Friday, February 19, 2016

Is John Wrong? On Andrea Dworkin, Sex Difference, and Gender Dominance

image of book cover is from here

What follows seeks a careful, thoughtful read of Andrea's early writings. I hope to make two points:

1. Andrea's view of 'woman' was directly and politically tied to the female body—uncritically.
2. John decontextualises or overvalues key points in some of her early work, points she later abandoned or came to understand as politically problematic. In the process, the core of her work is ignored.

In John's article, "Andrea Dworkin was not Transphobic", he stated that her early views were profound and life-changing for him. From "Andrea Was Not Transphobic" at Feminist Times:
One passage in Woman Hating changed my life forever:
“The discovery is, of course, that “man” and “woman” are fictions, caricatures, cultural constructs. As models they are reductive, totalitarian, inappropriate to human becoming. As roles they are static, demeaning to the female, dead-ended for male and female both.”
That is the opening of the last chapter of the book, chapter 9: "Androgyny: Androgyny, Fucking, and Community." Also from that chapter, page 175:
... The first question then is: What of biology? There are, after all, men and women. They are different, demonstrably so. We are each of one sex or the other. If there are two discrete biological sexes, then it is not hard to argue that there are two discrete modes of human behavior, sex-related, sex-determined. One might argue for a liberalization of sex-based roles, but one cannot justifiably argue for their total redefinition.  
Hormone and chromosome research, attempts to develop new means of human reproduction (life created in, or considerably supported by, the scientist’s laboratory), work with transsexuals, and studies of formation of gender identity in children provide basic information which challenges the notion that there are two discrete biological sexes. That information threatens to transform the traditional biology of sex difference into the radical biology of sex similarity. That is not to say that there is one sex, but that there are many. 
The issue, in part, is this matter of whether there are "two discrete biological sexes". Beginning on page 176, she offers the following evidence of the two not being "discrete", or polar opposites, biologically:
The words “male” and “female, ” “man” and “woman, ” are used only because as yet there are no others. 
1. Men and women have the same basic body structure. Both have both male and female genitals —the clitoris is a vestigial penis, the prostate gland is most probably a vestigial womb. ... 
2. Until the 7th week of fetal development both sexes have precisely the same external genitalia. Basically, the development of sex organs and ducts is the same for males and females and the same two sets of ducts develop in both.  
3. The gonads cannot be said to be entirely male or female. Dr. Mary Jane Sherfey writes: In their somatic organization, the gonads always retain a greater or lesser amount of the opposite-sex tissue which remains functional throughout life. 
4. Chromosomal sex is not necessarily the visible sex of the individual. It happens that a person of one chromosomal sex develops the gonads of the other sex. Gonadal sex and chromosomal sex can be in direct contradiction.  
5. Chromosomal sex is not only XX or XY. There are other chromosomal formations, and not much is known about them or what they signify.  
6. A person can have the gonads of one sex, and the secondary sexual characteristics of the other sex.  
7. Men and women both produce male and female hormones. The amounts and proportions vary greatly, and there is no way to determine biological maleness or femaleness from hormone count.  
8. One hormone can be transformed by the body into its “opposite, ” male into female, female into male.  
9. It is now thought that the male hormone determines the sex drive in both men and women. 
10. The female hormone (progesterone) can have a masculinizing effect. Dr. Sherfey writes:
We may have difficulty conceiving it, but natural selection has no difficulty using sexually heterotypic structures for homotypic purposes. For example, progesterone is the “pregnancy hormone” essential for menstruation and the prolonged pregnancy. It is as uniquely a “female” hormone as one can be. Yet progesterone possesses strong androgenic properties. It may be used to masculinize female embryos. In 1960, Jones (27, 63) demonstrated that progesterone given to human mothers early in pregnancy to prevent threatened miscarriages. . . severely masculinized a female fetus.
11. Visible sex differences are not discrete. There are men with tiny cocks, women with large clits. There are men with highly developed breasts, women with almost no breast development. There are men with wide hips, women with no noticeable hip development. There are men with virtually no body hair, women with much body hair. There are men with high voices, women with low voices. There are men with no facial hair, women who have beards and mustaches.  
12. Height and weight differences between men and women are not discrete. Muscle structures are not discrete. We know the despair of the tall, muscular woman who does not fit the female stereotype; we know also the despair of the small, delicate man who does not fit the male stereotype. 
13. There is compelling cross-cultural evidence that muscle strength and development are culturally determined. There are cultures in which there are no great differences in somatotype of men and women...
14. There are hermaphrodites in nature. Robert T. Francoeur, in Utopian Motherhood: New Trends in Human Reproduction, admits: The medical profession and experimental biologists have always been very skeptical about the existence of functional hermaphrodites among the higher animals and man, though the earthworm, the sea hare, and other lower animals do combine both sexes in the same individual.
We are not being told two sexes don't exist, in nature or otherwise; we are being told they don't exist 'discretely'. Any casual observations of humans around the world, and even within one culture or region, bears that out: females and males are not "opposites" or entirely physically different kinds of people. Due to that, she concludes, "[w]e are justified in making a radical new formulation of the nature of human sexuality. We are, clearly, a multisexed species which has its sexuality spread along a vast fluid continuum where the elements called male and female are not discrete."

This is a crucial point for John in his work. The insight also informs the work of others, many of whom are neither radical nor feminist.

Gender, sex, and sexuality as "a vast fluid continuum" is pursued by many white sexual Liberals and Queer Theorists in the following decades. I describe them as Liberals because, unless exceptionally, they are not engaged in efforts to eradicate colonialist patriarchy from the roots up. And too often they seek to distance themselves from those who do. A problem occurs when focus on sexual fluidity or continuums becomes the primary work, not in collaboration or coalition with radical and feminist activists.

Achieving greater dignity and visibility to those who are intersex or transsexual is a worthwhile endeavor—life saving for some. But seeking visibility in an unchallenged status quo was not the objective, even in this early work of Andrea's. We are being led to consider the following:
"...the concrete implications of multisexuality as we find it articulated in both androgynous mythology and biology necessitate the total redefinition of scenarios of proper human sexual behavior and pragmatic forms of human community. If human beings are multisexed, then all forms of sexual interaction which are directly rooted in the multisexual nature of people must be part of the fabric of human life, accepted into the lexicon of human possibility, integrated into the forms of human community. By redefining human sexuality, or by defining it correctly, we can transform human relationship and the institutions which seek to control that relationship. Sex as the power dynamic between men and women, its primary form sadomasochism, is what we know now. Sex as community between humans, our shared humanity, is the world we must build." 
Isolated from her core message, some of the above can come across as post-modern and Liberal Queer Theory-making. It is important to note, the problem with post-modernism isn't its discursive critique of colonialist patriarchal modernism; it is its belief that changes in language adequately lead to sufficient changes in culture, and therefore society. The problem with Liberalism isn't that it necessarily refuses Radicalism. The problem is that people are seduced by speaking and writing projects that don't disturb the major power-brokers of society. And, it is easier to target radical activists than be accountable to them. It is also pro-hegemonic to ignore those who are most harmed by systems of exploitation and violence, effectively protecting and preserving the status quo.

People, usually those atop various political hierarchies, are far too satisfied to avoid and ignore the most heinous realities: they can also better afford to do so. I know of no one who occupies various positions at the bottom of several political hierarchies who are Liberal or who believe that only reforming colonialist patriarchy is sufficient to save their lives.

Yet, Liberals can and have worked with Radicals; the problem is that because Liberals don't actively pursue radical transformation, they instead attack Radicals and their theories and agendas, often as being illiberal and even conservative. To the extent that people seeking to reform the status quo only endeavor to create more text, more identities, or more laws within patriarchy, they are liberal and a problematic form of post-modern. Academic discourse aside, it means they are invested, often without intent and usually without awareness, in the mass subordination, enslavement, and murder of women and girls.

According to Andrea, "redefining human sexuality", or "defining it correctly" does not, by itself, leave us with something other than "the power dynamic between men and women, its primary form sadomasochism", unless we build it. Dworkin, in this abandoned early theory, is calling for a more complex, non-hierarchical mythology of gender and sex as part of an overall program of dismantling patriarchy. It is not an end unto itself. The goal is not "more genders". The goal is the end of gender-as-hierarchy, and all expressions of male supremacist violence. So if we don't get there by changing terms and sexual categories, how do we?
"We must destroy the very structure of culture as we know it, its art, its churches, its laws." — Andrea Dworkin, "The Rape Atrocity and the Boy Next Door", page 48, Our Blood.
The project isn't primarily discursive (one of creating new theory) or one of expanding identities (as liberal genderqueer proponents do). It is eradicating male supremacist violence, including as it expresses itself through culture, art, religion, and laws.

To appreciate the implications of anything she wrote, one must face this fact:

Andrea's writing was a radical and feminist political act; she wrote as an activist, building revolution into her prose and nonfiction. She wanted patriarchy dead as soon as possible, accomplished by ending all forms of sexual violence against women and girls—against their spirits and minds, and against their female bodies. This, more than anything else, was what I believe Andrea wanted to see achieved.

We must also keep this in mind. With Nikki Craft alone, over a period of years, Andrea carefully selected the contents of the Andrea Dworkin Online Library. The section from Woman Hating now being promoted by John as, according to him, dis-identifying womanhood with femaleness, was not chosen by Andrea as something she wanted to have preserved in cyberspace. What she did choose was a portion of part 2, "The Pornography" as an introduction to a full chapter called "Woman as Victim: Story of O", pp. 53-63, from Woman Hating, copyright © 1974 by Andrea Dworkin.

From "The Pornography":
Pornography, like fairy tale, tells us who we are. It is the structure of male and female mind, the content of our shared erotic identity, the map of each inch and mile of our oppression and despair. Here we move beyond childhood terror. Here the fear is clammy and real, and rightly so. Here we are compelled to ask the real questions: why are we defined in these ways, and how can we bear it?
Now, the opening paragraph from "Woman as Victim: Story of O"
The Story of O, by Pauline Reage, incorporates, along with all literary pornography, principles and characters already isolated in my discussion of children's fairy tales. The female as a figure of innocence and evil enters the adult worldthe brutal world of genitalia. The female manifests in her adult formcunt. She emerges defined by the hole between her legs. In addition, Story of O is more than simple pornography. It claims to define epistemologically what a woman is, what she needs, her processes of thinking and feeling, her proper place. It links men and women in an erotic dance of some magnitude: the sado-masochistic complexion of O is not trivialit is formulated as a cosmic principle which articulates, absolutely, the feminine.
What is epistemically existent is the colossal and subordinating violence done to women's female bodies by men. This, not the separation of female bodies from women's lives, is what Andrea exposed.

Far less frequently quoted than some of what is above, is this: Andrea states, "I think there are a lot of things really wrong with the last chapter of Woman Hating." See, Without Apology: Andrea Dworkin's Art and Politics, by Cindy Jenefsky (1998). The quote is from page 139, in her notes to chapter 3. Her point is not thoroughly discussed so we do not know all of what she meant.

John's article continues:
That belief in the possibility of life beyond gender was a core of both her work and mine. A speech I gave within a few months after our meeting was published as Refusing to Be a Man (the title I gave my first book). In a speech of Andrea’s written about a year later she drew a distinction between reality and truth in order to say that: 
“while the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true…. [T]he system based on this polar model of existence is absolutely real; but the model itself is not true. We are living imprisoned inside a pernicious delusion, a delusion on which all reality as we know it is predicated.”
As already indicated, I do not believe "life beyond gender", per se, was "a core" of her work. The distinction may appear subtle, but here, John is conflating his own literary and political project with hers, implying a mutually reinforcing intellectual pursuit and activist agenda. We are deliberately told the chronology of their early writings. But the thing is, he has not strayed from his earliest points. She moved on.

The speech he links to above appears as chapter 9 in Our Blood, "The Root Cause". I shall excerpt a substantial portion of the speech, here:
One basic principle of reality, universally believed and adhered to with a vengeance, is that there are two sexes, man and woman, and that these sexes are not only distinct from each other, but are opposite. The model often used to describe the nature of these two sexes is that of magnetic poles. The male sex is likened to the positive pole, and the female sex is likened to the negative pole. Brought into proximity with each other, the magnetic fields of these two sexes are supposed to interact, locking the two poles together into a perfect whole. Needless to say, two like poles brought into proximity are supposed to repel each other. 
The male sex, in keeping with its positive designation, has positive qualities; and the female sex, in keeping with its negative designation, does not have any of the positive qualities attributed to the male sex. For instance, according to this model, men are active, strong, and courageous; and women are passive, weak, and fearful. In other words, whatever men are, women are not; whatever men can do, women cannot do; whatever capacities men have, women do not have. Man is the positive and woman is his negative.
This diseased view of woman as the negative of man, "female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities," infects the whole of culture. It is the cancer in the gut of every political and economic system, of every social institution. It is the rot which spoils all human relationships, infests all human psychological reality, and destroys the very fiber of human identity.

This pathological view of female negativity has been enforced on our flesh for thousands of years. The savage mutilation of the female body, undertaken to distinguish us absolutely from men, has occurred on a massive scale.
Here we see the core theme of her work, well reiterated, consistent with the quote above from "The Rape Atrocity". "The diseased view" is not that woman has a female body. "The pathological view" is not that women are female. The sociopathology is the uses and abuses to which women's female bodies are put, in patriarchal cultural mythology and in hard-core practice.

Advocating the addition of other genders, while leaving unchallenged the tyrannical sexual hierarchy that is globalised, is not a revolutionary effort. It is liberal to the core. The big mistake is thinking Dworkin sought to separate women's resistance to patriarchy from being female, or men's efforts to transform themselves from being male. What Andrea sought was the end of any association, presented to us as both truth and reality, of being a woman with being feminine and submissive, or being a man with being masculine and predatory.

Many people I know, respect, and love are intersex, non-binary, or transsexual. There is no unspoken claim here by me that Andrea was anti-transsexual or that she denied the existence of intersex people. She was an astoundingly empathic and compassionate human being, very much against cruel stereotyping and hatred of any group systematically targeted for violence and socially marginalised by the powerful. She wrote in Woman Hating, page 182:
...whatever we choose to make out of the data of what is frequently called Intersex, it is clear that sex determination is not always clearcut and simple. Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins University has basically isolated these six aspects of sex identity: 
1. Genetic or nuclear sexuality as revealed by indicators like the sex-chromatin or Barr-body, a full chromosomal count and the leucocytic drumstick;
2. Hormonal sexuality which results from a balance that is predominantly androgenic or estrogenic; 
3. Gonadal sexuality which may be clearly ovarian or testicular, but occasionally also mixed; 
4. Internal sexuality as disclosed in the structure of the internal reproductive system; 
5. External genital sexuality as revealed in the external anatomy, and finally; 
6. Psychosexual development which through the external forces of rearing and social conditioning along with the individual's response to these factors directs the development of a personality which is by nature sexual. 
At this point, Dr. Money is more commonly known to have been a child abuser and pro-predation.

And from page 186:
How can I really care if we win “the Revolution”? Either way, any way, there will be no place for me. A transsexual friend, in a conversation 
Transsexuality is currently considered a gender disorder, that is, a person learns a gender role which contradicts his/her visible sex. It is a “disease” with a cure: a sex-change operation will change the person’s visible sex and make it consonant with the person’s felt identity.  
Since we know very little about sex identity, and since psychiatrists are committed to the propagation of the cultural structure as it is, it would be premature and not very intelligent to accept the psychiatric judgment that transsexuality is caused by faulty socialization. More probably transsexuality is caused by a faulty society. Transsexuality can be defined as one particular formation of our general multisexuality which is unable to achieve its natural development because of extremely adverse social conditions.  
There is no doubt that in the culture of male-female discreteness, transsexuality is a disaster for the individual transsexual. Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency (see p. 185) as a transsexual. There are 3 crucial points here. One, every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means that every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition. Two, by changing our premises about men and women, role-playing, and polarity, the social situation of transsexuals will be transformed, and transsexuals will be integrated into community, no longer persecuted and despised. Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disappear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.
She goes on to discuss Transvestism, Bestiality, and Incest, although not in the pro-predation, pro-perpetration ways that MRAs claim. But it should be quite clear that what she proposes here was later rejected for several reasons, in part because it is victim-ignoring, politically naive, and speculative relative to her later work. For example, this, from page 180 of Woman Hating:
It is interesting here to speculate on the perceptions of men like Lionel Tiger (Men in Groups) who in effect project human cultural patterns of dominance and submission on the animal world. For instance, Dr. Sherfey tells us that “In many primate species, the females would be diagnosed hermaphrodites if they were human” (Italics hers.) Most probably, we often simply project our own culturally determined modes of acting and perceiving onto other animals—we effectively screen information that would challenge the notions of male and female which are holy to us. In that case, a bias toward androgyny (instead of the current bias toward polarity) would give us significantly different scenarios of animal behavior.
Nothing too dangerous happens to non-human animals if we don't bother to notice that female and male are not the only presentations of sexed being. A lot happens to them, and to us, if we fail to challenge the ways female human beings across their lifetimes, as girls and as women, are harassed, threatened, beaten, raped, and murdered, precisely for being female women. Colonialist patriarchy is a core problem in the West and beyond. Girls across the globe are imperiled right now, but more generations of girls will continue to be if we ignore the bulk of what Andrea so truthfully described in her work across the 1980s and until her death, about entirely unspeculative gendered atrocities.


John Stoltenberg said...

I fully agree with the first part of Julian's concluding paragraph: "Advocating the addition of other genders, while leaving unchallenged the tyrannical sexual hierarchy that is globalised, is not a revolutionary effort. It is liberal to the core." Unfortunately Julian's analysis and understanding of my views is limited to a single piece that I originally titled "Andrea Dworkin on Living Beyond Gender" (published by Feminist Times as "Andrea Dworkin Is Not Transphobic"). A lot of people (Julian is not alone in this) don't notice that the piece was a personal memoir, memories of a lived relationship; it was never intended as an articulated strategic or philosophical or political position.

Since writing that memoir, I moved on to attempt that articulation, which to me would follow consistently from what I've already written (specifically in Refusing to Be a Man and The End of Manhood). Among other things it would explain how and why the goals of radical feminism (i.e. that politics which, as I completely concur, challenges "the tyranical sexual hierarchy that is globalised") are in fact served tactically and strategically by understanding how we are indeed a multi-sex/gender species and advocating for the radical inclusivity of radical feminism. Until Cristan Williams invited me to have a conversation-in-correspondence with her, however, I had no clue what form that articulation might take or through what publication channel it might see the light of day. Now, anyone can read it in successive installments on what is now called The Conversations Project (

All my writing about sex and gender—going back to my decades-long refutation of the notion of "biological manhood"—has been inspired by Andrea. I never would have written any of it had I not met her. And to this day I believe my writing about sex and gender is completely congruent with her body of work. Had she thought I should not say "there is no biological manhood" because logically that would mean "there is no biological womanhood," I'm pretty sure she would have told me so. She never did, and that's because, as I believe my reading of her work shows clearly and accurately, she was committed as a radical feminist to the interests of the sex class women, but the notion of "biological womanhood" was never the sine qua non of her radical feminism. That issue appears to be a major sticking point in the current argument between radical feminists who are trans inclusive and radical feminist who are trans critical. Andrea was on the trans-inclusive side of that divide and would be still today, I have no doubt.

I know it disappoints some people to hear me say that, especially good-hearted people who have engaged with Andrea's work personally and who sincerely believe she would be their ally on the trans-critical side. To them I say: You too are absolutely entitled to your memories of her life and readings of her work. Just please, if you intend to disagree with me publicly, I ask that you do not write off my memories and readings without having read what they are.

Julian Real said...

Welcome, John. Thank you for clarifying your position. I will discuss this in more detail in an upcoming post that responds to some of your much newer writings for The Conversations Project.

As I think you know, I only wish to have civil, cordial engagement here on my blog, and won't post any comments that do otherwise.

Julian Real said...

This was emailed to me from Margo Schulter, to be posted as a comment. It is long and so will be posted in several parts.

As a transsexual Lesbian feminist who has been seeking to help build inclusive women's and Lesbian communities based on radical feminist values for 42 years, I can hardly consider the meaning of Andrea Dworkin's writings on intersex and transsexual people in _Woman Hating_ (1974), and on "multisexuality" both there and in _The Root Cause_ (1975), as a mere academic question. As a Second Waver myself, I will here try to offer a bit of perspective both on the current context in which these issues arise, and on why Andrea Dworkin might later have mixed feelings about some of what she said in _Woman Hating_.

Indeed, anyone acquainted with the achievements of Dr. Helen O'Connell, for example, would know that some of what Dworkin presented in 1974 is now outdated science; while other portions might be strongly dependent on the specific backdrop of 1960's counterculture, or open to dangerous misunderstandings that Dworkin might have preferred not to highlight when choosing the best passages for an online library of her writings. I'll address some of these points below, and argue that her views on intersex and trans people very likely do not fall in these categories, a conclusion I share with her close colleague and uncompromising radical feminist Catharine MacKinnon, as well as her partner John Stoltenberg.

This dialogue about _Woman Hating_ grows in good part out of a courageous act of John Stoltenberg in 2013: analyzing and defending the ethics of Chelsea Manning in exposing war crimes of the colonialist patriarchy. <>. In the process, because he correctly gendered Chelsea Manning, he attracted considerable negative attention from feminists who hold the view that trans women either are men and should be gendered accordingly, or at least are "males" or "nonfemales" with no place in the women's and Lesbian communities.

In response, Stoltenberg in 2014 wrote a piece for the _Feminist Times_ theme of #GenderWeek, "Andrea was not transphobic." <>. This was a powerful act of allyship with trans women in general and transsexual radical Lesbian feminists coming from Andrea's Second Wave roots in particular. And for some "true believers" that it is possible to be a zealous follower of the feminism of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon and at the same time seek the systematic exclusion of transsexual women from feminist and Lesbian communities, Stoltenberg's arguments pointed to an anomaly. Given Dworkin's position that all transsexual people are in "primary emergency" (a condition she had earlier defined as applying, for example, to Africans and African-Americans in the Maafa, Indigenous people in the Turtle Island Holocaust starting soon after 1492, and Jews in the Shoah), how could a follower of Dworkin seek the general exclusion or marginalization of transsexual women as a subgroup of the sex class female?

Julian Real said...

Margo Schulter continues:

What I would emphasize is that accepting what Dworkin said in 1974 and 1975 about intersex and transsexual people and "multisexuality" leaves open a vast range of questions about how feminists in 2016 should approach real differences in experiences and vulnerabilities among women at many intersections of oppression. Thus private groups and spaces for either women who are Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB) or women who are trans may sometimes serve valuable purposes. But I do see Dworkin's views as incompatible not only with a general rejection or exclusion of transsexual women from the women's and Lesbian communities, but equally with the attitude of some trans women who distrust or devalue all women who are AFAB, often based on a supposed "cis/trans" binary, which I find as misleading as the sex and gender binaries that Dworkin challenged. If I ask for inclusion and solidarity as a Lesbian woman who enjoyed some male privilege until I transitioned at age 22, as well as a survivor of trans oppression, I surely must stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with women who have never enjoyed male privilege and are survivors of AFAB socialization. As Audre Lorde and other Women of Color have especially shown, sisterhood is a multidimensional reality: but surely it must be a two-way street on the elementary level that I acknowledge the 99% and more of my sisters in the female sex class who have indeed survived AFAB socialization, and have experienced things I cannot imagine. They are my older sisters, not my "cis oppressors"; rather, the patriarchy is our common oppressor.

Here I should also point to something that dyadic (nonintersex) people like Andrea Dworkin and Janice Raymond, and also on a humbler level myself, got wrong at least by omission in the 1970's: the vital intersex issue of childhood medical abuse. The practice of Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM), optional surgery performed on nonconsenting infants and children to bring them into conformity with the patriarchal sex binary and its heteronormative obsession with the penetrative sexual act that Andrea Dworkin would address in _Intercourse_ (1987), should have attracted the passionate condemnation of all feminists for a number of reasons. In reality, however, it only happened when intersex people themselves very visibly spoke out, starting in the mid-1990's. Yet _Woman Hating_ beautifully expresses some of the feminist values fulfilled by the militant intersex movement starting some two decades later, with IGM still very much an issue in many parts of the world.

As you note, Julian, Andrea Dworkin later indicated her own misgivings with some portions of _Woman Hating_. Should we take this to include the passages on intersex and transsexual people? Here I would suggest a reasoned approach in weighing the probabilities of what she may have intended.

Julian Real said...

Margo Schulter continues:

First, as I mentioned, there are statements she made or cited in 1974 that we now know to be wrong in ways very, very, important for Lesbian feminists and feminists in general, as with this: "the clitoris is a vestigial penis."

In fact, as Dr. Helen O'Connell of Australia has shown in paradigm-changing research, the clitoris is far larger and more complex than the external and visible portion homologous to the glans penis: that is only, as the African-American feminist Sophia Wallace puts it, "the tip of the iceberg" of the internal clitoris, including the shaft, the crura or legs, and the bulbs (formerly called "vestibular bulbs"). In short, the clitoris overall is about the same size as the penis, except that it is mostly internalized -- and yet more richly innervated (supplied with nerves) and intricate! Thus the human phalloclitoris (as it is often termed in the intersex community) or virga (a medieval Latin term that can apply to clitoris or penis, and I would propose also the range of intermediate forms), differs along the female-male continuum not so much in size as in the degree of internalization or externalization. Here _Woman Hating_ needs an update which I am sure that Dworkin would support, whether or not she was aware of this issue when she chose for other portions of her work to have priority in an online archive.

She might have yet more serious concerns about portions of her chapter on "multisexuality" that addressed the incest taboo, for example, or "bestiality." Here I agree with at least one other commentator that from a truly radical perspective that values human empathy and respectful touch, the "erotic" may embrace many forms of affection that the patriarchal mindset simply cannot comprehend. But such words, in the context of a culture where physical and sexual child abuse are rife, may have later struck her as, to say the least, inapposite. She may have realized that she had looked too far ahead of her times in a way which might endanger those she most wanted to protect: abused women and children. And I will add my conviction that her concern in this regard embraces not only the vast majority of women and girls who are AFAB, but also trans women subject to rape and other crimes of violence.

In contrast, her words about intersex and transsexual people do not pose a similar risk. As long as transsexual Lesbian feminists and other transsexual women who participate in feminist groups behave as sisters, understand that women who have survived AFAB socialization are in this sense our seniors, and respect the basic rule of enthusiastic consent and noncoercion that no Lesbian owes sex to any other Lesbian, regardless of birth assignment, there should be no insoluble problems. And members of feminist communities who do not meet these expectations, regardless of birth assignment, can and should be asked to leave.

Julian Real said...

Margo Schulter's continues:

Julian, you also raise a point where there has been a rather heated dialectic of conflict, as I might say, but a ready synthesis is available. You are absolutely right that it is implicit in Dworkin that the vast majority of women are AFAB, and are indeed oppressed under the brutal patriarchal hierarchy of gender because of their actual or perceived reproductive capabilities -- which, under patriarchy, become vulnerabilities.

Thus transsexual women who are good feminists recognize that in that sense, within the female sex class we are the exception rather than the rule, which makes it all the more important for us to show sex-class consciousness and solidarity by supporting women's reproductive rights as a women's issue and feminist issue. What hurts our sisters, hurts ourselves.

Although Andrea does not address the details of how transsexual women might interact with other women in the feminist movement, a discussion early in _Woman Hating_ about "primary emergency" indicates that women who have special oppressions -- and, for me, AFAB oppression as well as trans or intersex oppression amply qualifies here -- have a responsibility also to look to the general experience and interests of the female sex class. That means at once recognizing, for example, that negative menstrual stereotypes and insulting language demean all women, include those of us who never ourselves have periods, and that discussions of menstruation and allied health concerns should be welcome in inclusive women's groups; and also that women who share the experience of menstruation may sometimes want to have rituals of a kind led by Z Budapest for themselves only.

From this perspective of interpreting Andrea's views from 1974 in an inclusive and flexible way, John Stoltenberg's arguments for the spirit of inclusion are powerfully supported by Catharine MacKinnon, whose opposition to pornography and what she terms prostitution and I term sexage work (from the French _sexage_, a feminist concept meaning sex-based servitude or slavery) is well known. She speaks best for herself: <>

As a Second Wave feminist, I would add that recognizing a continuum of physical sex (with intersex people representing natural variations rather than pathological cases) and of what we perceive under patriarchy as gender identities and styles of gender expression, in no way makes the gender hierarchy of patriarchy less real or oppressive! Andrea shows that we can use common sense and hirstorical experience to recognize both what is brutally "real" under patriarchy, and what is ultimately "true" about feminist possibilities, without any need for "postmodernism." Kate Millett and Andrea Dworkin had it right: while "gender identity" or "sex identity" develops in the first years of life in a given social context as a basic reality for an individual, transsexual or otherwise, the patriarchal system of gender is not just a "performance," or an even playing field with equally valid "choices." Being raped, or facing an unwanted pregnancy, is not just a theatrical scene; the playing field of gender roles and expressions under patriarchy is not level ground, but has a twisted topology of threatened and too often realized violence. This violence, as it affects women who are AFAB, transsexual, and/or intersex, is something that _Woman Hating_ calls on all women to oppose in common sisterhood.

Julian Real said...

Margo Schulter's comment concludes here:

The way I like to phrase an inclusive feminist approach is this: "The rule does not exclude the exceptions, and neither do the exceptions exclude the rule." Thus the vast majority of women are AFAB, and a large portion of this majority face the risk of unwanted pregnancy -- facts essential in understanding the origins and nature of patriarchy as enforced reproductive labor and slavery, and the need of all women, including intersex and transsexual women, to unite in order to liberate our sex class. The presence of a relatively few acculturated transsexual women in the feminist and Lesbian communities need in no way decenter the concerns of women who are AFAB, and good feminist process will maintain balance. Such process, of course, depends on the acknowledgment of privileges and immunities, including, for those of us who are transsexual women, past male privilege and also immunity from childhood AFAB socialization.

A Second Wave tradition which I strongly support is the principle that each affinity group within the greater feminist and Lesbian communities can set its own boundaries. Thus a group like the Women's Liberation Front (WoLF) has every right to define itself as AFAB only. In fact, I admire many of the declared rules and guidelines of this group on conduct both online and in the larger world, and would see an effort to build similar groups and communities including women regardless of birth assignment as a sisterly response. Thus WoLF is free to set its own boundaries, and other affinity groups are free to do the same. Radical feminism is large enough to have room for both types of groups and private spaces.

In short, as I hope to have suggested by this point, living by Andrea Dworkin's radical feminist values as expressed in _Woman Hating_ is a high challenge for transsexual women as well as women who are AFAB, including intersex women regardless of birth assignment. It means recognizing the material reality of women's reproductive slavery, and the psychological oppression of AFAB socialization, that we too need to center early and often. In short, if we identify _as_ women, we must identify _with_ women, so that sisterhood overcomes the illusory "cis/trans" binary. Sisterhood first and foremost! That seems to me implicit in everything that Andrea Dworkin has written.

Julian Real said...

John, below are a series of comments in response.

I'll continue to analyse your understanding of Andrea's early writing on sex and gender. I'll seek to clarify and identify her position based on her words and begin to address some problems I have with The Conversations Project. The installment of John's writings in TCP, that I am quoting from below, is titled "The Sex/Gender Binary: Essentialism."

John writes:
... as [Andrea Dworkin] first articulated in Woman Hating, she did not believe there is a sex binary in the human species. And clarifying that became the second intention of mine in writing the piece. I wanted to explain that Andrea understood there is no essential division of humans (or material or ontological or biological or however you want to say it) into two discrete, fixed, and absolute categories of so-called sex.

Julian responds:
This warrants careful analysis because I think partially incorrect conclusions are drawn from her statements. What Andrea was clear about was that 'sex', even if we observe its characteristics within patriarchal contexts, is not metaphysically dualistic or biologically discretely only two things. It is not neatly or purely divided into two distinct camps; the two named sexes are neither polar nor oppositional; here is no scientific basis for thinking there is. What we experience as 'a sex binary' (defined as "only female and male"), it is argued by Andrea and John, should not be viewed as all there is--in the here and now.

But discussion of this always exists accompanying a political framework and vicious reality; such discussions may reinforce or resist dominant political understandings and atrocities. For Andrea, the clearly stated agenda was highlighting and confronting the brutal and cruel violence of male supremacy: the fact that the binary reveals two sexes configured and lived as a political hierarchy; also as cultural difference. For John, within this first installment for The Project, the agenda is re-conceptualising 'sex' and 'gender'.

While there is no 'essential division of humans', Andrea's work does not refuse recognition that most people show up (in whatever language one speaks) as "female" or "male". The problem for humanity isn't that most people appear to be female or male, when born. The problem is what gets femicidally layered into those designations.

In Woman Hating, Andrea demonstrates that the dividing line is political, not objective. But she does not make a case for ignoring that mammals, including humans, exist in the world primarily as a dimorphic species. Very clearly she states: they do not exist discretely as such:

It is not true that there are two sexes which are discrete and opposite, which are polar, which unite naturally and self-evidently into a harmonious whole. -- Andrea Dworkin [emphasis in italics, mine]

Notice the sentence doesn't read: "It is not true there are two sexes." (Period.) I suggest there's a reason for that: because she's speaking about it relative to what follows. And because she isn't saying there are not two sexes in this world. And, in this world of ours, male supremacy is an ideology that enforces many things about 'sex' and 'gender'; chief among them is the inferiorisation and subordination of women and girls to men, through various forms of violence, psychic and physical, religious and secular, intellectual and sexual, from the male Right and from the male Left.

John, I think you and I agree: only humans give overtly political and ethnic and cultural meanings to the two general biomorphic forms, and only humans get into insisting the division is discrete or not discrete, natural or God-given, masculinist or feminist.

Julian Real said...

John wrote:
In my view, those of us who are women inside this system of reality will never be free until the delusion of sexual polarity is destroyed and until the system of reality based on it is eradicated entirely from human society and from human memory. This is the notion of cultural transformation at the heart of feminism. This is the revolutionary possibility inherent in the feminist struggle. -- Andrea Dworkin

In particular I’ve learned from recent online communications that there are those who identify as radical feminists who either do not comprehend or who disavow what Andrea said here about the difference between reality (the social-political hierarchy and polarity of gender) and truth (the infinite multisexuality that she believed to be intrinsic to the human species).

Julian responds:
You move forward on a writing and speaking project to free us from the delusion of sexual polarity. You position The Project as at odds with radical feminists, not white male supremacists. The problem you identify is with radical feminists' alleged misread of Andrea's work, not with anti-radical anti-feminists' violence against girls and women. That's a big concern.

I contend that Andrea left behind any project to identify "an infinite multisexuality" "intrinsic to the human species". I see no evidence of her interest in even naming it or further addressing it, beyond Our Blood--beyond her work in the 1970s, some of which she acknowledges was theoretically problematic. I source that in the other post.

Continuing, from The Project installment, John states:
Some have accused me of being revisionist for pointing out this fact of Andrea’s intellectual framework, which they reject because they believe there exists a true, fundamental, natural, essential sex binary. But the reason I am sure I’m right is that Andrea’s understanding to the contrary expressed itself not only in her written work but in our life together.

...Unfortunately in the ire about the piece that ensued in that faction of radical feminists—on the basis of its title alone, angry objections began appearing online even before the piece published—my three intentions got overlooked.

Julian responds:
I won't speculate about those accusers you don't name. I don't believe there is a "true, fundamental, natural, essential sex binary" in the way Andrea identifies it. Nor do any radical feminists I know. It's unclear to me why you identify any faction of radical feminists at all. Are they really powerful and influential enough to warrant such attention? For whom are they an oppressive force in the real world?

My problem with your re-vision is that it has no meaningful connection to Andrea's decades-long political project; you only set out bits of her early work as the justification for your new endeavor. You state it is "in her written work". I see it in yours, not most of hers. As you know better than anyone else, her most ambitious, arduous writing came after Our Blood.

So, in order to ground this in her work, can you please identify where in any of her books after Our Blood, does she again mention these ideas? Why does an abandoned theoretical idea of hers get centered, while the issues she focused on in her last decades go unmentioned? What of her work post-1980 inspires you? And what does it inspire you to do?

Julian Real said...

If her name were never brought into this Project, there'd be no interest for me in wondering why you are making this your project: of course you can do what you wish with your life; you have options, as I do, due to various levels of privilege. And I can see how it relates to much of your earlier work. But you have made this project about her politics, not in your past writings (as I discussed in the last post), but now, in The Project.

Julie Bindel is a political lesbian and radical feminist colleague of yours. A year or so ago, did you run your project idea by her or other radical feminist colleagues--women you or Andrea associated with, whose politics you agree with?

I wonder if The Project's focus and inclusion of Andrea's work is being rejected by some feminist activists for other reasons. I contend it is your responsibility as a pro-feminist to take time to find out what the reasons are, especially from those you know. I think you ought to publicly engage with them to the point of mutual understanding. I don't think you should conclude you already know what people are angry about, in other words. And I think it is presumptuous of you to chalk it up to this:

[JS:] I have to acknowledge that in that essay I conflated what some people would distinguish as the meanings of the words sex and gender. I’ve used the words interchangeably in other contexts as well, which I know to some is a linguistic no-no.

I think "linguistic no-no" is belittling and dismissive. There are very serious reasons why such distinctions get made.

[JS:] Drawing a bright line between sex and gender is quite the fashion these days; in some quarters it’s de rigueur.

Again, dismissive. And, curiously, the people who do this most routinely, in my experience are white academic sexual liberals, queer and non-queer. The people who least distinguish between the terms are radical feminists. Where do you overtly critique those sexual liberals and those queer theorists in The Project? Again, the focus on some "angry", ire-ful white women becomes problematic very quickly, if you don't take aim at those with far more institutional influence and power.

Julian Real said...

[JS: The thing is, if one believes (as Andrea did and as I do) that the notion of an essential sex binary is a fallacy, then the point of sorting out what’s “sex” from what’s “gender” becomes irrelevant. Understandably, such sorting is insisted upon by those who want to say that whatever vagaries and variables may go by the name of gender, there exists a fixed, essential binary of sex, some core definitional content divisible unequivocally into two. Well fine, if that’s what one wants and needs to say. But if one not only doesn’t want to say that but doesn’t see any point in meaning it—if one doesn’t believe those two so-called essential sexes are true—well then, what’s the point?]

Julian responds:
I don't agree that many people's effort to sort this stuff out is contingent on the existence of an 'essential' binary. That position comes from an astounding place of privilege. Here's one reason why many people sort out what is 'sex' from what is 'gender': because the two non-essential sexes are real, and violence is done to real people. And feminists, especially, notice the sex of the people most targeted. Isn't that reason enough? Not everyone can afford to start from a place of hypothesis and theory. (Andrea let go of this approach, as she acknowledges in Without Apology.) Most radical feminists build theory up from the ground of their oppressed and imperiled lives. That is precisely what Andrea did: listened to countless women, learned what she could, mined her own experience, and built theory from it. You start with the theory and go from there. That's white, economic, and male privilege in practice.

[JS: I can hear my critics thinking, This dude doesn’t get that there are biological women; he must hate women.]

I am thinking, "He's organising his writing to not be directly accountable to his critics, and is instead dismissively and incorrectly expressing their concerns." I don't think there are "biological women", nor does any radical or feminist friend of mine. You know who does: most conservatives and liberals. But, in what has been published as part of The Project, you do not name them or their anger as objectionable.

[JS: I get why I have rankled these critics:]

You continue to be dismissive in white and male supremacist ways. "Rankled"? How about legitimately pissed off? Your privilege and lack of engagement allows you to term it as you do.

[JS: They believe something Andrea didn’t, and I’ve angered them by saying so.
Have the radical feminists you know well clearly indicated that's what they are angry about? Some of these women we know in common. I've not heard them identify that as what they are angry about.

But beyond that I am honestly perplexed that a radical feminist politics of abolishing male supremacy should need to rest upon a biological determinant at all.]

The radical feminism you and I know well, doesn't rely on a biological determinant, or "the sine qua non of [their] radical feminism", as you stated in an earlier comment. I think you are cherry-picking among radical feminists, for those who warrant your criticism.

Regardless, since this is presently a conversation between us, I don't think it rests upon it.

Julian Real said...

[JS: Does one need to believe there is such a thing as a biological black person in order to know that white supremacy and its corollary race hate must be eliminated? Of course not. People with radical, to-the-root politics get that the purpose and function of white supremacy is to construct, assert, and maintain whiteness (which likes to think of itself as having an unequivocally physiological basis in the human genome somewhere but is in fact just phony-identity-defending hatred).]

I don't support reducing white supremacy to an effort to reinforce a phony identity of race hatred. The problem is the material impoverishment and terrorism of Black and Brown people, and of genocide. I state that for the same reason I object to male supremacy being reduced to a problem of sex essentialism or sex hate, which I think The Project does.

[JS: Exactly the same justice-based, social-constructivist radicalism applies to manhood (which likes to think of itself as the birthright of biologically “real men” but is in fact just phony-identity-defending hatred). What’s driving both systems of dominance—white supremacy and male supremacy—is nothing innate in human nature; it is the drive to reify an identity construct that exists only through institutionalized dominance and acts of power over and against. But the problem of these two essentialisms—race and sex—goes beyond being analytically false and useless. As pet principles upon which to base an effective politics that has revolution and liberation as a goal, they are not only shortsighted but counterrevolutionary: Insisting on there being biological blacks plays into the malevolent cultural delusion there are and should be biological whites, which is precisely the fallacy white supremacists want to reify. Similarly, insisting on there being real biological women plays into the cultural delusion that there can and should be real biological men—a notion that Andrea saw through before I met her and that I began to repudiate shortly after knowing her.]

I guess what I'm trying to express to you, John, is that lots of liberals, progressives, and radicals, and even some conservatives, don't think race is a product of biological essentialism. Many people who are white supremacist know the history of the construction of whiteness over time--they know it as they reflect on their own families' relative acquisition of wealth.

[JS: I’ve noticed that people tend to think of sex and gender metaphorically. Whatever the science, the data, the findings, the so-called facts, our brains like to conceptualize this dimension of human nature and experience in what are basically images: binary, category, continuum, spectrum, and the like. These are all merely metaphors, really, signs that seem to help us wrap our minds around meanings that in fact can be elusive and consequently easily contested. Disagreements pop up as to which metaphor is the correct one for whatever people want or ought to mean when they say the wordssex and gender. But really, we’re all talking metaphors, mental imagery for different human beings’ experiences of human embodiment.]

Everyone I know tends to think of gender as reality, violence, oppression; as what Andrea called Life and Death. That paragraph, especially, is post-modern discourse of the problematic kind: the reduction of harsh and oppressive reality into matters of language, ideas, and disagreement.

I'll pause here, John, and welcome your responses.

Julian Real said...

Margo, thank you so much for your contributions here. :) I found this quite stunning and astute, and I wish it was "required reading" for anyone who is trans* identified: "What I would emphasize is that accepting what Dworkin said in 1974 and 1975 about intersex and transsexual people and "multisexuality" leaves open a vast range of questions about how feminists in 2016 should approach real differences in experiences and vulnerabilities among women at many intersections of oppression. Thus private groups and spaces for either women who are Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB) or women who are trans may sometimes serve valuable purposes. But I do see Dworkin's views as incompatible not only with a general rejection or exclusion of transsexual women from the women's and Lesbian communities, but equally with the attitude of some trans women who distrust or devalue all women who are AFAB, often based on a supposed "cis/trans" binary, which I find as misleading as the sex and gender binaries that Dworkin challenged. If I ask for inclusion and solidarity as a Lesbian woman who enjoyed some male privilege until I transitioned at age 22, as well as a survivor of trans oppression, I surely must stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with women who have never enjoyed male privilege and are survivors of AFAB socialization. As Audre Lorde and other Women of Color have especially shown, sisterhood is a multidimensional reality: but surely it must be a two-way street on the elementary level that I acknowledge the 99% and more of my sisters in the female sex class who have indeed survived AFAB socialization, and have experienced things I cannot imagine. They are my older sisters, not my "cis oppressors"; rather, the patriarchy is our common oppressor."

John Stoltenberg said...

Thanks, Julian, for offering me an opportunity to respond, but I'll pass. I appreciate your taking the time to read my text and evaluate it by your lights.

Julian Real said...

As for the rest, I think your understandings are wise and good. And deeply feminist/profeminist.

I think you know I don't hold to a "waves" theory of feminism, because it is organised entirely around the accomplishments and agendas of white women, even when women of color are also present, or foundational in such movement. How minor a point that is, depends on how invisible one is made by the language being used. I think it seriously unwrites/further invisibilises the actual unfolding of Womanist and Feminist women's movements (especially Black-centered and Indigenist) away from colonialist-patriarchal abuse and subjugation and towards liberation.

Overall, we are so much in agreement and my body eases and smiles as I read your comments.

I have been thinking more about how terminology shapes experience, and one thing I hear from some radical feminists is that identifying people as "AFAB" and "AMAB", while true enough, can obscure a reality we acknowledge, even if we use different terms: most women are female. Not just "assigned female at birth". In the same way most others of us creatures--other mammals--are either female or male, most humans are too. As with our beloved cat and dog friends, I don't think the fact of it ought to call us to respond differently to one group relative to the other. (Do people really treat their male pets dramatically differently than their female ones? Not that I have seen.)

My point about Dworkin's early work is that she was not trying to un-notice that we tend to be female or male; she was wanting to politicise the fact that we aren't discretely one or other, and aren't necessarily only one or the other.

That said, I love how you understand and frame being intersex, and agree that those of us who are ought not be traumatised through surgery or ostracism or any other kind of systematic abuse and marginalisation.

But to insist that someone "born female" should have to language it as "being assigned female", to me, functions to obscure something that is true enough about the human species as a subset of all mammals.

John Stoltenberg said...

By the way, Julian, you said something in a recent response to Margo that I could not agree with more. You wrote, "[T]he problem for anyone, trans or not, female or male or intersex, is being treated like a girl or a woman!" That is a through line in everything I've been writing in my conversation with Cristan; that is its relationship to my past work; that is its fundamental connection to Andrea's body of work. And that is precisely why the conversation was taglined "the radical inclusivity of radical feminism." You and I may appear to a casual observer to be talking past each other—almost in different relationships to language, writing, and communication—but for the record, you and I are in complete agreement on your formulation here of "The problem for anyone..." The challenge is how to make that clear to all the people who need to know it. I stand by the choices I've made in my conversation with Cristan to write for a general audience of well-meaning people. That's not to say that political insiders ought not slice and dice fine theoretical points. But it really really matters that people are not put off by the words "radical feminism" and thereby miss understanding for themselves "the problem for everyone..." that radical feminism and only radical feminism speaks to.

Julian Real said...

John and Margo, I raise that for two reasons:

1. Accepting there is no objective reality--just "collective hunches", to borrow from The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life..." (thank you Jane Wagner, and Lily Tomlin)--and relative cultural experiences overlaid with globalising political ones, I am concerned when what is experientially 'true enough' for most people, is deemed problematic by a few people who have a particular 'not-feminist-necessarily' agenda in changing the language.

2. I am concerned that whites, mostly, are conflating the problem of "essentialism" with the reality of general mammalian sexual dimorphism. I think many societies and cultures have attributed various levels of naturalness or spiritual meaning to femaleness and maleness--in and beyond the non-human animal world, without that necessitating the colonialist patriarchal outcomes the world now contends with. (More matriarchally valuing the power to give birth, for example.) I don't think there's a strong argument that noticing such dimorphism (not absolute, polar, discrete, or exceptionless) implicitly or explicitly calls for an accomplanying subordination of females by males. Put another way, I don't think the gross subordination of women and on-going femicide is alleviated or undone by changing the language to "assigned female at birth" instead of "born female".

It was a late '60s and '70s-era endeavor to imagine or posit that if we all were sexually androgynous (conceived many ways with regard to sex and gender), somehow that would make patriarchy impossible. That is the endeavor that I believe Andrea completely abandoned, along with most everyone else who moved on into the 1980s!

I can appreciate why the newer language exists and how it is useful to many of us, but I think it is problematic to enforce new language as "feminist" or "radical" when that doesn't even name or address 99% of women's predicament in patriarchal societies: the problem that needs to change, radically, isn't 'being female'; the problem for anyone, trans or not, female or male or intersex, is being treated like a girl or a woman! With the language being enforced as it is in some places, it targets and shames feminists for simply identifying that being born female, in patriarchy, is dangerous.

Summing up: the evil in patriarchy isn't that we fail to notice that mammals aren't only female and male, or are mostly female and male. The problem is degrading, subjugating, and enslaving one group of humans (and many non-human animals), for the benefit of the other, while ignoring, marginalising, or also harming "the rest of us". Thoughts?

Julian Real said...

I want to add a link to Margo's comment so that it may be read as a single piece of writing, which was the original intent. So here that is:

Andrea Dworkin's Woman Hating and The Priority of Sisterhood, by Margo Schulter.

Julian Real said...

Margo responds:

In answering your question about the use of AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth) and AMAB (Assigned Male At Birth), I'm coming from a perspective of Sex And Gender Critical Feminism (SAGCF). In one sense, SAGCF is the amazing radical feminist viewpoint that all of Andrea Dworkin's writings, before or after 1980, are important and valuable, and that we should seek to understand and give effect to her insights both on the complex continuums of human sex/gender/temperament, and the brutal realities of gender hierarchy under patriarchy. As she quotes Aldous Huxley in _Woman Hating_: "Nothing short of everything will really do."

First, the use of AFAB and AMAB does not mean that the Inclusive Language Police are going to ban the words "female" and "male." Often these terms and related expressions are useful and quite harmless, as when Catharine MacKinnon speaks of "born women who do not identify as women particularly, and reject feminism as having nothing to do with them..." And she says this only a couple of sentences after she quotes Simone de Beauvoir, "one is not born, rather one becomes, a woman." Likewise, one who agrees with Galileo's heliocentric view of the Solar System, and disagrees with the assessment of a theological commission on 24 February 1616 that such a view is "foolishness in philosophy" and "formally heretical," might nevertheless speak of sunrise and sunset, and even look up the time for these quaintly named events on quite respected scientific websites as we approach the 400th anniversary of that episode in the Galileo controversy.

But let's move to how we might approach serious feminist analysis that can make a difference in people's lives. Your chosen word "dimorphic" does have a proper application to one aspect of human experience: "dimorphic reproduction." If we're focusing specifically on reproduction, then gametes are pretty much dimorphic: there are large gametes (ova or eggs), and small gametes (sperm), without lots of intermediate forms. We can speak more precisely of a human reproductive trichotomy: humans may produce either viable large gametes, or small gametes, or neither (my situation) -- but not both. This is the sense in which both azalea plants and humans have "sex," i.e. sexual reproduction. However, radical feminism can and does take note that human physical sex and sexuality alike are far more intricate than the matter of gametes and gonads, let alone the matter of gender viewed either as identity and expression, or as destructive hierarchy.

Julian Real said...

Margo continues:

Human physical sex embraces not only gametes and gonads, but a range of primary and secondary characteristics, and thus the continuum of natural variations which intersex people embody. Further, as trans people who medically transition know by experience, hormone therapy and surgery can change many although not all of these characteristics, so that sex is not immutable. While the variations themselves are a part of nature, sex is socially construed in the act of birth assignment, and the useful terms AFAB and AMAB recognize this. The intersex community adopted these terms and educated many of the rest of us, so the credit goes to them for confronting and describing their own oppression.

In saying that sex is "socially construed," I mean, for example, that infants with Partial Androgen Insensitivity (PAI) who would be assigned female in the USA or parts of Europe, might be assigned male in parts of Asia ; and likewise in the USA or parts of Europe, in contrast to Saudi Arabia, with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), see Anne Fausto-Sterling, _Sexing the Body_ (2000), pp. 58-59. In the relevant Asian countries for CAI, and Saudi Arabia for CAH, the motivation seems to be a strong preference for sons rather than daughters, not surprising under patriarchy! In the USA and Europe, the motivations might include a heteronormative test that only those infants with the externalized and thus visible portion of their phalloclitoris or virga large enough to develop into a "penis" capable of penetrative intercourse should be assigned male; and also the knowledge that CAH infants who are 46-XX might be able to reproduce as females.

As an ally of intersex people, I feel obliged here to emphasize that whatever one can say about patriarchy in parts of Asia or Saudi Arabia, one advantage of the policy in these regions for some of the affected infants is that they escape the Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) they might still well suffer in the "civilized" West: optional surgery done on infants and children able neither to consent nor resist, in order to satisfy some of the same familiar expectations of adults that sex is binary. In 2015, Malta outlawed IGM, and Chile has now reportedly taken the same step. In the rest of the world, the struggle continues! For a fine overview, see this guide from Organization Intersex International (OII): .

While we're talking about physical sex, there's a truth that's very important for those of us who are binary trans people to acknowledge: while current medical techniques can indeed alter or change sex, they cannot change a body deemed at birth to belong to one "standard" or dyadic (nonintersex) binary sex into the other "standard" or dyadic sex. This is most obviously true about reproduction: a producer of viable large or small gametes will never produce the other type of gamete, for example, and nor, for example, will an AMAB person ever menstruate, at least under the current medical state of the art.

Julian Real said...

Margo continues:

And the current impossibility of moving from one dyadic sex to the other also applies in either direction to a very important aspect of sexuality: the phalloclitoris or virga. As is better known, a trans man currently cannot elect a phalloplasty procedure that produces a "standard male" penis capable of spontaneous erection. And as is less often recognized, a trans woman cannot currently elect a procedure producing a "standard female" clitoris with its rich innervation, and including all the intricacies of the internal clitoris with its erectile crura or legs and bulbs, etc. Rather, current procedures create voluntarily intermediate bodies of various kinds, with procedures such as metoidioplasty for trans man and some other AFAB trans people, or vulvoplasty without a full vaginoplasty for trans women and some other AMAB trans people, taking a less invasive and also less heteronormative approach.

Anyone proposing to go back to the good old days when azalea plants and humans alike were "female" or "male" must reckon with the fact that, for example, many intersex people identify as female or male, an identification usually but not always coinciding with their birth assignment. Likewise, many trans women identify as "female" and have identity documents with this designation. So a binary trans woman can be female and AMAB; while a trans man can be male and AFAB. That's one reason why AFAB/AMAB are accurate, descriptive, and useful, including for those of us who identify and affiliate as "female" or "male." Some males, binary trans men, have experienced AFAB oppression, along with the vast majority of women or females; and some females, binary trans women, have experienced AMAB privilege. Because topics like reproductive biology, sexuality, and childhood as well as adult socialization are so important in feminism, we want to talk about them both accurately and inclusively.

Now let's get to the real-world sexual politics of the way in which "female woman" or the like is often used: as a term implying that only women who are AFAB are "female," or, to put it frankly "real women." Calling a trans woman a "male woman" is appearing to give her some legitimacy as a woman with one hand, while missexing her as a "male" and taking away that legitimacy with the other hand. Let's try it. If someone says, "I don't want males at a Dyke March," we naturally picture "males" as men, here actually trans women. Likewise, "Women don't owe males anything" -- meaning trans women, who by implication may be politely addressed as "women," but for lots of practical purposes might as well be men.

There are feminist communities like Gender Apostates, and indeed trans groups like New Narratives, that engage in and promote this kind of sex/gender discourse, and I heartily support their right of free speech and also their right not to be intimidated, threatened, doxxed, bullied, or harassed when they express their views on social media or gather for conferences and other events. But this discourse itself is the language of horizontal hostility and exclusion that supports and buttresses the patriarchal oppressions of transphobia and interphobia or dyadism (both of the latter terms being in use by intersex people). Also, such discourse promotes horizontal hostility and suspicion as to "who's really female" within the women's community where sisterhood should prevail.

Julian Real said...

Margo concludes:

That isn't the only harmful discourse to be found in feminist communities, and more specifically in trans communities: the "Cotton Ceiling" fiasco is just as harmful by using pornographic jargon in a way that tends to undermine the basic feminist norm of sexual noncoercion and enthusiastic consent that Andrea Dworkin stands for if she stands for anything, and likewise Catharine MacKinnon. That's another discussion, but I want to emphasize that building a discourse of safe and inclusive women's spaces means applying a radical feminist critique in various directions.

As MacKinnon herself summed up why we should not erase or minimize Andrea's pre-1980 writings: "Andrea's critique of the bipolar sex/gender binary as rooted in the lie of natural self-determination is an analysis we have always shared."

From my own perspective, I would add that if we do seek to minimize the importance of the pre-1980 writings, then we may end up also in practice disregarding a lot of what she wrote after 1980. A world of "female" and "male" as simple reproductive categories, defined by reproductive capabilities, with intersex and trans people maybe grudgingly tolerated but marginalized and pathologized -- what is that but the brutal word of _Intercourse_? But if we focus only on the deeper truth of a human continuum of sex, and not also on the reality of gendered violence and oppression, then we wind up in some realm of Queer Theory that does not address the root oppression, and may produce mainly rather obscure academic abstractions. Following my sister Catharine MacKinnon, and embracing Andrea Dworkin whole and unmodified, is the feminism for which I strive.

Julian Real said...

Hi Margo,

You've written a lot about topics that I suspect will require lots of exchange among many people to arrive at mutually respectful resolutions that might deescalate the 'Turf War'. You have a special role in this effort, as I think you know.

I'm going to make two major and related points and welcome your feedback, of course. I can appreciate aspects of what you describe above. I have trouble with some aspects too. I think that means it is good we are both in the conversation, and are both very open to discussing these issues, agreeing to disagree when that is the case.

The first issue I want to factor into the discussion is whiteness, or the making of white theory into universal theory about sex and gender--or race and radicalism. The second issue has to do with naming male privilege, entitlement, and power in feminists and profeminist spaces.

Just to address where I'm coming from, while we (whites) are a shrinking majority in the West, we are overwhelmingly a global minority. One in five people, perhaps. Nonetheless, 'white culture' and a form of corporate capitalism, rampant in the West, are globalised--gone viral. I believe the seemingly populist effort to further boost white supremacist power in the U.S. is behind the white panic fueling Trump's successful run toward the presidency.

Within white frames of reality, there are many differing political philosophies, from fascist to marxist, from patriarchal to feminist, but virtually none of them, if systematically practiced, are responsibly or accountably anti-racist or pro-Indigenist. We, whites, are so "of" our white supremacist privileges and entitlements, so fused to our relative raced power, that we will not do the work to decenter whiteness without very deliberate effort. I'll pause on that.

Second, if and when a conversation is about feminist movement toward the liberation of *all* girls and women, is it feminist to center the conversations around people who, A. have had male privileges at some points, or all points, in our lives--such as for a third or a half of one's lifetime, or more, and B. willfully deny they have them? If one is committed to a radical and feminist vision, shouldn't our theory and practice decenter whiteness and decenter people who have had or do have male privilege but refuse to acknowledge the breadth or depth of it?

Related to that, I experience the promulgation of the alleged "cis/tran" binary as a deeply political and anti-feminist act used, in part, to linguistically reposition nontrans AFAB-and-female women as the sexual and gender oppressors of trans women and trans men. It is a stunning phenomenon, but not surprising to me. As I experience it, Liberal Western society will always make room for male privilege, entitlement, and power, if it is the white colonialist kind.

Where are the spaces that are not hostile to and denouncing of viewpoints such as these here? I have noticed your efforts to move towards truth and reconciliation within a group we are part of are not "liked" much. Why do you think that is?

Julian Real said...

What you allude to is often the case: politically radical transsexual and non-transsexual people who have critiques of dominant Western Liberal white trans activist discourse, and agendas, are likely to be doxxed, outed, shamed, ridiculed, and threatened. Is that anti-feminism, to you? I am aware of this happening to young trans women and non-binary people of color, also. By white women who identify as radical feminist. It seems we are all capable of doing terrible things, no matter how we identify.

Within queer spaces, more generalised forms of misogyny directed at AFAB-and-female radical feminist women may show up as focused hostility towards a few named radical feminists; or a belief that a few white nontrans women--feminists at that--can change society somehow manipulating all the patriarchal white men with more power than them; or by naming as 'misogynous' the male privilege within populations of white trans woman-identified people.

I have yet to discover a social space where people who embrace feminist activism that is not liberal, and that is radical, are free to name male privilege as they experience it, when they experience it. And even within such spaces, there is often an old, embedded AFAB-and-female woman-hating tendency to want to prioritise the taking care of people who have had or have male privilege, especially the white colonialist kind.

In my experience, with no exceptions I can recall, spaces that are dominated by white people who have had, or do have, male privileges (even if at an AMAB gay event), anti-feminism is present in covert or overt ways. So too is misogyny. Especially misogynoir. The seemingly least hostile form of misogynoir is to ignore Black women's voices, theories, and agendas for political action. And those of other women of color. And to never radically alter the white-dominated space to be less white supremacist for women of color who may otherwise wish to be there. It only gets uglier from there.

I have been at very few events where AMAB-and-male men were told not to ask questions after a feminist guest gave an address. (Because as you've probably seen, nontrans men and/or people with male privileges (past or present) tend to dominate every progressive space they are in; I have shown this capacity, this tendency, this entitlement, ad nauseam within the group we are part of. Curiously, in retrospect, had I been in an AFAB radical feminist women's cyber-space, it would have been called out as male privilege within a day, or within minutes. The fact that it wasn't demonstrates to me that naming male privilege is not atop the list of things "to do" within that group. ***That fact alone, means radical feminism is deeply compromised there.***

Julian Real said...

Once, at an event I attended, where Audre Lorde was the special and honored guest, whites were asked to step to the back of the large room, with Black and Brown women welcomed to come forward.

These disruptions of white and male supremacy and entitlement are radical social actions, to me. Radical and profeminist, if profeminist means anti-racist too.

People who have had male privileges (early on or later on in life, or throughout life, like me) arguing for one particular form of discourse over others (including control and regulation of terms, decision-making power over what gets discussed), over and against radical and feminist speech-acts that seek *primarily* to identify when and where male privilege, entitlement, and power shows itself, is political activity, it is not? Is it anti-radical, anti-feminist political activity? There's no way for me to say "No", honestly, if the people in charge are white.

Andrea wrote of primary emergency, such as a Jewish woman living in Nazi Germany; she did not state that if the woman is most imperiled for being a Jew, and she is with Jewish men, she should not be able to call men out around her for misogyny and expressions of male supremacist power. Having a primary emergency cannot mean there are no other emergencies--that we ignore other oppressive realities also present. The idea of emergencies being ranked is to me a white idea: no Black women I know in this country face only one "primary" form of lethal oppression in their lifetimes? Which Indigenous women do? Interpersonal violence may, at times, be more patriarchal; larger forces of death, such as poverty, may be pervasive but less interpersonal. Or a white cop targets, harasses, bullies, threatens, terrorises, assaults or kills a Black woman for being both Black and a woman.

The conditional term Andrea used, primary emergency (in about three lines of the book), meant that the woman facing such an emergency could be killed for that reason, and that she is or has been. Disproportionately, the trans women who are killed are Black, not white. Time and again in media, I have read or heard white trans women activists name, as the deceased woman's 'primary emergency'--being transgender. That distorts in a deeply racist way the reality of simultaneous dangers which Black women face uniquely, especially if poor and on the street.

The Conversations Project goes out of its way to grasp at any piece of white theory: Andrea wrote three lines on primary emergency; Black radical feminists have written entire books on the subject, but are not quoted at all in the group. Do you see that as problematic, as racist, as a practice of misogynoir?

In your view, is it appropriate and responsible, that a group that actively, systematically discourages anyone naming what is white male supremacist/entitled/privileged going on, to name what they do 'radically feminist'? I ask you because you've been so up close and personally/politically involved over so many decades in feminist community and racist patriarchal society, Margo. You carry a lot of significant hirstory and perspective, some of which you have shared here in this discussion thread.

Julian Real said...

You are the only transsexual person I know, other than one person you allude to above, who would both welcome and be able to have such a conversation (as this one we are having) civilly. This leads me to wonder whose job is it to call out (respectfully, as you describe in your call for sisterly behavior) the majority of white transgender and pro-transgender activists to be present to a feminist's critique of male privilege, whenever it is necessary? Should anyone with past or present male privilege be defensive (or offensive) if called out respectfully? Should someone with past or present male privileges, maintain a posture of listening and learning, along the lines of what feminist Pearl Cleage recommends?

This is my observation: you have done that work; you do that work; you name reality as you see it, even when what's named is not comfortable or easy. And, you are ignored and unresponded to. I call out John on some things here, and if you scroll up a few comments, you'll see a short response from him: he will not engage.

That is what his privilege allows. He does not have to be accountable to anyone he structurally oppresses, or relative to whom, he has more social clout.

I just went to see new comments in the group: while welcoming a new white member, only white feminists (radical or lesbian) are named as significant to read: Betty Friedan, Monique Wittig, Catharine MacKinnon, and Anne Koedt.

So in conclusion, a request: This is a WOC-centering radical and profeminist blog. There is space for white theory, but not if it pretends to be universal or is unaware of what is white-centering about it. I warmly welcome your continued contributions. I just don't want to create lots of space for white-centered discourse that is uncritical of itself. Let me know if that makes sense to you. I also want to support your voice as you challenge those around you. I know from decades of calling out white and male supremacy, it is not done without consequences. I want to support your engagement in community.

As for the naming of behavior as "white supremacist", I shall leave us with this quote and a cartoon:

To me an important breakthrough, I felt, in my work and that of others was the call to use the term white supremacy, over racism because racism in and of itself did not really allow for a discourse of colonization and decolonization, the recognition of the internalized racism within people of color and it was always in a sense keeping things at the level at which whiteness and white people remained at the center of the discussion. — bell hooks, in Critical Foundations in Young Adult Literature (author: Antero Garcia), page 68

The cartoon: The Best Definition of White Privilege Ever.