Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Review: Right-Wing Women, Part I

"From father's house to husband's house to a grave that still might not be her own, a woman acquiesces to male authority in order to gain some protection from male violence. She conforms, in order to be as safe as she can be."

The above quote is a good starting point for Andrea Dworkin's book Right-Wing Women, which is her attempt to explain women's complicity and collaboration in their own oppression in a male-dominated society.

I have long been interested in the phenomenon of ladies against women and feminism. Those Phyllis Schlaflys and their modern-day counterparts, the Ann Coulters and Laura Ingrahams. Women who, from the perspective of many of us on the more progressive side of things, appear to sell out as women in exchange for those oh-so-valuable patriarchal pats on the head.

1) Fear

Dworkin begins by arguing that the Right makes several promises to women that the Left does not. By exploiting the fear that "male violence against women is unpredictable and uncontrollable," the Right "promises to put enforceable restraints on male aggression" (21). It does this, via religion and traditional marriage, by offering form in a world of chaos, a home and sure place in it, safety in obedience, rules for safety, and love in exchange for sexual subservience and childbearing (22).

In addition to the fear of male violence, the Right constructs the world outside of traditional marriage as an incredibly scary, unpredictable place. Fears of the Other are exploited, causing rightwing women to fear lesbians for threatening a known sexual order, to loathe abortion as the "callous murder of infants," and to share an anti-Semitism that is rooted in fundamentalist Christianity (33). Dworkin recounts when, as a reporter covering an Equal Rights Amendment convention, she talked with a man from Mississippi who claimed to be a member of the KKK. He said that he and other KKK members were sent there to "protect their womenfolk from the lesbians, who would assault them" (115). In this way, does patriarchy frame lesbians- the Other- as sexually dangerous, even though the reality is that male sexual violence perpetrated upon women, even married women, is exponentially more frequent.

Against all of these threats, female complicity offers women some degree of safety, or at least a safer alternative. Dworkin writes, "Every accommodation that women make to [male] domination, however apparently stupid, self-defeating, or dangerous, is rooted in the urgent need to survive somehow on male terms" (34). In line with this need to survive, they direct their anger and fear at Others, instead of at men. "Having good reason to hate, but not the courage to rebel, women require symbols of danger that justify their fear. The Right provides these symbols of danger by designating clearly defined groups of outsiders as sources of danger" (Ibid.). Queers, babykillers, and Jews.

Today's most prominent symbol of danger, I would add, is contained in the Right's recent Manhattan Declaration. In this haughty, self-aggrandizing tale, a delegate of powerful, Christian, (mostly) male signees has informed the world that abortion, science, and same-sex marriage will destroy civilization but that they, thankfully, will come to everyone's rescue as long as certain rules are followed. Namely, with their courageous leadership, restrictions on abortion and denial of same-sex marriage will be put into place.

2) The Denial of Intelligence

In perpetuating itself, patriarchy has historically denied women intelligence, which has led to women's dependency on men. For one, cross-culturally, most of the world's illiterate are women. Yet, literacy is how humans find meaning in, and define, experience. Two, the requirement that women be wives (so that they are not whores) and bear babies kills the sexual intelligence of women. "Men have constructed female sexuality" down to two rules: "be fucked, reproduce" (56). Real sex, for instance, is largely defined by what it is sexually pleasing to men- intercourse- which is not always or necessarily pleasing to women.

In short, women are constructed as sex. And when women as a class are sex, it is difficult for people- men and women alike- to view women as anything else. Further, it is difficult for women to survive on non-sexual terms.

Thus, prominent rightwing ladies against feminism, despite their educational degrees and experience, often remain relegated to the pink ghetto of "women's issues" (along with, I would add, rightwing people of color, who the Right uses as, for instance, Expert Black Man Against Barack Obama). While rightwing (and leftwing) male talking heads can be college dropouts and still be considered authoritative people Just Telling It Like It Is, possessing an advanced degree is an unspoken necessity for women to be given the same level of deference.

For instance, Dworkin uses the example of Phyllis Schlafly, who has a law degree, has given testimony on many subjects over the course of decades, was an important organizer of the Republican party, had published multiple books, and had stopped the Equal Rights Amendment dead in its tracks yet whom Reagan overlooked when he was making appointments to his Administration. A man with her credentials and experience would have been guaranteed a position and, indeed, Schlafly conceded that point to feminist attorney Catherine Mackinnon in a debate (30).

Because of this sexualization of women, Rightwing women find the world to be a dangerous place without the alliances of men and the resources they control. And thus, Dworkin writes, "They see that traditional marriage means selling [sex] to one man, not hundreds: the better deal... They see that the money they can earn will not make them independent of men and that they will still have to play the sex games: at home and at work too.... Right-wing women are not wrong" (68). Which brings us to the Left and it's woman problem, which will be continued in tomorrow's installment of this review.

No comments: