Monday, April 11, 2005

you said something

you said something

andrea dworkin has died. wow, that was a surprise. also, she died over the weekend, and i hadn't seen anything on the web about it. i found out from the ms. email newsletter that just came in. and even as i look around this afternoon, a mere three links about her passing turn up on google news.

she was revered and reviled for her feminist critiques of pornography. she's one of those writers whom you hear a LOT about -- usually a lotta crap, haha -- but when you actually read her work, it's much different than you expect. or, ok, i'll speak for myself.

although i inherited a couple of her books from my older sister, i have barely read anything she's written, mainly b/c i am a slacker. also, perhaps, b/c i felt i would probably agree with her on many things; although, while i didn't entirely believe her reputation as a militant man-hater, i did suspect she'd have more stringent views than me. i knew that all that crap about how she allegedly said "all heterosexual sex is rape" has long been proven an urban myth. but the stories about her rabid anti-maleness and her "unreasonable" stance against porn (she helped get a law passed that said porn violates women's civil rights ... it was deemed unconstitutional ... yet, oh the irony, within my lifetime i expect we will be living in a country where abortion violates fetuses' civil rights) were so pervasive that i got the sense she would be most unpleasant to read. but when i finally did read something of hers a few years ago, i was surprised by how adroit and even wry it was.

i had been rambling on to some friend about how i had re-read story of o, the famous french novel about a young photographer's assistant who is slowly indoctrinated into a secret society's culture of S&M. i had first read it while in my 20s, mainly out of curiosity -- not just a curiosity of the titillating parts, but a genuine lack of understanding about why people would find pain, humiliation, subjugation, and other things that i found not sexy in the least, to be exciting and fulfilling. reading the novel that first time, i felt i came away with a better sense of what the attraction was, along with an even deeper surety that it was not for me. but, i thought then, different strokes for different folks and all that.

the second time i read it, while in my 30s, i had a much different reaction. i can't remember why i decided to read it a second time. i may have come across a discussion of it online, or maybe i was reading some mick farren novel chock-full of such recreations (hyuck), and struggling again with the essential alien-ness of it all to me. (and, to be clear, i don't care what people do to/with each other as long as everyone involved is consenting. within said parameters, i don't judge people if they choose to dominate or be dominated, or anything in between. but, being human, i am curious about things that seem "other"-like. and also, often when i come across activities or states of mind that seem beyond my understanding of what is enjoyable or wonderful, i try to determine whether my repulsion may be masking the fact that i'm actually intrigued in an i'd-like-to-try-that way. b/c there have been times in my life when i've found things that intially seemed repulsive to actually be quite fun. as far as having children and playing around with S&M go, however, that hasn't proved true.)

anyway, the second time i read o, it offended my feminist sensibilities quite a bit. although i actually still feel that its look inside the mind of a submissive and the process by which she becomes as such are informative, i felt more strongly that it was not simply a "story" of one person but a statement about what all women are and how they need to be controlled, lest their wickedness get loose and taint the very air. i found this irritating, and frankly disgusting. in other words, a big turn-off -- more than any whipping o receives or any other abuse she endures. i was also more amused by certain plot elements, like how o's lover rene shared her with his half-brother sir stephen, an englishman who only liked to fuck her in the ass, which the frenchman didn't want to do, so sir s got exclusive rights to that part of her body. that seemed like a comment of some sort, although i'm not educated enough to really figure out what.

i found the process of o's indoctrination into subservience much more sinister upon second reading, and her initial coercion into the lifestyle she eventually embraces far more disturbing. it wasn't her choice to become what she became; the only "choices" she was offered once the process was set in motion were false ones. thus, her "education" felt more like one long rape, not just of her body but of her mind. and that she came to consider her life as a slave liberating seemed utterly putrid. although the novel supposedly was written by a woman, i couldn't believe that -- it seemed so much like how a man would imagine a woman's thought processes (i.e., in his own image). on the other hand, it's not like women haven't played roles in keeping other women down throughout the centuries. so maybe it was really written by a woman. in any event, the ending -- in which o, when released from her lover's thrall, decides to kill herself b/c life isn't worth living if she can't be a slave -- nearly made me throw up.

ok, i said i couldn't understand the mentality.

anyway, as i was rambling on to my pal, s/he suggested i read andrea dworkin's essay on the subject. i found it online w/o much trouble. and it was a revelation. first of all, it was spot-on regarding all of my half-formed objections, and, maybe more importantly, made me feel less alone in my reaction. secondly, parts of it were fleetingly funny as hell. (so much for feminists not having a sense of humor.) i resolved then to seek out her stuff and read more of it. sadly, i haven't done that. but now i will. too bad it took her dying to make me want to pay more attention to her. but isn't that often the way?

r.i.p., ms. dworkin. i hope you are at peace.

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