Remember; resist; do not comply
Andrea Dworkin

Speech at the Massey College Fifth Walter Gordon Forum, Toronto, Ontario, in a symposium on "The Future of Feminism," April 2, 1995. First published by Massey College in the University of Toronto, May 2, 1995. Copyright (c)1995, 1996 by Andrea Dworkin. Reprinted from Life and Death.

I want us to think about far we have come politically. I would say we have accomplished what is euphemistically called "breaking the silence." We have begun to speak about events, experiences, realities, truths not spoken about before; especially experiences that have happened to women and been hidden - experiences that the society has not named, that the politicians have not recognized; experiences that the law has not addressed from the point of view of those who have been hurt. But sometimes when we talk about "breaking the silence," people conceptualize "the silence" as being superficial, as if there is talk - chatter, really - and laid over the talk there is a superficial level of silence that has to do with manners or politeness. Women are indeed taught to be seen and not heard. But I am talking about a deep silence: a silence that goes to the heart of tyranny, its nature. There is a tyranny that preordains not only who can say what but what women especially can say. There is a tyranny that determines who cannot say anything, a tyranny in which people are kept from being able to say the most important things about what life is like for them. That is the kind of tyranny I mean.

The political systems that we live in are based on this deep silence. They are based on what we have not said. In particular, they are built on what women - women in every racial group, in every class, including the most privileged - have not said. The assumptions underlying our political systems are also based on what women have not said. Our ideas of democracy and equality - ideas that men have had, ideas that express what men think democracy and equality are - evolved absent the voices, the experiences, the lives, the realities, of women. The principles of freedom that we hear enunciated as truisms are principles that were arrived at despite this deep silence: without our participation. We are all supposed to share and take for granted the commonplace ideas of social and civic fairness; but these commonplace ideas are based on our silence. What passes as normal in life is based on this same silence. Gender itself - what men are, what women are - is based on the forced silence of women; and beliefs about community -what a community is, what a community should be - are based on this silence. Societies have been organized to maintain the silence of women - which suggests that we cannot break this deep silence without changing the ways in which societies are organized.

We have made beginnings at breaking the deep silence. We have named force as such when it is used against us, although it once was called something else. It used to be a legal right, for instance, that men had in marriage. They could force their wives to have intercouse and it was not called force or rape; it was called desire or love. We have challenged the old ideology of sexual conquest as a natural game in which women are targets and men are conquering heroes; and we have said that the model itself is predatory and that those who act out its aggressive imperatives are predators, not lovers. We have said that. We have identified rape; we have identified incest; we have identified battery; we have identified prostitution; we have identified pornography - as crimes against women, as means of exploiting women, as ways of hurting women that are systematic and supported by the practices of the societies in which we live. We have identified sexual exploitation as abuse. We have identified objectification and turning women into commodities for sale as dehumanizing, deeply dehumanizing. We have identified objectification and sexual exploitation as mechanisms for creating inferiority, real inferiority: not an abstract concept but a life lived as an inferior person in a civil society. We have identified patterns of violence that take place in intimate relationships. We know now that most rape is not committed by the dangerous and predatory stranger but by the dangerous and predatory boyfriend, lover, friend, husband, neighbour, the man we are closest to, not the man who is farthest away.

And we have learned more about the stranger, too. We have learned more about the ways in which men who do not know us target us and hunt us down. We have refused to accept the presumption in this society that the victim is responsible for her own abuse. We have refused to agree that she provoked it, that she wanted it, that she liked it. These are the basic dogma of pornography, which we have rejected. In rejecting pornography we have rejected the fundamentalism of male supremacy, which simply and unapologetically defines women as creatures, lower than human, who want to be hurt and injured and raped. We have changed laws so that, for instance, rape now can be prosecuted without the requirement of corroboration - there does not have to have been an eyewitness who saw the rape before a woman can press charges. There used to have to be one. A woman now does not have to fight nearly to the death in order to show that she resisted. If she was not sadistically injured - beaten black and blue, hit by a lead pipe, whatever - the presumption used to be that she consented. We have standardized the way in which evidence is collected in rape cases so that whether or not a prosecution can be brought does not depend on the whims or competence of investigating officers. We have not done any of this for battered women, though we have tried to provide some refuge, some shelter, an escape route. Nothing that we have done for women who have been raped or battered has helped women who have been prostituted.

We have changed social and legal recognition of who the perpetrator is. We have done that. We have challenged what appears to be the permanence of male dominance by destabilizing it, by refusing to accept it as reality, our reality. We have said, No. No, it is not our reality.

And although we have provided services for rape victims, for battered women, we have never been able to provide enough. I suggest to you that if any society took seriously what it means to have half of its population raped, battered as often as women are in both the United States and Canada, we would be turning government buildings into shelters. We would be opening our churches to women and saying, "You own them. Live in them. Do what you want with them." We would be turning over our universities.

What remains to be done? To think about helping a rape victim is one thing; to think about ending rap, is another. We need to end rape. We need to end incest. We need to end battery. We need to end prostitution and we need to end Pornography. That means that we need to refuse to accept that these are natural phenomena that just happen because some guy is having a bad day.

In each country, male dominance is organized differently. In Some countries, women have to deal with genital mutilation. In some countries, abortion is forced so that female foetuses are systematically aborted. In China, forced abortion is state-mandated. In India, a free-market economy forces masses of women to abort female foetuses and, failing that, to commit infanticide on female infants. Think about what policies on abortion mean for living, adult women: the meaning to their status. Notice that the Western concept of choice - crucial to us - does not cover the situation of women in either China or India. Each time we look at the status of women in a given country, we have to look at the ways in which male dominance is organized. In the United States, for instance, we have the growth of a population of serial killers. They are a subculture in my country. They are no longer lonely deviants. Law enforcement sources, always conservative, estimate that each and every day nearly four hundred serial killers are active in the United States.

In my view, we need to concentrate on the perpetrators of crimes against women instead of asking ourselves over and over and over again, why did that happen to her? what's wrong with her? why did he pick her? Why should he hit or hurt anyone: what's wrong with him? He is the question. He is the problem. It is his violence that we find ourselves running from and hiding from and suffering from. The women's movement has to be willing to name the perpetrator, to name the oppressor. The women's movement has to refuse to exile women who have on them the stench of sexual abuse, the smell, the stigma, the sign. We need to refuse to exile women who have been hurt more than once: raped many times; beaten many times; not nice, not respectable; don't have nice homes. There is no women's movement if it does not include the women who are being hurt and the women who have the least. The women's movement has to take on the family systems in our countries: systems in which children are raped and tortured. The women's movement has to take on the battered women who have not escaped -and we have to ask ourselves why: not why didn't they escape, but why are we settling for the fact that they are still captives and prisoners.

We have to take on prostitution as an issue: not a debating issue; a life-and-death issue. Most prostituted women in the West are incest victims who ran away from home, who have been raped, who are pimped when they are still children - raped, homeless, poor, abandoned children. We have to take on poverty: not in the liberal sense of heartfelt concern but in the concrete sense, in the real world. We have to take on what it means to stand up for women who have nothing because when women have nothing, it's real nothing: no homes, no food, no shelter, often no ability to read. We have to stop trivializing injuries and insults to women the way our political systems do. As someone who has experienced battery and was then and is now a politically committed woman, I will tell you that the difference between being tortured because you have a political idea or commitment and being tortured because of your race or sex is the difference between having dignity of some kind and having no dignity at all. There is a difference.

We cannot change what is wrong with our feminism if we are wining to accept the prostitution of women. Prostitution is serial rape: the rapist changes but the raped woman stays the same; money washes the man's hands clean. In some countries women are sold into sexual slavery, often as children. In other countries - like Canada and the United States - prostitutes are created through child sexual abuse, especially incest, poverty, and homelessness. As long as there are consumers, in free-market economies prostitutes will be created; to create the necessary (desired) supply of prostitutes, children have to be raped, poor, homeless. We cannot accept this; we cannot accept prostitution.

We need to be able to prosecute marital rape with success: to get convictions. Successful prosecution of marital rape and eliminating prostitution challenge two ends of the same continuum. Do men own women or not? If men can buy and sell women on street corners, yes, they do own women. If men have a right to rape women in marriage - even an implicit right, because juries will not convict - yes, then men do own women. We are the ones who have to say - in words, in actions, in social policy, in law - no, men do not own women. In order to do that, we need political discipline. We need to take seriously the consequences of sexual abuse to us, to women. We need t6 understand what sexual abuse has done to us - why are we so damned hard to organize? We need to comprehend that sexual abuse has broken us into a million pieces and we carry those pieces bumping and crashing inside: we're broken rock inside; chaos; afraid and unsure when not cold and numb. We're heroes at endurance; but so far cowards at resistance.

There is a global trafficking in women; as long as women are being bought and sold in a global slave traffic we are not free. There is a pornography crisis in the United States. Women in the United States live in a society saturated with sexually brutal, exploitative material that says: rape her, beat her, hurt her, she will like it, it is fun for her. We need to put women first. Surely the freedom of women must mean more to us than the freedom of pimps. We need to do anything that will interrupt the colonizing of the female body. We need to refuse to accept the givens. We need to ask ourselves what political rights we need as women. Do not assume that in the eighteenth century male political thinkers answered that question and do not assume that when your own Charter was rewritten in the twentieth century the question was answered. The question has not been answered. What laws do we need? What would freedom be for us? What principles are necessary for our well-being? Why are women being sold on street corners and tortured in their homes, in societies that.claim to be based on freedom and justice? What actions must be taken? What will it cost us and why are we too afraid to pay and are the women who have gotten a little from the women's movement afraid that resistance or rebellion or even political inquiry will cost them the little they have gotten? Why are we still making deals with men one by one instead of collectively demanding what we need? I am going to ask you to remember that as long as a woman is being bought and sold anywhere in the world, you are not free, nor are you safe. You too have a number; some day your turn will come. I'm going to ask you to remember the prostituted, the homeless, the battered, the raped, the tortured, the murdered, the raped-then-murdered, the murdered-then-raped; and I am going to ask you to remember the photographed, the ones that any or all of the above happened to and it was photographed and now the photographs are for sale in our free countries. I want you to think about those who have been hurt for the fun, the entertainment, the so-called speech of others; those who have been hurt for profit, for the financial benefit of pimps and entrepreneurs. I want you to remember the perpetrator and I am going to ask you to remember the victims: not just tonight but tomorrow and the next day. I want you to find a way to include them - the perpetrators and the victims - in what you do, how you think, how you act, what you care about, what your life means to you.

Now, I know, in this room, some of you are the women I have been talking about. I know that. People around you may not. I am going to ask you to use every single thing you can remember about what was done to you - how it was done, where, by whom, when, and, if you know, why - to begin to tear male dominance to pieces, to pull it apart, to vandalize it, to destabilize it, to mess it up, to get in its way, to fuck it up. I have to ask you to resist, not to comply, to destroy the power men have over women, to refuse to accept it, to abhor it and to do whatever is necessary despite its cost to you to change it.


Speech at the Massey College Fifth Walter Gordon Forum, Toronto, Ontario, in a symposium on "The Future of Feminism," April 2, 1995. First published by Massey College in the University of Toronto, May 2, 1995. Copyright (c)1995, 1996 by Andrea Dworkin. Reprinted from Life and Death.