On good women and dinosaurs
“The only good woman,” wrote Andrea Dworkin, “is a dead woman. When she is bad she lives, or when she lives she is bad.” She was referring specifically to fairy tales, in which wicked stepmothers and wicked witches — older women, women who have outstayed their welcome — are demonised, while dead mothers are mourned. Live too long and men will wonder what you’re even for (“why,” she asks in Intercourse, “feed a woman you can’t fuck?”). Outside the world of fairy tale, the difficult women, those who won’t go away, who won’t shut up, who won’t just accept their own obsolescence, are dinosaurs.
Self-styled good men are very good at feeling sad about women that bad men have killed. They are not so good at thinking these bad men might have anything to do with them, let alone that the “epidemic” of male violence against women and girls might be the responsibility of male people as a sex class. They’re worse still at listening to women who might have an analysis — one built up over decades of feminist scholarship in addition to personal experience — into why male people, and not female ones, feel entitled to do what they do. These men are good at seeing women as victims, and crying about woman victims, providing these victims know their place and aren’t actually able to speak. The moment a victim speaks, she turns bad.
“Grown men” — this was Dworkin writing in 1974 — “are terrified of the wicked witch, internalised in the deepest parts of memory. Women are no less terrified, for we know that not to be passive, innocent, and helpless is to be actively evil.” Nearly 50 years on, we must still be passive, waiting to be saved. Even to name our victimhood is to weaponise it, making ourselves the aggressor. Men can describe us as fearful — poor, little fearful princesses, waiting for our princes — but the moment we name what we fear, this fear becomes an irrational phobia. Men can pity us fretfully walking the streets — a pity forever tinged with that manly sense of superiority — but the moment we ask for spaces of our own, we are selfish hoarders of privileges we don’t deserve.
By the time a woman has aged into wicked witch/dinosaur status, she may have numerous experiences of male violence to recount. She may be more adept than ever at joining the dots. This does not make her a good victim. One, she’s not dead. Two, she’s “damaged”. Three, she’s making unreasonable demands of the good guys who think their tears ought to be enough. She might want them to stand up to their friends, family members, party colleagues. She might want them to name the sex of perpetrators and not just victims. She might want them to take seriously the proposal that she has an inner life and when she tells you what she needs, she is not just doing it to withhold resources from other, more “real”, valid victims. None of these things are permissible.
Even knowing the rules — having had them identified decades ago — you still have to ask what kind of man sits there, declaring he wants to do more for victims, after months of saying fuck all about the rape and death threats a female colleague has been receiving from members of his own party? What kind of man is that incapable of making the connections? A man who likes the idea of himself saving passive victims, but wouldn’t dream of putting his neck on the line for the sake of a woman who hasn’t yet been hurt, or at least not hurt enough to meet his passive victimhood standards. A man who treats female victims of male violence as the mirror reflecting himself back at several times his actual level of goodness and integrity.
Women aren’t just afraid because of the truly bad men. It’s because there are so few truly good ones. Our lives are littered with the stories we couldn’t tell, the accusations we couldn’t make, because we know the good men will close ranks and we don’t want to see it. Hence the vast majority of victimhood isn’t even seen at all, even if it is only through seeing it all that we stand a chance of ending the fatal violence that — sometimes — can be named. Believe it or not, most of us don’t want to have to wait until we’re “good”.