We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Upon the Death of Andrea Dworkin: Exchanging One Nightmare for Another · 13 April 05

My dear Fanny,

This about a review, "Fighting Talk" which I came across because it’s linked into Natalie Bennet’s blog.:


In "fighting talk" Dworkin brings out how one can for years & years know something is wrong with the way one is living (what happened to me), be reading books and looking at art and listening to just all that comes at you from everywhere and again know that a good deal that has happened which has been importantly and centrally bad for you (change of pronoun here to me) has been just ignored.

If I tried to speak of it, I seemed to be talking very personally and embarrassed others or was silently scorned because I was revealing what was and still is unacceptable and seen as degrading. The first feminist studies I began to read in the early 1990s (yes that late) just electrified me with a way of talking and suddenly seeing and putting into a perspective I could communicate to others all I had been feeling and suffering from for years and years. That’s why the last three years of sudden silence, of regression, of incessant mockery of feminist studies have been so dismaying to me.

Dworkin writes:

"Norman Mailer remarked during the sixties that the problem with the sexual revolution was that it had gotten into the hands of the
wrong people. He was right. It was in the hands of men. The pop idea was that fucking was good, so good that the more there was of it, the better. The pop idea was that people should fuck hom they wanted: translated for the girls, this meant that girls should want to be fucked—as close to all the time as was humanly possible."

I remember reading Naomi Someorother’s Promiscuities where
she presents her liberation as her sucking a man’s penis while
she is on her knees in front of a group of men and women. She
meant me to see the savage irony of this. And did I. I gave
a copy of the book to my older daughter and pointed the passage
out to her.

A little later Dworkin continues

"Sexual radicalism was defined in classically male terms: number
of partners, frequency of sex, varieties of sex (for instance, group sex), eagerness to engage in sex. It was all supposed to be essentially the same for boys and girls: two, three, or however many long-haired persons communing. It was especially the lessening of gender polarity that kept the girls entranced, even after the fuck had revealed the boys to be men after all.

And the dream for the girls at base was a dream of a sexual and social empathy that negated the strictures of gender, a dream of sexual equality based on what men and women had in common, what the adults tried to kill in you as they made you grow up. It was a desire for a sexual community more like childhood.

For girls it was a dream of being less female in a world less male; an eroticization of sibling equality, not the traditional male Dworkin’s chapter just sings at me is she’s saying what I have been thinking for some time but not found anywhere in print said to forcibly, cogently and with examples. Yes, this is central and true:

For girls the dream at base was a dream of a sexual and social empathy that negated the strictures of gender, a dream of sexual equality based on what men and women had in common, what the adults tried to kill in you as they made you grow up. It was a desire for a sexual community more like childhood … It was a dream of being less female in a world less male; an eroticization of sibling equality, not the traditional male dominance.

Wishing did not make it so. Acting as if it were so did not make it so. Precisely in trying to erode the boundaries of gender through an apparent single standard of sexual-liberation practice, they participated more and more in the most gender-reifying act: fucking. The men grew more manly; the world of the counterculture became more aggressively male-dominated.

The girls became women—found themselves possessed by a man or a man and his buddies (in the parlance of the counterculture, his brothers and hers)—traded, gang-fucked, collected, collectivized, objectified, turned into the hot stuff of pornography, and socially resegregated into traditionally female roles. Empirically speaking, sexual liberation was practiced by women on a wide scale in the sixties and it did not work: that is, it did not free women. Its purpose—it turned out—was to free men to use women without bourgeois constraints, and in that it was successful.

One consequence for the women was an intensification of the experience of being sexually female—the precise opposite of what those idealistic girls had envisioned for themselves. In experiencing a wide variety of men in a wide variety of circumstances, women who were not prostitutes discovered the impersonal, class-determined nature of their sexual function.

They discovered the utter irrelevance of their own individual, aesthetic, ethical, or political sensitivities (whether those sensitivities were characterized by men as female or bourgeois or puritanical) in sex as men practiced it. The sexual standard was the male-to-female fuck, and women served it—it did not serve women."

In a nutshell,

"the raw, terrible realization that sex was not brother-sister
but master-servant—that this brave new radical wanted to be not only master in his own home but pasha in his own harem—that proved explosive."

Dworkin then goes on to work out the implications of this: how in the workplace men were more than ever in charge. The way to get into an organization was to be fucked by the big man (I saw this as a graduate student; Laura has seen it as a lighting technician); you would be ejected from wherever it was if you didn’t submit and rejoice at submitting.

The problem of course was pregnancy and here she sees the pro-abortion movement as fuelled by a desire by men for freedom from this obstacle.

She then turns to an exegeses of what’s happened to abortion rights in the last couple of decades. Here are new thoughts for me, a point of view I had not seen before. She argues that sexual liberation for me led to the idea that abortion rights should extend to women, but then when abortion was legal that did give women power over their own bodies. And it fuelled the women’s movement which in turn really was attempting to give women power. She suggests—now here some may disagree—that the rollback and turnback to depriving women of legal abortion comes not only from the indifference of men who wanted liberation to have sex with any woman but their hostility to women having lawful and overt control over their sexual destiny. Legalized abortion did not make more women available for sex says Dworkin.

She goes on to how fetal studies have been exploited by the
right wing & are used to call abortion, any and all abortion, baby-
killing. Now women are murderers. At GMU we had a rally set
up against "genocide" by which was meant abortions. I did talk about this and how the feminist groups on campus tried to counter it. She’s right about the male left.

On GMU campus, the people who came out against "genocide" as abortion were overwhelmingly women. I’ve come across the bitterness and anger by men who are liberal against "militant feminists," but more often it’s disgust, a wry expression of "stop it already" and boredom. Please go away.

On my small WWTTA list I talked about how ironiclally Jhumpa Lhari’s short stories of "maladies," a deeply reactionary book by a middle class Indian women which in one story seemed to me perhaps to stigmatize working class white women, couldn’t begin to get a hearing as it was seen as "a woman’s book" and we had instead the overtly masculinist (women are sex objects, whores, mothers or nurses) book by Ondaajte, The English Patient. It won big partly because lots of people feared lots of faculty members would simply not assign Lhari’s. You see it’s a woman’s book.

I like Dworkin’s ending:

"And the boys of the sixties did grow up too. They actually grew older. They are now men in life, not just in the fuck. They want babies. Compulsory pregnancy is about the only way they are sure to get them."

And so here we are in the year 2005. Some women have exchanged one kind of nightmare for another; others are experiencing the same nightmare only the words for it have changed.

And yet, for those who have the will to look, to read, and to see, we have language in which to understand and to discuss and even free ourselves, if we have some luck, the will, and if only a very little.

Dworkin gave us these words I have typed out this morning. You
did not have them, Fanny.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. My dear Ellen,

    Your words are as refreshing as a glass of cold water and as invigorating as a shot of gin. What would we do without you? There are few men (and fewer women) with the courage to bare their lives as you do. (Maybe men "bare" and women "bear"?)

    Catherine Crean    Apr 14, 12:04pm    #
  2. Dearest Catherine,

    How lovely to hear from you. I hope you are enjoying WWTTA.

    Chava    Apr 14, 11:15pm    #

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