I’d like to nominate Leah Finnegan for head of political correctness on women’s issues.
I’ve only read this one essay of hers, and it made me happy. Maybe more people will start talking like this soon!
So it’s been quite rich to watch men squirm in their seats as the Weinstein story erupted into a national cascade of everyone telling how they, too, were sexually assaulted or otherwise violated by a disgusting but powerful man. Something else also happened: Men took to the internet to apologize to women, or profess their goodness, or say that they were once bad but are now better because they don’t drink anymore, and sometimes all three. “I’m not that guy!” they all wanted say, but, of course, they are.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Andrea Dworkin since all this shit hit the fan. I’m glad she did not have to live to see Chapo Trap House (she died in 2005), but maybe she would have been an entertaining guest on it. No one wrote like Andrea, whose ideas crackled beneath her words, and whose words thundered with the weight of their severity. I was in my mid-twenties when I first read her book Intercourse; my friend said that it would make me “never want to have sex again,” which sounded great at the time, and it was.
If more feminists wrote like this, I wouldn’t spend so much time complaining about feminism on the internet. I want them to win because I’d fare better if we changed how we relate to each other in the ways they advocate. I find myself mansplaining Andrea Dworkin to them, but here’s somebody who already knows how to fight. Fuck yeah!
For the uninitiated, Dworkin holds a very low opinion of men, which is correct, and thinks they subjugate women simply by existing and also pushing us into various gender constructs, which is also correct. “Being female in this world is having been robbed of the potential for human choice by men who love to hate us,” she writes in Intercourse. “One does not make choices in freedom. Instead, one conforms in body type and behavior and values to become an object of male sexual desire, which requires an abandonment of a wide-ranging capacity for choice.”
Crucially, Dworkin’s feminism, however outdated some of it seems today, was one propelled by ideas, rather than feelings — the idea that men are bad rather than the feeling that they are, the idea that all men should be castrated rather than the feeling that they should be (I’m extrapolating a bit here). The false choices of modern feminism — Women are “empowered!” They work! AND they have babies now! And they do twice the amount of work as a man for less money! Slay! — have led us to a place of complacency, where what we feel takes precedence over what we think. The Women’s March on Washington earlier this year gathered an unprecedented number of women to “harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change,” but what if there was a march to stop men from groping?
Yes! Dworkin gave the definitive speech about this in 1983: I Want a Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape
But mostly your guilt, your suffering, reduces to: gee, we really feel so bad. Everything makes men feel so bad: what you do, what you don’t do, what you want to do, what you don’t want to want to do but are going to do anyway. I think most of your distress is: gee, we really feel so bad. And I’m sorry that you feel so bad–so uselessly and stupidly bad–because there is a way in which this really is your tragedy. And I don’t mean because you can’t cry. And I don’t mean because there is no real intimacy in your lives. And I don’t mean because the armor that you have to live with as men is stultifying: and I don’t doubt that it is. But I don’t mean any of that.
I mean that there is a relationship between the way that women are raped and your socialization to rape and the war machine that grinds you up and spits you out: the war machine that you go through just like that woman went through Larry Flynt’s meat grinder on the cover of Hustler. You damn well better believe that you’re involved in this tragedy and that it’s your tragedy too. Because you’re turned into little soldier boys from the day that you are born and everything that you learn about how to avoid the humanity of women becomes part of the militarism of the country in which you live and the world in which you live. It is also part of the economy that you frequently claim to protest.
And the problem is that you think it’s out there: and it’s not out there. It’s in you. The pimps and the warmongers speak for you. Rape and war are not so different. And what the pimps and the warmongers do is that they make you so proud of being men who can get it up and give it hard. And they take that acculturated sexuality and they put you in little uniforms and they send you out to kill and to die. Now, I am not going to suggest to you that I think that’s more important than what you do to women, because I don’t.
But I think that if you want to look at what this system does to you, then that is where you should start looking: the sexual politics of aggression; the sexual politics of militarism. I think that men are very afraid of other men. That is something that you sometimes try to address in your small groups, as if if you changed your attitudes towards each other, you wouldn’t be afraid of each other.
But as long as your sexuality has to do with aggression and your sense of entitlement to humanity has to do with being superior to other people, and there is so much contempt and hostility in your attitudes towards women and children, how could you not be afraid of each other? I think that you rightly perceive–without being willing to face it politically–that men are very dangerous: because you are.
The solution of the men’s movement to make men less dangerous to each other by changing the way you touch and feel each other is not a solution. It’s a recreational break.
That’s exactly how it is.
And I want one day of respite, one day off, one day in which no new bodies are piled up, one day in which no new agony is added to the old, and I am asking you to give it to me. And how could I ask you for less–it is so little. And how could you offer me less: it is so little. Even in wars, there are days of truce. Go and organize a truce. Stop your side for one day. I want a twenty-four-hour truce during which there is no rape.
I dare you to try it. I demand that you try it. I don’t mind begging you to try it. What else could you possibly be here to do? What else could this movement possibly mean? What else could matter so much?
And on that day, that day of truce, that day when not one woman is raped, we will begin the real practice of equality, because we can’t begin it before that day. Before that day it means nothing because it is nothing: it is not real; it is not true. But on that day it becomes real. And then, instead of rape we will for the first time in our lives–both men and women–begin to experience freedom.
If you have a conception of freedom that includes the existence of rape, you are wrong. You cannot change what you say you want to change. For myself, I want to experience just one day of real freedom before I die. I leave you here to do that for me and for the women whom you say you love.
Leah Finnegan understands. Can confirm. Fear is the way.
My Fear friend likes to talk about one of the great paradoxes of being a woman: That no one is ever afraid of you. This is great in some situations (like if you’re Erin Brockovich trying to find incriminating documents) and horrible in others (most everything else). A woman can be so easily squashed, destroyed, silenced, ruined, and yet, we are mostly the ones who are afraid. As Dworkin famously said in a 1975 speech at Queens College: “By the time we are women, fear is as familiar to us as air. It is our element.”
But with the Weinstein fallout, and the List, we saw men actually becoming afraid of what they did or did not do (and honestly, if they didn’t feel any fear, they were deluded). If there’s one thing to learn from the endless morass of emotions that has been the past few weeks it’s that it’s good to make men feel fear, and this is something women absolutely have the power to do, even if it has to come anonymously, and in aggregate. Many men wonder what to do with their entitled mouths and brains at moments like this and the answer is: shut up and go away. Fear, not common sense or respect, is the only thing that seems to drive some of them to silence. However fleeting this change may be, it is a distinct role reversal and, I hope, it is progress.
Dworkin had it all figured out around the time I was born, and let’s hope that feminism becomes militant and man-hating again. This is inspirational:
I would like to take a moment here to address the “Shitty Men in Media List.” Personally, I loved this list. I thought it was genius. There it was, plainly, written down, a list of 75 bad men and their (alleged) acts of violence and grossness against women. Was I worried about the possibility of a man being falsely accused? Not in the least. I think the violent experiences of likely hundreds of women at the hands of men who have gone unpunished by our pathetic justice system and other various pathetic systems outweigh the risk of damaging a man’s “reputation,” even if those accusations were recorded anonymously. Sorry it’s just math! (It’s unfortunate, sure, that men who may have sent women “creepy DMs” got lumped in with a bunch of (alleged!) rapists, but I really can’t muster the energy to care.)
If more women had that attitude, I’d feel better. I’d feel better if they gave up this Earth Goddess kinky polyamory sex worker nonsense in favor of visualizing themselves as wrathful yidam deities.
I think the sex would actually be a lot better if sex-negative feminism prevailed. I don’t see sex-positive feminism contributing to the cause described here by bell hooks in All About Love:
The best sex and the most satisfying sex are not the same. I have had great sex with men who were intimate terrorists, men who seduce and attract by giving you just what you feel your heart needs then gradually or abruptly withholding it once they have gained your trust. And I have been deeply sexually fulfilled in bonds with loving partners who have had less skill and know-how. Because of sexist socialization, women tend to put sexual satisfaction in its appropriate perspective. We acknowledge its value without allowing it to become the absolute measure of intimate connection. Enlightened women want fulfilling erotic encounters as much as men, but we ultimately prefer erotic satisfaction within a context where there is loving, intimate connection. If men were socialized to desire love as much as they are taught to desire sex, we would see a cultural revolution. As it stands, most men tend to be more concerned about sexual performance and sexual satisfaction than whether they are capable of giving and receiving love.
This is what Andrea Dworkin said of her male readers, in the preface to Intercourse:
Of course, men have read 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.
I’ve never seen A Streetcar Named Desire, but I loved reading Dworkin’s commentary:
With Stella in the hospital having their baby, Stanley rapes Blanche.
Stella cannot believe Blanche and keep living with Stanley, so Stella does not believe Blanche.
Not believing breaks Blanche’s already fragile hold on reality.
Stanley has Blanche taken away, institutionalized as mad, in the world of Tennessee Williams the worst consequence of sexual knowledge, the worst punishment, crueler than death.
Because Stanley has no interior life of feeling, he has no remorse; the rape is just another fuck for him. It takes a human consciousness, including a capacity for suffering, to distinguish between a rape and a fuck. With no interior life of human meaning and human remorse, any fuck is simply expressive and animalistic, whatever its consequences or circumstances. Blanche pays the price for having a human sexuality and a human consciousness. She has been raped; she knows it. There is nothing in the text of the play, despite the way it is sometimes staged, to suggest that she wanted it all along. In fact, there is a pronounced and emotionally vivid history of her wanting its opposite–a sexuality of tenderness and sensitivity. She is taken away, locked up, because she knows what happened to her. The madness that becomes the only refuge left on earth for her is not a merciful madness, one that will soften the harsh colors, because she will be incarcerated, human trash in an institution for the broken and thrown away.
She is punished for knowing the meaning of what Stanley did to her because her capacity to know and to feel is his enemy. The rape itself was a revenge on her for wanting more than an animal fuck delivered by an animal masculinity: for feeling more, wanting more, knowing more. For her, sex was part of a human quest for human solace, human kindness; she genuinely did not want to “hang back with the brutes.”
Stanley, ordinary, unrepressed, was the natural enemy of sex with any dimension of human longing or human meaning, any wanting that was not just for the raw, cold, hard fuck, a sensual using without any edge of loneliness or discontent.
Blanche is marked, finally, by madness, jailed; not for her sexuality but for his, because his sexuality requires the annihilation of her aspirations to tenderness. Her human integrity is broken, destroyed, because her sister prefers believing she is mad to facing the truth: a paradigm for women. Her sister’s complicity is the deathblow to her mind.
Having an interior life of wanting, needing, gives fucking human meaning in a human context. “All my life,” Williams wrote, “I have been haunted by the obsession that to desire a thing or to love a thing intensely is to place yourself in a vulnerable position, to be a possible, if not a probable, loser of what you most want.” Without that inner fragility an fear, fucking is likely to become, as Williams wrote in a later play, “quick, and hard, and brutal…like the jabbing of a hypodermic needle…” Being stigmatized by sex is being marked by its meaning in a human life of loneliness and imperfection, where some pain is indelible.