The Pity of Feminism

There is something achingly sad about the life of Andrea Dworkin, 58, the feminist firebrand who died April 9 of undisclosed causes.  Daughter to a 'committed socialist' Jewish postal worker, she went to progressive schools and lived as an activist from childhood.  She first hit the headlines in 1965 when she reported experiencing humiliating body cavity searches at a women's detention center after arrest at the United Nations for protesting the Vietnam War. 

Dworkin earned money from prostitution, and suffered an abusive marriage to a Dutch political radical.  A prolific and shamelessly inflammatory writer, she achieved notoriety in the 1980s from her campaign against pornography.  She reported being raped in a movie theater at the age of nine, and drugged and raped by staff in a Paris hotel in 1999.  Morbidly obese, she never mentioned her real problem, according to Camille Paglia, which was food.  Now she is dead.

Perhaps her problem was not food but her left—wing belief system.  In 'Investigation: Shameless and Loveless' British philosopher Roger Scruton reviews the four decades since 'sexual intercourse began' in the sexual revolution.  Maybe Andrea Dworkin became so liberated that she had lost any sense of sexual shame, a concept that 'Max Scheler described... as a Schutzgefühl—a shield—emotion that protects you from abuse.'

In Woman Hating (1974) Dworkin determined 'to destroy patriarchal power at its source, the family, [and] in its most hideous form, the national state.'   She believed in the heart of the Left's project: to destroy the nuclear family and to destroy the capitalist nation state, because they were all about power.

We often forget about power.  We remember only that in Christianity we declare war on ruthlessness, with the remarkable notion that God wants us to love one another, in proof of which he offered his Son as a sacrifice for love.  In global commerce under the rule of law we channel the aggressive instincts of male warriors into the aggressive, but harmless, service of the consumers.  In the bourgeois family we mitigate the patriarchal hegemony of the extended family into the equal partnership of the nuclear family.

To a leftist radical like Andrea Dworkin, all this misses the point.  Look beneath the shiny Apollonian surface, she bellows, and you will see nothing but Dionysian power.  Your whole bourgeois edifice is nothing but a mask for power.

Of course she is right.  The love of God, the rule of law, global commerce, and bourgeois marriage do not eliminate power.  The strong, the clever, the beautiful, and the ruthless still beat the weak, the stupid, the morbidly obese, and the diffident.  And they always will. 

But it is the lefties like Dworkin that miss the point.  Maybe we patriarchal males have not eliminated power, but we have still achieved something remarkable.  We have erected a defense—in—depth against power, inside which the victimized, the misguided, and the morbidly obese can find relative safety.

If you sweep away the defense—in—depth of Christian love and the rule of law and bourgeois marriage you will not get peace and justice.  You will get, as in the movie Downfall, Adolf Hitler in the Führerbunker lecturing his pretty secretaries on the importance of ruthlessness—over a vegetarian meal.

Let us answer the left's challenge and strip away the Apollonian veneer from its discourse on power.  What do we find?  We find underneath the desperate struggle for existence in all its chthonian, Dionysian frenzy, compared to which the patriarchal abuse of political and sexual 'power' is a refined ballet.

Scientists are just beginning to find out just how desperate life was in the old days.  About 40—60 percent of men died in conflict, and only about half succeeded in injecting their genes into the next generation.  Some patriarchs.  Some power.

Wrote Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post,

'Encouraged by her socially conscious father, Ms. Dworkin embraced dissent from an early age.  She refused to sing Christmas carols in elementary schools and by sixth grade decided she wanted to change restrictive abortion laws.' 

Yes, it's not likely that an 11 year—old girl (like, ohmygod) would worry, unencouraged, about abortion.  No doubt young Andrea then went on to excel in sex education classes that, in Scruton's words, would have enjoined her 'to put aside [her] hesitations, and to enjoy 'good sex,'' and to regard shame as a 'lingering disability.'

Freed from shame and the defense—in—depth of the bourgeois ethos, Dworkin became tragically vulnerable, easy pickings for every passing predator.  She responded to her life as she had been taught, with left—wing activism and disputatious rage.  But her problem was not with the patriarchy or even, pace Camille Paglia, food.  Her problem was the missing shield of shame that could have sheltered her for the 'project of love and the project of raising children.'

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@msn.com) blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.

There is something achingly sad about the life of Andrea Dworkin, 58, the feminist firebrand who died April 9 of undisclosed causes.  Daughter to a 'committed socialist' Jewish postal worker, she went to progressive schools and lived as an activist from childhood.  She first hit the headlines in 1965 when she reported experiencing humiliating body cavity searches at a women's detention center after arrest at the United Nations for protesting the Vietnam War. 

Dworkin earned money from prostitution, and suffered an abusive marriage to a Dutch political radical.  A prolific and shamelessly inflammatory writer, she achieved notoriety in the 1980s from her campaign against pornography.  She reported being raped in a movie theater at the age of nine, and drugged and raped by staff in a Paris hotel in 1999.  Morbidly obese, she never mentioned her real problem, according to Camille Paglia, which was food.  Now she is dead.

Perhaps her problem was not food but her left—wing belief system.  In 'Investigation: Shameless and Loveless' British philosopher Roger Scruton reviews the four decades since 'sexual intercourse began' in the sexual revolution.  Maybe Andrea Dworkin became so liberated that she had lost any sense of sexual shame, a concept that 'Max Scheler described... as a Schutzgefühl—a shield—emotion that protects you from abuse.'

In Woman Hating (1974) Dworkin determined 'to destroy patriarchal power at its source, the family, [and] in its most hideous form, the national state.'   She believed in the heart of the Left's project: to destroy the nuclear family and to destroy the capitalist nation state, because they were all about power.

We often forget about power.  We remember only that in Christianity we declare war on ruthlessness, with the remarkable notion that God wants us to love one another, in proof of which he offered his Son as a sacrifice for love.  In global commerce under the rule of law we channel the aggressive instincts of male warriors into the aggressive, but harmless, service of the consumers.  In the bourgeois family we mitigate the patriarchal hegemony of the extended family into the equal partnership of the nuclear family.

To a leftist radical like Andrea Dworkin, all this misses the point.  Look beneath the shiny Apollonian surface, she bellows, and you will see nothing but Dionysian power.  Your whole bourgeois edifice is nothing but a mask for power.

Of course she is right.  The love of God, the rule of law, global commerce, and bourgeois marriage do not eliminate power.  The strong, the clever, the beautiful, and the ruthless still beat the weak, the stupid, the morbidly obese, and the diffident.  And they always will. 

But it is the lefties like Dworkin that miss the point.  Maybe we patriarchal males have not eliminated power, but we have still achieved something remarkable.  We have erected a defense—in—depth against power, inside which the victimized, the misguided, and the morbidly obese can find relative safety.

If you sweep away the defense—in—depth of Christian love and the rule of law and bourgeois marriage you will not get peace and justice.  You will get, as in the movie Downfall, Adolf Hitler in the Führerbunker lecturing his pretty secretaries on the importance of ruthlessness—over a vegetarian meal.

Let us answer the left's challenge and strip away the Apollonian veneer from its discourse on power.  What do we find?  We find underneath the desperate struggle for existence in all its chthonian, Dionysian frenzy, compared to which the patriarchal abuse of political and sexual 'power' is a refined ballet.

Scientists are just beginning to find out just how desperate life was in the old days.  About 40—60 percent of men died in conflict, and only about half succeeded in injecting their genes into the next generation.  Some patriarchs.  Some power.

Wrote Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post,

'Encouraged by her socially conscious father, Ms. Dworkin embraced dissent from an early age.  She refused to sing Christmas carols in elementary schools and by sixth grade decided she wanted to change restrictive abortion laws.' 

Yes, it's not likely that an 11 year—old girl (like, ohmygod) would worry, unencouraged, about abortion.  No doubt young Andrea then went on to excel in sex education classes that, in Scruton's words, would have enjoined her 'to put aside [her] hesitations, and to enjoy 'good sex,'' and to regard shame as a 'lingering disability.'

Freed from shame and the defense—in—depth of the bourgeois ethos, Dworkin became tragically vulnerable, easy pickings for every passing predator.  She responded to her life as she had been taught, with left—wing activism and disputatious rage.  But her problem was not with the patriarchy or even, pace Camille Paglia, food.  Her problem was the missing shield of shame that could have sheltered her for the 'project of love and the project of raising children.'

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@msn.com) blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.