Warning: Content sexually graphic.
“Intercourse occurs in a context of a power relation that is pervasive and incontrovertible. The context . . . is one in which men have social, economic, political power over women. Some men do not have all those kinds of power over all women; but all men have some kinds of power over all women; and most men have controlling power over what they call their women — the women they f**k. The power is predetermined by gender, by being male. . . .
“Reforms are made . . . but the status of women relative to men does not change. . . .
“They force us to be compliant, turn us into parasites, then hate us for not letting go. Intercourse is frequently how we hold on: f**k me.”
– Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse (1987)
Her death in 2005 removed Andrea Dworkin’s strident voice from the angry feminist chorus. She was 58 and died of heart failure, having lived the previous several years in declining health, her knees wrecked by arthritis caused by her morbid obesity.
Dworkin fought many battles — and was mostly defeated — during her three-decade career as a feminist scourge. Most notably, during the 1980s, she and fellow radical Catharine MacKinnon tried to pass anti-pornography laws in Minneapolis and Indianapolis. The mayor of Minneapolis vetoed the Dworkin/MacKinnon law there; federal courts ruled the Indianapolis law unconstitutional. Thus, the radicals were defeated by so-called “pro-sex feminists” in their Reagan-era showdown, with consequences that reverberate to the present day.
Andrea Dworkin was a strange and tragic figure. She was abused as a child and abused as an adult, too. In the 1960s, she traveled to Europe, where she engaged in prostitution, “had a passionate romance with a Greek man” and married a Dutch anarchist “who beat the living sh*t out of her,” to quote Ariel Levy’s foreword to the 20th anniversary edition of Dworkin’s most notorious book, Intercourse.
Dworkin was 28 when she published her first feminist book, Woman Hating: A Radical Look at Sexuality, in 1974. It is perhaps unnecessary to say that this book suffers from the usual faults of early radical-feminist writing. Woman Hating shares with Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex a utopian vision of what can only be called a post-biological future. Dworkin begins Woman Hating thus:
This book is an action, a political action where revolution is the goal. It has no other purpose. It is not cerebral wisdom, or academic horsesh*t, or ideas carved in granite or destined for immortality. It is part of a process and its context is change. It is part of a planetary movement to restructure community forms and human consciousness so that people have power over their own lives, participate fully in community, live in dignity and freedom.
The commitment to ending male dominance as the fundamental psychological, political, and cultural reality of earth-lived life is the fundamental revolutionary commitment. It is a commitment to transformation of the self and transformation of the social reality on every level.
Hers is no modest ambition. By the concluding chapter, Dworkin avows herself an apostle of “natural androgynous eroticism”:
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. . . .
I have defined heterosexuality as the ritualized behavior built on polar role definition. Intercourse with men as we know them is increasingly impossible. It requires an aborting of creativity and strength, a refusal of responsibility and freedom: a bitter personal death. It means remaining the victim, forever annihilating all self-respect. It means acting out the female role, incorporating the masochism, self-hatred, and passivity which are central to it. Unambiguous conventional heterosexual behavior is the worst betrayal of our common humanity. . . .
The incest taboo does the worst work of the culture: it teaches us the mechanisms of repressing and internalizing erotic feeling — it forces us to develop those mechanisms in the first place; it forces us to particularize sexual feeling, so that it congeals into a need for a particular sexual “object” ; it demands that we place the nuclear family above the human family. The destruction of the incest taboo is essential to the development of cooperative human community based on the free-flow of natural androgynous eroticism. . . .
The incest taboo can be destroyed only by destroying the nuclear family as the primary institution of the culture. The nuclear family is the school of values in a sexist, sexually repressed society. One learns what one must know: the roles, rituals, and behaviors appropriate to male-female polarity and the internalized mechanisms of sexual repression. The alternative to the nuclear family at the moment is the extended family, or tribe. The growth of tribe is part of the process of destroying particularized roles and fixed erotic identity. As people develop fluid androgynous identity, they will also develop the forms of community appropriate to it. We cannot really imagine what those forms will be. . . .
As for children, they too are erotic beings, closer to androgyny than the adults who oppress them. Children are fully capable of participating in community, and have every right to live out their own erotic impulses. In androgynous community, those impulses would retain a high degree of nonspecificity and would no doubt show the rest of us the way into sexual self-realization. The distinctions between “children” and “adults,” and the social institutions which enforce those distinctions, would disappear as androgynous community develops.
You might think anyone who wrote that would be locked up in a psychiatric institution. If not, at least you would suppose that the author of this 1974 book would be regarded as having completely discredited herself by proclaiming such a creepy anti-social vision. To advocate the abolition of the incest taboo (!) and declare that children “have every right to live out their own erotic impulses” (!!) would seem to give carte blanche to child molesters, yet this perverse aspect of Dworkin’s ideology usually gets overlooked whenever feminists eulogize her. Having written this dangerous 1974 book, which we might expect would have placed her permanently outside the circle of respectability, we find that a dozen years later, Dworkin was under contract to the most respectable of publishers, Simon & Shuster. Feminism created a demand for radical lunacy, and Dworkin was a marketable commodity.
Feminist History: Witches Good, Christians Bad
How was it, we may ask, that the wacky (and arguably evil) content of Dworkin’s Woman Hating did not destroy her career? She probably rescued herself with Chapter 7, “Gynocide: The Witches,” a vicious 32-page attack on medieval Christianity.
This chapter depicts medieval witches as sort of pagan proto-feminists persecuted by religious patriarchy. It would be nice if some skeptical academic, a specialist in medieval European history, would subject Dworkin’s claims to rigorous scrutiny, but such a task is beyond the scope of my inquiry. However, to give you just a taste of what Dworkin wrote in Chapter 7 of Woman Hating, try this:
The origins of the magical content of the pagan cults can be traced back to the fairies, who were a real, neolithic people, smaller in stature than the natives of northern Europe or England. They were a pastoral people who had no knowledge of agriculture. They fled before stronger, technologically more advanced murderers and missionaries who had contempt for their culture. They set up communities in the inlands and concealed their dwellings in mounds half hidden in the ground. The fairies developed those magical skills for which the witches, centuries later, were burned.
The socioreligious organization of the fairy culture was matriarchal and probably polyandrous. The fairy culture was still extant in England as late as the 17th century when even the pagan beliefs of the early witches had degenerated into the Christian parody which we associate with Satanism.
So, here we have fairies not as mythical beings, but as “a real, neolithic people” whose society “was matriarchal and probably polyandrous.” Maybe I missed that lecture in my history and anthropology courses. But please continue, Ms. Dworkin:
There was communication between the fairies and the pagan women, and any evidence that a woman had visited the fairies was considered sure proof that she was a witch.
There were, then, three separate, though interrelated, phenomena: the fairy race with its matriarchal social organization, its knowledge of esoteric magic and medicine; the woman-oriented fertility cults, also practitioners of esoteric magic and medicine; and later, the diluted witchcraft cults, degenerate parodies of Christianity. There is particular confusion when one tries to distinguish between the last two phenomena. Many of the women condemned by the Inquisition were true devotees of the Old Religion.
Dworkin asserts this as history, you see — “communication between the fairies and the pagan women . . . woman-oriented fertility cults . . . esoteric magic and medicine” — and all of this assertion is leading up to a damning accusation several pages later:
We now know most of what can be known about the witches: who they were, what they believed, what they did, the Church’s vision of them. We have seen the historical dimensions of a myth of feminine evil which resulted in the slaughter of 9 million persons, nearly all women, over 300 years. The actual evidence of that slaughter, the remembrance of it, has been suppressed for centuries so that the myth of woman as the Original Criminal, the gaping, insatiable womb, could endure. Annihilated with the 9 million was a whole culture, woman-centered, nature-centered — all of their knowledge is gone, all of their knowing is destroyed.
This is an astonishing claim: Nine million women were killed in a span of three centuries, victims of “a myth of feminine evil.” Do the math, and you find that Dworkin is claiming that 30,000 women were executed for witchcraft every year during the Middle Ages. Eighty witches killed every day for 300 years, Dworkin wants us to believe, and all of this witch-killing — the annihilation of “a whole culture, woman-centered, nature-centered” — she blames on the Christian church.
Her anti-Christian “history,” we may suppose, was enough to redeem all Dworkin’s faults, in the eyes of liberals. What Dworkin was doing, you see, was a direct reversal of moral values. If you can accept one such reversal — “Witches good, Christians bad” — then it’s easier to accept another reversal: “Androgyny good, nuclear family bad.” And if all this moral reversal leads you to accept strange ideas like the abolition of incest taboos and children as “erotic beings”? How convenient!
If your “fundamental revolutionary commitment” is targeted at “ending male dominance” — and Dworkin could assume her feminist readers shared that radical commitment — you may be prepared to accept all manner of weird arguments for the sake of your goal.
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
– Exodus 22:18 (KJV)
Whenever we hear feminists condemn “patriarchy,” we understand that what they have in mind is not some kind of humanitarian democratic reform project. What feminists mean when they speak of patriarchy is to assert that our entire society and culture are part of a systemic oppression of women. Four decades have not changed the ideology of feminism as Andrea Dworkin described it in 1974: The family must be destroyed, along with normal sex roles — no more masculine men, no more feminine women. Feminism is “a planetary movement to restructure community forms and human consciousness,” as Dworkin said. Everything that exists must be destroyed in order for this feminist revolution to succeed.
“Intercourse with men as we know them is increasingly impossible,” Dworkin declared in 1974, and why? Because sexual intercourse for women “means acting out the female role,” which Dworkin characterizes as one of “masochism, self-hatred, and passivity.”
The reader will perhaps not be surprised to learn that Dworkin never had any children, and that her legal marriage to a homosexual man, John Stoltenberg, was an odd arrangement. “Stoltenberg had sexual relationships with other men throughout the course of his life with Dworkin,” Ariel Levy explains. Stoltenberg never claimed to have had sex with Dworkin, who identified as a lesbian. “If Dworkin had not been his legal wife, she would not have been covered by his health insurance,” Levy writes, in explaining why this odd couple married, “and the bills for the frequent surgeries and hospital stays that punctuated the end of her life would have left the couple in financial ruins.”
To examine Andrea Dworkin’s life and work is to understand what I mean when I say feminism is a journey to lesbianism. This is not an expression of stereotypical bigotry, but simply a way of saying that feminism — as a theory, as an ideology, as political philosophy — is implacably hostile to the normal woman’s normal life of men, marriage and motherhood. One could rattle off a long list of pioneering feminist thinkers — Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone, Dworkin, MacKinnon, on and on — without naming a woman who ever gave birth to a child. Hostility to marriage and motherhood is so essential to the feminist worldview that any woman who marries a man can be said to have abandoned the movement’s basic principles. And certainly Andrea Dworkin was not the only feminist who saw that heterosexuality, involving as it does “ritualized behavior built on polar role definition,” was incompatible with “the fundamental revolutionary commitment” of “ending male dominance.” If lesbianism and feminism are not entirely synonymous, it is difficult to imagine how anyone who agrees with the claims Dworkin makes in Intercourse could think heterosexuality and feminism are compatible.
Male Sexuality as ‘Goose-Stepping Hatred’
Intercourse is a book difficult to describe, mainly because it is so distasteful to describe it. What it is, really, is a series of literary essays. Dworkin takes up the works of a number of male authors, classical and contemporary, and extracts from their writings passages that exhibit (or can be interpreted as exhibiting) what Dworkin considers the universal meaning of sexual intercourse. That is to say, Dworkin finds in these authors the expression of her idea that sex with men is inherently degrading to women, that sexual intercourse involves male dominance and a humiliation of women that is at least symbolic, if not deliberate. In Dworkin’s reading, men desire intercourse with women only as a way to dehumanize women. Male sexuality in Intercourse is always predatory, if not violent, and Dworkin sees male sexuality as rooted in hateful contempt for women.
Most men and women recoil from Dworkin’s hostility toward what, in their own experience, is a very enjoyable and loving act. And the careful reader of Intercourse cannot help but resent the literary trick she repeatedly plays: Here is this or that famous writer, talking about women and sex in an unpleasant way — of course, Dworkin implies, this is how all men view sex! It is certainly insulting to me, as a man, to find myself condemned on the basis of a novel I’ve never read, written by an author I have no reason to admire. Whatever my faults, how am I to blame for what Gustave Flaubert wrote in Madame Bovary?
This is Dworkin’s modus operandi, a purposefully one-sided presentation. She has appointed herself the prosecuting attorney, as it were, against normal sexuality. Chapter One (“Repulsion”) focuses on Leo Tolstoy; Chapter Two (“Skinless”) is based on the Japanese novelist Kobo Abe; Chapter Three (“Stigma”) takes on Tennessee Williams; Chapter Four (“Communion”) involves James Baldwin; and in Chapter Five (“Possession”) Dworkin focuses on Isaac Bashevis Singer. By the time you finish the first five chapters of Intercourse, you’re past the 100-page mark, which is to say you’ve read more than 40 percent of this 250-page book — and practically every idea Dworkin has presented by this point is based on the writing of exactly five authors.
Dworkin is playing a trick, you see, and let’s point out that two of the authors she chooses here — Williams and Baldwin — were both gay men; if their portrayals of women involve misogynistic contempt, such attitudes can hardly form the basis for a condemnation of heterosexuality. Intercourse begins with Tolstoy, whose marriage to Mrs. Tolstoy seems to have been rather unhappy. Their letters and diaries are quoted to establish this, and then we get to Tolstoy’s novel The Kreutzer Sonata, which involves a man who murders his wife. Dworkin writes:
A human life has been taken, horribly; a human being has done it. For this one moment, even the reader’s interior rage at the author’s full-blooded misogyny is stilled in sorrow. In contemporary books and films, the murder of a woman is an end in itself. In this sad story, the murder of the woman signifies the impossibility of physical love in a way that means loss, not sadistic celebration.
Tolstoy’s repulsion for woman as such is not modern either. Now, this repulsion is literal and linear: directed especially against her genitals, also her breasts, also her mouth newly perceived as a sex organ. It is a goose-stepping hatred of c*nt. The woman has no human dimension, no human meaning. The repulsion requires no explanation, no rationalization. She has no internal life, no human resonance; she needs no human interpretation. Her flesh is hated; she is it without more. The hatred is by rote, with no human individuation, no highfalutin philosophy or pedestrian emotional ambivalence. The repulsion is self-evidently justified by the physical nature of the thing itself; the repulsion inheres in what the thing is. For the male, the repulsion is sexually intense, genitally focused, sexually solipsistic, without any critical or moral self-consciousness. Photograph what she is, painted pink; the camera delivers her up as a dead thing; the picture is of a corpse, embalmed. The contemporary novelist does it with words: paints the thing, f**ks it, kills it.
Tolstoy, in this story, locates his repulsion not in the woman’s body, not in her inherent nature, but in sexual intercourse, the nature of the act: what it means; the inequality of the sexes intrinsic to it; its morbid consequences to the dignity and self-esteem of men.
The reader will notice here Dworkin’s deliberate use of vulgarity — “c*nt” and “f**k” — for shock value, attempting to convey to the reader the anti-female hatred she attributes to men. Notice also how, supposedly describing the “modern” view of the “contemporary novelist” (as contrasted with Tolstoy), Dworkin writes sentences about male “repulsion for women” that seem to be describing not merely a theme in literature, but rather stating the universal misogyny of men. Do men really feel this way toward women? Is male sexuality “hatred” toward women “by rote, with no human individuation,” a feeling of repulsion that “is sexually intense, genitally focused”?
This is madness! And neither, for that matter, do I suppose that most men in Tolstoy’s time dreaded women because they believed sexual intercourse had “morbid consequences to the dignity and self-esteem of men.” Dworkin’s claim that male sexuality involves “goose-stepping hatred of c*nt” is as ridiculous as it is insulting, and her use of such a phrase reveals what Intercourse actually is, anti-male hate propaganda. The reader braces himself for Dworkin’s encounter in Chapter Three with the ultimate man-beast:
In A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley Kowalski is a sexual animal, without self-consciousness, without introspection. . . .
He is the prototypical male animal, without remorse. Each act of sex or act of animal exhibition of virility is nature, not art; in the realm of the inevitable, brute force, an ego that functions as part of the body’s appetites.
Having been beaten by him, his wife Stella waits for him, wanting him. She defends her willingness to accept the beating to her sister, Blanche Du Bois, who wants her to rebel: “But there are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark — that sort of make everything else seem unimportant.” The wife, raised to be refined, wants the animal passion of her husband, not anything else that she has had or could be. All her past of sensibility and taste means nothing to her against the way her husband uses her in the dark.
And? Your point is? We all make our choices in life. We all have our own tastes and preferences. Some women like bad boys. Some women don’t much care for men who are civilized and thoughtful. And if their preference for savage men puts them at risk, whose fault is that? Being a skinny fellow myself, I might be accused of envy if I criticized women who go for the hulking Neanderthal type. So when her Neanderthal man pops her upside the head, what can I say, other than, “I told you so”?
Anyway, back to Dworkin’s take on Streetcar:
Stanley’s animal sexuality leaves him virtually untouched by the meaning of any experience because he has no interior life, he is invulnerable to consequences, he has no memory past sensation. He is ordinary. Despite the radiant intensity of his sexuality, despite his wife’s genteel refinement, despite the intensity of the sex between them, they are like everyone else. . . .
They have a habitual life of fu**ing and violence that blends into the common neighborhood life around them. . . .
They conform perfectly to the patterns of the married people around them. The couple upstairs will have the same drama of battery and f**king in the course of the play; Stanley and Stella are a younger version, not different in quality or kind. Blanche is different. Blanche is marked, stigmatized, by her capacity to feel inside; by loneliness, vulnerability, despair; by her need for sex in conflict with her capacity for love; by her need for sex in conflict with what are the immediate needs of survival—passing as a real lady, not someone shopworn and used up, and marrying Mitch, Stanley’s staid companion.
Wait, what is Blanche, actually? Isn’t she basically a snob? Doesn’t she represent a type of person whose pretensions and pride render them incapable of satisfaction in normal life? Isn’t the reason A Streetcar Named Desire was such a huge success (and remains a classic) is because we all know types like Blanche?
This is a work of literature, you see, and like all great literature, it involves characters who are familiar to us because they resemble actual people. Dworkin describes Blanche sympathetically:
Blanche’s desire had always set her apart, because she always wanted a lover with a sensibility the opposite of Stanley’s, not traditionally masculine, animalistic, aggressive; she always wanted someone in whom “some tenderer feelings have had some little beginning! ” She was always Stanley’s enemy, the enemy of the ordinary, however unrepressed the ordinary was. And it was this opposition to the ordinary — to ordinary masculinity — that marked her: that was her sexual appetite, her capacity to love, the anguish at the heart of her desire.
There is something tragic here, indeed. But somehow Dworkin has given it a political twist, so that while most people see Blanche as an unrealistic dreamer, maladjusted and hypocritical, Blanche’s opposition to Stanley’s “traditionally masculine, animalistic” sexuality makes her someone for whom Dworkin wishes us to have sympathy. Of course, this being a Southern Gothic tragedy, Stanley rapes Blanche, and her sister doesn’t believe it, and Blanche has a nervous breakdown. Dworkin characterizes this turn of events:
Stanley has Blanche taken away, institutionalized as mad, in the world of Tennessee Williams the worst consequence of sexual knowledge, the worst punishment, crueler than death.
Because Stanley has no interior life of feeling, he has no remorse; the rape is just another f**k for him. It takes a human consciousness, including a capacity for suffering, to distinguish between a rape and a f**k. With no interior life of human meaning and human remorse, any f**k is simply expressive and animalistic, whatever its consequences or circumstances. Blanche pays the price for having a human sexuality and a human consciousness. She has been raped; she knows it. There is nothing in the text of the play, despite the way it is sometimes staged, to suggest that she wanted it all along. In fact, there is a pronounced and emotionally vivid history of her wanting its opposite — a sexuality of tenderness and sensitivity. She is taken away, locked up, because she knows what happened to her. . . .
She is punished for knowing the meaning of what Stanley did to her because her capacity to know and to feel is his enemy. The rape itself was a revenge on her for wanting more than an animal f**k delivered by an animal masculinity: for feeling more, wanting more, knowing more. For her, sex was part of a human quest for human solace, human kindness . . . Stanley, ordinary, unrepressed, was the natural enemy of sex with any dimension of human longing or human meaning, any wanting that was not just for the raw, cold, hard f**k, a sensual using without any edge of loneliness or discontent. Blanche is marked, finally, by madness, jailed; not for her sexuality but for his, because his sexuality requires the annihilation of her aspirations to tenderness.
And? Your point is? These are real human beings. Or rather, they are representations of real human beings in a Southern Gothic play written in mid-20th-century America. Exactly how would Andrea Dworkin prefer the play to be scripted? We don’t know. All we know is that, as scripted by Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire represents to Dworkin . . . Well, something bad about men and sex, that’s for sure.
For her, everything represents something bad about men and sex.
‘The Measure of Women’s Oppression’
The world of Tennessee Williams plays is a world where dreams inevitably get crushed, and the dreamers along with them. The moral of the story is always, “Stop dreaming. Live in the real world.”
This is a pretty valuable message, really, but helpful life lessons from literature aren’t what Andrea Dworkin wants. For her, the dream-crushing aspects of reality are a political cause, and the brute Stanley Kowalski is a symbol of the enemy, the typical male who annihilates women who want “more than an animal f**k.”
Dworkin is the prosecuting attorney, and all men are defendants in this case, which resembles nothing so much as the Moscow “show trials” of the 1930s, where the paranoid Stalin purged his suspected rivals for power in the Soviet Union. Dworkin’s paroxysms of hate reach their shuddering climax in Chapter Seven:
The measure of women’s oppression is that we do not take intercourse — entry, penetration, occupation — and ask or say what it means: to us as a dominated group or to us as a potentially free and self-determining people. Instead, intercourse is a loyalty test; and we are not supposed to tell the truth unless it compliments and upholds the dominant male ethos on sex. We know nothing, of course, about intercourse because we are women and women know nothing; or because what we know simply has no significance, entered into as we are. And men know everything — all of them — all the time — no matter how stupid or inexperienced or arrogant or ignorant they are. Anything men say on intercourse, any attitude they have, is valuable, knowledgeable, and deep, rooted in the cosmos and the forces of nature as it were: because they know; because f**king is knowing; because he knew her but she did not know him; because the God who does not exist framed not only sex but also knowledge that way.
Note how, in this passage, Dworkin shifts from “women’s oppression” to ranting about men — “stupid or inexperienced or arrogant or ignorant” — and then ranting about God? Her condemnation of men who claim to “know everything,” who require that all discussion of sex must conform to “the dominant male ethos on sex,” is directed at all men — “all of them — all the time.” And what she clearly wants the reader to conclude is the opposite: MEN KNOW NOTHING.
It’s a zero-sum game, you see.
Andrea Dworkin’s feminism was not about equality with men. Equality would mean that at some point, there might be an occasion when a man could be right and Andrea Dworkin could be wrong.
Just as Blanche Du Bois was a type, so also was Andrea Dworkin a type — the fanatical self-righteous loudmouth type, who never once in her life admitted to any error, any fault or failure. Everybody in the world was always wrong, unless they agreed with her.
Here we have a woman whose anger at half the human race was her professional raison d’etre, for whom hatred of men was a litmus test of one’s moral worth: If you did not hate men as much as she did, you were her inferior. And because nobody could ever hate men more than Andrea Dworkin did, this meant she was the most moral person on Earth. Conveniently, then, her worldview had the effect of making her better than everybody else, in her own mind.
Feminism is fundamentally inhumane. It is a totalitarian belief system, intolerant of dissent. It is a rationalization of hate, and therefore feminism can justify any telling any lie, so long as men are hurt (and feminists are empowered) by the lie.
By the time we reach Chapter Six of Intercourse (“Virginity”), Dworkin assumes the reader has already been convinced that sex is what she says it is — an expression of men’s contempt for women — and the f-bombs come raining down as she discusses Flaubert’s most famous creation, Emma of Madame Bovary:
She has been f**ked, she has wanted it, felt it, craved it, lost everything for it; and from it she has nothing, she is empty. . . . The intercourse itself, the submission it engenders in her, the habit of being that it becomes, the need she has for the pleasure it gives her, changes her without giving her any capacity to see, to know, or to love. Fu**ing leads to the loss of illusion, especially the illusion that love, sex, and sensation are the same as freedom, as heroism. Emma’s fantasies cannot stand up against the crushing reality of male sexual dominance: the fu**ing, the boredom, the abandonment.
Having never read Flaubert, I cannot say whether Dworkin’s interpretation of Madame Bovary is valid, as literary criticism. However, the reader recognizes that Dworkin is not merely reviewing a French novel here. She is using this novel to condemn men and to vent her rage at “the crushing reality of male sexual dominance.” Dworkin’s book could be called Fear and Loathing of the Penis.
“The personal is the political,” and for Dworkin, the personal was horrific. As Ariel Levy writes in her foreword to Intercourse, the “nightmarish pieces of [Dworkin’s] reality were picked over, deconstructed, and retold in everything she ever wrote”:
If you have never experienced such things, it can be difficult to relate to Dworkin. Sometimes, when you are reading her work, it can seem almost impossible to reconcile the world around you with the world on the page.
A nice touch, Ms. Levy — “almost impossible.” A polite attempt to rescue Dworkin’s credibility. You see, however, that Dworkin always insisted that the “world on the page” was a universal reality, that all men do “such things” to all women. Dworkin did not say, “I was brutalized by a Dutch anarchist, so avoid Dutch anarchists.” No, she turned her personal problems into a demand for a political solution, calling for “a political action where revolution is the goal,” with destruction of the normal family as its first objective.
Like all of Dworkin’s eulogists, Levy wants to rescue Dworkin, to exempt her from responsibility for what she actually wrote, and this is not to say that everything Dworkin wrote was wrong.
In fact, it was in Carolyn Graglia’s excellent 1998 book Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism — which I highly recommend — that I first encountered excerpts of Dworkin’s Intercourse. Mrs. Graglia confronted Dworkin’s notorious work head-on, speaking on behalf of normal women whose experience of “male sexual dominance” is delightfully erotic. The man as conquering hero, in a sexual context, is especially cherished by normal women. To be passionately desired by the man she loves — a man she respects, a man who has earned her trust — is by no means humiliating to the normal woman. And as for “the submission it engenders in her”? Well, yes.
Yes, yes, yes, says the normal woman in such a circumstance.
The man she loves is a man she respects and trusts. He is a civilized man — no brutal Dutch anarchist — but in the moment of his heroic conquest, the civilized man is transformed into a creature helpless to resist his own primal desire. We need not be surprised that the normal woman is pleased by his primal regression, knowing that it is she herself who has aroused the beast inside him. It is she who transforms him, she who peels away the mask of civilization her respectable man wears by habit.
He becomes the conquering hero and, in that moment, the civilized man is Stanley Kowalski. The woman experiences his “animal masculinity,” just as Dworkin said, except that the normal woman loves it: Yes, yes, yes! Man and woman are equally helpless in that moment. They each become their natural selves, irrational and out of control, together experiencing each other in a way no one else can. His “sexual dominance” and “the submission it engenders in her” — yes, yes, yes!
Getting men and women to that place, that situation where “animal masculinity” can have its natural function under conditions of mutual respect, is the great challenge of civilization. Channeling human sexuality toward its rightful purpose, constraining the primal urge within a system of morality, so that man’s desire becomes a beneficial force in society — this is the challenge which our customs, law and culture must meet, if we are not to descend into savagery, perversion, decadence and chaos. Feminism either refuses to recognize this challenge or, as in Dworkin’s writing, feminism actively seeks to destroy civilization.
Dworkin in 1974 called for a revolution, condemning “conventional heterosexual behavior” and blaming the nuclear family for our “sexist, sexually repressed society.” Dworkin declared “that “man” and “woman” are fictions . . . cultural constructs,” and she proclaimed that rejection of the incest taboo was “essential” to achieving her feminist vision of “natural androgynous eroticism.” None of Dworkin’s posthumous defenders ever acknowledges or attempts to justify these revolutionary goals Dworkin laid out in her first feminist book, Woman Hating. There is a compulsive dishonesty about feminism that requires its adherents to avoid such topics. Why? Because if people knew the truth about feminism — if they knew who feminists really are and what feminists really want — the adherents of this perverse philosophy would be recognized as the hateful and twisted monsters they actually are, the enemies of all that is good and wholesome in human life.
Feminism is a synonym for hypocrisy and the antonym of intellectual integrity. If you did not understand the fundamental dishonesty of feminism, you might suppose Ariel Levy would have noticed the contradictions between what Andrea Dworkin wrote in 1974 and what Dworkin wrote in 1987. In 1974′s Woman Hating, we find Dworkin demanding the abolition of the incest taboo, the recognition of children as “erotic beings,” envisioning an androgynous future in which not only would male and female sex roles be eliminated, but also “distinctions between ‘children’ and ‘adults’ . . . would disappear.”
What can Dworkin possibly mean by this, except what any reader can see she so obviously does mean? What Dworkin described in 1974 is what Matt Barber has rightly called Sexual Anarchy, and here’s the important point: She never took it back.
Dworkin never recanted, never apologized, never admitted that what she advocated in Woman Hating was a very dangerous idea.
The Esoteric Doctrine of Man-Hating
Feminism is a formula for irresponsibility. All that is necessary, in feminist rhetoric and belief, is to blame men for everything bad. As long as a feminist makes “male domination” her target — as long as she denounces the traditional family and Judeo-Christian morality, and makes men the scapegoats of her arguments — nothing else she says or does really matters.
By this standard (which is the only intellectual standard within feminism), Andrea Dworkin was the ultimate Good Feminist. As such, she could never be required to account for her dangerous ideas, never be expected to apologize for her errors. To be a feminist in good standing, therefore, requires a woman to ignore the basic errors of her fellow feminists, to cooperate in feminism’s totalitarian project of silencing critics who call attention to that which feminism must ignore. This is why, after all, Larry Summers had to be hounded out of his job as president of Harvard University merely for suggesting that “innate differences” between men and women might explain the shortage of female scientists. If there are “innate differences” between men and women, you see, then feminism’s vision of an androgynous future is wrong, and the attempt to bring about this sexless utopia — the planned outcome of feminism’s war against human nature — is not only doomed to failure, but the policy “reforms” aimed at achieving this impossible goal are actually harmful to everyone, women included. If we recognize “innate differences” between men and women, we must also recognize that feminist policy will ultimately destroy all hope for human happiness.
For this reason, Ariel Levy’s foreword to the 20th anniversary edition of Dworkin’s Intercourse ignores the revolutionary aims of Dworkin’s anti-male/anti-heterosexual ideology. The real purpose of Dworkin’s arguments — the “political action where revolution is the goal,” as the author had proclaimed in her first feminist book — must be ignored, and instead Levy would have us pay attention to the common accusations against Dworkin, i.e., that she was a man-hater, and that Intercourse argues that “all sex is rape”:
Dworkin was accused of being a man-hater even by some members of her own movement. And she didn’t write or make speeches with an eye toward mitigating this perception. In a speech she gave in Bryant Park at a “Take Back the Night” march in 1979, she called romance “rape embellished with meaningful looks.”
Stipulate that Ariel Levy is not a bad writer. Her 2005 book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture has been recommended to me by several (anti-feminist) readers as a critique of “pro-sex feminism” and the “Girls Gone Wild” ethos we might describe as Empowerment Through Promiscuity. And in addressing the common accusations against Dworkin, Levy more or less admits Dworkin’s accusers are right: Her hostility to normal male sexuality was such that there was, in Dworkin’s mind, a continuum of coercion in every heterosexual experience for women. Our ordinary understanding of “consent” — the idea that women genuinely desire sex with men, and are capable of rationally acting on their desires — is false, according to Dworkin’s feminist theory. If the roles of men and women are “cultural constructs,” as Dworkin declared (and as all feminists believe), then the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors associated with those roles are also “constructed” by a society and culture which are male-dominated. Therefore, feminism teaches, the only reason women consent to sex is because they have been trained and indoctrinated to consent, and thus romance (i.e., women’s performance of their prescribed role) is merely “rape embellished with meaningful looks.”
Normal women instinctively recoil from feminism when they are told what it really means, and what feminists really believe. Feminism is inherently radical, based on a revolutionary interpretation of human behavior, and must either be accepted or rejected as such. Feminists know this, and they understand that their success depends on a hypocritical duality between their movement’s esoteric doctrine (feminism’s radical theory) and its exoteric discourse (the language feminists speak to the general public).
This necessary gap between the esoteric and exoteric meanings of feminism explains why the typical college sophomore who signs up for a fall-semester Introduction to Women’s Studies class — a humanities elective, in which she expects to get an easy “A” — is seldom aware of what she’s getting herself into. Maybe she thinks of herself as a “feminist” in a very ordinary and superficial sense of that word (“Vote Democrat, because vagina!”), but the 19-year-old who shows up for the first day of Introduction to Women’s Studies in August or September doesn’t realize what actual feminism will require her to believe. No one tells her that the editors of the assigned textbook are radical lesbians. Our typical sophomore has not critically researched feminism; when she glances through the bibliographies and indexes of the books she is assigned, the college girl doesn’t recognize the names of authors the way she should: “Michel Foucault, the gay man who died of AIDS; Bettina Aptheker, apologist for genocidal Marxist dictators; Gayle Rubin, the advocate of lesbian sadomasochism; Simone de Beauvoir, the French pervert who seduced schoolgirls and defended pedophilia . . .”
She doesn’t know who these people actually are or were, and does not confront their core beliefs on the first day of class. Instead, her Women’s Studies professor leads the naive sophomore through a carefully planned sequence of readings and lectures. She is presented with Premise A (male oppression under patriarchy) and then Premise B (gender is a social construct) of the feminist syllogism, so that by the time in late October or early November when the argument arrives at its obvious conclusion — “If A, then B, ergo C, you must be a lesbian” — she may reject feminism’s logical requirement, but she is unable to justify her rejection rationally. Her lesbian professor has spent weeks setting her up for this, undermining any justification of heterosexuality as a natural, normal and desirable way of life. Under the tutelage of a 40-year-old Ph.D., the 19-year-old sophomore is compelled to believe that what she is taught in Women’s Studies is Truth with a capital “T” and Science with a capital “S.” Nothing in the sophomore’s knowledge or experience has prepared her to cope with her professor’s Scientific Truth, and this unexpected confrontation leaves the young feminist with the sense that a normal woman’s normal life of men, marriage and motherhood is unworthy, oppressive, scientifically invalid. She may not become a lesbian (her heterosexuality cannot be entirely “deconstructed” in a single semester), but she can never thereafter be wholly satisfied with a normal life. Feminism teaches women that to be normal is to be inferior.
All feminists must collaborate to uphold the partition that conceals feminism’s esoteric doctrine from critical public scrutiny. Forthright radicals like Andrea Dworkin are therefore viewed as dangerous to the feminist project. Sitting here at my desk surrounded by dozens of feminist books — including such titles as Theorizing Sexuality, Women and Gender, and The Social Construction of Lesbianism — I understand what so-called “mainstream feminists” fear about Dworkin, who so often said in bold sentences what all true feminists must privately believe.
We may smile at Ariel Levy’s sentence: “Dworkin was accused of being a man-hater even by some members of her own movement.”
Irony much? Whence the feminist movement’s fear of the “man-hater” label? Because feminism can never openly admit the truth — the movement’s esoteric doctrine, which is not only anti-male but also anti-heterosexual — to the general public. If the truth of the feminist cult’s metaphysical theories were admitted and recognized, exposed to the uninitiated who have not subscribed to the cultic gnosis, people would begin to ask why these dangerous hateful doctrines are being promulgated at taxpayer expense in public university classrooms.
If the truth about feminism were widely known, we might see more instances of what happened this year in South Carolina, where the legislature defunded a state university “Women’s Center” that had staged an event called “How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less.” (The director of that program is a mentally ill lesbian Ph.D. who married one of her female students.) All that is necessary to defeat feminism is to tell the truth about feminism. Quote what feminists write when they are writing for an intended readership of their fellow feminists:
- Essential Feminist Quotes: ‘Most Women Have to Be Coerced into Heterosexuality’
- Essential Feminist Quotes: ‘Rapists Serve All Men by Enforcing Male Supremacy’
- Essential Feminist Quotes: ‘Lesbianism and Feminism Have Been Coterminous’
Ariel Levy, in her 2007 foreword to the 20th anniversary edition of Dworkin’s Intercourse, could only briefly allude to Dworkin’s first book, 1974′s Woman Hating. It would not be helpful to the feminist movement to remind readers what absurdities Dworkin wrote about witches and fairies, about “erotic” children and abolishing the incest taboo. No, this would not do, because it seems some people actually believed that stuff. On the final pages of Intercourse (pp. 246-247), Dworkin quotes an incest survivor — horrifying words, a quote I will omit — before making her concluding accusation against men:
The men as a body politic have power over women and decide how women will suffer: which sadistic acts against the bodies of women will be construed to be normal. In the United States, incest is increasingly the sadism of choice, the intercourse itself wounding the female child and socializing her to her female status — early; perhaps a sexual response to the political rebellion of adult women; a tyranny to destroy the potential for rebellion. . . . Perhaps incestuous rape is becoming a central paradigm for intercourse in our time. Women are supposed to be small and childlike, in looks, in rights; child prostitution keeps increasing in mass and in legitimacy, the children sexually used by a long chain of men — fathers, uncles, grandfathers, brothers, pimps, pornographers, and the good citizens who are the consumers; and men, who are, after all, just family, are supposed to slice us up the middle, leaving us in parts on the bed.
Those are the final words of Andrea Dworkin’s most famous book, published in 1987, barely a dozen years after Dworkin’s first book had extended carte blanche to child molesters, evidently because in 1974 she viewed pedophiles as feminism’s natural allies in “a political action where revolution is the goal,” where the destruction of the normal family was an objective requiring the abolition of the incest taboo.
By 1987, the feminist revolution had already done much “to restructure community forms and human consciousness,” as promiscuity, divorce, abortion and homosexuality proliferated. But feminists had to exculpate themselves from responsibility for the accompanying plague of other evils — rape and incest, pornography and prostitution — that anyone with common sense could have predicted would result from the revolution. Therefore, by the late 1980s, Dworkin needed an elaborate argument to blame all these evils on feminism’s scapegoat, the male-dominated society.
Ariel Levy could not remind readers that what Andrea Dworkin denounced in 1987 as an atrocity of male “tyranny” was, in fact, a predictable consequence of an ideology Dworkin avowed in 1974.
Any intelligent reader can see what Dworkin was doing in Intercourse, deliberately and falsely making all males (“men as a body politic”) complicit in the worst crimes imaginable. Any intelligent reader, arriving at the conclusion of Dworkin’s 1987 book, realizes that her cruel and dishonest conclusion exposes the entire book as a monstrous lie. Only the coldest hatred could have motivated Dworkin to write that final paragraph. Only a women utterly without conscience could have blamed “men as a body politic” for these heinous crimes in 1987, knowing how she herself had implicitly endorsed incest and pedophilia in 1974.
Our laws impose severe punishments on rapists, especially on rapists who victimize children. It is certainly no accident that Dworkin wished to cast the shadow of suspicion on all men as complicit in such crimes, for this is what hate propaganda does. Feminism is a doctrine of hatred that scapegoats and demonizes half the human race (males), while also stigmatizing normal women (heterosexual females, especially in their roles as wives and mothers) as untrustworthy collaborators with male “tyranny.” Dworkin was one of the most successful propagandists of feminism’s ideology of hate, because she was skillful at the dishonest methods of rhetoric required for success in that endeavor. Only a careful and skeptical reader would notice the significance of Dworkin’s concluding paragraph in Intercourse or remark how she composes a list that lumps together “fathers, uncles, grandfathers, brothers . . . and the good citizens” with pimps and pornographers. Her implied meaning is obvious enough: All men are guilty of rape and incest, all men are responsible for pornography and prostitution, despite the fact that Dworkin herself and the feminist movement as a whole have allied themselves against every institution of society that seeks to enforce the moral code (as religion, as culture, as law and custom) which might restrain the dangerous forces of anarchistic sexual hedonism.
“They are without excuse,” as the Bible says. If “incestuous rape is becoming a central paradigm” and “child prostitution keeps increasing in mass and in legitimacy,” as Andrea Dworkin wrote in concluding her 1987 book, how could she exempt herself from blame, considering what she wrote on these topics in her 1974 book? Yet Dworkin in 1987 writes as if the Dworkin of 1974 never existed and, in 2007, Ariel Levy continued that phony feminist charade of pretended ignorance.
All good and decent people must despise such hateful hypocrisy, just as all honest people must condemn it, but Andrea Dworkin was not good or decent or honest. Andrea Dworkin was a feminist.
First published at TheOtherMcCain.com
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.