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The Return of Andrea Dworkin’s Radical Vision


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In the February/March issue of Bookforum, Moira Donegan reviews a new book from Semiotext(e): Last Days at Hot Slit: The Radical Feminism of Andrea Dworkin, edited by Johanna Fateman and Amy Scholder. As Donegan relates, Dworkin was a divisive figure among feminists, with some deeming her rigid and puritanical, and others praising her steely clarity and courage. But Donegan suggests that too many of her critics failed to appreciate the complexity and subtlety of Dworkin’s analysis of patriarchy, reducing her nuance to a simple roar. Here’s an excerpt:

Dworkin has a reputation as the quintessential overzealous radical, imperiously steamrolling over the fault lines of race, of class, of history in her call for universal sisterhood. Yet the writings collected here reveal as much attention to what divides women as to what binds them. Like many feminists of the second wave, Dworkin was prone to facile, unthinkingly broad characterizations of misogyny, but Woman Hating begins with the acknowledgment that a woman might be endangered and exploited in more ways than one. She and her white, middle-class peers, she writes, were not only victims but “oppressors of other people, our poor white sisters, our Black sisters, our Chicana sisters. . . . This closely interwoven fabric of oppression . . . assured that wherever one stood, it was with at least one foot heavy on the belly of another human being.” In Right-Wing Women, she wrote with sympathy about the lives of women in the Reagan-era conservative movement, but also of how easily their vulnerability and fear were transformed into violent contempt, of how they recoiled with homophobia and anti-Semitism when they realized she was Jewish and gay. For Dworkin, to be a woman in the country she never stopped calling Amerika was to be in a state of emergency; but this did not make womanhood a singular emergency, let alone the most acute or morally urgent in a woman’s life, the “first identity, the one which brings with it as part of its definition death.”

Image of Andrea Dworkin via Bennington College.