RIGHT-WING WOMEN

Excerpt from Chapter 3

Abortion

by Andrea Dworkin

Copyright © 1983 by Andrea Dworkin.
All rights reserved.

[...]
Norman Mailer remarked during the sixties that the problem with the sexual revolution was that it had gotten into the hands of the wrong people. He was right. It was in the hands of men.

The pop idea was that fucking was good, so good that the more there was of it, the better. The pop idea was that people should fuck whom they wanted: translated for the girls, this meant that girls should want to be fucked--as close to all the time as was humanly possible. For women, alas, all the time is humanly possible with enough changes of partners. Men envision frequency with reference to their own patterns of erection and ejaculation. Women got fucked a lot more than men fucked.

Sexual-revolution philosophy predates the sixties. It shows up in Left ideologies and movements with regularity--in most countries, in many different periods, manifest in various leftist "tendencies." The sixties in the United States, repeated with different tonalities throughout Western Europe, had a particularly democratic character. One did not have to read Wilhelm Reich, though some did. It was simple. A bunch of nasty bastards who hated making love were making war. A bunch of boys who liked flowers were making love and refusing to make war. These boys were wonderful and beautiful. They wanted peace. They talked love, love, love, not romantic love but love of mankind (translated by women: humankind). They grew their hair long and painted their faces and wore colorful clothes and risked being treated like girls. In resisting going to war, they were cowardly and sissies and weak, like girls. No wonder the girls of the sixties thought that these boys were their special friends, their special allies, lovers each and every one.

The girls were real idealists. They hated the Viet Nam War and their own lives, unlike the boys', were not at stake. They hated the racial and sexual bigotry visited on blacks, in particular on black men who were the figures in visible jeopardy. The girls were not all white, but still the black man was the figure of empathy, the figure whom they wanted to protect from racist pogroms. Rape was seen as a racist ploy: not something real in itself used in a racist context to isolate and destroy black men in specific and strategic ways, but a fabrication, a figment of the racist imagination. The girls were idealistic because, unlike the boys, many of them had been raped; their lives were at stake. The girls were idealists especially because they believed in peace and freedom so much that they even thought it was intended for them too. They knew that their mothers were not free--they saw the small, constrained, female lives--and they did not want to be their mothers. They accepted the boys' definition of sexual freedom because it, more than any other idea or practice, made them different from their mothers. While their mothers kept sex secret and private, with so much fear and shame, the girls proclaimed sex their right, their pleasure, their freedom. They decried the stupidity of their mothers and allied themselves on overt sexual terms with the long-haired boys who wanted peace, freedom, and fucking everywhere. This was a world vision that took girls out of the homes in which their mothers were dull captives or automatons and at the same time turned the whole world, potentially, into the best possible home. In other words, the girls did not leave home in order to find sexual adventure in a sexual jungle; they left home to find a warmer, kinder, larger, more embracing home.

Sexual radicalism was defined in classically male terms: number of partners, frequency of sex, varieties of sex (for instance, group sex), eagerness to engage in sex. It was all supposed to be essentially the same for boys and girls: two, three, or however many long-haired persons communing. It was especially the lessening of gender polarity that kept the girls entranced, even after the fuck had revealed the boys to be men after all. Forced sex occurred--it occurred often; but the dream lived on. Lesbianism was never accepted as lovemaking on its own terms but rather as a kinky occasion for male voyeurism and the eventual fucking of two wet women; still, the dream lived on. Male homosexuality was toyed with, vaguely tolerated, but largely despised and feared because heterosexual men however bedecked with flowers could not bear to be fucked "like women"; but the dream lived on. And the dream for the girls at base was a dream of a sexual and social empathy that negated the strictures of gender, a dream of sexual equality based on what men and women had in common, what the adults tried to kill in you as they made you grow up. It was a desire for a sexual community more like childhood--before girls were crushed under and segregated. It was a dream of sexual transcendence: transcending the absolutely dichotomized male-female world of the adults who made war not love. It was--for the girls--a dream of being less female in a world less male; an eroticization of sibling equality, not the traditional male dominance.

Wishing did not make it so. Acting as if it were so did not make it so. Proposing it in commune after commune, to man after man, did not make it so. Baking bread and demonstrating against the war together did not make it so. The girls of the sixties lived in what Marxists call, but in this instance do not recognize as, a "contradiction." Precisely in trying to erode the boundaries of gender through an apparent single standard of sexual-liberation practice, they participated more and more in the most gender-reifying act: fucking. The men grew more manly; the world of the counterculture became more aggressively male-dominated. The girls became women--found themselves possessed by a man or a man and his buddies (in the parlance of the counterculture, his brothers and hers too)--traded, gang-fucked, collected, collectivized, objectified, turned into the hot stuff of pornography, and socially resegregated into traditionally female roles. Empirically speaking, sexual liberation was practiced by women on a wide scale in the sixties and it did not work: that is, it did not free women. Its purpose--it turned out--was to free men to use women without bourgeois constraints, and in that it was successful. One consequence for the women was an intensification of the experience of being sexually female--the precise opposite of what those idealistic girls had envisioned for themselves. In experiencing a wide variety of men in a wide variety of circumstances, women who were not prostitutes discovered the impersonal, class-determined nature of their sexual function. They discovered the utter irrelevance of their own individual, aesthetic, ethical, or political sensitivities (whether those sensitivities were characterized by men as female or bourgeois or puritanical) in sex as men practiced it. The sexual standard was the male-to-female fuck, and women served it--it did not serve women.

In the sexual-liberation movement of the sixties, its ideology and practice, neither force nor the subordinate status of women was an issue. It was assumed that--unrepressed--everyone wanted intercourse all the time (men, of course, had other important things to do; women had no legitimate reason not to want to be fucked); and it was assumed that in women an aversion to intercourse, or not climaxing from intercourse, or not wanting intercourse at a particular time or with a particular man, or wanting fewer partners than were available, or getting tired, or being cross, were all signs of and proof of sexual repression. Fucking per se was freedom per se. When rape--obvious, clear, brutal rape--occurred, it was ignored, often for political reasons if the rapist was black and the woman white. Interestingly, in a racially constructed rape, the rape was likely to be credited as such, even when ultimately ignored. When a white man raped a white woman, there was no vocabulary to describe it. It was an event that occurred outside the political discourse of the generation in question and therefore it did not exist. When a black woman was raped by a white man, the degree of recognition depended on the state of alliances between black and white men in the social territory involved: whether, at any given time, they were sharing women or fighting territorially over them. A black woman raped by a black man had the special burden of not jeopardizing her own race, endangered especially by charges of rape, by calling attention to any such brutality committed against her. Beatings and forced intercourse were commonplace in the counterculture. Even more widespread was the social and economic coercion of women to engage in sex with men. Yet no antagonism was seen to exist between sexual force and sexual freedom: one did not preclude the other. Implicit was the conviction that force would not be necessary if women were not repressed; women would want to fuck and would not have to be forced to fuck; so that it was repression, not force, that stood in the way of freedom.

Sexual-liberation ideology, whether pop or traditionally leftist-intellectual, did not criticize, analyze, or repudiate forced sex, nor did it demand an end to the sexual and social subordination of women to men: neither reality was recognized. Instead, it posited that freedom for women existed in being fucked more often by more men, a sort of lateral mobility in the same inferior sphere. No persons were held responsible for forced sex acts, rapes, beatings of women, unless the women themselves were blamed--usually for not complying in the first place. These were in the main women who wanted to comply--who wanted the promised land of sexual freedom--and still they had limits, preferences, tastes, desires for intimacy with some men and not others, moods not necessarily related to menstruation or the phases of the moon, days on which they would rather work or read; and they were punished for all these puritanical repressions, these petit bourgeois lapses, these tiny exercises of tinier wills not in conformity with the wills of their brother-lovers: force was frequently used against them, or they were threatened or humiliated or thrown out. No diminution of flower power, peace, freedom, political correctness, or justice was seen to be implicit in the use of coercion in any form to get sexual compliance.

In the garden of earthly delights known as the sixties counterculture, pregnancy did intrude, almost always rudely; and even then and there it was one of the real obstacles to female fucking on male demand. It made women ambivalent, reluctant, concerned, cross, preoccupied; it even led women to say no. Throughout the sixties, the birth control pill was not easy to get, and nothing else was sure. Unmarried women had an especially hard time getting access to contraceptive devices, including the diaphragm, and abortion was illegal and dangerous. Fear of pregnancy provided a reason for saying no: not just an excuse but a concrete reason not easily seduced or persuaded away, even by the most astute or dazzling argument in behalf of sexual freedom. Especially difficult to sway were the women who had had illegal abortions already. Whatever they thought of fucking, however they experienced it, however much they loved or tolerated it, they knew that for them it had consequences in blood and pain and they knew that it cost the men nothing, except sometimes money. Pregnancy was a material reality, and it could not be argued away. One tactic used to counterbalance the high anxiety caused by the possibility of pregnancy was the esteem in which "natural" women were held--women who were "natural" in all respects, who wanted organic fucking (no birth control, whatever children resulted) and organic vegetables too. Another tactic was to stress the communal raising of children, to promise it. Women were not punished in the conventional ways for bearing the children--they were not labeled "bad" or shunned--but they were frequently abandoned. A woman and her child--poor and relatively outcast--wandering within the counterculture changed the quality of the hedonism in the communities in which they intruded: the mother-and-child pair embodied a different strain of reality, not a welcome one for the most part. There were lone women struggling to raise children "freely" and they got in the way of the males who saw freedom as the fuck--and the fuck ended for the males when the fuck ended. These women with children made the other women a little somber, a little concerned, a little careful. Pregnancy, the fact of it, was antiaphrodisiacal. Pregnancy, the burden of it, made it harder for the flower boys to fuck the flower girls, who did not want to have to claw out their own insides or pay someone else to do it; they also did not want to die.

It was the brake that pregnancy put on fucking that made abortion a high-priority political issue for men in the 1960s--not only for young men, but also for the older leftist men who were skimming sex off the top of the counterculture and even for more traditional men who dipped into the pool of hippie girls now and then. The decriminalization of abortion--for that was the political goal--was seen as the final fillip: it would make women absolutely accessible, absolutely "free." The sexual revolution, in order to work, required that abortion be available to women on demand. If it were not, fucking would not be available to men on demand. Getting laid was at stake. Not just getting laid, but getting laid the way great numbers of boys and men had always wanted--lots of girls who wanted it all the time outside marriage, free, giving it away. The male-dominated Left agitated for and fought for and argued for and even organized for and even provided political and economic resources for abortion rights for women. The left was militant on the issue.

Then, at the very end of the sixties, women who had been radical in counterculture terms--women who had been both politically and sexually active--became radical in new terms: they became feminists. They were not Betty Friedan's housewives. They had fought out on the streets against the Viet Nam War; some of them were old enough to have fought in the South for black civil rights, and all had come into adulthood on the back of that struggle; and lord knows, they had been fucked. As Marge Piercy wrote in a 1969 expose of sex and politics in the counterculture:

Fucking a staff into existence is only the extreme form of what passes for common practice in many places. A man can bring a woman into an organization by sleeping with her and remove her by ceasing to do so. A man can purge a woman for no other reason than that he has tired of her, knocked her up, or is after someone else: and that purge is accepted without a ripple. There are cases of a woman excluded from a group for no other reason than that one of its leaders proved impotent with her. If a macher enters a room full of machers, accompanied by a woman and does not introduce her, it is rare indeed that anyone will bother to ask her name or acknowledge her presence. The etiquette that governs is one of master-servant. 5

Or, as Robin Morgan wrote in 1970: "We have met the enemy and he's our friend. And dangerous." 6 Acknowledging the forced sex so pervasive in the counterculture in the language of the counterculture, Morgan wrote: "It hurts to understand that at Woodstock or Altamont a woman could be declared uptight or a poor sport if she didn't want to be raped." 7 These were the beginnings: recognizing that the brother-lovers were sexual exploiters as cynical as any other exploiters--they ruled and demeaned and discarded women, they used women to get and consolidate power, they used women for sex and for menial labor, they used women up; recognizing that rape was a matter of utter indifference to these brother-lovers--they took it any way they could get it; and recognizing that all the work for justice had been done on the backs of sexually exploited women within the movement. "But surely," wrote Robin Morgan in 1968, "even a male reactionary on this issue can realize that it is really mind-blowing to hear some young male 'revolutionary'--supposedly dedicated to building a new, free social order to replace this vicious one under which we live--turn around and absent-mindedly order his 'chick' to shut up and make supper or wash his socks--he's talking now. We're used to such attitudes from the average American clod, but from this brave new radical?" 8

It was the raw, terrible realization that sex was not brother-sister but master-servant--that this brave new radical wanted to be not only master in his own home but pasha in his own harem--that proved explosive. The women ignited with the realization that they had been sexually used. Going beyond the male agenda on sexual liberation, these women discussed sex and politics with one another--something not done even when they had shared the same bed with the same man--and discovered that their experiences had been staggeringly the same, ranging from forced sex to sexual humiliation to abandonment to cynical manipulation as both menials and pieces of ass. And the men were entrenched in sex as power: they wanted the women for fucking, not revolution: the two were revealed to be different after all. The men refused to change but even more important they hated the women for refusing to service them anymore on the old terms--there it was, revealed for what it was. The women left the men--in droves. The women formed an autonomous women's movement, a militant feminist movement, to fight against the sexual cruelty they had experienced and to fight for the sexual justice they had been denied.

From their own experience--especially in being coerced and in being exchanged--the women found a first premise for their political movement: that freedom for a woman was predicated on, and could not exist without, her own absolute control of her own body in sex and in reproduction. This included not only the right to terminate a pregnancy but also the right to not have sex, to say no, to not be fucked. For women, this led to many areas of sexual discovery about the nature and politics of their own sexual desire, but for men it was a dead end--most of them never recognized feminism except in terms of their own sexual deprivation; feminists were taking away the easy fuck. They did everything they could to break the back of the feminist movement--and in fact they have not stopped yet. Especially significant has been their change of heart and politics on abortion. The right to abortion defined as an intrinsic part of the sexual revolution was essential to them: who could bear the horror and cruelty and stupidity of illegal abortion? The right to abortion defined as an intrinsic part of a woman's right to control her own body, in sex too, was a matter of supreme indifference.

Material resources dried up. Feminists fought the battle for decriminalized abortion--no laws governing abortion--on the streets and in the courts with severely diminished male support. In 1973, the Supreme Court gave women legalized abortion: abortion regulated by the state.

If before the Supreme Court decision in 1973 leftist men expressed a fierce indifference to abortion rights on feminist terms, after 1973 indifference changed to overt hostility: feminists had the right to abortion and were still saying no--no to sex on male terms and no to politics dominated by these same men. Legalized abortion did not make these women more available for sex; on the contrary, the women's movement was growing in size and importance and male sexual privilege was being challenged with more intensity, more commitment, more ambition. The leftist men turned from political activism: without the easy lay, they were not prepared to engage in radical politics. In therapy they discovered that they had had personalities in the womb, that they had suffered traumas in the womb. Fetal psychology--tracing a grown man's life back into the womb, where, as a fetus, he had a whole human self and psychology--developed on the therapeutic Left (the residue of the male counterculture Left) before any right-wing minister or lawmaker ever thought to make a political stand on the right of fertilized eggs as persons to the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, which is in fact the goal of antiabortion activists. * The argument that abortion was a form of genocide directed particularly at blacks gained political currency, even though feminists from the first based part of the feminist case on the real facts and figures--black and Hispanic women died and were hurt disproportionately in illegal abortions. As early as 1970, these figures were available in Sisterhood Is Powerful: "4.7 times as many Puerto Rican women, and 8 times as many black women die of the consequences of illegal abortions as do white women . . . In New York City, 80 percent of the women who die from abortions are black and brown." 9 And on the nonviolent Left, abortion was increasingly considered murder--murder in the most grandiose terms. "Abortion is the domestic side of the nuclear arms race," 10 wrote one male pacifist in a 1980 tract not at all singular in the scale and tone of its denunciation. Without the easy fuck, things sure had changed on the Left.

The Democratic Party, establishment home of many Left groups, especially since the end of the 1960s ferment, had conceded abortion rights as early as 1972, when George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon and refused to take a stand for abortion so that he could fight against the Viet Nam War and for the presidency without distraction. When the Hyde Amendment cutting off Medicaid funding for abortions was passed in 1976, ** it had Jesse Jackson's support: he had sent telegrams to all members of Congress supporting the cutoff of funds. Court challenges delayed the implementation of the Hyde Amendment, but Jimmy Carter, elected with the help of feminist and leftist groups in the Democratic Party, had his man, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., head of the then Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, halt federal funding of abortion by administrative order. By 1977 the first documented death of a poor woman (Hispanic) from an illegal abortion had occurred: illegal abortion and death were again realities for women in the United States. In the face of the so-called human-life amendment and human-life statute--respectively a constitutional amendment and a bill of law defining a fertilized egg as a human being--the male Left has simply played dead.

The male Left abandoned abortion rights for genuinely awful reasons: the boys were not getting laid; there was bitterness and anger against feminists for ending a movement (by withdrawing from it) that was both power and sex for the men; there was also the familiar callous indifference of the sexual exploiter--if he couldn't screw her she wasn't real.

The hope of the male Left is that the loss of abortion rights will drive women back into the ranks--even fear of losing might do that; and the male Left has done what it can to assure the loss. The Left has created a vacuum that the Right has expanded to fill--this the Left did by abandoning a just cause, by its decade of quietism, by its decade of sulking. But the Left has not just been an absence; it has been a presence, outraged at women's controlling their own bodies, outraged at women's organizing against sexual exploitation, which by definition means women also organizing against the sexual values of the Left. When feminist women have lost legal abortion altogether, leftist men expect them back--begging for help, properly chastened, ready to make a deal, ready to spread their legs again. On the Left, women will have abortion on male terms, as part of sexual liberation, or women will not have abortion except at risk of death.

And the boys of the sixties did grow up too. They actually grew older. They are now men in life, not just in the fuck. They want babies. Compulsory pregnancy is about the only way they are sure to get them.
[...]


Copyright © 1983 by Andrea Dworkin.
All rights reserved.


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