Sunday, January 25, 2009

The orthodox Ms Dworkin

People think of Andrea Dworkin as one of the most radical of feminists, as a revolutionary. It's truer, perhaps, to call her militantly orthodox. I recently read a brief excerpt from one of her books, which outlines what she believed as a feminist. It's just standard, orthodox, liberal autonomy theory:

Feminists have a vision of women, even women, as individual human beings; and this vision annihilates the system of gender polarity in which men are superior and powerful.

This is not a bourgeois notion of individuality; it is not a self-indulgent notion of individuality; it is the recognition that every human being lives a separate life in a separate body and dies alone.

In proposing “the individuality of each human soul,” feminists propose that women are not their sex; nor their sex plus some other little thing — a liberal additive of personality, for instance; but that each life — including each woman’s life — must be a person’s own, not predetermined before her birth by totalitarian ideas about her nature and her function, not subject to guardianship by some more powerful class, not determined in the aggregate but worked out by herself, for herself.

Frankly, no one much knows what feminists mean; the idea of women not defined by sex and reproduction is anathema or baffling. It is the simplest revolutionary idea ever conceived, and the most despised.

So sex distinctions aren't allowed to matter, because our sex is something pre-determined rather than self-determined. Our true nature as humans is a purely individual one that we create (work out) for ourselves. If we observe sex distinctions at work in society, it's not because they are natural but because they are used by one class of people (men) to suppress the true human individuality of another class of people (women). It is our nature to be radically alone and not connected in any fundamental or meaningful way to others.

It's predictable, unworkable and destructive. If you really believed that women are treated as women, not because sex distinctions are natural and significant, but because it allows men to be superior, then you're putting yourself in a difficult position. You will go through life with the evidence constantly before you of injustice and oppression. If you are realistic enough to see that sex distinctions aren't going to go away, you'll be led toward the belief that society will always be founded on social injustice.

Little wonder then that Andrea Dworkin at one time proposed establishing a separate country for women.

It's a bit dismal, too, this idea that we aren't meaningfully connected to others. Yes, we each live in a separate body, but we can be connected by ties of family and kinship, through love and marriage, and within larger communal identities and traditions.

Dworkin's self-defining individual is not so much liberated as deprived - cut off from significant aspects of our given nature and our heritage.

1 comment:

  1. "it is the recognition that every human being lives a separate life in a separate body and dies alone. "

    She endorses a very bleak existence.

    By this logic age is also an artificial constraint. Totalitarian ideas like infancy, childhood, adulthood and old age oppress individuals by setting a predetermined function and perceived ability on the autonomous individual. A newborn should have the same options as a 30 year old for a fairer society.