A review of Andrea Dworkin’s work by Bailey Hackett
I shan’t lie to you, the first national lockdown made me feel completely disenchanted with sociology and social science. Having to process convoluted theoretical concepts, the proclamation of universal ideas and the studying of the minutiae seemed fruitless when placed against the backdrop of real-life hardship from the pandemic. Sociology for time immemorial has been impacted by the classical sociological thinkers like Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, who’ve emphasised the importance of conducting value-free research and have long celebrated the neutral, ruthlessly objective standpoint. To include emotions and personal values into your research would be detrimental. Weber even went so far as to discourage students from politically organising.
If conducting analysis on the social world in such a detached, emotionless sense seemed incompatible to me before, it became all the more intensified when going through an exam period during the pandemic. How can one possibly apply such a distanced analytical position to a global pandemic for example—which, in Britain, has been shaped by Tory-induced austerity, poverty and misery and has left people in very real, material forms of suffrage? The idea of engaging in critical thinking without marrying it to political action became all the more ludicrous to me. The sociologist became a nightmare figure; in a starchy black turtleneck, dusted spectacles, rocking in an armchair, speaking in tongues, riddles and jargon.
The extra time afforded to me by the third lockdown allowed me more time to read on my own terms, and ultimately lead me to discover Andrea Dworkin’s work. I first heard of her through writer Shon Faye’s Instagram story, and her radical ideas of the need to decimate toxic manhood hooked me in immediately. I quickly found her book ‘Woman Hating’ (1974) as a free pdf online. The introduction of Woman Hating had punchy prose that smacked me straight out of the slow-growing melancholic attitude that I was developing towards sociology.
“Academics lock books in a tangled web of mindfuck and abstraction. The notion is that there are ideas, then art, then somewhere else, unrelated, life.”
(Andrea Dworkin in ‘Woman Hating’, 1974: 23)
Those words fizzed in my brain; Dworkin had managed to perfectly capture my sense of frustration and distance from these classical writers. What the rest of the book entailed was a searing critique or patriarchy; spanning across fairytale, myth, pornography, female forms of genocide (such as the fanatic witch hunts of medieval England) and the absolute reductionism of the gender binary. Thematically, she discusses the interaction of gender roles as being engaged in a form of symbolic sadomasochism: and highlights the policing, shaming and the historical legacy of the attempts of men to destroy women and femininity. It is critical feminist literature in its most powerful form; un-hijacked by the wave of anti-transgenderism that has sinisterly attempted to align itself with radical feminist movements in contemporary Britain.
Radicality truly brings Dworkin’s critical analysis alive, and Woman Hating stands tall and fearless in its position as an unapologetic challenge to patriarchy. Her work ignited a fire for me that melted the ice-cold emotionless demeanours of classical sociological thinkers. She showed me the true value of infusing emotion, passion, anger and empathy into analysis. It has changed the way I now read sociological texts. Articulating the political intentions and getting at the heart of one’s writing is essential to me now. Andrea Dworkin in ‘Woman Hating’ posits writing, truth-telling and emotion as some of the most powerful tools of revolution.
“The writer can and must do the revolutionary work of using words to communicate, as community. Those of us who love reading and writing believe that being a writer is a sacred trust. It means telling the truth. It means being incorruptible. It means not being afraid, and never lying.”
(Andrea Dworkin in ‘Woman Hating’, 1974: 23)
She inspired me directly, and I have her to thank for guiding me to my personal want to use sociological writing to change the world. Sociology problematizes the world around us; but women like Andrea smash normative thinking to smithereens and present the theoretical tools of transforming it while sirening an alarm call to radical action. In terms of everyday life during the pandemic, she has emphasised the absolute need to speak out at all times for me. The Tories are soulless ghouls, and Keir Starmer has shown that we absolutely cannot depend on formal political opposition—so be that annoying feminist at the dinner table, scream until you’re blue in the face on social media and always fights for the right for you and others to survive.
Rest in power Andrea,
You’ve rocked my world.
– Goldsmiths Student Bailey Hackett on Andrea Dworkin’s work.