Reading Andrea Dworkin to Write Feminist IR?

18 April 2010, 0356 EDT

“I wasn’t raped until I was almost ten which is pretty good it seems when I ask around because many have been touched but are afraid to say …. I couldn’t tell how many hands he had and people from earth only had two … You get asked if anything happened and you say well yes he put his hand here and he rubbed me …and he scared me …you say the almost-ten-year-old version of f*ck you something happened alright the f*ck he put his hands in my legs and rubbed me all over …and they say, just so long as nothing happened” (Andrea Dworkin, Mercy, p.11)

My first feminist mentors were in the legal profession, particularly Catherine MacKinnon, and my first exposures to feminisms were in debate rounds and law schools rather than political science or International Relations departments. My first feminist books were (therefore?) Andrea Dworkin, before Ann Tickner or Spike Peterson or Jindy Pettman. Perhaps that’s why I return to Andrea’s work whenever I start writing a major project, despite the fact that it does not translate to and often is not directly cited in my work.

But I think there also might be more to it.

While I remain, always, committed to feminist politics and combatting the other oppressions that gendered lenses help me to see, there’s a rawness, a plainness, a terror in Andrea’s work that’s not in mine explicitly, but which is a lot of why I am committed to feminism and feminist politics.

I am a feminist because I will never be free when rape culture exists. I don’t even know what free means, or if I will ever be free, but I know I will never be free if rape culture exists. I do not know what it would look like or how it might be achieved. Still, I want to inspire thinking about it through my work, and use my work to agitate for the cause.

I also think, though, that (my exposure to) political science and International Relations does not have the radicalism of words, feelings, or ideas to express that visceral need as well as work in women’s studies, particularly Andrea’s, does. I don’t think that’s trivial, in fact, I think it says something about the narrowness and (sterile) gendered nature of the discourses in political science and IR. I think the importance of recognizing that is why I frequently return to Andrea’s work as fuel for mine.

Catherine MacKinnon once said that Andrea’s work about gender shows that it is impossible to conceptualize gender by just thinking about different things the same way, instead, that Andrea shows it is necessary to think differently. Five years after Andrea died, that still resonates to me. As do some of her words … “the blood of women is implicit; make it explicit,” “it is widely understood, among the raped, who do not exist, except in my mind, because they are not proven do exist, and it is not proven to happen …”

You might see those words and ask, sure, there’s feminism, but what does that have to do with feminist IR? But Andrea’s work helps me think about that stuff as well. For example, it won’t make the book, explicitly, but Andrea’s thinking about flags (from a martial arts training session) is a crucial part of feminist “outside-the-box” thinking about nationalism, symbolism, gender, and honor:

“I never thought I would bow down in front of any f*cking flag, but I do, in perfect silence and symmetry insofar as my awkward self can manage it; my mind’s like a muscle that pulls every time; I feel it jerk and I feel the dislocation and pain and I keep moving, until I am on my knees in front of the f*cking thing. Its interesting to think of the difference between a flag and a dick, because this is not a new position; with a dick how you get there doesn’t count whereas in the dojo all that matters is the elegance, the grace, the movement the strength of the muscles that carry you down; an act of reverence will eventually, says Sensei, teach you self-respect, which isn’t the issue with the dick, as I remember” (Mercy, p.308)

I’ll ultimately write something, not this, about gender symbolism, nation, nationalism, and women’s subjugation. But this, and the other work from the countless books, articles, and excerpts Andrea Dworkin wrote, will always be a crucial part of my thinking about gender and gender subordination, and a part of my thinking for which IR does not have a language, a place, or a home.