Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Andrea Dworkin + Respect + Learning

In mid-October, 1983 along with 150-200 other men I heard Andrea Dworkin speak to her first predominantly male audience at the Midwest Men's Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her words helped inspire me and allies of mine in starting Men Stopping Rape, Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin which became perhaps the most influential men's anti-rape group in the United States.

Dworkin spoke to us directly and clearly about how men in the past and continuing into the present did many horrible things to women and girls because they were female. She told us that we had two ways that we could react to our knowledge of Misogyny. We could react with guilt and wallow in it and do nothing except feel sorry. Alternately we could feel shame at what men had done (and continue to do) to women and work for meaningful change with Men supporting women.

Predictably the men in the audience reacted in two distinct ways. For some of us Dworkin was "accusing us of being bad because we are male". These men essentially said: "I've been oppressed .... (e.g. as a gay man, being abused as a child...) so don't point the finger at me. My oppression is just as important as yours (as a woman)".

Other men found Dworkin inspiring and her insights helpful. We did work for change. We continue to be influenced by much of what we heard in our lives many years later.

I think that Andrea Dworkin was very good for those of us who heard her speak (as well as others who have read her writings and been influenced by them). In Madison we subsequently debated the focus we wanted to go in and decided that educating men focussing on rape, rather than pornography was where we wanted to go.

We didn't agree among ourselves on how we should react to pornography, though we had consensus about signficant harm that is caused by it.

We could have taken Dworkin's words and said: "She's Wrong on this, so she's not of help to us..." related to some of her stands on pornography. We chose to struggle and move ahead seeing the larger picture.

Dworkin did not fit any male stereotypes of being a physically attractive woman. She also didn't play up/down to us and try to "look attractive". Some men were turned off by her appearance, though she was neat and clean and just like many of us in how we looked or paid attention to how we looked.

Dworkin was a powerful woman who taught me a lot! She recognized the importance of reading and knowing a lot about those who had contrary (and "worse") views of our world(s) around us. "Know your Enemy" - is a less polite way of saying this. She was a scholar, but not an "academic" (lost in a world of hypothetical ideas and intellect alone).

As men we often look at the world around us in a "present focus" seeing only our current reality not seeing the bigger picture. When we are young, we don't worry or think about getting older. When healthy, we don't think about the fact that we could be in poor health. We may believe that either the world is fair and we need to work hard to succeed in it or that the world is unfair and we have to fight for the scraps we can get. In either case we miss much of what is around us - the feelings, the spirits, the heart and soul of our own lives.

We often miss the world of children unless and until we become fathers. In many cases as fathers we fail in ways similar to what our fathers did with us.

Far too often, we miss the emotional lives of those we care about. We take care of the financial and practical affairs of our aging parents. Women often take care of the emotional needs of their parents.

I have been fortunate to have learned so much from Dworkin and other feminists. I wish that I had done a better job learning from them. I am trying to do "better".




nikkicraft said...

Hey geo,
got your url from a mutual friend. thanks for another good profeminist website for the net.
would you mind if i link to your article about andrea dworkin from her memorial site?

hope so and sending good wishes to you,
nikki craft

thinking girl said...

hI geo,

nice post! I am a huge fan of Dworkin myself, each time I read her work, I learn something new, I feel something more strongly, and I recommit to feminism. She has had a big impact on me too - because of her strength and never-ending determination and commitment to what she believed in. Amazing woman.

thinking girl said...

p.s. if you didn't see it, I wrote a little tribute to Dworkin on my own site a couple months ago.

geo said...


Linking this or anything else to any website/blog is fine, as long as it's supportive (as yours obviously is) for this or anything else now or at any time in the future - for anyone.