Alas, Poor Dworkin

Just a couple of comments on Katha Pollitt’s excellent article on Andrea Dworkin. One to quibble, the other not.

The antipornography feminism Dworkin did so much to promote seems impossibly quaint today, when Paris Hilton can parlay an embarrassing sex video into mainstream celebrity and the porn star Jenna Jameson rides the New York Times bestseller list. But even in its heyday it was a blind alley. Not just because porn, like pot, is here to stay, not just because the Bible and the Koran–to say nothing of fashion, advertising and Britney Spears–do far more harm to women…

Not to quibble with Pollitt’s basic disagreement with Dworkin. But – ‘to say nothing of fashion, advertising and Britney Spears’ – I’m not sure I get that. Is there a huge difference between porn and ‘fashion, advertising and Britney Spears’? Or at least, wasn’t some of the kind of thing Dworkin thought harmful to women about porn, the same kind of thing that’s going on in fashion, advertising and Britney Spears? I would have thought so, frankly. I disagree with plenty of what Dworkin said – but it depresses the hell out of me that most women from the ages of six to sixty-six seem to feel obliged to look as much like prostitutes or porn stars in a state of violent sexual arousal as they can possibly manage. No no, they would all tell me with one voice, they’re ’empowered’ and ‘sex-positive’ and I’m just an angry ol’ puritan. But if it’s so empowering to mince around in catch me-fuck me shoes and tiny little camisoles and makeup and ringlets and all the rest of the nonsense – why don’t men do it? Hah? Why do men still slouch around in baggy shorts and t shirts and their regular old faces? Because they know damn well it’s not empowering, that’s why. (Okay, okay, that’s not the only reason, it’s also because camisoles and ringlets aren’t considered sexy on men. But you know what I mean!) I heard something similar on Front Row the other day, in a farewell discussion of Dworkin. Someone said Dworkin’s views would never fly now, now that every advert you see has a hypersexualised woman in it (or words to that effect). Well, yeah! I thought. That’s just it. It used to be thought (by the people who thought that kind of thing) that those ads full of panting quivering women were, you know, kind of objectifying. They haven’t become less so now just because they’re everywhere instead of just almost everywhere.

Sigh. Obviously that battle is well and truly lost, which is dispiriting. Pollitt is dispirited too.

These days, feminism is all sexy uplift, a cross between a workout and a makeover. Go for it, girls–breast implants, botox, face-lifts, corsets, knitting, boxing, prostitution. Whatever floats your self-esteem! Meanwhile, the public face of organizational feminism is perched atop a power suit and frozen in a deferential smile. Perhaps some childcare? Insurance coverage for contraception? Legal abortion, tragic though it surely is? Or maybe not so much legal abortion–when I ran into Naomi Wolf the other day, she had just finished an article calling for the banning of abortion after the first trimester. Cream and sugar with that abortion ban, sir?
I never thought I would miss unfair, infuriating, over-the-top Andrea Dworkin. But I do. And even more I miss the movement that had room for her.

Yeah. Me too. Boy, do I miss that movement. Where did all those pissed-off feminists go?

Into the sunset, I guess.

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