by Andrea Dworkin
All rights reserved.
Oh, God, who does not exist, you hate women, otherwise you'd have made them different. And Jesus, who snubbed your mother, you hate them more. Roaming around all that time with a bunch of men, fishing; and sermons-on-the-mount. Abandoning women. I thought of all the women who had it, and didn't even know when the big moment was, and others saying their rosary with the beads held over the side of the bed, and others saying, "Stop, stop, you dirty old dog," and others yelling desperately to be jacked right up to their middles, and it often leading to nothing, and them getting up out of bed and riding a poor door knob and kissing the wooden face of a door and urging with foul language, then crying, wiping the knob, and it all adding up to nothing either. --EDNA O'BRIEN, Girls in Their Married Bliss
This is nihilism; or this is truth. He has to push in past boundaries. There is the outline of a body, distinct, separate, its integrity an illusion, a tragic deception, because unseen there is a slit between the legs, and he has to push into it. There is never a real privacy of the body that can coexist with intercourse: with being entered. The vagina itself is muscled and the muscles have to be pushed apart. The thrusting is persistent invasion. She is opened up, split down the center. She is occupied--physically, internally, in her privacy.
A human being has a body that is inviolate; and when it is violated, it is abused. A woman has a body that is penetrated in intercourse: permeable, its corporeal solidness a lie. The discourse of male truth--literature, science, philosophy, pornography--calls that penetration violation. This it does with some consistency and some confidence. Violation is a synonym for intercourse. At the same time, the penetration is taken to be a use, not an abuse; a normal use; it is appropriate to enter her, to push into ("violate") the boundaries of her body. She is human, of course, but by a standard that does not include physical privacy. She is, in fact, human by a standard that precludes physical privacy, since to keep a man out altogether and for a lifetime is deviant in the extreme, a psychopathology, a repudiation of the way in which she is expected to manifest her humanity.
There is a deep recognition in culture and in experience that intercourse is both the normal use of a woman, her human potentiality affirmed by it, and a violative abuse, her privacy irredeemably compromised, her selfhood changed in a way that is irrevocable, unrecoverable. And it is recognized that the use and abuse are not distinct phenomena but somehow a synthesized reality: both are true at the same time as if they were one harmonious truth instead of mutually exclusive contradictions. Intercourse in reality is a use and an abuse simultaneously, experienced and described as such, the act parlayed into the illuminated heights of religious duty and the dark recesses of morbid and dirty brutality. She, a human being, is supposed to have a privacy that is absolute; except that she, a woman, has a hole between her legs that men can, must, do enter. This hole, her hole, is synonymous with entry. A man has an anus that can be entered, but his anus is not synonymous with entry. A woman has an anus that can be entered, but her anus is not synonymous with entry. The slit between her legs, so simple, so hidden-- frankly, so innocent-- for instance, to the child who looks with a mirror to see if it could be true--is there an entrance to her body down there? and something big comes into it? (how?) and something as big as a baby comes out of it? (how?) and doesn't that hurt?--that slit which means entry into her-- intercourse--appears to be the key to women's lower human status. By definition, as the God who does not exist made her, she is intended to have a lesser privacy, a lesser integrity of the body, a lesser sense of self, since her body can be physically occupied and in the occupation taken over. By definition, as the God who does not exist made her, this lesser privacy, this lesser integrity, this lesser self, establishes her lesser significance: not just in the world of social policy but in the world of bare, true, real existence. She is defined by how she is made, that hole, which is synonymous with entry; and intercourse, the act fundamental to existence, has consequences to her being that may be intrinsic, not socially imposed.
There is no analogue anywhere among subordinated groups of people to this experience of being made for intercourse: for penetration, entry, occupation. There is no analogue in occupied countries or in dominated races or in imprisoned dissidents or in colonialized cultures or in the submission of children to adults or in the atrocities that have marked the twentieth century ranging from Auschwitz to the Gulag. There is nothing exactly the same, and this is not because the political invasion and significance of intercourse is banal up against these other hierarchies and brutalities. Intercourse is a particular reality for women as an inferior class; and it has in it, as part of it, violation of boundaries, taking over, occupation, destruction of privacy, all of which are construed to be normal and also fundamental to continuing human existence. There is nothing that happens to any other civilly inferior people that is the same in its meaning and in its effect even when those people are forced into sexual availability, heterosexual or homosexual; while subject people, for instance, may be forced to have intercourse with those who dominate them, the God who does not exist did not make human existence, broadly speaking, dependent on their compliance. The political meaning of intercourse for women is the fundamental question of feminism and freedom: can an occupied people--physically occupied inside, internally invaded--be free; can those with a metaphysically compromised privacy have self-determination; can those without a biologically based physical integrity have self-respect?
There are many explanations, of course, that try to be kind. Women are different but equal. Social policy is different from private sexual behavior. The staggering civil inequalities between men and women are simple, clear injustices unrelated to the natural, healthy act of intercourse. There is nothing implicit in intercourse that mandates male dominance in society. Each individual must be free to choose--and so we expand tolerance for those women who do not want to be fucked by men. Sex is between individuals, and social relations are between classes, and so we preserve the privacy of the former while insisting on the equality of the latter. Women flourish as distinct, brilliant individuals of worth in the feminine condition, including in intercourse, and have distinct, valuable qualities. For men and women, fucking is freedom; and for men and women, fucking is the same, especially if the woman chooses both the man and the act. Intercourse is a private act engaged in by individuals and has no implicit social significance. Repression, as opposed to having intercourse, leads to authoritarian social policies, including those of male dominance. Intercourse does not have a metaphysical impact on women, although, of course, particular experiences with individual men might well have a psychological impact. Intercourse is not a political condition or event or circumstance because it is natural. Intercourse is not occupation or invasion or loss of privacy because it is natural. Intercourse does not violate the integrity of the body because it is natural. Intercourse is fun, not oppression. Intercourse is pleasure, not an expression or confirmation of a state of being that is either ontological or social. Intercourse is because the God who does not exist made it; he did it right, not wrong; and he does not hate women even if women hate him. Liberals refuse categorically to inquire into even a possibility that there is a relationship between intercourse per se and the low status of women. Conservatives use what appears to be God's work to justify a social and moral hierarchy in which women are lesser than men. Radicalism on the meaning of intercourse--its political meaning to women, its impact on our very being itself-- is tragedy or suicide. "The revolutionary," writes Octavio Paz paraphrasing Ortega y Gasset, "is always a radical, that is, he [sic] is trying to correct the uses themselves rather than the mere abuses . . ." 1 With intercourse, the use is already imbued with the excitement, the derangement, of the abuse; and abuse is only recognized as such socially if the intercourse is performed so recklessly or so violently or so stupidly that the man himself has actually signed a confession through the manner in which he has committed the act. What intercourse is for women and what it does to women's identity, privacy, self-respect, self-determination, and integrity are forbidden questions; and yet how can a radical or any woman who wants freedom not ask precisely these questions? The quality of the sensation or the need for a man or the desire for love: these are not answers to questions of freedom; they are diversions into complicity and ignorance.
Some facts are known.
Most women do not experience orgasm from intercourse itself. When Shere Hite, in her groundbreaking study, asked women to report their own sexual experiences in detail and depth, she discovered that only three in ten women regularly experience orgasm from intercourse. The women's self-reports are not ideological. They want men, love, sex, intercourse; they want orgasm; but for most women, seven out of ten, intercourse does not cause orgasm. The women want, even strive for, orgasm from intercourse but are unable to achieve it. Hite, the strongest feminist and most honorable philosopher among sex researchers, emphasizes that women can and must take responsibility for authentic sexual pleasure: "the ability to orgasm when we want, to be in charge of our stimulation, represents owning our own bodies, being strong, free, and autonomous human beings." 2
Intercourse occurs in a context of a power relation that is pervasive and incontrovertible. The context in which the act takes place, whatever the meaning of the act in and of itself, is one in which men have social, economic, political, and physical power over 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 fuck. The power is predetermined by gender, by being male.
Intercourse as an act often expresses the power men have over women. Without being what the society recognizes as rape, it is what the society-- when pushed to admit it--recognizes as dominance.
Intercourse often expresses hostility or anger as well as dominance.
Intercourse is frequently performed compulsively; and intercourse frequently requires as a precondition for male performance the objectification of the female partner. She has to look a certain way, be a certain type--even conform to preordained behaviors and scripts--for the man to want to have intercourse and also for the man to be able to have intercourse. The woman cannot exist before or during the act as a fully realized, existentially alive individual.
Despite all efforts to socialize women to want intercourse-- e.g., women's magazines to pornography to Dynasty; incredible rewards and punishments to get women to conform and put out--women still want a more diffuse and tender sensuality that involves the whole body and a polymorphous tenderness.
There are efforts to reform the circumstances that surround intercourse, the circumstances that at least apparently contribute to its disreputable (in terms of rights and justice) legend and legacy. These reforms include: more deference to female sensuality prior to the act; less verbal assault as part of sexual expressiveness toward women; some lip service to female initiation of sex and female choice during lovemaking; less romanticizing of rape, at least as an articulated social goal. Those who are political activists working toward the equality of women have other contextual reforms they want to make: economic equity; women elected to political office; strong, self-respecting role models for girls; emphasis on physical strength and self-defense, athletic excellence and endurance; rape laws that work; strategies for decreasing violence against women. These contextual reforms would then provide for the possibility that intercourse could be experienced in a world of social equality for the sexes. These reforms do not in any way address the question of whether intercourse itself can be an expression of sexual equality.
Life can be better for women--economic and political conditions improved-- and at the same time the status of women can remain resistant, indeed impervious, to change: so far in history this is precisely the paradigm for social change as it relates to the condition of women. Reforms are made, important ones; but the status of women relative to men does not change. Women are still less significant, have less privacy, less integrity, less self- determination. This means that women have less freedom. Freedom is not an abstraction, nor is a little of it enough. A little more of it is not enough either. Having less, being less, impoverished in freedom and rights, women then inevitably have less self-respect: less self-respect than men have and less self-respect than any human being needs to live a brave and honest life. Intercourse as domination battens on that awful absence of self-respect. It expands to fill the near vacuum. The uses of women, now, in intercourse-- not the abuses to the extent that they can be separated out--are absolutely permeated by the reality of male power over women. We are poorer than men in money and so we have to barter sex or sell it outright (which is why they keep us poorer in money). We are poorer than men in psychological well-being because for us self-esteem depends on the approval--frequently expressed through sexual desire--of those who have and exercise power over us. Male power may be arrogant or elegant; it can be churlish or refined: but we exist as persons to the extent that men in power recognize us. When they need some service or want some sensation, they recognize us somewhat, with a sliver of consciousness; and when it is over, we go back to ignominy, anonymous, generic womanhood. Because of their power over us, they are able to strike our hearts dead with contempt or condescension. We need their money; intercourse is frequently how we get it. We need their approval to be able to survive inside our own skins; intercourse is frequently how we get it. They force us to be compliant, turn us into parasites, then hate us for not letting go. Intercourse is frequently how we hold on: fuck me. How to separate the act of intercourse from the social reality of male power is not clear, especially because it is male power that constructs both the meaning and the current practice of intercourse as such. But it is clear that reforms do not change women's status relative to men, or have not yet. It is clear that reforms do not change the intractability of women's civil inferiority. Is intercourse itself then a basis of or a key to women's continuing social and sexual inequality? Intercourse may not cause women's orgasm or even have much of a correlation with it--indeed, we rarely find intercourse and orgasm in the same place at the same time--but intercourse and women's inequality are like Siamese twins, always in the same place at the same time pissing in the same pot.
Women have wanted intercourse to work and have submitted--with regret or with enthusiasm, real or faked--even though or even when it does not. The reasons have often been foul, filled with the spiteful but carefully hidden malice of the powerless. Women have needed what can be gotten through intercourse: the economic and psychological survival; access to male power through access to the male who has it; having some hold--psychological, sexual, or economic--on the ones who act, who decide, who matter. There has been a deep, consistent, yet of course muted objection to what Anais Nin has called "[t]he hunter, the rapist, the one for whom sexuality is a thrust, nothing more."3 Women have also wanted intercourse to work in this sense: women have wanted intercourse to be, for women, an experience of equality and passion, sensuality and intimacy. Women have a vision of love that includes men as human too; and women want the human in men, including in the act of intercourse. Even without the dignity of equal power, women have believed in the redeeming potential of love. There has been--despite the cruelty of exploitation and forced sex--a consistent vision for women of a sexuality based on a harmony that is both sensual and possible. In the words of sex reformer Ellen Key:
She will no longer be captured like a fortress or hunted like a quarry; nor will she like a placid lake await the stream that seeks its way to her embrace. A stream herself, she will go her own way to meet the other stream. 4A stream herself, she would move over the earth, sensual and equal; especially, she will go her own way.
Shere Hite has suggested an intercourse in which "thrusting would not be considered as necessary as it now is. . . [There might be] more a mutual lying together in pleasure, penis-in-vagina, vagina-covering-penis, with female orgasm providing much of the stimulation necessary for male orgasm." 5
These visions of a humane sensuality based in equality are in the aspirations of women; and even the nightmare of sexual inferiority does not seem to kill them. They are not searching analyses into the nature of intercourse; instead they are deep, humane dreams that repudiate the rapist as the final arbiter of reality. They are an underground resistance to both inferiority and brutality, visions that sustain life and further endurance.
They also do not amount to much in real life with real men. There is, instead, the cold fucking, duty-bound or promiscuous; the romantic obsession in which eventual abandonment turns the vagina into the wound Freud claimed it was; intimacy with men who dread women, coital dread--as Kafka wrote in his diary, "coitus as punishment for the happiness of being together." 6
Fear, too, has a special power to change experience and compromise any possibility of freedom. A stream does not know fear. A woman does. Especially women know fear of men and of forced intercourse. Consent in this world of fear is so passive that the woman consenting could be dead and sometimes is. "Yeah," said one man who killed a woman so that he could fuck her after she was dead, "I sexually assaulted her after she was dead. I always see them girls laid out in the pictures with their eyes closed and I just had to do it. I dreamed about it for so long that I just had to do it." 7 A Nebraska appeals court did not think that the murder "was especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or manifested exceptional depravity by ordinary standards of morality and intelligence," and in particular they found "no evidence the acts were performed for the satisfaction of inflicting either mental or physical pain or that pain existed for any prolonged period of time." 8 Are you afraid now? How can fear and freedom coexist for women in intercourse?
The role of fear in destroying the integrity of men is easy to articulate, to understand, hard to overstate. Men are supposed to conquer fear in order to experience freedom. Men are humiliated by fear, not only in their masculinity but in their rights and freedoms. Men are diminished by fear; compromised irrevocably by it because freedom is diminished by it. "Fear had entered his life," novelist Iris Murdoch wrote,
and would now be with him forever. How easy it was for the violent to win. Fear was irresistible, fear was king, he had never really known this before when he had lived free and without it. Even unreasoning fear could cripple a man forever. . . . How well he understood how dictators flourished. The little grain of fear in each life was enough to keep millions quiet. 9Hemingway, using harder prose, wrote the same in book after book. But women are supposed to treasure the little grain of fear--rub up against it-- eroticize it, want it, get excited by it; and the fear could and does keep millions quiet: millions of women; being fucked and silent; upright and silent; waiting and silent; rolled over on and silent; pursued and silent; killed, fucked, and silent. The silence is taken to be appropriate. The fear is not perceived as compromising or destroying freedom. The dictators do flourish: fuck and flourish.
Out of fear and inequality, women hide, use disguises, trying to pass for indigenous peoples who have a right to be there, even though we cannot pass. Appropriating Octavio Paz's description of the behavior of Mexicans in Los Angeles--which he might not like: "they feel ashamed of their origin . . . they act like persons who are wearing disguises, who are afraid of a stranger's look because it could strip them and leave them stark naked." 10 Women hide, use disguises, because fear has compromised freedom; and when a woman has intercourse-- not hiding, dropping the disguise--she has no freedom because her very being has been contaminated by fear: a grain, a tidal wave, memory or anticipation.
The fear is fear of power and fear of pain: the child looks at the slit with a mirror and wonders how it can be, how will she be able to stand the pain. The culture romanticizes the rapist dimension of the first time: he will force his way in and hurt her. The event itself is supposed to be so distinct, so entirely unlike any other experience or category of sensation, that there is no conception that intercourse can be part of sex, including the first time, instead of sex itself.
There is no slow opening up, no slow, gradual entry; no days and months of sensuality prior to entry and no nights and hours after entry. Those who learn to eroticize powerlessness will learn to eroticize the entry itself: the pushing in, the thrusting, the fact of entry with whatever force or urgency the act requires or the man enjoys. There is virtually no protest about entry as such from women; virtually no satire from men. A fairly formidable character in Don DeLillo's White Noise, the wife, agrees to read pornography to her husband but she has one condition:
"I will read," she said. "But I don't want you to choose anything that has men inside women, quote-quote, or men entering women. 'I entered her.' 'He entered me.' We're not lobbies or elevators. 'I wanted him inside me,' as if he could crawl completely in, sign the register, sleep, eat, so forth. I don't care what these people do as long as they don't enter or get entered."Her protests make him hard. The stupidity of the "he entered her" motif makes her laugh, not kindly. She hates it.
We are not, of course, supposed to be lobbies or elevators. Instead, we are supposed to be wombs, maternal ones; and the men are trying to get back in away from all the noise and grief of being adult men with power and responsibility. The stakes for men are high, as Norman 0. Brown makes clear in prose unusually understated for him:
Coitus successfully performed is incest, a return to the maternal womb; and the punishment appropriate to this crime, castration. What happens to the penis is coronation, followed by decapitation. 12This is high drama for a prosaic act of commonplace entry. Nothing is at risk for her, the entered; whereas he commits incest, is crowned king, and has his thing cut off. She might like to return to the maternal womb too--because life outside it is not easy for her either--but she has to be it, for husbands, lovers, adulterous neighbors, as well as her own children, boys especially. Women rarely dare, as we say, draw a line: certainly not at the point of entry into our own bodies, sometimes by those we barely know. Certainly they did not come from there, not originally, not from this womb belonging to this woman who is being fucked now. And so we have once again the generic meaning of intercourse--he has to climb back into some womb, maternal enough; he has to enter it and survive even coronation and decapitation. She is made for that; and what can it matter to him that in entering her, he is entering this one, real, unique individual.
And what is entry for her? Entry is the first acceptance in her body that she is generic, not individual; that she is one of a many that is antagonistic to the individual interpretation she might have of her own worth, purpose, or intention. Entered, she accepts her subservience to his psychological purpose if nothing else; she accepts being confused with his mother and his Aunt Mary and the little girl with whom he used to play "Doctor." Entered, she finds herself depersonalized into a function and worth less to him than he is worth to himself: because he broke through, pushed in, entered. Without him there, she is supposed to feel empty, though there is no vacuum there, not physiologically. Entered, she finds herself accused of regicide at the end. The king dead, the muscles of the vagina contract again, suggesting that this will never be easy, never be solved. Lovely Freud, of course, having discovered projection but always missing the point, wrote to Jung: "In private I have always thought of Adonis as the penis; the woman's joy when the god she had thought dead rises again is too transparent!" 13 Something, indeed, is too transparent; women's joy tends to be opaque.
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