by Andrea Dworkin

Copyright © 1981 by Andrea Dworkin.
All rights reserved.

Excerpt from Chapter Two

Men and Boys

Just so does Miller return us to the first question of humanism. What, finally, is a Man?--Norman Mailer, Genius and Lust: A Journey Through the Major Writings of Henry Miller

With a disgust common to all feminists who have tried to be participants in the so-called humanism of men, only to discover through bitter experience that the culture of males does not allow honest female participation, Virginia Woolf wrote: "I detest the masculine point of view. I am bored by his heroism, virtue, and honour. I think the best these men can do is not to talk about themselves anymore." 1 Men have claimed the human point of view; they author it; they own it. Men are humanists, humans, humanism. Men are rapists, batterers, plunderers, killers; these same men are religious prophets, poets, heroes, figures of romance, adventure, accomplishment, figures ennobled by tragedy and defeat. Men have claimed the earth, called it Her. Men ruin Her. Men have airplanes, guns, bombs, poisonous gases, weapons so perverse and deadly that they defy any authentically human imagination. Men battle each other and Her; women battle to be let into the category "human" in imagination and reality. Men battle to keep the category "human" narrow, circumscribed by their own values and activities; women battle to change the meaning that men have given the word, to transform its meaning by suffusing it with female experience.

Boys are birthed and raised by women. At some point, boys become men, dim their vision to exclude women.

All children view things as animate. As Jean Piaget's work in developmental psychology has shown, children hear the wind whisper and the trees cry. As Bruno Bettelheim expresses it: "To the child, there is no clear line separating objects from living things; and whatever has life has life very much like our own." 2 But adult men treat women, and often girls, and sometimes other males, as objects. Adult men are convinced and sincere in their perception of adult women in particular as objects. This perception of women transcends categories of sexual orientation, political philosophy, nationality, class, race, and so forth. How does it happen that the male child whose sense of life is so vivid that he imparts humanity to sun and stone changes into the adult male who cannot grant or even imagine the common humanity of women?

In The Dialectic of Sex, Shulamith Firestone shows that the boy has a choice: remain loyal to the mother who is in reality degraded, without authority against the father, unable to protect the child from the father's violence or the violence of other adult men, or become a man, one who has the power and the right to hurt, to use force, to use his will and physical strength over and against women and children. Be the mother--do the housework--or be the father--carry a big stick. Be the mother--be fucked--or be the father--do the fucking. The boy has a choice. The boy chooses to become a man because it is better to be a man than a woman.

Becoming a man requires that the boy learn to be indifferent to the fate of women. Indifference requires that the boy learn to experience women as objects. The poet, the mystic, the prophet, the so-called sensitive man of any stripe, will still hear the wind whisper and the trees cry. But to him, women will be mute. He will have learned to be deaf to the sounds, sighs, whispers, screams of women in order to ally himself with other men in the hope that they will not treat him as a child, that is, as one who belongs with the women.

A boy, or his mother, is threatened, hit, or molested. A boy experiences male force as its victim or as a witness. This nearly universal event is described by John Stoltenberg in an essay, "Eroticism and Violence in the Father-Son Relationship":

The boy will be a witness as the father abuses his wife--once or a hundred times, it only needs to happen once, and the boy will be filled with fear and helpless to intercede. Then the father will visit his anger upon the boy himself, uncontrollable rage, wrath that seems to come from nowhere, punishment out of proportion to any infraction of rules the boy knew existed-- once or a hundred times, it only needs to happen once, and the boy will wonder in agony why the mother did not prevent it. From that point onward, the boy's trust in the mother decays, and the son will belong to the father for the rest of his natural life. 3

The boy seeks to emulate the father because it is safer to be like the father than like the mother. He learns to threaten or hit because men can and men must. He dissociates himself from the powerlessness he did experience, the powerlessness to which females as a class are consigned. The boy becomes a man by taking on the behaviors of men--to the best of his ability.

The boy escapes, into manhood, into power. It is his option, based on the social valuation of his anatomy. This route of escape is the only one now charted.

But the boy remembers, he always remembers, that once he was a child, close to women in powerlessness, in potential or actual humiliation, in danger from male aggression. The boy must build up a male identity, a fortressed castle with an impenetrable moat, so that he is inaccessible, so that he is invulnerable to the memory of his origins, to the sorrowful or enraged calls of the women he left behind. The boy, whatever his chosen style, turns martial in his masculinity, fierce, stubborn, rigid, humorless. His fear of men turns into aggression against women. He keeps the distance between himself and women unbridgeable, transforms women into the dreaded She, or, as Simone de Beauvoir expresses it, "the Other." He learns to be a man--poet man, gangster man, professional religious man, rapist man, any kind of man--and the first rule of masculinity is that whatever he is, women are not. He calls his cowardice heroism, and he keeps women out--out of humanity (fabled Mankind), out of his sphere of activity whatever it is, out of all that is valued, rewarded, credible, out of the diminishing realm of his own capacity to care. Women must be kept out because wherever there are women, there is one haunting, vivid memory with numberless smothering tentacles: he is that child, powerless against the adult male, afraid of him, humiliated by him.

Boys become men to escape being victims by definition. Girls would become men if girls could, because it would mean freedom from: freedom from rape most of the time; freedom from continuous petty insult and violent devaluation of self; freedom from debilitating economic and emotional dependence on someone else; freedom from the male aggression channeled against women in intimacy and throughout the culture.

But male aggression is rapacious. It spills over, not accidentally, but purposefully. There is war. Older men create wars. Older men kill boys by generating and financing wars. Boys fight wars. Boys die in wars. Older men hate boys because boys still have the smell of women on them. War purifies, washes off the female stink. The blood of death, so hallowed, so celebrated, overcomes the blood of life, so abhorred, so defamed. The ones who survive the bloodbath will never again risk the empathy with women they experienced as children for fear of being found out and punished for good: killed this time by the male gangs, found in all spheres of life, that enforce the male code. The child is dead. The boy has become a man.

* * *

Men develop a strong loyalty to violence. Men must come to terms with violence because it is the prime component of male identity. Institutionalized in sports, the military, acculturated sexuality, the history and mythology of heroism, it is taught to boys until they become its advocates--men, not women. Men become advocates of that which they most fear. In advocacy they experience mastery of fear. In mastery of fear they experience freedom. Men transform their fear of male violence into a metaphysical commitment to male violence. Violence itself becomes the central definition of any experience that is profound and significant. So, in Love's Body, philosopher Norman O. Brown, a sexual radical in the male system, posits that "[l]ove is violence. The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, from hot love and living hope." 4 In the same text, Brown defines freedom in the same way: "Freedom is poetry, taking liberties with words, breaking the rules of normal speech, violating common sense. Freedom is violence." 5 Swim in male culture; drown in the male romanticization of violence. On the Left, on the Right, in the Middle; authors, statesmen, thieves; so-called humanists and self-declared fascists; the adventurous and the contemplative; in every realm of male expression and action, violence is experienced and articulated as love and freedom. Pacifist males are only apparent exceptions: repelled by some forms of violence as nearly all men are, they remain impervious to sexual violence as nearly all men do.

Men choose their spheres of advocacy according to what they can bear and/or what they can do well. Men will advocate some forms of violence and not others. Some men will renounce violence in theory, and practice it in secrecy against women and children. Some men will become icons in male culture, able to discipline and focus their commitment to violence by learning a violent skill: boxing, shooting, hunting, hockey, football, soldiering, policing. Some men will use language as violence, or money as violence, or religion as violence, or science as violence, or influence over others as violence. Some men will commit violence against the minds of others and some against the bodies of others. Most men, in their life histories, have done both. In the area of sexuality, this fact was acknowledged with no recognition of its significance by the scholars of the Institute for Sex Research (the Kinsey Institute) who studied sex offenders:

If we labeled all punishable sexual behavior as a sex offense, we would find ourselves in the ridiculous situation of having all of our male histories consist almost wholly of sex offenders, the remaining few being not only nonoffenders but nonconformists. The man who kisses a girl [sic] in defiance of her expressed wishes is committing a forced sexual relationship and is liable to an assault charge, but to solemnly label him a sex offender would be to reduce our study to a ludicrous level. 6

Rather than "reduce [their] study to a ludicrous level," which would be unthinkable, the honorable scientists chose to sanction as normative the male commitment to the use of force documented by their study

Men are distinguished from women by their commitment to do violence rather than to be victimized by it. Men are rewarded for learning the practice of violence in virtually any sphere of activity by money, admiration, recognition, respect, and the genuflection of others honoring their sacred and proven masculinity. In male culture, police are heroic and so are outlaws; males who enforce standards are heroic and so are those who violate them The conflicts between these groups embody the male commitment to violence: conflict is action; action is masculine. It is a mistake to view the warring factions of male culture as genuinely distinct from one another: in fact, these warring factions operate in near-perfect harmony to keep women at their mercy, one way or another. Because male supremacy means precisely that men have learned to use violence against others, particularly against females, in a random or disciplined way, loyalty to some form of male violence, its advocacy in language or action, is a prime criterion of effective masculine identity. In adoring violence--from the crucifixion of Christ to the cinematic portrayal of General Patton--men seek to adore themselves, or those distorted fragments of self left over when the capacity to perceive the value of life has been paralyzed and maimed by the very adherence to violence that men articulate as life's central and energizing meaning.

* * *

Men renounce whatever they have in common with women so as to experience no commonality with women; and what is left, according to men, is one piece of flesh a few inches long, the penis. The penis is sensate; the penis is the man; the man is human; the penis signifies humanity. Though this reductio ad absurdum is the central male reality in psyche and in culture, male reductionism is more absurdly expressed when men go one step further and reduce the penis itself to sperm en masse, or to the one divinely inspired sperm that manages to fertilize an egg. Always in the vanguard, R. D. Laing, in his 1976 book The Facts of Life, expressed this same male reductionism in an even more bizarre way: "One could remain in love with one's placenta the rest of one's life." 7 Laing expresses both grief and rage over the loss of his (sic) placenta, * but this anguish has not yet managed to surpass in cultural significance the sorrow of those who, from the castigators of Onan on, mourn lost sperm. In Eumenides, Aeschylus insisted that all life originates in sperm, that the male is the sole source of life and that therefore the sole power over life resides properly with him. The linguistic antecedents of the word penis include, in Old English and Old High German, the meanings "offspring" and "fetus." In the last several centuries nothing has modified the male compulsion to keep reducing life to fragments of male physiology; then to make the fragments magical, sources of both power and menace. The dimension of menace is especially important in enabling men to value bits and pieces of themselves. Sperm, for instance, is seen as an agent of death, the woman's death, even when it is viewed as the originator of life, male life. Childbearing is glorified in part because women die from it. As Martin Luther put it: "If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her only die from bearing; she is there to do it." 8 Our own beloved Norman Mailer, in The Prisoner of Sex, contemplated that "women had begun to withdraw respect from men about the time pregnancy lost its danger . . . If [death] had once been a possibility real enough for them to look at their mate with eyes of love or eyes of hate but know their man might yet be the agent of their death, conceive then of the lost gravity of the act . . ." 9 Mailer here is not lamenting the advent of female-controlled contraception, though he does lament it; he is mourning Semmelweis's discovery of the cause of the epidemics of puerperal fever that killed masses of childbearing women, including Mary Wollstonecraft.

The obsessive belief that the penis/sperm, once lodged in the woman, is a male fetus, together with the erotic dimension of the penis/sperm as agent of female death, accounts in large part for the continuing male commitment to forced female pregnancy. The vagina/womb, as Erik Erikson articulated, is perceived by the male as empty space that must be filled by a penis or a child (male until proven otherwise, in which case devalued), which is the penis realized--or the woman herself is empty, that is, a nonentity, worthless.

Force--the violence of the male confirming his masculinity--is seen as the essential purpose of the penis, its animating principle as it were, just as sperm ideally impregnates the woman either without reference to or against her will. The penis must embody the violence of the male in order for him to be male. Violence is male; the male is the penis; violence is the penis or the sperm ejaculated from it. What the penis can do it must do forcibly for a man to be a man. The reduction of human erotic potential to "sex," defined as the force of the penis visited on an unwilling woman, is the governing sexual scenario in male-supremacist society. Havelock Ellis, considered a feminist by scholars in the male tradition, sees the penis as properly and intrinsically suggesting a whip and the whip as a logical and inevitable expression of the penis:

We must regard the whip as a natural symbol for the penis. One of the most frequent ways in which the idea of coitus first faintly glimmers before an infantile mind--and it is a glimmer which, from an evolutionary standpoint, is biologically correct--is as a display of force, of aggression, of something resembling cruelty. Whipping is the most obvious form in which to the young mind this idea might be embodied. The penis is the only organ of the body which in any degree resembles a whip. 10

Throughout male culture, the penis is seen as a weapon, especially a sword. The word vagina literally means "sheath." In male-supremacist society, reproduction takes on this same character: force leading, at some point inevitably, to death; the penis/ sperm valued as potential agent of female death. For centuries, female reluctance to "have sex," female dislike of "sex," female frigidity, female avoidance of "sex," have been legendary. This has been the silent rebellion of women against the force of the penis, generations of women as one with their bodies, chanting in a secret language, unintelligible even to themselves, a contemporary song of freedom: I will not be moved. The aversion of women to the penis and to sex as men define it, overcome only when survival and/or ideology demand it, must be seen not as puritanism (which is a male strategy to keep the penis hidden, taboo, and sacred), but as women's refusal to pay homage to the primary purveyor of male aggression, one on one, against women. In this way, women have defied men and subverted male power. It has been an ineffectual rebellion, but it has been rebellion nonetheless.

* * *

Boys and men do experience sexual abuse at the hands of men. The homophobe's distorting concentration on this fact, which cannot and must not be denied, neatly eliminates from view the primary victims of male sexual abuse: women and girls. This is congruent with the fact that crimes against females are ultimately viewed as expressions of male normalcy, while crimes against men and boys are viewed as perversions of that same normalcy. Society's general willingness to do anything necessary to protect boys and men from male sexual aggression is testimony to the value of a male life. Society's general refusal to do anything meaningful to protect women and girls from male sexual aggression is testimony to the worthlessness of a female life. A male life must be protected for its own sake. A female life warrants protection only when the female belongs to a male, as wife, daughter, mistress, whore; it is the owner who has a right to have his rights over his females protected from other men. A female's bodily integrity or well-being is not protected because of the value of the woman as a human being in her own right.

The relatively low incidence of male sexual assault against males, as contrasted with the pervasive assaults against females, cannot be attributed to de jure proscriptions. Rape of women, battery of wives, forcible incest with daughters, are also proscribed by male law but are widely practiced with virtual impunity by men. The key is not in what is forbidden but in what is sanctioned, really and truly sanctioned. Sexual violence against women and girls is sanctioned and encouraged for a purpose: the active and persistent channeling of male sexual aggression against females protects men and boys rather effectively from male sexual abuse. The system is not perfect, but it is formidable.

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