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

(Continued from PREVIOUS PAGE)

Typically in pornography, some of this gruesome cruelty takes place in a public context. A man has not thoroughly mastered a woman--he is not thoroughly a man--until her degradation is publicly witnessed and enjoyed. In other words, as a man establishes dominance he must also publicly establish ownership. Ownership is proven when a man can humiliate a woman in front of, and for the pleasure of, his fellows, and still she remains loyal to him. Ownership is further established when a man can loan a woman out as a carnal object, or give her as a gift to another man or to other men. These transactions make his ownership a matter of public record and increase his esteem in the eyes of other men. These transactions prove that he has not only claimed absolute authority over her body, but that he has also entirely mastered her will. What might have begun for the woman as submission to a particular man out of "love" for him--and what was in that sense congruent with her own integrity as she could recognize it--must end in the annihilation of even that claim to individuality. The individuality of ownership--"I am the one who owns"--is claimed by the man; but nothing must be left to the woman or in the woman on which she could base any claim to personal dignity, even the shabby dignity of believing, "I am the exclusive property of the man who degrades me." In the same way, and for the same reasons, she is forced to watch the man who possesses her exercising his sexual sadism against other women. This robs her of that internal grain of dignity that comes from believing, "I am the only one," or "I am perceived and my singular identity is verified when he degrades me," or "I am distinguished from other women because this man has chosen me."1

The pornography of male sadism almost always contains an idealized, or unreal, view of male fellowship. The utopian male concept which is the premise of male pornography is this--since manhood is established and confirmed over and against the brutalized bodies of women, men need not aggress against each other; in other words, women absorb male aggression so that men are safe from it. Each man, knowing his own deep-rooted impulse to savagery, presupposes this same impulse in other men and seeks to protect himself from it. The rituals of male sadism over and against the bodies of women are the means by which male aggression is socialized so that a man can associate with other men without the imminent danger of male aggression against his own person. The common erotic project of destroying women makes it possible for men to unite into a brotherhood; this project is the only firm and trustworthy groundwork for cooperation among males and all male bonding is based on it.

This idealized view of male fellowship exposes the essentially homosexual character of male society. Men use women's bodies to form alliances or bonds with each other. Men use women's bodies to achieve recognizable power which will certify male identity in the eyes of other men. Men use women's bodies to enable them to engage in civil and peaceable social transactions with each other. We think that we live in a heterosexual society because most men are fixated on women as sexual objects; but, in fact, we live in a homosexual society because all credible transactions of power, authority, and authenticity take place among men; all transactions based on equity and individuality take place among men. Men are real; therefore, all real relationship is between men; all real communication is between men; all real reciprocity is between men; all real mutuality is between men. Heterosexuality, which can be defined as the sexual dominance of men over women, is like an acorn--from it grows the mighty oak of the male homosexual society, a society of men, by men, and for men, a society in which the positivity of male community is realized through the negation of the female, through the annihilation of women's flesh and will.

In literary pornography, which is a distillation of life as we know it, women are gaping holes, hot slits, fuck tubes, and the like. The female body is supposed to consist of three empty holes, all of which were expressly designed to be filled with erect male positivity.

The female life-force itself is characterized as a negative one: we are defined as inherently masochistic; that is, we are driven toward pain and abuse, toward self-destruction, toward annihilation--and this drive toward our own negation is precisely what identifies us as women. In other words, we are born so that we may be destroyed. Sexual masochism actualizes female negativity, just as sexual sadism actualizes male positivity. A woman's erotic femininity is measured by the degree to which she needs to be hurt, needs to be possessed, needs to be abused, needs to submit, needs to be beaten, needs to be humiliated, needs to be degraded. Any woman who resists acting out these so-called needs, or any woman who rebels against the values inherent in these needs, or any woman who refuses to sanction or participate in her own destruction is characterized as a deviant, one who denies her femininity, a shrew, a bitch, etc. Typically, such deviants are brought back into the female flock by rape, gang rape, or some form of bondage. The theory is that once such women have tasted the intoxicating sweetness of submission they will, like lemmings, rush to their own destruction.

Romantic love, in pornography as in life, is the mythic celebration of female negation. For a woman, love is defined as her willingness to submit to her own annihilation. As the saying goes, women are made for love--that is, submission. Love, or submission, must be both the substance and purpose of a woman's life. For the female, the capacity to love is exactly synonymous with the capacity to sustain abuse and the appetite for it. For the woman, the proof of love is that she is willing to be destroyed by the one whom she loves, for his sake. For the woman, love is always self-sacrifice, the sacrifice of identity, will, and bodily integrity, in order to fulfill and redeem the masculinity of her lover.

In pornography, we see female love raw, its naked erotic skeleton; we can almost touch the bones of our dead. Love is the erotic masochistic drive; love is the frenzied passion which compels a woman to submit to a diminishing life in chains; love is the consuming sexual impulse toward degradation and abuse. The woman does literally give herself to the man; he does literally take and possess her.

The primary transaction which expresses this female submission and this male possession, in pornography as in life, is the act of fucking. Fucking is the basic physical expression of male positivity and female negativity. The relationship of sadist to masochist does not originate in the act of fucking; rather, it is expressed and renewed there.

For the male, fucking is a compulsive act, in pornography and in real life. But in real life, and not in pornography, it is an act fraught with danger, filled with dread. That sanctified organ of male positivity, the phallus, penetrates into the female void. During penetration, the male's whole being is his penis--it and his will to domination are entirely one; the erect penis is his identity; all sensation is localized in the penis and in effect the rest of his body is insensate, dead. During penetration, a male's very being is at once both risked and affirmed. Will the female void swallow him up, consume him, engulf and destroy his penis, his whole self? Will the female void pollute his virile positivity with its noxious negativity? Will the female void contaminate his tenuous maleness with the overwhelming toxicity of its femaleness? Or will he emerge from the terrifying emptiness of the female's anatomical gaping hole intact--his positivity reified because, even when inside her, he managed to maintain the polarity of male and female by maintaining the discreteness and integrity of his steel-like rod; his masculinity affirmed because he did not in fact merge with her and in so doing lose himself, he did not dissolve into her, he did not become her nor did he become like her, he was not subsumed by her.

This dangerous journey into the female void must be undertaken again and again, compulsively, because masculinity is nothing in and of itself; in and of itself it does not exist; it has reality only over and against, or in contrast to, female negativity. Masculinity can only be experienced, achieved, recognized, and embodied in opposition to femininity. When men posit sex, violence, and death as elemental erotic truths, they mean this--that sex, or fucking, is the act which enables them to experience their own reality, or identity, or masculinity most concretely; that violence, or sadism, is the means by which they actualize that reality, or identity, or masculinity; and that death, or negation, or nothingness, or contamination by the female is what they risk each time they penetrate into what they imagine to be the emptiness of the female hole.

What then is behind the claim that fucking is pleasurable for the male? How can an act so saturated with the dread of loss of self, of loss of penis, be pleasurable? How can an act so obsessive, so anxiety-ridden, be characterized as pleasurable?

First, it is necessary to understand that this is precisely the fantasy dimension of pornography. In the rarefied environs of male pornography, male dread is excised from the act of fucking, censored, edited out. The sexual sadism of males rendered so vividly in pornography is real; women experience it daily. Male domination over and against female flesh is real; women experience it daily. The brutal uses to which female bodies are put in pornography are real; women suffer these abuses on a global scale, day after day, year after year, generation after generation. What is not real, what is fantasy, is the male claim at the heart of pornography that fucking is for them an ecstatic experience, the ultimate pleasure, an unmixed blessing, a natural and easy act in which there is no terror, no dread, no fear. Nothing in reality documents this claim. Whether we examine the slaughter of the nine million witches in Europe which was fueled by the male dread of female carnality, or examine the phenomenon of rape which exposes fucking as an act of overt hostility against the female enemy, or investigate impotence which is the involuntary inability to enter the female void, or trace the myth of the vagina dentata (the vagina full of teeth) which is derived from a paralyzing fear of female genitalia, or isolate menstrual taboos as an expression of male terror, we find that in real life the male is obsessed with his fear of the female, and that this fear is most vivid to him in the act of fucking.

Second, it is necessary to understand that pornography is a kind of propaganda designed to convince the male that he need not be afraid, that he is not afraid; to shore him up so that he can fuck; to convince him that fucking is an unalloyed joy; to obscure for him the reality of his own terror by providing a pornographic fantasy of pleasure which he can learn as a creed and from which he can act to dominate women as a real man must. We might say that in pornography the whips, the chains, and the other paraphernalia of brutality are security blankets which give the lie to the pornographic claim that fucking issues from manhood like light from the sun. But in life, even the systematized abuse of women and the global subjugation of women to men is not sufficient to stem the terror inherent for the male in the act of fucking.

Third, it is necessary to understand that what is experienced by the male as authentic pleasure is the affirmation of his own identity as a male. Each time he survives the peril of entering the female void, his masculinity is reified. He has proven both that he is not her and that he is like other hims. No pleasure on earth matches the pleasure of having proven himself real, positive and not negative, a man and not a woman, a bona fide member of the group which holds dominion over all other living things.

Fourth, it is necessary to understand that under the sexual system of male positivity and female negativity, there is literally nothing in the act of fucking, except accidental clitoral friction, which recognizes or actualizes the real eroticism of the female, even as it has survived under slave conditions. Within the confines of the male-positive system, this eroticism does not exist. After all, a negative is a negative is a negative. Fucking is entirely a male act designed to affirm the reality and power of the phallus, of masculinity. For women, the pleasure in being fucked is the masochistic pleasure of experiencing self-negation. Under the male-positive system, the masochistic pleasure of self-negation is both mythicized and mystified in order to compel women to believe that we experience fulfillment in selflessness, pleasure in pain, validation in self-sacrifice, femininity in submission to masculinity. Trained from birth to conform to the requirements of this peculiar world view, punished severely when we do not learn masochistic submission well enough, entirely encapsulated inside the boundaries of the male-positive system, few women ever experience themselves as real in and of themselves. Instead, women are real to themselves to the degree that they identify with and attach themselves to the positivity of males. In being fucked, a woman attaches herself to one who is real to himself and vicariously experiences reality, such as it is, through him; in being fucked, a woman experiences the masochistic pleasure of her own negation which is perversely articulated as the fulfillment of her femininity.

Now, I want to make a crucial distinction--the distinction between truth and reality. For humans, reality is social; reality is whatever people at a given time believe it to be. In saying this, I do not mean to suggest that reality is either whimsical or accidental. In my view, reality is always a function of politics in general and sexual politics in particular--that is, it serves the powerful by fortifying and justifying their right to domination over the powerless. Reality is whatever premises social and cultural institutions are built on. Reality is also the rape, the whip, the fuck, the hysterectomy, the clitoridectomy, the mastectomy, the bound foot, the high-heel shoe, the corset, the make-up, the veil, the assault and battery, the degradation and mutilation in their concrete manifestations. Reality is enforced by those whom it serves so that it appears to be self-evident. Reality is self-perpetuating, in that the cultural and social institutions built on its premises also embody and enforce those premises. Literature, religion, psychology, education, medicine, the science of biology as currently understood, the social sciences, the nuclear family, the nation-state, police, armies, and civil law--all embody the given reality and enforce it on us. The given reality is, of course, that there are two sexes, male and female; that these two sexes are opposite from each other, polar; that the male is inherently positive and the female inherently negative; and that the positive and negative poles of human existence unite naturally into a harmonious whole.

Truth, on the other hand, is not nearly so accessible as reality. In my view, truth is absolute in that it does exist and it can be found. Radium, for instance, always existed; it was always true that radium existed; but radium did not figure in the human notion of reality until Marie and Pierre Curie isolated it. When they did, the human notion of reality had to change in fundamental ways to accommodate the truth of radium. Similarly, the earth was always a sphere; this was always true; but until Columbus sailed west to find the East, it was not real. We might say that truth does exist, and that it is the human project to find it so that reality can be based on it.

I have made this distinction between truth and reality in order to enable me to say something very simple: that while the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true. 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. It is not true that the male embodies both positive and neutral human qualities and potentialities in contrast to the female who is female, according to Aristotle and all of male culture, "by virtue of a certain lack of qualities." And once we do not accept the notion that men are positive and women are negative, we are essentially rejecting the notion that there are men and women at all. In other words, the 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.

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.

As I see it, our revolutionary task is to destroy phallic identity in men and masochistic nonidentity in women--that is, to destroy the polar realities of men and women as we now know them so that this division of human flesh into two camps--one an armed camp and the other a concentration camp--is no longer possible. Phallic identity is real and it must be destroyed. Female masochism is real and it must be destroyed. The cultural institutions which embody and enforce those interlocked aberrations--for instance, law, art, religion, nation-states, the family, tribe, or commune based on father-right--these institutions are real and they must be destroyed. If they are not, we will be consigned as women to perpetual inferiority and subjugation.

I believe that freedom for women must begin in the repudiation of our own masochism. I believe that we must destroy in ourselves the drive to masochism at its sexual roots. I believe that we must establish our own authenticity, individually and among ourselves--to experience it, to create from it, and also to deprive men of occasions for reifying the lie of manhood over and against us. I believe that ridding ourselves of our own deeply entrenched masochism, which takes so many tortured forms, is the first priority; it is the first deadly blow that we can strike against systematized male dominance. In effect, when we succeed in excising masochism from our own personalities and constitutions, we will be cutting the male life line to power over and against us, to male worth in contradistinction to female degradation, to male identity posited on brutally enforced female negativity--we will be cutting the male life line to manhood itself. Only when manhood is dead--and it will perish when ravaged femininity no longer sustains it--only then will we know what it is to be free.

Go to "Feminism, Art, and My Mother Sylvia."


"The Root Cause." Copyright © 1975, 1976 by Andrea Dworkin. All rights reserved. First delivered as a lecture under the title "Androgyny."