Myth, misogyny and some harsh truths about the gender divide


I think it is fair to say that few people believed Andrea Dworkin's account of her drug-rape in a Paris Hotel room in 1999. Even sympathetic obituarists felt bound to suggest that the catalogue of abuse that followed Dworkin all her life, and which fuelled her writings, was viewed with suspicion in many quarters.

I think it is fair to say that few people believed Andrea Dworkin's account of her drug-rape in a Paris Hotel room in 1999. Even sympathetic obituarists felt bound to suggest that the catalogue of abuse that followed Dworkin all her life, and which fuelled her writings, was viewed with suspicion in many quarters.

The final rape, which Dworkin wrote about years later, after she had recovered the memory, was considered the most suspicious of all. First, Dworkin did not know she had been raped at the time, or understand how she had sustained various injuries until much later. There was a memory of sitting in the hotel garden, sipping a kir royale, followed by a resumption of consciousness much later accompanied by aches, pains and bruises. It took a couple of years for the intervening space to be filled with a rohypnol-laced rape by a barman and a waiter.

Whether Dworkin's construction of events is true or not, is pretty irrelevant. The fact is that she really believed this awful violation had been made against her, and understood that she was widely disbelieved. In this experience, she spent her final years suffering an abuse women are familiar with the world over. From the law courts of Britain to the villages of Iran, women are used to their accusations of rape being greeted with disbelief.

For many people it simply beggared belief that the woman who was entirely identified with her belief that intercourse was an expression of male contempt for women, should live a life dominated by such black serendipity. For yet more though, Dworkin was simply too old, fat and ugly to receive any sexual attention at all - and a nutcase to boot.

Yet it's perfectly possible that these factors actually combined to trigger such a rape. We're always being told how terribly cerebral the French are. Maybe it is possible that hotel staff knew exactly who Dworkin was, and found her a hilariously ironic and post-modern object of their criminal attentions. Outrageous, yes. But not, sadly, beyond the outer reaches of human depravity.

And anyway, again there is only one thing to be sure of. Dworkin may or may not have been raped because she was Andrea Dworkin. But it was because she was Andrea Dworkin that she came to the conclusion that she was, then told the world about it, despite the danger of ridicule.

I believe that the reason why Dworkin was so extreme in her beliefs about men, was because she experienced an extreme life not just as a woman but as an unattractive, clever woman. Even before she embarked on her life as a radical feminist writer, she attracted contempt and hatred. Misogynistic men will tell you that ugly girls are better in bed, because they're grateful, while beautiful women don't try. The truth is that angry men enjoy taking it out on women they don't want when the idealised women they crave won't have them.

The mistake Dworkin made was in failing to understand that most men are not like that. They were simply the sort of men who sought out Dworkin for intercourse, or who even found it amusing to abuse her with a speculum while telling dirty jokes (They'd be too much in awe of a pretty girl to do that sort of thing with her). Dworkin generalised from her own extreme experience. It's important to remember that while the generalisations are wrong, the experiences on which they are based are tragically by no means unique.

Think about Cherie...

Luciana Berger resigned last week from the National Union of Students, in protest at it's refusal to take anti-Semitism seriously. Her particular problem was with the union's failure to halt the distribution of anti-Semitic leaflets from a stall at the NUS conference.

Her protest has gained plenty of column inches, as well it should. There is a real problem with rising anti-semitism in Britain, encapsulated in the disturbing fact that there is a sharp rise in violence against the Jewish community in this country, every time an Israeli army atrocity is perpetrated in Palestine. Berger is right to despise such acts of blind hatred, and those who propagandise in favour of them.

It is not her principled stand that is gaining her the column inches though. Instead it is her relationship with Euan Blair, which Berger is convinced was leaked by the NUS in a bid to damage her. She's right to be suspicious. Apparently, the two harbour political ambitions. Berger wants to be party leader, while Blair, too, wants to "follow in his father's footsteps". Berger ought have a think about the choices Euan's mum had to make, between politician and politician's consort, then run a mile.

A tale for our Victorian times

When Alexander Masters was working for a homeless charity, he met Stuart Shorter, a young man classed as "chaotic homeless". With a long list of criminal convictions, a worrying tendency towards explosions of unreasoning violence, and a withering contempt for the "system" that as far as Masters was concerned did nothing but try to help him, Shorter was not an immediately loveable character.

But Shorter also had intelligence, wit, an acute understanding of his own situation, and an instinct for genuine social justice. So the encounter must have seemed fortuitous for a young man looking for a subject for his first book. The result, Masters' Stuart: A Life Backwards, was published this week.

Only the faintest ghost exists of the conventional narrative, telling the familiar cause-and-effect story of childhood abuse, physical disability, bullying, buggering and betrayal, that Shorter derided so comprehensively when Masters showed him the book's first draft.

We don't know what he thought of the second draft, though it was Shorter's idea to "tell it backwards", because Shorter was killed by a train before it was completed. It's part of the biography's understated style that Shorter's tragic end is not dwelt upon or fetishised.

Would Shorter have recognised the book as the brilliant and funny work it is? It doesn't matter in the least. Shorter's own complex message, after all, is contained within this single comment: "Being homeless ain't about not having a home. It's about something being seriously fucking wrong."

Our new Victorian politicians, with their obsession with identifying the deserving and undeserving poor, really ought to take note.

¿ I love Michael Howard's claim that if London state schools had been good enough, he'd have sent his son to one of those instead of Eton. I love it because it's such a perfect example of how politics is all about telling the absolute truth while simultaneously spinning a huge, ugly lie.

Howard is telling the absolute truth, because only a very foolish politician would turn his back on a wonderful free school, in his own backyard, run by the very machine he wants to drive, if there was no benefit in so doing for his offspring.

But he's telling an ugly lie as well because he knows that no matter how good state schools became, wealthy private schools would continue to up the ante in order to attract the customers they need to survive. Eton will always offer a "better" education than Holland Park Comprehensive, because that is its raison d'être - perpetuating elites.

Howard's party, when it was last in power, made it easy for private schools to flourish, by deliberately undermining the state system. Disingenuously, Howard says he wouldn't have sent his child to Eton, if there had been a decent grammar school around, like the one he attended himself.

Funnily enough, though, he doesn't pledge this in his manifesto for a return to grammar schools. Instead, he offers vouchers. But for cheap public schools - not Eton, of course.

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