Every woman who has had experience with sexual violence of any kind has not just pain, and not just hurt, but has knowledge. Knowledge of male supremacy. Knowledge of what it is. Knowledge of what it feels like. And can begin to think strategically about how to stop it. We are living under a reign of terror. Now what I want to say is that I want us to stop accepting that that’s normal. And the only way that we can stop accepting that that’s normal is if we refuse to have amnesia everyday of our lives. –Andrea Dworkin From “Terror, Torture, and Resistance”, keynote speech at Canadian Mental Health Association, Fall 1991
The thing about Andrea is that she took women seriously
Elliott Femynye batTzedek
The thing about Andrea is that she took women seriously, and she took what happened to women seriously. To take what happens to women seriously means believing women, but also so much more. To truly take women seriously is to understand not just that things – often horrible, violent, soul-rending things – happen to us but that we make meaning from these events, that no matter how broken violent acts against us may leave us, we learn from them truth about the world and a way to analyze gender, race, class, disability, and all other power structures.
Because Andrea took women seriously, I found in her words someone who believed that what happened to me did actually happen, in all of its particularity, and I found someone who insisted – with tremendous power – that the particular sadistic and predacious acts that had been done to me left me with more than just a vast wilderness of pain and despair. What I and so many others had lost was nearly everything down to bedrock, but what we had gained was knowledge, knowledge that obligated us to act to help ourselves and other women. Andrea, at least in her public persona, believed women but was no one’s therapist or consoler. Her mission was not to make us feel better, but to make us feel the urgency of working together to use what we’ve learned to organize and stop, or at least interrupt, men’s violence against women. No wonder that so many women who knew what she said to be true nonetheless turned away from her, or attacked her. Women had come to expect to hear Feminists say, “I’m so sorry you were hurt, but we know a lot about this kind of hurt, and here’s a phone number of someone who will be able to help you.” What Andrea asked instead is that they consider how to make the violence stop completely by thinking hard about their lives and, in Audre Lorde’s words, making plans for “how they will use what they know in the service of what they say they believe.” (A challenge Audre constantly threw to her audiences about racism. Funny how women didn’t turn on Audre.)
Andrea’s public voice, taking women seriously and insisting that we act on what we know, was such essential truth that it became part of my essential understanding of the world, and I stopped thinking of these ideas as Andrea’s and thought of them only as the way the world is. I learned from many women the audacity to write about men’s abuse of women and children, and to write about it in a way that is honest and as disturbing as necessary and not remotely titillating; the insistence that this abuse was a topographic map of gender in the real world, and that we had to learn to read that map to find our way out of the wilderness – this was, and is, pure Andrea. Pure Andrea, in the way that purity can be so clear and self-evident and logical that the only counter-strategy is willful denial– to deny, denigrate, defile, defame, vilify, libel, taint, slur, slander, asperse, dishonor, decry, deface, distort, or pervert in any twisted way possible Andrea’s words, Andrea’s meaning, and Andrea herself.
Andrea’s words, Andrea’s meaning, Andrea herself. Andrea’s odd role in our wider culture, as both an obscene caricature of the ever-looming, all-powerful, castrating, porn-destroying, sexual-freedom loathing mother/wife/Lilith/succubus icon, and as a woman desaparecida, completely and utterly. Vacillating between the implications of these extremes, daring to hope that she did change everything – because she did, by inventing the concepts and vocabulary that allowed real conversation to begin about men’s right to do violence against women – and bitterly, exhaustedly fearing that she changed nothing – three doors down from the site of her memorial in New York City, a theater was showing “Deep Throat” – what am I, what are any of us, to do with Andrea’s words and Andrea’s meaning but not Andrea herself?
Because the thing about Andrea is that she took women seriously, and so gave women the tools to take our selves seriously, and the challenge to take ourselves seriously. And the burden of taking ourselves seriously. Most writers, most eulogists or other rhetoricians, would now close by asking, “Do we dare rise to this challenge and burden?” But Andrea, I think, demands that we ask ourselves, “Do we dare not?”