I have lost count of the number of times since her death earlier this month that I have heard feminist writer Andrea Dworkin referred to as a “man-hater.”
Of all the lies told about feminists, one that always made me particularly angry and sad is the claim that Dworkin — and by extension, any woman with a similar critique of menâ€™s violence — hated men. Dworkinâ€™s prolific and powerful writings, particularly her critique of pornography, made her a target for some of the ugliest attacks levied against any feminist over the past four decades, and the label “man-hater” was at the center of the campaign to marginalize her and her ideas.
I am a man who has read all of Dworkinâ€™s books, and hereâ€™s how it looks to me: I donâ€™t think she hated men. I think she loved us. I think Andrea Dworkin loved men because she loved people, and men are people — men are human beings — no matter how hard we sometimes seem to want to prove otherwise by our behavior.
Hereâ€™s what Dworkin said when she addressed a menâ€™s conference and asked them to work against rape:
“I donâ€™t believe rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever wondered why we [women] are not just in armed combat against you? Itâ€™s not because thereâ€™s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.”
Dworkin wanted to help men claim our humanity, not just for our sake but because she wanted to stop menâ€™s violence against women. She wanted an end to the harassment, rape, battery, child sexual assault. And she knew that required men to change, to save ourselves. In that same speech, she challenged men to take that responsibility:
“[Women] do not want to do the work of helping you to believe in your humanity. We cannot do it anymore. We have always tried. We have been repaid with systematic exploitation and systematic abuse. You are going to have to do this yourselves from now on and you know it.”
Dworkin was called a man-hater not because she hated men but because so many men do not want to face that challenge, so many men will not come to terms with what it will take to end that violence. Dworkin is gone, but her challenge remains, and I would like to restate it for men: Before dismissing her work as man-hating, read her work for what we can learn, not just about the experiences of women but about ourselves. Take up that loving challenge she offered. (See www.andreadworkin.net)
Itâ€™s a clichÃ© to say that a powerful writer “changed my life,” but no other phrase captures what Dworkinâ€™s work has meant to me. I donâ€™t know exactly who I would be today if I had never read — never felt — Dworkinâ€™s passion for justice. I am not sure exactly what I would be doing if I had never come to understand — as she helped me understand — that feminism is not just a movement for the liberation of women but a gift to men.
I suppose I would be more of a man, but perhaps I would be less of a human being.
Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of “Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality.” He can be reached at [email protected]