my shoes before entering.
From Plato to Derrida, if you are not familiar with the framework or philosophy--and sometimes also the non-English language--the usually European man's great mind is operating out of or critiquing, the failure to comprehend the material belongs to you. With women writers, the failure to comprehend is placed back on the author. The dog-shit on the soles of anyone's shoes may be wiped on the feminist soul's work, and too often, no one will notice or care.
Part 3: Levy's Politically Backwards Foreword
Examining her text from opening remarks to closing statement, we shall now see how and to what degree Levy employs these tactics, intentionally or not. Where necessary, I'll also include passages from the New York piece to further elucidate what Levy is doing somewhat more covertly in the foreword.
On the first page, Levy states: "If this is the first book of hers you've encountered, brace yourself--she had a voice like no other. Perhaps the most prominent quality of Dworkin's writing is its ferocity: its relentless intellectual and ideological confidence, its refusal to collapse into what Dworkin called 'the quintessential feminine pose.' Though she bragged she used 'language without its ever becoming decorative or pretty,' there is an elegance as well as an aggression in Dworkin's sentences."
Here we see the back-handed compliment and the beginning of the portrait of Andrea as a menacing, other-than-human egotistical ideologue; in just this one paragraph we find out we'd better mentally buckle up because Andrea in her written work is both braggart and beast. We also see how a term's meaning can be subtly twisted: since when is elegance a synonym for that which is "decorative" or "pretty"? Levy's distortions of meaning and mischaracterizations build throughout the foreword, repeatedly recasting Andrea in a strange light as someone who is deeply disturbed.
"[B]oastful, aggressive, ferocious, and, well, not very lady-like" is also the first woman-hating inference of Dworkin-the-abominable showman. This portrait has always been one of many misogynist ways to categorize and reject women as "normal" (white, class-privileged, heteropatriarchal). Once the woman is described as such, her work is rendered too bizarre to take seriously; ironically, if a woman keeps inside the patriarchal boundaries set for her being, her work is generally regarded as insignificant and unimportant. Andrea knew from the start of her feminist writing career that any woman was judged not only on the degree to which she acted appropriately according to her particular cultural feminine caste, but also against particular white supremacist standards of being male that any woman would be admonished for appropriating. Andrea's intellectual confidence was seen as too much like that of the privileged white man, yet no one could mistake her content as masculinist. I foolishly say no one; corporate pimps, Ariel Levy, countless white male reviewers, and numerous befrienders of pornographer-rapists could, and did.
Next in the foreword, we learn that Dworkin "had a particular gift for conveying abstract concepts through acute, unusual metaphors." Levy follows this up with an atypical passage from Dworkin's 2002 memoir. Not mentioned is Andrea's far more politically useful gift for identifying and analyzing the complex mechanisms and gross manifestations of white and male dominance in ways that are very accessible to the reader; Andrea does just this in the last thirty pages of Heartbreak. Just ahead is a passage from that section. It begins by acknowledging the power of racial whiteness to name reality--specifically, the power to name women's pain as human suffering. Andrea is commenting on the countless women who have spoken directly to her, in great detail, about how they were harmed by white male supremacist sexual violence.
Andrea is more accurately known for telling it like it is, for skipping anti-intellectual [i.e., inaccessible] academic abstractions, and getting right to the heart of the matter, than "for conveying abstract concepts through acute, unusual metaphors." Her mind was sharp and incisive, brilliant in its capacity to literarily and literally convey institutionalized human tragedies and atrocities as such. Meanwhile, dominant society prefers to understand such oppressive harm as aesthetic taste, entertainment, or freedom--and not deal with the harm of it at all, except, perhaps, in psychotherapy or on talk show which will never deal with the harm as structural, political, and institutionalized.
Moving along in the parade of stereotypes, Levy writes, "But when most people think of Andrea Dworkin, they think of two things: overalls (her uniform) and the idea that all sex is rape."
Here we are informed Andrea has been repeatedly conjured by others as, more or less, a man-hating dyke. Levy conveys this image of Dworkin repeatedly, especially focusing on Andrea's size and style. From New York magazine: "For [many female admirers], Dworkin was a savior goddess, a knight in shining armor, and part of that armor was fat." This is the same antifeminist, lesbophobic category any woman--of any sexual orientation, of any size--is placed in who refuses to be a man's maid, cook, nurse, sexual servant, or mother to his children.
Levy continues, "That was the notorious interpretation of Intercourse by many when it first came out in 1987[.]" Just in case new readers weren't aware of the old lies, Levy makes sure to highlight them.
To balance out these vile distortions, to have this foreword appear somewhat fair-minded, we are then told this: "Intercourse is an inventive, combative, and wildly complicated piece of work, and to imagine all there is between these covers is the assertion that all sex is rape is about as sophisticated as reducing Proust to a pile of madeleine crumbs."
In one view, Levy's remarks come across as apparently affirmative. But she also insinuates into the pseudo-affirmations terms that convey less than positive traits: Andrea's work is inventive not accurate, combative not challenging, and wildly complicated not richly complex. These subtle distinctions pile up as we make our way along. Also, in Levy's view, an important feminist text becomes "a piece of work": "[f]ury and drama characterize her rhetorical style, extremism her ideas, and Intercourse is perhaps her most radical work."
One of the most common patriarchal lies about feminism is that "radical" is synonymous with "extreme." It isn't. Radicalism, in practice and theory, has always meant "getting to the root." But Levy stitches this antifeminist idea, along with all the others to follow, into her text. Something is being put together here, suture by suture.
Two of the most common lies spread about Andrea and the book are that the author is a wild [insane, inhumane], aggressive, raging [expletive for woman], and that the text states, unequivocally or not, that all sex is rape. Above Levy seems to note that it is preposterous to come to this sort of conclusion. And then, puzzlingly, this:
These misrepresentations are used to further stigmatize Andrea and her work. What kind of woman, after all, would come very close to saying "all sex" is "damn close" to "rape"? In just the first two of seventeen pages, Levy lets us know: only a woman out of touch with reality, a dangerous ideologically rigid extremist with an enormous ego and overall-uniformed body, which is shown off to great effect on the first page of the New York piece in a photo of Andrea from top of head to hips, torso and midsection centered in the shot. (A facial portrait wouldn't have nearly the same effect.) Levy's recurring emphasis on this size-obsessed portrait, tells us more about Levy's (and others') aspersive view of Andrea, than it does about the real Dworkin: the compassionate person, the humanitarian activist, or the brilliant writer. (I am willing to wager that Levy never met Dworkin because no sense of who Andrea actually was comes through here.)
More insidious invective is precisely laid down and sewn into place. First: the set-up. We are offered up a quote by Dworkin herself--an astute observation about the ignorance and idiocy found throughout press reviews and in other critics' remarks about her. It is introduced here by Levy:
"[A]s Dworkin put it in her preface nine years later, the book is 'still being reviled in print by people who have never read it, reduced to slogans by journalists posing as critics or sages or deep thinkers, treated as if it were odious and hateful by every asshole who thinks that what will heal this violent world is more respect for dead white men.'"
Levy's choice of quote furthers two of her foreword's central contentions that Andrea's grasp on reality was shaky and her attitude about men was insensitive. But Levy, like most mainstream reviewers, never bothers being sensitive to the deceased feminist woman raked over the coals.
With a quality of defensiveness or irritation, Levy-the-journalist responds: "But you don't have to be an asshole--or even a journalist--to take issue with what some of Dworkin said."
Levy neatly manages to remove Andrea's entirely accurate critique from actual reality, tacking on the bit at the end about how anyone can "take issue with some of what Dworkin said." Isn't that true of everyone who speaks or writes? How is such a comment constructive or instructive? And isn't patriarchy organized, at the very least, to "take issue" with most of what any unambiguously antipatriarchal woman says? Intentionally or not, Levy gives a politically correct and necessary nod to the pro-patriarchs and antifeminists in the house.
Following another quote of Dworkin's, Levy assesses: "There is not a doubt in her mind that she's right, and she consciously rejects a writing style that is placating or solicitous: she's not that kind of girl."
There is an inference here: Dworkin is the kind of stubborn, insubordinate supergirl whose ego is reinforced steel, with a questionable comprehension of reality and an intellectual posture that is equally hard and inflexible.
Commenting further on Dworkin's writing style, Levy remarks: "We are shown gently at first, forcefully as her text builds momentum, how much of literature positions women as not fully human or as filthy. With characteristic swagger, Dworkin compares Intercourse to Dante's Inferno, its spiraling structure descending into ever deeper circles of hell."
Levy herself just compared Dworkin to Proust, but if any feminist author dares to compare herself to great white male writers--dead or alive, she is treading on thin ice, and her character will be called into question. Here, the feminist's character is assigned an "unladylike" descriptor. We've already been told by Levy that Andrea isn't "that kind of girl." Here we are informed, that she is the kind of person who swaggers. This continues an insidious stereotypical characterization of her as, well, too masculine: Andrea--that heavy, strutting awfully manly person in overalls. Three socially acceptable forms of misogyny--lesbophobia, contempt for fatness, and heterosexism--lurk in these remarks. Also, note that according to Levy, Andrea is taking us--gently at first, then with increasing force. Here again the stereotype of the sexually mannish woman is conjured. It has always struck me as utterly histerical that so many men, and some women too, attribute so much power to feminist activists--as if, for example, a few antipornography and antiracism feminists could ever take away all white men's pornography and power. But through the deciphering of Levy's code, it is beginning to make sense: onto the militant feminist there is a not-so-subliminal projection of the patriarchal man; his real power is incorrectly associated with her, by him and his supporters. His actual power is then left unchecked, and that projected power, only once it is seen as hers, can be registered as deeply dangerous.
Due to all the mischaracterizations and lies circulating at the time, Andrea, in the 1997 edition's preface, was called upon to analyze her own text seriously. To this very day we must honestly ask: who, among those with pen and power, could respectfully and intelligently do the job? The liberal Left who love pornography and glorify every manner of men fucking women? The social moderates and middle class who must keep at least one hand caressing the white master's ego? The conservative white Right who publicly denigrate and condemn most forms of sex and sexual abuse, while secretly practicing them all? No one among those groups is likely to take up this challenge. It is in this context that Andrea made this comparison to Dante's masterwork in that preface:
Levy clearly, if momentarily, acknowledges that Dworkin is, articulating a "belief system we know--but sometimes like to forget--[one that] has governed gender relations in the West throughout the course of our history: that women are entities to be taken and possessed--walking, talking currency." Perhaps Levy is getting it: this is reality, folks. Maybe she does understand Andrea's work after all.
But disappointingly, in the very next passage, Levy incorrectly assumes that Andrea, in Intercourse, "asseverates an alternative, a way of representing and having sex that dissolves boundaries and offers not only intimacy but merged humanity a kind of magic, fleeting selflessness." She follows this with a quote of Dworkin's to back up this claim: "There is no physical distance, no self-consciousness, nothing withdrawn or private or alienated, no existence outside physical touch. The skin collapses as a boundary--it has no meaning; time is gone--it too has no meaning; there is no outside." Levy goes on: "In these passages, Dworkin is a poet of erotic love, an incarnation that would shock those who have figured her as the embodiment of antisex."
Dworkin here is not describing "erotic love" as Levy contends. Andrea is not, in any way, making a case for the existence of "a kind of magic, fleeting selflessness." This is a serious misread, an off-base embellishment, of that passage of Dworkin's. It is in the book, yes, but as a part of her introduction to the work of the great novelist, Kobo Abe, in which she describes sex as an experience of skinlessness, noting: "This skinless sex is a fever, but fever is too small. It is obsession, but obsession is too psychological." This echoes a passage from the classic book-length essay, No Name In The Street, by James Baldwin, that is one of three quotations which introduce the contents of her book: "True rebels, after all, are as rare as true lovers, and, in both cases, to mistake a fever for a passion can destroy one's life."
Levy alternately argues or alludes that Dworkin, in Intercourse, is anti-sex, which she's not, or is pro-sex, which she's not. In the liberal to conservative white, male-dominated mind, one can, publicly, be only anti-sex or pro-sex: no other options exist. Andrea more accurately analyzes this presumption later in her book, but makes very clear that to even conceive of sex in such simplistic ways "destroys the complexity of human response by destroying the language that communicates its existence." Sadly, Levy can only think in old ways.
At this point in the foreword (unlike earlier), Levy constructs Andrea as definitely pro-sex, "a poet of erotic love." Keeping this simplistic notion going, Levy continues her decontextualized destruction of Andrea's beliefs. Introducing a passage of Andrea's, Levy begins: "The profound passion she envisions does not even require an enduring emotional tie: 'In fucking, the deepest emotions one has about life as a whole are expressed, even with a stranger, however random or impersonal the encounter,' she writes." What Levy doesn't mention is that this passage is part of Dworkin's analysis of how the above-mentioned brilliant writer James Baldwin conceives the function of sex in life; she is describing one aspect of how Baldwin writes about sex. Levy also excludes Dworkin's words below, in a remarkable section of Intercourse from which Levy only extracts a decontextualized sliver or two.
In that section of the book, Dworkin directly addresses how a socially inappropriate and politically incorrect (i.e., complex) understanding of sex, held inside the U.S., malignantly marks the woman who dares speak against or between the two racist, misogynous options in attitude or posture: pro-heterosexual fucking in marriage or pro-what the rest of society engages in and names "sex"): "Ambivalence or dissent impugns her credibility; a good attitude is requisite before she is allowed to speak--in magazines, on television, in political groups. [...] Lost in the simple-minded pro-sex chauvinism of Right and Left is the real meaning of affirmation, or any consciousness of the complexity--the emotional tangledness--of a human life. [...] 'Sex-negative' is the current secular reductio ad absurdum used to dismiss or discredit ideas, particularly political critiques, that might lead to detumescence."
Again with a focus on Baldwin's writing, Andrea states: "Rage, hatred, bitterness, joy, tenderness, even mercy, all have their home in this passion, in this act; and to accept truly another person within those bounds requires that one must live with, if not conquer, the fear of being abandoned." In the New York article, Levy uses part of this passage, as if not related to Dworkin's discussion of Baldwin's work, as a concession that at least some of the time, Andrea has useful things to say on the matter.
Andrea's words do not describe "a kind of magic, fleeting selflessness." Her work is passionate but not ethereal, forged from an intellect grounded in material reality, utilizing men's literature to display the limits of what men know about sex--daring to reveal the embodied social reality women live with under male dominance, both inside and beyond the usually self-serving scope of (usually white) men's vision called, obnoxiously, a thorough understanding of humanity. In Intercourse, Andrea is not a writer of erotica (or, a creator of pornography, as propatriarchal spokesperson Susie Bright claims in Levy's article), but of life as it is, in all its political, emotional complexity. Dworkin's work, unlike most men's--and Levy's and Bright's, shatters trite, reductive, absurd assertions that "sex is good" or "sex is bad." It is this anti-status quo point of view that Levy's framework can't hold in place.
Levy has other concerns about the quoted slivers, and states them: "But if one finds this kind of sublime sexual release specifically in relinquishing control, what then? What does it mean to be aroused by dominance in the societal context Dworkin describes? And if it turns us on, do we care?"
Levy's misreadings here result in her asking questions that turn their back on the core concerns that constitute the foundation of Andrea's work. (And this is a foreword to Andrea's work, after all.) Put another way, consider an exploited European male worker asking the following to a resuscitated Karl Marx: "What if I love the experience of swiping my credit card for an expensive item I can't afford? What does it mean, in a corporate capitalist State, that I desire shopping, even when I'm in debt? And, if I get a thrill from the purchase, do we care?"
Addressing some of Levy's above concerns, Dworkin writes, "When those who dominate you get you to take the initiative in your own human destruction, you have lost more than any oppressed people yet has ever gotten back. Whatever intercourse is, it is not freedom; and if it cannot exist without objectification, it never will be. Instead, occupied women will be collaborators, more base in their collaboration than other collaborators have ever been: experiencing pleasure in their own inferiority; calling intercourse freedom. It is a tragedy beyond the power of language to convey when what has been imposed on women by force becomes a standard of freedom for women: and all women say it is so."
Dworkin's politically refined vision was always focused on what being dominated and subordinated means and does, to women oppressed by raced gender tyranny. This reality is both in and beyond "the societal context Dworkin describes." The societal context Dworkin describes is the actual condition of women's oppression. Too many readers of Andrea's work need to push away this rather terrifying fact, but the denial-inducing harmful reality named by Dworkin doesn't become socially unreal if it is not named. If all of Dworkin's work disappeared, as many wish it would, intercourse does not magically stop being an institution of men's domination of women, no matter how much some women enjoy being dominated in bed. What I believe Andrea hoped is that by engaging seriously with her work, the reader would be brought out of denial about the depth of destruction of women's will for freedom; women live in a state of unfreedom created by men's systemic and interpersonal domination of them. The attention of the reader, one hopes, is also led to interrogate this world, the real world, of white male supremacy. Levy's foreword, for the most part, works to place that reality back inside Andrea's mind, as if it were Dworkin's concoction alone, divorced from real time and social space, and the experiences of too many real women, and girls.
From Andrea's preface: "The refusal to let women feel a whole range of feelings, express a whole range of ideas, address our own experience with an honesty that is not pleasing to men, ask questions that discomfit and antagonize men in their dominance, has simply created a new generation of users and victims, boys and girls respectively. The girls are getting fucked but they are not getting free or equal. It is time to notice. They get fucked; they get hit; they get raped--by boyfriends in high school. Intercourse wants to change what is happening to those girls. Intercourse asks at least some of the right questions."
To the purveyors of lies about Andrea's writing: please pay especially close attention to this sentence: "They get fucked; they get hit; they get raped--by boyfriends in high school." This unambiguously means Andrea does not equate fucking with rape. In F.C.P., Levy says, "Dworkin is the one who said intercourse is an act of rape, inherently an act of rape."
In the foreword, Levy also insinuates an unusual level of interest in some sexual matters that blur Dworkin's actual focus. Levy continues: "The way women have eroticized sexual possession is of great interest to Dworkin, of course."
The "of course" has a function there, and it is to implant into the text the idea that Andrea's interests might be, well, lascivious. This is presented "on low volume" here, but is turned up loud in her New York article, lest the reader doubt what Levy is doing: "[Dworkin] wrote about sex constantly. To say that she was anti-sex misses the point: She was obsessed with sex. Book after book, page after page [...] Often Dworkin was offering lurid, excruciatingly precise accounts of something sexually hideous." Levy criticizes Dworkin for saying exactly what men do to girls, and why. Levy would prefer Andrea just call it "child molestation" and leave it at that. So too would many incest perpetrators and child molesters, who do not want to hear or be confronted by the "garish and grim" "excruciatingly precise" "sexually hideous" accounts of what they have done to those they have irreparably harmed. (See, especially, page 2 of the New York piece, for more.) Levy's magazine article would have been more accurately titled "Rekilling The Messenger."
Remember Levy's words quoted earlier about what Andrea is doing with this book: "[...] clearly she was suggesting that most sex is something damn close [to rape] when you live in patriarchy [...]"
Now we see the progression of how Levy moves the reader of her foreword around, from Dworkin as a ferocious, masculine person, to an unexpected writer of erotica, to a woman preoccupied with the way women have eroticized sexual possession, to someone irrationally obsessed with hideous sex, to a raging extremist who is very close to saying that all sex is rape. And Levy's tour of her own (and others') projections onto Andrea doesn't end here. Through this mind-spinning technique, Andrea is marked by Levy, paradoxically, as a prurient prude.
What Andrea is actually saying cannot be summarized by quoting a few passages from Intercourse out of context, a concession of complexity Levy makes early on in the foreword, but henceforth sets out to refute. To summarize just one critical aspect of her wavering perspective, in my own words and Levy's: Dworkin doesn't say something so simplistic as 'all sex is rape'--it would be foolish to try and say she does but [from New York] "while she didn't exactly say that, she didn't exactly not say it either."
Levy continues with a perturbed opening statement that quickly melds into another sliver from the chapter analyzing Baldwin's work--one of my all-time favorite passages of Dworkin's:
That's hilarious, smart, incisive writing by Andrea. I appreciate Levy elsewhere noting Dworkin's often missed sense of humor, although it isn't here that Levy manages to notice it. Most humor (such as in the passage above) seems to get by Levy, and most readers of Dworkin's work, perhaps because propatriarchs have no sense of humor.
Andrea is in excellent form here and throughout the book, in my opinion, but Levy has a blatantly alarmed response to that quote--there's certainly no laughter. She states her dismay with a simple question followed by more questions.
Levy asks: "Really?
Do we believe that 'most women are not distinct, private individuals to most men'? (Still?)"
Levy presents herself as naïve here, raising the probability that white male supremacist society is now significantly more discerning and respectful of women's human individuality. To which women is she referring? An as yet undiscovered mythic class of self-assured, thoroughly privileged and empowered women; women with a completely unharmed will and sense of esteem; women untouched by racism, sexism, and heterosexism; women who only do what they want to do with men who always respect their wishes, sexually and otherwise? And where are those distinction-adoring, non-sexist, boundary-respecting men? Is this an accurate descriptor of "most women" or "most men"? Levy's out-of-touch assumptions are echoed by her emphatic question "Still?"
We must keep in mind that Andrea wrote these words in 1987, before Internet pornography and its live-feed raping of girls and women, via web-cam, proliferated the homes of men who hunger to watch and create sexual violence happening in real time on their computer monitors--homes often also occupied by girls and women, some of whom become live sex-abuse pornography at the hands of their sadistic fathers and husbands. These and other women and girls are the females Andrea wants to see be free from men's systematized cruelty, violation, and control. These completely normal, neglected, abused, and exploited females, who are mistreated for men's gratification, are anything but "distinct, private individuals" in dominant society's mind and manners.
One of many survival tactics is to refuse to deal with the actual conditions and attitudes in society that Andrea unabashedly exposes, and instead move into a state of disbelief. Levy elsewhere acknowledges the harsh reality of men's control of women, but here woefully ignores it.
Levy wants to know: "Still?"
Has men's sexual violence lessened in the last twenty years? Even non-feminist reports say no; in fact, it has increased. How would this increase in men's sexual violence make it more possible for women to have sex that is free of sexist harm? How would the even more powerful pornography industry's production of racist-misogynistic objectification and exploitation, for popular consumption, jive with the fantasy that most men view women as "distinct, private individuals"? To her credit, Levy does acknowledge that pornography is now "a source of inspiration for all of popular culture." But we must also soberly address it as a source of expiration as well: untold women emotionally and physically die in the pornography industry and in the even larger world of prostitution and sexual trafficking.
Levy then asks: "Is voluntary intercourse instigated by female lust and desire something so uncommon? Are abuse and plunder the norm, mutual satisfaction the exception so rare it proves the rule?"
Here Levy again shows her refusal to engage with the material on its own terms (as well as reality's). This is the trap most readers and reviewers of radical feminist work fall into, imposing their own old ways of thinking onto text that is breaking through to new ways of thinking about very old problems.
Levy doesn't seem to grasp that Dworkin is also interrogating the primarily Western social-political meaning of privacy, desire, satisfaction, violation, domination and subordination, and how each are constructed for us, with individual variations to be sure, but never outside the provinces of patriarchal power. Andrea describes this in her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women: "[One tenet of male-supremacist ideology is that] men have the power of naming, a great and sublime power. This power of naming enables men to define experience, to articulate boundaries and values, to designate to each thing its realm and qualities, to determine what can and cannot be expressed, to control perception itself." The meaning of terms like "violation" and "desire" are understood, felt, practiced (lived), inside a system of inequality imposed by men on women, institutionally and intimately. And human agency within this system, however privileged, cannot approximate free choices made outside of it. Andrea wanted women to be entirely free from white male supremacy. Women and men believing women have freedom in such a system was not part of her argument. Here Levy bypasses this dimension of Dworkin's work to express sincere concern about the current status and probability of good sex. Is it still as bad as Andrea says it is?
Dworkin's work never entered Levy's bargaining or denial stages; this certainly explains why her writings are threatening to a status quo that demands pseudo-survival rooted in dehumanizing delusion. Instead Andrea peeled back this all too flimsy fortress of compulsory forgiveness and forgetfulness, accurately stating: "what intercourse is for women and what it does to women's identity, privacy, self-respect, self-determination, and integrity are forbidden questions."
On one hand, Levy acknowledges that "[m]uch of society is set up specifically to assist people in their process of ignoring the horrors of the world." But rather than substantively engaging with the questions Andrea raises, she instead shifts this responsibility onto us: "Your answer to these questions--and to many others Dworkin poses in this book--will depend on the experience of sex you've been lucky or unlucky enough to have. But the value of the questioning itself is substantial."
I appreciate Levy affirming that asking difficult questions is important. But sexual violence, including incest, sexual harassment, rape, battery, and sexual trafficking are not phenomena women do or do not encounter because of a lack of luck. In fact, few women avoid serious injury from men's completely systemic and systematic sexual violence in the course of their lives. You wouldn't know this from Levy's writing. In fact, Levy makes another case entirely for how a woman, Dworkin specifically, was determined to live the worst of what being a white woman means. What follows is a serious charge, unfounded and unsubstantiated by Levy--but that doesn't stop her from spuriously speculating about what motivated Andrea's actions.
This spurious speculation is the very center of Levy's understanding of Dworkin. It is the skeleton and some of the muscle of the reconstruction. She uses her investigative interviews for the tabloid news-style New York article as grounds for patching together a person who, now, cannot respond back. Levy salaciously and presumptuously then fills in the gaps of her pop-portrait of Dworkin that her bio-blurbs don't, and can't, address. Levy offers us a barely human reconstituted Andrea: Dr. Frankenlevy's Dworkinstein monster.
This reconstruction began within the first two pages, and it is continued in the next section of the foreword--for two and a half pages--where we are led into what can only be described as an unnecessary recounting of the many commonplace horrors that Andrea endured. I will not validate Levy's voyeurism by repeating these details here. Besides, they can all be found in her New York magazine article from two years ago, written less than three months after Andrea died. At that time many were still grieving Dworkin's sudden and unexpected death: friends, family, colleagues, and those of us who deeply appreciated the revolutionary politics Andrea put forth. And many of us also wondered, soberly, "Who will replace that radically honest a truth-teller?"
After the violating, exploitive expose' section, the reconstruction continues, including of feminism itself. Levy writes: "Like many members of the women's liberation movement, Dworkin started out as an antiwar activist and found her way to feminism when she became disillusioned with the men of the New Left." What Levy doesn't state, and this point of view is largely missing from all of her work, is that the women's movement she generally refers to is only one minority faction--the white, class-privileged one.
It is in this section that Levy parenthetically informs us of this "fact" infused with a peculiar spin: "Allen Ginsberg was an early mentor who later became a nemesis of Dworkin's because she despised his sexual pursuit of underage boys."
Andrea, a principled feminist, was appropriately opposed to the systematic sexual abuse of children as well as women, abuse overwhelmingly perpetrated by males: boys to men. Why the emphasis on her alleged perception of him as "a nemesis" and the reference to how his predation made her feel? Here Levy employs the tactics of psychologizing, oddly focusing on the emotional reactions of the woman. First of all, is there another way for a humanitarian who cares about children's human dignity and physical-emotional safety to feel than unaccepting and critical of someone who, at a Bar Mitzvah, no less, "pointed to the friends of my godson and said they were old enough to fuck. They were twelve and thirteen. He said all sex was good, including forced sex." Ginsberg was, at the very least, an outspoken proponent of the molestation and rape of underage males. Dworkin, thankfully, vocally expressed her disapproval and contempt for his position. Nowhere does she call him her "nemesis."
Given how men typically behave when called out on our unethical, harmful behavior, it is far more likely Ginsberg considered Dworkin his nemesis than the other way around. Typically, white men who abuse others turn the exposers of that truth into the spiteful or jealous opponent, the evil enemy--sometimes we even sue the White Brotherhood Bond-breaking namers of our exploitive and abusive actions. Men who abuse others like and need control and privacy, and messengers of truth--living victims, witnesses, and reporters of crimes--take away both of those necessary ingredients for predators to perpetrate.
Levy introduces the parade of traumas backed by this warning: "Dworkin's description of her own sexual history is often grim, and given the title of the book you are about to read--and the premise that the personal is political--we are right to consider this."
Let's be clear about what Levy is interrogating here: Andrea's past was "grim," and her book is called "Intercourse," so we are right to consider what, exactly? Not only is a brutal truism of life in patriarchy twisted and reduced to "a premise" "to consider"--this is overt antifeminism. But Levy also assumes that the whole of Andrea's sexual life is contained within those traumas. Here she is guilty of committing the alleged crime she takes Andrea to task for: conflating all sex with sexually traumatic abuse.
Levy goes on: "Though she stated 'I am not an exhibitionist. I don't show myself,' in her book Life and Death, she also wrote 'I have used everything I know--my life--to show what I believe must be shown so that it can be faced.'" Later Levy continues: "These experiences [of sexual trauma] formed the basis of Dworkin's worldview. She wrote about them in her first book, Woman Hating, which came out shortly after her return to the states in 1974. And in some way or other, these nightmarish pieces of her reality were picked over, deconstructed, and retold in everything she ever wrote."
Later, quoting Robin Morgan, with whom Levy spoke shortly after Andrea died: "It's the militant voice, it's the voice that would dare say what nobody else was saying ...and it can't help but say it because it is speaking out of such incredible personal pain."
So here we have our answer. What we are "right to consider" is that the problem is not white male supremacy and its violence, the problem is Andrea not getting over her past--a past that left her "a prisoner of sex." Levy turned Dworkin's life, in New York magazine, into a titillating 1950s white cultural cult magazine title. And the exploitive expose' shows up now in Andrea's book, called Intercourse. What we are right to consider is Levy's level of contempt for Dworkin.
The next theme in the antifeminist thesis is that Andrea was so powerful (a "savior goddess" to "the women who had been battered or molested or raped," writes Levy), so enraged, so physically large, and so unusually dressed, that she alone, perhaps with a little help from MacKinnon, killed the Women's Movement. (The monster as murderer.) Here Levy also reveals her own contempt for the feminist antipornography movement, an effort that fought damn hard for many years on many fronts, utilizing many methods of effective activism to try and hold accountable a key site of production of racist, misogynistic harm.
Before we enter Levy's revisionist reality, let us consider what else was going on during that time of the women's movement. White conservatism in the form of Reaganism was sweeping the land during the time radical feminists were organized to get women seen as human beings, who, when harmed, are harmed for being women. Reagan expanded and deepened the long-time social entrenchment of racism and misogyny, especially in the realms of religion and economics; Falwell's group, the "Moral Majority" was in full force and expanded into the Religious Right. There was a huge antifeminist media backlash against the gains women had made to date. Pornography was getting meaner, but the white male supremacist Right could only see it as "sinful" or "offensive." (I mean, really: it did contain pictures men took of naked women! What's not to hate about it?) The white male supremacist Left, using the other hand, defended it as "free speech." (I mean, really: it did contain pictures men took of naked women! What's not to love about it?) Some feminists noticed pornography has more to do with racism, misogyny, male supremacy, and discrimination against women than righteous offense and liberal defense. But many men--hetero, bisexual, and gay--were organizing against those feminists on this issue, as were some women. Also, the pornographers themselves, not a monetarily impoverished bunch, were launching an all out war against antipornography feminism and the women most seen to represent it. This alone shows that the movement was effective. Hustler's Larry Flynt even turned Andrea into pornography in his magazine: she sued, he won. Flynt, and the white male supremacist laws and lawyers that continue to serve him well, determined he had a right to "free speech." Meanwhile, he promotes images of women ball-gagged, bound, and strung up to the hood of a vehicle, more sadistically than a sportsman's dead deer--at least the deer is dead. A corporate pimp cynically and callously reminds us that a woman effectively silenced in this position expresses his speech, which should be protected. Flynt, the Hate Speech Hustler, lets us know exactly whose speech he is determined to keep free.
During the 1980s, distortions were widely and spuriously promoted within and outside the women's movement about how the ordinance worked, and through what legal means. The myth never died that it was a criminal law, not a civil rights law. Cries that this ordinance would lead to State censorship were heard across the political landscape. Reaganism, including the single term in office of Bush, Sr., was immediately followed by the era of the presidential predator, Bill Clinton. An admitted pornography user, he had no interest in promoting civil rights legislation that would, if only potentially, slightly impact his ability to reach orgasm when he wasn't busy allegedly sexually harassing, using, and abusing the women who worked and volunteered for him. Because they were his live pornography, their patriarchal court-marshaled speech was not believed, let alone free.
This was a time when radicalism in the form of feminism had no real home on the traditional dominant U.S. landscape. The white Right rejected it for being too anti-father-knows-best, too pro-woman, especially irritated by the increased empowerment of women of color of many sexualities, as well as white lesbians, and the white Left rejected it for being off-topic and needlessly concerned with so-called trivial matters like the racist woman-subordinating material most men get off to and call a "no harm done" good time.
Levy strikingly avoids dealing with this larger social-political context, instead narrowly focusing in on how some "antiporn" women fucked up the whole feminist movement. For Levy, the overwhelmingly detrimental antifeminist forces of racist patriarchal society as a whole are somehow not relevant to the topic. Again with a collaborative nod to patriarchs, Levy zooms in on the most misogynistic scenario and explanation for failure possible: "Screaming fights became a regular element of feminist conferences in the 1980s, and perhaps the single most divisive issue was an ordinance crafted by Dworkin and MacKinnon."
Levy's lens, unlike Dworkin's, does not consistently keep any focus on institutionalized social-political forces: white male supremacy doesn't dangerously divide women, antipornography feminists do. Levy goes on, re-invoking the murderous Dworkinstein, commenting, once again, on the monster's size, rage, and outfit: "There were other feminists who were as zealous in their conviction that pornography was 'the undiluted essence of anti-female propaganda,' as Susan Brownmiller once put it, but nobody else could elicit the same disgust and fascination from the public as Andrea Dworkin--they didn't have her overalls or her anger; they weren't as big. People didn't just disagree with Dworkin, they hated her. To her detractors, she was the horror of women's lib personified, the angriest woman in America."
Levy continues: "With the possible exception of the Shakers, it is difficult to think of an American movement that has failed more spectacularly than antipornography feminism." She adds: "If the antiporn crusade was a losing battle, it was also a costly one; it divided, some would say destroyed, the women's movement. The term 'prosex feminist' was coined by women who wanted to distance themselves from the antiporn faction."
The monster has done its work: not humanitarian work, not work that bolstered and empowered untold women to fight the good fight against men's violence and privileges. No. The monster succeeded in destroying feminism altogether, forcing freedom-loving women to pronounce themselves "sex-positive" as if patriarchy doesn't already mandate that from all women Left of Puritan. Also, since when do feminist writers describe legitimate confrontations with power as a "crusade"? Why utilize a Eurocentric racist term when talking about women fighting male domination? Are U.S. women now the Western Europeans and U.S. men the Ottoman Empire? What is Levy saying here about the power of a North American movement determined to hold commercial cameramen and consumers accountable for prostituting and reproducing a patriarchal idea of woman that harms women's civil status? That it failed because of too-powerful feminist women were fighting supposedly conquerable white male power? That it if weren't for the likes of Dworkin, grassroots radical feminists might have succeeded? It was thwarted because of the unrelenting work of pro-status quo antifeminist women and men. That is the truth of why the movement of the 1980s didn't radically transform society.
Continuing to wash the hands of the pornographers, and fuel other racist pro-sexism activists and the media-warped perceptions of the general public, Levy conjures the image most needed to reinforce every stereotype about what happens when you get a group of women together: "screaming" feminist in-fighting. Levy steps up to the plate to hit another home run for Team Patriarchy. Gross woman-hating and woman-blaming is perpetrated by a feminist, no less, in a revolutionary feminist's classic text: this is what feminism has come to, with props to John Stoltenberg for making it legally possible (he alone holds the copyright), and to the publishing executives for thinking they'd make more bucks by using Levy to diss Dworkin. I've noticed that Amazon.com in Canada lists Intercourse as having been written by Ariel Levy and Andrea Dworkin, and at the UK Amazon.com site the names are reversed. Now Andrea has a co-author. I'm not saying Levy was or wasn't paid. I'm saying she has been selling out Andrea for the last few years and nowhere should Intercourse be listed as having two authors.
Next, Levy invokes a conceit well-utilized by the pornographers and their apologists: "perhaps the single most divisive issue was an ordinance crafted by Dworkin and MacKinnon."
Again, we see the blaming of radical feminists for women's plight. Might there have been a strategic, white male supremacist politic to the resistance to the ordinance? Were institutions completely controlled by white men who wanted access to women of all colors, through pornography and in other ways? What solid base of political systemic support did Native, Latina, African-American, Asian-American, or white feminists, especially grassroots activists, have, at any point in U.S. history?
Could we examine the ordinance in its time, to see exactly what was threatening about it to the status quo? Was challenging white male hegemony? Was it an effort to finally make male supremacy visible as such in law? Was it a civil rights approach designed to empower dispossessed and marginalized women--those harmed in and by pornography, by offering them a legal remedy?
Yes, to all of the above. But Levy doesn't examine these reasons for social resistance. Instead she gets into a paragraph-long summary of what, in a consolidated and spun way, went down. In that paragraph she states: "Their legislation, which would allow people to sue pornographers for damages if they could show they had suffered harm from pornography's making or use, was twice passed in Minneapolis but vetoed by the mayor. Dworkin and MacKinnon were subsequently summoned by the conservative mayor of Indianapolis, Indiana, and their legislation was signed into law in 1984 by a city council opposed to core feminist goals like legal abortion and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. It was soon overturned by federal courts, but many feminists never forgave Dworkin and MacKinnon and antiporn feminists in general for getting in bed with the right wing."
What is the political function of reiterating the distortion that antipornography feminists were "getting into bed" with the white male supremacist conservative Right? This is one of the twenty-plus year-old lies told about the feminist campaigners who fought on all fronts to give the ordinance actual legal power to women and others harmed in and by pornography. Is Levy concerned with whether Dworkin and MacKinnon might have been "getting into bed" with the white male supremacist liberal Left? Racist, misogynistic liberalism is not understood as problematic for feminism by Levy, but must be, if she is to assist us in the necessary feminist act of thinking in new ways. I hope Levy takes up this challenge in her future work.
The expression "getting into bed," is used here as a synonym for working politically with others, particularly one's enemies; while not an invention of Levy's, it is here wielded once more, adding to the covert and overt misogyny of the foreword. Women "getting into bed" with men to get what they want is a tired old racist, sexist axiom. And given that radical feminists have no choice but to deal with male supremacists on the white Right and Left, where ""[i]n this world, which is the only world that exists" does Levy and others think Dworkin and MacKinnon, and the hundreds of generally ignored and unnamed women who worked on these campaigns, should have gone to try and get their radical feminist ordinance passed into law? Opponents of the ordinance fail to ask this question, or even to notice that it is a relevant one.
Many women who worked on the cross-country city campaigns were survivors of the utterly callous and brutal pornography industry and related systems of prostitution. Many activist women were poor, of color, and otherwise socially invisible while exploited and overexposed. These were not women with a lot of privileges and access to media conglomerates. These despised and disenfranchised women understood through lived experience and analysis that women as a class are harmed, in part, by the pornography industry--"those women" who were allegedly "getting into bed" with the white Right. The racist misogynist use of this term, by Levy, especially in one of Andrea's books, is, to say the least, problematic.
Levy punctuates the (unexplained) lost battle by antipornography feminists with a well-placed quote by MacKinnon: "The aggressors have won."
If the matter of how the pornographers really won is beyond the scope of Levy's foreword, why does she take up the matter at all? Given the conclusion of her synopsis, it appears it was to circulate even more bad blood into the fictional Dworkinstein monster, and the press.
Not content only to perpetuate and recycle those misogynous tales, Levy moves immediately on to the next:
"Dworkin was accused of being a man-hater even by some members of her own movement. And she didn't write or make speeches with an eye toward mitigating this perception." Levy then takes a couple of quotes out of context to bolster this antifeminist fallacy. With additional voyeuristic details, which conveniently reinforces the man-hating lie, Levy also notes that in Andrea's room there was a poster which read: "DEAD MEN DON'T RAPE." As far as I can tell, that statement is very truthful and isn't one any woman needs to apologize for stating, or posting, anywhere--privately or publicly. Indeed, this statement ought to be on every street corner, and on every apartment building or single-family house's doors--entryway and interior, especially on all the bedroom doors.
Which feminist women have referred to Andrea as a man-hater, besides Levy here? And how many is "some"? Levy passes off this spurious allegation without backing it up. It is the case that feminists, generally, are accused of being man-haters by women and men; this disparaging charge is not uniquely directed at Andrea. But here Levy claims it was leveled by "some members of her own movement." Let us not forget, some white women and men in the movement don't think Susan Brownmiller's writing is racist. Some white women and men in the movement invisibilize women of color all together. Levy herself participates in this "white-washing" of feminism.
That Dworkin was a man-hater is simply untrue. Nowhere is this more detailed than in her book Life and Death, in the first section called Origins, in a chapter entitled "My Life as a Writer."
Why is it necessary to introduce this pernicious lie, among all the others, to possible new-comers to Intercourse? Is it so Levy comes off looking like the more socially acceptable feminist, the friendly-to-men fun feminist who is not so humorously hostile to radical feminism? Is it so that men don't have to be deeply (and appropriately) challenged by her, the way men have been by Dworkin's writing? Admittedly, Levy's book can serve as a necessary bridge into feminism for mostly white and class-privileged women. But we must not forget Dworkin's assessment about what is required of women if they publicly speak [critically] about sex (not raunch): Levy let's us know that she is "pro-sex" and thinks women have it better now. She makes sure she cannot be perceived as one of those anti-sex man-hater types, but, according to Levy, we can and ought to mistake Dworkin as one. From Levy's writing, she seems not as concerned about being considered a sex-positive, racist, woman-hater, given the level of antifeminism and misogyny contained in her writings about Andrea and the history of feminism.
"Dworkin-as-man-hater" is perhaps the most common antifeminist myth out there in dominant society, and it is promulgated here by a feminist. I am not making any charge in this critique of Levy's foreword that she is not a feminist; only that she is also unquestionably antifeminist as well.
For the record, not that this point hasn't already been made one hundred thousand times by feminists of all colors: a woman--feminist or not--who speaks and writes with tone and content that refuses to capitulate or defer to men about how men harm women is not an act of "man-hating." Feminism--whether Latina, Native, Asian, Arab, Black, Muslim, Jewish, or Gentile white--has always demonstrated an almost unfathomable faith, a determined belief--against much evidence, that men can, in fact, change.
From here we delve far too long and deeply into the details of her relationship to her life partner, John Stoltenberg. Do we really need to know so much about the origins of their relationship in the foreword to a non-autobiographical text? Andrea was a very private person. She would not have appreciated others speculating about the nature of her relationships, especially in her own books. Stoltenberg is the unnecessary focus of two and a half pages; even in her own memoir she speaks about Stoltenberg in only one paragraph, in a chapter that isn't about him. In the New York piece, Stoltenberg is featured in about a dozen paragraphs.
Finally, we are led to the last misogynist, heteropatriarchal, and lesbophobic lie: that Andrea was not a lesbian.
The fact that feminism has many definitions of the term, only one of which means "women who have sex with women" is not mentioned here, nor is the fact that lesbian has been used often and for years to mean "woman-centered, woman-loving woman" which Andrea certainly was. Levy finds it necessary to delve into the details of whether or not Andrea actually ever slept with a woman, again violating the privacy of a dead person who cannot respond to this voyeuristic, gossip-laden invasion of Dworkin's life. I would respectfully suggest that this whole area of inquiry is none of Levy's business, although she has, literally, made it her business to write about Andrea in these ways.
Levy just won't leave this whole "living with a man" thing alone: she next questions how Andrea could be both a lesbian and also have chosen, twenty years or more into their relationship, to marry John, setting up the question the way entertainment news programs periodically promote their last audience-grasping segment by showing us snippets throughout the show. Why would she marry, given her stringent politics? What could possibly be the reason for this particular break in integrity? Was the marriage motivated by romance? Dworkin is set up here as the quintessential white radical feminist whose every action must be, somehow, purely antipatriarchal, according to some impossible, non-existent white feminist standard. Andrea never set such ridiculous standards for herself in the first place, which is clear from reading her work.
This is yet another way that Andrea's actual humanity is collapsed in favor of a deeply distorted portrait of Levy's privileged projection. After much speculation, we find out after several commercial breaks, so to speak, that it was primarily for health insurance reasons that she and John wed, but Levy isn't content with the truth as she learns it; she goes on to romanticize the woman-man union in her own mind, which is both unwarranted and heterosexist: "I like to think that getting married was as much a concession to romanticism as practicality for Dworkin." The relevance of this type of supposition about Andrea's personal life is dubious, and in a foreword it is also ethically problematic. This is more tabloid journalism. Those health issues are detailed as an inside scoop, once again both exploiting and violating the activist's privacy. Levy implies Dworkin purposefully withheld information from the public about marrying Stoltenberg, in order to perpetuate what Levy clearly considers the myth of Andrea's lesbianism.
All women are forced to compromise themselves in some ways to get through life in male-dominant societies. Many lesbians live with men, for example, and many people who call themselves queer do have sex in very white supremacist and heteropatriarchal ways. This is a complex issue, and it, like so many others in the foreword, is not one Levy deals with respectfully.
Andrea never proclaimed herself to be the ideal for how to be a white lesbian or a feminist. It was usually other whites who posited and positioned her as the radical feminist prototype--as a compliment or an insult, whether due to idolatry or invidiousness. In fact, in her first feminist book, 1974's Woman Hating, she names Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman as exemplars of revolutionary bravery and being.
Andrea's lesbianism was part of her radical feminism: she was a woman who passionately loved womankind.
Now moving off that topic, the actual Andrea Dworkin, as opposed to the one Levy creatively conjures for the reader, was unusually honest in her writings about her own challenges with ethical integrity--a facet of her writing I especially admired, as so many feminist and profeminist writers do not publicly own their own struggles, and instead keep them shrouded in unethical secrecy. It's not that it should be a requirement for women to share any more information about themselves than what they choose to put forth publicly--women's being, including their sexuality, is already so over-exposed and exploited in white male supremacist society, especially the sexualities of women of color. In fact, it can be detrimental and dangerous for any woman to publicly do so, especially now, in the era of the Internet. The point is that Andrea invested her writings with a level of honesty that is rare and to be appreciated, not used against her as Levy does.
After unnecessarily summarizing some of the main points from her own book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy offers this: "This is the real world. And to act otherwise is to incur consequences: if you are overweight and you wear overalls, you will be mocked." And if your name was Andrea Dworkin, you can count on Ariel Levy to do that post-mortem dirty work.
If women do anything, including breathing, walking, and wearing any style of clothing in our U.S. racist, ageist, classist, heterosexist patriarchy they get mocked. Why does Levy repeatedly bring up Andrea's weight and choice of attire?
To finish smearing Dworkin, Levy once again brings in a big name in U.S. white feminism. Susan Brownmiller--whose most famous book, Against Our Will, was groundbreaking in "that it gave rape a history" as Dworkin generously noted in Heartbreak. It was also status quo in that some of the history it described was flat out racist. Brownmiller's voice re-emerges in the foreword, here addressing Andrea's relationship to scorn and conflict. Brownmiller notes, "She courted it," and adds, "She would hang herself on her own cross." (Interesting metaphor for Brownmiller to use, when speaking about a contemporary Jewish woman.)
This message--a misogynistic, patriarchal one, from feminists like Levy and Brownmiller, is simple: The woman asked for it. She courted it. This is what the reader is left with: women (especially Andrea) want the abuse, just like the pornographers, rapists, and batterers say they do. This is dangerous stuff to be conveying.
Levy then offers the reader a couple of complimentary statements about Andrea's writing, ending with an underwhelmingly obvious observation: "But there was one thing Andrea wanted [...]. She wanted what all writers want and what she actually deserved: to be read."
With a foreword like that, I see no reason why anyone would want to read the book.
From Right-wing Women, by Dworkin:
Part 4: Conclusions and Considerations
In her preface, Dworkin accurately notes: "[...] Intercourse became--socially speaking--a Rorschach inkblot in which people saw their fantasy caricatures of me and what they presumed to know about me."
Levy, in both the New York magazine article, and in this new foreword, proves this point. She reduces Andrea's politics to emotions, and those emotions to unresolved personally experienced trauma. She informs the presumably new generation of readers of Intercourse that Dworkin's was a furious soul, and that her fury was not primarily an expression of legitimate political outrage, a rage few women have had the opportunity--let alone courage--to express and survive, but is instead evidence of the unhealed wounds incurred in Dworkin's childhood and later in her adult life. Never mind that, generally speaking, Andrea wasn't a particularly angry person--noting that would begin to unravel Levy's image of Dworkin. According to Levy, it is not a system of racialized gender tyranny, but Andrea's particular past, that Dworkin could not escape. She remains, here, not an amazing revolutionary thinker and activist, but rather "the inverted sex symbol," and "a prisoner of sex." Levy recasts Andrea's courageous political efforts in a diminishing anecdotal light. She also portrays Andrea as the possessor of an extravagant ego, which, once constructed by Levy, is then mocked by her as well. This is pure sexism; large egos are an accepted and heralded psychological prerequisite for any great thinker and writer, if white and male. It is only because Andrea is a woman that Levy can insult her in these ways and, generally, not be noticed for doing so.
Andrea suffered gender-based traumas and injuries; most women do. It is exactly this pernicious patriarchal oppression that is the subject of Andrea's political work, but to read Levy's assessments, Andrea is portrayed as simply stuck in her own individual woundedness. Instead of acknowledging that Andrea's experiences give her feminist credibility, Levy uses them to discredit her.
Utilizing many of the misogynistic tactics described in Part 2, Levy underscores Andrea as a strange semi-human being, one with large body and an even bigger mouth. In fact, Andrea spent considerably more time carefully listening to other women explain in detail how they'd been harmed by men than she did in front of a microphone. A photo of Andrea compassionately listening would have seriously undermined Levy's thesis graphically reinforced by New York magazine. Instead photo editors chose one of Andrea on the street, mouth wide open, leading the antipornography charge with a police microphone in hand. This otherwise wonderful photo viewed within this context, alongside Levy's calculating words delivered the desired effect. Levy has spent the last few years directing "Dworkinstein: The Making of a Monster Stereotype," scene by scene, by any means necessary.
To cast Andrea as the injured, wild, swaggering, ferocious killer of feminism, carrying neurotically clutched-onto personal pain, is to ignore or put aside the rather critical feminist fact that what happened to Andrea happens to girls-as-girls and women-as-women commonly. Andrea effectively revealed how any woman's pain and degradation impacts the political condition of all women.
Andrea knew this and refused to make her writings all about her, regardless of what Levy posits as the deep, "grim," truth of Andrea Dworkin. I find this assessment of Andrea and her work vicious, malicious, and dangerously antifeminist--and, as noted a few times now, it certainly has no place in one of Andrea's own books. Distill all the venom of misogynistic mischaracterizations of Dworkin's life and work that has been published over the last few decades and what's left are Levy's reductionistic and projected assessments.
Levy is content to tell us a lot about Andrea that is notorious and spurious, occasionally interspersing the occasional mention of what Andrea's work (and its value) actually was: a serious challenge, not a timid one, to men's domination of women, and to the sexual violence that both inheres in that domination and constitutes it. Andrea was speaking about the world of women, their suffering, their modes of survival, and the need to name and resist this great patriarchal force, with all of one's will and wit, and ceaseless compassion for other women. Andrea did this relentlessly, for more than thirty years, with hope that womankind would be treated, one day, as human.
Andrea deserves far better than this foreword, and I have little doubt, based on her own writings, that she would have opposed what has happened to her book; indeed, she would have demanded it not happen in the first place. Levy's systematic deployment of antifeminist tactics effectively resurrects and maintains a smeared portrait of Andrea as a hazardous, ego-driven, trauma-destroyed person, incapable of escaping her own mind or personal history. How better to render someone's political writing socially irrelevant than to reduce it all--books of fiction, non-fiction prose, and speeches--to unconsciously, uncontrollably pathetic autobiography?
Levy not only appears obsessed with the why of Andrea's writing, but presents herself as incapable of adequately addressing this concern non-misogynistically. Why did Andrea write what she wrote, not only in Woman Hating, Pornography, and Intercourse, but also in her many other books, including Our Blood, Right-wing Women, Life and Death, and Scapegoat? Levy's obsession with the "why" of Andrea's lifework is a propatriarchal political choice of focus in and of itself. As Andrea wrote in her preface to Intercourse:
Yes, of course, one of the things Andrea wanted was to be read. So do many women writers: Beth Brant, Pearl Cleage, Patricia Hill Collins, Sapphire, Kesho Scott, and many more. But no writer wants to have her work distorted in print by others. And Andrea wanted far more than to be read. She wanted what radical feminists of many colors want: to bring about a humanitarian end to white and male tyranny.
Why is Levy directing a tabloid TV biopic fused with an incorrect reading of the book she introduces? Did Andrea's pain and politics--always collective, never individual--already salted and obscured by many antifeminists, Right and Left, not get enough negative attention? Was there still some significant while secret social space where Andrea was being taken seriously as a great thinker--with just as politically aware and intellectually astute a mind as those possessed by Sojourner Truth and Karl Marx? (And how many forewords to books by Marx unrelentingly speak about his body size, attire, and ego?) Was there, somehow, after all the literal and figurative bashing Andrea and her legacy have endured, some small flame of remedial respect that needed snuffing out? All of the voyeuristic material about the abuses Andrea suffered and learned from are lifted but not ethically carried by Levy.
Dworkin, while alive, had the ability to take on the petty bourgeoisie, to confront anyone who misused, misunderstood, or denigrated her own history of abuse, or the multitude of topics in her writings and their literary qualities. Before her death, Andrea also had copyright control of her own books and articles. Since Andrea's death, that time, clearly, has passed.
As Levy states in the first paragraph of her foreword: "Dworkin the persona [...] eclipsed Dworkin the writer in the public imagination." Levy's antifeminist writings about Andrea make that eclipse even more total.
Andrea's work has now been compromised in an irreparable and violating way. Andrea's ashes are effectively smeared by Ariel Levy's fingers, with material support from those involved in it being published in the 2007 edition of Intercourse.
I'll close with another passage by Andrea, from the Tenth Anniversary edition's preface.
For a good example of how else Intercourse can be discussed, critically but not with lies and distortions about Andrea and feminism, go to this website:
To clear up lies and misconceptions about Andrea Dworkin, please visit this website:
For more on the real Andrea Dworkin, to read her words, hear her speeches, and to see the great and positive impact her work has had on others, see these sites:
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