Written 22 November 2010 for my Rhetorical Studies class. The response paper received an A+, so I figure its worthy for posting I’ve never read the speech before taking the class, but you can certainly feel a lot of the second wave angst since Dworkin pretty much rips her male audience apart. This piece actually also reminded me of this essay by the fabulous Latoya Peterson on Racialicious. I’m not done with the topic, so I’m hoping to write more about it in the near future. Anyway, I would appreciate any comments or suggestions for this.
I found Andrea Dworkin’s speech, “I Want a Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape,” both stimulating and infuriating, perhaps in some ways similar to how her original 1983 audience felt. In the work she critically assesses the actions and ideologies of male feminist allies, expressing her anger and frustration at both what they have and have not done, while they apparently pat themselves on the back for “say[ing] that they are antisexist” (332). The two appeals that struck me the most were Dworkin’s anger at men’s guilt coupled with their inability to acknowledge their privilege, and her desire for men to actually take some responsibility in the prevention of rape against women. Both of these illustrate that Dworkin makes a call for change in men’s behavior since they play an active role in the treatment and portrayal of women.
Very early in her speech, Dworkin asks her predominantly male audience, “if there would be a plea or a question…it would be this: why are you so slow? Why are you so slow to understand the simplest things;…Simply that women are human to precisely the degree and quality that you are” (332). While it appears to be an insult to their intelligence and capabilities as feminist allies, this question actually prompts men to reflect on what it is that women really want. They, Dworkin infers, want understanding, respect, and humanity, the very things men are automatically born into and that women have to work for. This very much has to do with the privilege men possess, which Dworkin refers to as power that is “real, concrete, [and] exercised from one body to another body…in public and exercised in private” (332). Because men possess inherent privileges of respect and power, they have the time and ability to feel guilt for the way in which women are treated, but not enough to do anything about it. She claims that women “don’t have time for [men's] guilt,” because guilt assumes they feel sorry for the terrible things that have occurred and guilt acts as a weak apology for everything that has happened to women up until that point (333). Men possess the societal privilege to feel guilty and, because of that, they still act on a hierarchy that places women below them and “helps keep things the way they are” (333).
Another part of this privilege is that generally men do not have to worry about or constantly protect themselves from the possibility of being raped. Dworkin states later in her speech, “as long as men rape, it is very important the men be directed to rape women. As long as sex is full of hostility and expresses both power over and contempt for the other person, it is very important that men not be declassed, stigmatized as female” (333). Growing up, most young women are taught to not walk alone at night, to not wear certain clothes, to not fumble with keys or purses or groceries, to always be vigilant, to take self-defense classes, and to always carry pepper spray as a precautionary measure against the possibility of physical or sexual assault. So much of this responsibility is placed in the hands of women, who are automatically labeled victims before any crimes occur and are expected to take full responsibility of ensuring their safety, unless they are “asking” to be a victim—another problematic instance, since it leads to victim blaming. Overall, Dworkin appears to ask men to acknowledge, reflect on, and part with their inherent privileges so that equality can actually be achieved because it is typically men who perpetrate the crimes and men ought to be taking some of the responsibility in preventing rape against women.
Dworkin, Andrea. “I Want a Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape.” Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Eds. Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald. Pittsburg: U of Pittsburg P, 2001. 331-338.