Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

DA*DI offers contemporary reports and commentary on culture; its aberrations and its heroes.

All women are not victims, neither are all men demons

by Cathy Young

The name of Andrea Dworkin has become synonymous with the worst excesses of radical feminism - the sex-hating, male-hating extremism most feminists have felt obliged to repudiate. They often add that Dworkin is a fringe figure who has no influence in the women's movement and is used by the media to smear feminism.

   In fact, Dworkin's marginality is exaggerated: Her fans include Gloria Steinem, and her rants are widely assigned in women's studies courses. And now, Dworkin is the subject of a respectful, even admiring article in a leading journal of opinion.

   Reviewing Dworkin's new book, Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women, in the New Republic, philosophy Professor Martha Nussbaum portrays her as a "prophet for social change," driven by anger at the brutalities men inflict on women. Toward the end, she expresses regret that this passion for justice is untempered by mercy, which Dworkin argues should be denied to men - not just the bad ones but "the collective him." But to Nussbaum, this seems to detract only a little from the value of Dworkin's "prophetic" work.

   Dworkin believes women in our society live under an unremitting reign of terror and are seen as deserving violent abuse. Nussbaum, impressed by this analysis, doesn't stop to consider that in many contexts men are seen as appropriate targets for violence - in wars, dangerous jobs, even some sports. She does, however, defend Dworkin against the charge of equating all sex with rape.

   Yes, Nussbaum concedes, "some of her more sweeping statements have supported such a reading"; Dworkin "should have been more circumspect" and more precise in her claims. This is the sort of thing Louis Farrakhan apologists always say: The reverend isn't anti-Semitic; he has just made some incautious comments that can be seen as such.

   In fact, Dworkin's claims are pretty precise. For instance, that "sexual intercourse is a means or the means of making a woman physiologically inferior." There is no evidence that she meant something else. Her only clue to the kind of heterosexual contact she would not consider abusive is that male impotency would be a prerequisite.

   In this light, Nussbaum's semi-defense of the anti-porn law crafted by Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon (which she's "inclined to oppose" because it might be misused against feminists) looks ludicrous. Nussbaum claims that the ordinance would not target sexually explicit material unless there is "humiliation or violence." But humiliation is in the eye of the beholder.

   The criteria by which the ordinance defines pornography includes presentation of women "in postures ... of sexual submission, servility or display." According to the duo's own writings, this includes Playboy pictorials or any images of sexually "accessible" women.

   There is plenty more inaccuracy and illogic in the article. What there's very little of is actual text by Dworkin; Nussbaum probably wouldn't care to defend such passages as the one that likens a Caesarean section birth to a rape ("the uterus of the whore [is] entered directly by the new rapist, the surgeon").

   Why this attempted whitewash of a deranged prophet of hate - complete with an effort to mitigate Dworkin's frank anti-male animus with a some-of-her-best-friends-are-men excuse? Surely the New Republic would not publish so positive an article about an author who displayed such bigotry toward another group. But, like Nussbaum, many in our culture have been persuaded that one of our greatest social ills is "violence against women" (rather than violence in general). And so men can be demonized with impunity.

   Does this help women? Dworkin is preoccupied with how women have been oppressed by being viewed as sexual objects. But both she and Nussbaum ignore another form of oppression: the notion that a good woman has no sexual desires and a sexual woman has no dignity. Indeed, Dworkin's frenzied denunciations of women who like sex as "collaborators" perpetuate this notion - something a philosophy professor should have been able to figure out.

Cathy Young is vice-president of the Women's Freedom Network. You may write her at The News, Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, Mich. 48226.

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