LETTERS FROM A WAR ZONE

WRITINGS 1976-1989


byAndrea Dworkin

Part IV THE NEW TERRORISM

Pornography and Male Supremacy 1981

Copyright © 1981, 1988, 1993 by Andrea Dworkin.
All rights reserved.

This was written as a speech, my part of a debate on pornography with civil liberties lawyer and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who recently went on the Penthouse payroll but had no direct ties with the pornographers that I know of at the time of the debate. The debate was sponsored by The Schlesinger Library for Women at Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In his autobiography, The Best Defense, Mr Dershowitz claims that he was threatened during the course of the debate by lesbians with bicycle chains. He wasn't; there were no bicycle chains and no threats. He continuously insulted the audience of mostly women and they talked back to him with loud and angry eloquence. The ACLU defends the "heckler's veto"--the right of hecklers to shout a speaker down; but when women answer misogynist insults with cogent, self-respecting speech, Mr. Dershowitz doesn't like speech so much anymore. Even though he has spent years defending the pornographers in the name of principled free speech, he suppressed the tape of the debate by refusing to give permission for its distribution. This piece has never been published before.

We live in a system of power that is male-supremacist. This means that society is organized on the assumption that men are superior to women and that women are inferior to men. Male supremacy is regarded as being either divine or natural, depending on the proclivities of the apologist for it. Theologically, God is the supreme male, the Father, and the men of flesh and blood one might meet on the streets or in the corridors of universities are created in His image. There is also a divine though human though divine Son, and a phallic Holy Ghost who penetrates women as light penetrates a window. In both Jewish and Christian tradition, women are dirty, inclined to evil, not fit for the responsibilities of religious or civil citizenship, should be seen and not heard, are destined, or predestined as it were, for sexual use and reproduction and have no other value. Also, in both traditions (which are Father and Son respectively), the sexuality of women is seen as intrinsically seductive and sluttish, by its nature a provocation to which men respond. In theological terms, men are superior and women inferior because God/He made it so, giving women a nature appropriate to their animal functions and men a nature with capacities that raise them above all other creatures.

The biological argument is even sillier, but because it is secular and university-sponsored, it has more credibility among intellectuals. Throughout patriarchal history, not just now, biological determinists have made two essential claims: first, that male superiority to women resides in an organ or a fluid or a secretion or a not-yet-discovered but urgently anticipated speck on a gene; and second, that we should study primates, fish, and insects to see how they manage, especially with their women. Sociobiologists and ethologists, the latest kinds of biological determinists, are selective in the species they study and the conclusions they draw because their argument is political, not scientific. The male, they say, regardless of what bug they are observing, is naturally superior because he is naturally dominant because he is naturally aggressive and so are his sperm; the female is naturally compliant and naturally submissive and exists in order to be fucked and bear babies. Now, fish do not reproduce through fucking; but that did not stop Konrad Lorenz's followers from holding up the cichlid as an example to the human woman. The cichlid is a prehistoric fish, and according to Lorenz the male cichlids could not mate unless the female cichlids demonstrated awe. Kate Millett wonders in Sexual Politics how one measures awe in a fish. But biological determinists do not wait around to answer such silly questions: they jump from species to species as suits their political purposes. And of course there are species they do avoid: spiders, praying mantises, and camels, for instance, since the females of these species kill or maim the male after intercourse. Biological determinists do not find such behaviors instructive. They love the gall wasp, which they have affectionately nicknamed the "killer wasp"--so one gets an idea of its character--and they do not pay much attention to the bee, what with its queen. There are also relatively egalitarian primates who never get a mention, and male penguins that care for the young, and so forth. And of course, no biological determinist has yet found the bug, fish, fowl, or even baboon who had managed to write Middlemarch. Humans create culture; even women create culture. "Sociobiology" or "ethology" may be new words, but biological arguments for the superiority of one group over another are not new. They are as old as genocide and slave labor. If women are held to be a natural class that exists to be fucked and to bear babies, then any method used to get women to do what they exist to do is also natural. And--to add insult to injury--they dare call it Mother Nature.

The biological determinists believe precisely what the theologians believe: that women exist to be sexually used by men, to reproduce, to keep the cave clean, and to obey; failing which both men of religion and men of nature hypothesize that hitting the female might solve her problem. In theological terms, God raised man above all other creatures; in biological terms, man raised himself. In both systems of thought, man is at the top, where he belongs; woman is under him, literally and figuratively, where she belongs.

Every area of conflict regarding the rights of women ultimately boils down to the same issue: what are women for; to what use should women be put--sexually and reproductively. A society will be concerned that the birth rate is not high enough, but not that there is a paucity of books produced by women. For women as a class, sex and reproduction are presumed to be the very essence of life, which means that our fate unfolds in the opening of our thighs and the phallic penetration of our bodies and the introjection of sperm into our vaginas and the appropriation of our uteruses. In The Dialectic of Sex, Shulamith Firestone wrote: "Sex class is so deep as to be invisible." That is because sex class is seen as the work of God or nature, not men; and so the possession of women's bodies by men is considered to be the correct and proper use of women.

In male-supremacist terms, sex is phallic sex; it is often called possession or conquest or taking. A woman's body is taken or conquered or possessed or--to use another supposedly sexy synonym--violated; and the means of the taking or possessing or violating is penile penetration.

The sexual colonialization of women's bodies is a material reality: men control the sexual and reproductive uses of women's bodies. In this system of male power, rape is the paradigmatic sexual act. The word "rape" comes from the Latin rapere, which means to steal, seize, or carry away. The first dictionary definition of rape is still "the act of seizing and carrying off by force." A second meaning of rape is "the act of physically forcing a woman to have sexual intercourse." Rape is first abduction, kidnapping, the taking of a woman by force. Kidnapping, or rape, is also the first known form of marriage--called "marriage by capture." The second known form of marriage is basically prostitution: a father, rather than allow the theft of his daughter, sells her. Most social arrangements for the exchange of women operate on one ancient model or the other: stealing, which is rape; or buying and selling, which is prostitution.

The relationship of prostitution to rape is simple and direct: whatever can be stolen can be sold. This means that women were both stolen and sold and in both cases were sexual commodities; and when practices were codified into laws, women were defined as sexual chattel. Women are still basically viewed as sexual chattel--socially, legally, culturally, and in practice. Rape and prostitution are central contemporary female experiences; women as a class are seen as belonging to men as a class and are systematically kept subservient to men; married women in most instances have lost sexual and reproductive control of their own bodies, which is what it means to be sexual chattel.

The principle that whatever can be stolen can be sold applies not only to women as such, but also to the sexuality of women. The sexuality of women has been stolen outright, appropriated by men--conquered, possessed, taken, violated; women have been systematically and absolutely denied the right to sexual self-determination and to sexual integrity; and because the sexuality of women has been stolen, this sexuality itself, it--as distinguished from an individual woman as a sentient being--it can be sold. It can be represented pictorially and sold; the idea or suggestion of it can be sold; representations of it in words can be sold; signs and gestures that denote it can be sold. Men can take this sexuality--steal it, rape it--and men can pimp it.

We do not know when in history pornography as such first appeared. We do know that it is a product of culture, specifically male-supremacist culture, and that it comes after both rape and prostitution. Pornography can only develop in a society that is viciously male-supremacist, one in which rape and prostitution are not only well-established but systematically practiced and ideologically endorsed. Feminists are often asked whether pornography causes rape. The fact is that rape and prostitution caused and continue to cause pornography. Politically, culturally, socially, sexually, and economically, rape and prostitution generated pornography; and pornography depends for its continued existence on the rape and prostitution of women.

The word pornography comes from the ancient Greek porne and graphos: it means "the graphic depiction of whores." Porne means "whore," specifically the lowest class of whore, which in ancient Greece was the brothel slut available to all male citizens. There were distinct classes of prostitutes in ancient Greece: the porne was the sexual cow. She was, simply and clearly and absolutely, a sexual slave. Graphos means "writing, etching, or drawing."

The whores called porneia were captive in brothels, which were designated as such by huge phalluses painted on or constructed near the door. They were not allowed out, were never educated, were barely dressed, and in general were miserably treated; they were the sexual garbage of Greek society. Wives were kept in nearly absolute isolation, allowed the company of slaves and young children only. High-class prostitutes, a class distinct from the porneia and from wives both, had the only freedom of movement accorded women, and were the only educated women.

Two very significant words originated in the ancient Greece many of us revere: democracy and pornography. Democracy from its beginnings excluded all women and some men. Pornography from its beginnings justified and promoted this exclusion of all women by presenting the sexuality of all women as the sexuality of the brothel slut. The brothel slut and the sexuality of the brothel slut had been stolen and sold--raped and prostituted; and the rape and prostitution of that captive and degraded being with her captive and degraded sexuality is precisely the sexual content of pornography. In pornography, the will of the chattel whore is synonymous with her function: she is purely for sex and her function is defined as her nature and her will. The isolation of wives was based on the conviction that women were so sexually voracious on male terms that wives could not be let out--or they would naturally turn whorish. The chattel whore was the natural woman, the woman without the civilizing discipline of marriage. The chattel whore, of course, as we know, was the product of the civilizing discipline of slavery, but men did not then and do not now see it that way.

Pornography illustrated and expressed this valuation of women and women's sexuality, and that is why it was named pornography--"the graphic depiction of whores." Depicting women as whores and the sexuality of women as sluttish is what pornography does. Its job in the politically coercive and cruel system of male supremacy is to justify and perpetuate the rape and prostitution from which it springs. This is its function, which makes it incompatible with any notion of freedom, unless one sees freedom as the right of men to rape and prostitute women. Pornography as a genre says that the stealing and buying and selling of women are not acts of force or abuse because women want to be raped and prostituted because that is the nature of women and the nature of female sexuality. Gloria Steinem has said that culture is successful politics. As a cultural phenomenon, pornography is the political triumph of rape and prostitution over all female rebellion and resistance.

A piece of Greek pornography may have been a drawing on a vase or an etching. No live model was required to make it; no specific sexual act had to be committed in order for it to exist. Rape, prostitution, battery, pornography, and other sex-based abuse could be conceptualized as separate phenomena. In real life, of course, they were all mixed together: a woman was beaten, then raped; raped, then beaten, then prostituted; prostituted, then beaten, then raped; and so on. As far back as we know, whorehouses have provided live sex shows in which, necessarily, pornography and prostitution were one and the same thing. We know that the world's foremost pornographer, the Marquis de Sade, tortured, raped, imprisoned, beat, and bought women and girls. We know that influential male thinkers and artists who enthused about rape or prostitution or battery had, in many cases, raped or bought or battered women or girls and were also users and often devotees of pornography. We know that when the technical means of graphic depiction were limited to writing, etching, and drawing, pornography was mostly an indulgence of upper-class men, who were literate and who had money to spend on the almost always expensive etchings, drawings, and writings. We know that pornography flourished as an upper-class male pleasure when the power of upper-class men knew virtually no limitation, certainly with regard to women: in feudal societies, for instance. But in societies that did not find much to oppose in the rape and prostitution of women, there were certainly no inquiries, no investigations, no political or philosophical or scientific searches, into the role pornography played in acts of forced sex or battery. When pornography was in fact writing, etching, or drawing, it was possible to consider it something exclusively cultural, something on paper not in life, and even partly esthetic or intellectual. Such a view was not accurate, but it was possible. Since the invention of the camera, any such view of pornography is completely despicable and corrupt. Those are real women being tied and hung, gutted and trounced on, whipped and pissed on, gang-banged and hit, penetrated by dangerous objects and by animals. It is important to note that men have not found it necessary--not legally, not morally, not sexually--to make distinctions between drawing and writing on the one hand and the use of live women on the other. Where is the visceral outcry, the famous humanist outcry, against the tying and hanging and chaining and bruising and beating of women? Where is the visceral recognition, the humanist recognition, that it is impossible and inconceivable to tolerate--let alone to sanction or to apologize for--the tying and hanging and chaining and bruising and beating of women? I am saying what no one should have to say, which is simply that one does not do to human beings what is done to women in pornography. And why are these things done to women in pornography? The reasons men give are these: entertainment, fun, expression, sex, sexual pleasure, and because the women want it.

Instead of any so-called humanist outcry against the inhumanity of the use of women in pornography--an outcry that we might expect if dogs or cats were being treated the same way--there has been the pervasive, self-congratulatory, indolent, male-supremacist assumption that the use of women in pornography is the sexual will of the woman, expresses her sexuality, her character, her nature, and appropriately demonstrates a legitimate sexual function of hers. This is the same assumption about the nature of women and the nature of female sexuality that men have always used to justify the raping and prostituting of women. It is no less believed today than when Greek men imprisoned chattel whores in the fifth century BC. Almost without exception, the main premise of pornography is that women want to be forced, hurt, and cruelly used. The main proof of the power of this belief is when the female victim of rape, battery, or incest is blamed for this crime. But the proof is also in the size and growth of the pornography industry; the ever-increasing viciousness of the material itself; the greater acceptance of pornography as part of the social and the domestic environment; the ever-expanding alliances between pornographers and lawyers, pornographers and journalists, pornographers and politicians. Pornography is now used in increasing numbers of medical schools and other institutions of higher learning that teach "human sexuality." The pornography is everywhere, and its apologists are everywhere, and its users are everywhere, and its pimps are rich, and surely if we assumed that the women in the photographs and films were really human beings and not by nature chattel whores we would not have been able to stand it, to acquiesce, to collaborate through silence or cowardice or, as some in this room have done, to collaborate actively. If we assumed that these women were human, not chattel whores by nature, we would destroy that industry--with our bare hands if we could--because it steals and buys and sells women; it rapes and prostitutes women. In 1978, Forbes magazine reported that the pornography industry was a $4-billion-a-year business, larger than the conventional film and record industry combined. A big part of the pornography business is cash-and-carry: for instance, the film loops, where one deposits quarters for a minute or so of a woman being fucked by Nazis or the like. A huge part of the pornography business is mail-order. Here one finds the especially scurrilous material, including both magazines and films of women being tortured, tied, hung, and fucked by large animals, especially dogs. Child pornography--still photographs and films--is obtained under the counter or through mail-order. Books of child pornography that are print with drawings and some magazines with photographs can be obtained in drug stores as well as sex shops in urban areas. The above-ground slick so-called men's entertainment magazines are flourishing, and every indication is that the Forbes figure of a $4-billion industry was low to begin with and is now completely outdated. Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler together sell fifteen million copies a month. According to Folio, a magazine for professionals in magazine management, United States magazines with the greatest overseas newsstand dollar sales were (1) Playboy with well over ten million dollars in foreign newsstand sales; (2) Penthouse with well over nine million dollars in foreign newsstand sales; (3) Oui; (4) Gallery, owned by F. Lee Bailey who surprisingly could not convince a jury that Patricia Hearst had been raped; (5) Scientific American; and (6) Hustler. Also in the top ten are Vogue, which consistently publishes the work of S and M photographer Helmut Newton, and Easy Riders, a motorcycle, gang-bang, fuck-the-bitch-with-your-Iron-Cross kind of magazine. This was as of October 1980. According to Mother Jones magazine, also in 1980, there are three to four times as many adult bookstores in the United States as there are McDonald's Restaurants. And the live exhibition of women displaying genitals or being used in sex of various descriptions or being tied and whipped is increasing. And there is cable television and the home video market, both potentially huge and currently expanding markets for pornographers who use live women. Women. Real women. Live women. Chattel whores.

Now, some people are afraid that the world will be turned into a nuclear charnel house; and so they fight the nuclear industries and lobbies; and they do not spend significant amounts of their time debating whether the nuclear industries have the right to threaten human life or not. Some people fear that the world is turning, place by place, into a concentration camp; and so they fight for those who are hounded, persecuted, tortured, and they do not suggest that the rights of those who persecute supersede the rights of the persecuted in importance--unless, of course, the persecuted are only women and the torture is called "sex." Some feminists see the world turning into a whorehouse--how frivolous we always are--a whorehouse, in French maison d' abattage, which literally means "house of slaughter." Whorehouses have been concentration camps for women. Women have been kept in them like caged animals to do slave labor, sex labor, labor appropriate to the nature, function, and sexuality of the chattel whore and her kind. The spread of pornography that uses live women, real women, is the spread of the whorehouse, the concentration camp for women, the house of sexual slaughter. Now I ask you: what are we going to do?


Copyright © 1981 by Andrea Dworkin. All rights reserved.


PREVIOUS ("For Men, Freedom of Speech; For Women, Silence Please")

NEXT ("Pornography Is a Civil Rights Issue")


LIBRARY ABOUT SITE LIE DETECTOR SUPPORTERS ACLU HOMEPAGE