|image of book cover with inscription (right) is from here|
I have posted several times on the myth--promoted especially by men who love to rape women and call it "just sex", that Andrea Dworkin once wrote or said that "All heterosexual sex is rape" of women by men. She never said it or wrote it. She did speak on the subject quite clearly, however, in ways which make it clear--or, well, ought to make it clear--that she could conceive of sex being 'not rape' of women at all, even when the 'sex' was heterosexual intercourse. Proof follows. If you see this lie about her work being promoted online by men, please post a link to this blogpost here, to refute the lie. It's about time for it to die, as well as for rape (not "just sex") to stop. Let just sex continue; let unjust sex end, whether or not it is rape.
In case you are confused--and if you're a man, you're likely to be: I don't believe that all sex is any one thing at all. I don't think all sex is good, bad, moral, immoral, fun, painful, terrifying, pleasurable, or any other "one thing". I think sex, like life, is complicated and is many things at once, often enough. For those of us who are survivors of child sexual abuse, "sex" is rarely only one kind of experience.
For me, personally, it has been sometimes okay, sometimes triggering, sometimes pleasant, sometimes exciting, sometimes abusive, and sometimes a compulsory chore. Generally, it's not all that and a bag of chips. If I could do my life over again, I'd rather just have the chips, most of the time. That doesn't make me anti-sex. It makes me not interested in sex that isn't mutually enjoyable, intimate, and healthy. It you think being not that into sex that isn't mutually enjoyable, intimate, and healthy makes someone anti-sex, I'm sure glad I don't ever have to have sex with you.
One of the things sex is far too often is violating and oppressive to women when men "have" it. Because often enough--far too often--men who have sex think that entitles them to dominate, control, oppress, hurt, injure, physically violate, and emotionally terrify women and girls. Often enough, that's what men do when men think all they are doing is "having sex". I know this because I know there are millions of husbands of women who think it is their "fucking right" to rape women. And there are millions of fathers who think it is their fucking right to rape girls: often their own daughters. And there are millions of men who think it is their fucking right to rape women and girls in systems of prostitution, trafficking, and sexual slavery. That means there are lots of millions of men who do, in fact, not in theory, make sex into "rape". There's nothing anti-sex about noticing that and naming it. I'd say it's rather pro-sex to want rape to not be confused with sex in the minds and actions of men and boys.
It was not Andrea Dworkin, or any other radical feminist, who promoted the idea that all sex must be oppressive to women, or must make women into inferior creatures. In fact--SURPRISE--it is masculinist men, such as *ol' Kevin here*, who have promoted a truly absurd idea that because men often poke their penises into women's bodies, with or without permission, that means that heterosexual intercourse "naturally" and inevitably makes it an act that turns women into inferior creatures, while it simultaneously places men into a superior position, sexually and socially. I say to Kevin and all those who think (and behave) as he does: You are oppressive, ignorant pricks and I hope you stop having the kind of sex you think is natural.
Moving along to what Andrea Dworkin did, in fact, in text, write, we have this from the second edition of Intercourse, pages 80-82, by Andrea Dworkin--the only edition I recommend getting*, other than the first.
[According to a typically male supremacist rationale] "men possess women when men fuck women because both experience the man being male. This is the stunning logic of male supremacy. In this view, which is the predominant one, maleness is aggressive and violent; and so fucking, in which both the man and the woman experience maleness essentially demands the disappearance of the woman as an individual; thus, in being fucked, she is possessed: ceases to exist as a discrete individual: is taken over.(*See here for why that is.)
"Remarkably, it is not the man who is considered possessed in intercourse, even though he (his penis) is buried inside another human being; and his penis is surrounded by strong muscles that contract like a fist shutting tight and release with a force that pushes hard on the tender thing, always so vulnerable no matter how hard. He is not possessed even though his penis is gone--disappeared inside someone else, enveloped, smothered, in the muscled lining of flesh that he never sees, only feels, gripping, releasing, gripping, tighter, harder, firmer, then pushing out: and can he get out alive? seems a fundamental anxiety that fuels male sexual compulsiveness and the whole discipline of depth psychology. The man is not possessed in fucking even though he is terrified of castration; even though he sometimes thinks--singly or collectively in a culture--that the vagina has teeth; but he goes inside anyway, out of compulsion, obsession: not obsessed with her, a particular woman; but with it, getting inside. He is not possessed even though he is terrified of never getting his cock back because she has it engulfed inside her, and it is small compared with the vagina around it pulling it in and pushing it out: clenching it, choking it, increasing the friction and the frisson as he tries to pull out. He is not possessed even though he rolls over dead and useless by virtue of the nature of the act; he has not been taken and conquered by her, to whom he finally surrenders, beat, defeated in endurance and strength both. And for him, this small annihilation, this little powerlessness, is not eroticized as sexual possession of him by her, intrinsic to the act; proof of an elemental reality, an unchanging relation between male and female. He experiences coitus as death; and he is sad; but he is not possessed.
"Men have admitted some form of sexual possessing of themselves by women in the fuck when they can characterize the women as witches, evil and carnal, and when the fuck occurs in their sleep at night. The witches have sex with men while they sleep; they use a man against his will, especially at night, when he is asleep and helpless. He ejaculates: proof that, by magic, a woman came to him in the night and did something to or with his penis."
What follows shortly was written by a great reader and literary critic. Her name is Giney Villar. If only men, collectively, could read as well as she does singularly. But, alas, as a group, men do not and cannot--unless to analyse the work of men, and even then they often fail at it miserably. To all academically trained men: please learn how to read and analyse literature intelligently or shut the fuck up and keep your fingers off your keypads.
Villar asks an important question below: Why didn't Dworkin write about the politics of lesbian sexual intercourse?
I can only posit an answer: because in virtually all of Dworkin's work, she rarely took the focus off of what men do to women in male supremacist societies. The reality of how lesbians have sex is not the topic of this book--how men use their penises and social power to subjugate others, or to obtain something most het men mistakenly call "sex" (I mean as opposed to, say, what these het men actually mean, which is "heterosexual intercourse", or "heterosexual genital sex") is the focus of this book.
While, for decades, lesbian wimmin have been discussing how and to what degrees many forms of sexual contact between wimmin replicate or reinforce heteropatriarchal dynamics and oppressive values and practices, this inquiry was, in my view, beyond the scope of Dworkin's book. Her book is about what men do and with women that men call normal sex (as if het men were unable to imagine things otherwise): a good time for all. The book is about heterosexual genital intercourse as a male supremacist act as the act exists normally, in lived, felt reality, not in fantasy or theory alone, in male supremacist societies, protected and enforced by patriarchal law and custom.
There is one section on sexual intercourse between men and between women and men, in the chapter where she analyses (brilliantly) the work of James Baldwin. I see the purpose of this inclusion as necessary to note how it is men can conceive of sexual intercourse as many things--not just love and not just war--but that tends to happen if women are taken out of the picture altogether. When men include women, men tend to see "sex" as either love or war, or some strange and often intentional intermingling of the two.
The website which is the online home for what follows, which closes this post, is *here at Isis International*.
INTERCOURSE by Andrea Dworkin
by Giney Villar
Monday, 07 May 2007
Intercourse, Dworkin's monumental book on the complexities of sex, now on its tenth anniversary edition, remains as forceful today as when it first appeared in 1987. In her new preface (1997) Dworkin describes her book as "…a book that moves through the sexed world of dominance and submission…" and rightly so.
In this book, the author questions and challenges the value and meaning that men and women attach to Intercourse. While it is "easy" to read having been written in a lucid, scholarly manner without being highbrow, the book is difficult to comprehend. Intercourse compels its readers to rip open their bodies and minds and examine them under the stark illumination Dworkin beams. It is disturbing light, and she makes no excuse for casting it. Dworkin stops being female in this book and suggests that all women must begin to stop being women as constructed by men, for their integrity and survival.
Intercourse opens possibilities. It can be interpreted in many ways. This is what the book exactly aims to do. To pose questions, spur action and in the author's own words, "Intercourse is search and assertion, passion and fury; and its form—no less that its content—deserves critical scrutiny and respect."
The book is divided into three parts. The first part, "Intercourse in a Man-made World" illustrates the way men perceive women and themselves, as they sexually relate to women. In the section "Repulsion," Dworkin tells of the repulsion men have against women's bodies, sexual intercourse and their unbridled desires, as exemplified by Tolstoy's life and works. In Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata, a man kills his wife to end his own torment and pain about the possibility of losing control over her. The man reasons that with her death, his wife could no longer be capable of defying him, and he did not have to bear the responsibility of subjugating her and desiring her.
Dworkin asserts that men are obsessed with protecting their own vulnerability and they use women to draw attention away from this "nakedness." Men resort to violence against women for it is a way of getting what they want without exposing their own vulnerability. Sexual intercourse is likened to being "Skinless" where men and women merge and lose boundaries to become one flesh- male flesh.
Intercourse has also been understood as a form of possession. Women are being penetrated and thus conquered and dominated as objects. In so doing, men possess women but both experience the man being male. In the process, women essentially lose themselves when they are taken over by men. This is necessary for intercourse to be successful. Amazingly, men are not possessed even if they are literally enveloped by women during the sexual act. Women have been constructed by this type of sexuality. As the author puts it, "This being marked by sexuality requires a cold capacity to use and a pitiful vulnerability that comes from having been used." And because of the social context, women have learned to equate sex with love and desire. Thus, male possession has become an affirmation of desirability, womanhood and existence.
In part two, "The Female Condition," Dworkin talks about the situation of women and the way men maintain female subordination.
In her first example, Dworkin is the relationship between virginity and power as illustrated in the life of Joan of Arc. Joan of Arc, champion of France against the English, repudiated the way women were constructed and fought against the English until her capture by the Burgundians. For Joan of Arc, virginity was "a passage, not a permanent condition," an act of integrity and not a retreat from life. Her virginity and military prowess challenged patriarchal powers and for a time succeeded. She was accused of more than seventy crimes foremost of which was wearing male clothes.
The Inquisitors went out of their way to break her and make her female. To make her submit. Believing that her power emanated from her virginity, she was stripped of her male clothes, returned to prison and was possibly sexually violated by soldiers to put her in her place – a woman therefore an inferior being. Joan of Arc was burned for being inaccessible, for refusing to be female. It was a condition unacceptable to men.
Dworkin goes on to discuss another virginity in the manner the tragic fictional character Madame Bovary experienced it. Her virginity was "listless, dissatisfied ennui until awakened by the adventure of male sexual domination…" Virginity was equated with ignorance, until awakened by man. This is an idea that has prevented many women from enjoying satisfaction and wholeness within themselves. Men have made it impossible for these women to be happy without their approval and participation.
Finally, in Bram Stoker's Dracula, the author reveals a redefinition of virginity. In this classic tale, women remained virgins no matter how many times they had sex, as long as their blood was not spilled. For sex to be valid, one had to "die"—an idea akin to modern sado-masochist ideology.
Dworkin draws her readers attention about the fact that among subordinated groups of people, women's experience of being made for sexual intercourse has no parallel. She asserts that this is not because intercourse is not any less violative than other brutalities. She says that it has no equal because the realities attached with intercourse—the violation of boundaries, the physical occupation and the destruction of privacy—are considered normal and essential for the propagation of human existence. For Dworkin the question to problematise is the possibility or impossibility for a physically occupied people to be free.
She presents contending answers to this question. First, she says that some explanations contend that there is nothing implicit in sexual intercourse that mandates male domination of women. This view derives from a belief that intercourse is not an occupation or a violation of integrity because it is natural. It is a position that refuses to make a connection between intercourse and women's oppression.
Dworkin also talks about actions that have been taken to tilt the balance in favor of women. These efforts are directed to change the circumstances around intercourse ranging from raising the economic and political power of women, to more private recommendations such as more sensitivity and female choice in lovemaking. Dworkin recognizes that while such reforms may possibly provide incremental changes in the way intercourse is experienced—making it more "equal" between the sexes, they have so far not addressed the question of whether intercourse can be an expression of sexual equality in the current social context. A context, according to Dworkin, "in which the act takes place, whatever the meaning of the act in and of itself, is one in which men have social, economic, political and physical power over men."
Women, Dworkin suggests, are literally occupied in intercourse and perceive intercourse in the way men want women to perceive the act. By instilling fear among women, men have succeeded in alienating women from one another and consequently subordinating them. Fear has also assured women's complicity in their own domination and objectification—a requisite condition for intercourse.
This collaboration strips women of their self-esteem so women expend their energies preparing themselves for intercourse rather than for their own liberation. Dworkin believes that intercourse, for as long as it is "experienced under force, fear and inequality, destroys in women the will to political freedom…. We become female; occupied…The pleasure of submission does not and cannot change…the fact, the cost, the indignity, of inferiority."
Interestingly, while there was some discussion regarding male-to-male relations, no explicit mention of female-to-female relations—and its potential for transformation – can be found in the book. The reader might "read" the subtext, but one might be accused of over reading. It becomes more of a puzzle that this did not make it to the book given that the first edition was written in 1987, a time when the lesbian movement has already been around for a little less than twenty years in the USA.
I dare raise some questions spawned by my reading of this book. Is male-to-female penetration qualitatively different from female-to-female penetration, or is penetration, penetration every time with all its corresponding "ills"? Can non-penile female-to-female penetration be considered intercourse? Can two women fuck? If they can, is that a continuation of an oppressive cycle of domination and subordination or can it be liberative? Is it the act of penetration itself, as some feminists assert, that oppresses and thus breeds inequality, OR is it the penis, OR as with male/female intercourse is it all in the context?
In the last part of the book, "Power, Status and Hate," Dworkin further reinforces this belief. She outlines how laws have defined intercourse to ensure systemic male-domination and women's subordination. Sexual intercourse, the book claims, has never been a private matter. Laws have regulated it and thus society has participated in ensuring its power to continue to possess women.
According to Dworkin, laws emphasize gender polarity to avoid confusion of roles. This is especially evident in laws governing intercourse that is the most vital in maintaining gender as a "social absolute." Gender polarity in intercourse and the corresponding meanings and values attached to such differences also protects men from being treated as women—a detestable fate. For if men like women could be violated, their power and status would be seriously breached and thus be dealt a deathblow on the male dignity.
In drawing her discourse to a close, Dworkin expounds on misogyny and shows how women are equated with dirt. In the section "Dirt/Death," Dworkin explains how everything about a woman, from her body parts to her actions is reviled in a world that despises her. Men manifest their hate for women by genital mutilation and intercourse. Men punish themselves for feeling what they do and punish women for making them feel that way. In the end, whatever action men take against women, it still is and always will be women's fault.
Finally, Dworkin posits that for change to happen, a redistribution of power has to occur. A change in power relations and an equality of worth that is socially true. In this struggle, the power of language can only be potent in changing the status of women if its context is changed.
Intercourse evokes strong emotions in its readers with its choice of words, its imagery, and its controversial content. It is necessary to be passionate because Dworkin argues against the denial of women's existence. There is no other way to attack the subject matter.
The book consistently paints an antagonistic scenario between men and women, constantly at war with the odds stacked against women from the very start. Despite the occasional window that Dworkin opens for the readers to breathe some air and get some respite from her multi-faceted onslaught, readers will still come out of the experience, distressed. Dworkin refuses to write from the feminine posture of one knee bent in deference to the powers that be. Rightly so, for readers would need Dworkin's feet strongly planted in the ground to serve as anchor as she hurls her challenges to both men and women.
Unlike the celebratory feminist books that seem to be in vogue, Intercourse will appear to be the raving, uninvited gatecrasher to the polite little feminist discussions we have in the safety of our man-made edifices. It froths in the mouth, shocks and offends, but deep inside us we know that it speaks Truth.
Giney Villar is the Coordinator of the Women Supporting Women Committee, a lesbian organization in the Philippines. Giney is also an organizer of the Asian Lesbian Network.
This article originally appeared in Women in Action (3:1998)