Wednesday, April 13, 2005

BIG BROTHER, BIG DADDY, AND BIG MOMMY. I guess most of you by now have seen arch-conservative David Frum's obit for Andrea Dworkin:
Politically she belonged to the far, far, far left, but she had little use for an antiwar movement that made excuses for Saddam Hussein or Islamic extremism. And in one respect at least, she shared a deep and true perception with the political and cultural right: She understood that the sexual revolution had inflicted serious harm on the interests of women and children – and (ultimately) of men as well. She understood that all-pervasive pornography is not a harmless amusement, but a powerful teaching device that changed the way men thought about women. She rejected the idea that sex is just another commodity to be exchanged in a marketplace, that strippers and prostitutes should be thought of as just another form of service worker: She recognized and dared to name the reality of brutality and exploitation where many liberals insist on perceiving personal liberation.
David Frum misperceives a lot of things, and Dworkin is better known (certainly in my case!) by reductive popular commentary than by her actual work -- for a corrective of her alleged straight-sex-is-rape trope, see here, and see also this gentle and informed abstention to the Dworkin version of feminism -- but his moment of solidarity with Dworkin is tellingly useful to his purposes.

It was Dworkin's idea that our society turns sex into a commodity -- which notion should be unobjectionable to anyone possessing a TV -- and that as our society is male-dominated, women will tend to be the object rather than the subject of the transaction.

This analysis is of course Marxist to the core, whereas Frum is a gleeful capitalist. But Frum is a Republican functionary -- though one now plying his trade at National Review rather than as a Bush speechwriter, thanks to a spectacular PR fuck-up -- and he knows that religion is a big part of the Republican future. And he surely also knows that sexual shame is a big part of the power of religion the Republican Party relies upon for votes. As Paris was worth a Mass to Henry IV, so for Frum the GOP cause is worth a kind word for some feminist.

He's not alone in grasping hands across the funky chasm. Ross Douthat love-taps an alleged "centrist" who " dislikes," as he does, "few things more than the smug mix of cultural permissiveness and see-no-evil economic centrism that defines upper-middle-class, Emerging-Democratic-Majority liberalism." Douthat's hero, like Dworkin (but in a much, much lower key), blames capitalism (personalized here by the gap and Tommy Hilfiger) for all that offensive "ass-cleavage" and "visible midriffs" out there, and invites the Democratic Party to abandon its "injudicious defense of Hollywood violence, mainstream pornography, and bad art," and stand strong against ass-cleavage and visible midriffs for the good of... well, what he does not say; values, one imagines.

As mentioned before, it is no shock that, in our berserk marketplace, sexual titillation is used to sell products. So are patriotism, love of family, fear of abandonment, and as many other natural emotional equities as Madison Avenue can identify. That in itself does not make these things wretched -- not to me, nor, I am willing to bet, to Frum and Douthat. But you will wait a very long time before either of those gentlemen complain so strenuously about any other form of commodification on God's green earth other than that of sex. Because no Bible-beater is going to fill a church, or sway an electoral constituency, by denouncing Clydesdales who kneel before the fallen Twin Towers in the service of beer sales, but a million Elmer Gantrys have made a comfortable living by making their flocks feel bad that their pussies juiced or cocks engorged at the sight of a pair of underdressed models on their Magnavox.

Frum says that, when he met her, Dworkin was "grimly entertained by the opportunism of Bill Clinton’s feminist supporters." If there is a Hereafter, and she can see his column, how much more grim her entertainent must be now!

UPDATE. Marriage scold Maggie Gallagher has also penned a loving farewell to Dworkin. It has to be read to be believed, but the money shot, so to speak, is Gallagher's bizarre read of Dworkin's relationship with John Stoltenberg:
Andrea lived with a man whom she introduced as John. "Every day I wake up and realize that tomorrow John may not be there," she told me.

She was describing a kind of unmarital bond, endorsing the special kind of relationship produced when two people know they can leave and yet each morning still choose to be together. Once again, Andrea put her finger on my truth. For as she spoke, it occurred to me that everything I had written about (as everything I've done since) was a deliberate and desperate attempt not to live in her kind of world. I longed to find marriage ties as binding as the ties between mother and child...
When "two people know they can leave and yet each morning still choose to be together," that's love. "Ties as binding as the ties between mother and child," when applied to two adults, is something verrrrry different.

That Gallagher prefers the latter sort of relationship is no shock if you've read her before. And God go with her; just keep your bondage/infantilization trip safe, sane, and consensual, Maggie! What pisses me off is that she wants this sort of relationship not just for herself and whatever male she might ensnare in her own binding ties, but for you, me, and everybody (excepting homosexuals of course). And she just doesn't care whether we swing that way or not.

No means no, Maggie.

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