I really can’t believe we are one class and a final exam away from ending the semester! It has been great listening and participating in the discussions in class. Although we will not be able to cover everyone in the syllabus as planned, we still made it pretty far.
Unfortunately, this means we will not be covering some very intriguing philosophers and writers. With Reading Response #3 you will be able to contemplate these works (such Sally Haslanger’s “Gender and Race”), but there will be no further lectures. For next week, as mentioned below, we will conclude with Judith Butler and Judith “Jack” Halberstam.
If you wish to write on Haslanger’s text, a piece those goes quite well with Harding (whom we will cover), keep in mind that she is asking, what do we want race and gender to be?
Andrea Dworkin was born on September 26, 1946, in Camden, New Jersey. She died at a rather young age on April 9, 2005, in Washington, DC. She was a writer and radical feminist, famously/notoriously known for her unrelenting and unforgiving rhetoric. She was a provocative figure, with as many followers and admirers as enemies.
She lived a short, but very complicated life. Her journey led her to become the radical activist she was known for.
Dworkin was born in a Jewish family. Her mother had heart troubles, so she was constantly being shuffled among her relatives. Her father worked for the Post Office and as a school guidance counselor. Her father also considered himself a Socialist who taught his daughter to be nonconformist at an early age.
From early on, she understood such concepts as the importance of a separate church and state, as well as the predominance of religion (Christianity) in various sectors of mainstream American society. As a young student, she refused to sing the Christmas carol “Silent Night” in school–she was Jewish, and did not see how this could be mandatory–and was consequently forced out of the school choir. As described in the readings for this class, at the age of 11 she could argue with her teachers regarding the question if one is a Jew first, before being an American or a human being/citizen of the world, or not.
Growing up in a Jewish family, it was as if the Holocaust was constantly shadowing everything and everyone. Regardless, Dworkin’s family was supportive and comfortable. At the age of nine, Dworkin was molested by an unknown man in a movie theater which led the family to move from the city to the suburbs.
At around the age of 11, Dworkin began writing poetry and fiction. She was an avid reader and writer, with much support from her family. She was particularly influenced by Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Henry Miller, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Che Guevara, and the Beat poets, especially Allen Ginsberg.
After high school, Dworkin attended Bennington College in New York. Her hope was to become a Greenwich Village artist. She continued to have strong political beliefs, participating in such things as actions against the Vietnam War. While protesting the Vietnam War, she was arrested and sent to a New York Women’s House of Detention. While in this detention center, she is subjected to an aggressive and humiliating body cavity search that she claimed scarred her not only physically, but emotionally. After her release, she sets forth to tell the media about her abuse. The New York Times and other major publications pick up her story. Her publicity leads to a government crackdown and eventual closing of this detention center.
Due to her public statements, Dworkin begins to receive strong, negative reactions from the public—including her parents. They more-or-less disowned her.
Dworkin then moved to Greece. During her time there, there is a moment that she turns to prostitution to survive, as she does not have much money. After a year, she returns to New York and completes her BA in 1968.
After college, Dworkin moved overseas again because of an interest in the Dutch anarchist movement at the time, the Provo movement. After meeting various people in the movement, she married a Dutch radical. Her husband began abusing her, sometimes burning her with cigarettes and hitting her knees with hard objects. She even said he would beat her head to the ground until she passed out. She sought help, but he stalked her and she could not get away. She runs but has no money. She ran away and hid from her husband until a female friend, Ricki Abrams, helped her leave the country. Abrams would become a lifelong friend, who also introduced feminist writings to Dworkin.
Dworkin returned to the United States and divorced her husband. At 27, Dworkin publishes Woman Hating, which included her critique of pornography. She also wrote about violence against women by examining fairy tales and myths. Woman Hating was met with praise as well as denouncement. Many thought her stance on pornography as a tool of violence against women was refreshing, while others labeled her as a man-hater.
Dworkin’s past as a battered wife and prostitute led her to become a major opponent in the fight for equal rights for women, and she strongly advocated against pornography and prostitution. Her books, Woman Hating, and Pornography: Men Possessing Women, continues to bring about public awareness on the issues around pornography.
As a very radical feminist activist, many of Dworkin’s work did not get published in the United States. Many were published in the U.K..
Dworkin continued writing until she was to ill to continue to do so. She had surgery to help her weakening knees, but suffered a series of falls post-surgery. She blamed her past abuse and rape for her worsening condition. She died in her sleep on April 9, 2005, at the age of 58.
John Stoltenberg, her husband, survives her. Also a feminist, they met during a poetry reading in New York. Both walked out during a misogynist reading, meeting outside. Her was her life partner of 30 years. Both were homosexual, married for nine years, and claimed to love one another although they admit not having a sexual relationship. Speaking on their relationship, which they in fact kept secret for some time due to the controversy they understood would arise, Stoltenberg said, “So I state only the simplest facts publicly: yes, Andrea and I live together and love each other and we are each other’s life partner, and yes we are both out.”
Before her death, as reported by The Guardian, a newspaper interviewer asked her how she would like to be remembered. She responds: “In a museum, when male supremacy is dead. I’d like my work to be an anthropological artifact from an extinct, primitive society.”
In “Israel: Whose Country is it Anyway?”, written in 1990, Dworkin approaches a discussion around cultural memory, Zionism, and women.
In between her visit to Israel, which she describes in her essay, and the completion of Scapegoat, she first publishes this article in Ms. Magazine. She writes about her Zionist upbringing, her growing up in a Jewish community, of being educated in a Hebrew school. She then continues to describe her experiences after the Feminist Conference in Israel. This conference was not a inclusive one, but was formed around middle-class, Westernized feminists. She meets more radical women, and Dworkin learns of the actions of the Israel Defense Forces in the disputed territories of Palestine, about extreme domestic abuse, and discrimination in the law and work sphere.
In diving into all these issues and events, she discusses cultural memory. Cultural memory is not like factual history. It is not directly related to facts and information, but more to the collective emotional reaction that occurs. It is connected to a the collective “we.” Cultural memory is often used to support nationalistic ideas, such as the 9/11 here in the US. Cultural memory is not necessarily factual, and is more closely linked to the emotional and trauma. It takes precedence over history, and this is usually perpetuated by the media. In this sense, it is constructed collectively and experienced as such.
She brings in cultural memory when she writes about her Jewish upbringing, of being Jewish during her childhood. She writes of the Holocaust and the dead constantly being over her family and her Jewish community. It was a daily part of her life. After WWII, the Jewish community resurrected Hebrew and began working for a Jewish state, Israel. The collective, cultural memory was part of the reason for discussing this need to create a place for Jews.
Dworkin grew up believing that Israel was for the Jewish people. She was told there was nothing there before, that it had been empty. It would take her decades to realize that this was not a barren, empty land before Israel was born. She was blind to the conflicts with Palestinians, admitting she did not even know any Arabs until later in life.
She was taught about the kibbutz, egalitarianism, of women and men being equal, but finds out this is not the case after visiting Israel. She finds that women have few rights (only the husband can divorce his wife, not vice-versa), that there is no separation of church and state, and that pornography was openly available and very explicit. She is disgusted by pornography that she sees where emaciated Israeli women are posed as if they are victims of the Holocaust themselves.
This goes against everything she learns growing up. Dworkin grows up in a fairly progressive Jewish family, all of whom supported Israel, and she is able to eloquently discuss her upbringing and naivete before her later acknowledgements. She was taught to not be racist, of the issue of racism, in the US. However, issues of race between Jewish and Palestinian people was not an unbiased topic. She, in fact, did not realize the ramifications of this until seeing the situation herself.
Aside from her analysis of her experience in Israel, just by reading Dworkin you can feel her provocativeness and her radical platform. Since a child, she was a very well-spoken rebel. Here is an excerpt from the text from class:
In front of the whole class, he told us that in life we had the obligation to be first a Jew, second an American, third a human being, a citizen of the world. I was outraged. I said it was the opposite. I said everyone was first a human being, a citizen of the world–otherwise there would never be peace, never an end to nationalist conflicts and racial persecutions. Maybe I was 11. He said that Jews had been killed throughout history precisely because they thought the way I did, because they put being Jews last; because they didn’t understand that one was always first a Jew–in history, in the eyes of the world, in the eyes of God. I said it was the opposite: only when everyone was human first would Jews be safe. He said Jews like me had had the blood of other Jews on their hands throughout history; that had there been an Israel, Jews would not have been slaughtered throughout Europe; that the Jewish homeland was the only hope for Jewish freedom. I said that was why one had an obligation to be an American second, after being a human being, a citizen of the world: because only in a democracy without a state religion could religious minorities have rights or be safe or not be persecuted or discriminated against. I said that if there was a Jewish state, anyone who wasn’t Jewish would be second-class by definition. I said we didn’t have a right to do to other people what had been done to us. More than anyone, we knew the bitterness of religious persecution, the stigma that went with being a minority. We should be able to see in advance the inevitable consequences of having a state that put us first; because then others were second and third and fourth. A theocratic state, I said, could never be a fair state–and didn’t Jews need a fair state? If Jews had had a fair state wouldn’t Jews have been safe from slaughter? Israel could be a beginning: a fair state. But then it couldn’t be a Jewish state. The blood of Jews, he said, would be on my hands. He walked out. I don’t think he ever spoke to me again.
From Dworkin, we finish this class discussing Sandra Harding.
Sandra Harding was born in 1935 and is currently a professor at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Harding earned her PhD from NYU in 1973. She is an American philosopher of feminist and postcolonial theory, epistemology, research methodology and philosophy of science. She has contributed to standpoint theory and to the multicultural study of science.
She has been Director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women from 1996 to 2000. Harding was also co-editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society for five years. Including teaching as UCLA, she previously taught at the University of Delaware, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Amsterdam, the University of Costa Rica, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich.
During what is known now as the “Science Wars”, she was part of a debate regarding the value-neutrality of the sciences. She has been highly criticized by the science community for doing so. Harding is also know for referring to Newton’s Principia Mathematica as a “rape manual” in her The Science Question in Feminism, something that she later regretted.
Harding is considered one of the founders of the fields of feminist epistemology and philosophy of science. Her ways of developing standpoint theory and stronger standards for objectivity (“strong objectivity”) have been highly influential.
So, what is standpoint theory? In class, it was defined as the claims to represent the world from a particular socially situated perspective that can lay claim to epistemic privilege or authority. It can do so either by the scope of its privilege, the aspect of social location that generates superior knowledge, the ground of its privilege, the type of systemic superiority it claims. In other words, standpoint theory claims knowledge in this manner: from my standpoint, this is what I understand and this is how I understand it. What arises then are “situated knowers,” versus such titles as experts.
In her text “Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology”, Harding is writing for an intended audience of scientists. She uses highly academic language and a very scientific approach, something we have yet to see in the survey of texts in this class. It is easy to understand that the presentation of her arguments are suppose to be directed towards the scientific community. She wants science to recognize its inherent bias and narrow viewpoint, and advocates for standpoint research.
Some important words to know to understand Harding is epistemology. This is the study of knowledge and justified belief. It comes from the Greek epistēmē meaning knowledge, from epistanai to understand, know, from epi- + histanai to cause to stand. It is the place from where knowledge comes from.
Interestingly, science (so often heralded as an ultimate truth) comes from the Latin scientia, meaning knowledge, having knowledge. The word itself has had various meaning in history, but it is considered a state of knowing, of systematized knowledge, as a knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method (according to Merriam-Webster).
Next Week: The readings for next week include Judith Butler‘s, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution,” from Performing Feminisms (1990) and Judith “Jack” Halberstam‘s “An Introduction to Female Masculinity from Female Masculinity – The Bathroom Problem” (1998).
An interesting essay related to queer theory and transgender studies is Cherrie Moraga’s “Keeping Queer Queer” from A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness. This essay can be found by clicking here: https://bccfeministphilosophy.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/22keeping-queer-queer22-moraga.pdf Unfortunately, the footnotes are not attached to this copy. In this sense this electronic copy is incomplete, but please refer to it to consider the arguments that Moraga is making.
Please keep in mind that Reading Response #3 is due. All Reading Responses turned in after this date will be accepted, but they will be considered late and graded as such.
See you next class!