Remember, Resist, Do not comply

Le 6 décembre 1990, à l’invitation de féministes de Montréal,  Andrea Dworkin vient commémorer devant 500 personnes le massacre des 14 femmes de l’école polytechnique par un anti-féministe, M. Lépine.

« Le féminisme existe pour qu’aucune femme n’ait jamais à faire face à son oppresseur dans le vide, seule. Il existe pour briser le secret où les hommes violent, battent et tuent les femmes. Ce que je dis, c’est que chacune d’entre nous a la responsabilité d’être la femme que Marc Lépine voulait assassiner. Il nous faut vivre avec cet honneur, ce courage. Nous devons repousser la peur. Nous devons tenir bon. Nous devons créer. Nous devons résister, et nous devons arrêter de consacrer les 364 autres jours de l’année à oublier tout ce que nous savons. Nous devons nous en souvenir chaque jour, et pas seulement le 6 décembre. Nous devons mettre nos vies au service de ce que nous savons et de notre résistance au pouvoir masculin utilisé contre nous. »

Andrea Dworkin, « Tuerie à Montréal », in Pouvoir et violence sexiste, 2007

Remember, Resist, Do not comply.

Andrea Dworkin a prononcé ces mots le 2 avril 1995, à l’université de Toronto. Extraits de son discours :

« I want us to think about far we have come politically. I would say we have accomplished what is euphemistically called « breaking the silence. » We have begun to speak about events, experiences, realities, truths not spoken about before; especially experiences that have happened to women and been hidden – experiences that the society has not named, that the politicians have not recognized; experiences that the law has not addressed from the point of view of those who have been hurt. But sometimes when we talk about « breaking the silence, » people conceptualize « the silence » as being superficial, as if there is talk – chatter, really – and laid over the talk there is a superficial level of silence that has to do with manners or politeness. Women are indeed taught to be seen and not heard. But I am talking about a deep silence: a silence that goes to the heart of tyranny, its nature. There is a tyranny that preordains not only who can say what but what women especially can say. There is a tyranny that determines who cannot say anything, a tyranny in which people are kept from being able to say the most important things about what life is like for them. That is the kind of tyranny I mean.

The political systems that we live in are based on this deep silence. They are based on what we have not said. In particular, they are built on what women – women in every racial group, in every class, including the most privileged – have not said. The assumptions underlying our political systems are also based on what women have not said. Our ideas of democracy and equality – ideas that men have had, ideas that express what men think democracy and equality are – evolved absent the voices, the experiences, the lives, the realities, of women. The principles of freedom that we hear enunciated as truisms are principles that were arrived at despite this deep silence: without our participation. We are all supposed to share and take for granted the commonplace ideas of social and civic fairness; but these commonplace ideas are based on our silence. What passes as normal in life is based on this same silence. Gender itself – what men are, what women are – is based on the forced silence of women; and beliefs about community -what a community is, what a community should be – are based on this silence. Societies have been organized to maintain the silence of women – which suggests that we cannot break this deep silence without changing the ways in which societies are organized.

We have made beginnings at breaking the deep silence. [...]

I am going to ask you to use every single thing you can remember about what was done to you – how it was done, where, by whom, when, and, if you know, why – to begin to tear male dominance to pieces, to pull it apart, to vandalize it, to destabilize it, to mess it up, to get in its way, to fuck it up. I have to ask you to resist, not to comply, to destroy the power men have over women, to refuse to accept it, to abhor it and to do whatever is necessary despite its cost to you to change it. »

Extrait issu du précieux site de Nikki Craft, ici.

Andrea Dworkin, TerrorTorture & Resistance


« I am whole, and I am flames. I burn. I die. From this light, later you will see. Mama, I made some light.« 

Catharine MacKinnon at the Andrea Dworkin Commemorative Conference

« Andrea should have been here for this. She would have liked it, or most of it. [laughter in audience] There’s something awful, in both senses, that is, terrible and awe-inspiring, both, about Andrea’s work having to be my topic, instead of my tool, speaking her words not only to further our work together as they were and we did, for over thirty years, but to speak about it, and about her, as a subject, and in the past tense.

Yet even at the same time, her clarity and her passion and her inspiration to all of us to go further, go deeper, flows through her words.

Her whole theory is amazingly present in each phrase that she used. As Blake saw a whole world in a grain of sand, in each of Andrea’s sentences you can see the whole world the way she saw it.

Andrea Dworkin was a theorist and a writer of genius, an unparalleled speaker and activist, a public intellectual of exceptional breadth and productivity. Her work embraced the last quarter of the twentieth century and spanned fiction, critical works of literature, political analysis in essays and speeches and books, and journalism. Her legacy includes a vivid example of the simultaneity of thinking and activism, and of art and politics. Formally, she was an Enlightenment philosopher, in that she believed in and used reason. She was interested in diginity and equality and morality, and, especially, in freedom. Her contribution as a complex humanist was to apply all of this to women, and that changed everything.

An original thinker and literary artist, Andrea saw society ordered by power and the status excrescences of its variations animated by the sexual. She pioneered understanding the social construction of sexuality, and the sexual construction of the social, long before academics dared touch this third rail of social life.

In talking about The Story of O, a book of S/M pornography, in her book, Woman Hating, she says, « The Story of O claims to define epistomologically what a woman is. » She saw O as « a book of astounding political significance. »

Largely overlooked as an intellectual in her own time, she mapped social life before the postmodernists did, finding fairy tales and pornography to be maps for women’s oppression. She wrote about humiliation and fear before study of the emotions was a big academic trend. She analyzed social meaning before hermeneutics really caught on in the scholarly world, asking what pornography means, as for example, in the preface to Pornography, « this is not a book about what should or should not be shown. It is a book about the meaning of what is being shown, » what intercourse means, to men and women, most of all, what freedom for women means.

Her first book, Woman Hating, she « wrote to find out why I am not free, and what I can do to become free. » In her later work, this emphasis on freedom was synthesized with a re-made equality, consistent with and necessary for that freedom.

Her cadences were rhythmic, her use of repetition gaining inevitability and momentum, her suddenly-shifting convergences and metaphors were telling, and often surprising, lyric and antic, fluid and explosive by turns.

Such was her skill as a writer that she gave us almost the experience of pornography without her writing–being–pornography. She could even make intercourse funny, writing of Norman O. Brown speaking of entering women « as if we were lobbies and elevators. » [laughter in audience]

And for undertaking a synchronic reading of her work as a whole and selecting some over-arching themes, I want to reflect for just a minute on what it means that we are here doing this.

The relation between the work and the life is not a new question. But the relation between who Andrea Dworkin was and how her work was socially received is. And it has, as some of us have noticed, shifted noticeably, even dramatically, since the death of her body.

Three months after she died, so unexpectedly, a prominent French political theorist in a Ph.D. exam that I was in, in Paris, referred to her, excoriating the poor student, for eliminating various notables from the bibliography, referred to her as « l’incomparable Andrea Dworkin »–this, in a country that has long refused even to translate her work!

How has the world related Andrea Dworkin’s body to her body of work? Why was it necessary to destroy her credibility and bury her work alive, only now to be resurrected, disinterred, as it were? Why can now she be taken seriously, respected, even read, now that her body is no longer here? Why this is the first conference ever to be held on her work is one side of the coin of the question of why there never was one when she was alive. Her work is as alive now as it ever was, as challenging, threatening, illuminating, inspiring. Maybe it is that she can no longer tell us that we’re wrong, but don’t bet on it. Or maybe if you engage her work while she’s alive you further her mission, and we can’t have that, now, can we?

But why was respecting her and taking her work seriously such a risk? Why were the people who did it considered brave? As the quintessential scholar of the hell of women’s embodiment in social space, Andrea’s relation to her work is posed by, as well as in, this conference. Her work guides us to pursue this question, I think, as one of stigma. Stigma is what has kept people from reading Andrea Dworkin’s work, especially in the academy, where, I must note, people are not noted for their courage. That stigma has been sexual, due to her public identification as a woman with women, including lesbian women, especially as a sexually abused woman publicly identified with sexually violated women–in particular, the raped and the prostituted among us.

Being marked by sexuality, is, in her analysis, the stigma of being female, analyzed by Andrea in greatest depth in Intercourse, a work of literary and political criticism, a work of how men imagine and construct sexual intercourse when they can have it any way they want it, as they can, in fiction. It is a work of criticism of literature, that is at the same time a trenchant and visionary work of social criticism, her most distorted, I would say, a signal honor in a crowded field, published in 1987, at, as John and I were saying, the height of her powers. Of Elma, in Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke, she wrote: « This being marked by sexuality requires a cold capacity to use, and a pitiful vulnerability that comes from having been used, or a pitiful vulnerability that comes from something lost or unattainable, love, or innocence, or hope, or possibility. Being stigmatized by sex, » she wrote, « is being marked by its meaning, in a human life of loneliness and imperfection where some pain is indelible. »

If the stigma of being a woman is the stigma of the body sexually violated, it lessens some when you die. That, girls, is the good news! [laughter in audience] Before now, we have had to be kept from reading Andrea Dworkin’s work, and were, by the living, breathing existence of her sexualized body attached to it, thereby, that work was sexualized. We had to be kept from holding a violated woman’s body in our hands and having her speak to us what she knows. Especially, we had to be kept from knowing in-depth, up close, and personal, that for women, having a body means having a sexuality attributed to you, the sexuality, specifically, of being a sexual thing for use, and from knowing that the need to be fucked in order to see and value ourselves as female means living within a political system that is pervasive, cultural, organized, institutionalized, unnatural, and unnecessary. Cutting to the quick of all of this, with her customary conciseness, Andrea always said she would be rich and famous when she was dead.

Now, Andrea’s great subject is the status and treatment of women, as has been said, focusing on violence against women, as central to depriving women of freedom.

Andrea’s method was predicated on the lived, visceral body experience that women have of our social status. She mined her life, particularly, in her work, knowing what she wrote from experience. Her driving force was rage and outrage, unapologetic critique, unbridled, passionate, truth-telling. Her sensibility was tenderness, kindness, and love. Her aesthetic is political–political in method, that is, you know it’s true because it happened to you, political in voice–clear, direct, no writing for passive readers, as John noted, and no talking down to anyone.

In the rhythms you can feel her breathing. Here is a woman talking to a publisher who is trying to get her to have sex with him. Essentially, this is a woman being sexually harassed. It is from Ice and Fire.

« I want, I say, to be treated a certain way, I say, I want, I say, to be treated like a human being, I say, and he, weeping, calls my name and says, please, begging me in the silence, not to say another word, because his heart is tearing open, please, he says, calling my name. I want, I say, to be treated, I say, I want, I say, to be treated with respect, I say, as if, I say, I have, I say, a right, I say, to do what I want to do, I say, because, I say, I am smart, and I have written, and I am good, and I do good work, and I am a good writer, and I have published. And I want, I say, to be treated, I say, like someone, I say, like a human being, I say, who has done something. I say, like that, I say, not like a whore. Not like a whore, I say, not any more. And I say to him, seriously, some day I will die from this, just from this, just from being treated like a whore, nothing else. I will die from it and he says, dryly, with a certain self-evident truth on his side, you will probably die from pneumonnia, actually. »

Her writing is new; this is a new voice in literature. It has new forms; it’s full of new ideas, in part because the reality she wrote, like her, was submerged and ignored. But she was interested in all the classical questions of western philosophy–method, reality, consciousness, meaning, freedom, equality, especially the relation of thought to world, and the connections between social order and human action.

She created new concepts: moral intelligence, scapegoat, woman hating, not quite the same as misogyny, gynocide, gave new meaning to the term possession. She was a profound moral philosopher, and she gave new juice to old concepts like dignity, honor, and cruelty.

But I’m going to do a reading now, today, of her as a political philosopher, a specifically intellectual reading of her work in terms of these questions. Which is not how she wrote it to be read, actually. But she certainly knew what she was doing in these terms. She did not use the word method, but she had one, and she knew it. She observed in her book Pornography: « Women have been taught, that, for us, the earth is flat, and that if we venture out we will fall off the edge. Some of us have ventured out, nevertheless, and so far, we have not fallen off. »

In the afterward of Woman Hating, she said this: « One can be excited about ideas, without changing at all. One can think about ideas, talk about ideas, without changing at all. People are willing to think about many things. What people refuse to do, or are not permitted to do, or resist doing, is to change the way they think. » She knew thinking had a way, and that she had a way of thinking, and she wrote to change the way people thought.

Central to all her work was a metaphysical distinction between what she once termed truth and reality. While the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true. » The polarity of the sexes is a reality because reality is social. Equality of the sexes is true, but social reality is not based on it, but instead on a model that is not true, that is, that the sexes are bipolar, discrete, and opposite–some of us with little, tiny feet. For example, « we are living imprisoned inside a pernicious delusion, a delusion on which all reality, as we know it, is predicated. »

And, then, similarly, on the relation actually between sex and gender–not called that–but check it out: « Foot binding did not emphasize the differences between men and women, it created them, and they were then perpetuated in the name of morality. »

She also said we « need to destroy the phallic identity in men, and masochistic non-identity in women. » Now, it is not that she thought all reality was only an idea, as in classical idealism or only a psychology or an identity in the internal sense. She analyzed material reality and ideas as equally, and reciprocally, even circularly determinative. Of reality, she wrote this: « Men have asked over the centuries a question, that, in their hands, ironically, becomes abstract: ‘What is reality?’ They have written complicated volumes on this question. The woman who was a battered wife and has escaped knows the answer. » Philosophers, take note (is my note here): « Reality is when something is happening to you, and you know it, and can say it, and when you say it, other people understand what you mean and believe you. That is reality, and the battered wife, imprisoned alone in a nightmare that is happening to her has lost it, and can not find it anywhere. A fist in your face is not just the idea of a fist in your face. Reality is relational, and that relation is unequal and social. »

She also wrote explicitly of the relation between the ideational and the material in women’s status, without using specifically those words. That is, both have to be there, and both are there. In Right Wing Women, her 1978 book, the most extended analysis of women’s status and of feminism together, the elements and preconditions of both, she said this: « It does not matter whether prostitution is perceived as the surface condition, with pornography hidden in the deepest recesses of the psyche, or whether pornography is perceived as the surface condition, with prostitution being its wider, more important, hidden base, the largely unacknowledged sexual economic necessity of women. Each has to be understood as intrinsically part of the condition of women, pornography being what women are, prostitution being what women do, and the circle of crimes–these are the crimes against women, rape, battering, incest, and so on, that she discussed–being what women are for. »

The resulting « female metaphysics » under male dominance means that rape, battery, economic and reproductive exploitation « define the condition of women correctly, in accordance with what women are, and what women do, » correctly meaning consistently and accurately, within the existing system. She also said you can’t be a feminist and support any element of this model, including « so-called feminists who indulge in using the label but evading the substance. »

Her identification with women made her especially brilliant at seeing how women’s views are reflected in their material circumstances, hence, were rational, in that sense, including in her devastating portrayal of the academic, not-Andrea, so-called feminist woman who begins and endsMercy, one of her novels, having been sexually abused, actually, this not-Andrea woman with the arch voice, siding with abstraction, with power, and with distance.

Right wing women, she shows in her book of the same name, also side with male power, because it is powerful, and reject feminism because women are powerless, in the hope, and on the bet, that male protection is a better deal than feminists’ resistance and struggle for change. It is, in that sense, a rational choice, meaning a direct reflection of their circumstances, which isn’t to say that it’s in their long-term interest.

She saw, always, how what women think and do makes sense in light of the realities of male power. As she put about right wing women, « the tragedy is that women so committed to survival can not recognize that they are committing suicide. »

The right–this is part of her deep analysis of religious fundamentalism–gives women form, shelter, safety, rules, and love. This complex and respecting analysis completely outdistances any analysis of false consciousness.

Similarly, in Intercourse, which I am going to have to discuss, this part, she wrote complexly of what it meant that Joan of Arc was a virgin. Probably not literally, she said, but because she carried herself with the dignity of the nonpenetrated, i.e. as a man, and her dressing as a man meant noncompliance with her inferior/female status, for which the Inquisition killed her. Joan wore men’s clothes, not to flout convention, or to make a statement about women’s status, or to portray dignity (performists take note), but because she’d been raped in prison. All she had to do was say–this is Joan–that she would not wear men’s clothes, and they would let her go free. Andrea says, « she was a woman who was raped and beaten and did not care if she died. That indifference is a consequence of rape, not transvestism. »

A new concept of ideology as sexual was proposed by Andrea in the book, Pornography: Men Possessing Women. Pornography is analyzed as male ideology, for its meaning and its dynamics. The concrete harms of pornography weren’t, then, its central topic. All the evidence of that was to come. But Andrea notes that « with the technologically advanced methods of graphic depiction, real women are required for the depiction, as such, to exist. »

In asking what it means, she said this: « the fact that pornography is widely believed to be sexual representations or depictions of sex emphasizes only that the valuation of women as low whores is widespread, and that the sexuality of women is perceived as low and whorish in itself. She says, « The fact that pornography is widely believed to be depictions of the erotic means only that the debasing of women is held to be the real pleasure of sex, and it also embodies and exploits, sells and promotes the idea that ‘female sexuality is dirty.’

So how do you go from seeing to being pornography, from buying a woman in pornography to owning her, from owning pictures of her to owning her, you might be wondering. She says this: « Male sexual domination is a material system with an ideology and a metaphysics. The metaphysics of male sexual domination is that women are whores. The sexual colonization of women’s bodies is a material reality. » This ideology is effectuated sexually, a level of belief and experience never before analyzed as political and gendered in the way she did.

Now on the subject of freedom, her core concern. She notes in her piece, « Violence against Women: It Breaks the Heart, Also the Bones, » « Our abuse has become a standard of freedom, the meaning of freedom, the requisite for freedom throughout much of the western world. » She goes on to say, « as to pornography, the uses of women in pornography are considered liberating. »

The subject of Intercourse, specifically, is what freedom means for women, precisely, how it is denied by the inferiority imposed and the occupation effected thereby, « destroying in women the will to political freedom, destroying the love of freedom itself, » when it takes place under conditions of force, fear, and inequality.

She says,  » to want freedom is to want not only what men have but also what men are. This is male identification as militance, not feminine submission. It is deviant, complex. » This becomes something she terms « the new virginity, » or what might be called the new freedom. « Believing that sex is freedom, » she says, intercourse needs blood, « to count as a sex act in a world excited by sadomasochism, bored by the dull thud-thud of the literal fuck. Blood-letting of sex, a so-called freedom, exercised in alienation, cruelty and despair, trivial and decadent, proud, foolish, liars, we are free. »

This analysis converged her thinking on equality, which underwent a progression over her life. InOur Blood, the piece renouncing sexual equality, she rejected equality, which she understood there as « exchanging the male role for the female role. » There was no freedom or justice in it, an accurate understanding of the mainstream view of equality. Over time, she reclaimed and redefined equality. In « Against the Male Flood » she said, « equality is a practice; it is an action; it is a way of life. Equality is what we want, and we are going to get it. »

To clarify the relation between her freedom and the equality that she redefined, she said this (this is again in her piece for the Irish women, « Violence Against Women: It Breaks the Heart, Also the Bones »)–check this out–: « What we want to win is called freedom or justice when those being systematically hurt are not women. We call it equality because our enemies are family. »

Even with family, Andrea took no prisoners, a paradoxical result of her passionate humanism. She says this in « I Want a Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape, » a talk to five hundred men in 1983: « Have you ever wondered why we are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It’s because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence. »

Now, her legacy leaves us a lot to do. We can learn from the richness of her thirteen volumes, we can read her work closely, figure out how her writing was so singularly effective, and we can effectuate it. We can respond to the challenges of her questions, and be changed by her interventions and fearless probing of the structures and forces and people that rule our lives, denied by most people, a denial she also analyzed.

But in the academy, you know, whole theses could be written exploring sentences chosen virtually at random, that are ripe with possibilities, such as this: « any violation of a woman’s body can become sex for men. This is the essential truth of pornography. »

Or this: « in pornography, everything means something, » overwhelmingly ignored by massive departments of Media Studies and Communications, except for a tiny branch of largely social psychologists. Or this one, an analysis of social life in gendered terms: « Money is one instrument of male force. Poverty is humiliating, and, therefore, a feminizing experience. » Now, envision an economics where the laws of motion of sexuality socially are as well understood as the laws of motion of money are understood today, and the relation between the two of them.

Or this. Racism has always been central to her analysis, as it was in Pornography: « the sexualization of race within a racist system is a prime purpose and consequence of pornography. » And she talked about depicting women by sexualizing their skin, thus sexualizing the abuse, sexually devaluing black skin in racist America by perceiving it as a sex organ.

In Scapegoat she took this entire analysis to a whole deeper and higher level simultaneously showing what a gendered analysis of racism would look like in application. Try this: « While Nazism was a male event, Auschwitz might be called a female event, built on a primal antagonism to the bodies of women, an antagonism that included sadistic medical experiments. » In Scapegoat she also said this: « Hitler tried to make Jews as foul and expendible as prostitutes already were, as inhuman as prostitutes were already taken to be. » All of this can be taken up, unpacked, deeply considered, extended, gone further with.

Andrea wanted a day without rape. She said, « I want to experience just one day of real freedom before I die. » And that was the day without rape. She didn’t get it. She told the story of her own life in many ways in her work, over and over again. In one meditation, in Ice and Fire, turning over and over Kafka’s referring to coitis as « punishment for the happiness of being together, »–that’s a quote from him–Andrea writes this: « Coitis is punishment. I write down everything I know, over some years. I publish. I have become a feminist, not the fun kind. Coitis is punishment, I say. It is hard to publish. I am a feminist, not the fun kind. Life gets hard. Coitis is not the only punishment. I write. I love solitude. Or, slowly, I would die. I do not die. »

She wrote in Intercourse of her vision of all of our sexual lives, never, as always, excluding herself. In writing of the sex reformer Ellen Key’s consistent vision of sexuality for women, in the words of Ellen Key: « based on a harmony that is both sensual and possible, » one not based, in Andrea’s words, « on fear of force and the reality of inequality as now. » « A stream, herself, » Andrea wrote, « she would move over the earth, sensual and equal; especially, she will go her own way. »

« A stream herself. » Well, maybe a raging river at flood tide, perhaps, Andrea went her own way. She even wrote what might be her own epitaph: « I am whole, and I am flames. I burn. I die. From this light, later you will see. Mama, I made some light. »

Living without Andrea is living without this special light, the one she burned her life to make. Her incandescent mind never to illuminate another dark chasm or hard alley or guard tower of male supremacy. We are going to need a lot of what she wrote about, so long ago, at the end of Lesbian Pride, in Our Blood, seeing us walking into a terrible dark storm in which she said, « Those who are raped will see the darkness as they look up into the face of the rapist » in hunger and despair.

Love for women was what we need to remember, she said, that light within us that shines, that burns, no matter the darkness without which there is no tomorrow and was no yesterday. Quoting her now, she said, « That light is within us–constant, warm and healing. Remember it, sisters, in the dark times to come. »«