Guest Post from Katherine Smith
Dear Andrea Dworkin,
I can’t believe I’ve missed you all these years! I’ve just read In Our Blood and it’s transformed my feeling about the world. Very few books can do that. The penny’s dropped; a few jigsaw pieces just fell into place.
I’m most struck at how many assumptions I have had about feminism and the oppression of women – my own oppression. The first assumption is that I am not oppressed; that thousands of years of hatred and enslavement of women has not had an effect on me. Somehow I am supposed to have got away with it. But I’ve been noticing some things about myself.
How I cannot say when people are making me angry for fear of upsetting them.
How in everyday life, I cannot speak my real feelings – let alone show them.
How I must be the diplomat and save other peoples’ feelings – at any cost, most often the cost of my own sense of worth as that is the only thing I can control.
How, for some reason, I do not dare.
How I no longer even know what my feelings are.
How I no longer even know what I want.
I am in a fog and cannot find my freedom here.
And then I read your book, watch a clip of you speaking on Youtube, and suddenly this is not about just me anymore. No longer something I solely have to take responsibility for. No longer something that I live with because I think it’s my fault – that I’m automatically to blame for.
And I realise I haven’t got away with anything – because I’ve grown up in a culture that is twisted this way. I have grown twisted this way and there was no way I could have avoided it. There is no way anyone can have avoided it – male or female.
And there is no one person who has made it this way – there are billions. Billions throughout history. Both men and the women who were apologists for men through a point-blank denial of their own oppression. If I ever wanted bloody revenge I’d be thwarted immediately. No justice of this nature for me or anybody else.
But then justice of this nature is what’s led us all here anyway. This is violence I’m talking about. The violence that is everywhere and is underpinned by what I’ll call the First Violence – that violence which was designed to control women and is still what controls women. The same violence that has broken the relationship of people with the earth.
Women were the first indigenous people, the first slaves, the first to lose their rights, to be made homeless refugees (uprooted from their own bodies), to be destroyed and made extinct. People may say this is hyperbole but I say ‘made extinct’ quite purposefully. Because that part of me that is a wild and free woman has gone. And that was my assumption – that it was still here somewhere – just hiding out of sight, ready to come back in and save us all. No – that assumption is wrong because that thing is successfully destroyed. It is dead and rotted.
So no fairytale endings here. Just the crows to pluck and the wind to suck.
Assumptions – or shall I just call them lies. Fucking lies I got told and then retold myself as if they were always mine. There are flies on us after all. The next lie is that those fighting for social justice – those who have fought oppression – or those striving for spiritual enlightenment have somehow, by virtue of this Virtue, escaped their shaping and twisting by the culture of First Violence against women. In fact, those fighting the good fight have consistently and always sold out when it comes to freeing women.
Take a look at a recent demonstration in Glasgow against the Bedroom Tax. When a member of the Disputes Committee from the Socialist Workers Party, Dave Sherry, stepped up to speak he was heckled by women from the crowd. This is because the SWP had conducted an internal ‘rape trial’ and found that the accused was not guilty of rape and the woman involved was a liar. Aside from not being a party issue but a police issue which the party should have supported her with – the response to the protests against Dave Sherry consisted of the following comments, among others:
‘“Shut the fuck up”, to leave the Bedroom Tax demo and “go back to your rape demo”’.
This article goes further into what happened in the crowd and the way the stewards handled the situation. Suffice to say the reaction against these women’s protest was swift and violent and personal. They were accused of distracting people from the real issues, of being middle-class. The stewards attempted to shove them out physically.
How much feminism has been sidelined when it should be the issue on which all else in the quest for liberation depends. Whoever, during the whole of recorded history, has effectively come through for women and ended the First Violence? Something far, far deeper and more radical than equal opportunities legislation or even women’s suffrage is needed. The suffragettes did not smash the windows of banks or post shit to politicians or uproot their lives and lose their children and homes for something superficial and bureaucratic and stupidly empty – which is what equal rights for women has been made into. Their inheritance is still waiting to be claimed.
And this failure to address the First Violence – it is the reason so many revolutions have turned to dictatorships. Why slavery does not really get abolished but changes form and lives in disguise next door. Why justice fails time and again and why wars haemorrhage lives without stopping. Why so many indigenous peoples are still swept aside and killed. Why the earth continues to be destroyed and we seem powerless to stop it. We are failing to address that thing which is fundamental to all of these other things. It is the thing that is staring us in the face – the enslavement of women to the world order of man and the continuation of the First Violence unchecked.
Andrea, you wrote about the abolitionists – how male slaves were freed but no females (including those enslaved by marriage) – how the men closed ranks against women once slavery was abolished for men. And so the betrayal continues, which is why oppression never really goes away for anyone, man or woman.
And now we come to sex. The part of all this that finally overturned you. They all got you on sex. Said you were mad and a liar when you said you’d been raped. When you refused to look away but saw rape and described the rape that you saw and experienced. You were really close – but those thousands of years of oppression fell between us in a heartbeat. Until I read your book and saw you on Youtube, I’ve only read or heard what someone else has said about you.
You described how free love and sexual revolution during the sixties was subsequently cashed in and sold as part of the porn industry during the seventies and thereafter. Again – I have started to see something about sexuality.
I didn’t know I could refuse to consent. I fear the thousand-year violence that refusal invokes. I keep a safe distance from sexuality through a deeply inherited fear of rape and violence. I cannot protect my body and this has poisoned my life force and my will in all things. I stay in fantasy and my mind where sex has been relegated. In exploring the shape of this sexuality to try to break my crippling fear of violence I found only endless, empty space where my sense of boundary and self-worth should be. How I have failed myself. Thus have I been shaped.
Andrea – you describe how the porn industry has meant the further enslavement of women rather than liberation and again I must admit to having assumed the opposite.
But of course, porn is an industry and based on profit over people and comes from the same source that underpins the legal institution of marriage and cultural institution of relationships – the giving away and receiving of women with permission or the taking of women without permission. Our legal systems do not defer to the rights of women as they stand alone but frame them only in reference to whether they are taken from or given to men. This is what I understand when you, Andrea, refer to a culture of rape.
Many women have rape fantasies. Does this mean they all want to be raped – which is an assumption in our culture? The lie is that porn automatically bypasses real violence as it is just fantasy and free choice – then why have I and so many other women been afraid to question this, discuss it and look into it more deeply? Why are we afraid of having a problem with porn? It is not the same thing as conscious, free love. It is not the same thing as love-making or supported sexual exploration. Not the same thing as sex as a whole body experience or a spiritual experience. Why do we in our culture fail to search for something healthier rather than putting up with the lowest common denominator? Do dire economic circumstances for so many women around the world add up to free and informed consent on their part, for example? Just look at the millions of women and girls under the age of 14 who are trafficked into the slave-porn industry every year.
The reality is what is actually happening to the warm and the soft. To the bodies of women. There is no protection in fantasy – only a protection of the mind from a realisation which it does not like. What is this realisation?
That women are hated. Not individually but as a whole – as a culture. Throughout literature, art, industry, religion, the law, the media, within relationships, throughout every part of society and in every culture of mankind; women are hated by both men and themselves. And this is not a passing fad – something that can be turned around through a single revolution or social upheaval. It is thousands of years of hate and oppression.
Why were you killed. Andrea Dworkin? You and many of your generation of feminists who were judged, decried, raped, reduced and vilified. Those feminists who killed themselves, those who died of broken hearts. Those who were forced underground just to survive. You were made extinct and this horror needs to be realised.
And so now I turn heavy-hearted to the same fate. As I’m sure that to fight this establishment that has lasted so long I will be subject to the same treatment. But you wanted to see clearly and I want to see clearly too. I will not wander in the fog or the half-light anymore.
I send a clarion call to women who are NOW to rise up out of the dry seeds of our dead passions and the compost of our extinct wilderness and come together to create WOMAN again.
Old Grandmother Time will bring forth truth. This is your legacy, Andrea – your chink of light to inspire us to begin again.
Yours, with total respect,