Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Review: Right-Wing Women, Part II

This post is a continuation of a review of Andrea Dworkin's Right-Wing Women. (Part I can be found here).

3) The Left's Woman Problem

Dworkin argues that, for good reason, Rightwing women fear the Left. The Left of the sixties was "a dream of sexual transcendence.... It was- for the girls- a dream of being less female in a world less male; an eroticization of sibling equality, not male domination" (91). What this meant in practice, however, was that it essentially freed men to fuck women "without bourgeois constraints" (91). What this meant for women was "an intensification of the experience of being sexually female- the precise opposite of what these girls had envisioned for themselves....freedom for women existed in being fucked more often by more men, a sort of lateral mobility in the same inferior sphere" (93). The Left, that is, continued to construct women as sex, while men continued to be constructed as the Doers Of Important Things.

Further, "sexual liberation" created an expectation that the sexually liberated were ready for sex at any time, effectively negating the concept of consent. Those who were not ready for sex were considered "repressed," not liberated. For women, for whom pregnancy was sometimes an outcome of this sex free-for-all and for whom abortion was illegal, the consequences of sex were higher than for men. Rightwing women feared sexual liberation as it meant unfettered male sexual access to women, and possibly pregnancy, without the expectation of male support via traditional marriage.

Thus did the women of the Left find the first premise of their political movement: "that freedom for a woman was predicated on, and could not exist without, her own absolute control of her own body in sex and reproduction" (97). To the larger left, however, this premise was met with "supreme indifference" (Ibid.). One of the male-dominated Left's still-large Woman Problems is that it does not care enough about a woman's right to control her own body. To men of all political stripes, a woman's choice to control her own body is too often framed a negotiable bargaining chip for obtaining More Important political victories.

4) The Coming Gynocide

In societies that value women primarily for babymaking, Dworkin argues (and I agree) that women without children are "not worth much" (143). In The Handmaid's Tale, Maragert Atwood extends the idea that a woman's social worth lies in her ability to have children to its logical conclusion, speculating a fundamentalist future wherein women unable or unwilling to bear children are called un-women and are sent to work camps to die. Or, as Dworkin writes, "In the sorrow of having children there is the recognition that one's humanity is reduced to this, and on this one's survival depends" (145).

In a society that defines womanhood by childbearing, women who do not bear children are seen to live pointless lives, taking up space without fulfilling the womanly duty. Logically then, when such societies decide they need fewer children, we find that male-dominant societies also find that they need fewer girls and women. We see this in countries like China, India, and Afghanistan, where sex-selective abortion and infanticide of female babies has skewed the sex ratio in favor of boys because boys and men are overvalued in these societies.

In this fear of gynocide, lies the rightwing woman's hatred of homosexuality, in men especially. Male homosexuality coupled with reproductive technologies, Dworkin argues, is especially terrifying to rightwing women, because "it suggests a world without women altogether- a world in which women are extinct" (144). Instead of hating a system that values women primarily for reproduction, some women choose to hate homosexuality and what they see as its frightening implication that women are unnecessary to men.

In this fear also lies the hatred of feminism. Feminists posit that women are not their sex and that, "each life- including each woman's life- must be a person's own, and not predetermined before her birth by totalitarian ideas about her nature and her function" (191). It is an idea that "annihilates the system of gender polarity in which men are superior and powerful," yet rightwing women fear this idea because if women aren't sex and reproduction, women fear that they are nothing at all in the eyes of men. And sadly, in the eyes of some men, that is the truth. Still.

To end, it would be helpful to remember the political environment in which Dworkin was writing. The '80s were a time of incredible rightwing backlash, especially with respect to feminism. Dworkin came of age in a time when men had the legal right to rape their wives and women were forced to carry any resulting pregnancies to term, or to seek illegal abortions. Women in the workplace earned 60% of what men earned and were only beginning to break out of low-paying pink collar professions in greater numbers.

Dworkin is now the poster-child for use in demonstrating How Feminism Has Gone Too Far. Men's Rights Activists invariably cite her to prove that All Feminists Hate Men. And, it is in part because of her that other women, some of whom identify as feminists, back up with their hands in the air and say that they don't hate men or anything, but [insert feminist statement originated by Andrea Dworkin].

Still, I think she said what needed to be said at that time. I am thankful for the "bloody feet [that] have worn smooth the path by which [I] came here." Her theory on rightwing women rings true, still, no matter the labels and defamations some slap on Andrea Dworkin. For, in dismissing rightwing women as hateful bigots who are indistinguishable from their male counterparts, the Left misses a real opportunity to offer these women something better. Every time the male-dominated Left uses misogynistic and sexist slurs against rightwing women, they only reinforce in these women how unsafe the Left is for women.

In this reality, do many feminists recognize that women are "associated with all women, not as a matter of choice but as a matter of fact," sharing a "common condition" that is subordinate to men (221). In this reality, just as in 1983 when Dworkin was writing, do feminists understand that feminism is hated. Still. And that "feminism is hated because women are hated" (195). Anti-feminism, especially of the gender complementarian type, holds that the subservient "social and sexual condition of women essentially (one way or another) embodies the nature of women" (Ibid.). It is a system that defends the use of women as wives or whores because that is what women inherently are. And that, therefore, there are always More Important Things to talk about in the world than so-called women's issues.

In that reality, are rightwing women doing what they do to survive. "Looking for a way out of a sex-class system...right-wing women look at feminists and they see women: inside the same boundary.... Their response to what they see is not a sense of sisterhood or solidarity- it is a self-protective sense of repulsion" (234).

Shorter Dworkin: Rightwing women hate women because men hate women.

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