Slowly, my wish is coming true: at least people are starting to invoke Andrea Dworkin in the media. The New York Times published a Stephen Marche article called The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido. I guess Marche had a professor job, then moved to support his wife’s professor job, and they wrote a book about gender.
It’s really too bad that only some of the deconstruction stuff filtered down to popular culture. People seem to know about binary oppositions, and that messing with them removes oppression somehow.
Deconstruction can be seen as a method of reading. The idea is to find some minor-seeming detail of the text, and use it to show how the text undermines its own logic. Often this involves some kind of interesting statement about a binary opposition. In this video of Derrida (it won’t embed), the idea that he’s more awake during a half-asleep state. He’s famous for saying that speech is essentially writing, etc.
Marche’s article doesn’t, in fact, examine the male libido. It does exactly the opposite of what it purports to do: flaunt the everlasting domination of the patriarchy.
Through sheer bulk, the string of revelations about men from Bill Cosby to Roger Ailes to Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K. to Al Franken and, this week, to Charlie Rose and John Lasseter, have forced men to confront what they hate to think about most: the nature of men in general. This time the accusations aren’t against some freak geography teacher, some frat running amok in a Southern college town. They’re against men of all different varieties, in different industries, with different sensibilities, bound together, solely, by the grotesquerie of their sexuality.
Men arrive at this moment of reckoning woefully unprepared. Most are shocked by the reality of women’s lived experience. Almost all are uninterested or unwilling to grapple with the problem at the heart of all this: the often ugly and dangerous nature of the male libido.
Are we really shocked by the reality of women’s lived experience? Did men really start having conversations about rape culture amongst themselves? When this topic came up briefly with my normal friend, his main thing was to insist that rape will never end. What are we reckoning with? So far I’m not seeing a clear set of political demands beyond the emotional validation of #MeToo.
The one thing he won’t do is really reckon with Andrea Dworkin:
For most of history, we’ve taken for granted the implicit brutality of male sexuality. In 1976, the radical feminist and pornography opponent Andrea Dworkin said that the only sex between a man and a woman that could be undertaken without violence was sex with a flaccid penis: “I think that men will have to give up their precious erections,” she wrote. In the third century A.D., it is widely believed, the great Catholic theologian Origen, working on roughly the same principle, castrated himself.
Again we have the common BS of a normal person pretending to read literally when they don’t like something, as if they’re autistic or something.
First, this is what Dworkin actually said about male readers of Intercourse:
Of course, men have and do read Intercourse. Many like it and understand it. Some few have been thrilled by it–it suggests to them a new possibility of freedom, a new sexual ethic: and they do not want to be users. Some men respond to the radicalism of Intercourse: the ideas, the prose, the structure, the questions that both underlie and intentionally subvert meaning. But if one’s sexual experience has always and without exception been based on dominance–not only overt acts but also metaphysical and ontological assumptions–how can one read this book? The end of male dominance would mean–in the understanding of such a man–the end of sex. If one has eroticized a differential in power that allows for force as a natural and inevitable part of intercourse, how could one understand that this book does not say that all men are rapists or that all intercourse is rape? Equality in the realm of sex is an antisexual idea if sex requires dominance in order to register as sensation.
Marche is name-dropping Dworkin, but in order to dismiss and caricature her. He’s trying to make it sound like she agrees with his premise: the patriarchy is a fact of nature.
I found the the context of the “flaccid penis” quote he uses. It’s from Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics:
The real core of the feminist vision, its revolutionary kernel if you will, has to do with the abolition of all sex roles – that is, an absolute transformation of human sexuality and the institutions derived from it. In this work, no part of the male sexual model can possibly apply. Equality within the framework of the male sexual model, however that model is reformed or modified, can only perpetuate the model itself and the injustice and bondage which are its intrinsic consequences.
I suggest to you that transformation of the male sexual model under which we now all labor and “love” begins where there is a congruence, not a separation, a congruence of feeling and erotic interest; that it begins in what we do know about female sexuality as distinct from male – clitoral touch and sensitivity, multiple orgasms, erotic sensitivity all over the body (which needn’t – and shouldn’t – be localized or contained genitally), in tenderness, in self-respect and in absolute mutual respect. For men I suspect that this transformation begins in the place they most dread – that is, in a limp penis. I think that men will have to give up their precious erections and begin to make love as women do together. I am saying that men will have to renounce their phallocentric personalities, and the privileges and powers given to them at birth as a consequence of their anatomy, that they will have to excise everything in them that they now value as distinctively “male.” No reform, or matching of orgasms, will accomplish this.
Marche then goes on to admit that no “reckoning” is taking place whatsoever.
The men I know don’t actively discuss changing sexual norms. We gossip and surmise: Who is a criminal and who isn’t? Which of the creeps whom we know are out there will fall this week? Beyond the gossip, there is a fog of the past that is better not to penetrate. Aside from the sorts of clear criminal acts that have always been wrong, changing social norms and the imprecision of memory are dark hallways to navigate. Be careful when you go down them; you might not like what you find.
So much easier to turn aside. Professionally, too, I have seen just how profoundly men don’t want to talk about their own gendered nature. In the spring, I published a male take on the fluctuations of gender and power in advanced economies; I was interviewed over 70 times by reporters from all over the world, but only three of them were men. Men just aren’t interested; they don’t know where to start. I’m working on a podcast on modern fatherhood, dealing with issues like pornography and sex after childbirth. Very often, when I interview men, it is the first time they have ever discussed intimate questions seriously with another man…
Freud also understood that repression, any repression, is inherently fluid and complicated and requires humility and self-searching to navigate. Women are calling for their pain to be recognized. Many men are quite willing to offer this recognition; it means they don’t have to talk about who they are, which means they don’t have to think about what they are. Much easier to retreat, into ever more shocked and prurient silence, or into the sort of reflection that seems less intended as honesty, and more aimed to please.
All of that should be read as confessional.
The crisis we are approaching is fundamental: How can healthy sexuality ever occur in conditions in which men and women are not equal? How are we supposed to create an equal world when male mechanisms of desire are inherently brutal? We cannot answer these questions unless we face them…
I’m not asking for male consciousness-raising groups; let’s start with a basic understanding that masculinity is a subject worth thinking about. That alone would be an immense step forward. If you want to be a civilized man, you have to consider what you are. Pretending to be something else, some fiction you would prefer to be, cannot help. It is not morality but culture — accepting our monstrosity, reckoning with it — that can save us. If anything can.
The first question reads like an actual feminist text. The second tries to slip something by the reader: feminism does NOT say that male sexuality is inherently brutal. Patriarchal MEN say that.
Men are just going to read this and think, “I’m a monster! Fuck yeah! My cock is the best!” The point of a reckoning in the first place is that behavior can be changed. To say that it can’t is to proclaim the everlasting reign of the status quo, which is presumably where Marche would be more comfortable.
He expertly goes right up to the edge of listening to feminism and stops there. For someone with low expectations, it sounds very thoughtful and brave: OMG a man validated me! A man acknowledging that men are bad!
Notice that he ends with the exact same rhetorical strategy as global warming denial: let’s begin thinking about it. The whole subject needs more study. The men have agreed to conduct an investigation into themselves! Except this is a defiant refusal of that. What’s to think about if rape is just our nature?
Liberalism has tended to confront gender problems from a technocratic point of view: improved systems, improved laws, better health. That approach has resulted in plenty of triumphs. But there remains no cure for human desire. (“It isn’t actually about sex, it’s about power,” I read in The Guardian the other day. How naïve must you be not to understand that sex itself is about power every bit as much as it’s about pleasure?)
His own article is about how Feminism 101 is badly needed because men have never thought about these things in their lives. You mean people don’t only rape hot chicks? What he’s actually doing is going out of his way to be dismissive. Isn’t calling women naive in the same category as praising a black person for being articulate? You can almost see him daydreaming about barely legal teens about to get anally pounded for the first time.
John Stoltenberg, Andrea Dworkin’s partner, wrote this about sex and power in Refusing to be a Man:
Or is sex good to the extent that it transcends power inequities—to the extent that sex between two individuals mitigates the power disparity that they bring with them from the social context? In theory, two people might approach a particular sexual encounter either as a ritual celebration of the social power differences between people in general and between them in particular or as a personal act of repudiating all such power inequities. Someone whose sexuality has become committed to celebrating the political status quo would consider sex good to the extent that its scenario achieves actual and lasting physical sensations of power inequity—through dominance, coercion, force, sadomasochism, and so forth. But someone who chose actively to resist the political status quo would consider sex good to the extent that it empowers both partners equally—and to the extent that they succeed together in keeping their intimacy untainted by the cultural context of sexualized inequality. The political question is tough, but it’s important to remember that it is a political question, and that “What is good sex?” is a question about the relationship between the social structure and the particular sex act….
Let’s assume that there exists an authentic erotic potential between humans such that mutuality, reciprocity, fairness, deep communion and affection, total body integrity for both partners, and equal capacity for choice-making and decision-making are merged with robust physical pleasure, intense sensation, and brimming-over expressiveness. Let’s say that some people have actually already experienced that erotic potential and some people have never. Let’s say, further, that the experience of this erotic potential occurred quite against the odds—because given the prevailing social values about sex, it could not have been predicted that two people would ever find out that this erotic potential exists. Everything about the cultural context would seem to predict that sexual meetings would be tainted with or steeped in shame and guilt, hierarchy and domination, contempt and repulsion, objectification and alienation, sexually crippling incidents from childhood, or simply emotional absence from each other. But as luck would have it, a few folks happen upon an erotic potential that is actually rooted in the same values that bring kindness and exuberance and intimacy to the rest of their life. So then the question becomes: How does anyone pass along their knowledge of that potential to other folks on the planet—how do they express it, show it, communicate it—without having to sleep with everyone?
BTW this was explained to me at age 14 by punk rock:
Intercourse and Pornography are both a lot about the history of Western literature, the origin of exactly the way he’s describing sex. How famous literary figures treated their wives. Feminism was, like, intellectually formidable before it moved to Tumblr. Gender Trouble is about Lacanian psychoanalysis! She deconstructs gender, and it’s steeped in Lacanian terminology:
[Lacan] poses the relation between the sexes in terms that reveal the speaking “I” as a masculinized effect of repression, one which postures as an autonomous and self-grounding subject, but whose very coherence is called into question by the positions that it excludes in the process of identity formation. For Lacan, the subject comes into being–that is, begins to posture as a self-grounding signifier within language–only on the condition of a primary repression of the pre-individuated incestuous pleasures associated with the (now repressed) maternal body.
The masculine subject only appears to originate meanings and thereby to signify. His seemingly self-grounded autonomy attempts to conceal the repression which is both its ground and the perpetual possibility of its own ungrounding. But that process of meaning-constitution requires that women reflect that masculine power and everywhere reassure that power of the reality of its illusory autonomy. This task is confounded, to say the least, when the demand that women reflect the autonomous power of masculine subject/signifier becomes essential to the construction of that autonomy and, thus, becomes the basis of a radical dependency that effectively undercuts the function it serves. But further, this dependency, although denied, is also pursued by the masculine subject, for the woman as reassuring sign is the displaced maternal body, the vain but persistent promise of the recovery of pre-individuated jouissance. The conflict of masculinity appears, then, to be precisely the demand for a full recognition of autonomy that will also and nevertheless promise a return to those full pleasures prior to repression and individuation.
In other words, the way men go about their dominance is very needy and further requires the cooperation of women. The performance of either gender is an inescapable “comedic failure.”
Of course this kind of theory isn’t very concerned with concrete events in the world. The relationship of all this to violence is an actual footnote:
Although Wittig herself does not argue the point, her theory might account for the violence enacted against sexed subjects–women, lesbians, gay men, to name a few–as the violent enforcement of a category violently constructed. In other words, sexual crimes against these bodies effectively reduce them to their “sex,” thereby reaffirming and enforcing the reduction of the category itself. Because discourse is not restricted to writing or speaking, but is also social action, even violent social action, we ought also to understand rape, sexual violence, “queer bashing” as the category of sex in action.
I repeat: that’s a footnote. More of the book is about posturing as a self-grounding signifier within language or something.
The second wavers managed to be social constructionists without the obscurantism. There also needs to be a Middle Way that engages seriously with material reality. That’s exactly the problem Judy Singer confronted in one of the < a href=”https://www.amazon.com/NeuroDiversity-Birth-Idea-Judy-Singer/dp/064815470X/” target=”_blank”>founding texts of the neurodiversity movement:
Ehrenreich and McIntosh make the point that this anti-biological stance, apart from tilting at the windmills of long outdated 60’s ideas of evolutionary theory, has stifled debate, limited what can be discussed or incorporated into social theory, interfered with intellectual freedom, and will prove counter-productive. In particular, they warn that we must take our “innate cognitive tendencies” seriously–since surely no-one can seriously imagine that we are different from the rest of the animal world, and have none. Failure to do so means we can never determine to what extent oppressive ideologies like racism and sexism do feed off universal categories of mind–and consequently, nor can we determine the most effective ways of countering them. I would make the same argument for prejudice against, and stigmatisation of people who are different by virtue of disability. What if a propensity for stigmatisation has adaptive value, and is “hardwired” into the human organism, as much as a countervailing altruistic tendency to be “inclusive”. How then are we to proceed? It seems crucial to ask the question, if we are to come up with effective remedies to “ableism.”
…The dialectical process being what it is, however, my analysis of the process of autistic identity-making suggests that these antithetical entities are already being transformed into a new synthesis. Autistic self-awareness has manifested in an era in which social constructionist ideas have already infiltrated the mainstream. Consequently, Autistics are not constrained to fight so vociferously for these ideas, and have the confidence to take them as given, to go further, to be curious about and inspired by developments in the biological sciences. I will argue that autistics find neither social constructionism nor biological determinism adequate on their own, but prefer to make a new synthesis by picking and choosing from the best of both worlds…
As I see it, the ethical challenge for the disability rights movement, as for all social movements, is whether its adherents can see the world for what it is, and still resolve to act with justice and compassion.
What we still need from postmodernism is the ability to analyze discourse, the fact that oppressive systems will sprout systems of knowledge production to justify themselves. Social Darwinists are never, like, up to speed on evolutionary theory. If they were, we would see them revise their rhetoric as they kept up with journals. Social Darwinism and American society depend on historical myths, and those myths are social constructions involving power relations.
When Singer speculated on the innateness of racism, it’s unlikely that she was familiar with critical race theory. There’s already a lot we can know about what is and isn’t universal from anthropology.
Can we trust that Marche has read about masculinity more deeply than he read Andrea Dworkin? Because he grossly distorted Dworkin. You can actually read what she’s saying and come away with some idea of how not to fuck like an asshole, the very thing Marche declares biologically impossible. It’s like somebody telling me, actually their voices are always raised, MAN IS HUNTER!!!!!! and veganism is “biologically impossible.”
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, you could read all about how a given scientific paradigm never accounts for all the data. Science is a lot more social constructionist than people generally think.
Marche is a recognized expert in this area, with a book published and a New York Times op-ed. He’s defined any view to the left of his as “naive,” defining the limits of acceptable conversation. How NAIVE Andrea Dworkin was on sexual matters!
Can a man read Intercourse? Can a man read a book written by a woman in which she uses language without its ever becoming decorative or pretty? Can a man read a book written by a woman in which she, the author, has a direct relationship to experience, ideas, literature, life, including fucking, without mediation–such that what she says and how she says it are not determined by boundaries men have set for her? Can a man read a woman’s work if it does not say what he already knows? Can a man let in a challenge not just to his dominance but to his cognition? And, specifically, am I saying that I know more than men about fucking? Yes, I am. Not just different: more and better, deeper and wider, the way anyone used knows the user.
And if a man can’t do those things, can he love? I suspect the answer is no. It’s possible he’s been cut off from the transcendent experience of loving someone and having sex with them at the same time. If he’d experienced it, it would be intuitively obvious to him why overriding someone’s dignity and personhood (“dominance”) puts you in the wrong frame of mind for mystical union. Domination is dualistic. You’d have to empathize with what it feels like to be dominated, which is a buzzkill. It simply doesn’t compute emotionally. With domination, you’re hiding vulnerability, the opposite of closeness.
That’s how stupid the official ideology of fucking is.