Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dear Andrea Dworkin,

It's me, Sady. Yes! That's right! ME! One of the many women who has no doubt caused you to wish that you could rise, as a vengeful spirit, to haunt and torment your critics!

Well, good news for you, Andrea: that is kind of exactly what happened to me this past weekend, when I tried to start a "conversation" (ha ha, yeah, um) about my feelings of alienation from radical feminism as such and also from the rhetorical and activist tactics of many radical feminists. With some radical feminists! Who - in a surprise twist that I could never possibly have predicted - kind of took exception to what I said! As they say, "you're nobody until you've engaged in some kind of drawn-out fight about schisms within the feminist movement dating back at least to the early '80s and which continue to be incredibly painful and divisive." Oh, no, wait: what they say is, "don't do that shit, ever."

Alas! I did it anyway! It was terrible! And here, in the aftermath, what I realize is this: I really, REALLY need to answer all of these e-mails. Oh, but wait! What I also realize is this: I've been taking it up with the wrong people. I should have been taking it up with you.

This is hard to do, because people have been so shitty to you! (Also: YOU'RE DEAD? Yes, I know, but this is a rhetorical conceit: roll with it.) I'm not just talking about the anti-feminists and misogynists who slam you and paint you as Big Bad Feminazi #1; I'm not just talking about the many folks who abused you in various ways; I'm talking about us, self-described feminists, writers, folks who should know better. Like, when a woman publishes an account of being raped while drugged, and that account is hazy, messy, confused and seems to betray an extremely unhealthy mental state on the part of the writer (like, say, the account of a woman who'd been recently raped might), is it ever even remotely okay to be like, "well, perhaps she is just making it up for political or career reasons? Or BROUGHT IT UPON HERSELF, due to being such a bitch all the time?" I would argue that it is not! Yet that's what we did to you, when you published that article in the New Statesman.

Anyway, Andrea: I am not one of those people. That whole spectacle made me sick. I can even tell you that you were the very first feminist whose work I ever read! It blew me away, and made me the tireless yammerer-on about gender and sex that I am today. I can respect much of what you were about: analyzing literary and pop-culture narratives from a feminist perspective, examining how sex (or, rather, heterosexual sex, in your work) is warped by misogyny and a culture of male domination, and refusing to back down from the fact that the rape and abuse of women, by men, happens, and happens often, and says something about the status of women in society, and needs to stop. All of that stuff matters to me. But, I have to tell you: you are just about the worst role model for a young feminist that I can imagine.

Let's talk about that! Let's, specifically, talk about sex! Or, in your preferred parlance, "fucking!" (Andrea, one of the many reasons I sneakily love you sometimes is that you dropped more f-bombs per page than any other Serious Theorist I know.) The "all heterosexual sex is rape" thing is a myth; you never said that. What you did seem to be arguing, and what many of your followers and colleagues have seemed to argue, is that in patriarchy, women are defined as existing for the use of men in sex, and that no woman can really, freely choose to have sex with a man, due to the number of societal pressures and power structures that make "having sex with men" the default and the other options untenable, stigmatized, and dangerous. The problem is that, as a young feminist, the "all sex is rape" thing and the other, less t-shirt-worthy theory seemed to be recommending the very same course of action, which was: don't have sex with dudes.

That's not going to work for me, Andrea! I have some vague idea as to how you worked it out in your own life: I know you identified as a lesbian, and your life partner was a man who identified as gay, and then later it came out that you were actually married to him, but your official position was that in your own life you did not have "intercourse." I don't hold it against any woman if she decides never to have sex again. That's not my business. What I know is that I can't be willfully celibate, and that I consider reclaiming and enjoying my sexuality both a vital way to heal from my rape (wherein my sexuality was used to degrade and subjugate me) and from the Madonna/whore split that keeps women from being whole people. I also know that I enjoy having sex with men, and that therefore what I need to work out is a way to do that while resisting old gender roles and subjugation to a male partner. You didn't help me there, Andrea. You never gave me a way to resist. You told me all the bad stuff that might happen to me, but not how to create anything good.

Then, there was the whole porn thing. Yep: porn is pretty sexist, all right. At least, most of the mainstream heterosexual porn that I've seen is sexist. I, like you, oppose that sexism, as well as human trafficking and the abuse, rape, and coercion of women who perform in porn. But, curious fact: did you know that most films and narratives produced within a sexist society are sexist? And have an adverse affect on society by normalizing sexism, just like porn does? Also, that abuse, rape, and coercion of women happen even outside of the context of porn? Actually, I'm almost 100% certain that you do know about that last thing!

Yet, with you, it was nothing but porn, porn, porn, all the damn time. You were like Captain Ahab of the USS Jesus Christ, I Guess Captain Ahab Really Hates Porn. Porn caused violence, porn caused rape, seeing porn in and of itself was a form of abuse (like, if you were "forced" to see it by walking into a bodega where it was on sale or something) and you went after it with these laws that (a) gave governments increased power to persecute and marginalize the queer community, because obviously they were affected first and disproportionately by any obscenity laws or laws policing sexual expression, and (b) gave women the right to sue for damages "caused by porn," thus making it seem as if porn itself had abused or assaulted them, instead of working to place the blame - and increased, more severe convictions - on their actual rapists. You took the blame off abusers, and put the blame on porn. And aided in the institutional oppression of queer folks in the process. Um, whoops?

Oh, and also? In your speeches about porn, such as "Pornography: The New Terrorism" (Jesus CHRIST) you described images from BDSM pornography as if they were representative of all pornography, when you had reason to know (because people were yelling at you about it) that this was not what all pornography was like, and was also a specific fetish which needed to be understood within its own context. Which was intellectually dishonest, and gave people a really easy way to discredit your arguments. Whoops, again!

Oh, and THEN, also! The BDSM folks got mad at you about it, and the ladies who were already kind of frustrated by the "don't fuck dudes" stuff got mad at you about it, and feminism basically CAUGHT FIRE AND EXPLODED and you did NO work to understand what those people were saying, and in fact attacked some of them really, really harshly! WHOOPS!

Oh, and also? Remember all those women of color and working-class women who protested both sides, and were like, "making porn the central issue of the feminist movement takes emphasis away from the very real issues that affect our lives?" Ha ha, yeah, they had a solid point there! On my own behalf, if not yours, I would like to say: whoops.

But seriously, Andrea: let's talk about sex, some more. Let's talk, specifically, about how you minimized and glossed over women's sexual agency and pleasure, and gave fuel to cultural conservatives by developing a rhetoric wherein women were giant babies who couldn't make their own sexual choices and were, in fact, threatened by sex itself: an image of women as passive, helpless victims terrorized by men's bestial desires that dates right on back to the Cult of True Womanhood, and gave preachers and right-wing pundits the opportunity to paint basically any sexual expression, regardless of content or intent, as "demeaning to women." Even if women were actively and enthusiastically taking part in the "demeaning." You painted us all as victims, focused almost solely on the most extreme forms of misogynist abuse (which, as basically anyone who knows me is aware, I abhor), used extreme, hyperbolic rhetoric irresponsibly, and didn't really address more subtle forms of sexism in society or - as previously referenced - give us workable, practical ways to resist. Don't believe me? Check this business out:
Bill Clinton's fixation on oral sex -- non-reciprocal oral sex -- consistently puts women in states of submission to him. It's the most fetishistic, heartless, cold sexual exchange that one could imagine.
Um, really? A blow job? The MOST HEARTLESS COLD FETISHISTIC AWFUL TERRIBLE NO-GOOD VERY BAD ACT YOU CAN IMAGINE? Seriously, lady: I can imagine worse. And I probably haven't seen as much porn as you have.

Of course, this is the essay that leads up to "I think Hillary should shoot Bill and then President Gore should pardon her," so this is an odd line with which to take offense. For the record, I do think Clinton was, pretty much, a misogynist! Yet it's precisely this construction that makes me so mad sometimes: refusing to acknowledge that maybe, sometimes, you give a dude head because you like him, or because you like doing that, and instead portraying a consensual BJ as an act of unspeakable violation.

And, of course, in that very essay, you get around to calling Hillary "pathetic" and not a real feminist any more because she hasn't denounced or left her husband, AS IF THAT WERE ANY OF YOUR BUSINESS, and as if that didn't give more fuel to the by-then-already-popular pastime of openly misogynist or concern-trollish Hillary-bashing. Andrea Dworkin: I THINK YOU ARE KIND OF A CONCERN TROLL, is what I think. In your version of feminism, what concerns us is passing judgment on the choices of other women, while we assume that we know what is going through their heads at all times, which is, of course, "I am oh so very victimized by men" or "oh, how I love to assist men in victimizing women."

And it's that, really, that led me away from radical feminism, and specifically away from your work. It's the lavish, intricately detailed, lovingly rendered descriptions of hate-sex, rape, and bodily harm to women. It's the endless parade of martyrs in your work. It's the "Andrea Dworkin suffers for your sins" shit you pulled so often. It's saying stuff like, "I'm a radical feminist, not the fun kind." (Ha ha, yeah, fun sucks! Joy couldn't possibly be a way to resist patriarchal oppression!) It's naming books stuff like Woman Hating and Heartbreak and Our Blood, the fetishization of suffering as feminist purity, and the refusal to really address the fact that sexism can be subtle, subliminal, non-violent, and just as if not more damaging and difficult to analyze and resist due to that fact. Here is another quote of yours I came across:
"He is the conjurer who takes the smoking ash of real death and turns it into stories, poems, pictures, which celebrate degradation as life's central truth. He is the illusionist who paints mutilated bodies in chains on the interior canvas of the imagination so that, asleep or awake, we can only hallucinate indignity and outrage. He is the manipulator of psychological reality."
The thing is, Andrea, you were talking about The Oppressor. I read this, and the only person I think of is Y-O-U. Asleep or awake, we can only hallucinate indignity and outrage, if we buy into your theory of gender relations. We accept, if we accept your work, degradation as life's central truth.

Oh! My goodness! It appears that this - in what is a completely surprising occurence with no precedent in either the history of feminism or in my own personal life - has become a heated conversation! To the extent that I've made it so, I take responsibility for that. Here are a few statements in regard to this that I'd like folks to hear, up front, before entering the war zone:

1. Everyone who reads this blog is entitled to call me out for statements or theoretical points that are based on privilege. Everyone who reads this blog is entitled to disagree with me. I take critiques of my privilege or theory seriously. I am furthermore aware that this is a contentious and painful debate, and that there are probably several areas in the post that deserve serious critique. I would appreciate it, and do appreciate those who have written careful critiques thus far.

2. For reasons of accountability and objectivity, I am not editing the post itself (except to add this) and publishing every comment in this thread except for random threatening Internet-stalker stuff, and doing my best to respond to them. [EDIT: Ha ha, not any more! Because the thread got too long to keep up with and respond to, and also literally almost as soon as this note went up folks started doing more and more of the following:]

3. Insofar as possible, please refrain from the following: slut-shaming (and this can take the form of framing "sex with men" as a choice that necessarily precludes "ending violence against women"), name-calling, condescending to or passing judgment on the personal choices of other women, and revoking other women's Feminist Membership Cards or claiming access to the One True Feminism. This, in case you are curious, can take the form - and often does! - of acting as if a fellow feminist's agreement, disagreement, or decision to criticize or support of the theory of one Andrea Dworkin invalidates both her commitment to the movement and everything else she has ever done. [EDIT: Jesus.]

4. Thanks for engaging.


  1. Oh, Sady, I really wish you had been writing about this stuff, and I had been reading it, about 9 years ago when I was busy studying feminist theory at a women's college. Seriously, I've felt this way for years, but you up and articulated it perfectly. Excellent piece.

  2. Dang, Sady. You like to pick at contentious topics, which often happen to be contentious WITHIN ME. I must admit that I have never read Andrea Dworkin (I am a TERRIBLE women's studies major, is what I think), but I HAVE read Catherine MacKinnon, who has some similar ideas.

    Such as: "A theory of sexuality becomes feminist to the extent it treats sexuality as a social construct of male power: defined by men, forced on women, and constitutive in the meaning of gender."

    And: "So many distinctive features of women's status as second class...are made into the context of sex for women. Being a thing for sexual use is fundamental to it."

    And: "I do not know of any feminist worthy of that name who, if forced to choose between freedom and sex, would choose sex. She'd choose freedom every time" (a Ti-Grace Atkinson quote). Bam!

    Here is the thing: Catharine MacKinnon makes a lot of sense to me. I read the essay "Sexuality" when I was 19, and it just about knocked me out with resonance. I do not like sex. Almost ever, with almost anyone! But especially with dudes!

    HOWEVER, perhaps because I am so intimately familiar with what it is like to have my specific sexual experiences (not liking the penie) ignored in favor of the dominant narrative (women like the penie), I am very wary of assuming that MY experience of heterosex as baaaad (violent, coercive, icky, etc.) means ALL heterosex is bad. This is why I love the internet! It lets me listen other feminists I trust! Who think different things! Who choose choose freedom AND sex!

  3. Yep, those women who go around pointing out what is right in front of your face are really all to blame for what is right in front of your face, eh?

  4. @Rex: Your comment is awesome. And I'm aware that I'm writing from a position of privilege here, in that my experience (I am a heterosexual person! And enthusiastic about sex!) does, in fact, conform to the dominant narrative that suppresses so many other women's experiences of sex (not liking it, not wanting it with dudes, etcetera). So being called out on that privilege is good.

    I don't, for the record, deny that there is much coercive, abusive, male-centered, woman-hurting or woman-exploiting heterosex out there. It would be silly for me to deny that, seeing as how I personally have experience of it. I just think that acknowledging that without moving on to the next step, of creating feminist, pro-woman, non-abusive visions of sex and sexual relationships (and trying to create those in our lives) leads to, basically, despair. And as a fun feminist, despair is not where I want to stay.

    @the bewilderness: Yes, you are correct. I believe that Andrea Dworkin in fact INVENTED both the abuse of women and misogyny itself. Thank you for your careful, nuanced reading of my argument.

  5. Yeah, yeah. I find it helpful, when assessing this stuff, to think about Charlotte Bunch's model of theory as including description, analysis, vision, and strategy. If we've got the description and the analysis but no vision, we can get stuck criticizing and hand-wringing. When forming a vision, you've got to decide what you want your principles and goals to be. AND SO, if good, healthy, fun, sexy sex is part of your vision, great. Roll with it and figure out your strategy.

    Not trying to lecture here. Just working out my thoughts...my mom, who teaches reading to 10-year-olds, calls these "text-to-self" and "text-to-life" moments.

  6. Bravo on a pretty even-handed analysis. I'm always a irritated with feminist work that essentializes sex in either way. For example, I've read social histories that use statistics on prostitution (usually just the number of prostitutes registered by the police) as a barometer for how misogynistic a society was. The problem is, that you can manipulate statistics like that one way or another. If you're "sex positive" (hate that term), then high levels of prostitution means lots of women were taking charge of their sexuality in order to become financially independent (forgetting, of course, the vexed question of consensuality among women living in abject poverty, who were obviously also vulnerable to various forms of abuse). If you're, well, the other brand of feminist, then a vibrant sex trade means high levels of exploitation, which obscured the fact that for many poor women, prostitution may have represented a viable and neccessary choice that allowed her to provide for herself.

    I guess my point is: teh sex, sometimes it's fabulous, sometimes not so much. CONTEXT IS IMPORTANT.

  7. I didn't intend to be rude. I was trying to say that your argument holds no water, in a flippant sort of way.
    Dworkin's argument is that the first step is to get them to stop killing us. That is why your argument holds no water. We haven't yet taken the first step.

  8. I don't know, Sady. I consider myself a radical feminist, I think any sense of female agency in a patriarchy is an illusion. And I don't think I am in any way making women into giant passive babies incapable of making their own decisions. I think every single action by every single participant in patriarchy colludes to some degree with the politics of power and submission. Because a human being cannot exist in a vaccuum and we don't have a lot of cultural options, collusion equals survival - the domination and submission in our culture are just a question of the degree to which certain classes have to compromise and the level of consequences for failure.

    So my position isn't really "don't have sex with dudes" so much as "quit fucking lying to yourself about how much you love your oppression and then get on with forgiving yourself for colluding with your oppression so that instead of beating yourself up you can give a measured look around and look for ways to shore up your strength until you can start to make moves (however small) away from aiding your oppressors."

    Because everything is a system of prices paid for either survival or for the privilege of slightly less oppression in a fucked up system and since some of us hate certain prices more than others, everyone should get to choose the behaviours they want to shed first and no one should be judging someone else for the behaviours they choose to keep.

    However, the other side of that is that I feel like you're painting your "liking sex with dudes" as some righteous response to the bad feminist who took things too far. You can like sex with dudes, that's fine. Then spend your energy on giving up the patriarchally aligned behaviours that do more damage. Or spend your energy on finer points like negotiating sex with dudes that is as free from dominance and submission as possible. But I'm still not going to really believe you when you say "sex with dudes is 100% out of my free will exactly what I want to do." Nor does it even matter if it is or not.

    As to Dworkin, disclaiming that I am not familiar with her work, the angry, personal "WHOOPS YOU LET FEMINISM DOWN YOU TOOK IT TOO FAR" criticism seems weird to me. She's not an icon who owed feminism a perfectly thought out ideology. And if she had been capable of forming a broad-minded ideology she would have been too moderate to see and call out society on the things she did. Visionaries are extremists, otherwise they would never take the first step. We come back to forgiving ourselves and other women for doing whatever it takes to survive. And if she made it harder for you to find your own path because she was outspoken and well-regarded and you were looking for a path that agreed with hers, that's lamentable. But she was just a human being trying to find her own path to surviving a fucked up system, and one who, arguably, never did.

  9. Well here's the thing about sex that I take issue with because I don't feel like supposedly "sex-positive" feminists address it enough. I mean, we always think of sex as penis-in-vagina, and far be it from me to knock on that, but every time I read about sex-positivity I have the urge to point out that the female locus of pleasure is located in the CLITORIS, whose ONLY function is sexual pleasure, and that it's not the same thing as the vagina. Why is that? Because honestly, focusing on a woman's clitoris, in my mind, is a seminal (no pun intended!) first step in making sex less sexist. We need to talk about cunnlingus and dare I say it, redwinging, with as much glamour and frequency as we do about BJs. And why do I get the feeling not enough attention is being paid to that? I have faith that you'll be able to produce another great post that addresses that question.
    But yeah, clit clit clit. I want to see a post about the clit.

  10. I can't say I'm as familiar with Dworkin as I should be--but then there's some reasons for that. Like, you know, many radical feminists say that I can't be a (choose at least two): woman, feminist, female, human being, spectator at a musyck festival.

    Which isn't to say that I don't have any respect for them: as somebody who spends long hours every day puzzling out the kyriarchical implications of, well, everything, there are a lot of feminists I draw upon.

    But call me a crazy two-genders-in-one-lifetime fool, but demonization isn't exactly my plan for destroying kyriarchy. Neither is handing out juice; I'm just saying there needs to be something in between there.

    Sady, you go right on talking to radical feminists--some of us have your back.

  11. @Other Ashley: YES, YES, YES.

    @the bewilderness: This comment is so simplistic as to be completely unworkable. "Get them to stop killing us" isn't a first step. It's a nice rhetorical move - "end all rape and violence against women NOW! Then we can figure out the rest of it!" - but it isn't anywhere even remotely CLOSE to a first step. And it's exactly what I was talking about when I said that Dworkin, and Dworkin-influenced theory, didn't identify any workable, practical means of resistance. A "twenty-four hour truce in which there is no rape" isn't happening. A female Israel isn't happening. Organized, militant revolution (who's our arms dealer? What's her name? Where is basic training located? Is there a nuclear option?) isn't fucking happening. It's completely impractical. Yes. Women are dying. It's serious, and we need to end it, and it isn't happening overnight. In the meantime, I'm alive, you're alive, and we need to figure out ways to live that will work for us, and also secure our basic human rights as citizens. I'm not willing to hold off on that until "they stop killing us." Are you?

  12. @Megan: You said a lot here, and it deserves careful thought. Here are a few points, at which I'd like to quote you:

    "I think any sense of female agency in a patriarchy is an illusion... every single action by every single participant in patriarchy colludes to some degree with the politics of power and submission."

    If that's true - if our agency is an illusion - then how can we ever resist? Resistance requires agency. How can we create feminism, if we lack agency and are incapable of acting or thinking outside of patriarchal dynamics? If we believe our experience of agency is false, how can we believe that rapists and abusers are responsible for their actions (since they must not have agency, either, living in the patriarchy) or even know our oppression exists, let alone claim that we know HOW to resist it?

    "So my position isn't really "don't have sex with dudes" so much as "quit fucking lying to yourself about how much you love your oppression."

    Um, do you read my work, at all? Does it seem to you that I am the sort to "lie" about loving ANYTHING, let alone oppression? Or are you just impugning my intelligence by assuming that I am incapable of identifying oppression when I experience it?

    "Aiding your oppressors."

    This is precisely the rhetoric that gets us nowhere and sparks so many long and painful debates. NOT AIDING OUR OPPRESSORS is an entirely negative concept, and very much separate from "creating positive change." It also gives us plenty of chances to demonize other women by insisting that they ARE "aiding our oppressors," what with their gosh-darn self-determination and whatnot. Except that self-determination doesn't exist, except insofar as radical feminists use it to practice radical feminism.

    "You're painting your "liking sex with dudes" as some righteous response to the bad feminist."

    I'm trying not to oversimplify my argument that way. The issue isn't that liking sex with dudes will destroy all oppression everywhere forever; the issue is that women's sexuality has been consistently denied, shamed, insulted, and used to degrade them or justify their oppression, and that for a woman, ANY woman, having consensual sex in the manner that is most pleasing to her - with dudes, with ladies, with a Hitachi Magic Wand, or just NOT having sex at all, if that is what makes her happiest - is subversive and revolutionary. Telling women that their sexuality is bad or wrong or AIDING OUR OPPRESSORS is, well... not. In part because it leads us here:

    "I'm still not going to really believe you when you say "sex with dudes is 100% out of my free will exactly what I want to do." Nor does it even matter if it is or not."

    Yep: here's the problem, and why I DO insist that talking about having fulfilling consensual sex and creating feminist relationships is important. In this equation, I'm either lying to you about what my body experiences and how I experience love, or I'm just too dumb to realize that my body isn't ACTUALLY experiencing pleasure and I don't ACTUALLY feel love. I'm stupid or a liar: either way, you know more about what I experience in my body or bedroom or mind than I do. Ha ha, yeah, why should THAT matter?

    Recognizing that just because heterosex and sexual relationships with men have been oppressive to women (oh boy, have they ever), and are still oppressive to women under many circumstances, does NOT mean that we have to conclude that they are inherently oppressive and will always be oppressive. We can re-write the script. We fucking well should.

    "As to Dworkin, disclaiming that I am not familiar with her work, the angry, personal "WHOOPS YOU LET FEMINISM DOWN YOU TOOK IT TOO FAR" criticism seems weird to me."

    I don't think Dworkin took feminism too far. I think Dworkin didn't take feminism far enough, and took it in the wrong directions. Crucial difference.

    Anyway. You're a good writer, and smart, and I'm trying not to be overly harsh. Thanks for engaging.

  13. I think you are blasting the messenger because you don't like the message.

    I have spent the majority of my life working on stopping the killing. Completely impractical, of course, but I consider it the highest priority. Fucking men, not so much.

  14. @Tangoing With Evita: Ha ha, yeah, I seem to spend a lot of time DEFENDING THE ALMIGHTY BJ in these conversations. I'm becoming Captain BJ around these parts. It's a weird position to take, especially in such a public way. (THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID.)

    And, for the record, that's not totally all me: it's just that I keep running into these conversations that are like, "BJs are the living symbol of women's oppression! To beej is to aid the oppressor! DOWN WITH BJS!" And I keep getting all "GOSH DARN IT WHY IS YOUR THEORY IN MY BEDROOM WOMAN GETTT OUUUUUTTTTTTT."

    But, rest assured, I AM, in fact, aware of the clit. Quite aware! I am, furthermore, aware that the clit is all too often neglected! (THAT ALSO IS WHAT SHE SAID.) One of the crucial parts of "sex-positive" theory (again: not the best term, I agree) is that it places emphasis on teaching women about their bodies and encouraging them to figure out what works for them and what doesn't, and removing stigma from stuff like the DREADED PERIOD SEX OH NO, so that instead of complaining about how dudesex is often not pleasurable for the ladies, ladies can figure out more about how to obtain pleasure and feel less shame about obtaining it. I would totally write a post about this! And precede it with multiple warnings so that people who know me in real life are not unfortunately freaked out by it! Although they are probably already freaked out by how often I rise to the defense of BJs!

  15. @the bewilderness: FUN! We've reached the Slut-Shaming portion of our show! I, of course, have never done any work that centers around rape or violence against women; this would, of necessity, detract from the amount of time I spend whoring around. It is unfortunate that one cannot reclaim one's sexuality, appreciate sex, and THEREFORE find rape heinous and work against it and against rape culture. Nope: we've got to accomplish that all-important "first step" of ending violence forever, which is in no way a long and gradual progress in which there are many steps (it is ONE STEP! The FIRST!) before we can establish healthy anti-patriarchal relationships within our own lives or with our own bodies. Nonetheless, I'm confident that fucking men was the right way to go. I'm gonna go suck off a meeting of male anti-choice clinic protesters now - since sex is inherently oppressive, I figure, why not go all out? Yes, aiding my oppressors was certainly the right way to go. Good luck with that whole "feminism" thing, though!

  16. I consider myself a radical feminist, I think any sense of female agency in a patriarchy is an illusion.

    This is so much like The Matrix... and "matrix" means "uterus"... My mind. Blown. There is no spoon. Or, I think, spooning.

  17. There are a lot of points here where I think our issue is just a failure to grasp the subtleties of the other person's argument. Like the "aiding your oppressors"-rhetoric argument. I am absolutely on the side of not demonizing women with "you're aiding our oppressors" and I thought I had made that clear. The phrase was a shorthand (ill-chosen, I'm sure) because the point isn't whether we are aiding a bad system. We are. In such a complicated culture, it's inevitable that we will in some way. So why are we all so hard on ourselves and each other for it?

    I think my outlook comes from having lived with abusers for so long. There is constant questioning why did you stay? why did you help them cover it up? why did you initiate sex with them? etc, etc.

    I got to the point where I understood that helping a man who abused me, even adoring him or engaging in enthusiastic sex with him didn't make me guilty of my own abuse. I not only learned to forgive myself for all the "aiding" I did, I kind of dig the genius inherent in the human brain that is so well programmed to tune out the things that would drive you crazy if you allowed yourself cognition and yet, all the while can be subconsciously working on a solution. And so by "aiding the oppressor" I really meant "living with oppression" and frequently that literally does aid your own oppression, but like I said, it's really survival and it's brilliant survival.

    Secondly, although it may be projection that I see "living with an abuser" dynamics in every het relationship, I don't think I'm crazy. There's degrees, clearly. I'm with a guy now who really is just awesome. Who out-reasons me at feminist theory quite often and who long ago worked very hard to get over taking it personally every time I pointed out his privilege. BUT, he has more power. He just does. He could beat me or rape me and probably never face charges. He could leave and I don't know if I could afford to keep my kids alive. I absolutely trust him with that power - but this is what brings me to my doubts when women assert their agency. He is a very kind, trustworthy and generous man. But I cannot prove that what I have with him is any different than if I were in prison and assured my safety by allying myself with the kindest prison guard, nor is it much different from having one very elite well-paying John who respects when I don't want to work. And I can say that of course I love him and totally of my own free will choose the sex. But I did with the abusers too. So I didn't really mean "you don't know your own mind" so much as "your own free will" is a whole lot more complex and loaded than you know.

    Whew. Lastly, that bit about "quit fucking lying to yourself" was SO meant to be general and not directed at you. Furthermore, I shouldn't have chosen those words, even in a general sense, since what I was preaching was accepting your own motivations, and that's hard for anyone to do with lecturing/attacking language.

    What led me to comment in the first place is that I felt like you were being so binary about the whole issue of sex. Like "In this equation, I'm either lying to you about what my body experiences and how I experience love, or I'm just too dumb to realize that my body isn't ACTUALLY experiencing pleasure and I don't ACTUALLY feel love. I'm stupid or a liar." You know, NO. If I say I don't believe it's just free will, I'm not saying you're stupid or lying at all. It can be love AND not be free will. I'm saying "sure you are experiencing pleasure and sure you are in love. But have you examined what you're getting out of this? If this exchange wasn't, in some way, buying you peace of mind, would you be experiencing as much pleasure, would you be as in love, would you even have bothered, or would you be engaging in it but with a different narrative?" And no matter what the answer to those questions, that doesn't make you wrong or stupid or a liar for still doing it. I just think the questions should be asked - even if the answer is unknowable.

  18. I hate to jump through all that really smart and entertaining analysis and focus on THE PART ABOUT BLOWJOBS but I'm going to anyway, because I was reading a BJ post in the I Blame the Patriarchy archives and all of the "omg why would anyone want to touch a penis" comments made my head explode.

    "refusing to acknowledge that maybe, sometimes, you give a dude head because you like him, or because you like doing that, and instead portraying a consensual BJ as an act of unspeakable violation."
    ^THIS. Thank you.

    I understand that heterosexual sex can be a really charged thing for some women. I myself had to spend a long time convincing myself I could encounter a penis without *betraying all of womankind* and turning into some kind of delicate femme flower. But now that I have I'm in this wonderful rewarding relationship, and honestly, I wish I hadn't had so much "all sex is rape" to get through before I got to the good parts. :(

    Point is, all of life is way more complicated than "it's always like X", and sex in particular. I think we do ourselves a great disservice generalizing about it either way, so thank you for recognizing the complexity of the issue. And for defending the penis! I like them. :(

  19. Wherever you stand on womens' agency in fucking dudes in our patriarchal world, it's maybe worth it to take a look at how often straight feminists are called upon by other feminists (and themselves) to justify who they bone, and how they do the boning.

    Maybe justify isn't quite the right word- 'confess' almost works, particularly with language like "aiding your oppressors" (not singling you out, Megan, I've read variations on that phrase all over the feminist blogoverse), and the implication that straight feminists somehow don't *get it* about het gender dynamics under the patriarchy.

    It presupposes that feminists who have sex with men are uninformed. Or worse, as Sady pointed out, that they're either stupid or lying. It's a disservice, to the women who talk about their experience/s with being straight in a patriarchy, to women who want/need to hear about those experiences, and to the entire discussion for *everyone* on any point on the spectrum.

    If one of our goals is dialogue, if it's to understand the spectrum of all womens' experiences in the patriarchy, less "Yes but if you would only ADMIT that you are ignorant/wrong/a collaborator" and more "Yowza, I can possibly see where you're coming from but it's hard for me, let's talk more" might be more illuminating and less combative.

    I'm not suggesting anyone be "nicer", or do this or that with "tone". I am suggesting that the odd fingerpointing and suspicion are hostile and fruitless.

    Because really, many feminists who know what's what are going to continue to have sex with men. Maybe we can go from there.

  20. "So my position isn't really "don't have sex with dudes" so much as "quit fucking lying to yourself about how much you love your oppression and then get on with forgiving yourself for colluding with your oppression"

    And my position, if someone were saying this to me, is that it is presumptuous, to say the least, that someone other than me knows what is and isn't self-deception, collusion or enthusiastic participation in ANYTHING, on my part.

    I would even go so far as to say that for anyone to claim, to me, that they know my feelings, my motivation, my purpose better than me is what I like to call "abusive".

  21. "I think you are blasting the messenger because you don't like the message."

    I am pretty sure that "I don't like the message" is more or less the structure of the post: "I don't like Dworkin's message and here is why." I don't recall reading anything in there that is a personal attack on Dworkin. You know. As a person.

  22. "freedom AND sex", yes!

    I love your replies, especially to Megan.

    Carry on re-writing the script and bringing the lulz!

  23. I don't think it's fair to characterize Dworkin as an oppressor. You may feel that she "glossed over women's sexual agency and pleasure" but you have to remember that she was living and writing in a time where it was literally perfectly legal in the USA for a man to rape his wife if he felt like it.

    If you think that Dworkin was calling for an end to sex, then you've bought in to the idea that sex is only about dominance and abuse. "Equality in the realm of sex is an antisexual idea if sex requires dominance..." ( - Dworkin, Intercourse)

    Dworkin had an immense amount of compassion for women -and- men. I think she talked about porn so much because of what it is - sexual humiliation of women packaged as entertainment that men have a right to consume. She wrote about it because of how damaging it is for everyone to have this humiliation tied to male orgasm and pleasure in such a Pavlovian manner. But our Captain Ahab wasn't a one-whale-woman - she also wrote at length about literature, movies, family, rape, politics, religion, domestic abuse, etc., etc.

    She was no more perfect than any other human though, and one thing she did not have, as you say, is a solution. I've seen other feminist heroes get abused for not providing solutions, for not handing over the map to utopia. As if they really had maps and just refused to give them to us! It's understandable to want our heroes to tell us what to do. I remember a time long, long, ago when I was frantically calling the City Lights Bookstore because I thought Lawrence Ferlinghetti would be able to tell me how to stop a war. Ridiculous, I know. But at that time, I really needed someone with a solution and I'd fixated on him. (Thankfully for both of us, I didn't actually get him on the phone).

    But there IS no single solution. It's a mosaic, not a map. We all add our teaspoons (or as in Dworkins' case, steam shovels) by thinking and talking and analyzing and writing and not letting misogyny, in whatever form it appears, just slip by. By resisting. By being living examples, showing that women are brilliant and fierce and thoughtful and funny and have the same range of human emotions and desires that men do. Doing these things -is- a practical, workable way to resist.

    Focusing on injustice can get you down, but despair isn't the final destination. Dworkin would not have spent all those years writing and talking if she was despairing. She loved women and she loved men and she believed the world could be better than it was.

    Dworkin wrote about many hurtful truths, but that doesn't make her an oppressor. She had a poetic style, sometimes rife with hyperbole, but I enjoy that kind of writing! (One of the reasons I like this blog!) I think there are lots of problems and oppressions within feminism, as well as in the world at large. The insistence on feminist purity is a problem. Judging other women (and ourselves) on some scale of perfect feminism is a problem. Speaking loudly, passionately, unapologetically about the desire for human equality - not a problem!

  24. Hey, Tangoing With Evita, I just wanted you to know that I had to look up "redwinging," which is a sure sign we're not discussing it enough. I've decided to make a point of working it into conversation sometime in the near future, although not today, as I'm volunteering at a school, and I don't really know these kids well enough to explain to them the importance of getting off while on the rag.

    And in response to the post, I often feel conflicted about the things of which you speak, Sady. As a bisexual woman who ended up marrying a man, I am never totally sure how pure my motives were in selecting him for my mate. Shit, I have to go, pretend I said something really interesting about Intercourse, and something equally insightful about intercourse, and I'll be back this evening to discuss the ramifications of my awesomitude.

  25. Why on earth do normal, natural women with normal, natural sex drives feel the need to defend their right to be fucked by men? I mean, it is Normal & Natural, right? The being fucked by men thing?

    Guess not - else why the urge, nay, the (seemingly pathological, and in caps) need to defend?

    Yes, I remember the days when I would valiantly uphold my right to a good meat injection. Then I grew the fuck up and realised that it ain't nobody's business* what the fuck I do with my pathetic, limited, patriarchy-defined 'autonomy' in my own (haha) private space.

    Don't like Dworkin's shit? Walk away. Don't like the shit that the patriarchy dumps on you? Walk (haha, again!) away. Don't like Sady's need to !DEFEND!** her right to be fucked by a dude? Walk away (but check in every 6 months or so to see how "that whole 'feminism' thing" is going...)

    Which good advice I shall heed, pronto.

    *h/t Lady Day
    **it should be obvious that I'm making a point of the defensiveness and not the actual dude-fucking. Jesus Christo en la basqueta de mano.

  26. @SargassoSea: Well, this sucks. I was just popping in to say that I've enjoyed this conversation, both the pro- and not-so-pro-Dworkin bits, and that I appreciate being challenged, because it makes me smarter.

    Also: I've appreciated your comments thus far? But, yeah, if you want to walk away, that's your own damn business.

    Also, calling me pathological (again: do you know me? Have you got access to my medical records?) is inappropriate, objecting to me using caps is like objecting to gravity for making things fall down, and if you think I'm reifying straight privilege with my "defensiveness,"(which is a risk I'm very much aware of and trying to steer clear of within this conversation) whereas what I'm actually trying to say is that I think reclaiming our right to self-determined sexual pleasure (rather than performing sex whether or not it pleases us, for the dudes, or repressing and denying our desires for ideological reasons) is feminist, fucking challenge me on that. You know I've listened to you in the past, right? You know that leaving an official "you're pathological and I'M LEAVING" statement isn't getting you or me anywhere, right? I don't fucking know any more. What I know is that this is my blog, where I write about my feminism, and if you don't like it, CALL ME OUT ON THAT and I will evaluate your statements and respond to them. Often, as in the past, with "thanks for calling me out." In this case, with: I didn't know you had it in you, lady.

  27. I understand the despair of reading Andrea Dworkin and the despair of the system that she describes.

    However, I feel that your despair is what I felt upon first being introduced to radical feminism until I realized that there will ALWAYS be a lurking question in the back of my head that is asking me if my choices are really MINE or if they are choices I make because they're the only choices I can REALISTICALLY make within the male-dominated context in which we live. (a la Dworkin’s view that we don’t have agency)

    I am not, though, angry at Dworkin's arguments or her viewpoints (anymore). Upon further understanding the world around me, I feel liberated when I have the language I need to describe my (/women's in general) experiences. I think that too often we don't have the words to describe how we feel when we watch pornography or how we feel when we are engaged in pornography or how we feel when thinking about/living the experience of being bought and sold for sex or how we feel when we are having sex with men (whether we love them or not or if our overwhelming feeling is of pleasure or not) or how we feel when we are talking to men or watching men or being watched by men or working with men etc...etc... Dworkin is radical to the utmost extent...she believes that the root of oppression IS male domination which IS men's control over women's bodies which IS DEPENDENT UPON the existence of pornography. In addition, this is carried out by the fact that our society has come to function wherein women WILLINGLY PARTICIPATE IN OUR OWN OPPRESSION whether we think we are or know we are or not. Therefore, we lack a certain amount of agency.

    In this context, I partner with a man and have intercourse with him and enjoy it. Do I sometimes question why I am enjoying it and everything and anything about our relationship? Yes. Nonetheless, I cannot and will not be paralyzed by the fact that I understand the way the world works and how it works against me in such a way that makes me uncomfortable and makes many of my “choices” contradictory...We still, as feminists, have choices to make, whether we understand them as “real” choices or not.

    One final piece about adding fuel to conservatives and taking away from women's sexual agency. Naming something as it actually is (in this case, saying that pornography IS the subjugation of women and that women should have legal rights to claim harm done by pornography) is not taking away women's agency - it’s just naming the problem. In addition, just because conservatives/men took what she said and spun their own light on it doesn't mean what she was saying was untrue or that the law was flawed. In fact, the only reason it did not work was the co-optation of the law by conservative/male groups. If the law were interpreted in the way it was actually written, there would be no claim to banning LGBTQ books/women friendly books under this law. In fact, it was not supposed to bolster the BANNING of anything...just GIVING women LEGAL AGENCY (Oh, wait, we DO have agency!) to take charge of their lives after harms were done to them as a result of partaking in or viewing the products of the pornography industry.

    To top this all off, I do not subscribe to everything Dworkin did, said, or wrote about, including some of the quotes you have above. I do, however, think that she is generally incredibly misunderstood by feminists, conservatives, men, and women who take what she said/did out of context and who try to make her the poster-woman for radical feminism. She was brilliant, loud, sometimes obnoxious, but I find that hers (and MacKinnon's) words gave me a real language with which to describe my own and others experiences (without feeling crazy). I think that if more women and men read her and get over the fact that what she says is scary, offensive (to men and even to "good guys"), and not perfect, we might all be able to have a better dialogue. Thank you for blogging!

  28. @mir: I respect much of what you've said. I also think that, in conversations like these, it's important not to reify straight privilege. I actually think there are areas of my original post wherein I did just that: by framing my own heterosexuality as the subject of debate, rather than pointing out that women's sexual agency can take many forms and all should be valued. Lesbian women have also been shamed in these debates for being the "wrong" kind of lesbians: for engaging in butch/femme dynamics or gender presentations, for engaging in BDSM, for being trans lesbians (and being told that they were, in fact, heterosexual men trying to "pervert" lesbianism, which: oh, my God, no). Bisexual women have been shamed, too. My point is that, as a feminist, I strongly object to someone telling me what to do with my body, especially in such private and personal ways.

    My other point is: feminism is for everybody. Going back to heterosexuality, for a moment, precisely because it and the institutions surrounding it (like marriage and motherhood) have been so very problematic and oppressive for women, I think that women who choose it deserve the space to discuss it, analyze it, identify problematic elements within it, and bring their feminism to the table within those relationships, in terms of figuring out what a feminist heterosexual relationship, or a feminist heterosexual marriage, or feminist (heterosexual) motherhood (although, really, feminist motherhood for EVERYONE is important) should look and feel like.

    In conclusion: when I write about sexuality, I typically try to stick close to my own experience, since that's the only one I have the right to speak for. In this case, though, I did myself a disservice (and came across as a real douche) by acting as if heterosexuality was the only sexuality worth discussing or defending.

  29. Sady, for what it's worth, I have long been of the opinion that one of the things feminism *ought* to be is:

    NOT concerned with the genitalia of either myself OR the adult, legal, consenting person(s) with whom I choose to have sex. And by "have sex" I mean "a variety of acts, sometimes, but not necessarily, including the insertion of some
    object and/or body part into an appropriate orifice".

    Because, actually, why does it matter?

    It's like, oh, I don't know... using peanut oil in your cooking. Not all people like it, and for some people it's actually harmful, but as long as you don't force it on them, there's no problem.

    And... I didn't think feminism was about judging the "unworthy". I really didn't. I refuse to make my feminism about that.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  30. @Megan: You're right. Heterosexuality, for women AND men, continues to be protected, encouraged, and given special rights, and to be both less dangerous and less stigmatized than any other sexual expression. I'm privileged in many ways by it, just as are straight men. I also acknowledge that we live in a climate where men are encouraged to feel sexually entitled to women, and wherein enthusiastic and informed consent is often not considered prerequisite for sex. You can argue that my sex life is privileged, and takes place within a context of misogynist and homophobic violence wherein choosing to have sex with men is, in some important and dangerous ways, informed by what might happen were I NOT to do that. I might not even argue with that, much. Yet I still feel it undervalues my agency in terms of choosing the relationships or the sex that I want and making them what I want them to be.

    Abuse and rape happen, of course, and of course any woman who is abused or raped is not guilty of "colluding" or of insufficient feminism, or of not "making her relationship what she wants it to be." She's a person who is in the presence of a rapist or batterer, who makes the choice to rape or batter. That's WHY it happens, on the most basic and pragmatic level. Its protection by law, and cultural convention, is a huge issue. And there are many reasons why women stay in abusive relationships - it can be dangerous to get out of them, or to see outside of the script of psychological abuse that says she DESERVES this, for example - and I don't want to assume that I know what went on in your relationship or why you made the choices that you made: I just want to congratulate you on getting out. And to note that, as the daughter of a woman who was abused by her husband, and got us all out of that, that this step does in fact require a heroic (and dangerous, and scary, and non-socially-supported) act of agency.

    I don't believe that inequality, violence, and degradation are inherent to sex; maybe Dworkin didn't either, but I think her habit of Utopian thinking, or defining the complete end of violence as the necessary first step to social equality, undervalues the many real steps we've made toward making female self-determination and autonomy livable, and making sexual self-determination and autonomy livable for all folks of marginalized sexualities. We aren't there yet. But to say we haven't gone ANYWHERE because we haven't totally ended violence is false.

    As for patriarchy defining reality and there being no choices outside of it, and every choice being a greater or lesser level of collusion within patriarchy: it's true that we live within culture, and our lives and selves are informed by it. I believe we can transform culture and make it anti-patriarchal. I also believe we can't get totally outside of it, at least (sadly) not within my lifetime. It's framing everything as a greater or lesser step towards patriarchy, rather than a greater or lesser step towards freedom, that I have a problem with.

  31. Am I to assume that Americans don't get even basic Marxist education anymore? i.e. the concept of false consciousness? Dworkin was speaking on a sociological level, not about your personal boinkfests.

  32. @rktothemk: I would like to respond to your comment with the respect and moderation that it deserves, which is in all ways superior to that of various radical feminists who have chimed in with thoughtful, useful, educative notes on the basic theory under discussion. Unfortunately, it is the month of Boinktoberfest!


  33. @Sady: Agreed on straight privilege. I'd thought to put a disclaimer in there like "And hey I recognize that I've got it, and that our culture gives me strokes for my orientation" but I figured that was a given in this discussion.

    I certainly didn't/don't mean to discount/silence/ignore the experience or oppression of lesbians, transpeople, asexuals or anyone else- I was addressing the topic at hand.

    And 'reify'! Learn something new every day.

  34. @Phio Gistic: Beautifully said!

    @Sady: I feel fairly confident in saying that what Dworkin actually meant -- the heart of her message that has been misconstrued, intentionally by the malicious-minded -- is that we lack sexual agency when we are conditioned by society to conform to patriarchal standards of sexuality. Because we are inculcuated from day one to adhere to patriachal standards of behavior, we don't get that there are other ways of being. It's as if you were born into a Christian society in which other religions, and even atheism, did not exist -- you would necessarily be Christian unless you happened to possess an unusually inquisitive and rebellious sort of mind. You would lack religious agency, you would not realize that there were other options. The same holds true for young women and sexuality when they are born into a patriarchal society. When you're fumbling around, learning about sex from a sexist society, learning about sex from young men conditioned by misogynistic pornography, you don't get that your sexual "choices" mainly reflect the very narrow definition of sexuality handed to you by those who have also had their sexuality shaped by patriarchy. Everything you've learned about sexuality, you've learned from sources tainted by sexist, misogynistic ideals of male/female sexual interaction. Unless you were lucky enough to stumble onto radical feminism in your adolescent years, you, too, lack true sexual agency.

    Shorter Dworkin: Your ideas about sexuality were formed in a patriarchal vacuum, ergo what you call "sexual agency" is, in essence, a model of sexuality force-fed to you by the prevailing culture. You do not make sexual choices untained by your cultural brainwashing, therefore your sexuality is not really your own. Kapish?

  35. To add to my comment above that began with, "I understand the despair of reading Andrea Dworkin and the despair of the system that she describes..."

    It wasn't until I read Dworkin and the like that I began to question my own sexuality and the assumption that I was straight because I had always dated men and thought I could only be attracted to men. I think that it is important to recognize that it is arguments like Dworkins that also allow many of us to think that perhaps we are not "choosing" to be with men but are with them by default. This challenging of a potential false consciousness can also lead toward greater agency or a greater understanding of our choices (or lack thereof)...to partner or not to partner with certain people. The question of whether we can, when, and how we can have full agency and control over our choices does not mean that we are baby-like...it just means that we understand the system that we are living in.

  36. I think part of the problem, as it were, is the reification of patriarchy. As if there were a patriarchy, as if every action either helps or hinders the patriarchy. As a former spy in that camp, I can tell you it's not so monolithic or simple as that.

    Which is why I prefer to talk about kyriarchy, rather than just patriarchy. We are all, all of us caught in a complex, four-dimensional net of privileges held and denied; and while sure, we can talk about patriarchy (certainly the most pernicious set of privileges), it's like one of those drawings of a four-dimensional cube: an accurate representation, but only of one moment, one way of looking at things.

    Like, you can talk (and should talk, and resist) about men killing women--I can't think of a more feminist thing to do. But what about how we, American women, are responsible for killing Indonesian and Mexican girls for the sake of $8 tee shirts? Isn't that important too?

    I'm not trying (seriously!) to kick of an Opressioniad, just trying to point out that any situation, relationship, act of agency exists in a complex form. There is nothing simple, alas, about either having or not having privilege.

    That's probably why I have a problem with radical feminism or any form of feminism that tries to privilege itself or insist on one true vision--historically, this led to the silencing and ignoring of the voices of women of color within the feminist movement. I mean, I wish it was as easy as just "smash the Patriarchy" and one day we'd have the V-P day treaty signing on the USS Betty Friedan. But it's not.

    And I'm not going to refuse to consider complex human lives complexly--I can't; I'm a walking billboard for intersectionality, as are feminists of color, Islamic feminists, poor feminists--all feminists, really. And forcing me into your One True Vision isn't liberation.

  37. Gosh, I'm sorry, but it seemed to me like your entire argument was predicated on the fact that Dworkin's assertion that the existence of patriarchy and the subjugation of women to the sex class robs them of full and complete participation of consensual sex - that is, that even if you superduper want to get it on with a dude, it doesn't stop the reality that others will judge you no matter which choice you make (prude/whore), and even just between you and the man in question, one must often calculate the odds of whether he will suddenly turn around and hypocritically disrespect you for engaging in sex with him - is actually "glossing over women's sexual agency" and "reducing them to victims", et cetera.

    Men do not (or rarely) have equally unfair, rock-and-a-hard-place judgements levied at them for their sexual behaviour, and, therefore, it is impossible for women to act with equal personal sexual agency. Dworkin is not "reducing women to the status of victims", patriarchy is.

    This doesn't mean that women are stupid, or have zero agency. It means that their agency is limited to the roles that patriarchy leaves open to them. Until the double standards are wholly eradicated, then full and free consent cannot be given.

  38. @rktothemk: And have you never heard the phrase: "the personal is polical"? Freedom from patriachy begins at home, in our own relationships, in the myriad ways in which we interact with those closest to us, even, yes, in our sexual relations with others. You can't draw a line of demarcation at your front door and decide to shed your feminist skin once you've crossed the threshold. Your actions, no matter where you are or who you're with, impact society as a whole. It would be incredibly myopic, not to mention delusional, to think they don't.

  39. @Phio Gistic: I agree: this was a great comment. I definitely didn't mean to call Dworkin an Oppressor. What I was trying to say is that, when I read her work, I hear so much about women who are victimized (and she does sometimes project feelings of victimization onto women who may or may not have experienced this; more on that below) and not so much about women who are actively subverting patriarchal oppression, rebelling against the use of sex to degrade or shame women, and creating full, fulfilling lives. That, to me, is like painting a picture of the world in which there is only pain and oppression and no pleasure or resistance.

    I do disagree with statements such as this: "pornography IS the subjugation of women." I think it's ignoring many complex facts: we can say (and I will) that, in our current society, much pornography eroticizes male domination of and violence against women. We can say that this normalizes domination and violence and makes them appear to be inextricable from sex. However, there is pornography that doesn't eroticize those things - created by queer folks and feminists - and there's even some pornography what don't got no women in it. Again: I think her use of BDSM pornography to represent all pornography is irresponsible, especially given that so much non-BDSM, mainstream straight pornography actually supports her argument. I would argue that it is actually possible to produce feminist pornography. Looked at this way, the problem isn't that PORN is the subjugation of women, it's that porn which subjugates women aids that subjugation. The content of the form, not the form itself. I could look at most of the movies produced today and be like, "movies ARE the subjugation of women." Or, I could wish for different, better and more feminist movies. You see what I'm saying? And defining pornography as "that which objectifies women" isn't useful, because what pornography actually IS, is filmed sex for the purpose of arousing the viewer, and when we've got two definitions along these lines, it's easy to assume they're the same and that filmed sex inevitably objectifies women. Which, again: I don't necessarily think it has to or always will.

    Which in no way undervalues the existence of human trafficking, abuse, rape, and coercion as they exist in the lives of sex workers. THAT, we need to definitively end.

  40. @Phio Gistic: Also, your points about placing her work in historical context are well-taken, and something I worried about in the first place. So, thanks for bringing that to the table.

  41. @rktothemk: OK, RK, the first thing I have to say is this: your comments, and comments like yours, are a large part of why I don't feel comfortable identifying with the radical feminist movement, no matter how much I respect its ideas (and have come to respect them more even over the course of this thread). You're not the only one who's done it (the bewilderness and Sargasso Sea have also participated), so I kind of hate to single you out, but, you know. Price of doing business. You're working with this theory wherein our lives and selves are completely conditioned by patriarchy, and therefore every act we make in our own personal lives is either feminist or an act of collusion. Then, when someone says, "I don't think insisting on my right to have pleasurable sex is an act of collusion! I think it's feminist," you chime in with some EWWWW STOP TALKING ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL LIFE WHO CAAAAARES ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU LOVE TO GET FUCKED AND GET BEEF INJECTIONS AND HAVE BOINKFESTS. Like, you're out there solving all the world's ills and I'm having a bukkake party with every Republican member of Congress. When the fact is that you MADE it about my sex life in the first place, by theorizing that sex with dudes was an act of collusion.

    Look: the fact is that, although I respect that sexuality currently privileges one homophobic, misogynist narrative, and that we are indoctrinated within that narrative, I insist on the truth of pleasure. I insist that, although everyone should be free to try a variety of consensual sex acts in order to figure out what feels good or best, if something feels good, denying yourself that pleasure is wrongheaded. It is precisely on this basis that I support GLBTQ folks: if I didn't, if I believed people could "indoctrinate" themselves or each other away from their own desires without harming their psyches or affecting the quality of their lives, what foundation would I have to oppose the "ex-gay" movements or the pathologizing of trans people and other queer or gender-variant folks? I believe that everyone has the right to consensual, pleasurable sex. And I've been raped. And I've been abused. And I know that being openly, vocally sexual, as a woman, is dangerous, and can lead to people marginalizing me, stereotyping me, or casting me as a dumb slut who values "boinkfests" more than Feminism. And, you know what? I'm not the problem. THEY FUCKING ARE. The abusers. The rapists. The slut-shamers. So let's fight them. Not me.

  42. Beg your pardon, but I never said, nor implied, any of that. I "collude" by engaging with sex with men. I don't "care" or judge you, if you do. I'm not anti-sex. Personally, I'm sex-neutral, as the Spinster Aunt puts it.

    I do not blame you, or other women, for the existence of patriarchy. Patriarchy is a structural oppression, and we all do our best. I'm simply trying to clarify what I think are misconceptions about what it is Andrea Dworkin was actually saying.

    The personal is political, is all I'm saying.

  43. "Wherever you stand on womens' agency in fucking dudes in our patriarchal world, it's maybe worth it to take a look at how often straight feminists are called upon by other feminists (and themselves) to justify who they bone, and how they do the boning."
    It's certainly something I have experienced as a man-boning woman. Mind you, ever since I became aware of my need to be more conscious and deliberate in looking for and choosing men who treat me with respect and as an equal, I am basically not getting any. Because they *really* are harder to find than men who want to own you or who are just so oblivious to their own sense of entitlement that they will treat over your autonomy in a blithe heartbeat without even noticing that they did it. But hope springs eternal! And then I get taken to task for it! Because people apparently know better than I do when I am lying to myself vs. when I am not, when I say, "Jeez, getting boned by a dude I like would be really fun and pleasant, and a great diversion from chores, jobs and homework."

    "I think she talked about porn so much because of what it is - sexual humiliation of women packaged as entertainment that men have a right to consume."
    Which porn though? See, this is where I am not with the radical thought either. There are all kinds of porn. Porn is sexually explicit images created for the erotic pleasure of the viewer. That in itself is not inherently oppressive. I watched a bunch of porn the other day. It was made by independent female producers, featured female actors who self-identified on camera as lesbian and wore sartorial/tonsorial signifiers of belonging to a North American LGBT community, and were shown pleasuring each other to the point of female ejaculation, and this DVD was sold in a woman-owned, women-catering-to erotica store to me, a woman. If anyone tries to tell me that this is sexual humiliation of women packaged as entertainment for men, I will... I will cry is what I will do. I like my porn! Made for me by non-exploited people! If my porn were taken away, it would greatly diminish my quality of life.

    "I don't think it's fair to characterize Dworkin as an oppressor."
    So what do we do when a woman says, "I find her ideas oppressive, for reasons A, B and C"? Who gets to define oppressorhood or lack of it?

    It's something I wrestled with in the abusive relationships I have been part of (yes, plural, sigh, lots of work to do). I say to someone, "what you just did/demanded of me/said was incredibly abusive and horrible to be on the receiving end of" and they say, "well, your saying that is something I consider abusive and horrible to be on the receiving end of, so suck on that!"

    And I genuinely want to figure this out - how do we define, objectively, what makes someone an oppressor or a not-oppressor? Is it what the person who is feeling oppressed says? Because anyone can say it. But then if we disregard what the person says, we are potentially oppressing them too! So seriously, what to do?

  44. (Sady, sorry for multiple posts, but I seem to have an overwhelming amount of thoughts)

    "Why on earth do normal, natural women with normal, natural sex drives feel the need to defend their right to be fucked by men?"
    Well, for example, it might make sense to do what that right is being attacked or questioned. Men attack women's right to be sexual and express that sexuality on their own terms ALL THE TIME, so it's not like being attacked or questioned in a similar way by women is all that mind-blowing, to be honest.

    "Then I grew the fuck up and realised that it ain't nobody's business* what the fuck I do with my pathetic, limited, patriarchy-defined 'autonomy' in my own (haha) private space."
    So, uh, whence the attack, implicit in your hostility, on the right of others to do the same? Also, did you just call Sady immature? Because that's an immature thing to do.

    "I realized that there will ALWAYS be a lurking question in the back of my head that is asking me if my choices are really MINE or if they are choices I make because they're the only choices I can REALISTICALLY make within the male-dominated context in which we live."
    But... like... wouldn't you *know* which choices are yours and which choices are compromises on your part that you feel coerced into making? After giving the matter some honest and lengthy thought? See, this is what I personally object to: NOT the idea that some of my choices are coerced and until I confront that, I am powerless to address the coercion and perhaps lessen it. (Perhaps, because in some situations women are powerless.) But the idea that I DO NOT KNOW AND CANNOT KNOW which of my choices are my own and which are dictated to me by external forces. This idea discounts my ever being able to know my own damn mind, and attempts to take away my power and agency just as surely as any patriarchal system would do. That is offensive to my very core as a person. I am not a puppet, not of patriarchy and not of any version of feminism either. I may be a *victim*, in specific situations and circumstances, but I am not a mindless zombie for this type of feminism to dictate ideology and choices to, thank you.

    "this is carried out by the fact that our society has come to function wherein women WILLINGLY PARTICIPATE IN OUR OWN OPPRESSION whether we think we are or know we are or not. Therefore, we lack a certain amount of agency."
    Yes to this: " women WILLINGLY PARTICIPATE IN OUR OWN OPPRESSION ". A hearty hell no to this: "whether we think we are or know we are or not." If I don't know my own mind, NO ONE DOES, and therefore no one is entitled to say whether I know about my potential collusion or not. I am the only person who is entitled to make that claim. Everyone else will just have to take it on faith when I say what my motivations are. You can choose not to believe me and consider me a liar, but you do not have the right to tell me what I believe and what I know.

    "women's sexual agency can take many forms and all should be valued."
    "As a feminist, I strongly object to someone telling me what to do with my body, especially in such private and personal ways. "

    A thousand times yes to this idea. All women's sexual choices need to be respected. As a feminist, I believe that the problem lies in choices being taken away from women, so the only way I can see improvement in this situation is by acknowledging that women have the right to make a choice and that they do, in fact, make choices.

  45. "My other point is: feminism is for everybody. Going back to heterosexuality, for a moment, precisely because it and the institutions surrounding it (like marriage and motherhood) have been so very problematic and oppressive for women, I think that women who choose it deserve the space to discuss it, analyze it, identify problematic elements within it, and bring their feminism to the table within those relationships, in terms of figuring out what a feminist heterosexual relationship, or a feminist heterosexual marriage, or feminist (heterosexual) motherhood (although, really, feminist motherhood for EVERYONE is important) should look and feel like."

    Also a huge yes - if heterosexuality as institutionalized in our culture and throughout its history is deeply oppressive and problematic - and I agree a zillion times that it is - then the only helpful thing to do is to examine it, and figure out ways to make it less so for women who want to have sexual, social, professional, romantic and domestic relationships with men.

    "You can argue that my sex life is privileged, and takes place within a context of misogynist and homophobic violence wherein choosing to have sex with men is, in some important and dangerous ways, informed by what might happen were I NOT to do that."
    The thing is, heterosexual women are, to be sure, privileged - in relation to other women, in relation to not being non-heterosexual and to the ostracism they would suffer from the culture at large as non-heterosexual. In relation to MEN, however, heterosexual women are most certainly the underdog. Women who need sexual relationships with men, and who act on that need, are navigating a sea of oppressive horseshit, and exposing themselves to an environment of constant aggression against them, an environment that was NOT designed to privilege them but to privilege the men at the women's expense.

    The helpful thing here, in my opinion, is to examine how heterosexuality can be made less dangerous and oppressive for women who are heterosexual, not to condemn them for even attempting fulfillment in such a setting, or telling them that they should ignore their sexual and social needs altogether and join a bloody nunnery.

    The thing I notice is that the oppression in telling a gay woman to just pack it up and not BE gay is easily visible. But how is it any less vile to tell a straight woman that she *shouldn't* be, or that her being so and acting on it is inherently ideologically suspect? If sexuality is a fundamental, deep and involuntary need, a part of the person's core that comes with a right to respect and non-persecution for possession of same, then women who need to have sex with men deserve the same support and respect of their rights as women who need to have sex with other women, and the same taking for granted that their need is deeply felt and *genuine*.

    There is a huge difference between saying:
    A) "when a woman has sex with a men, this activity is extremely loaded because of the social, cultural and historic context in which it happens, and the way this context bears upon the power dynamics between all involved requires serious examination and deliberate strategy" and
    B) "there is no way for you to have sex with a man without it being wrong according to my ideology, and I therefore consider you an ideological enemy and part of the system I am fighting against."
    I find I encounter a lot of B, in this thread, just for instance, and generally in the lesbian/feminist community I have interacted with. I can't say "have been a part of" because I have been on the receiving end of disgust and ostracism from queer and feminist women simply for wearing lipstick, let alone for embracing and acting upon my physical attraction to men.

  46. "Am I to assume that Americans don't get even basic Marxist education anymore? i.e. the concept of false consciousness?"
    I think what this whole post is trying to say is that the concept of false consciousness is A Thing That Is Wrong, and articulates the reasons why.

    "Your ideas about sexuality were formed in a patriarchal vacuum, ergo what you call "sexual agency" is, in essence, a model of sexuality force-fed to you by the prevailing culture. You do not make sexual choices untained by your cultural brainwashing, therefore your sexuality is not really your own. Kapish?"

    Sigh. How patronizing. KAPISH AND TOTALLY DISAGREE. Me not zombie. Me woman. Have brain. Often use it. Wish to have my right to make choices and even my frequent ABILITY to make them (It does happen! To my great delight!) taken into account.

    The entire notion of false consciousness is a piece of self-serving justification for ideologists who wish to control other people. If you can't possibly think for yourself, the only way for you to be free is to be given the right way of thinking by somebody else. No, thank you. I make my own freedom, just like you.

    Incidentally, wholehearted embracing of Marxism and the idea of false consciousness by an entire country led to one of the ugliest, deadliest totalitarian regimes in the history of EVER: the USSR (which is where I hail from originally and have experienced it first hand.) Coincidence? I think not.

    "It wasn't until I read Dworkin and the like that I began to question my own sexuality... Arguments like Dworkins that also allow many of us to think that perhaps we are not "choosing" to be with men but are with them by default. This challenging of a potential false consciousness can also lead toward greater agency or a greater understanding of our choices (or lack thereof)...to partner or not to partner with certain people."

    But this can be a bottomless pit - how do you know that your current consciousness is not a false one, since it is formed on the basis of an external influence? How do you know you won't change your mind once another book comes along? Because if that happens, you'll have to call your current consciousness a false one too, and so forth unto infinity.

    Either we accept women's consciousnesses (ssesssesss) at face value, as theirs and something we have to contend with instead of dismissing, or we don't. Saying "your consciousness is false unless you have read books on a particular reading list" strikes me as authoritarian and oppressive in the extreme.

  47. Whoa, strawman olympics.

    Sady, maybe you could argue with something someone has actually said? Like quote the bits you're responding to, from Dworkin, from comments, or from wherever? Because much of what you're saying doesn't appear to be related to what you appear to be responding to.

  48. I'm really not following the "I am either controlled utterly by the social system or I am not controlled by it at all, not in the slightest. I don't think it's the former, therefore it must be the latter."

    I've never met a human being who didn't fall between those extremes.

  49. Andrea Dworkin is not the problem. THEY FUCKING ARE. The abusers. The rapists. The slut-shamers. So let's fight them. Not me.

  50. @CL Minou, @Spatula: ALL of your comments have been totally helpful and awesome and going through them and just going AGREE, AGREE, STRONGLY AGREE might be, um... repetitive? But, yeah, Jesus, the way these complex intersectional oppressions get completely ignored when we talk about The Patriarchy and boil everything down to men and women chafes me. And, on that note:

    @rktothemk: Yes. I agree that the personal is political. I'm saying that MY personal is political in ways that you don't agree with. Namely, that what you identify as the absence of freedom is me creating a space of freedom for myself even when it is dangerous to do so. We can talk about how freedom is always imperfect. I agree. But saying, first, that sociological theory doesn't relate to my "personal boinkfests" (personal =/= political?) and then that the personal IS political in a way that very much relates to my personal boinkfests is, um... confusing? And I've noticed a distinct trend in this thread ("boinkfests" is really only the straw that broke the camel's back, but whatevs) to use dismissive or insulting language relating either to sex or to ME, PERSONALLY, HAVING SEX, which... I can't believe that's unconscious. Or not intended as an attack. And I can't believe people don't understand how this - which I don't in any way associate with the many thoughtful and useful and smart critiques leveled by radical feminists EVEN IN THIS VERY THREAD - contributes to some people's feelings that radical feminists are "anti-sex," or anti-listening, or overly devoted to policing other women while assuming perfect knowledge of and ability to speak for their experiences.

    I tell you what: you treat me with respect, as an equal, and then I'll believe you're dedicated to equality.

  51. Thanks, Sady!

    You know what else? Oppression is not a phenomenon limited to the patriarchy. The biggest abuser in my life, the one who has hurt me the deepest and who rendered me the most powerless is my mother. And she has done this because A) she had power over me at the time and she could, and B) she really, really wanted to.

    Patriarchy is only one of a myriad ways human beings come up with to enslave, terrorise and otherwise demolish other human beings. Perhaps it's not a "man against woman" world so much as "people who seek power over others vs. people who don't" world. People are such *inventive* buggers where it comes to that, not a day passes by that my mind is blown by it.

    But back to Dworkin and certain tenets of radical feminism I disagree with, I think my central issue is with the claim that woman are powerless, for ever and always and in every situation and context involving power dynamics AND men.

    A) Women can be powerless even when no men are present, because women are EXCELLENT at terrorizing each other (Hi, mom).

    B) Saying that you never, ever have any choices, ability to think for yourself or personal power and agency, in the society as it presently is, EVER EVER EVER is... totally un-empowering and as far as I am concerned, simply untrue?

    Aieeeee, I really should be getting back to paid employment.

    But thank you everyone for an amazing forum and opportunity to think. Yes, even the bullies.

    Aieeeeee, it's 2 o'clock and I haven't gotten any work done AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

    okbye. :-)

  52. rktothemk didn't say "the personal is political," that was someone else. You keep conflating her with a bunch of radical feminists just for trying to clarify whas she thought was Dworkin's position.

  53. I apologize, I didn't see Rktothemk's last comment. The rest of my comment stands. And I see that you are actually misunderstanding the way that she was using "the personal is political," which is actually in the same manner as the original intent. It's not not that what we do has political implications, but that what we do is shaped by the "political," i.e. the conditions of society around us and in this case male oppression of women.

  54. At the end of the day, anybody who tells me I can't think for myself, in any way, shape or form, is not somebody with whom I wish to associate.

    I honestly don't see much of a difference between the feminists who claim that I'm somehow "colluding" by expressing my sexuality in a manner of my choosing, and the conservatives who claim that I'm a massive worthless slutwhore by expressing my sexuality in a manner of my choosing.

    And... I struggled to say this earlier and failed, but luckily Spatula said it for me:

    "the thing I notice is that the oppression in telling a gay woman to just pack it up and not BE gay is easily visible. But how is it any less vile to tell a straight woman that she *shouldn't* be..."

    Or, for that matter, to tell a bi woman that she should discount X proportion of the people she'd usually have relationships with, or to tell an asexual woman that she should just get herself laid already, or tell a polyamorous woman that she can only love one person at a time, or whateverwhatever.

    I suppose, if you really and truly believe that your sexuality is completely a choice... well, good on you. And I can see how then, the arguments above would work.

    Except for how they're horrible.

    Because you're telling people, effectively, that what they think and feel is irrelevant. And seriously, what the fuck? Pick holes in an argument I make; fine. But don't turn to me and tell me that I don't feel the way I do. It's just so disrespectful. And bizarre, frankly. How the hell would anybody else know what I'm feeling? As my younger sister used to shout at my parents during arguments, "YOU CAN'T SEE INSIDE MY HEAD!"

  55. ... You're reading far too much into my usage of "boinkfest", Sady. I had assumed a pop-culture afficianado such as yourself had seen Clueless at some point.

    There was no judgement value in there, beyond the point that Dworkin was talking structurally and sociologically in her writings, and you were Taking It Personally. Not unlike my comments, actually.

    And I also can't help but think you're attributing attitudes to me that I have given absolutely zero evidence of holding.
    It's like you're arguing with a memory of an encounter with some radical feminist you've come across in the past, instead of what I'm saying.

  56. Oh, hi, allow me to introduce myself. I'm a radical feminist who is mostly attracted to men, and has only had sex with men so far (noncoital), and guess what? I like sex with men the way Dworkin did and advocated. if you've not come across instances of this, read "the wild cherries of lust" and the section of ice and fire when she is a relationship with a "beautiful boy" in which they "made love like women." even right wing women and intercourse have mentions of her vision. and her interviews are often chock full of them. Here's a wonderful example: http://www.freespeech.org/videodb/index.php?action=detail&browse=1&video_id=9673

    Can we please stop this Dworkin was anti-trans rubbish, please. She wasn't, eg Woman Hating's sections on transsexuality. Also, Dworkin is against obsenity law, and the civil rights ordinance she co-authored was that--civil not criminal. the government couldn't do shit to initiate prosecution, civil or criminal, with that law. eg, http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/OrdinanceCanada.html Also, yes "bdsm" pornography was an aspect of her analysis, but for example, her book Pornography, also included Playboy, Hustler, a photo shoot portraying two women and no overt violence, submission, etc and several other "soft core" examples. another example is http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/PornHappens.html

    Her work also addressed "lesbian" and gay pornography, for example the chapter "Suck" in Woman Hating, Pornography. Queer porn is often visciously misogynist, not to mention destructive to those in it. For example, the analysis provided by queer men like Chris Kendall, Wayne Martino, and Rus Funk. (eg http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/Porn/Kendall.html). Lesbian and feminist porn is often guilty of the same. For example, Ernest Greene and Nina Hartley's film adaptation of the Story of O. This is me discussing that elsewhere: "While I’m at it, this is the second result on a google search of him: the film O: The Power of Submission. Now, I seriously hope you don’t think that was a feminist book. Dworkin analyses it well: http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/WomanHating.html. In the book, O implores Stephen’s permission to kill herself, she gets it, so she does. A different kind of snuff porn. Now we could argue that he changed it, made it magically feminist—but why are only the women trussed up like “drag queens” and “slaves?” Why are only women manacles about the wrists, legs, neck? Why are women the only one’s having pain inflicted on them? Why are they the ones shaved of all body hair? Why are women the only ones penetrated with objects. Why are women always posing for the camera, and not “in the moment”? Why are they in these roles at all? Why are these roles so sexy to so many people, especially men? (Hint: the answer is it ain’t feminist.)"

    Radical feminists don't use the "common" definition of pornography. We use the etymological one:

    1857, "description of prostitutes," from Fr. pornographie, from Gk. pornographos "(one) writing of prostitutes," from porne "prostitute," originally "bought, purchased" (with an original notion, probably of "female slave sold for prostitution;" related to pernanai "to sell," from PIE root per- "to traffic in, to sell," cf. L. pretium "price") + graphein "to write."

    So following, pornography is just that: depicting women bought and sold for sex. Some try to slither out of this by saying that it means writing by prostitutes, but the vast majority of prostitutes in ancient Greece were illiterate. Movie has no similar etymology, to challenge your comparison.

    Also, a commenter above stated her serious desire for pornography of other people. What privileged bullshit. If you need it so bad, videotape your own damned self. Don't expect to enjoy the results of someone else's prostitution and another's pimping.

  57. @Nanella:
    If, in fact, we lack sexual agency because we are conditioned from day one to adhere to patriarchal standards of sexuality and therefore know of no other way of being, then how did radical feminist ideas against patriarchal standards of sexuality arise in the first place? Clearly some women had enough agency to start questioning things in the first place. This is why I find the lack of agency argument specious. I also find it reductive, at times patronizing, and hopeless.

    Sady, all I can say is great post and responses to comments!

  58. Am I being censored? I have been reasonably measured here, Sady, considering you've been mischaracterizing my words from the get-go.

  59. @ChelseaWantsOut: I think Sady should do a post on its own on glorious, glorious redwinging. Would you agree?
    Off topic, but it occurred to me anyway. In my sex ed, I NEVER learned about my clitoris, even though I definitely felt it when I was barely pubescent and mistook the feeling for needing to take a piss. It wasn't until FIVE GODDOM YEARS LATER when I learned what the clitoris was and fully appreciated its function that I realized what was going on with my body. Hmph! I wish I could, like, demand retroactive...redress...or something.

  60. Sady, you traitor, you Hand of the Patriarchy. How dare you enjoy the company of a dick. Shame, shame.

    RE: Rachel's comment on bisexual women - a-freakin'-men!

  61. Sorry for another comment, but now I have read the whole thread and......

    "meat injection" - *snicker*

    "In this case, though, I did myself a disservice (and came across as a real douche) by acting as if heterosexuality was the only sexuality worth discussing or defending."

    Unless I misinterpret what you meant here, I have to disagree. I don't think you did that in your post at all, becuzzzzz, your particular variety of sexuality, the hetero kind, happened to be the one subject to Dworkin's, errr, scorn, I suppose is the word I want. You're totally entitled to defend your own boinkfests! Nobody is more entitled to defend your boinkfests than you (*COUGH COUGH in the direction of commenters who seem to think they know your heart and genitals better than you do COUGH COUGH*), in the larger sense of your orientation, and in the narrower sense of "KINDLY STOP TRASHING MY PATH TO ORGASMS, KTHXBAI!" So, I think, rather than being heterocentric and douchey, you post is just personal, focused, and as always, excellent.

  62. @rktothemk: Yes, you are being "censored." And by "censored," I mean "one of the numerous commenters whose comments I did not read or publish while I was eating chicken tikka masala, buying a bicycle, and watching a few episodes of 'The Wire.'" Let's check out your measured tone and coherent points:

    "Am I to assume that Americans don't get even basic Marxist education anymore?"

    TRANSLATION: Goodness me, how it pains me to know so much more than you do. Allow me to walk into your space and condescend to you! I am sure I will be met with open arms, for it is what I am entitled to.

    "i.e. the concept of false consciousness?"

    TRANSLATION: Now that I am in your space, condescending to you, allow me to present to you this incredibly well-known theory, which has frequently been debated on the principle that it minimizes or erases the agency of subjugated people, as if it were some unquestionable truth, which you are simply too dim to know about or grasp.

    "Dworkin was speaking on a sociological level"

    Yes! I agree! She was trying to develop a sociological, structural critique of sex, which can only draw its merits from its veracity in describing the actual sex lives of actual people!

    "not about your personal boinkfests."

    ... Oh. Guess not. I guess, insofar far as my personal experiences of sexual agency do not fit within or contradict Dworkin's theory, they are irrelevant. Yes, this "structural critique" of an act which normally takes place in private, and about which we can only learn by listening to the first-hand accounts of other women, only needs to include the experiences of women who support Dworkin's basic premise. In fact, we can directly contradict those women, and call them liars, as in "Nervous Interview":

    Q: A lot of women say they like [porn].
    A: Women have two choices: lie or die.

    "Liking porn" is not, you will notice, one of the choices. I don't particularly like porn, but I object to the notion that women who say they do are "lying." Or, subject to the "false consciousness" with which Dworkin and/or radical feminists can diagnose them with no knowledge as to context whatsoever.

    The funny thing is, I don't recall saying much about my personal boinkfests in the article to which you object: only that I preferred them to be with men, and that I need to figure out a way to have them without being forced into limiting gender roles or subjugation to my male partner. I also said that women's experiences of sex were not unilaterally devoid of pleasure, forced or coercive, or victimizing - and I suppose you could argue that I'm talking about myself there, too, since mine certainly haven't been. I acknowledge that it is a structural critique. I think it's faulty.

  63. @AC: "I see that you are actually misunderstanding the way that she was using "the personal is political," which is actually in the same manner as the original intent. It's not not that what we do has political implications, but that what we do is shaped by the "political.""

    It goes both ways. Of course our lives are shaped by the culture in which we live, and by its politics. If you can read my arguments carefully and point out a place where I've denied this, go right on ahead. However, to argue that what we do is shaped by the political landscape in which we live, and that our lives can support it, without arguing in turn that our lives can SUBVERT it, you've lost me. I don't think that's what you are arguing. I think that, when we get to this place, it becomes a question of tactics rather than theory.

    I believe that patriarchal value systems have constructed sex, and specifically held positions of authority over both the construction of women's sexuality and women's bodies, for too long. I furthermore believe that women who pursue pleasurable, fulfilling consensual sex are engaged in revolutionary, feminist behavior, no matter who their partners are and no matter what form that sex takes. I believe that, within a system wherein women's bodies, women's sexualities, and women themselves are all too often not valued, any woman who values her body, sexuality, and self is engaged in feminist action. I believe that men can participate in feminist action, and that creating feminist partnerships wherein women's bodies, sexualities, and selves are held to be of equal value to their own is one of the many ways they can participate in that. That is how my personal is political. Well, one of many ways.

  64. @demonista: It's great that you've figured out what kind of sex you like. If it coincides with the sort of sex Dworkin liked, that's good too. (Also: folks who've argued that Dworkin helped break down compulsory heterosexuality for you and helped you question and figure out what sort of sex you want: that's meaningful, and I applaud that.) What you don't have the right to do is to prescribe that very same kind of sex to other women, or to prescribe "the right" sexuality to all other people, or to pass judgment on sexual acts performed with enthusiastic and informed consent on behalf of all parties.

    This is what I perceive you to be doing in your comment. The Kendall article you quoted was used to legitimize shutting down and banning gay porn, hence limiting gay sexual expression, because it eroticized "the wrong" sort of power dynamics, BETWEEN MEN. I also have trouble trusting it, because it argued that "gay men and all women are [not] equally oppressed" - um, no, straight people (including women) typically aren't entrapped into "sex crime" by undercover police officers soliciting consensual, non-paid sex and therefore required to register themselves on sex offender databases, consensual sex acts commonly perceived as "straight" were not and are not criminal offenses, being straight (and a woman) was not and is not classified as a diagnosable mental illness, and straight people (including women) have the right to marry their partners and therefore gain access to the many civil and legal benefits of marriage, including the right to visit your partner in a hospital bed while he's dying, among other things. They're not the same oppression, and saying that one is less or more important than the other is hugely offensive. I have a hard time believing any article that says this, and then concludes that "Gay male pornography is thus homophobic." I have a hard time concluding that the author isn't warping his selections of evidence to fit an argument or radically misconstruing what he's seen, given his apparently casual relationship to logic and his willingness to discount or minimize the oppression of gay men.

    Anyway, leaving aside your lengthy quote about the Nina Hartley picture (which, again: I think you demonize BDSM without acknowledging that, for many people engaging in BDSM sex is mutually pleasurable, and conclude that "it ain't feminist" in a masterful display of Card-revoking which owes a lot to your refusal to understand or take into account agency and context) and the Daly-esque, sloppy word-games with the definition of the word "pornography" ("coney" used to mean "rabbit;" when I eat a coney dog, I'm not eating rabbit), in which you then blur the definitions right together and insist that pornography (ALL pornography, again, as shown by your unwillingness to take actual working conditions into account) is "women being bought and sold," which, again, undervalues the agency of sex workers and does not take context into account (some are, literally, bought and sold; some choose sex work because it is the only viable choice available to them; some choose sex work because they genuinely like it and want to do it), these instances of passing judgment on the sexual choices of others or theorizing about how patriarchal they are LITERALLY GET US NOWHERE. They don't change how other people feel. They are, as many women have pointed out in this thread, offensively patronizing and therefore counterproductive. They don't affect lasting change in any meaningful way.

  65. @Tangoing With Evita: OH NO! FAILURE OF THE SCHOOL SYSTEM! The clitoris isn't valued because female sexual gratification isn't valued. Also, there's still-apparently-sacred-and-widely-held belief that sex for pleasure, PERIOD, is a bad thing, and sex for procreation is an unfortunate necessity - we don't NEED the clitoris, you see, because we don't keep fetuses in there, or push them out of it!

    I, myself, got a very hippie-ish sex ed book from my mom at a Certain Age, which made sure I knew both about the clitoris and the mysterious and arcane act of self-debasement known as "masturbation." I was totally wowed by this knowledge! I was like, SERIOUSLY? I CAN DO THAT? AND I DON'T NEED TO PICK A BOYFRIEND FROM THE DISPIRITING ASSORTMENT OF DUDES IN MY TOWN? The all caps, you see, convey my excitement! I was also a hit at slumber parties, where I would bring this book and the other girls would be like, "but seriously, would you ever... do... THAT? Has anyone here ever... done... THAT?" And I'd be like, "FUCK YES WHY WOULDN'T YOU."

    My priorities, as you can see, were formed early in life.

  66. Hi Sady, don't know if you've read that second part of my comment (had to chunk it into two), as it's not been published, but I'll respond to your response.

    The "word games" around pornography are not mine. It's basic etymology, from the Online Etymology Dictionary.

    In the second half of my initial post I address the "slut shaming" argument, so won't go into it again. But, wow. I had no idea I had such power over women as a class, to dictate what women could and could not do sexually. I mean, really if I knew I had such power, I'd be using it to control men :P Unless it only works on women, then I'll send my evil mind powers over to force them to make asshole men to shape up.

    re: Hartley. When a sexual performance is packaged, marketed, bought and sold it is no longer private by any stretch. How is something that other people watch, that has a website made for it, that is nominated for awards by an industry, that exists to make profit, etc private?!? Do I have no right to complain about Avon commercials now, because, zomg, it's private, not corporate or political or in public domain?

    re: Kendall. I'm left wondering if we've actually read the same article? He doesn't dismiss gay men's oppression, eg he discusses gay men as subjected to "inequality: exploitation and degradation of others; assertiveness linked with aggression; physical power linked with intimidation; and non-consensual behaviour." He further explains: "to the extent that some gay men reject socially defined "male" behaviour, and express a sexuality and politic which has the potential to subvert male gender supremacy, their behaviour is deemed unacceptable and is devalued as such. The gay male who does so is, as John Stoltenberg explains, "stigmatized because he is perceived to participate in the degraded status of the female." Once "smeared with female status" the gay male assumes a position inferior to those who, not feminized, reap the benefits of male/female polarity. Feminized men thus assume an inferior position in a gendered power hierarchy." Gay porn describes effeminate men as "bitches," "cunts" "chicks" and so on. He also addresses racism against Black and Asian gay men, discusses the scapegoating of gay men as child sexual abusers. "an almost pervasive glorification of the idealized masculine/male icon. Cops, truckers, cowboys, bikers and Nazis are eroticized, racial stereotypes are sexualized and perpetuated, muscle, "good-looks" and youth are glorified, and ostensibly straight (or at least "straight acting") men beat, rape and/or humiliate descriptively (frequently stereotypical) gay men." THIS IS HOMOPHOBIC.

    Additionally, as can be seen in part in the other publications of his listed, he also addresses safer sex and HIV, homophobia as sex discrimination, forced invisibility, employment discrimination, homophobic sex laws, constructions of gay masculinity. Other issues include suicide and self-harm amongst gay youth, prostitution, including use in porn, of young queer men, sexual abuse of boys, marriage law, etc.

  67. A great post, Sady, and some great comments from everyone.

    I'm not a big fan of the false consciousness theory. It's used, as far as I can tell, to have one group of people tell another group of people: "Hey! You don't know what you're doing. You think you're doing/feeling [x] but really you're doing/feeling [y]! How do I know this? I have extraspecial magical spectacles that allow me to see through the bullshit to the truth!" This, obviously, is exceedingly problematic, and it's one of the reasons I really dislike that line in rad fem thought. But at the same time, I think it's easy to fall over and over again into the trap of thinking that feminism is about finding the truth of the 'real woman' (even if that's just an individual truth) for that truth will be free from patriarchy. This comes up even in those who are resisting radical feminism (and so sorry to pick on you, Spatula, I agree with so much of what you've said it seems exceptionally mean...):
    how do you know that your current consciousness is not a false one, since it is formed on the basis of an external influence?... Either we accept women's consciousnesses (ssesssesss) at face value, as theirs and as something we have to contend with instead of dismissing, or we don't.

    There's a few things at work here. One is that yes, radical feminism tends to act as if the experiences of women 'with false consciosuness' don't matter. That is, they're 'false', so therefore they are irrelevant except insofar as they demonstrate the hold that patriarchy has on women. Victims to da max! And I do agree, in response to this, that letting women's experiences matter to politics is extremely important, and a feminist step in its own right (that is, women's experiences have been so horribly devalued since forever, it's particularly problematic, I think, that radical feminism, albeit with radically different motives, winds up doing this again, only 'for women'.) Responding to this, however, by pretending that each woman's current experiences are neutral because they are a woman's experiences, can be pretty problematic and for a few reasons. One, we're not transparent, coherent people. We're fragmented, complex individuals who are often not transparent to ourselves. So let's not do a disservice to that by claiming that our experiences are simple. Two, we are products of our context, and some of that means that there's more going on in the ways that we feel. For example, I don't think it's a coincidence that lots of people are straight in a heteronormative culture (but that doesn't make it false, just contingent on contemporary culture. It doesn't need to have been going to be true in any time or place you happened to have been born, in order for it to be true). Yes, let's acknowledge how women feel, but not reify it. Our experiences can matter and be political.

    [sigh, I am wordy. Part 1 endeth here; Part 2 below]

  68. [Part 2]

    My point is, I guess: yes, we are all conditioned by patriarchy, and in lots of ways. No, there's not actually a neutral way to negotiate with that, because we can't get outside it: we are products of this context.We're not automatons, but nor is there a 'true woman' hidden deep within me from which patriarchy has divided me, and if I could just access her, she'd give me the truth. This doesn't make us helpless. As Sady said further up, we can subvert. And it is subversion, not overthrowing. That is, yes, giving up on the false consciousness paradigm kinda means giving up on the supposed purity of the rad fem position, where it's taken as a pivot point, a pure space, outside the monolith of patriarchy, where we can take a stand and toss the bastard system away. But it offers us something else, and something that doesn't require that women do a they have always done, giving up what matters to them, or what they like, for some greater good: we can find spots within the complex and contradictory world, shaped as it is by sexism, misogyny and homophobia, which can be turned back on themselves, and made fun. One of those spaces, as Sady has so eloquently and with such astonishing maturity and ladylike restraint (ahee) testified to, is in the exploration and discovery of ways of women being sexual in ways that work for them, without being shamed for being sluts, without being shamed for being 'colluders', and without thinking that what they enjoy or hate is ever simply neutral. This process of subversion will never be over. Because it's not about discovering the true, pure sexuality, but about finding more and other fun ways to subvert patriarchy, not to do away with the power relations, but to make them no longer binding, to keep them in flux, and in fun. One beejing, redwingin', clit-lovin', and yes, even BDSMing sex sesh at a time.

  69. Pardon me, Sady, but a comment appeared far after I had posted, and I was taken aback. Others have mentioned that their posts have not gotten through in this post and others, so I knew it was at least a possibility. Your blog, your prerogative, of course, but it's not like I'm arguing in bad faith here.

    Also: Wow. A little defensive, thar.

    Anyway, I think I'm done here, but I leave you with this:

    because Twisty pretty much says anything I could say to that, better than I could. Cheers.

  70. @Sady: Too true that we don't value the clit because it doesn't hold fetuses, nor do men's cocks enter it. (Although I never did like the idea of a man's cock "entering" a woman's vagina. Vagina dentata might be a myth, but God knows that when a vagina truly wants a cock inside it, it sort of eats up said cock. "envelopment" > "penetration")
    But oh we're quick to condemn "backwards" cultures that still practice FGM, and I always saw that as hypocritical. Don't get me wrong, I condemn it too, and I get very offended if someone tries to justify it as being part of that group's culture, and I wholeheartedly support any effort to keep women's - nay, little girls' - clitores intact. What I don't like about the Western approach to it is that rather than supporting the grassroots efforts from THOSE places that are aimed at ending an oppressive practice, it seems like we'd rather look down on that whole damn culture from our sexual and moral high horse and kid ourselves into thinking we, the West as a whole, are some kind of bastion of women's sexual freedom, and the Eastern Others suck 'cause look how sexually backwards they are.

  71. @Helen: The bullshit radfem pile-on here isn't something I'm required to be nice about. I do want to note that I am tickled to see that your own blog, "Silence Is Collusion," has no posts on it! WHY MUST YOU COLLUDE IN THIS MANNER. Anyway, very few people are engaging with my actual points: that demanding the right for women to have fulfilling sexual relationships IS FEMINIST, no matter what form that sexual expression takes, and that women, even under conditions of oppression, can and do take steps to subvert and resist patriarchy, which makes the lack of agency argument specious at best.

    @rktothemk, demonista: (Also: demonista, I think your second comment got eaten. It didn't show up in the queue.) Ahhh, yes, the radfem tactic of choice: when all else fails, quote Twisty. Sometimes, without attribution! I have issues with Twisty's arguments, frequently, and one of the biggest ones is this: the part where you pass judgment on other people's sexual choices, and then, when they call you out, either on logic or on just being condescending, you get all "oh, I don't have ANY POWER to tell women what to do! My words have NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER! If they did, patriarchy would be OVER!" Which, if that's the case: why are you even theorizing, talking about, and organizing feminist action in the first place? Your words have power. They have the power to shame people, if you use them that way.

    And the "sex-positive feminism is a too-too-tool of the patriarkay" bullshit is an example of that. It's not only explicitly designed to shame people, and insult them, it's completely wrong.

    "Would you feel so empowered by your sexuality if you didn’t have a receptive audience?"

    Um, I don't know. Ask gay men and lesbian women who organized for the right to feel proud of and express their sexuality openly when that was illegal. Ask BDSM folks, who've been continually stereotyped as freaks and weirdoes and had their sexuality literally pathologized. Ask any woman who's ever been called a "slut." Ask any trans woman or trans man who continues to date and have sex when the fact is that trans people are frequently murdered for that. They aren't met with a "receptive," pro-patriarchal hug when they insist on their right to have fulfilling, consensual sex. They do it anyway. Because they are engaged in RESISTANCE.

    @WildlyParenthetical: You win this thread.

    And with that, it's all starting to feel a little Bob-Dylan-goes-electric around this joint, and responding to comments has become a full-time job, so I'm gonna shut it down. You know, so that I can go do some feminism.

  72. Hi Sady, the second part of my initial comment (lucky I saved it--I've learned the hard way that comments need to be saved, even on one's own blog :) ):

    In an interview with Off Our Backs, Dworkin explained she didn't think lesbianism was the solution to women's inequality or the institution of heterosexuality--destruction of male power and egalitarian relationships of many sorts was, even with men. In the interview i linked to above, she explains that she's not against male-female sexuality, which can be expressed in many enjoyable, orgasmic ways, but deeply questions whether intercourse is compatible with female freedom and justice, and couldn't answer for sure either way. I'd agree. I serious contention I have with your post is that you strongly seem to assume that sex = piv intercourse. Which is misogynist and homophobic from the get go. eg how are lesbians supposed to have sex? Dworkin and Stoltenberg were sexually involved, yet you declare her as not having sex, as being celibate simply based on her not having piv sex?!?

    Lemme tell folks, I've had a lot of this "not real sex" sex. Ranging from bad/realising I was participating in my own sexual assault (I consented, but tried to get him to change what he was doing to no avail, and gave up. but the f'er should have known) to absolutely wonderful. And, omg, (all so far) with men. Whodda thunk that men could have sex without the experience revolving around coitus and their dicks? :P

    The personal is political, as a tenant of radfem theory goes. It is not "slut shaming" to say so. It is not "slut shaming" to question the holy grail of heterosexuality. It is treating women with the agency you accuse us of denying women, to be creating theory that involves ethical discernment and sexual intelligence by women (and men) (see dworkin's right wing women to explain that one). Also, wth with calling women "sluts"?

    Last word: re: kyriarchy. Many radfems understand patriarchy to be an interlocking system of oppression, not just male supremacy. Also, sweat shop labour, etc is deeply sexed--80% of the workers are female, most of the profit makers male. Vegan radfems understand species, sex, and race to be foundational oppressions, and as vital aspects of patriarchy.

    *steps off soapbox* g-day.

    An anecdote: a friend of mine, who is pansexual and polyamorous, radfem-leaning, vegan, anarchist, etc has a bdsm-critical group on facebook. she was recently unundated with posts from pro-bdsmers just heaping insults and other verbal abuse upon her, calling her a sadist, fascist, woman-hater, "slut-shamer", homophobe, etc. she recently handed over the reigns to another because she couldn't handle all of it. hers is the only bdsm-critical group on facebook. there are over 500 pro-bdsm groups on fb.

  73. I just wanted to say "thanks" for this post and all the fascinating comments. Thanks for giving me lots to think about.

  74. Sadly, I admit to skipping the discussion in comments (which I WILL come back to) in order to say immediately: You Are The Best and This Is Marvelous and Exactly What I've Been Unable To Articulate about Otherwise Fabulous Andrea D.

  75. Clearly some women had enough agency to start questioning things in the first place.

    Questioning one's oppression does not equal suddenly obtaining agency.

  76. i do like andrea dworkin in many respects, and i think she was necessary in a lot of respects.

    but i also disagree with her in many respects. and after reading this post i just want to say... i. fucking. love. you.

  77. I just want to say that "Andrea Dworkin, I THINK YOU ARE KIND OF A CONCERN TROLL" is pretty much my favorite comment ever on the feminist sex wars, of which I am a long, long-time veteran.

  78. I like this post. There are parts I agree with and parts I don't, just as I agree/disagree with things that have been quoted from the different references in the OP and comments.

    A few things have struck me from the posts: everyone wants the same things but people are coming at it from different angles and some seem to think they have the right to impune others choices.

    That's not what feminism is about, the latter I mean. Feminism=equality for all. Regardless of who you sleep with, what career choices you make, what life styles you have. Anyone saying I'm incapable of making informed choices is as guilty as those who oppress as far as I am concerned.

    Saying I don't know what I want truly, that I haven't experienced your way (Not meaning you here Sady but some commenters) and cannot really enoy a sexual relationship-especially with a man- is you taking away my consent. I am a bisexual woman, I'm happy enough to shag men, women, my vibrators, peg my boyfriend, have foreplay, or even abstain. That's my choice. The original feminists-the very first- fought for women to be equal, to have these choices: to vote, to be able to have an abortion, have a family and career equal pay... by insisting your way is the only one you re going against the 'everyone has a choice mentality they have' and straying more towards religious zealots and extremists who insist 'if only you'd see the light. That's not feminist, it's ANTIfeminist.

    Well, I've seen it from all angles and I don't regret my choices. I would regret being intolerant and refusing to accept other peoples choices though.

  79. Yet, with you, it was nothing but porn, porn, porn, all the damn time. You were like Captain Ahab of the USS Jesus Christ, I Guess Captain Ahab Really Hates Porn.

    You win.

  80. @Belledame: I loved the post you linked here. That's a perfect example of "your definitions of personal fulfillment and biological need as well as your definitions of oppression don't quite validate my own, so HERE'S HOW YOU'RE WRONG."

    I was re-reading Sady's post and wanted to paraphrase what seemed to me to be one of the most salient points (I've read most of the comments, but feel free to jump all over me if I'm late to the party here): That sometimes feminist arguments, though very well-intentioned and even correct (yes, Andrea Dworkin, porn and het-sex ARE sometimes horribly oppressive), participate in narratives that could confirm some anti-feminist's most hideous fantasies about feminism and stereotypes of women in general. This seems to be precisely what C.L. Minou was saying in her guest post--that sometimes trans-activism really isn't helping as much as it thinks it is.

    And this is important NOT because feminists must avoid hurting man-feelings and/or cater to the desires of men who hate them anyway, but because sometimes perpetuating narratives that, say, portray women as helpless children who can't be trusted to make their own decisions about sex, have important, real-world political consequences, in the form of massively well-funded abstinence and anti-abortion campaigns predicated on the notion that women must constantly be preached to about the consequences of their sexual choices (also the whole thing about anti-porn activism disproportionately affecting gays in terms of obscenity legislation). Hell, the conservative Christian movement has a robust rhetoric for talking about heterosexual sex outside of marriage as not only evil but degrading, and yes, OPPRESSIVE of women who would never ever ever consent to sex with a man they aren't married to without being coerced. Furthermore, obsessing over what women are doing with their bodies of their own free will conveniently takes the spotlight off of what the men are doing that sometimes makes het-sex so problematic!

  81. Sady: I've gotten a lot out of both your post and the comments, so thankyou. Also your blog is on the whole made of awesome :D

    I'm inclined to agree with belledame222 in the comment she made in the post she linked: The problem is not so much the individual ideologies, it's "feminists who have Very Strong Opinions About Sex (One Size Fits All!) and don't listen at all." And then of course people take the worst of the "other side" as indicative of the whole and feel confident dismissing them all.

    I think my least favourite technique is accusing the "other side" of being tools of the patriarchy without acknowledging that ones owns actions may *also* be perpetuating the patriarchy in a *different* way. We are ALL complicit, so "You're complicit" isn't a decisive argument. The status quo is both anti-women's-sexuality and pro-women's-sexual-availability and afaict there is no stance that doesn't end up inadvertently helping one or the other of those oppressions to some extent.

    As someone involved in fanfic fandom I'm curious to know what the "ALL porn is about the sale and exploitation of women" feminists think of slash(*): prose porn by and for women about same sex relationships (mostly male but sometimes female), given away for free. I prefer non-erotic fiction myself but find slashers arguments in favour of expressing their sexuality this way pretty compelling. A lot of it is problematic, of course (being Stuff written by People), but I'm having trouble seeing it as inherently exploitative.

    (*)I should add that some slash is not at all pornographic

  82. tinfoil hattie said, "Questioning one's oppression does not equal suddenly obtaining agency."

    It seems to me that questioning one's oppression is evidence of one's possession of agency. What do you think is necessary to prove the possession of agency?

    @demonista: RE: Word games. Why is it acceptable to use the etymological definition of a word rather than the common one when reading something written by someone who is using the common definition?

  83. This is a great post. Seriously.

    Didn't read the comments though...

  84. @sqbr: I'm very mixed on slash. It certainly informed my learning to love my sexuality as a teenager. But gradually I came to feel like there was something unpleasant about queer male sexuality being put on display for the enjoyment of het women; a kind of fetishisation (also evinced in manga like Bleach) that made me quite uncomfortable.

  85. @demonista: I strongly doubt we're going to agree on much here. However, I want to address one point of yours in particular:

    "[A] serious contention I have with your post is that you strongly seem to assume that sex = piv intercourse. Which is misogynist and homophobic from the get go. eg how are lesbians supposed to have sex? Dworkin and Stoltenberg were sexually involved, yet you declare her as not having sex, as being celibate simply based on her not having piv sex?!?"

    Your immediate jump to the words "misogynist" and "homophobic" here is a bit objectionable, particularly because I don't define "sex" solely as sticking a P into a V, and have made that point many times in this conversation. "Sex" is an umbrella term which I've used to denote a wide variety of consensual activities intended to help the parties involved get off. Masturbation is sex; mutual masturbation or digital stimulation of one party by another is sex; oral sex is sex; anal sex is sex; pivving is sex.

    Dworkin's statement that she did not have "intercourse" was puzzling to me - did she only rule out pivving? If so, what other forms of sex did she have? Did she have any of them with her partner, considering that they both self-identified using terms that are typically used to denote not having or desiring sexual contact with people of the opposite gender? - and, given her very private nature and the fact that I can't find any statements from her about what she enjoyed doing sexually (not that she owed those statements to anybody; I'm certainly not going to run down a list of what I do or don't do for the benefit of readers, and I can certainly see why she wouldn't) this statement translated, for me, as "celibacy."

    Now: this runs into a place where I have some trouble with radical feminist theory - both Dworkin's and that of certain other feminists, such as (for example) Twisty, or Sheila Jeffries. I hear a lot about which forms of sex are no good and very bad and oppressive, and I often agree with them on those points. But as far as the creation of alternatives, or speaking in general terms about which forms of sex they DO endorse and consider liberatory and non-oppressive, I run into a whole lot of vague. Like, for example, Twisty's (joking) admonitions to "date girls," or Sheila Jeffries' (serious) admonition to either have sex with girls or not have sex at all, or Dworkin's vague stance re: "intercourse," or your statement that men can have sex without it being "all about their dicks." Which: fine. But what kind of sex SHOULD we be having, if we can define some varieties of consensual sex as "bad?" Can we go into detail here? Folks who routinely slam the routes by which other folks get off, yet refuse to define approved getting-off methods, are placing themselves within a position of moral authority without putting themselves on the line. You can pass judgment on the sex lives of others, but since you won't name what's right, you can always tell them they're wrong - and they can't challenge you.

  86. @demonista, Pt. 2: One reason for this, I suspect, is that naming "approved," anti-patriarchal varieties of sex puts the lie to the whole argument by revealing how innately trivial it is. Twisty (and other radfems) are right that BJs won't save society or overthrow the patriarchy. However, neither will fingerbanging. Making the dick the central factor of heterosexual sex and defining the success of the act by whether or not the dude gets off is gross and sexist; I can't stand men who do it. However, completely ignoring the dick and or not helping the dude out with it is just... I'm just gonna say, "not for me." And if pivving makes it "central" in unradical, unfeminist ways, and BJs make it "central" in unradical, unfeminist ways, what's left? Are hand jobs a tool of the patriarchy? Or do we just let them take a shower after we're done so that they can relieve themselves?

    (Coincidentally, there's a whole subgenre of BDSM porn about not touching dicks, not allowing dudes to touch their own dicks, not allowing dudes to get off, etc., so that's a thing even outside of radical feminist sexual politics. You might want to consider your anti-BDSM stance, here.)

    At any rate: what I'm saying here, that I doubt I can ever fully communicate to you, is that it's great for you that you've figured out which kind of sex works best for you. Everyone else deserves the freedom to do exactly the same thing. And to try any number of consensual activities until they find the activity or range of activities that they enjoy. For you to tell them what they should or should not do during this process is to assume a moral authority you frankly do not possess.

    If we want to make sex radical, why not focus on teaching men and women to take responsibility for their health and the health of their partners, by having safe sex, and on taking responsibility for both their own satisfaction and those of their partners (dudes: don't pass out immediately after you've gotten off if you have, er, Missed Something; ladies: wake his ass up, and don't do anything that feels unsexy or gross just to make him happy, ESPECIALLY not if he routinely Misses that Something), and establishing consensual sex as an act that is neither immoral nor damaging to one's worth as a person? How about that, huh? Because that sounds better than telling everyone to take the Ps out of the Vs and engage in some radically emancipatory hand jobs.

  87. The last paragraph in your last comment is just wow, Sady. I whole-heartedly agree! It is something I have been saying and promoting to anybody who will listen to me for a long time.

    A lot of PIV sex can be "mostly about his penis" until you try to come up with other ways to make it not so much. Toys, just to name one simple way, though not everybody can afford them of course. Different positions for pleasure, some women can have orgasms with vaginal sex, etc. I think automatically damning the act of PIV sex as inherantly, 100% about the man's pleasure is silly because there's so much variety of experience out there. It really depends on her body, and the partner she is with.

    As for the BDSM thing... well I know some people have issues with the whole concept of pain/control/violence/power-exchange/etc. even within a consensual setting, but all of that aside the ones who seem to think it's nothing more than just another example of men dominating women... well there is plenty of that in the scene, but there's a HUGE queer population involved in it too. Men, women, trans, and more. Not to mention the heterosexual female Dommes. I'm not saying BDSM will save society either, but for many people it is a wonderful way to explore their sexuality and take control of it in some way (even if it involves seemingly handing control over to someone else.)

  88. @sqbr, @Sean: I think both of your comments are really on and smart. I don't know much of anything about slash; much of my concerns about porn have to do with filmed porn, and the safety of the workers (like: we need condomed porn, we need more STD screenings, we need to find some way to make sure that employers can't coerce or abuse the performers without consequences, and that those performers can file criminal charges and WIN if their employers choose to do so). You can argue that stuff like phone sex and written porn are less problematic because they don't involve harm done to actual bodies. (This gets more complicated in phone sex, because there are still women being paid to do so, and some companies don't allow the workers to turn down clients - they have to take every call they get, and although they can hang up if a call is bad, they can get fired if they hang up "too often.") Written porn is probably the least problematic, because it's in the total control of the person writing it, doesn't involve any potential bodily harm, and people can choose to read or not read it.

    While I'm definitely sympathetic to ideas about straight women fetishizing the gay male Other (and you could argue the same thing about straight dudes' girl-on-girl porn: it's a representation of a marginalized sexuality that is within the control of the privileged party and aimed at pleasing that party) I also think it gets complicated because we're not always in total control of what turns us on. Women might like to watch or read about guys getting off together because they like guys' bodies, or they might like it because it doesn't trigger the same "ick" or bad feelings that heterosexual porn involving women often does due to the way the women are treated (and, yes: lots of women enjoy eroticizing male force or power, and that's totally cool as long as it's all safe, sane and consensual, but still - the gender/power differential in straight porn can be triggering for lots of women, and that differential is not the same in gay male porn, which maybe makes it feel "safer" for some women even though it's not at all "safe" to be a gay man in this world). Or, it might be a part of figuring out your sexuality. So, while we should definitely be aware of and critical of the potential for exoticizing or fetishizing the Other here, this also gets complicated. As basically any question of sex inevitably does.

    This is informed, for me, by the fact that the two people I've known who were really into writing (in one case) or watching (in the other case) dude porn were gay trans men, who I met before they publicly identified as men or went through transition. And, before they were necessarily ready to come out, I thought (from my obviously never-entirely-accurate perspective) this was a way for them to engage and figure out their sexualities.

  89. A totally unscientific observation on the difference between guy-guy porn for women and girl-girl porn men: it seems like girl-girl porn usually erases lesbian sexuality, either with common "experimenting schoolgirl"-type plotlines or more subtly. Seems like the norm is that they're not lesbians, they just have sex with women. If they were lesbians, they might not have sex with men, and then what would the point be?

    I don't get this vibe with slash & other kinds of guy-guy porn for women. It does tend to fetishise male homosexuality, but I've never got the sense that it erases it. I don't know what this means, if anything.

  90. When we're talking about social-scientific causation by means of cultural interpretation (of sex acts or of artifacts like porn), I think it helps to keep the multivocality of meaning firmly in mind; because there are many meanings for any act/artifact, moral judgments about the social effects that one particular interpretation would have (if universal) need to be made carefully.

    Even if it's true, for example, that the prevalence of male-dominance and BDSMish porn within mainstream culture leads, in the aggregate, to both men and women accepting as normal gender norms that are more harmful to women than would otherwise be the case, that doesn't mean that participating in BDSM acts (or viewing porn) in one's private life does the same thing. Because the meanings that matter here are individual, even if we must somehow aggregate them to speak of causation at the societal level; the same documentaries that for C.L. Minou bring to mind harmful stereotypes of transwomen might make other viewers rethink their transphobic beliefs. Cultural criticism of the sort Minou engaged in in that post (& Dworkin often did, as I understand) often identifies problematic meanings that may not be obvious, and this is very important, but that doesn't mean these are the only meanings that are there. For some, "Buffy" will be feminist insofar as it portrays strong female characters; for others, it's not, precisely because its "save the world" format doesn't allow for a real acknowledgment of the pervasive and systemic effects of patriarchy. Both readings are right, but both are false if taken as universal.

  91. (ctd)
    So condemning practices is tricky because: (1) not everyone will interpret the practice in the bad way, perhaps because they're coming from an even worse place; the Buffy or Transamerica examples. Moreoever, even for those who do, (2) it won't always have the hypothesized effects; the negative depiction might cause the viewer to react *against* the harmful message. The same porn that the frathouse uses to create an atmosphere of misogyny might radicalize a proto-feminist student. And (3) many subclasses of what might seem a broad category will be quite distinct with respect to both participants and audience, and will badly fit the broader model of cultural causation: queer BDSM within close-knit communities, for example. You can make an argument, as Demonista does (Stoltenberg, I think?), that when gay BDSM porn reflects cultural migogyny/homophobia it thereby becomes misogynistic/homophobic, but I don't think that gets the desired conclusion (that it is bad and ought not to be produced/consumed), because what's objectionable would be if it caused more misogyny/homophobia, and that's much harder to establish. Precisely because of who watches, e.g., pornos about "straight" cops raping "gay" men, it's really hard to make the claim that this leads to more homophobia among the gay-bashing population by normalizing it--as opposed to, say, helping gay men deal with their own internalized issues and come to terms with them.

    This applies even more strongly to, e.g., feminist women (& feminist-ally men) having "unfeminist" sex. Saying that a broadly-shared culture of [TomCruise] "RESPECT THE COCK!" [/TomCruise] phallus-worship is bad for women is almost self-evidently true; saying Feminist X's boinkfests contribute to that culture, not so much. What's the causal mechanism? Only 3 seem possible, and none of those remotely plausible: (1), FX's boinkfests contribute to her partners' becoming more misogynist at the margin than they would otherwise be; (2), they make FX herself less feminist than otherwise; (3), as other people become aware of the boinkfests, it imperceptibly reinforces social expectations about R'ingTC. But none of these holds much water. (2) is just mysterious--what, byhaving enjoyable sex, FX will no longer be able to sympathize with rape victims? (1) is only a little less crazy; the hypothetical here is about consensual sex that FX genuinely enjoys, which even under that bare description is, alas, probably more pro-woman than the median US sex act.

    The real crux of things is (3). And yes, it's definitely possible for talk about sex to reinforce anti-woman cultural beliefs, even if the sex itself happened in a way that even Dworkin & Stoltenberg would have applauded. But it simply doesn't follow that, because the dominant narrative of sex is a bad one, and because people will always interpret things filtered through their own preconceptions, any discussion about having had sex reinforces that narrative. It just means one ought to, well, not be thoughtless about things. Maybe tricky, but no more so than talking seriously about one's struggles with weight or fitness in a way that doesn't reinforce Badness. What's more, as I think Sady's post was really getting at, not talking about these things is itself problematic, because it leaves those looking for guidance out in the cold. And this is a real problem, because without positive examples--examples that speak to them, as Dworkin's own practices might, but also might not--the broader culture's icky views are all that's left.

    Wow. That was ridiculously long. Ooops.

  92. Random anonymous slash-related driveby comment:
    Most of my exposure to slash has been through the metafandom community on livejournal. The impression I got there was that slash has historically been erotic fanfic between two het male characters. There are still slash fans who justify their interest in slash by saying that the characters aren't at all gay, they just happen to be having sex with men- and in the early days of slash, that was the standard attitude. I think the slash community has grown more aware of and accepting of homosexuality, which is reflected in the writing.

    Also, I've seen a damn lot of "I'm a feminist, but I like the mens. But that's ok, right? It's ok because I like them? Please? I like them because I like them! ... Feminism!" posts and comment threads. Thank you for not doing that.

  93. Sady: Yes, it does get complicated, and people write and read it for lots of different reasons (and then get very annoyed when people assume their own reasons are universal :D). It is worth pointing out that not all slash writers are straight, cisgendered, female and/or male etc(*) (though the honest-exploration vs fetishisation issues are afaict even more intense when it comes to trans/"genderswap" stories etc).

    Personally, I'm straight but prefer f/f romances since they avoid all the usual m/f gender crap but that's me :)

    Anonymous: *nods* I haven't encountered much We're Not Gay We Just Love Each Other but I've heard about it.

    Anyway, I always think of slash (as well as professionally published same sex erotica, whoever it's aimed at) when people criticise "porn" since that's the main porn I encounter, and the usual criticisms don't seem to apply anywhere near as much. I realise my experience is not representative!

    (*)I don't know of a term meaning "Not intersex, genderqueer or identifying as just trans"

  94. wrt slash: I've definitely seen a lot by straight women (or teenaged girls) that's clearly...not very in touch with the realities of being gay, much less gay male culture. Sometimes it's two manly hetero characters with no surrounding context other than "we're hot for each other;" more often ime it reads like one of the male characters is a stand-in for the author, lots of OOC behavior and so on.

    the thing about slash fic vs hetlez porn though: assuming we're making similar assumptions here, the difference in the medium is as important as who's making it. The assumption that men are mostly visual creatures may or may not have any basis in reality; what is undeniably true is that film and video take money, and the menfolk, by and large, tend to be in control of the means of production. somewhat less so in the age of the 'Net, but still: you need someone to pose, you need the equipment. if you're making an actual film, as opposed to basic webcam, you need a lot more than that.

    whereas slash fiction is basically DIY for anyone with a keyboard and access to the Internets.

    which means that if you're looking for it, it's a guarantee that you can find a lot more variety, -especially- in anything with anything resembling an actual plot, than you would in visual porn. the only limit is the author's imagination.

  95. sqbr: maybe "cisgender," as opposed to "cissexual?" The latter meaning "not transsexual;" the former meaning "not GQ". You can be the former and not the latter, or vice versa, or both, or neither.

  96. I hereby submit a request for a post about how to talk to our pre-pubescent daughters about this thing they hear about called "sex" (as in, where-do-babies-come-from kind of sex). When I tentatively told my almost-nine-year-old daughter about the sperm and the egg gettig together, I was vague about the mechanics because I refused to tell her "he sticks his penis in you", like it's something that happens to her, like her role is one of passivity. I didn't want that to be the first thing she ever heard about the mechanics of the act. But, I didn't want to say, "you put your vagina on him"...I mean, when she's trying to grasp the basic facts of HOW this occurs...the question of agency, of who does what to whom and HOW, was so freaking tricky that I really didn't tell her any details at all. Luckily she's still pretty young, but I'd like to get first crack at this, before she is informed/instructed by some other kid, for example. She's welcome to and possibly will eventualy hear all sorts of alternate versions of how people have sex, from other people, but as a feminist, and as her mother, I'd really like to give her the non-misogynist, non-passive view of her part in the act before she hears about it otherwise. You're the first person I've run across on the web with a blog that might actually be open to hosting a discussion about the language involved in introducing, from a feminist perspective, the basics of how "traditional" conception is accomplished. You up for it?

  97. You know what? I think your comment has totally changed my approach to how to talk to my daughter about this. ""Sex" is an umbrella term which I've used to denote a wide variety of consensual activities intended to help the parties involved get off. Masturbation is sex; mutual masturbation or digital stimulation of one party by another is sex; oral sex is sex; anal sex is sex; pivving is sex." I kinda want to explain "s-e-x" to her like this, even exactly in those words, but how do you define "get off" to a pre-adolesent?

  98. I think everyone's choices are culturally conditioned. Not just women's. The trouble is, women's choices are culturally conditioned by a patriarchal culture, and that warps your thinking in a particular way.

    I don't think that's inevitable, or at least I definitely don't think we're all little automatons playing out the patriarchy script. But the way to break free of that is to recognize it. That often requires someone pointing it out, and the process tends to be painful.

    It gets muddled in two ways...one, most people's immediate reaction to an uncomfortable truth is to deny the heck out of it. The other is that people who go around pointing out uncomfortable truths all the time can get really inured to that reaction, and not recognize that they might be getting a negative reaction for a different reason (like they really said something untenable). They also tend to be or become pretty damn hardheaded about it. This leads to dogmatism. You can tell someone that their sexual choices are shaped by the culture in which they live, and that's actually a useful piece of information for them to have...but you can't dictate what they do with that knowledge. If you're hoping that the result is going to be them coming to the exact same conclusions and making the exact same choices as you did...you are bound to be disappointed. But the fine art of pointing out the emperor's blowjob (as it were) and then stepping back to let people draw their own conclusions is extremely difficult to pull off.

  99. I do not have time to read the comments, but the original essay made me LOL.

  100. This is a good starting point for reading about misunderstandings and misinterpretations of Dworkin's writing:


  101. Anonymous: your link seems to be broken.