“I am Envy, begotten of a chimney sweeper and an oyster-wife. I cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt.”

The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus

I’m generally not a big fan of performing armchair analysis or making assumptions about other people’s mental states. But I’m willing to make exceptions for some people who wholeheartedly deserve that, and among them is Andrea Dworkin, the infamous anti-pornography, anti-sex work, and anti-funfems radical feminist and author, mostly known nowadays for two things: being willing to collaborate with right-wing conservative governments and organizations in order to make sure trans women and sex workers and porn stars had their lives made more dangerous and miserable, and being the living embodiment of the ugly, hairy, man-hating, frizzy-haired, overweight feminist scold that carries on to this day.

Dworkin came to my mind because I stumbled on a quote by someone, looked up the author, and discovered that the source of it was her life partner, who was a gay man and a radical feminist/anti-pornography crusader right alongside her back in the day. I started thinking about what might inspire Dworkin down a life path where it was clear that her basic incentive was nothing more than puerile and unfettered misogyny. All of her work, all of her actions as an “activist”, all of her speeches and books, were clearly built on a foundation of hatred of women, and a resentment of her own womanhood.

Then I remembered the quote from Doctor Faustus above. It’s the monologue of one of the Seven Deadly Sins, Envy. As he makes his way across the stage, he expresses, in the most concise way possible, what separates envy from simple jealousy: “I cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt.” The envious don’t simply covet what they do not have, they make it their task to destroy either what they covet, who possesses it, or both.

Dworkin was envious of the power and social capital that she would never possess, as a woman under patriarchy. Dworkin didn’t direct this rage too much at the men who held this power, since she was willing to collaborate with them in order to “abolish” pornography or deny trans women their healthcare. Instead, she projected that power onto other women, as a casualty of her own deep misogyny, and took it out full force on women whom she wrongly perceived as having power: Women in sex work, and trans women, and, to a lesser extent, any woman who didn’t slavishly conform to her ideals of being liberated or working towards liberation from the patriarchy.

And that ends my dabble in psychoanalyzing dead radical feminists and the roots of their vicious misogyny. Maybe if Andrea Dworkin, among other radical feminists, had had a chance to talk out her rage, her envy, and her neuroses with someone who could assist her in working through them, we might have a very different history of Second Wave Feminism to look back upon.