by Andrea Dworkin

Copyright © 1975, 1976 by Andrea Dworkin.
All rights reserved.

Chapter 9

The Root Cause

[Delivered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, September 26, 1975.]

And the things best to know are first principles and causes. For through them and from them all other things may be known...
—Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book I

I want to talk to you tonight about some realities and some possibilities. The realities are brutal and savage; the possibilities may seem to you, quite frankly, impossible. I want to remind you that there was a time when everyone believed that the earth was flat. All navigation was based on this belief. All maps were drawn to the specifications of this belief. I call it a belief, but then it was a reality, the only imaginable reality. It was a reality because everyone believed it to be true. Everyone believed it to be true because it appeared to be true. The earth looked flat; there was no circumstance in which it did not have, in the distances, edges off which one might fall; people assumed that, somewhere, there was the final edge beyond which there was nothing. Imagination was circumscribed, as it most often is, by inherently limited and culturally conditioned physical senses, and those senses determined that the earth was flat. This principle of reality was not only theoretical; it was acted on. Ships never sailed too far in any direction because no one wanted to sail off the edge of the earth; no one wanted to die the dreadful death that would result from such a reckless, stupid act. In societies in which navigation was a major activity, the fear of such a fate was vivid and terrifying.

Now, as the story goes, somehow a man named Christopher Columbus imagined that the earth was round. He imagined that one could reach the Far East by sailing west. How he conceived of this idea, we do not know; but he did imagine it, and once he had imagined it, he could not forget it. For a long time, until he met Queen Isabella, no one would listen to him or consider his idea because, clearly, he was a lunatic. If anything was certain, it was that the earth was flat. Now we look at pictures of the earth taken from outer space, and we do not remember that once there was a universal belief that the earth was flat.

This story has been repeated many times. Marie Curie got the peculiar idea that there was an undiscovered element which was active, ever-changing, alive. All scientific thought was based on the notion that all the elements were inactive, inert, stable. Ridiculed, denied a proper laboratory by the scientific establishment, condemned to poverty and obscurity, Marie Curie, with her husband, Pierre, worked relentlessly to isolate radium which was, in the first instance, a figment of her imagination. The discovery of radium entirely destroyed the basic premise on which both physics and chemistry were built. What had been real until its discovery was real no longer.

The known tried-and-true principles of reality, then, universally believed and adhered to with a vengeance, are often shaped out of profound ignorance. We do not know what or how much we do not know. Ignoring our ignorance, even though it has been revealed to us time and time again, we believe that reality is whatever we do know.

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.

Apologists for this model claim that it is moral because it is inherently egalitarian. Each pole is supposed to have the dignity of its own separate identity; each pole is necessary to a harmonious whole. This notion, of course, is rooted in the conviction that the claims made as to the character of each sex are true, that the essence of each sex is accurately described. In other words, to say that man is the positive and woman is the negative is like saying that sand is dry and water is wet—the characteristic which most describes the thing itself is named in a true way and no judgment on the worth of these differing characteristics is implied. Simone de Beauvoir exposes the fallacy of this "separate but equal" doctrine in the preface to THE SECOND SEX:

In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not . . . like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity.... "The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities," said Aristotle; "we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness." And St. Thomas for his part pronounced woman to be "an imperfect man," all "incidental" being . . .

Thus, humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being.1

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. For instance, in China, for one thousand years, women's feet were reduced to stumps through footbinding. When a girl was seven or eight years old, her feet were washed in alum, a chemical that causes shrinkage. Then, all toes but the big toes were bent into the soles of her feet and bandaged as tightly as possible. This procedure was repeated over and over again for approximately three years. The girl, in agony, was forced to walk on her feet. Hard calluses formed; toenails grew into the skin; the feet were pus-filled and bloody; circulation was virtually stopped; often the big toes fell off. The ideal foot was three inches of smelly, rotting flesh. Men were positive and women were negative because men could walk and women could not. Men were strong and women were weak because men could walk and women could not. Men were independent and women were dependent because men could walk and women could not. Men were virile because women were crippled.

This atrocity committed against Chinese women is only one example of the systematic sadism acted out on the bodies of women to render us opposite to, and the negatives of, men. We have been, and arc, whipped, beaten, and assaulted; we have been, and are, encased in clothing designed to distort our bodies, to make movement and breathing painful and difficult; we have been, and are, turned into ornaments, so deprived of physical presence that we cannot run or jump or climb or even walk with a natural posture; we have been, and are, veiled, our faces covered by layers of suffocating cloth or by layers of make-up, so that even possession of our own faces is denied us; we have been, and are, forced to remove the hair from our armpits, legs, eyebrows, and often even from our pubic areas, so that men can assert, without contradiction, the positivity of their own hairy virility. We have been, and are, sterilized against our will; our wombs are removed for no medical reason; our clitorises are cut off; our breasts and the whole musculature of our chests are removed with enthusiastic abandon. This last procedure, radical mastectomy, is eighty years old. I ask you to consider the development of weaponry in the last eighty years, nuclear bombs, poisonous gases, laser beams, noise bombs, and the like, and to question the development of technology in relation to women. Why are women still being mutilated so promiscuously in breast surgery; why has this savage form of mutilation, radical mastectomy, thrived if not to enhance the negativity of women in relation to men? These forms of physical mutilation are brands which designate us as female by negating our very bodies, by destroying them.

In the bizarre world made by men, the primary physical emblem of female negativity is pregnancy. Women have the capacity to bear children; men do not. But since men are positive and women are negative, the inability to bear children is designated as a positive characteristic, and the ability to bear children is designated as a negative characteristic. Since women are most easily distinguished from men by virtue of this single capacity, and since the negativity of women is always established in opposition to the positivity of men, the childbearing capacity of the female is used first to fix, then to confirm, her negative or inferior status. Pregnancy becomes a physical brand, a sign designating the pregnant one as authentically female. Childbearing, peculiarly, becomes the form and substance of female negativity.

Again, consider technology in relation to women. As men walk on the moon and a man-made satellite approaches Mars for a landing, the technology of contraception remains criminally inadequate. The two most effective means of contraception are the pill and the I.U.D. The pill is poisonous and the I.U.D is sadistic. Should a woman want to prevent conception, she must either fail eventually because she uses an ineffective method of contraception, in which case she risks death through childbearing; or she must risk dreadful disease with the pill, or suffer agonizing pain with the I.U.D.—and, of course, with either of these methods, the risk of death is also very real. Now that abortion techniques have been developed which are safe and easy, women are resolutely denied free access to them. Men require that women continue to become pregnant so as to embody female negativity, thus confirming male positivity.

While the physical assaults against female life are staggering, the outrages committed against our intellectual and creative faculties have been no less sadistic. Consigned to a negative intellectual and creative life, so as to affirm these capacities in men, women are considered to be mindless; femininity is roughly synonymous with stupidity. We are feminine to the degree that our mental faculties are annihilated or repudiated. To enforce this dimension of female negativity, we are systematically denied access to formal education, and every assertion of natural intelligence is punished until we do not dare to trust our perceptions, until we do not dare to honor our creative impulses, until we do not dare to exercise our critical faculties, until we do not dare to cultivate our imaginations, until we do not dare to respect our own mental or moral acuity. Whatever creative or intellectual work we do manage to do is trivialized, ignored, or ridiculed, so that even those few whose minds could not be degraded are driven to suicide or insanity, or back into marriage and childbearing. There are very few exceptions to this inexorable rule.

The most vivid literary manifestation of this pathology of female negation is found in pornography. Literature is always the most eloquent expression of cultural values; and pornography articulates the purest distillation of those values. In literary pornography, where female blood can flow without the real restraint of biological endurance, the ethos of this murderous male-positive culture is revealed in its skeletal form: male sadism feeds on female masochism; male dominance is nourished by female submission.

In pornography, sadism is the means by which men establish their dominance. Sadism is the authentic exercise of power which confirms manhood; and the first characteristic of manhood is that its existence is based on the negation of the female —manhood can only be certified by abject female degradation, a degradation never abject enough until the victim's body and will have both been destroyed.

In literary pornography, the pulsating heart of darkness at the center of the male-positive system is exposed in all of its terrifying nakedness. That heart of darkness is this—that sexual sadism actualizes male identity. Women are tortured, whipped, and chained; women are bound and gagged, branded and burned, cut with knives and wires; women are pissed on and shit on; red-hot needles are driven into breasts, bones are broken, rectums are torn, mouths are ravaged, cunts are savagely bludgeoned by penis after penis, dildo after dildo—and all of this to establish in the male a viable sense of his own worth.

(Continued on NEXT PAGE )