That Explains That. (Or, ‘Witchcraze’ Pt. 3) May 26, 2013Posted by FCM in books!, logic, meta, politics, pop culture.
Tags: andrea dworkin, anne llewellyn barstow, mary daly, publishing, witchcraze
ive been seriously wondering for years how certain radical feminist writers managed to get published. actual, real published in the sense of actual, real publishing houses, with editorial controls, factchecking (where the official “facts” are either baldfaced lies or spin, or where the real truth is unknowable) bank checks to be written and cashed and various patriarchal gatekeepers throughout the process. how did daly, dworkin or anyone manage to get their work out there despite all the obstacles specifically designed to quash and erase womens work in general and radical feminist work in particular? i wondered this from the first time i read dworkin and the question has lingered. lingered!
welp. reading and finishing anne llewellyn barstows ‘witchcraze’ has been eye-opening in more ways than one. i mentioned earlier that barstow concludes that women as a class — having been relentlessly hunted, raped, tortured and murdered in a stunning period of global gendercide against women — understandably “kept a lower profile for several centuries” following the official period of the burning times, meaning after the period of 1560-1760 (or after 1800 depending on the source). (p. 29) bawdy women, women who talked back to men, were “scolds” or prominent members of the community for any reason (perhaps especially midwives and healers) having been put in their place by 2 centuries of unbridled misogyny and woman-murder, carried out by men and male institutions, all women understandably laid low after that. for several centuries. several. centuries.
doing the math, and understanding that “several” generally means three or more, we see that the period of “laying low” wouldve ended by about 2060 or so. its still happening, in other words. but she doesnt say it. and she uses the past-tense — women kept a lower profile — which reverses what she actually means. she doesnt mean to say that this ever ended, but she does say it. or more accurately, she says both, but the effect is to communicate that it ended at some point when that cannot be concluded from her own research or her own words. a mindfuck effect. later, she concludes that, as a result of the burning times,
[w]omen began to protest less in general. From having, at the end of the Middle Ages, a reputation for being scolds and shrews, bawdy and aggressive, women began to change into the passive, submissive type that symbolized them by the mid-nineteenth century.
(p. 158). what she doesnt do is make any statement at all about the “feminizing” effect of the global witchhunt by men against women carrying over into modern times or address how and indeed whether it still affects us at all. it does, of course. how could it not? and why would anyone assume or believe otherwise — that women found their voice at some point — and if anyone did think that, when exactly did this happen and how?
the mystery of how barstow got published has been answered to my satisfaction, and the answer appears to be that she didnt make any useful political connections or draw any relevant feminist conclusions from her own work. instead, she makes the historical point, and the math takes us well into the future but she doesnt explain how or indeed whether the patriarchal purpose (intent and effect) of the witchcraze is relevant now, or how or whether it will continue to be relevant into the future or perhaps forever. she leaves the reader to do that, and in fact no thinking person who was both paying attention and interested in the subject matter could reasonably conclude otherwise, based on her work and the information she provides. hmmm.
as for daly and dworkin, it seems as if the same principle applies, and obviously so, so dont shoot the messenger mkay. specifically, dworkin criticized PIV — intercourse — to within in inch of its life (as a patriarchal institution that benefits men at womens expense) but what she never said was that PIV-as-sex or for pleasure alone was inherently oppressive to women. and when asked to clarify, she did — as everyone knows, she said that it was her belief that intercourse-as-sex could and would survive equality. what she didnt do was explain how or why she thought that, or indeed how that conclusion reasonably followed from her own work. it doesnt, by the way.
and daly, as i recall, (as many radical feminists do) used “5000 years” as the age of patriarchy, concluding that patriarchy is therefore a social (read: not biological) phenomenon with a beginning, and that therefore it will have an end. but in reality, it seems as if institutionalized patriarchy began about 5000 years ago, and merely codified and formalized the previously informal patriarchal controls and structures that already existed everywhere anyway. daly (and others!) using the 5000-years tidbit didnt lie exactly, but did the actual, real (whole) truth no favors and made it harder in some ways to draw reasonable conclusions based on the evidence.
now, im not calling daly or dworkin liars, or handmaidens or disparaging their work at all, i dont think, by calling attention to what was very likely a calculated trick or strategy used in order to get published in the patriarchal press. in fact i appreciate both of them very much, including whatever strategies they mightve employed to think, write and publish because their work changed my life and my brain etc etc. i feel about both of them the way you probably do — with love, admiration, gratitude and awe. and probably other things. amiright?
but what i am saying is this. because published radical feminists (obviously) have to make concessions in order to be published at all, in order to get to the real, actual (whole) truth, other radical feminists have to read very closely, and not just *some* radical work but as much radical work as possible by a lot of different authors and make the connections ourselves. *we* still have to figure out what the hell is going on, and take these radical thoughts to their logical ends. this makes truth-seeking very difficult as its made both time consuming and frustrating. and as is always the case, these half-truths and thought-termination/truncation make it decidedly *unobvious* that there is, in fact, any further truth to be revealed at all, or any obfuscating strategies being applied at all.
in the case of radical feminist publications in particular, its entirely possible that, since men cannot truly understand radical feminism, male editors and publishers didnt and in fact couldnt take these thoughts to their ends and understand the implications of any of it, including where and how it went off the rails, or was inconsistent, incomplete or unclear. and being that men conflate “pleasing” with male-pleasing, they cant even identify that — male-pleasing as a political strategy (used to get published, despite being irrational or not reasonably following from the material) or as a “politic” at all. even though it obviously is one.
of course, since i believe that the radical feminists that came before were some of the most intelligent, ingenious and creative humans who ever lived, i can only assume that this was deliberate on their part, and if it was, that they counted on us to realize what was happening and to do what they likely couldnt — to use their published work as a springboard and to take this material and these thoughts further, deeper and wider than anyone has ever done before. to read between the lines and to use it in any and all ways to get to the actual, real (whole) truth about womens lives, and what men do to us, in order to liberate us from male dominance. they are asking us to do this, i think, but in any event we are clearly invited to do it. thats the point really. not only the (historically gatekept, written) medium but the nature of radical feminist work itself absolutely invites our freedom of thought. it just does.
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