Radical feminism has for decades contained a tension between separatism—the idea that women can and should organize separately from men—and men’s involvement in the political process. As Susan Hawthorne writes in her 2019 book In Defense of Separatism:
When a political group wants to strategise so that its members can arrive at agreed-on political tactics and ideas, they call for, and create, separate spaces. These might be in coffee shops, in community centres, in one another’s homes or in semi-public spaces such as workers clubs, even cinemas. When the proletariat was rebelling, they did not ask the capitalists and aristocracy to join them (even if a few did); when the civil rights movement started it was not thanks to the ideas and politics of white people (even though some whites joined to support the cause); when the women’s liberation movement sprang into life, it was women joining together to fight against their oppression.
The difference is that women are supposed to love men.
If radical feminism centers women, what is the role of men and boys in the struggle? How should radical feminists relate to men who hope to be allies?
In this piece, Jocelyn Crawley reflects on Andrea Dworkin’s writing around rape and her demand that men “step up and sort this out.” Jocelyn highlights her disagreements and agreements with Dworkin’s speech. Not all will agree with her analysis, but it is a critical conversation.
Deep Green Resistance is a radical feminist organization, and yet is made up of both men and women from all over the world. We uphold the importance of women’s separate spaces, and our organization works to struggle internally and externally against patriarchy. We welcome debate and engagement around these critical topics
Is Dworkin’s “I Want A Twenty-Four Truce During Which There Is No Rape” Radical Or Reactionary?
by Jocelyn Crawley
“I Want A Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape” is one of my favorite texts from Andrea Dworkin. However, I find this speech problematic in several ways. The primary issue is that Andrea Dworkin appears to be appealing to the conscience and consciousness of men in this speech. While the Radical Feminism that functions as the ideology and praxis behind Dworkin’s work can be defined diversely, I have never known it to place primacy on men in a manner suggesting that they possess the potential and desire to condemn patriarchy and cultivate equitable relationships with women. Rather, the primary attitudes and actions I have seen in the Radical Feminist Movement reflect awareness that the oppressor (men) never concede power and must be abandoned entirely or dynamically forced to cease reifying the Master/slave, subject/object system of relations.
Without a doubt, Dworkin is acutely aware of the role that men play in actively (and oftentimes unabashedly) oppressing women.
This fact becomes evident at many points in the text, especially when Dworkin’s consciousness of male supremacy resurfaces when she tells us what it means: “It means you can rape. It means you can hit. It means you can hurt. It means you can buy and sell women”. In addition to demonstrating consciousness of how patriarchy operates, Dworkin’s speech indicates her awareness that the oppressor seldom makes substantive, significant shifts away from his perverse power. This reality becomes plain when Dworkin states that “Now, the men’s movement suggests that men don’t want the kind of power I have just described. I’ve actually heard explicit whole sentences to that effect. And yet, everything is a reason not to do something about changing the fact that you do have that power”.
Despite this understanding of sex-based oppression dynamics and the reality that men rarely give up patriarchal power, Dworkin’s tone in this piece is profoundly inclusive and collaborative. Specifically, she appears to be appealing to work towards ending patriarchy by confronting other men who, potentially, are participating in it. At the same time, she appears to be accepting the powerlessness imposed upon her as a woman by the patriarchy and using the reality of her minimal female agency to push men into action. For example, she challenges men thus: “Tell the pornographers. Tell the pimps. Tell the warmakers. Tell the rape apologists and the rape celebrationists and the pro-rape ideologues…Tell Larry Flynt. Tell Hugh Hefner. There’s no point in telling me. I’m only a woman. There’s nothing I can do about it”.
None of this “tell another man” rhetoric feels unequivocally right or radical to me, which makes this speech a substantive divergence from the way I typically interpret Dworkin’s work.
Generally, the Radical Feminist Ideology includes an unequivocal acknowledgment that men are the root of the problem (patriarchy) coupled with an awareness that women will play an integral role in speaking to power. The question whether men should be part of the Movement at all or to what extent has been open-ended and answered differently by various Radical Feminists. Yet in this piece, Dworkin seems to suggest that men have to be the solution to the problem because women can’t do it. Not only is this analysis wrong (men don’t have to participate in radical work for results to be attained and many women have engaged in numerous anarchic activities that have substantively challenged patriarchy), it’s somewhat enervating to witness a radical woman concede that more power be transferred from women to men (even if the acquisition of this power serves the purpose of condemning or quelling patriarchy.)
Another thought that has been surfacing in my psyche regarding this piece is that it seems to instill the type of false hope that Derrick Jensen has spoken about in his critique of the world’s normative regimes. At one point, Jensen asked a group of individuals who were listening to one of his talks to define the phrase ‘false hope.’ They said the phrase meant ‘a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.’ In the context of Dworkin’s speech, I think the false hope surfaces as she comes to think that men will play an integral, inalienable role in challenging sexism. In considering the history of the Women’s Rights Movement, I am thinking of women demanding that men give them the right to vote and recalling the Civil Rights Era during which women built rape crisis and domestic violence shelters. While there are certainly examples of small groups of men operating against the patriarchy in profoundly radical ways, this is very rare. In many cases, male absence from Radical Feminist work results from the belief that resistance movements should be led by individuals who are members of the group being oppressed.
In other words, women are most familiar with the experience of being oppressed by men.
The experiential knowledge they acquire through the degradation that transpires with sexual harassment, street harassment, rape, and other forms of male violence is why they-not men-should be leaders in the fight against patriarchy. This is an informed construance and prevents men from reifying two patriarchal modalities. First, it prevents men from attempting to operate as male saviors for women who are thought to lack the physical strength, emotional intelligence, or intellectual aptitude necessary to accomplish significant feats on their own. Secondly, it precludes men from subordinating women by having them play secondary or marginal roles in the Movement Against Patriarchy.
While many conscious men avoid playing primary roles in the Radical Feminist Movement because they view doing so as a potential reification of patriarchal norms, I would venture to say that the majority of men are absent from the Women’s Movement because 1. they view Women’s Rights as secondary to “more important issues like capitalism or white supremacy” or 2. they enjoy male privilege and have no long-standing interest in dismantling the system that makes this privilege possible. I think Dworkin knew all of this, and this is why her appeal to the conscience and consciousness of men in a manner suggesting that they take the lead in the war against women seems illogical and perhaps performative.
In terms of performativity, I am thinking that the form and content of this speech may have been designed to elicit the power of pathos for the purpose of generating an emotive response from men which translated into radical action despite the speaker’s knowledge of the fact that the desired outcome necessitated conformance to prototypical scripts for female speech (which included feigned/learned helplessness while excluding the radical work of unequivocally speaking to power). In recognizing Dworkin’s extensive knowledge of Radical Feminism and commitment to the Movement, I also think that her appeal carried with it a sincere weight. Specifically, I think she may have understood that men might do little to advance the Movement while simultaneously recognizing the need to confront them with their own sexism and thereby cause them to engage in an introspective process marked by thorough self-examination.
In considering Andrea Dworkin’s rhetorical strategy of turning to men as leaders against patriarchy while also suggesting that women lack the sociocultural capital necessary to effectively fight male oppressors, I find my mind wandering to a potentially troublesome question.
Can Radical Feminism actually work when even the most erudite, devout proponents of it periodically abandon its tenets in a manner that reifies assimilationist (anti-anarchic) values?
My questions have engendered some answers which, while not entirely cohesive yet, have generated clarity. Specifically, I do think that Radical Feminism can work despite the ideological vacillations and periodic pandering to men that even the most radical women engage in. Self-defense trainings, the emergence of natural birth control methods, radical underground operations, and other material manifestations make the presence and power of Radical Feminism known despite our simultaneous awareness that we are living in a profoundly patriarchal world. Mary Daly’s term “metapatriarchy” is particularly pertinent as we come to recognize our ability to transcend, move beyond, or develop real, subjective existence within psychic and material spaces that are still ruled by sexist men.
Ultimately, the sex of the people doing the work against androcentrism is important for many reasons, one of which is that it may provide us with empirical evidence regarding the degree to which men and women (as distinct sexes) are willing to conform to or depart from the patriarchy. Yet irrespective of which sex does the work and how much, the work needs to be done for the purpose of creating a new world predicated on freedom from sexual violence.
As Dworkin cogently states in the final paragraph of her essay, “If you have a conception of freedom that includes the existence of rape, you are wrong”. She is right.
Jocelyn Crawley is a radical feminist who resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her intense antagonism towards all forms of social injustice-including white supremacy-grows with each passing day. Her primary goal for 2020 is to connect with other radicals for the purpose of building community and organizing against oppression.