Andrea Dworkin does not believe that all heterosexual sex is rape

This Mythistory Monday sort of straddles the line between historical and topical: the myth in question is the endlessly repeated chestnut Andrea Dworkin claims that all heterosexual sex is rape. No she doesn’t; she never said this, and has repudiated it when asked directly. The myth is historical, in a sense, since it deals with the upshot of key writings of Second Wave feminism in the 1970s and 1980s. The myth is topical, in a sense, since Andrea Dworkin’s still alive and still writing, and since it seems the idiot notion seems to keep coming up no matter how many times it is addressed (see, for the latest example, Mark Fulwiler’s regrettable comments—which he later, in part, retracted—in the Liberty and Power controversy that Roderick and I have managed to stir up). But whether historical or topical, it’s all bunk.

Dworkin’s slanderers, if they bother to cite anything from her work at all (which they usually don’t), usually skim some out-of-context quote or another from Intercourse; often, for example, something like this:

A human being has a body that is inviolate; and when it is violated, it is abused. A woman has a body that is penetrated in intercourse: permeable, its corporeal solidness a lie. The discourse of male truth—literature, science, philosophy, pornography—calls that penetration violation. This it does with some consistency and some confidence. Violation is a synonym for intercourse. At the same time, the penetration is taken to be a use, not an abuse; a normal use; it is appropriate to enter her, to push into (“violate”) the boundaries of her body. She is human, of course, but by a standard that does not include physical privacy. She is, in fact, human by a standard that precludes physical privacy, since to keep a man out altogether and for a lifetime is deviant in the extreme, a psychopathology, a repudiation of the way in which she is expected to manifest her humanity.

— Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, chapter 7

Or this:

Male-dominant gender hierarchy, however, seems immune to reform by reasoned or visionary argument or by changes in sexual styles, either personal or social. This may be because intercourse itself is immune to reform. In it, female is bottom, stigmatized. Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior: communicating to her cell by cell her own inferior status, impressing it on her, burning it into her by shoving it into her, over and over, pushing and thrusting until she gives up and gives in— which is called surrender in the male lexicon. In the experience of intercourse, she loses the capacity for integrity because her body—the basis of privacy and freedom in the material world for all human beings—is entered and occupied; the boundaries of her physical body are—neutrally speaking— violated. What is taken from her in that act is not recoverable, and she spends her life—wanting, after all, to have something—pretending that pleasure is in being reduced through intercourse to insignificance.

— Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, chapter 7

But taking the interpretation, from these passages, that Dworkin thinks all heterosexual sex (or all penis-in-vagina intercourse) is rape merely amounts to a misunderstanding—either because the reader has only encountered passages like these, out of context, in a horror file-style catalogue or because he or she is not extending the same effort at interpretive charity towards Dworkin that she or he would for anyone else. Both seem to be unfortunately common conditions; as a result, statements that Dworkin makes about the meaning of intercourse are routinely misinterpreted as statements made in propia voce when in fact they are statements of the meaning attributed to intercourse by male supremacist culture and enforced by the material conditions (economic vulnerability, violence) that women face under patriarchy. These are meanings that Dworkin, among other things, intends to criticize (anyone who has had to write a long exposition of a systematic view with which they disagree could probably be misinterpreted in the same way).

Dworkin’s argument in Intercourse is not that the anatomical features of heterosexual intercourse make it tantamount to coercion. Dworkin has no patience at all for anatomical essentialism—something you should know if you’ve read essays such as Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea. Intercourse is not an anatomy textbook; it’s an examination of intercourse, as a social practice and a lived experience for women, under the cultural and material conditions of a male supremacist society. When she describes intercourse as, for example, occupation, she does not mean that the biological act itself involves occupation; she is talking about intercourse as it is consistently depicted in male supremacist culture, and as it is consistently acted out in a society where rape and male-centric sexuality are extremely defended and culturally excused or even valorized. That doesn’t mean that equality requires the end of either sexual pleasure or, specifically, heterosexual intercourse; it does mean that it requires a radical change to the way it is thought of and approached (she argues that this will involve, inter alia, a sexuality that isn’t monomaniacally focused on intercourse; but that’s a different claim).

In passages like the second one, Dworkin is also specifically responding to sexual liberals and to some feminists (in this case, Victoria Woodhull), who take the legitimacy of intercourse-centric sexuality and intercourse as it is currently practiced more or less for granted—and attempt to draw all the ethical lines on the matter strictly in terms of formal consent, or (in the case of Woodhull) in terms of some more robust sense of women’s sexual autonomy, without challenging the cultural centrality of intercourse or the way in which intercourse is systematically shaped and mandated by the surrounding cultural and material conditions that men impose on women in a patriarchal society. It’s a matter of context; and, in talking about intercourse just as much as in reading the book, context oughtn’t be dropped in the effort to make some kind of point.

If I had to try to summarize what Dworkin is saying while standing on one foot, I’d try this woefully abridged summary of her major theses: (1) that patriarchal culture makes heterosexual intercourse the paradigm activity for all sexuality; other forms of sexuality are typically treated as “not real sex” or as mere precursors to intercourse and always discussed in terms that analogize them to it; (2) that heterosexual intercourse is typically depicted in ways that are systematically male-centric and which portray the activity as iniated by and for the man (as “penetration” of the woman by the man, rather than “engulfing” of the man by the woman, or as the man and woman “joining” together—the last is represented in the term “copulation” but that’s rarely used in ordinary speech about human men and women); (3) that the cultural attitudes are reflective of, and reinforce, material realities such as the prevalence of violence against women and the vulnerability of many women to extreme poverty, that substantially constrain women’s choices with regard to sexuality and with regard to heterosexual intercourse in particular; (4) that (1)-(3) constitute a serious obstacle to women’s control over their own lives and identities that is both very intimate and very difficult to escape; (5) that intercourse as it’s actually practiced occurs in the social context of (1)-(3), and so intercourse as a real social institution and a real experience in individual women’s lives is shaped and constrained by political-cultural forces and not merely by individual choices; (6) that, therefore, drawing the ethical lines in regards to sexuality solely on the basis of individual formal consent rather than considering the cultural and material conditions under which sexuality and formal consent occur makes it hard for liberals and some feminists writing on sexuality to see the truth of (4); that (7) they therefore end up collaborating, either through neglect or endorsement, with the sustanence of (1)-(3), to the detriment of women’s liberation; and (8) feminist politics require challenging both these writings and (1)-(3), that is, challenging intercourse as it is habitually practiced in our society. But, while I hope this helps clarify a bit, you really should just read the whole book for yourself to understand what’s going on.

The myth is one that Andrea has battled for many years now. Here’s what she had to say about the matter in her 1995 interview with Michael Moorcock

After Right-Wing Women and Ice and Fire you wrote Intercourse. Another book which helped me clarify confusions about my own sexual relationships. You argue that attitudes to conventional sexual intercourse enshrine and perpetuate sexual inequality. Several reviewers accused you of saying that all intercourse was rape. I haven’t found a hint of that anywhere in the book. Is that what you are saying?

No, I wasn’t saying that and I didn’t say that, then or ever. There is a long section in Right-Wing Women on intercourse in marriage. My point was that as long as the law allows statutory exemption for a husband from rape charges, no married woman has legal protection from rape. I also argued, based on a reading of our laws, that marriage mandated intercourse—it was compulsory, part of the marriage contract. Under the circumstances, I said, it was impossible to view sexual intercourse in marriage as the free act of a free woman. I said that when we look at sexual liberation and the law, we need to look not only at which sexual acts are forbidden, but which are compelled.

The whole issue of intercourse as this culture’s penultimate expression of male dominance became more and more interesting to me. In Intercourse I decided to approach the subject as a social practice, material reality. This may be my history, but I think the social explanation of the all sex is rape slander is different and probably simple. Most men and a good number of women experience sexual pleasure in inequality. Since the paradigm for sex has been one of conquest, possession, and violation, I think many men believe they need an unfair advantage, which at its extreme would be called rape. I don’t think they need it. I think both intercourse and sexual pleasure can and will survive equality.

It’s important to say, too, that the pornographers, especially Playboy, have published the all sex is rape slander repeatedly over the years, and it’s been taken up by others like Time who, when challenged, cannot cite a source in my work.

And here’s what she and Nikki Craft add at the Andrea Dworkin Lie Detector:

And in a new preface to the tenth-anniversary edition of Intercourse (1997), Andrea explains why she believes this book continues to be misread:

[I]f one’s sexual experience has always and without exception been based on dominance—not only overt acts but also metaphysical and ontological assumptions—how can one read this book? The end of male dominance would mean—in the understanding of such a man—the end of sex. If one has eroticized a differential in power that allows for force as a natural and inevitable part of intercourse, how could one understand that this book does not say that all men are rapists or that all intercourse is rape? Equality in the realm of sex is an antisexual idea if sex requires domination in order to register as sensation. As sad as I am to say it, the limits of the old Adam—and the material power he still has, especially in publishing and media—have set limits on the public discourse (by both men and women) about this book [pages ix-x].

I hope that this has helped clear up matters a bit. This one may be a bit lame for a Myth-Busting Monday—it’s already been handled by feministe, not to mention by Andrea Dworkin herself (via Nikki Craft’s web stylings). Nevertheless, it keeps coming up, and so I guess it is worthwhile to keep hammering the point home, and—if nothing else—do some writing for Google on the matter and up the Google juice a bit on other articles that touch on the same point. If I can bust this myth in one person’s head, then I’ll be quite glad; if I can get someone or another to actually read Intercourse before they start screeching for it to be burned, then I’ll be downright giddy.

Update 2005-01-23: Minor revisions, since this is written for Google, to enhance readability and usefulness.

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43 replies to Andrea Dworkin does not believe that all heterosexual sex is rape Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Amanda

    Helpful stuff—someone just invoked the name Dworkin on my blog, though I don’t know what the point was, since the post was about how women have an uphill battle understanding their own sexuality. But the commenter felt that wasn’t sex-positive or something. Maybe some people still think that women having a grip on their own sexual experiences is a huge threat, still.

  2. Fred Vincy

    Yes, a helpful summary, which does interest me in reading the whole book, as you suggest. My sense, though, not having read the whole book (or indeed anything of Dworkin other than what you qquote) is that she has some very interesting and non-obvious insights, but that her conclusions from those insights are problematic.

    For example, the “repudiation” includes the following: “I also argued, based on a reading of our laws, that marriage mandated intercourse�it was compulsory, part of the marriage contract. Under the circumstances, I said, it was impossible to view sexual intercourse in marriage as the free act of a free woman.”

    The idea that it is not possible for any woman in any marriage to be free in her choice to have sex does sound close to the idea that she is repudiating — and, more to the point, does not seem to be a necessary inference from her interesting effort to deconstruct the social, legal, and biological context in which intercourse occurs.

  3. Discussed at www.mediagirl.org

    media girl:

    Whither feminism (part deux): The thin pink line

    One of my favorite all-time characters on television is CJ Craig on “The West Wing” (a sho

  4. fromaway

    “The idea that it is not possible for any woman in any marriage to be free in her choice to have sex does sound close to the idea that she is repudiating…”

    I actually think Dworkin’s right there. When rape was legally defined as a man forcing sex on a woman not his wife, this indicated that forcing sex on one’s wife was legal; therefore, a woman had no legal right to deny her husband sex. And when refusal is not a right but a privilege that can be taken away at any time, the value of acceptance is compromised.

    Now, if she thought the same about a regime under which marital rape was NOT legal, I might agree with you.

  5. Cole Mitchell

    A few things:

    First, I’m curious about other common radical feminist canards. “All men are rapists,” for instance. Can the origin of the canard be traced to any particular writer?

    Or there’s this quote making the rounds, (sourcelessly) attributed to MacKinnon: “All sex, even consensual sex between a married couple, is an act of violence perpetrated against a woman.” Has she actually written that? If so, does the sentence mean what it seems to?

    In general, are they ANY radical feminists who oppose all heterosexual coitus under present-conditions patriarchy? Or any who oppose all heterosexual coitus in marriage (again, under patriarchy)? I think it obvious that heterosexual coitus, even under patriarchy and even in marriage, can be a very good thing — a valuable expression of mutual affection and intimate trust. Do any radical feminists deny this?

    Unfortunately for my understanding of radical feminism, any time I’ve read something by Dworkin or MacKinnon or Butler (which is, admittedly, not very often), I am MADDENED by the prose style. This isn’t to say that there is a homogeneous prose style employed by these writers (much less by all radical feminists). It’s just that each prose style seems achingly horrible, each in its own way. I’ve never encountered any radical feminist who employs tolerable prose, and so I feel frustrated at the prospect of gaining an adequate understanding of the issues, arguments, and positions.

    Caveat: When I found the work of Sally Haslanger online, it was a dream! Which is not to say that I require the appearance of “iff_df” in my prose. It’s just to say that Haslanger’s somewhat dry analytic style is tolerable, and the only instance I’ve found.

    And so when I just tried to read the Dworkin quotes, I was struck with disappointment: “Oh no, the prose is so terrible!” It’s so charged with rhetoric that I don’t know what exactly a given sentence means, or what line of reasoning is being pursued. The text itself seems sorely insensitive to ambiguity; Dworkin never seems to spell out exactly what the view is at any given point. (This, of course, is no criticism of Dworkin’s thought, just her prose).

    I’m sure that some of these problems go away once you’ve read enough in the field. But how is a non-expert supposed to achieve a tolerable expertise, when all the issues, arguments, positions, concepts, and distinctions seem to lie hidden by the prose?

· April 2005 ·

  1. Ian

    The problem is not limited to feminist writers, but is a problem with most academic writers. They seem completely incapable of just using ordinary, plain English. It is particularly bad in the arts, social studies and economics. In every case it can be translated into plain English, but then it no longer looks academic.

  2. Discussed at www.msmagazine.com

    ms.musings:

    Andrea Dworkin Dies

    Andrea Dworkin died this weekend at home in Washington, D.C. She was 59. Here’s the first story found on Google News. The Guardian’s Simon Jefferey writes: The American feminist icon, writer and campaigner Andrea Dworkin, who linked pornography to rape…

  3. Discussed at steve.anthropiccollective.org

    Steve Lawson:

    Andrea Dworkin has died

    Apparently she died on Friday, but it only reached the press yesterday. Dworkin was one of the most controversial writers of the 20th century, but also one of the most…

  4. Francis

    She may not have said that all sex was rape - but what she actually said (in “Intercourse” - third paragraph) is that “Violation is a synonym for intercourse”.

    Not in any dictionary or thesaurus I’ve ever seen, it isn’t.

    Now, there is much intercourse that is violation. This doesn’t mean that the two words are synonyms - and although she may never have said that “all heterosexual sex is rape”, that is an obvious interpretation of the quote I have presented.

    If she throws around emotive language like that and does it imprecisely, why is anyone surprised when people draw obvious conclusions.

    And all I can say about her views on the “male lexicon” is that someone needs to hand me a dictionary if I am to understand it. (And yes, I am male).

  5. My Name

    She writes: “In it, female is bottom, stigmatized. Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior: communicating to her cell by cell her own inferior status, impressing it on her, burning it into her by shoving it into her, over and over, pushing and thrusting until she gives up and gives in� which is called surrender in the male lexicon.”

    She describes the essential nature of intercourse as synonymous with rape. Her allusion to rape above isn’t subtle and her context seems to indicate she is talking about all intercoure. I think her emotionally persuasive but inflammatory writing style shows she was more of an advocate than a scientist but even extremists have valid points.

  6. Joey

    I think she was writing out of her own anger and experience and over-generalized her own stongly held perspective to everyone and every relationship. In doing that she slandered many men (but not as many as most men believe). Then she slandered her critics by saying that they could not understand her because they only thought in terms of sexual dominance. I believe she secretly wished she could retract some of the more overstated views such as the ones exerpted above. She survived abuse with the best human response available; she studied and deconstructed the world that had abused her. Too bad she never completly got over her misfourtune. She was the perfect person to expose how male dominance corrupts society but she was probably not the most objective social commentator.

  7. Rad Geek

    Let me start by repeating something from my post above.

    But taking the interpretation, from these passages, that Dworkin thinks all heterosexual sex (or all penis-in-vagina intercourse) is rape merely amounts to a misunderstanding … because he or she is not extending the same effort at interpretive charity towards Dworkin that she or he would for anyone else.

    I highlight this because it’s important. Radical feminists in general, and Andrea Dworkin in particular, are routinely dismissed or attacked on the grounds of positions they never held because they are routinely subjected to criticism based on second-hand gossip or misreadings so sloppy and uncharitable that they would be a source of embarassment in any other area of political theory or any other field of inquiry. After you’ve seen it enough, it becomes hard to take this as anything other than the lingering cognitive effects of a misogynist culture. Even if you’ve only seen it once, it’s hard to take it as anything other than illiterate.

    Here’s an example. “Francis”, having been encouraged to read Intercourse before he holds forth on it, reports back with the following sentence plucked out of the third paragraph of the seventh chapter (the one that’s on the Internet):

    She may not have said that all sex was rape — but what she actually said (in “Intercourse” - third paragraph) is that “Violation is a synonym for intercourse”.

    Stop. Right there. No she doesn’t. Here’s what she says (boldface added):

    A human being has a body that is inviolate; and when it is violated, it is abused. A woman has a body that is penetrated in intercourse, its corporeal solidness a lie. The discourse of male truth—literature, science, philosophy, pornography—calls that penetration violation. This it does with some consistency and some confidence. Violation is a synonym for intercourse. At the same time, the penetration is taken to be a use, not an abuse; a normal use; it is appropriate to enter her, to push into (“violate”) the boundaries of her body. She is human, of course, but by a standard that does not include physical privacy, since to keep a man out altogether and for a lifetime is deviant in the extreme, a psychopathology, a repudiation of the way in which she is expected to manifest her humanity.

    In this paragraph alone—let alone through the rest of the book—Dworkin couldn’t possibly make it more clear that she is not describing what she thinks the essence of intercourse is, but rather explicating the meaning that male supremacist culture attaches to intercourse. The “synonymy” is not her thought on the matter, but the thought of the male novelists, philosophers, and others that she spends a couple of hundred pages dissecting and analyzing.

    I don’t want to be mean, but the simple fact is that this is just as silly an error as if you had flipped to a page in Book II of the Republic, pulled out a quote from Thrasymachus, and used it to show how Plato believes that justice is the interest of the stronger. It’s a dumb mistake and you ought to be embarassed that you have made it.

    Not in any dictionary or thesaurus I’ve ever seen, it isn’t.

    Now, there is much intercourse that is violation. This doesn’t mean that the two words are synonyms

    If Francis seriously means to claim that he’s never seen the word “violating” used as a synonym for “having intercourse with”, much like its close associates “ravishing”, “fucking”, “nailing”, “screwing”, etc., then I can only urge him to read more. (One thing that he could read, to save time, is Intercourse, which contains a large list of quotes from notable male authors to illustrate her points.)

    — and although she may never have said that “all heterosexual sex is rape”, that is an obvious interpretation of the quote I have presented.

    No, it’s not. I discuss why at length in the post above. Let me repeat it here. What Dworkin argues is that sex, and heterosexual intercourse in particular, happens within a social and cultural context. Women’s (and men’s) experience of intercourse is colored by the fact that rape is extremely prevalent (meaning: a lot of women have been raped by men), and by the fact that the men who have the biggest influence in setting the terms of our culture insist on describing sex in terms of a man taking pleasure from a woman’s body and as something that defiles or violates a woman; that they not only portray dominance (including, but not limited to, coercion and rape) as sexy, but in fact suggest that it is a necessary condition of arousal; by the fact that men and women are both brought up to look at all eroticism through the lens of heterosexual intercourse and all heterosexual intercourse through the lens of that specific set of ideas about what it means for men and for women;by the powerful system of social sanctions and outright coercion that enforces those attitudes and encourages men to act on them; and so on.

    Does that mean that all heterosexual intercourse is rape? No, certainly not. Dworkin’s arguments are not mainly anatomical; it’s specifically about intercourse under the cultural and material conditions of male supremacist society. (This is explicit in the book, and Dworkin has stated clearly elsewhere that she thinks that “intercourse will survive equality”.)

    Does it mean that all heterosexual sex in a male-supremacist society is rape? No, it doesn’t mean that, either. It does mean that women’s experience of heterosexual sex is colored by the fact of rape, and the fact that many men’s attitudes towards consensual intercourse and towards women (the attitudes that men are put under intense pressure by their peers and by the culture at large to exhibit) are alarmingly like the attitudes of rapists. (And that this isn’t just accidental; it’s part and parcel of the way that the men in our culture have portrayed and had sex, and the kinds of sex that they have portrayed as paradigmatic for sexuality as such.)

    That’s a radical claim, to be sure. It’s one that profoundly challenges some of the most intimate, intense, and ordinary facts of our everyday life. But it is not the claim that all heterosexual sex is rape or even any close cousin of that claim.

    You might complain that her prose makes this unclear. I don’t think it does. It’s quite clear if you actually sit down and read the book, paying the same attention to her argument that you would pay to anyone else who you were trying to understand. You might complain that you don’t have the time or the interest to read the book. That’s fine; everyone’s time is limited and I don’t expect everyone to read the same books that I read. But I do expect them to realize that if they haven’t actually read the book, they don’t know what it means, and probably shouldn’t hold forth on what the “obvious conclusion” to draw from this or that sentence is when they haven’t understood the quote in its larger context.

  8. Anonymous

    “Both seem to be unfortunately common conditions; as a result, statements that Dworkin makes about the meaning of intercourse are routinely misinterpreted as statements made in propia voce when in fact they are statements of the meaning attributed to intercourse by male supremacist culture and enforced by the material conditions (economic vulnerability, violence) that women face under patriarchy. These are meanings that Dworkin, among other things, intends to criticize (anyone who has had to write a long exposition of a systematic view with which they disagree could probably be misinterpreted in the same way).”

    Whether Dworkin made a statement in propia voce or put the words into the mouths of men, as she does, the end result is the same:

    Her premises are faulty and biased at the core.

    She attributes qualities to men and then knocks down this misandrist strawman.

    That she attributes those qualities to ‘male supremecist culture’ is defacto proof of her man-hating agenda.

    She is simply wrong.

    There is no male supremacist culture. It is a tool her and other Feminists use to earn a living.

    Violence has nothing to do with intercourse, men do not think so, the qualities she attributes to men as a group are just wrong, and that she believes the ‘male patriarchy’, and men by extention, to believe so is a sign that she was a sick individual.

    How could one person be so wrong about half of humanity and be held up as an example, is beyond me.

  9. The Church Secretary

    Thanks, Rad Geek. What a wonderful analysis you’ve presented. I hadn’t given two shakes about Andrea Dworkin before reading it, but now I feel that I have to go out and buy (or borrow from the library) a copy of “Intercourse” ASAP.

    From some of the comments I’ve read here, I’m seeing two problems associated with correctly appreciating Dworkin’s work:

    1) The male-centered paradigm is so ingrained into our collective psyche that many people have massive trouble even seeing and comprehending ideas that deconstruct it.

    2) Some individuals are so intent on defending the political borders defined (in part) by the male-centered paradigm that they will deny the very existence of the paradigm, then reflexively attempt paint Dworkin with the broad, clumsy strokes of their obfuscatory political pallete.

  10. Anonymous

    I get the impression that anyone who could take the view that “female is bottom, stigmatized” or believe that others take that view is just having truly awful sex and assuming everyone else is too. A woman can make a man feel just as inferior and worthless as vice versa, both in the bedroom and out of it.

    As for the points 1 - 8 given above, I would agree taht points 4 and beyond follow logically if you take points 1-3 as given and accurate. The problem is that they are not. Number 1 is probably accurate, but I don’t see anything wrong with that at all. Sex originates in making babies. It is intercourse that makes babies. It is therefore entirely natural that intercourse is the central focus of sex. As for points 2 and 3 I think they’re entirely ridiculous.

  11. Anonymous

    To clarify, I’m not saying that a woman SHOULD be making a man feel worthless in bed - what I’m saying is that if anyone feels worthless in bed then that is, by definition, truly awful, and can happen as much one way as the other.

  12. Rad Geek

    Anonymous:

    Her premises are faulty and biased at the core. … That she attributes those qualities to ‘male supremecist culture’ is defacto proof of her man-hating agenda.

    She is simply wrong.

    The purpose of this post is not to defend the claim that what Andrea Dworkin says in Intercourse is true. If you want the argument for that, you will find it in Intercourse; Andrea Dworkin spends about 200 pages, in a carefully constructed order and with a dense set of quotations from literature, psychology, and philosophy, supporting her claims a lot more carefully and convincingly than I could do here. To seriously engage with her argument you are going to have to just sit down and read Intercourse, not some post by a blogger you found on the Internet.

    The point about reading, though, is connected to what this post is about. The remarks I made here are some preliminary remarks about how Andrea Dworkin ought to be read; they are important because it is quite clear that many of her critics have not read her carefully, or—this is just as common, if not more—have not read her at all. The important point here is not to show people that what Andrea Dworkin is saying are true; it’s (1) to give them a more accurate sketch of what she did say, and (2) to encourage them to read the book if they are going to try to hash out the reasons for and against that, or to hold forth on the details of her position.

    So, I’m not going to spend a lot of time arguing for or against your assertions here. A few remarks, though:

    1. The existence of male supremacy as a lived reality and misogyny as a central aspect of our culture is not one of Andrea Dworkin’s “premises.” It’s one of her conclusions, and the argument for it is painstakingly documented in Intercourse, as well as in other foundational books such as Pornography: Men Possessing Women (as well as some of the books she refers to in the course of making her argument, such as Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics). You might find those arguments weak or strong, cogent or uncogent; but the arguments are there, and to engage with the position you’ll have to engage with them rather than writing their conclusions off as obviously wrong.

    2. Andrea Dworkin did not, in fact, “hate men” as such. (She hated a lot of individual men, and she hated what men did when they were acting like men are expected and encouraged to act, but that’s something different.) That said, though, just pointing at an agenda and saying “That’s man-hating!” is not the same thing as saying “That’s false.” If her claims about society are true, then what does it matter whether they are “man-hating” or not? And if they are false, why not just show how they are false instead of trotting out a dime-store psyhoanalysis of what you suppose the causes of her errors to be?

    3. The tactic of writing off someone’s arguments about sexuality (and, let’s be frank, of writing off a woman’s arguments about sexuality—male scholars are not treated this way) simply on the basis of what you imagine to be true about her own personal sex life, is, frankly, sleazy, and you ought to be embarassed that you stooped to it.

    4. The following argument rests on a premise that is barely asserted without support: “Sex originates in making babies. It is intercourse that makes babies. It is therefore entirely natural that intercourse is the central focus of sex.”

      Of course, if you buy into an evolutionary picture of human history, then it’s true in some sense that “sex originates in making babies”—that is, the existence of sex is explained by reference to our evolutionary history. But if that’s all you mean, it’s just as true that body hair, skin color, mathematics, philosophy, poetry, sickle-cell anemia, and eating originate in making babies. That in and of itself tell us very little about any of these human functions or characteristics, and nothing at all about what the paradigmatic examples of them all. (“Would you have my baby?” is not the paradigmatic expression of poetry.)

      You might make some stronger claim: that the specific evolutionary function of sexual pleasure, say, is that it encourages people to engage in activities (heterosexual intercourse) that directly result in reproduction. But it’s not clear that this is actually the sole evolutionary function of sexual pleasure—you might think that the role that it plays in social cohesion, by intensifying certain kinds of interpersonal relationships is just as important if not more important in a species with the sort of social life-cycle that humans have.

      More importantly, though, it’s not at all clear why the evolutionary reasons that this or that human function or characteristic happened to come about tell us anything interesting about the purpose of that function or characteristic. (Suppose it turns out to be the case—as it probably is—that our capacity to make and enjoy music was an evolutionary accident, a side effect of some other cognitive or emotional function that was adaptive. Would that mean that it has turned out that music is purposeless? Of course not. The evolutionary functions of something and its uses and roles in human life are two different things.) And in fact, the role that sexuality plays in our lives (for good and for ill) is very often distinctly unconcerned with any questions about reproduction. If you want to make some kind of stronger argument that what matters to us about sexuality is first and foremost reproduction, you will have to provide a lot stronger evidence than you have so far.

  13. Not a separatist

    Well, whatever Dworkin intended, she certainly persuaded countless men and women that she believed men were bad.

    Anyone fifty or over remembers those days, the hard-core rhetoric and the barely-concealed hatred toward all things male.

    I remember when I read my first issue or two of “Off Our Backs”, particularly the Dworkinist letters to the editor about keeping baby boys away from the Michigan Womyn’s Music festival.

    I remember sensing the barely concealed revulsion behind the Dworkinists’ words as they described in those pages how baby boys were tainted, how they carried with them the stench of testosterone and oppression, and how they shouldn’t be permitted on the Festival grounds.

    I had never read such hate-filled vitriol from college-eucated women, and was astounded to see it in a general reading room of a college library. Here I was in the library at the University of Wisconsin Madison, and I was reading something that could have been lifted from Mein Kampf or the Ku Klux Klan newsletter. I felt like I had stepped back into the days of rabid white segregationists, with Dworkin in her Grand Kleagle outfit lighting the cross … and all those women loved her. Patron saint, Dworkin was.

    No. Those women knew what Dworkin wrote. They studied it like holy scripture in their women’s studies classes, and they reveled in the Dworkin hate.

  14. Discussed at www.unbsj.ca

    scribblingwoman:

    Andrea Dworkin, R.I.P.

    Obituary in the NYTimes (registration required), The New York Sun, and a balanced retrospective with some good links in…

  15. Michael Blowhard

    Thanks for going back to the sources — very helpful.

    I do think one think you may be failing to grapple with is the fact that Dworkin set up a vision of contemporary heterosex that is such that mutually enjoyable sex that she would honor becomes virtually impossible. Perhaps not all penetrative heterosex is violation — but all (or nearly all) penetrative heterosex in the world that we actually live in is violation. In some alternative world, where (of course) radical changes have occurred, perhaps gals ‘n’ guys can both enjoy some bonin’. But in this world, by Andrea’s judgment, no way.

    She wasn’t dumb. But she was a loon. Many thanks for straightening her exact words. At the same time, it’s awfully hard to read her work (I’ve read some) and not come away from it thinking, Good lord, the woman’s got a huge grudge against heterosex as millions of people engage in it (and possibly even enjoy it) today.

  16. Discussed at www.faultline.org

    Creek Running North:

    Andrea Dworkin, 1946-2005

    “In blaming and shaming the oppressed, the powerless, the left colludes with the right. There’s no reason to look to the left for justice, so people look to the right for order. It’s pretty simple. The victory of the right…

  17. Joey

    Dworkin reminds me of Ayn Rand: they both were victims of harsh, dehumanizing systems that they escaped from and went on to intellectualize and write about according to a philosophy exactly opposite to the system that had caused them so much pain in their younger years. It’s great that she responded to adversity in such a way but that does not make her an objective critic of society. It does just the reverse; it makes it impossible for her to extend “the same interpretive clarity” to those not so scarred by sex as she was. This silly idea that men are �inviolate� is just a bunch of crap. I suppose that�s what all those priests thought about those altar boys. Dworkin was not normal; she lived a tragic, painful life and lashed back at those parts of society that had hurt her, but she aimed a little wide and over-generalized to slander and impugn an entire gender.

  18. Roderick T. Long

    �You might complain that her prose makes this unclear. I don�t think it does. It�s quite clear if you actually sit down and read the book, paying the same attention to her argument that you would pay to anyone else who you were trying to understand. You might complain that you don�t have the time or the interest to read the book. That�s fine; everyone�s time is limited and I don�t expect everyone to read the same books that I read. But I do expect them to realize that if they haven�t actually read the book, they don�t know what it means, and probably shouldn�t hold forth on what the �obvious conclusion� to draw from this or that sentence is when they haven�t understood the quote in its larger context.�

    Reminds me of this line from Rothbard:

    �It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a �dismal science.� But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.�

  19. Anna

    Rad Geek,

    Do you know I never understood what she was saying there until you explained it? I mean, I know I need to read the whole book, but I agree with previous posters that it would be delightful if academics would write in a more straightforward style. As a (hopefully) future academic, I really dread having to teach myself to write in such an obtuse manner if it is still required. Would that feminist academics had all written as you do! I might feel more connected with the primary sources of feminism if that were the case.

    Anna

  20. David Edwards

    Quote from Rad Geek:

    The remarks I made here are some preliminary remarks about how Andrea Dworkin ought to be read;

    Surely concise and well-constructed ideas should not need interpreting? Surely they should be clearly and unambiguously availble to anyone with a reasonable degree of literacy?

    I studied mathematics. Almost the first notion that is taught to a would-be mathematician (at least, it was taught to me) is this: define all required entities unambiguously at the start, then apply valid rules of inference. If a little of that rigor had been applied by Ms Dworkin, this debate would not exist.

    When you have to be told how to read something, that sounds warning bells to me.

    But then, the historical precedents for the combination of bad prose and bad polemics are easily within reach of anyone who takes time to look for them.

  21. Rad Geek

    “Surely concise and well-constructed ideas should not need interpreting? Surely they should be clearly and unambiguously availble to anyone with a reasonable degree of literacy?”

    Look. I don’t think that my remarks on this page are necessary for an understanding of what Dworkin says in Intercourse. As I’ve said many times, if you want to find out just what it says the best thing to do is pick up the book and read it. I made an attempt to give a sketchy preliminary overview of the argument of the book because there are many people on the Internet and in the world of print who attribute positions to Andrea Dworkin that she does not hold. Usually they do so either because they haven’t read Intercourse at all or because they have scanned over a few passages cherry-picked and repeated out of their context. If you read the book, you’ll get the argumentative context; in the meantime I’ve tried to give you some impression of what the context you’ll get is. My hope is first, to inform people enough to disabuse at least one person of the notion that Andrea Dworkin thinks all heterosexual sex is rape; second, to call attention to the way in which Dworkin is wilfully misrepresented either through dishonesty or through lazy ignorance; and third, to encourage people to read the book for themselves.

    As I have mentioned above, I do not think that the widespread misrepresentations of Dworkin are the result of “unclear” prose. What you find clear and what I find clear may be different, but when people selectively quote a writer and drop sentences immediately preceding the one they are quoting which make it clear that she is not stating her own views but rather the views she sees expressed by a misogynist culture, that’s not the author’s fault. It is the fault of the reader, and stating her position according to whatever standards of clarity and rigor you happen to think would be appropriate would not help her one bit. And when other reader’s misrepresentations of Dworkin are repeated over and over again by those who have not read the book, it’s helpful to provide a summary of the context which the misrepresentations of her work have dropped.

    I don’t think that it’s hard to discern what Andrea Dworkin is driving at if you actually do read what she wrote. However, even if it were hard, I can’t say I would find your complaints particularly convincing. There are many difficult books in the world; sometimes they are difficult because the author is a bad author and sometimes they are difficult because they are about difficult things and reward repeated study and critical thought. If you try to approach books of philosophy or history — let alone novels or poetry! — with the attitude that interpretive difficulty is a sign of a bad book, or that you ought to be able to figure out what is going on in the book with a single reading and no particular exegetical effort, then you are going to get exactly much out of it as you would get out of approaching a book of mathematics with the attitude that only the proofs on even-numbered pages are worth paying attention to.

    There is a place for criticism and for secondary literature in the world of letters. Thank the Good: that’s a virtue of the humanities and the arts, not a vice. (Of course, if you think that you can put out a better ethical-political treatise than Andrea Dworkin can by using mathematical standards of rigor you’re free to do so; Baruch Spinoza famously tried a while back. Actually, trying to read your way through that with perfect understanding may do as well as anything to disabuse you of your methodological imperialism.)

  22. ginmar

    Andrea Dworkin basically said, ‘this is the way society regards and constructs sex.’ Then people claimed that she said really was, ‘this is what I think of sex.’

    Even now that she’s passed away, she’s still performing a valueable service: when I see someone who criticizes her in terms that make it clear that they have not read her, or stereotypes her and feminists, I know exactly what sort of person they are.

    And the conservative columnist Cal Thomas is the one who attributed that line to her about rape. He’s syndicated in hundreds of newspapers.

  23. David Edwards

    Wow. First time I’ve ever been accused of ‘methodological imperialism’. Must mark today as a red letter day.

    Also, as an example of the substance of my critique (which is a general one, not merely specific to Dworkin), pick up Das Kapital. Marx spends the first ten chapters explaining the Labour Theory of Value. I can sum it up in a single sentence: “The value of a commodity is exactly equal to the value of the labour required to produce it”. Furthermore, the prose in Das Kapital is turgid in the extreme, a perfect example of how not to write a book.

    As for that remark about only considering the proofs on even numbered pages worthy, that demonstrates only that you’ve missed the point. Namely, that if one intends to formulate ground-breaking ideas and disseminate them to the wider world, it helps considerably if one knows what one is talking about, and can express those ideas concisely. Dworkin does not strike me as a model of conciseness. As to whether she knew what she was talking about, well, I’ll leave that question until I have sufficient spare time to wade through her prose.

    As further illustration, I shall pick an example perversely chosen to be as ‘difficult’ as possible. Wiles’ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. This is a landmark work of its kind, but I suspect that there are probably fewer than two dozen people on the entire planet who understand that proof in depth. It deals with a number of intricate concepts, and understanding those concepts requires a solid background of intensive mathematical learning. However, this does not detract from the fact that Wiles has proven Fermat’s Last Theorem to be correct. That idea is simple. Furthermore, it is not open to ‘interpretation’: the meaning is clear and unambiguous. Fermat’s Last Theorem is true. Proven for all time. It so happens that if you do possess the requisite background, the proof is a masterpiece, albeit a lengthy one (and thus not quite the kind of proof Paul Erd�s had in mind when he described elegant proofs as being ‘from the book’: look up Paul Erd�s on Wikipedia for a concise biography). But there are no doubts. There is a flawless logical progression from point A to point B. And absolutely no ambiguities at all.

    If requiring the same rigor from other thinkers counts as ‘methodological imperialism’, then so be it. As I said above, the debate about “what Dworkin meant” wouldn’t exist if she had applied some of that rigor. We would know what she meant, clearly and unambigously, from her own words, without needing legions of commentators to ‘interpret’ them. Furthermore, she would have circumvented the problem of maliciously misquoting detractors at source. Their lives would have been far harder.

    Loose, sloppy language may not equal loose, sloppy thinking, but the two tend to be fairly intimate bedfellows, so to speak.

  24. Francis

    In rply to your comments, I have never seen “violating” or “ravishing” seen used as synonyms for “having intercourse with”. I have seen them used to describe specific forms of having intercourse - violation is usually rape (and even when it doesn’t, it is unpleasant) and ravishment involves the ravisher overwhelming the ravishee, and the ravishee actively enjoying it (and there are those that do). Fucking and screwing are physical intercourse with trivial emotional content while nailing is intercourse with trivial emotional content and minimal respect for the other party. Contrary to your (and Dworkin’s) claims, all these words have significantly distinct meanings from intercourse (and usually each other) and therefore are not synonymous although the meanings of some of them overlap. (And “Making Love” also overlaps with “intercourse”…)

    Also, your supposedly in-context quote changes nothing. Her supposed “discourse of male society” is a strawman - but she was listing “Violation is a synonym for intercourse.” as a symptom of that society. As I say, she was unable to use a dictionary - her claim was plain wrong.

    Were Dworkin to have said “Violation is a form of intercourse”, she would have been absolutely right- but the fact is she did not and you seem to be incapable of seeing the difference. From your own arguments, I see that neither she nor you understand the English language and are making risible claims based on your misunderstandings.

    As for the context you quote, the context is largely a Dworkin-constructed strawman. She said “This is what society thinks of sex”, when “this is what some subset of society thinks of sex” would have been accurate.

    To reiterate the above post, loose and sloppy language tends to be an indicator of loose and sloppy thinking - and also, loose and sloppy language can (as here) lead to loose and sloppy authors making false correlations and basing falacious theses. This is what Dworkin is manifestly doing.

  25. W.H.

    I’m curious: What does the following mean?

    “Physically, the woman in intercourse is a space inhabited, a literal territory occupied literally: occupied even if there has been no resistance, no force; even if the occupied person said yes please, yes hurry, yes more.”

    “Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior.”

    “Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men�s contempt for women.”

    Such a healthy view of things, no?

  26. Masculiste

    Radgeek, you’re pushing the wrong book to clear Dworkin. Check Gene Healy’s excerpts: Readers should try “Woman Hating.” For instance take a look at the ninth chapter of Dworkin’s 1974 book, Woman Hating. Dworkin describes the rainbow’s end for her brand of feminism: a post-gendered utopia she calls “androgynous community.” After the withering away of the patriarchy, Dworkin argues, most of the taboos against deviant forms of sex will disappear. For instance, “in androgynous community, human and other-animal relationships would become more explicitly erotic.”

    If bestiality is not your thing, then how about intercourse with blood relatives? Dworkin writes, “the incest taboo ensures that however free we become, we never become genuinely free…[it] can be destroyed only by destroying the nuclear family as the primary institution of the culture.” According to Dworkin, the destruction of the family will also eradicate any sexual distinction between children and adults. Children, after all, “are erotic beings,” who “have every right to live out their own erotic impulses.”

    During her speech at Mandel Hall she gave the audience a tale that sounded like radical feminism’s version of the horror movie “Jacob’s Ladder.” According to Dworkin, during the Gulf War, as a matter of deliberate policy, the U.S. Army kept the boys heavily dosed with porn, and thus full of bloodlust, rabid and ready to kill.In fact, the soldiers in the Gulf had their access to smut restricted, due to concern over offending our Saudi allies.

    Her published writings abound with anti-male slurs and attempts to blur the difference between forced and consensual sex. Here are a few of the obligatory quotes: “Romance is rape embellished with meaningful looks”; “Male sexuality, drunk on its intrinsic contempt for all life…”; (Letters from a War Zone, 14); “In seduction, the rapist bothers to buy a bottle of wine” (Ibid, 119); “Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman” (Our Blood, 20).

    Now tell me, as an average guy reading Dworkin. Should I be reading between the lines or reading what she actually wrote?

  27. Ryan W.

    Regarding whether a feminist writer has ever said that all men were rapits. The closest I can think of is Brownmiller, who said that all men rape and all women were raped. Her reasoning (and I don’t agree with it the part ascribing guilt to men) was that all women are hurt by the fear of being raped and that all men benefit from that fear.

    She was a socialist, and her aim was not to deliniate which portion of her current-day society was salvagable, but rather to damn and destroy the whole thing so that it could be replaced.

  28. Anonymous

    “Also, as an example of the substance of my critique (which is a general one, not merely specific to Dworkin), pick up Das Kapital. Marx spends the first ten chapters explaining the Labour Theory of Value. I can sum it up in a single sentence: �The value of a commodity is exactly equal to the value of the labour required to produce it�. Furthermore, the prose in Das Kapital is turgid in the extreme, a perfect example of how not to write a book.”

    There is a reason that marx needed to spend so much time on his argument, because he wanted to warrant it. If he were to just have put that one sentence, like you did, then it would just be an assertion. Developing, and warranting, arguments is a good thing.

· May 2005 ·

  1. Sarah

    In the book, “Pornography,” Andrea Dworkin said “All heterosexual sex is rape unless initiated by the woman.” Perhaps this is from whence the claim against her originates?

· July 2005 ·

  1. Charles A. L.

    I just saw this today. I think I understand Ms. Dworkin’s position now.

    Of course, I never believed “feminists consider het intercouse to be rape” (which is contrary to my experience), but I did think she had said something boiling down to “a woman’s consent to intercourse can’t be taken at face value,” whereas I now understand the thesis to be more like “there is a male view of sex as conquering and violating a woman, and this view is harmful to women.”

· December 2005 ·

  1. Patrick

    Hey Radgeek,

    I saw this and was impressed. I wanted to ask you a question, since you know Dworkin a lot better than I do.

    Dworkin is not saying that heterosexual intercourse is rape.

    But, from what I can tell, she is saying that all heterosexual intercourse is rape under certain circumstances. Namely, under vicious male patriarchy.

    Now, here’s the kicker. There have only been patriarchies, there only are patriarchies, and there is no prospect for their being anything other than patriarchies.

    See my point here?

    She isn’t saying that sex is essentially or necessarily rape. That’s true.

    But it SEEMS to me that she saying that all heterosexual sex in our culture is rape….and in all cultures to this point.

    Is she saying this? Or is our society sufficiently gender-egalitarian for genuinely consensual sex?

  2. Rad Geek

    Patrick,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    But, from what I can tell, she is saying that all heterosexual intercourse is rape under certain circumstances. Namely, under vicious male patriarchy.

    I don’t think that this is what Dworkin’s saying. Certainly I haven’t found it anywhere in Intercourse or any of the other pieces by her that I’ve read. What do you have in mind when you offer this interpretation?

    Here’s my understanding of what Dworkin is saying about intercourse in the real world, from an earlier reply:

    Does it mean that all heterosexual sex in a male-supremacist society is rape? No, it doesn’t mean that, either. It does mean that women’s experience of heterosexual sex is colored by the fact of rape, and the fact that many men’s attitudes towards consensual intercourse and towards women (the attitudes that men are put under intense pressure by their peers and by the culture at large to exhibit) are alarmingly like the attitudes of rapists. (And that this isn’t just accidental; it’s part and parcel of the way that the men in our culture have portrayed and had sex, and the kinds of sex that they have portrayed as paradigmatic for sexuality as such.)

    To which I’ll add only a couple of things. First, that one of the lessons Dworkin thinks that you should take from this is that formal consent is not the only ethical or political category that’s relevant when you’re looking at sexuality. (It’s necessary but not sufficient; of course male Leftists and liberals have no trouble understanding this when it comes to, say, terms of employment, but it’s notable how many retreat to the thinnest of thin ethical standards when it comes to sex.)

    Second, I don’t think Intercourse ever deals at all with the question of whether this or that woman should or shouldn’t have intercourse with this or that man (or vice versa). Intercourse is a systemic critique of intercourse as a social institution. So I just have no idea whether she thinks that there are folks in our society for whom intercourse can be not only genuinely consensual but also mutually rewarding and free of exploitation and subordination; as far as I know she doesn’t say. I think that the purpose of Intercourse is not to tell you what to do or not to do in bed but rather to get you to understand something about what sex means for women and men in our society, and to demand that you take that into account when you think about yourself and the sexual relationships you have with other men or women. It’s a radical view that involves an intensely personal challenge to how the overwhelming majority of us, if not all of us, conduct our daily lives, to be sure. But I think that what she tries to accomplish in the space she has has much more to do with exposing what you need to know than with giving you any kind of detailed advice about what to do with that knowledge.

— 2006 —

  1. PaperBag

    Thankyou for posting this Rad. Personally I had no problems understanding Dworkin’s quotes from this page, and I may buy the book depending on current finances :) I think we must be extremely careful in academic criticism- I have found that due to my environmental upbringing (society/media etc) I will subconsciously and consciously make judgements that are not objective. We all do. That is unavoidable, because we are not robots. Once we recognise that we do this, however, we can begin to question our most concrete ‘beliefs’ and the society that we live in. Isn’t that what Dworkin was saying, in a roundabout sort of way? We are so lulled into what is the dominant cultural norm, the way of thinking, when really as individuals and collectively we should be challenging any dominant culture every step of the way. Power to you, Rad.

  2. Lynet

    Thanks! I don’t exactly agree with Dworkin, but, since I call myself a (liberal) feminist, it’s nice to have a better understanding of what this famous radical feminist was saying.

— 2010 —

  1. The Unrepentant Iconoclast

    Hey Rad Geek, I found this (always misquoted by misogynists, MRAs [sic], and equity [sic] [anti]-feminists) sentence from Dworkin’s “Our Blood,” chapter 2, Renouncing Sexual “Equality:”

    I want to suggest to you that a commitment to sexual equality with males, that is, of uniform character as of motion or surface, is a commitment to becoming the rich instead of the poor, the rapist instead of the raped, the murderer instead of the murdered. I want to ask you to make a different commitment-a commitment to the abolition of poverty, rape and murder; that is, a commitment to ending the system of oppression called patriarchy; to ending male sexual model itself. (from “Not for sale: feminists resisting prostitution and pornography,” p. 338, by Rebecca Whisnant and Christine Stark).

    When read in context, as I understand it, Dworkin meant that if women imitate men by adopting patriarchal practices, they end up in the same rank as patriarchal oppressors. That’s why superficial (in Dworkin’s words: “of uniform character as of motion or surface”) commitment to sexual equality with male is not enough.

    I notice the similarity between this and another you’ve quoted from elsewhere:

    “I want to talk to you about equality, what equality is and what it means. It isn’t just an idea. It’s not some insipid word that ends up being bullshit. It doesn’t have anything at all to do with all those statements like: Oh, that happens to men too. I name an abuse and I hear: Oh, it happens to men too. That is not the equality we are struggling for. We could change our strategy and say: well, okay, we want equality; we’ll stick something up the ass of a man every three minutes.

    You’ve never heard that from the feminist movement, because for us equality has real dignity and importance—it’s not some dumb word that can be twisted and made to look stupid as if it had no real meaning.” (I Want a Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape).

    Nevertheless, because Nikki Craft doesn’t make chapter 2 of “Our Blood” online, I don’t know how Dworkin’s quote look in even broader context.

— 2012 —

  1. Dominic Fox

    This is excellent, and the follow-up in the comments is also excellent.

    I’ve been told by so many people that it’s perverse, quixotic or disingenuous to read Dworkin in this way - that is, to actually read her, and make a good-faith effort to understand what kind of an argument she’s making, how she’s making it, what the various resources called upon to support it are doing there and how they’re being used - that seeing someone else do it properly and get it right is, finally, tremendously reassuring.

    I very much appreciate your clearmindedness and patience.

— 2014 —

  1. Anon

    Dworkin believed in killing babies, so whatever else she spewed out, is of no concern to me. She’s Darwinian so she should look at how the animal kingdom has intercourse. That is total domination, at least for the “act”.

  2. Mike

    Reading the quotes you cited in full context only makes things worse. it is quite easy to see that Andrea Dworkin is merely a very articulate but extremely neurotic, verging on insane, person.

    Here is a larger excerpt from the chapter in question. There is no doubt that Dworkin views intercourse as a violation of the female body and that men, all men, derive sexual pleasure from their hatred of women.

    “Male-dominant gender hierarchy, however, seems immune to reform by reasoned or visionary argument or by changes in sexual styles, either personal or social. This may be because in­tercourse itself is immune to reform. In it, female is bottom, stigmatized. Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior: communicating to her cell by cell her own inferior status, impressing it on her, burning it into her by shoving it into her, over and over, push­ing and thrusting until she gives up and gives in—which is called surrender in the male lexicon. In the experience of inter­course, she loses the capacity for integrity because her body—the basis of privacy and freedom in the material world for all human beings—is entered and occupied; the boundaries of her physical body are—neutrally speaking—violated. What is taken from her in that act is not recoverable, and she spends her life—wanting, after all, to have something—pretending that pleasure is in being reduced through intercourse to insignifi­cance. She will not have an orgasm—maybe because she has human pride and she resents captivity; but also she will not or cannot rebel—not enough for it to matter, to end male domi­nance over her. She learns to eroticize powerlessness and self-annihilation. The very boundaries of her own body become meaningless to her, and even worse, useless to her. The transgression of those boundaries comes to signify a sexually charged degradation into which she throws herself, having been told, convinced, that identity, for a female, is there—somewhere beyond privacy and self-respect.

    It is not that there is no way out if, for instance, one were to establish or believe that intercourse itself determines women’s lower status. New reproductive technologies have changed and will continue to change the nature of the world. Intercourse is not necessary to existence anymore. Existence does not de­pend on female compliance, nor on the violation of female boundaries, nor on lesser female privacy, nor on the physical occupation of the female body. But the hatred of women is a source of sexual pleasure for men in its own right. Intercourse appears to be the expression of that contempt in pure form, in the form of a sexed hierarchy; it requires no passion or heart because it is power without invention articulating the arro­gance of those who do the fucking. Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women; but that contempt can turn gothic and express itself in many sex­ual and sadistic practices that eschew intercourse per se. Any violation of a woman’s body can become sex for men; this is the essential truth of pornography. So freedom from inter­ course, or a social structure that reflects the low value of inter­course in women’s sexual pleasure, or intercourse becoming one sex act among many entered into by (hypothetical) equals as part of other, deeper, longer, perhaps more sensual lovemak­ing, or an end to women’s inferior status because we need not be forced to reproduce (forced fucking frequently justified by some implicit biological necessity to reproduce): none of these are likely social developments because there is a hatred of women, unexplained, undiagnosed, mostly unacknowledged, that pervades sexual practice and sexual passion. Reproductive technologies are strengthening male dominance, invigorating it by providing new ways of policing women’s reproductive ca­pacities, bringing them under stricter male scrutiny and con­trol; and the experimental development of these technologies has been sadistic, using human women as if they were sexual laboratory animals—rats, mice, rabbits, cats, with kinky uteri. For increasing numbers of men, bondage and torture of the fe­male genitals (that were entered into and occupied in the good old days) may supplant intercourse as a sexual practice. The passion for hurting women is a sexual passion; and sexual ha­tred of women can be expressed without intercourse.

    There has always been a peculiar irrationality to all the bio­logical arguments that supposedly predetermine the inferior social status of women. Bulls mount cows and baboons do whatever; but human females do not have estrus or go into heat. The logical inference is not that we are always available for mounting but rather that we are never, strictly speaking,“available. ” Nor do animals have cultures; nor do they deter­mine in so many things what they will do and how they will do them and what the meaning of their own behavior is. They do not decide what their lives will be. Only humans face the often complicated reality of having potential and having to make choices based on having potential. We are not driven by in­stinct, at least not much. We have possibilities, and we make up meanings as we go along. The meanings we create or learn do not exist only in our heads, in ineffable ideas. Our meanings also exist in our bodies—what we are, what we do, what we physically feel, what we physically know; and there is no per­sonal psychology that is separate from what the body has learned about life. Yet when we look at the human condition, including the condition of women, we act as if we are driven by biology or some metaphysically absolute dogma. We refuse to recognize our possibilities because we refuse to honor the po­tential humans have, including human women, to make choices. Men too make choices. When will they choose not to despise us?”

    When will men choose to not despise women? Is she serious? I mean holy shit! See a therapist or something. And it just keeps going and going.

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