Dworkin It

It’s hard to believe we’re now so far from the “post-feminist” moment of the 1990s and early 2000s. As the provocations of third-wave feminism got absorbed into consumer culture as sex-positive hedonism and girl-power marketing, the very idea of being feminist began to seem passé and unpalatable to many Americans — a thing belonging to an old world of angry harridans, thankfully long since behind us. Many young women of my generation would say, “I believe in equality for women, but I’m not a feminist” — in much the same way that Democrats eschewed the dreaded epithet of “liberal” for much of the 1980s and 1990s. By the mid-2000s, the best we could hope for is a glib and facile rallying cry to “lean in,” for the sake of Ivy-educated white women angling for the C-suite, angry that Brad’s beach house is bigger than theirs. Chin up, girls. You got this!

We find ourselves today in a palpably different moment. Surely the ascension of Trump, the ne plus ultra of unearned white male privilege and avatar of misogyny unbound, has something to do with it. There was the historic defeat of Hillary Clinton, the vehicle of second-wave aspirations, not once but twice, at the hands of two men (Obama and Trump) who lacked her long list of accomplishments. And when lifetimes of anger, frustration, and trauma exploded uncontrollably in the #MeToo movement, the ordinary interlocutors of the mainstream media were caught flat-footed. (“What do we do with this? Why are these ladies so upset? When will they bring back Matlock?”) It was suddenly, surprisingly not a faux pas to be a woman and angry.

It’s perhaps not surprising that some misunderstood and misinterpreted figures in the history of feminism have gotten considered reconsiderations of late. There was Susan Faludi’s moving 2013 remembrance of Shulamith Firestone in the New Yorker; renewed attention to Warhol assassin and ToM favorite Valerie Solanas; and most recently a wonderful essay on Andrea Dworkin in Boston Review. All three women wore the scars of a routinely brutal patriarchy publicly and without apology. Each, in their way, was sidelined as a caricature of a certain angry, ugly feminism that was always great sport to dismiss — perhaps no one more than Dworkin. If she were a man, her rage would be seen as punk rock; but of course that was not how things went. She cuts a very different figure from the chipper civic humanism of Leslie Knope, whose pop cultural meaning Tim Shenk pulls apart in Dissent.

A little more Dworkin, a little less Knope? Yes, please.

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