Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel and Women's Liberationby Andrea Dworkin
In this stunning and provocative
On Yom Kippur, Jews of antiquity would sacrifice two goats: one killed as an offering to a harsh and judging god, the other taken to the wilderness and turned loose, a carrier of the sins of the group. Throughout history, argues brilliant feminist critic Andrea Dworkin, women and Jews have been stigmatized as society's scapegoats.
In this stunning and provocative book, Dworkin brings her rigorous intellect to bear on the dynamics of scapegoating. Drawing upon history, philosophy, literature, and politics, she creates a terrifying picture of the workings of misogyny and anti-Semitism in the last millennium.
With examples that range from the Inquisition, when women were targeted as witches and Jews as heretics, to the terror of the Nazis, whose aggression was both race- and gender-motivated, Dworkin illustrates how and why women and Jews have been scapegoated and compares the civil inequality, prejudices, and stereotypes that have framed identity for both groups. Taking the state of Israel as a paradigm, Dworkin traces the growth of male dominance in societies both old and new -- resulting in the subordination of women and a racial or ethnic "other."
In Israel today, Palestinians and prostitutes are the new scapegoats: degraded, inferior, abject. Although the gentle Jewish martyrs of old have become modern Israeli warriors, women retain the stigmatized status of "weak Jews" who, when attacked, never fight back. This leads Dworkin to imagine a world in which women betray men of their own kind in order to develop and defend their own sovereignty. Ultimately, her book forces us to ask profound questions: Why do women continue to value their own lives less than those of the men theylove? Where is the line between justifiable self-defense and violence? Both an impassioned plea for women to challenge and destroy the author- ity of the men in their own group and a startling work of history, Scapegoat will forever change how we think about the patterns of behavior and belief that give rise to domination and oppression.
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Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: Homeland/Home In Memory Fields Holocaust survivor Shlomo Breznitz goes to The Oxford English Dictionary to look up the word hope. He finds, he says, "the wisdom of language, as a symbolic product of lengthy cumulative experience": hope is "a piece of enclosed land, e.g., in the midst of marshes or wasteland"; or "a small enclosed valley"; or "an inlet, small bay, haven." The unabridged Webster's Third New International Dictonary still recognizes this old meaning: hope is "a piece of arable land surrounded by waste, especially: one surrounded by a swamp or marsh"; "a broad upland valley sometimes rounded and often with a stream running through it"; "a small bay or inlet." In Hebrew, too, writes Breznitz, "the words for hope and for a small enclosure derived from the same root...." (his ellipses). For Italo Calvino in The Road to San Giovanni the first principle of reality began in his home, which was synonymous with his homeland: "A general explanation of the world and of history must first of all take into account the way our house was situated, in an area once known as 'French Point,' on the last slopes at the foot of San Pietro hill, as though at the border between two continents." One might conclude that it is hard to have hope without land.
But even urban refuse can recognize its own. In A Stained White Radiance, mystery writer James Lee Burke has his narrator-hero say: "We all have an extended family, people whom we recognize as our own as soon as we see them. The people closest to me have always been marked by a peculiar difference in their makeup. They're the walking wounded, the onesto whom a psychological injury was done that they will never be able to define..." These weary, wounded, marginal souls "save us from ourselves. Whenever I hear and see a politician or a military leader, a bank of American flags at his back, trying to convince us of the rightness of a policy or a deed that will cause harm to others; when I am almost convinced myself that setting a humanitarian concern in abeyance can be justified in the interest of the greater good, I pause and ask myself what my brain-smoked friends would have to say. Then I realize that the rhetoric would have no effect on them, because for those who were most deeply injured as children, words of moral purposes too often masked acts of cruelty." One might conclude that hope requires the end of cruelty. The urban dispossessed, the grown children with hollow eyes and scars, the ten-year-old prostitutes and the players who rape and use them, do recognize one another; but have no hope and arguably no homeland either. A sewer replaces the arable land, the bay, the inlet, the haven. The sense of place attaches to a barstool, a street corner, a crack house, a brothel. This is a tribe, not ethnic, not connected by blood but by the experiences of exploitation, violence, and abandonment. Cosmopolitan even if illiterate, rootless, parasitic and self-destructive, this is a ghostly tribe, brutal, fragile, plague-ridden, devastated by "words of moral purposes too often masked as acts of cruelty." The stable middle class romanticizes the despair and wants a taste of the life, after which the tourists go home and wash. The tourists have a home and a homeland; those they rubbed up against are in a perpetual exile from hope.
In Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, Isabel Fonseca describes a Gypsy song: "Nostalgia is the essence of Gypsy song, and seems always to have been. But nostalgia for what? Nostos is the Greek for 'a return home'; the Gypsies have no home, and, perhaps uniquely among peoples, they have no dream of a homeland. Utopia -- ou topos -- means 'no place.' Nostalgia for utopia: a return home to no place. O lungo drom. The long road." Considered outsiders wherever they have lived, they are thrown out. Fonseca says that the Gypsies "adapted, often by living in abandoned and inaccessible forests and wastelands, the countries within countries, and the borderlands." Stateless, they congregate especially on borders. That means, according to a Gypsy activist, that in international law Gypsies "have the status of trade unions, environmental lobbies, or professional associations [and women]." One Gypsy politician "promoted an alternative -- and to many sacrilegious -- identity in which people could be seen and discussed independent of property."
The Gypsies, like the Jews, were nearly exterminated by the Nazis; medical experiments were done on Gypsy children in Auschwitz and all of those children died. Living without written language, Gypsies have no written history and no written memory. The past -- Auschwitz, for instance -- comes into songs; but facts and the landscape of experience get lost. Without writing, memory becomes narrowed, smaller; isolation puts the Gypsies far outside the great conversation, ongoing through centuries, about meaning, hope, and homeland. Wanderers, vagrants throughout Europe -- the cohesiveness and integrity of the Gypsy way of life destroyed by the Nazis -- the children operate in gangs to rob tourists or anyone vulnerable, circling an individual to get the money, sometimes beating or killing the victim. The Gypsy women beg on the streets of Paris, Vienna, Rome, Berlin. Can a people survive without memory; or without writing; or without history; or without recognition under international law, these survivors of genocide? Can a people survive stateless, with no homeland -- ou topos, Utopia, no place?
After Hitler's war, the Jewish survivors also had no place. "I thought about all that could be said regarding these two words: return, repatriation," writes Jorge Semprun in Literature or Life? "The second one made no sense when applied to me, of course. First of all, I hadn't returned to my homeland, in coming back to France. And then, if you thought about it, it was clear that I would never again be able to return to any homeland. I had no native country anymore. I would never have one again. Or else I'd have several, which would amount to the same thing. Can you die -- think about it -- for several countries at once?"
The Jews had not known, before the war, that they were stateless, with no meaningful citizenship, with no country. As Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi writes in Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel, "A Jewish community existed in Germany without interruption for 1,700 years before World War II. Jews settled in the fortified cities built by the Romans on the west bank of the Rhine. In Cologne there was a well-organized Jewish community in 321 c.e. and the Rhine Valley was the center of a glorious cultural tradition." Arguing for the maintenance of a convent for Polish Catholic nuns at Auschwitz (against Jewish opposition), Wladyslaw T. Bartoszewski writes about the long history of Jews in Poland: "The Jews lived in Poland side by side, rather than together with the Poles, and therefore many Poles could and did regard them as a nation within a nation. The description of the Jewish community, which had lived in Poland continuously for 800 years, as 'alien' can be understood only in such a context." Nevertheless, Jews and Poles had a lot in common. As Eva Hoffman writes in Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews, "Ironically, as far as nationhood went, Poles and Jews had been in a similar position for a whole century: neither had an actually existing nation to go with their strong sense of collective identity, and both substituted a notional idea for the real thing. It can be fairly said that for both, the substitution of fantasized ideas for solid realities strengthened, with rare exceptions, the drive to separatism." One might conclude that both Poles and Jews were delusional: both groups lived there but where was the "there"? Poland was i nvaded, occupied, partitioned, cut up repeatedly throughout its history: so what exactly made Poles Polish except for their conviction that there was a Polish people and a Polish nation that were one and the same; and neither aggressors nor Jews were Polish? Is national identity a matter of borders, geographical boundaries; or is it a belief, informed by shared experience, validated or challenged by history, distorted by self-interest? The Poles were Catholic; Poland was Catholic. Polish Jews were not Catholic, therefore not Polish. Can national identity be configured by religious difference or religious prejudice or religious imperialism? History's answer is an unequivocal yes.
Jews, of course, knew about being unwelcome: expelled from England; expelled from Spain, where Jews had a thousand-year history; in Venice in 1516 forced to live in the first state-mandated ghetto. As Nora Levin says in The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry 1933-1945: "Between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, Jews were expelled from England, France, Italy, Bohemia, and the Germanic states. The unconverted Jew polluted Christian society; the 'racial' Jew polluted German society." The sense of belonging, should it have existed subjectively or socially, could be aborted abruptly, cruelly.
Yet maybe belonging is more ambiguous than the convulsive history of any oppressed people; maybe some in the oppressor group, pressed by conscience, are unable to belong at all. Maybe South African novelist Nadine Gordimer in Writing and Being talks about a dislocation not unique to her: "The whites were not my people because everything they lived by -- their claimed racial superiority and the methods they were satisfied to use to maintain it as if it were truth -- was the stuff of my refusal....The blacks were not 'my people' because all through my childhood and adolescence they had scarcely entered my consciousness. I had been absent. Absent from them. Could one, in fact, make the claim, 'my country' if one could not also say 'my people'?" Gordimer's opposite might be Thomas Carlyle, the great (and anti-Semitic) English historian of the French Revolution, ostracized as a Jacobin. "Deeply a man of place," writes a biographer, "he hated wanderers and wandering, the nomadic obsession. In his mind and in his words he strained always to reproduce the movement of the rooks whose great circles gave form to mystery and established boundaries to the place he called home." Standing against the English hatred of the French revolutionaries, he stood against his people, but he made for himself a place in England nevertheless; he created a territory in which he was the sovereign, very much at the cost of his wife Jane Carlyle. Gordimer did not want power; Carlyle did, small, mean, and petty as it was. Each experienced a subjective exile while living in the country of birth. Belonging is not simple.
Carlyle's beloved French Revolution emancipated Jews for the first time in European history. Jews were recognized as French citizens. Laws discriminating against Jews were struck down. (Male Jews, of course; the French Revolution betrayed women, all women. See Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women.) It was the emancipation itself, according to Sara Bershtel and Allen Graubard in Saving Remnants: Feeling Jewish in America, that gave rise to the "'Jewish question,' which asked whether the Jews could truly be integrated into the larger nation." This question, they say, became "the central issue in European Jewish life." A pariah group, the Jews were seen as nomadic and separatist.
It is too easy to say that Jews accepted this characterization because they were a people who did not belong to the nations in which they lived. Beit-Hallahmi describes a version of the Jewish reality prior to the establishment of the state of Israel: "For most of history the Jewish condition has been one of Diaspora or dispersion. The Hebrew term used to describe this means exile, and the term has been used for 2,000 years, as if Jews had just recently moved from their homeland. In their synagogues, Jews mourned over their exile and the desolation of the ancient homeland every day, every week, and every holiday." But the reality is more schizophrenic. Jews developed affection for the countries in which they lived; also loyalty. Devotion to the promised land was a religious devotion contingent on the coming of the Messiah; it was not a mandate for conquest. Cursed by the Catholic Church, then Calvinists and Lutherans, for having killed Christ, Jews were always vulnerable to instant, organized, and sanctioned assault. But in everyday life, one lived in Italy or Austria or Hungary or Russia (or, for example, earlier incarnations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prussia, the Balkans). In daily life it is hard not to love where one lives, where one's life is. Even now, dislocation is a whisper away. "Our neighborhood," writes Cristina Garcia in Dreaming in Cuban, "was mostly Jewish then and my mother was always saying, 'They killed Christ! They pushed in the crown of thorns!' I felt sorry for the Jews getting thrown out of Egypt and having to drag themselves across the desert to find a home. Even though I've been living in Brooklyn all my life, it doesn't feel like home to me. I'm not sure Cuba is , but I want to find out." Neither the anti-Semitism nor the sense of dislocation is anomalous. It is not only Jews who long for a country they have not seen; nor is exile the central meaning of a Jewish life. There is the exile that changes the settled into nomads; then there is the mythology of that exile, stronger, bigger, denser, as time passes without return, without justice, without fairness. There is loyalty to one's immediate home and the sense or conviction of exile simultaneously: a geographic and moral schizophrenia. There are questions of assimilation and identity, citizenship and grief.
The myth of exile can be subjectively felt by every member of a group; and generation after generation it will become a bigger wound, but more important -- the original wound, the first brokenness, the origin of injury. Over time the sadness of exile is lost and in its place there is a sea of enemies, evil. The exiles are wronged but heroic. Heroism is the carrier of hope: arable land, a haven.
Zionism became the hope of the Jews. Zionism meant lifting a return to the holy land out of the prayer book and putting it into real time. Freud was one of many who believed that Zionism had no future. As he wrote in a 1930 letter to Dr. Chaim Koffler, who was soliciting Freud to oppose British policy in curbing Jewish immigration into Palestine: "Whoever wants to influence the masses must give them something rousing and inflammatory and my sober judgment of Zionism does not permit this. I certainly sympathize with its goals...But on the other hand, I do not think that Palestine could ever become a Jewish state, nor that the Christian and Islamic worlds would ever be prepared to have their holy places under Jewish care. It would have seemed more sensible to me to establish a Jewish homeland on a less historically burdened land." In 1932, writing to Arnold Zweig, Freud was contemplative: "How strange this tragically mad land...must have seemed to you. Just think, this strip of our mother earth is connected with no other progress, no discovery or invention....Palestine has never produced anything but religions, sacred frenzies, presumptuous attempts to overcome the outward world of appearance by means of the inner world of wishful thinking."
Although there were many patches of land in jungles of various sorts suggested as possible "homelands" for the Jews, the idea seemed to be to bunch Jews all together so that they would be neither seen nor heard, thus ending anti-Semitism, which was almost universally (even among Jews) taken to be a response to Jewishness, to a racial strain abhorrent to the authentic French, the real Germans, the Italianate Italians. Anti-Semitism was generally construed to be a reaction to whatever was distinctive in Jews, something repellent. By January 1939, Robert de Rothschild, a French Rothschild, was "forwarding a proposal to his London cousins concerning the purchase of land in Brazil's still-wild Mato Grosso 'for colonization purposes.' Later that year, Paris transmitted a recommendation that the London Rothschilds look into a plan to settle Jews on a plain in the Sudan's Upper Nile valley between Malakhal and Bor -- in deepest Africa."
Max Warburg, also part of an international banking family of Jews, deeply loyal to the Jewish community and the German nation, could not bear the Jewish exodus from Germany as the Nazis rose to power. "In April 1936," writes Ron Chernow in his biography of the Warburg family, "[Max] made a sadly revealing speech to the Aid Society in which he told how Jews were conservative and clung to their soil. He noted that, for sentimental reasons, some departing Jews packed tiny bags of German soil in their suitcases." His advice to emigrating Jews was chilling: "The more quietly the Jewish immigrant lives in his new homeland, the easier it will be for him to establish a foundation for himself." As Chernow notes, "It was a weary prescription for eternal, second-class citizenship."
Hitler's war made Freud's wry detachment and Warburg's tragic despair and the Rothschilds' resourceful efforts to buy a homeland irrelevant. Among Jews, there was no more resistance to Zionism. As Raul Hilberg writes in Perpetrators/Victims/Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945, "The survivors made their greatest impact on the Jewish community...by their presence as 'irrepatriable displaced persons' in camps on German and Austrian soil between 1945 and 1948. Anti-Zionism in the Jewish community collapsed, and a consensus that Jewry, abandoned during the war, had to have a home of its own crystallized overnight." Was Poland home? Was Austria home? Was France home? Displaced Jews were "living under guard behind barbed-wire fences, in camps of several descriptions (built by the Germans for slave-laborers and Jews), including some of the most notorious concentration camps, amidst crowded, frequently unsanitary and generally grim conditions..."
In A Beggar in Jerusalem, Elie Wiesel describes this same displacement from the inside: "Survivors we were, but we were allowed no victory. Fear followed us everywhere, fear preceded us. Fear of speaking up, fear of keeping quiet. Fear of opening our eyes, fear of shutting them. Fear of loving and being rejected or loved for the wrong reasons, or for no reason at all. Marked, possessed, we were neither fully alive nor fully dead. People didn't know how to handle us. We rejected charity. Pity filled us with disgust. We were beggars, unwanted everywhere, condemned to exile and reminding strangers everywhere of what they had done to us and to themselves." Strategically, writes Tad Szulc in The Secret Alliance: The Extraordinary Story of the Rescue of the Jews Since World War II, "the only solution was to make the DP camps so overcrowded as to render them humanely, politically and financially intolerable to the Allies in Germany and Austria, and to set up illegal immigration to Palestine." And they did, "these dark, ubiquitous people who trespassed uninvited upon other people's native soil."
Having come to Zionism as a schoolboy in Russia, Isaiah Berlin "realized quite early in my life that Jews were a minority everywhere. It seemed to me that there was no Jew in the world who was not, in some degree, socially uneasy....I do not think that there is a country where Jews feel totally secure, where they do not ask themselves: 'How do I look to others?' 'What do they think of me? ' Persians are not interested in the way Turks look on them. Chinese are not worried about how Indians think of them."
After Hitler's war, the Jews could not afford to be a minority everywhere on earth. After the camps, "How do I look to others?" and "What do they think of me?" became unbearable questions because the answers were beyond the reach of language; so the flesh crawled and the mind was a wasteland. Being a majority became an ontological necessity; and the place where that majority would live had to have Jewish meaning -- otherwise it would be a void. Only Palestine, the ancient homeland, the biblical homeland, had that Jewish meaning.
In that split second of history after the Nazi defeat, Palestine became both home and homeland to the dispossessed before they ever saw it and no matter what would happen to them there; and also to well-fed North American Jews, who could barely begin to comprehend Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. No thought was given to democracy or governance, except that it be Jewish. Israel's purpose was "to be the Jewish nation-state, a state in which the Jews would exercise sovereignty in exactly the same way as other nations did theirs." And so it became.
Jonathan Jay Pollard, the U.S. citizen who used his government job to spy for Israel by handing over U.S. satellite intelligence, traced his infatuation with Israel back to a summer spent there in his junior year of high school. He felt "normal," he said. "I saw a Jewish prostitute....I saw things I had never seen before." Now Palestinian Arabs are in DP camps, in filth and squalor; and, as one Israeli Jew wrote, "The Israeli authorities seem to have discovered Palestinians' most sensitive nerve in their struggle to hold on to their land and homes, for the two harshest punishments meted out to the Arabs in the territories are deportation and the demolition of houses."
Women live in a country called home. They are its indigenous population. Sentimentalized by bad observers and romantic propagandists, home exists in contradistinction to the wider world: warm against cold; kind against cruel. Home is a refuge, a place of solace, safety, and comfort (emotional if not material). There is no point in consulting the statistics. They show that violence against women in their home(s) is commonplace, in sociological terms normal as opposed to deviant. No one could say how many women are beaten, raped, or killed in home any more than count the numbers of beaten dogs, mules, horses, camels in the world. Home may be the equivalent of a women's prison: women may be locked inside or not permitted egress or too injured to be able to leave; women may be tortured or burned alive there; women may be menial, brutalized servants; legal chattel; sexual chattel; reproductive chattel. An anonymous Saudi princess asked the hardest question: "How could a mother protect the young of her own sex from the laws of the land?" Urgent and unanswerable, it is a global question, because all nations have laws that hurt women and girls. Recognizing that women are surprised by the momentary experience of freedom, a sudden joy that ends as a dream ends, with memory rare and partial, the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva used these words to pay homage to the freedom, fractured and irrecoverable: "And this is how the smiling young girl who does not want a stranger in her body, who does not want a him or a his, but only a mine, meets at a turning in the road another me, a she, in whom there is nothing to fear, against whom she does not need to defend herself....For the moment, she is happy and free, free to love with the heart, not the body, to love without being afraid, to love without doing harm..."
One can hear the freedom, even in a translation (from the French in which the exiled poet wrote this piece). Freedom has never been a value for women in home(s). Freedom is not a constituent part of the beating, the rape, the murder, not for her; violence separates women from freedom, the male, man, husband, father, even brother, in the home being the usual agent of violence. Home has more to do with fascism than with freedom: "Fascism is the first thing in the relationship between a man and a woman," says Austrian novelist Ingeborg Bachmann, "I have tried to say that here, that in this society it's always war. Not that there is war and peace, there is only war."
Medea, in Bernard Knox's translation, expresses a more passionate contempt: "They say...they say we live a life free from danger in the house, while they fight, spear in hand. What fools! I'd be ready to take my stand in the shield line three times rather than give birth just once." Calling Clytemnestra "both queen and prisoner," Knox thinks that "in many cases the result of confining a wife to the house, the slaves, and the children was to create a potentially dangerous, explosive force." Alas, no. Confinement creates vulnerability to attack from the jailer and a domesticated Stockholm syndrome.
Jewish homes were no less confining: "For much of Jewish history women were denied access to the intellectual life of the community, which centered around the study of sacred texts...The rabbis assumed that, as a practical matter, the vast majority of women would be absorbed in domestic responsibilities for most of their adult lives....One of the rationales for the exclusion of women from study and public worship was that women's physical attractions were perceived as a sexual snare for men." In The Creation of a Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy, Gerda Lerner underlines the meaning of this exclusion, which is, at the same time, a confinement: "Women, because of educational deprivation and the absence of a usable past, tended to rely more heavily on their own experience in developing their ideas than did men." But there were learned women in many traditions, often schooled by their fathers. Still, more women were pregnant than learned. In A Breath of Life: Feminism in the American Jewish Community, Sylvia Barack Fishman is no doubt right -- and not only about Judaism -- when she writes: "The desire for a life undemarcated by hierarchies may well be feminist, but it is antithetical to historic Judaism as a religion and a culture."
Women were confined, with little or no education, living in a country with no guarantee of freedom; violence against women was so easy, so ordinary, that it could be used strategically, for instance, by the FBI in Mississippi against the Klan in the civil rights years. "Klansmen were notorious for 'beating hell out of their wives,'" writes reporter Jack Nelson in Terror in the Night: The Klan's Campaign Against the Jews, "and their wives would complain to the FBI and request that their husbands be arrested. Instead the agents would inform the Klansmen of their wives' complaints, generating pressure within the families that the FBI could exploit." To say that no one cared would be a bit of an understatement. At the same time, retaliation against black civil rights workers was generally more violent and more intense against the women. In a biography of pioneer civil rights worker Fannie Lou Hamer, Kay Mills reports that "...Charles Payne of Northwestern University found that some of the most violent reprisals were against women. 'Women who were even rumored to be part of the movement lost their jobs. Every adult woman I interviewed got fired, except for those who quit because they expected to get fired. Women were regularly clubbed at demonstrations or beaten in jail. The homes of women activists were regularly shot into. Any woman in the Delta who contemplated joining the early movement had to be aware of all this.'" Any crime committed in the context of a racial or sexual double standard, socially sanctioned, legally invisible, is committed with impunity. When home is your native habitat, there are duties, responsibilities, obligations, rules; but no rights-based freedom inalienable and invio lable. Any example in any nation-state given at one time can be found somewhere any time; it is unlikely to be an anomaly.
In Pakistan, for instance, rape is used as an instrument of personal revenge, male-to-male. As Jan Goodwin reported in Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World: "In August 1991, twenty-six men raped Allah Wasai, a woman who was eight months pregnant, to settle a score with her father-in-law. After the attack, she was paraded naked through her community. In November of that same year, two young women were subject to nearly identical barbaric assaults. In each case the young woman was gang-raped by eight men, and then had her nose amputated....The attacks in both cases were reprisals aimed at the women's brothers. In neither incident did the police conduct an investigation." (Hoover's FBI would understand that.) Pakistani police, like other police in other countries, will often charge a rape victim as a prostitute or rape her themselves. For those who think this is at best a third-world problem: in 1997 ABC's news program 20/20 did a report on police in Florida who kidnapped lone women motorists, raped, and often murdered them.
There is a consciousness that comes from home-based women, derived from paying attention to others. In Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women's Memory, Marilyn Yalom noticed that "[d]eath is never faceless in women's memoirs. As caretakers of children and the elderly, nurses of the sick and dying, women were enmeshed in a network of human connections, and their most wrenching memories are of friends and family members loved and lost. Their anxious efforts to ward off death and to sustain life constitute a subtext to their narratives." This fact, that death is never faceless, is particularly remarkable because most of the memoirs Yalom studied were from aristocrats, women consistently stereotyped as vain, lazy, spoiled, unable to love (except adulterously), incapable of work.
Even in Nazi concentration camps, the home-based consciousness of women had material consequences. In particular, men and women had different responses to "hunger and malnutrition. In medical reports from the Warsaw Ghetto during 1941, in Gurs and in Theresienstadt, 1941-43, memoirs and other administrative reports on women prisoners reveal that women tolerated hunger better than men and survived starvation for longer periods than male inmates. Apparently, women had better strategies for sharing and extending the limited supplies of food; in the pre-war years, women had served as cooks, preparing the family meals and as a result learned ways of extending food in times of need. Previous patterns of behavior, housekeeping skills and habits clearly affected and improved women's chance of survival."
Sentimental appreciation of home-based skills is perhaps inappropriate, and not only with respect to Nazi terror. In the face of modern famine, the most egregious of which may have been in China under Mao Tse-tung, women cooked roots, the bark of trees, grass, and cannibalized children. In China the practice was called Yi zi er shi -- "Swop child, make food." In Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine, Jasper Becker described a slippery slope of which U.S. civil libertarians never dreamed: "The worst thing that happened during the famine was this: parents would decide to allow the old and the young to die first. They thought they could not afford to let their sons die but a mother would say to her daughter, 'You have to go and see your granny in heaven.' They stopped giving the girl children food. They just gave them water. Then they swopped the body of their daughter with that of a neighbour's. About five to seven women would agree to do this amongst themselves. Then they boiled the corpses into a kind of soup." In an earlier China (Song dynasty a.d. 20-79), "Often a daughter-in-law would cut flesh from her leg or thigh to make soup to feed a sick mother-in-law and this practice became so common that the state issued an edict forbidding it." The daughter-in-law would be the most disenfranchised female in a multigenerational family.
The lower value of girls in the home, their only native place, is trans-cultural: "Female infanticide has been documented among peoples as diverse as the Eskimo of the Canadian Arctic and the hunter-gatherers of the Australian bush. On the South Sea island of Tikopia, live baby girls have been buried in the earth and covered with stones. In India, they have been held to their mother's poisoned nipples. In rural China, they have been drowned. Even societies that forbid outright infanticide have long managed to manipulate their sex ratios through neglect." The neglect includes too-early weaning, underfeeding, or selling the female infant to the sex industry, a common practice in contemporary Thailand.
In colonial America, underfed and overworked, "girls sometimes died at twice the rate of boys from ages one through nine. In Ireland, this pattern continued well into the twentieth century, and throughout much of Asia and the Middle East it remains a fact of modern life." Even in nineteenth-century England there was "a marked excess of female deaths in the age group 5-15."
Referring to ancient Islamic practices, Fatima Mernissi writes: "We do know one thing:...it was the mother who buried the little girl alive, although the decision to do it fell to the father." The story in the Hebrew Bible of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac -- a sacrifice that God called off at the last minute -- is sometimes used to show the divine will in human progress: the movement from human to animal sacrifice. Girls, being neither human nor animal, continue not to matter very much: from outright infanticide, to hard labor with not enough food, to being prostituted, to incest, to incestuous or pedophilic rape. Those who value children most, especially girls, are those who want to commit genocide. They recognize girls as the future of a people. "Nits make lice," said a U.S. colonel (in language that Himmler would replicate) bent on exterminating the indigenous tribes of North America; or, in the words of a U.S. Klansman whose agenda was the destruction of a synagogue: "Little Jew bastards grow up to be big Jew devils. Kill 'em while they're young." Dr. Josef Mengele, known as "the angel of death" in Auschwitz, where he selected who would live and who would die and conducted torturing experiments on children who were twins, was described by one survivor as taking "a perverse pleasure in exterminating women who were pregnant....At times, Mengele permitted a woman to deliver her baby, but then he promptly dispatched mother and infant to the gas chambers." According to Lucette Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel, authors of Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz, "...Israeli and Polish scholars learned that a total of three thousan d twins had passed through Mengele's experimental laboratories. Their survival rate had been less than 10 percent."
The children left behind sometimes just disappeared. As Susanne Zuccotti describes in The Holocaust, the French, and the Jews: "By the evening of August 7 ...nine efficiently operated trains had transported more than 9,000 mostly foreign Jews from French soil to Auschwitz. Left behind, however, were about 3,500 of the weakest and most helpless victims of the round-up -- the children under fourteen. Their story can only be told by the adults who saw them leave, for not one child returned from deportation."
But the violence did not end when Hitler's war ended. As a male survivor says, "There are times I get so angry. I beat up my son. I get in such a rage....I beat anyone who is near me. Anything can trigger my rages -- even a little thing, like a messy room in the house. My second wife, Miriam, knew nothing about my past when she married me. She might not have married me if she had. I used to beat her a lot. She was very frightened when I hit her or the children. But she knew I was not to blame." There are female survivors married to male survivors who beat them. Imagine the horror of that.
Cruelty inside the home, where women and children live, of course has no ethnicity, race, or class. Judith Herman in Trauma and Recovery gives an example of what she calls a "scapegoat role" for a girl child: "I was named after my mother. She had to get married because she got pregnant with me. She ran away when I was two. My father's parents raised me. I never saw a picture of her, but they told me I looked just like her. When my dad started raping me, he said, 'You've been asking for this for a long time and now you're going to get it.'" (See also Kathryn Harrison, The Kiss.)
Home can be a desperate and devastating place. One might fight for home, as one might fight for a country, if it promised freedom, if it owed its native population rights, if it were safe. Orlando Patterson in Freedom: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture holds that "[f]reedom began its long journey in the Western consciousness as a woman's value." He asks, "What could be more personal than the fear of rape and captivity? And what could more forcefully impress upon the individual consciousness the value of freedom than to be released from this condition?"
So where is freedom now? Is freedom where there are women? Is the home freedom? Women escape to find freedom. As Judith Herman writes, "In order to gain their freedom, survivors [of male violence] may have to give up almost everything else. Battered women may lose their homes, their friends, and their livelihood. Survivors of childhood abuse may lose their families. Political refugees may lose their homes and their homeland. Rarely are the dimensions of this sacrifice fully recognized." Escape is a compromised freedom with a very heavy price.
Copyright © 2000 by Andrea Dworkin
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Kathleen Norris, author of The Cloister Walk and Amazing Grace
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Dworkin's book is an extraordinary piece of work. She has spent 9 years researching the topic and her pages are saturated with quotes from a multi-disciplinary focus. . Dworkin is radical, and she is personal. This book is both a stepping stone and stumbling block for future feminist thought; it's a must read for anyone interested in feminism, the analogy between Jews and women, women¿s historical subordination, and the like. This book is excellent, and will undoubtedly make each reader jump to their feet.