Authors: Andrea Dworkin
Tags: #Political Science, #Public Policy, #Cultural Policy, #Social Science, #Anthropology, #Cultural, #Popular Culture, #Women's Studies
Published by Basic Books A Member of the Perseus Books Group
Copyright © 1987 by Andrea Dworkin
Preface copyright © 1995, 1997 by Andrea Dworkin
Foreword copyright © 2006 by Ariel Levy
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, address Basic Books, 387 Park Ave. South, New York, New York 10016.
Cataloging-in-Publication data for this book is available from the Library of Congress.
First Basic Books edition 2007
Reprinted by arrangement with Free Press Paperbacks, a Division of Simon &: Schuster ISBN-13: 978-0-465-01752-2 ISBN-10: 0-465-01752-5
Permission has generously been granted to include in this volume quotations from: Kobo Abe,
The Box Man,
trans. E. Dale Saunders, copyright © 1980 Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; Kobo Abe,
The Woman in the Dunes,
trans. E. Dale Saunders, copyright © 1972 Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., and Martin Seeker and Warburg, Ltd.: James Baldwin,
Another Country, copyright © i960, 1962 by James Baldwin, reprinted by permission of Doubleday &: Company, Inc.; The Living Theatre,
copyright © 1971 Random House, Inc. with the permission of Judith Malina; Regine Pernoud,
Joan of Arc, trans. Edward Hyams, copyright © 1966 by Regine Pemoud, reprinted with permission of Stein and Day Publishers; Isaac Bashevis Singer,
Satan in Goray,
copyright © 1955 by Isaac Bashevis Singer, copyright renewed 1983 by Isaac Bashevis Singer, reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc.; Leo Tolstoy,
The Kreutzer Sonata, in
The Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise and Ayler Maude, copyright © 1924 Oxford University Press (Oxford, England); Tennessee Williams,
The Rose Tattoo, copyright © 1950, 1951 by Tennessee Williams, reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation; Tennessee Williams,
A Streetcar Named Desire, copyright © 1947 by Tennessee Williams, reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation; Tennessee Williams,
Summer and Smoke, copyright © 1948 by Tennessee Williams, reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation; William Butler Yeats, “Easter 1916” and “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop, ” in
The Poems of W. B.
Yeats, edited by Richard J. Finneran, copyright © 1933 by Macmillan Publishing Company, renewed 1961 by Bertha Georgie Yeats, reprinted with permission of Macmillan Publishing Company.
For M. S.
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
W. B. Yeats
True rebels, after all, are as rare as true lovers,
and, in both cases, to mistake a fever
for a passion can destroy one’s life.
No Name in the Street
He lost no time, got his belt undone,
said “I could go through you like butter. ”
Like most writers, Andrea Dworkin thought her work was underappreciated in her lifetime. Like very few of them, she was right. Dworkin the persona—the mythical figure, the inverted sex symbol—eclipsed Dworkin the writer in the public imagination. There are many more people who have strong feelings about her than there are people who have actually read her work.
If this is the first book of hers you’ve encountered, brace yourself—she had a voice like no other. Perhaps the most prominent quality of Dworkin’s writing is its ferocity: its relentless intellectual and ideological confidence, its refusal to collapse into what Dworkin called “the quintessential feminine pose. ” Though she bragged she used “language without its ever becoming decorative or pretty, ” there is elegance as well as aggression in Dworkin’s sentences. She had a particular gift for conveying abstract concepts through acute, unusual metaphors. “It’s not as if there’s an empty patch that one can see and so one can say, ‘There’s my ignorance; it’s about ten by ten and a dozen feet high and someday someone will fill in the empty patch, ”’ she wrote in her memoir,
Heartbreak. (She was talking about male writers.) She could be lyrical in her descriptions; Bessie Smith’s voice “tramped through your three-dimensional body but gracefully, a spartan, bearlike ballet. ” And she could be very funny. Of a grade-school teacher who gave her trouble, Dworkin says, “I knew I’d get her someday and this is it: eat shit, bitch. No one said that sisterhood was easy. ”
But when most people think of Andrea Dworkin, they think of two things: overalls (her uniform) and the idea that all sex is rape. That was the notorious interpretation of
by many when it first came out in 1987, and as Dworkin put it in her preface nine years later, the book is “still being reviled in print by people who have never read it, reduced to slogans by journalists posing as critics or sages or deep thinkers, treated as if it were odious and hateful by every asshole who thinks that what will heal this violent world is more respect for dead white men. ”
is an inventive, combative, and wildly complicated piece of work, and to imagine that all there is between these covers is the assertion that all sex is rape is about as sophisticated as reducing Proust to a pile of madeleine crumbs.
But you don’t have to be an asshole—or even a journalist— to take issue with some of what Dworkin said. Fury and drama characterize her rhetorical style, extremism her ideas, and
is perhaps her most radical work. “Am I saying I know more than men about fucking? Yes, I am, ” she tells us. And in a typical Dworkin flourish, she refuses to leave it at that; she gives her reader no room to soften her meaning through misinterpretation.
“Not just different: more and better, ” she writes, “deeper and wider, the way anyone used knows the user. ” There is not a doubt in her mind that she’s right, and she consciously rejects a writing style that is placating or solicitous: she’s not that kind of girl.
She begins with an exploration of several (very different) male writers’ depictions of female sexuality. We are shown, gently at first, forcefully as her text builds momentum, how much of literature positions women as not fully human or as filthy. With characteristic swagger, Dworkin compares
Inferno, its spiraling structure descending into ever deeper circles of hell. If Dworkin’s own vision of sex and society is extreme, we soon remember that so too is the context within which she writes. “The normal fuck by the normal man is taken to be an act of invasion and ownership undertaken in a mode of predation: colonializing, forceful (manly) or nearly violent; the sexual act that by nature makes her his. ” There is the Bible to teach us this, of course, but then there is also Tolstoy, Freud, Mailer, and so on. From these texts Dworkin extracts the belief system we know—but sometimes like to forget—has governed gender relations in the West throughout the course of our history: that women are entities to be taken and possessed—walking, talking currency.
Dworkin asseverates an alternative, a way of representing and having sex that dissolves boundaries and offers not only intimacy but merged humanity... a kind of magic, fleeting selflessness. “There is no physical distance, no self-consciousness, nothing withdrawn or private or alienated, no existence outside physical touch. The skin collapses as a boundary—it has no meaning; time is gone—it too has no meaning; there is no outside. ” In these passages, Dworkin is a poet of erotic love, an incarnation that would shock those who have her figured as the embodiment of antisex. The profound passion she envisions does not even require an enduring emotional tie: “In fucking, the deepest emotions one has about life as a whole are expressed, even with a stranger, however random or impersonal the encounter, ” she writes. There is room for escape, she suggests, even in the here and now, even in the country she refers to as Amerika (more on this later), from the erotics of power differential.
But if one finds this kind of sublime sexual release specifically in relinquishing control, what then? What does it mean to be aroused by dominance in the societal context Dworkin describes? And if it turns us on, do we care?
The way women have eroticized sexual possession is of great interest to Dworkin, of course. “The experience of sexual possession for women is real and literal, ” she writes, “without any magical or mystical dimension to it: getting fucked and being owned are inseparably the same; together, being one and the same, they are sex for women under male dominance as a social system. ” She may not have been saying all sex is rape, but clearly she was suggesting that most sex is something damn close when you live in a patriarchy... and where else are we to live? In this world, which is the only world that exists, “critiques of rape, pornography, and prostitution are 'sex-negative’ without qualification or examination, perhaps because so many men use these ignoble routes of access and domination to get laid, and without them the number of fucks would so significantly decrease that men might nearly be chaste. ”
Do we believe that “most women are not distinct, private individuals to most men”? (Still?) Is voluntary intercourse instigated by female lust and desire something so uncommon? Are abuse and plunder the norm, mutual satisfaction the exception so rare it proves the rule?
Your answer to these questions—and to many others Dworkin poses in this book—will depend on the experience of sex you’ve been lucky or unlucky enough to have. But the value of the questioning itself is substantial.
Dworkin’s profound and unique legacy was to examine the meaning of the act most of us take to be fundamental to sex, fundamental to human existence. As she puts it, “what intercourse is for women and what it
to women’s identity, privacy, self-respect, self-determination, and integrity are forbidden questions; and yet how can a radical or any woman who wants freedom not ask precisely these questions? ” You may find in reading Dworkin’s work that many of her questions have never even crossed your mind.
If you disagree with her answers, you may still find yourself indebted to her for helping you discover your own.
Dworkin’s description of her own sexual history is often grim, and given the title of the book you are about to read—and the premise that the personal is political—we are right to consider this. Though she stated “I am not an exhibitionist. I don’t show myself, ” in her book
Life and Death, she also wrote “I have used everything I know—my life—to show what I believe must be shown so that it can be faced. ”
Dworkin was molested or raped at around age 9; the details, in her writing, and according to her closest friends, are murky, but something bad happened then. In 1965, when Dworkin was 18 and a freshman at Bennington College, she was arrested after participating in a march against the Vietnam War and was taken to the Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village, where she was subjected to a nightmarish internal exam by prison doctors.
She bled for days afterward. Her family doctor looked at her injuries and cried.
Dworkin’s response to this incident was her first act of purposeful bravery: she wrote scores of letters to newspapers detailing what had happened, and the story was reported in the
New York Times, among other papers, which led to a government investigation of the prison. It was eventually torn down, and in its place today is the idyllic flower garden at the foot of the Jefferson Market clock tower on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.