PORNOGRAPHY: MEN POSSESSING WOMEN

by Andrea Dworkin

Copyright © 1989 by Andrea Dworkin.
All rights reserved.

Introduction

1
I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.
--Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass An American Slave Written by Himself

In 1838, at the age of 21, Frederick Douglass became a runaway slave, a hunted fugitive. Though later renowned as a powerful political orator, he spoke his first public words with trepidation at an abolitionist meeting--a meeting of white people--in Massachusetts in 1841. Abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison recalled the event:

He came forward to the platform with a hesitancy and embarrassment, necessarily the attendants of a sensitive mind in such a novel position. After apologizing for his ignorance, and reminding the audience that slavery was a poor school for the human intellect and heart, he proceeded to narrate some of the facts in his own history as a slave. . . . As soon as he had taken his seat, filled with hope and admiration, I rose. . . [and] . . . reminded the audience of the peril which surrounded this self-emancipated young man at the North,--even in Massachusetts, on the soil of the Pilgrim Fathers, among the descendants of revolutionary sires; and I appealed to them, whether they would ever allow him to be carried back into slavery--law or no law, constitution or no constitution. 1

Always in danger as a fugitive, Douglass became an organizer for the abolitionists; the editor of his own newspaper, which advocated both abolition and women's rights; a station chief for the underground railroad; a close comrade of John Brown's; and the only person willing, at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, to second Elizabeth Cady Stanton's resolution demanding the vote for women. To me, he has been a political hero: someone whose passion for human rights was both visionary and rooted in action; whose risk was real, not rhetorical; whose endurance in pursuing equality set a standard for political honor. In his writings, which were as eloquent as his orations, his repudiation of subjugation was uncompromising. His political intelligence, which was both analytical and strategic, was suffused with emotion: indignation at human pain, grief at degradation, anguish over suffering, fury at apathy and collusion. He hated oppression. He had an empathy for those hurt by inequality that crossed lines of race, gender, and class because it was an empathy animated by his own experience--his own experience of humiliation and his own experience of dignity.

To put it simply, Frederick Douglass was a serious man-- a man serious in the pursuit of freedom. Well, you see the problem. Surely it is self-evident. What can any such thing have to do with us--with women in our time? Imagine-- in present time--a woman saying, and meaning, that a man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing her. Suppose there were a politics of liberation premised on that assertion--an assertion not of ideology but of deep and stubborn outrage at being misused, a resolute assertion, a serious assertion by serious women. What are serious women; are there any; isn't seriousness about freedom by women for women grotesquely comic; we don't want to be laughed at, do we? What would this politics of liberation be like? Where would we find it? What would we have to do? Would we have to do something other than dress for success? Would we have to stop the people who are hurting us from hurting us? Not debate them; stop them. Would we have to stop slavery? Not discuss it; stop it. Would we have to stop pretending that our rights are protected in this society? Would we have to be so grandiose, so arrogant, so unfeminine, as to believe that the streets we walk on, the homes we live in, the beds we sleep in, are ours--belong to us--really belong to us: we decide what is right and what is wrong and if something hurts us, it stops. It is, of course, gauche to be too sincere about these things, and it is downright ridiculous to be serious. Intelligent people are well mannered and moderate, even in pursuing freedom. Smart women whisper and say please.

Now imagine Cherry Tart or Bunny or Pet or Beaver saying, and meaning, that a man who expected to succeed in whipping must also succeed in killing her. She says it; she means it. It is not a pornographic scenario in which she is the dummy forced by the pimp-ventriloquist to say the ubiquitous No-That-Means-Yes. It is not the usual sexual provocation created by pornographers using a woman's body, the subtext of which is: I refuse to be whipped so whip me harder, whip me more; I refuse to be whipped, what I really want is for you to kill me; whip me, then kill me; kill me, then whip me; whatever you want, however you want it--was it good for you? Instead, the piece on the page or in the film steps down and steps out: I'm real, she says. Like Frederick Douglass, she will be hesitant and embarrassed. She will feel ignorant. She will tell a first-person story about her own experience in prostitution, in pornography, as a victim of incest, as a victim of rape, as someone who has been beaten or tortured, as someone who has been bought and sold. She may not remind her audience that sexual servitude is a poor school for the human intellect and heart--sexually violated, often since childhood, she may not know the value of her human intellect or her human heart--and the audience cannot be counted on to know that she deserved better than she got. Will there be someone there to implore the audience to help her escape the pornography--law or no law, constitution or no constitution; will the audience understand that as long as the pornography of her exists she is a captive of it, a fugitive from it? Will the audience be willing to fight for her freedom by fighting against the pornography of her, because, as Linda Marchiano said of Deep Throat, "every time someone watches that film, they are watching me being raped" 2 ? Will the audience understand that she is standing in for those who didn't get away; will the audience understand that those who didn't get away were someone--each one was someone? Will the audience understand what stepping down from the page or out of the film cost her--what it took for her to survive, for her to escape, for her to dare to speak now about what happened to her then?

"I'm an incest survivor, ex-pornography model, and ex-prostitute," the woman says. "My incest story begins before preschool and ends many years later--this was with my father. I was also molested by an uncle and a minister . . . my father forced me to perform sexual acts with men at a stag party when I was a teenager. . . . My father was my pimp in pornography. There were three occasions from ages nine to sixteen when he forced me to be a pornography model . . . in Nebraska, so, yes, it does happen here." 3

I was thirteen when I was forced into prostitution and pornography, the woman says. I was drugged, raped, gang-raped, imprisoned, beaten, sold from one pimp to another, photographed by pimps, photographed by tricks; I was used in pornography and they used pornography on me; "[t]hey knew a child's face when they looked into it. It was clear that I was not acting of my own free will. I was always covered with welts and bruises. . . . It was even clearer that I was sexually inexperienced. I literally didn't know what to do. So they showed me pornography to teach me about sex and then they would ignore my tears as they positioned my body like the women in the pictures and used me." 4

"As I speak about pornography, here, today," the woman says, "I am talking about my life." I was raped by my uncle when I was ten, by my stepbrother and stepfather by the time I was twelve. My stepbrother was making pornography of me by the time I was fourteen. "I was not even sixteen years old and my life reality consisted of sucking cocks, posing nude, performing sexual acts and actively being repeatedly raped." 5

These are the women in the pictures; they have stepped out, though the pictures may still exist. They have become very serious women; serious in the pursuit of freedom. There are many thousands of them in the United States, not all first put in pornography as children though most were sexually molested as children, raped or otherwise abused again later, eventually becoming homeless and poor. They are feminists in the antipornography movement, and they don't want to debate "free speech." Like Frederick Douglass, they are fugitives from the men who made a profit off of them. They live in jeopardy, always more or less in hiding. They organize to help others escape. They write--in blood, their own. They publish sometimes, including their own newsletters. The demonstrate; they resist; they disappear when the danger gets too close. The Constitution has nothing for them--no help, no protection, no dignity, no solace, no justice. The law has nothing for them--no recognition of the injuries done them by pornography, no reparations for what has been taken from them. They are real, and even though this society will do nothing for them, they are women who have resolved that the man who expects to succeed in whipping must also succeed in killing them. This changes the nature of the women's movement. It must stop slavery. The runaway slave is now part of it.


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