Posts tagged Robin Morgan

Andrea Dworkin media blackout lifts, a little

Elayne Riggs (2005-04-11), Sofie at Volsunga (2005-04-11) and Clancy at CultureCat (2005-04-11) were right to be baffled, and hacked off, at the apparent mainstream media blackout of, or at least indifference to, Andrea Dworkin’s death.

Fortunately it does seem to be lifting, a bit, and Andrea is getting at least a little of the recognition that she deserves. The news went out over the Associated Press newswire about two hours ago, and reached Reuters about an hour ago.

Of course, the U.S. mainstream media is hardly all that there is in the world. The Guardian’s coverage this morning will be followed up in tomorrow’s paper with a full obituary and commentary by Katharine Viner.

On the air, Pacifica Radio carried a story on tonight’s broadcast around 9:30pm. Gail Dines, a feminist scholar who knew Andrea for 20 years, talked about her trailblazing work on pornography and her legacy. (Dines has encouraged anyone who would like more information to contact her.) I am not sure if a recording of the radio segment is available–I’ll post a link here if I can find it.

Update 2005-04-12: a recording of yesterday’s KPFA Evening News segment is available on the KPFA website. The story, with Gail Dines’ commentary, and words from John Stoltenberg and Robin Morgan, begins at 27 minutes 25 seconds into the broadcast.

Meanwhile, more memorials have gone up at:

Update 2005-04-11 10:19pm: Radical feminist Nikki Craft, who has managed the wonderful Andrea Dworkin Web Site for years, has created an online Andrea Dworkin Memorial.

Fathers for Lies: selective quotation and distortion of Catharine MacKinnon’s position

One of the easiest things to do in this life is to be an anti-feminist blowhard. It’s easy because you don’t have to know anything at all to do it: when it comes time for some dude to spout off about Women’s Lib, he can count on being taken seriously without having spent 5 minutes on even a casual attempt to find out what his target’s views actually are, whether he has represented them rightly or wrongly, whether he is saying something true or false, or whether he is musing about something that has already been mooted and already answered definitively many, many times before. You don’t have to know anything about the history or theory of the feminist movement (a lot of which is, mind you, less than 40 years old and widely in print); you don’t need to know anything about what particular feminists did or didn’t say; you don’t even have to know anything in particular about current affairs. As long as you are spouting off about feminism or some particular feminist, no-one in the mainstream media or culture is likely to bother checking up on a damn thing you say.

Given the complete lack of any kind of intellectual accountability, or felt need to stop for a moment and read up on what you’re talking about, that big-mouthed men have enjoyed when it comes to feminism, it shouldn’t be surprising that a broad spectrum of ill-informed lectures, factless tirades, half-truths, distortions, and outright lies spring up and spread from year to year. At the furthest, most degenerate end of the spectrum, you can find a particularly loathsome specimen: the anti-feminist horror file quote list that are circulated among Fathers’ Rights bully-boys and anti-abortion websites. As a case in point, I offer Fathers for Life’s compilation of quotes, apparently collected by Bill Wood (with interspersed commentary by an unnamed author) claiming to show that feminism has roots in communism.

Now, as far as the conclusion goes, it seems to me that this is a bit like marshalling all your forces–complete with cavalry, banners, and a booming great military band–into a massive charge to take a cowpatch that was never contested. Anyone who has spent five minutes reading a survey history of second-wave feminism–like Feminist Revolution or In Our Time–or some of the actual works, such as The Dialectic of Sex or Toward a Feminist Theory of the Statealready knows that many of the pioneering second-wave feminists came out of the radical wing of the New Left, and many of them were socialists, Marxists, or anarchists of various stripes. They are not particularly coy about the fact, and so what, anyway? Anyone who has taken the time to look up these basic facts before spouting off also knows that a lot of the New Left responded with hostility and contempt towards the emerging Women’s Liberation movement; they know that it eventually led to an acrimonious split and the abandonment or qualification of many classical Marxist doctrines as women came to shape an analysis grounded in their own experience of oppression and liberation. If you think that this is going to come as some kind of shock to people, then you are presuming a great deal of willing ignorance on the part of your audience about feminism. Depending on the audience, that may be a pretty safe assumption, but where it is, it’s pretty clear that the fault lies with the audience, not with the feminists.

No, the issue here is not that the conclusion of the horror file compilation is false (it may be false, if they mean to portray feminists as classical Marxists; it is true if they only make the more limited claim that feminist theory is deeply influenced by Marxism). It’s that the reasons given for this conclusion are deceptive. Nestled in between lengthy quotations from several anti-feminist polemics (among others, Slouching Towards Gomorrah and Professing Feminism), there are citations from a number of feminist authors and activists purporting to demonstrate connections between Marxism and feminism. The problem is that, even though the conclusion is true, the quotations used to bolster it are being used deceptively. They do not mean what Fathers for Life claims they mean. In some cases, they express a view that is the opposite of the one the author holds. In fact, it includes a quote which may be completely fabricated for all I can tell–more on that below. And these aren’t innocent mistakes, either. Fathers for Life has made it clear that they do not care whether the evidence they’re using to bolster their case is accurate or completely spurious. I know because I wrote them about it:

To: FathersForLife.org website contact form
From: Charles Johnson feedback@radgeek.com
Date: 25 February 2005

I was a bit puzzled to see some of the following quotes at http://www.fathersforlife.org/feminism/quotes1.htm#Femicommies, apparently intended to demonstrate that feminism is derived from Marxism:

Marxism and Feminism are one, and that one is Marxism — Heidi Hartmann and Amy Bridges, The unhappy marriage of Marxism and Feminism

Sexuality is to feminism what work is to Marxism…

— Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Catharine A. MacKinnon, 1989, First Harvard University Press. Page 3.

I wonder whether anyone involved with this page has actually read Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, or The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism. In fact, one wonders if you have even read the title of The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism, since that puts it in a nutshell before you have even made it to the essay. I ask these things because the two pieces are extended discussions of the problems inherent in trying to combine feminist and Marxist politics. The first 1/3 of MacKinnon’s book is devoted to a lengthy feminist critique of Marxism and of attempted Marxist-feminist syntheses.

There are plenty of places to find Marxist influences on feminism, or attempts to combine Marxist and feminist politics. But MacKinnon and Hartmann’s essays are not among them. Frankly it’s hard to regard the selective use of these quotations as anything other than (i) incredibly sloppy, or (ii) dishonest.

Here’s the reply that I got:

Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2005 21:26:13 -0700 From: Walter Schneider misc@fathersforlife.org Subject: Re: Data posted to form 1 of http://fathersforlife.org/contact.htm
To: feedback@radgeek.com
Organization: Fathers for Life

Thanks for writing.

If you read all of the document, you must have read also who produced it and noticed that it contains many, many more quotes than just the couple that you found to be objectionable.

Your complaint is noted, but two objectionable quotes about the strong ties between communism and radical feminism isn’t all there is at Fathers for Life. I suggest that you make a search for “feminism communism” at fathersforlife.org.

Amongst the more than a hundred pages containing information that relates to the connection between radical feminism and communism, there must surely be a few more that will irk you. I suggest that you narrow your search down by adding the following search term to the string:

Pizzey OR Hubbard

Enjoy,

Walter

Of course, this was not a response to the point and I was not (and am not) particularly interested in changing subjects to a general debate on the validity or invalidity of feminism with someone who can’t even be bothered to care whether or not the claims presented on his advocacy website are true or false. So:

Date: Sat, 26 Feb 2005 11:42:22 -0500
To: “Walter Schneider” misc@fathersforlife.org
Subject: Re: Data posted to form 1 of http://fathersforlife.org/contact.htm
From: “Rad Geek” feedback@radgeek.com
Organization: Rad Geek People’s Daily

. . .

Mr. Schneider,

I’m not sure that you quite understood my purpose in writing. I don’t dispute that there are real historical and intellectual connections between radical feminism and Marxism. Anyone who has read the history of the feminist movement knows this; radical feminists make no secret of the fact that substantial parts of their thought come from contemporary Marxist movements and that they themselves were often involved in revolutionary socialist movements (they went on to angrily break with most of these movements, but rarely gave up those movements’ fundamental goals–see for example Robin Morgan’s Goodbye to All That).

What I am concerned with is the fact that you cite the following three quotes, among others, as evidence for this fact:

Marxism and Feminism are one, and that one is Marxism –Heidi Hartmann and Amy Bridges, The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism (qtd. in MacKinnon 1989)

Sexuality is to feminism what work is to Marxism… –MacKinnon (1989) p. 3

Feminism, Socialism, and Communism are one in the same, and Socialist/Communist government is the goal of feminism. –MacKinnon (1989) p. 10

Hartmann’s and Bridge’s essay is a criticism of Marxism; the quote is a parody of Blackstone’s famous nutshell summary of the legal status of husband and wife in a marriage. Her argument is that, heretofore, Marxists have claimed to support feminist goals while actually ignoring them or distorting them in order to make them subordinate to the theoretical concerns and personal interests of Marxist men. This is obvious if you’ve read the essay; it should be clear that that’s where it’s going if you’ve so much as read and understood the title.

The use of the quotes from MacKinnon is even worse. Both quotes come from the first several pages of an extended critique of Marxism. The opening statement that sexuality is to feminism what work is to Marxism is used to set up a series of questions as to whether or not Marxism and feminism are, at the end of the day, compatible. (MacKinnon goes on to argue that they are not, and that feminist method must be, in some important sense, “post-Marxist”.) The second quote is not a statement of MacKinnon’s beliefs at all; it is a statement of a view with which she sharply disagrees; she thinks that the view is part of the anti-feminist strategy that some Marxists have tried to adopt in addressing feminist concerns. Again, these points are quite clear from a single reading of the opening chapter of Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.

Are there historical connections between feminism and Marxism? Of course there are. But the quotes that you intend to introduce as evidence for that conclusion aren’t evidence for it, and they clearly do not mean what you seem to be indicating that they mean by grabbing them out of their context and arranging them as you have. The problem is that the use of all these quotes is selective, and in being selective it is deceptive. I do not know whether the deception is by intent or by ignorance; in either case it is clearly the result of sloppy or nonexistant reading of the text.

Will these quotes be removed from your discussion of Communism and feminism?

Sincerely,
Charles Johnson

Here’s the reply:

Date: Sat, 26 Feb 2005 19:03:58 -0700
From: Walter Schneider misc@fathersforlife.org
Subject: Re: Bill Wood’s Testimony at the Ways and Means Committee
To: Rad Geek feedback@radgeek.com
Organization: Fathers for Life

Dear Mr. Johnson,

No, not at all, I have a fairly good appreciation of what you are getting at, but let me be more direct about your misperceptions, as there are more than just one.

You picked on three examples of quotes that don’t quite meet your exacting standards, and you picked on the wrong fellow to direct your complaint to.

Obviously, those three examples are only a small fraction of all of the quotes used by Bill Wood, the author of that article containing the evidence he presented to the Ways and Means Committee. Surely you understand that I can’t willy-nilly edit the things that other people stated, just to suit your preferences.

However, just because those three quotes don’t meet your standards, does that prove the basic premise wrong? Of course it doesn’t.
So, what exactly is your beef?

If it is nothing more than a complaint about the academic quality of the article with respect to the standards used for the documenting of sources, then you should address your concerns to Bill Wood.

If you are not happy with the manner in which Bill Wood formated his quotes, so as to make it clear as to who said what and that it would be unmistakable that some of the quoted phrases do not present the opinions of the authors that quoted them, write to Bill Wood.

If you think that I have editorial responsibilities that I did not exercize with due diligence, consider that I merely quoted another source that is clearly identified in the version of the document that concerns you. In that case you should write to the people in charge of that source.

The sole reason why I posted Bill Wood’s testimony is that I installed a hyper-text-linked index to the various entries, so as to make it easier to find them in the rather lengthy document. If it would not have been for that, I would have pointed people directly to the original source at which the testimony had been delivered and published. A link is so much less troublesome than to quote and format a whole large article, right?

This whole debate has taken far more of our time than it deserves. I don’t know whether you can afford to spend that much time on relatively inconsequential and misdirected criticism, but I do know that I can’t.

Sincerely,
Walter Schneider

PS. Did you have a chance to look for the items I pointed you to? –WHS

Incidentally, the link he provides is not the source of the collection of quotes as it is presented on FathersForLife.org. It contains a few of the same deceptively out-of-context quotes that are repeated in the quotes page at FathersForLife.org, but wherever the latter came from, it was not from a copy of an address already given.

Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2005 21:55:42 -0500
To: “Walter Schneider” misc@fathersforlife.org
Subject: Re: Bill Wood’s Testimony at the Ways and Means Committee From: “Rad Geek” feedback@radgeek.com
Organization: Rad Geek People’s Daily

Mr. Schneider,

In your reply from several days ago, you seemed to be laboring under a couple of misunderstandings.

First, this is not a matter of “exacting standards”, “suiting my preferences”, or “academic quality”. And it’s certainly not an issue of “formatting”. This is a matter of factual accuracy.

The compilation of quotes and commentary on your site at http://www.fathersforlife.org/feminism/quotes1.htm#Femicommies lists three quotes, taken selectively from Catharine MacKinnon’s work, and insinuates that they represent her views (or the views of radical feminists broadly) on Marxism, when in fact they are (1) part of an argument that feminism and Marxism are in fact incompatible or (2) expositions of views that MacKinnon explicitly condemns. By stripping the quotes of their context, it attributes a view to MacKinnon that is the opposite of the one that she holds; that is to say, it presents demonstrable deceptions as fact.

I sent an e-mail through the fathersforlife.org contact page to whoever was responsible for the content on the website; since it was you who received that e-mail, and since you ask the following:

If you think that I have editorial responsibilities that I did not exercize with due diligence,

I gather that you are the person, or at least a person, responsible for deciding what content goes on your site. As such, you have a responsibility not to purvey false information to readers on the Internet in the name of your cause. You’re quite right that Bill Wood is identified as the compiler of the quotes in the article (although I might add it’s not at all clear from either the article or your remarks whether you have drawn these quotes from sources presented by Bill Wood, or whether he himself assembled the page as it currently appears on your site; nor is it clear whose commentary is represented by unquoted remarks such as Catherine A. MacKinnon is a University of Michigan FEMINIST LAW PROFESSOR!! Do you think her lawyers are learning Republican government OR are they learning Communism?)

You wonder why I did not contact Bill Wood about this. Well, I’d be glad to contact him in order to inform him of his (frankly either sloppy or dishonest) mistakes in describing MacKinnon’s views, but (1) I don’t have his contact information, and (2) you have responsibilities as an editor in this matter whatever Bill Wood has or hasn’t done. Given that whether or not the conclusion that this compilation puts forward is true, the grounds given for it are demonstrably false (by a simple reading of the plain text), your responsibility, as an editor, is to do one of the following, depending on the nature of the piece and the author’s wishes:

  1. Remove the offending quotes (with an editor’s note or ellipsis if necessary)
  2. Issue a correction
  3. Remove the piece from your site.

All three of these things are things that responsible editors sometimes do when authors make mistakes of fact. Simply leaving a piece with known factual errors online, as-is, for public consumption, while making no attempt whatsoever to avoid deceiving your readers, is not.

Second, this is not a “debate”. There is nothing to argue about. Your page, as it currently stands, is deceptive. That may be the result of negligence–in which case it is a sloppy error–or it may be the result of intent–in which case it is spreading lies. Which conclusion an observer should draw depends, in part, on how you deal with the matter now that it has been brought to your attention.

Sincerely,
Charles Johnson

And here’s Walter Schneider’s final word on the matter, for the time being:

Date: Fri, 11 Mar 2005 05:35:55 -0700
From: Walter Schneider misc@fathersforlife.org
Subject: Re: Bill Wood’s Testimony at the Ways and Means Committee
To: Rad Geek feedback@radgeek.com
Organization: Fathers for Life

Mr. Johnson,

Rad Geek wrote:

….You wonder why I did not contact Bill Wood about this.

I didn’t at all wonder, I suggested that you do.

Well, I’d be glad to contact him in order to inform him of his (frankly either sloppy or dishonest) mistakes in describing MacKinnon’s views, but (1) I don’t have his contact information, and

I can help you out with that. Try http://waysandmeans.house.gov/contact.asp, the first organization that published the quotes that you perceive to be misleading. They may be able to provide you with contact details for Bill Wood, which shouldn’t be that hard for them. Unfortunately, on account of two recent PC crashes I no longer have Bill Wood’s e-mail address. This clue may help you in contacting him: Representative Bill Wood, Charlotte, North Carolina.

(2) you have responsibilities as an editor in this matter whatever Bill Wood has or hasn’t done. Given that whether or not the conclusion that this compilation puts forward is true, the
grounds given for it are demonstrably false (by a simple reading of the plain text), your responsibility, as an editor, is to do one of the following, depending on the nature of the piece and the author’s wishes:

My responsibility as an editor is not to alter text taken from a document authored and published by other people. If you misconstrue such quotes and become offended on account of your misperception, that is your problem, not mine.

The best of luck,

Walter Schneider

Of course, Schneider does not anywhere make clear where the document in its current form was published or why he, as an editor, cannot indicate through the use of elipsis or editor’s notes that parts of the text are incorrect. Responsible editors of advocacy sites either remove pages that contain false information, or issue corrections on false information where people reading the misleading page can see them. Schneider, for his part, seems uninterested in any of this; at least, as of press time, FathersForLife.org continues to print the same quotes from MacKinnon without redaction, correction, or apology.

For myself, I do have a bit of a correction to make: since I wrote the first couple notes while on vacation, and didn’t have my copy of Toward A Feminist Theory of the State with me, I assumed that this quote, attributed to page 10 of MacKinnon’s book, was an explanation of one of the anti-feminist Marxist approaches to the woman question that she was criticizing:

Feminism, Socialism, and Communism are one in the same, and Socialist/Communist government is the goal of feminism. –MacKinnon (1989) p. 10

I was wrong about that. The sentences I was remembering were similar sentences from Chapters I, II, and IV of the book in which she does set out and then demolish views that come out roughly to that (e.g.: the view that women’s subordination to men, when acknowledged, is seen as caused by class dominance, its cure as the overthrow of class relations [p. 62]). If MacKinnon did say what she is quoted as saying, then it was surely in the context of elaborating an opposing view in order to criticize it, and the quote is deceptively taken out of its context and passed off as a statement of belief in propia voce. But after going through the opening chapters of Toward a Feminist Theory of the State several times, I cannot for the life of me find where she did say Feminism, Socialism, and Communism are one in the same, and Socialist/Communist government is the goal of feminism in the first place. It is not on page 10 of Toward A Feminist Theory of the State. Nor is it on page 9 or 11. Nor is it anywhere to be found anywhere in Chapters I or II. Nor is it on page x in the Introduction, nor on likely candidates for a typographical error–you won’t find it on page 19, or on page 20, or anywhere in pages 100-110. A Google search returns only anti-feminist websites with the same quote and the same claim that it appears on page 10. All three quotes are gravely misunderstood if they are accurate quotations, but this one may very well be a complete fabrication. (If you have a bibliographic reference to where the quote actually occurs, drop me a line–I’d appreciate being able to print the quote in its actual context!)

Fathers for Life is spreading deceptive information on their website in an attempt to further their cause. This may have originally been the result of carelessness and sloppiness. That’s bad enough in itself–there is far too much misleading through carelessness or sloppiness in public debates today. But whatever the original cause, they continue to spread deceptions knowingly, without correction.

That’s lying.

Sounds Familiar

Ol’ Jerry Falwell is at it again; the latest, from his 21 November Old Time Gospel Hour broadcast, is the following incisive tidbit:

And we’re going to invite PETA [to Wild Game Night] as our special guest, P-E-T-A — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We want you to come, we’re going to give you a top seat there, so you can sit there and suffer. This is one of my special groups, another one’s the ACLU, another is the NOW — the National Order of Witches [sic]. We’ve got — I’ve got a lot of special groups.

Ouch! As Jessica put it over at feministing, Yeah, I bet all the ladies over at NOW were huddled around their cauldrons just fuming over that one. Please.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t be too hasty to pile on. Perhaps poor Jerry wasn’t trying to be insulting. Maybe he just got confused, and mixed up NOW with another famous feminist organizing effort:

WITCH was born on Halloween, 1968, in New York, but within a few weeks Covens had sprung up in such diverse spots as Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, North Carolina, Portland (Oregon), Austin (Texas), and Tokyo (Japan). They’re still spreading. A certain common style–insousciance, theatricality, humor, and activism, unite the Covens–which are otherwise totally autonomous, and unhierarchical to the point of anarchy. …

Washington, D.C. WITCH–after an action hexing the United Fruit Company’s oppressive policy on the Third World and on secretaries in its offices at home (Bananas and rifles, sugar and death / War for profit, tarantulas’ breath / United Fruit makes lots of loot / The CIA is in its boot)–claimed that WITCH was a total concept of revolutionary female identity and was the striking arm of the Women’s Liberation Movement, aiming mainly at financial and corporate America, at those institutions that have the power to control and define human life.

Chicago WITCH Covens showered the Sociology Department at the University of Chicago with hair cuttings and nail clippings after the firing of a radical feminist woman professor, and the Chicago Witches also demonstrated against a transit fare hike. They, as well as Witches in New York, San Francisco, North Dakota, and New England, disrupted local Bridal Fairs. The fluidity and wit of the Witches is evident in the ever-changing acronyms: the basic, original title was Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, but on Mother’s Day one Coven became Women Infuriated at Taking Care of Hooligans; another group, working at a major Eastern insurance corporation, became Women Indentured to Traveler’s Corporate Hell; still another set of infiltrators, working at Bell Telephone, manifested themselves disruptively as Women Incensed at Telephone Company Harrassment. When hexing inflationary prices at supermarkets, a Midwest Coven appeared as Women’s Independent Taxpayers, Consumers, and Homemakers; Women Interested in Toppling Consumption Holidays was another transfigutory appellation–and the latest heard at this writing is Women Inspired to Commit Herstory.

For Rebellion Is As The Sin Of Witchcraft. —I Samuel, 15:23

–Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful (1970)

photo: Feminist activists dressed as witches storm the Chicago Metro system

Chicago WITCH hexes the Transit Authority (photo by Louise Brotsky)

Double, bubble, war and rubble
When you mess with women, you’ll be in trouble
We’re convicted of murder if abortion is planned
Convicted of shame if we don’t have a man
Convicted of conspiracy if we fight for our rights
And burned at the stake when we stand up to fight
Double, bubble, war and rubble
When you mess with women, you’ll be in trouble.
We curse your empire to make it fall–
When you take on one of us, you take on us all!

–Women’s Independent Taxpayers, Consumers, and Homemakers (W.I.T.C.H.)

Who says that feminists don’t have a sense of humor?

If Jerry F. is trying to get our goat, he’s going to have to try a lot harder than that. You should feel free to let him know that at his contact page.

Update 2004-11-29: Looks like flea had the same idea at One Good Thing (thanks, Amanda):

This, sadly, is what passes for wit in those circles. They’ve been calling feminists “witches” for literally twenty years, possibly more. I think more. I think second wave feminist icon (and one of my heroes) Robin Morgan started a group called WITCH in response to it, where they ran around and did Abbie Hoffman-esque stunts like casting a spell on the New York Stock Exchange to shut it down at the beginning of the day. When the Wall Streeters tried to open the doors, they found that they could not. The WITCHes took full credit for their spell working, of course, and they were indeed responsible, as they had superglued the locks shut the night before.