INTERCOURSE Chapter 7
by Andrea Dworkin
Copyright © 1987 by Andrea Dworkin
All rights reserved.
Oh, God, who does not exist, you hate women, otherwise you’d have made them different. And Jesus, who snubbed your mother, you hate them more. Roaming around all that time with a bunch of men, fishing; and sermons-on-the-mount. Abandoning women. I thought of all the women who had it, and didn’t even know when the big moment was, and others saying their rosary with the beads held over the side of the bed, and others saying, « Stop, stop, you dirty old dog, » and others yelling desperately to be jacked right up to their middles, and it often leading to nothing, and them getting up out of bed and riding a poor door knob and kissing the wooden face of a door and urging with foul language, then crying, wiping the knob, and it all adding up to nothing either.
EDNA O’BRIEN, Girls in Their Married Bliss
This is nihilism; or this is truth. He has to push in past boundaries. There is the outline of a body, distinct, separate, its integrity an illusion, a tragic deception, because unseen there is a slit between the legs, and he has to push into it. There is never a real privacy of the body that can coexist with intercourse: with being entered. The vagina itself is muscled and the muscles have to be pushed apart. The thrusting is persistent invasion. She is opened up, split down the center. She is occupied–physically, internally, in her privacy.
A human being has a body that is inviolate; and when it is violated, it is abused. A woman has a body that is penetrated in intercourse: permeable, its corporeal solidness a lie. The discourse of male truth–literature, science, philosophy, pornography–calls that penetration violation. This it does with some consistency and some confidence. Violation is a synonym for intercourse. At the same time, the penetration is taken to be a use, not an abuse; a normal use; it is appropriate to enter her, to push into (« violate ») the boundaries of her body. She is human, of course, but by a standard that does not include physical privacy. She is, in fact, human by a standard that precludes physical privacy, since to keep a man out altogether and for a lifetime is deviant in the extreme, a psychopathology, a repudiation of the way in which she is expected to manifest her humanity.
There is a deep recognition in culture and in experience that intercourse is both the normal use of a woman, her human potentiality affirmed by it, and a violative abuse, her privacy irredeemably compromised, her selfhood changed in a way that is irrevocable, unrecoverable. And it is recognized that the use and abuse are not distinct phenomena but somehow a synthesized reality: both are true at the same time as if they were one harmonious truth instead of mutually exclusive contradictions. Intercourse in reality is a use and an abuse simultaneously, experienced and described as such, the act parlayed into the illuminated heights of religious duty and the dark recesses of morbid and dirty brutality. She, a human being, is supposed to have a privacy that is absolute; except that she, a woman, has a hole between her legs that men can, must, do enter. This hole, her hole, is synonymous with entry. A man has an anus that can be entered, but his anus is not synonymous with entry. A woman has an anus that can be entered, but her anus is not synonymous with entry. The slit between her legs, so simple, so hidden– frankly, so innocent– for instance, to the child who looks with a mirror to see if it could be true–is there an entrance to her body down there? and something big comes into it? (how?) and something as big as a baby comes out of it? (how?) and doesn’t that hurt?–that slit which means entry into her– intercourse–appears to be the key to women’s lower human status. By definition, as the God who does not exist made her, she is intended to have a lesser privacy, a lesser integrity of the body, a lesser sense of self, since her body can be physically occupied and in the occupation taken over. By definition, as the God who does not exist made her, this lesser privacy, this lesser integrity, this lesser self, establishes her lesser significance: not just in the world of social policy but in the world of bare, true, real existence. She is defined by how she is made, that hole, which is synonymous with entry; and intercourse, the act fundamental to existence, has consequences to her being that may be intrinsic, not socially imposed.
There is no analogue anywhere among subordinated groups of people to this experience of being made for intercourse: for penetration, entry, occupation. There is no analogue in occupied countries or in dominated races or in imprisoned dissidents or in colonialized cultures or in the submission of children to adults or in the atrocities that have marked the twentieth century ranging from Auschwitz to the Gulag. There is nothing exactly the same, and this is not because the political invasion and significance of intercourse is banal up against these other hierarchies and brutalities. Intercourse is a particular reality for women as an inferior class; and it has in it, as part of it, violation of boundaries, taking over, occupation, destruction of privacy, all of which are construed to be normal and also fundamental to continuing human existence. There is nothing that happens to any other civilly inferior people that is the same in its meaning and in its effect even when those people are forced into sexual availability, heterosexual or homosexual; while subject people, for instance, may be forced to have intercourse with those who dominate them, the God who does not exist did not make human existence, broadly speaking, dependent on their compliance. The political meaning of intercourse for women is the fundamental question of feminism and freedom: can an occupied people–physically occupied inside, internally invaded–be free; can those with a metaphysically compromised privacy have self-determination; can those without a biologically based physical integrity have self-respect?
There are many explanations, of course, that try to be kind. Women are different but equal. Social policy is different from private sexual behavior. The staggering civil inequalities between men and women are simple, clear injustices unrelated to the natural, healthy act of intercourse. There is nothing implicit in intercourse that mandates male dominance in society. Each individual must be free to choose–and so we expand tolerance for those women who do not want to be fucked by men. Sex is between individuals, and social relations are between classes, and so we preserve the privacy of the former while insisting on the equality of the latter. Women flourish as distinct, brilliant individuals of worth in the feminine condition, including in intercourse, and have distinct, valuable qualities. For men and women, fucking is freedom; and for men and women, fucking is the same, especially if the woman chooses both the man and the act. Intercourse is a private act engaged in by individuals and has no implicit social significance. Repression, as opposed to having intercourse, leads to authoritarian social policies, including those of male dominance. Intercourse does not have a metaphysical impact on women, although, of course, particular experiences with individual men might well have a psychological impact. Intercourse is not a political condition or event or circumstance because it is natural. Intercourse is not occupation or invasion or loss of privacy because it is natural. Intercourse does not violate the integrity of the body because it is natural. Intercourse is fun, not oppression. Intercourse is pleasure, not an expression or confirmation of a state of being that is either ontological or social. Intercourse is because the God who does not exist made it; he did it right, not wrong; and he does not hate women even if women hate him. Liberals refuse categorically to inquire into even a possibility that there is a relationship between intercourse per se and the low status of women. Conservatives use what appears to be God’s work to justify a social and moral hierarchy in which women are lesser than men. Radicalism on the meaning of intercourse–its political meaning to women, its impact on our very being itself– is tragedy or suicide. « The revolutionary, » writes Octavio Paz paraphrasing Ortega y Gasset, « is always a radical, that is, he [sic] is trying to correct the uses themselves rather than the mere abuses . . . » 1 With intercourse, the use is already imbued with the excitement, the derangement, of the abuse; and abuse is only recognized as such socially if the intercourse is performed so recklessly or so violently or so stupidly that the man himself has actually signed a confession through the manner in which he has committed the act. What intercourse is for women and what it does to women’s identity, privacy, self-respect, self-determination, and integrity are forbidden questions; and yet how can a radical or any woman who wants freedom not ask precisely these questions? The quality of the sensation or the need for a man or the desire for love: these are not answers to questions of freedom; they are diversions into complicity and ignorance.
Some facts are known.
Most women do not experience orgasm from intercourse itself. When Shere Hite, in her groundbreaking study, asked women to report their own sexual experiences in detail and depth, she discovered that only three in ten women regularly experience orgasm from intercourse. The women’s self-reports are not ideological. They want men, love, sex, intercourse; they want orgasm; but for most women, seven out of ten, intercourse does not cause orgasm. The women want, even strive for, orgasm from intercourse but are unable to achieve it. Hite, the strongest feminist and most honorable philosopher among sex researchers, emphasizes that women can and must take responsibility for authentic sexual pleasure: « the ability to orgasm when we want, to be in charge of our stimulation, represents owning our own bodies, being strong, free, and autonomous human beings. » 2
Intercourse occurs in a context of a power relation that is pervasive and incontrovertible. The context in which the act takes place, whatever the meaning of the act in and of itself, is one in which men have social, economic, political, and physical power over women. Some men do not have all those kinds of power over all women; but all men have some kinds of power over all women; and most men have controlling power over what they call their women–the women they fuck. The power is predetermined by gender, by being male.
Intercourse as an act often expresses the power men have over women. Without being what the society recognizes as rape, it is what the society– when pushed to admit it–recognizes as dominance.
Intercourse often expresses hostility or anger as well as dominance.
Intercourse is frequently performed compulsively; and intercourse frequently requires as a precondition for male performance the objectification of the female partner. She has to look a certain way, be a certain type–even conform to preordained behaviors and scripts–for the man to want to have intercourse and also for the man to be able to have intercourse. The woman cannot exist before or during the act as a fully realized, existentially alive individual.
Despite all efforts to socialize women to want intercourse– e.g., women’s magazines to pornography to Dynasty; incredible rewards and punishments to get women to conform and put out–women still want a more diffuse and tender sensuality that involves the whole body and a polymorphous tenderness.
There are efforts to reform the circumstances that surround intercourse, the circumstances that at least apparently contribute to its disreputable (in terms of rights and justice) legend and legacy. These reforms include: more deference to female sensuality prior to the act; less verbal assault as part of sexual expressiveness toward women; some lip service to female initiation of sex and female choice during lovemaking; less romanticizing of rape, at least as an articulated social goal. Those who are political activists working toward the equality of women have other contextual reforms they want to make: economic equity; women elected to political office; strong, self-respecting role models for girls; emphasis on physical strength and self-defense, athletic excellence and endurance; rape laws that work; strategies for decreasing violence against women. These contextual reforms would then provide for the possibility that intercourse could be experienced in a world of social equality for the sexes. These reforms do not in any way address the question of whether intercourse itself can be an expression of sexual equality.
Life can be better for women–economic and political conditions improved– and at the same time the status of women can remain resistant, indeed impervious, to change: so far in history this is precisely the paradigm for social change as it relates to the condition of women. Reforms are made, important ones; but the status of women relative to men does not change. Women are still less significant, have less privacy, less integrity, less self- determination. This means that women have less freedom. Freedom is not an abstraction, nor is a little of it enough. A little more of it is not enough either. Having less, being less, impoverished in freedom and rights, women then inevitably have less self-respect: less self-respect than men have and less self-respect than any human being needs to live a brave and honest life. Intercourse as domination battens on that awful absence of self-respect. It expands to fill the near vacuum. The uses of women, now, in intercourse– not the abuses to the extent that they can be separated out–are absolutely permeated by the reality of male power over women. We are poorer than men in money and so we have to barter sex or sell it outright (which is why they keep us poorer in money). We are poorer than men in psychological well-being because for us self-esteem depends on the approval–frequently expressed through sexual desire–of those who have and exercise power over us. Male power may be arrogant or elegant; it can be churlish or refined: but we exist as persons to the extent that men in power recognize us. When they need some service or want some sensation, they recognize us somewhat, with a sliver of consciousness; and when it is over, we go back to ignominy, anonymous, generic womanhood. Because of their power over us, they are able to strike our hearts dead with contempt or condescension. We need their money; intercourse is frequently how we get it. We need their approval to be able to survive inside our own skins; intercourse is frequently how we get it. They force us to be compliant, turn us into parasites, then hate us for not letting go. Intercourse is frequently how we hold on: fuck me. How to separate the act of intercourse from the social reality of male power is not clear, especially because it is male power that constructs both the meaning and the current practice of intercourse as such. But it is clear that reforms do not change women’s status relative to men, or have not yet. It is clear that reforms do not change the intractability of women’s civil inferiority. Is intercourse itself then a basis of or a key to women’s continuing social and sexual inequality? Intercourse may not cause women’s orgasm or even have much of a correlation with it–indeed, we rarely find intercourse and orgasm in the same place at the same time–but intercourse and women’s inequality are like Siamese twins, always in the same place at the same time pissing in the same pot.
Women have wanted intercourse to work and have submitted–with regret or with enthusiasm, real or faked–even though or even when it does not. The reasons have often been foul, filled with the spiteful but carefully hidden malice of the powerless. Women have needed what can be gotten through intercourse: the economic and psychological survival; access to male power through access to the male who has it; having some hold–psychological, sexual, or economic–on the ones who act, who decide, who matter. There has been a deep, consistent, yet of course muted objection to what Anais Nin has called « [t]he hunter, the rapist, the one for whom sexuality is a thrust, nothing more. »3 Women have also wanted intercourse to work in this sense: women have wanted intercourse to be, for women, an experience of equality and passion, sensuality and intimacy. Women have a vision of love that includes men as human too; and women want the human in men, including in the act of intercourse. Even without the dignity of equal power, women have believed in the redeeming potential of love. There has been–despite the cruelty of exploitation and forced sex–a consistent vision for women of a sexuality based on a harmony that is both sensual and possible. In the words of sex reformer Ellen Key:
She will no longer be captured like a fortress or hunted like a quarry; nor will she like a placid lake await the stream that seeks its way to her embrace. A stream herself, she will go her own way to meet the other stream. 4
A stream herself, she would move over the earth, sensual and equal; especially, she will go her own way.
Shere Hite has suggested an intercourse in which « thrusting would not be considered as necessary as it now is. . . [There might be] more a mutual lying together in pleasure, penis-in-vagina, vagina-covering-penis, with female orgasm providing much of the stimulation necessary for male orgasm. » 5
These visions of a humane sensuality based in equality are in the aspirations of women; and even the nightmare of sexual inferiority does not seem to kill them. They are not searching analyses into the nature of intercourse; instead they are deep, humane dreams that repudiate the rapist as the final arbiter of reality. They are an underground resistance to both inferiority and brutality, visions that sustain life and further endurance.
They also do not amount to much in real life with real men. There is, instead, the cold fucking, duty-bound or promiscuous; the romantic obsession in which eventual abandonment turns the vagina into the wound Freud claimed it was; intimacy with men who dread women, coital dread–as Kafka wrote in his diary, « coitus as punishment for the happiness of being together. » 6
Fear, too, has a special power to change experience and compromise any possibility of freedom. A stream does not know fear. A woman does. Especially women know fear of men and of forced intercourse. Consent in this world of fear is so passive that the woman consenting could be dead and sometimes is. « Yeah, » said one man who killed a woman so that he could fuck her after she was dead, « I sexually assaulted her after she was dead. I always see them girls laid out in the pictures with their eyes closed and I just had to do it. I dreamed about it for so long that I just had to do it. » 7 A Nebraska appeals court did not think that the murder « was especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or manifested exceptional depravity by ordinary standards of morality and intelligence, » and in particular they found « no evidence the acts were performed for the satisfaction of inflicting either mental or physical pain or that pain existed for any prolonged period of time. » 8 Are you afraid now? How can fear and freedom coexist for women in intercourse?
The role of fear in destroying the integrity of men is easy to articulate, to understand, hard to overstate. Men are supposed to conquer fear in order to experience freedom. Men are humiliated by fear, not only in their masculinity but in their rights and freedoms. Men are diminished by fear; compromised irrevocably by it because freedom is diminished by it. « Fear had entered his life, » novelist Iris Murdoch wrote,
and would now be with him forever. How easy it was for the violent to win. Fear was irresistible, fear was king, he had never really known this before when he had lived free and without it. Even unreasoning fear could cripple a man forever. . . . How well he understood how dictators flourished. The little grain of fear in each life was enough to keep millions quiet. 9
Hemingway, using harder prose, wrote the same in book after book. But women are supposed to treasure the little grain of fear–rub up against it– eroticize it, want it, get excited by it; and the fear could and does keep millions quiet: millions of women; being fucked and silent; upright and silent; waiting and silent; rolled over on and silent; pursued and silent; killed, fucked, and silent. The silence is taken to be appropriate. The fear is not perceived as compromising or destroying freedom. The dictators do flourish: fuck and flourish.
Out of fear and inequality, women hide, use disguises, trying to pass for indigenous peoples who have a right to be there, even though we cannot pass. Appropriating Octavio Paz’s description of the behavior of Mexicans in Los Angeles–which he might not like: « they feel ashamed of their origin . . . they act like persons who are wearing disguises, who are afraid of a stranger’s look because it could strip them and leave them stark naked. » 10 Women hide, use disguises, because fear has compromised freedom; and when a woman has intercourse– not hiding, dropping the disguise–she has no freedom because her very being has been contaminated by fear: a grain, a tidal wave, memory or anticipation.
The fear is fear of power and fear of pain: the child looks at the slit with a mirror and wonders how it can be, how will she be able to stand the pain. The culture romanticizes the rapist dimension of the first time: he will force his way in and hurt her. The event itself is supposed to be so distinct, so entirely unlike any other experience or category of sensation, that there is no conception that intercourse can be part of sex, including the first time, instead of sex itself.
There is no slow opening up, no slow, gradual entry; no days and months of sensuality prior to entry and no nights and hours after entry. Those who learn to eroticize powerlessness will learn to eroticize the entry itself: the pushing in, the thrusting, the fact of entry with whatever force or urgency the act requires or the man enjoys. There is virtually no protest about entry as such from women; virtually no satire from men. A fairly formidable character in Don DeLillo’s White Noise, the wife, agrees to read pornography to her husband but she has one condition:
« I will read, » she said. « But I don’t want you to choose anything that has men inside women, quote-quote, or men entering women. ‘I entered her.’ ‘He entered me.’ We’re not lobbies or elevators. ‘I wanted him inside me,’ as if he could crawl completely in, sign the register, sleep, eat, so forth. I don’t care what these people do as long as they don’t enter or get entered. »
« Agreed. »
« ‘I entered her and began to thrust. »‘
« I’m in total agreement, » I said.
« ‘Enter me, enter me, yes, yes. »
« Silly usage, absolutely. »
« ‘Insert yourself, Rex, I want you inside me, entering hard, entering deep, yes, now, oh.' » 11
Her protests make him hard. The stupidity of the « he entered her » motif makes her laugh, not kindly. She hates it.
We are not, of course, supposed to be lobbies or elevators. Instead, we are supposed to be wombs, maternal ones; and the men are trying to get back in away from all the noise and grief of being adult men with power and responsibility. The stakes for men are high, as Norman 0. Brown makes clear in prose unusually understated for him:
Coitus successfully performed is incest, a return to the maternal womb; and the punishment appropriate to this crime, castration. What happens to the penis is coronation, followed by decapitation. 12
This is high drama for a prosaic act of commonplace entry. Nothing is at risk for her, the entered; whereas he commits incest, is crowned king, and has his thing cut off. She might like to return to the maternal womb too–because life outside it is not easy for her either–but she has to be it, for husbands, lovers, adulterous neighbors, as well as her own children, boys especially. Women rarely dare, as we say, draw a line: certainly not at the point of entry into our own bodies, sometimes by those we barely know. Certainly they did not come from there, not originally, not from this womb belonging to this woman who is being fucked now. And so we have once again the generic meaning of intercourse–he has to climb back into some womb, maternal enough; he has to enter it and survive even coronation and decapitation. She is made for that; and what can it matter to him that in entering her, he is entering this one, real, unique individual.
And what is entry for her? Entry is the first acceptance in her body that she is generic, not individual; that she is one of a many that is antagonistic to the individual interpretation she might have of her own worth, purpose, or intention. Entered, she accepts her subservience to his psychological purpose if nothing else; she accepts being confused with his mother and his Aunt Mary and the little girl with whom he used to play « Doctor. » Entered, she finds herself depersonalized into a function and worth less to him than he is worth to himself: because he broke through, pushed in, entered. Without him there, she is supposed to feel empty, though there is no vacuum there, not physiologically. Entered, she finds herself accused of regicide at the end. The king dead, the muscles of the vagina contract again, suggesting that this will never be easy, never be solved. Lovely Freud, of course, having discovered projection but always missing the point, wrote to Jung: « In private I have always thought of Adonis as the penis; the woman’s joy when the god she had thought dead rises again is too transparent! » 13 Something, indeed, is too transparent; women’s joy tends to be opaque.
Entered, she has mostly given something up: to Adonis, the king, the coronation, the decapitation for which she is then blamed; she has given up a dividing line between her and him. Entered, she then finds out what it is to be occupied: and sometimes the appropriate imagery is of evil and war, the great spreading evil of how soldiers enter and contaminate. In the words of Marguerite Duras, « evil is there, at the gates, against the skin. » 14 It spreads, like war, everywhere: « breaking in everywhere, stealing, imprisoning, always there, merged and mingled . . . a prey to the intoxicating passion of occupying that delightful territory, a child’s body, the bodies of those less strong, of conquered peoples. » 15 She is describing an older brother she hates here (« I see wartime and the reign of my elder brother as one » 16). She is not describing her lover, an older man fucking an adolescent girl. But it is from the sex that she takes the texture of wartime invasion and occupation, the visceral reality of occupation: evil up against the skin–at the point of entry, just touching the slit; then it breaks in and at the same time it surrounds everything, and those with power use the conquered who are weaker, inhabit them as territory.
Physically, the woman in intercourse is a space inhabited, a literal territory occupied literally: occupied even if there has been no resistance, no force; even if the occupied person said yes please, yes hurry, yes more. Having a line at the point of entry into your body that cannot be crossed is different from not having any such line; and being occupied in your body is different from not being occupied in your body. It is human to experience these differences whether or not one cares to bring the consequences of them into consciousness. Humans, including women, construct meaning. That means that when something happens to us, when we have experiences, we try to find in them some reason for them, some significance that they have to us or for us. Humans find meaning in poverty and tyranny and the atrocities of history; those who have suffered most still construct meaning; and those who know nothing take their ignorance as if it were a precious, rare clay and they too construct meaning. In this way, humans assert that we have worth; what has happened to us matters; our time here on earth is not entirely filled with random events and spurious pain. On the contrary, we can understand some things if we try hard to learn empathy; we can seek freedom and honor and dignity; that we care about meaning gives us a human pride that has the fragility of a butterfly and the strength of tempered steel. The measure of women’s oppression is that we do not take intercourse–entry, penetration, occupation–and ask or say what it means: to us as a dominated group or to us as a potentially free and self-determining people. Instead, intercourse is a loyalty test; and we are not supposed to tell the truth unless it compliments and upholds the dominant male ethos on sex. We know nothing, of course, about intercourse because we are women and women know nothing; or because what we know simply has no significance, entered into as we are. And men know everything–all of them–all the time–no matter how stupid or inexperienced or arrogant or ignorant they are. Anything men say on intercourse, any attitude they have, is valuable, knowledgeable, and deep, rooted in the cosmos and the forces of nature as it were: because they know; because fucking is knowing; because he knew her but she did not know him; because the God who does not exist framed not only sex but also knowledge that way. Women do not just lie about orgasm, faking it or saying it is not important. Women lie about life by not demanding to understand the meaning of entry, penetration, occupation, having boundaries crossed over, having lesser privacy: by avoiding the difficult, perhaps impossible (but how will we ever know?) questions of female freedom. We take oaths to truth all right, on the holy penis before entry. In so doing, we give up the most important dimension of what it means to be human: the search for the meaning of our real experience, including the sheer invention of that meaning– called creativity when men do it. If the questions make the holy penis unhappy, who could survive what the answers might do? Experience is chosen for us, then, imposed on us, especially in intercourse, and so is its meaning. We are allowed to have intercourse on the terms men determine, according to the rules men make. We do not have to have an orgasm; that terrible burden is on them. We are supposed to comply whether we want to or not. Want is active, not passive or lethargic. Especially we are supposed to be loyal to the male meanings of intercourse, which are elaborate, dramatic, pulling in elements of both myth and tragedy: the king is dead! long live the king!–and the Emperor wears designer jeans. We have no freedom and no extravagance in the questions we can ask or the interpretations we can make. We must be loyal; and on what scale would we be able to reckon the cost of that? Male sexual discourse on the meaning of intercourse becomes our language. It is not a second language even though it is not our native language; it is the only language we speak, however, with perfect fluency even though it does not say what we mean or what we think we might know if only we could find the right word and enough privacy in which to articulate it even just in our own minds. We know only this one language of these folks who enter and occupy us: they keep telling us that we are different from them; yet we speak only their language and have none, or none that we remember, of our own; and we do not dare, it seems, invent one, even in signs and gestures. Our bodies speak their language. Our minds think in it. The men are inside us through and through. We hear something, a dim whisper, barely audible, somewhere at the back of the brain; there is some other word, and we think, some of us, sometimes, that once it belonged to us.
There are female-supremacist models for intercourse that try to make us the masters of this language that we speak that is not ours. They evade some fundamental questions about the act itself and acknowledge others. They have in common a glorious ambition to see women self-determining, vigorous and free lovers who are never demeaned or diminished by force or subordination, not in society, not in sex. The great advocate of the female-first model of intercourse in the nineteenth century was Victoria Woodhull. She understood that rape was slavery; not less than slavery in its insult to human integrity and human dignity. She acknowledged some of the fundamental questions of female freedom presented by intercourse in her imperious insistence that women had a natural right–a right that inhered in the nature of intercourse itself–to be entirely self-determining, the controlling and dominating partner, the one whose desire determined the event, the one who both initiates and is the final authority on what the sex is and will be. Her thinking was not mean-spirited, some silly role reversal to make a moral point; nor was it a taste for tyranny hidden in what pretended to be a sexual ethic. She simply understood that women are unspeakably vulnerable in intercourse because of the nature of the act–entry, penetration, occupation; and she understood that in a society of male power, women were unspeakably exploited in intercourse. Society–men–had to agree to let the woman be the mind, the heart, the lover, the free spirit, the physical vitality behind the act. The commonplace abuses of forced entry, the devastating consequences of being powerless and occupied, suggested that the only condition under which women could experience sexual freedom in intercourse–real choice, real freedom, real happiness, real pleasure–was in having real and absolute control in each and every act of intercourse, which would be, each and every time, chosen by the woman. She would have the incontrovertible authority that would make intercourse possible:
To woman, by nature, belongs the right of sexual determination. When the instinct is aroused in her, then and then only should commerce follow. When woman rises from sexual slavery to sexual freedom, into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom, then will this instinct become pure and holy; then will woman be raised from the iniquity and morbidness in which she now wallows for existence, and the intensity and glory of her creative functions be increased a hundred-fold . . . 17
The consent standard is revealed as pallid, weak, stupid, second-class, by contrast with Woodhull’s standard: that the woman should have authority and control over the act. The sexual humiliation of women through male ownership was understood by Woodhull to be a concrete reality, not a metaphor, not hyperbole: the man owned the woman’s sexual organs. She had to own her sexual organs for intercourse to mean freedom for her. This is more concrete and more meaningful than a more contemporary vocabulary of « owning » one’s own desire. Woodhull wanted the woman’s desire to be the desire of significance; but she understood that ownership of the body was not an abstraction; it was concrete and it came first. The « iniquity and morbidness » of intercourse under male dominance would end if women could exercise a materially real self-determination in sex. The woman having material control of her own sex organs and of each and every act of intercourse would not lead to a reverse dominance, the man subject to the woman, because of the nature of the act and the nature of the sex organs involved in the act: this is the sense in which Woodhull tried to face the fundamental questions raised by intercourse as an act with consequences, some perhaps intrinsic. The woman could not forcibly penetrate the man. The woman could not take him over as he took her over and occupy his body physically inside. His dominance over her expressed in the physical reality of intercourse had no real analogue in desire she might express for him in intercourse: she simply could not do to him what he could do to her. Woodhull’s view was materialist, not psychological; she was the first publisher of the Communist Manifesto in the United States and the first woman stockbroker on Wall Street. She saw sex the way she saw money and power: in terms of concrete physical reality. Male notions of female power based on psychology or ideas would not have addressed for her the real issues of physical dominance and power in intercourse. The woman would not force or rape or physically own the man because she could not. Thus, giving the woman power over intercourse was giving her the power to be equal. Woodhull’s vision was in fact deeply humane, oriented toward sexual pleasure in freedom. For women, she thought and proclaimed (at great cost to herself), freedom must be literal, physical, concrete self-determination beginning with absolute control of the sexual organs; this was a natural right that had been perverted by male dominance–and because of its perversion, sex was for women morbid and degrading. The only freedom imaginable in this act of intercourse was freedom based on an irrevocable and unbreachable female will given play in a body honestly her own. This was an eloquent answer to reading the meaning of intercourse the other way: by its nature, intercourse mandated that the woman must be lesser in power and in privacy. Instead, said Woodhull, the woman must be king. Her humanity required sexual sovereignty.
Male-dominant gender hierarchy, however, seems immune to reform by reasoned or visionary argument or by changes in sexual styles, either personal or social. This may be because intercourse itself is immune to reform. In it, female is bottom, stigmatized. Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior: communicating to her cell by cell her own inferior status, impressing it on her, burning it into her by shoving it into her, over and over, pushing and thrusting until she gives up and gives in– which is called surrender in the male lexicon. In the experience of intercourse, she loses the capacity for integrity because her body–the basis of privacy and freedom in the material world for all human beings–is entered and occupied; the boundaries of her physical body are–neutrally speaking– violated. What is taken from her in that act is not recoverable, and she spends her life–wanting, after all, to have something–pretending that pleasure is in being reduced through intercourse to insignificance. She will not have an orgasm–maybe because she has human pride and she resents captivity; but also she will not or cannot rebel–not enough for it to matter, to end male dominance over her. She learns to eroticize powerlessness and self- annihilation. The very boundaries of her own body become meaningless to her, and even worse, useless to her. The transgression of those boundaries comes to signify a sexually charged degradation into which she throws herself, having been told, convinced, that identity, for a female, is there– somewhere beyond privacy and self-respect.
It is not that there is no way out if, for instance, one were to establish or believe that intercourse itself determines women’s lower status. New reproductive technologies have changed and will continue to change the nature of the world. Intercourse is not necessary to existence anymore. Existence does not depend on female compliance, nor on the violation of female boundaries, nor on lesser female privacy, nor on the physical occupation of the female body. But the hatred of women is a source of sexual pleasure for men in its own right. Intercourse appears to be the expression of that contempt in pure form, in the form of a sexed hierarchy; it requires no passion or heart because it is power without invention articulating the arrogance of those who do the fucking. Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women; but that contempt can turn gothic and express itself in many sexual and sadistic practices that eschew intercourse per se. Any violation of a woman’s body can become sex for men; this is the essential truth of pornography. So freedom from intercourse, or a social structure that reflects the low value of intercourse in women’s sexual pleasure, or intercourse becoming one sex act among many entered into by (hypothetical) equals as part of other, deeper, longer, perhaps more sensual lovemaking, or an end to women’s inferior status because we need not be forced to reproduce (forced fucking frequently justified by some implicit biological necessity to reproduce): none of these are likely social developments because there is a hatred of women, unexplained, undiagnosed, mostly unacknowledged, that pervades sexual practice and sexual passion. Reproductive technologies are strengthening male dominance, invigorating it by providing new ways of policing women’s reproductive capacities, bringing them under stricter male scrutiny and control; and the experimental development of these technologies has been sadistic, using human women as if they were sexual laboratory animals–rats, mice, rabbits, cats, with kinky uteri. For increasing numbers of men, bondage and torture of the female genitals (that were entered into and occupied in the good old days) may supplant intercourse as a sexual practice. The passion for hurting women is a sexual passion; and sexual hatred of women can be expressed without intercourse.
There has always been a peculiar irrationality to all the biological arguments that supposedly predetermine the inferior social status of women. Bulls mount cows and baboons do whatever; but human females do not have estrus or go into heat. The logical inference is not that we are always available for mounting but rather that we are never, strictly speaking, « available. » Nor do animals have cultures; nor do they determine in so many things what they will do and how they will do them and what the meaning of their own behavior is. They do not decide what their lives will be. Only humans face the often complicated reality of having potential and having to make choices based on having potential. We are not driven by instinct, at least not much. We have possibilities, and we make up meanings as we go along. The meanings we create or learn do not exist only in our heads, in ineffable ideas. Our meanings also exist in our bodies–what we are, what we do, what we physically feel, what we physically know; and there is no personal psychology that is separate from what the body has learned about life. Yet when we look at the human condition, including the condition of women, we act as if we are driven by biology or some metaphysically absolute dogma. We refuse to recognize our possibilities because we refuse to honor the potential humans have, including human women, to make choices. Men too make choices. When will they choose not to despise us?
Being female in this world is having been robbed of the potential for human choice by men who love to hate us. One does not make choices in freedom. Instead, one conforms in body type and behavior and values to become an object of male sexual desire, which requires an abandonment of a wide- ranging capacity for choice. Objectification may well be the most singly destructive aspect of gender hierarchy, especially as it exists in relation to intercourse. The surrender occurs before the act that is supposed to accomplish the surrender takes place. She has given in; why conquer her? The body is violated before the act occurs that is commonly taken to be violation. The privacy of the person is lessened before the privacy of the woman is invaded: she has remade herself so as to prepare the way for the invasion of privacy that her preparation makes possible. The significance of the human ceases to exist as the value of the object increases: an expensive ornament, for instance, she is incapable of human freedom–taking it, knowing it, wanting it, being it. Being an object–living in the realm of male objectification–is abject submission, an abdication of the freedom and integrity of the body, its privacy, its uniqueness, its worth in and of itself because it is the human body of a human being. Can intercourse exist without objectification? Would intercourse be a different phenomenon if it could, if it did? Would it be shorter or longer, happier or sadder; more complex, richer, denser, with a baroque beauty or simpler with an austere beauty; or bang bang bang? Would intercourse without objectification, if it could exist, be compatible with women’s equality–even an expression of it–or would it still be stubbornly antagonistic to it? Would intercourse cause orgasm in women if women were not objects for men before and during intercourse? Can intercourse exist without objectification and can objectification exist without female complicity in maintaining it as a perceived reality and a material reality too: can objectification exist without the woman herself turning herself into an object–becoming through effort and art a thing, less than human, so that he can be more than human, hard, sovereign, king? Can intercourse exist without the woman herself turning herself into a thing, which she must do because men cannot fuck equals and men must fuck: because one price of dominance is that one is impotent in the face of equality?
To become the object, she takes herself and transforms herself into a thing: all freedoms are diminished and she is caged, even in the cage docile, sometimes physically maimed, movement is limited: she physically becomes the thing he wants to fuck. It is especially in the acceptance of object status that her humanity is hurt: it is a metaphysical acceptance of lower status in sex and in society; an implicit acceptance of less freedom, less privacy, less integrity. In becoming an object so that he can objectify her so that he can fuck her, she begins a political collaboration with his dominance; and then when he enters her, he confirms for himself and for her what she is: that she is something, not someone; certainly not someone equal.
There is the initial complicity, the acts of self-mutilation, self-diminishing, self-reconstruction, until there is no self, only the diminished, mutilated reconstruction. It is all superficial and unimportant, except what it costs the human in her to do it: except for the fact that it is submissive, conforming, giving up an individuality that would withstand object status or defy it. Something happens inside; a human forgets freedom; a human learns obedience; a human, this time a woman, learns how to goose-step the female way. Wilhelm Reich, that most optimistic of sexual liberationists, the only male one to abhor rape really, thought that a girl needed not only « a free genital sexuality » but also « an undisturbed room, proper contraceptives, a friend who is capable of love, that is, not a National Socialist . . . » 18 All remain hard for women to attain; but especially the lover who is not a National Socialist. So the act goes beyond complicity to collaboration; but collaboration requires a preparing of the ground, an undermining of values and vision and dignity, a sense of alienation from the worth of other human beings–and this alienation is fundamental to females who are objectified because they do not experience themselves as human beings of worth except for their value on the market as objects. Knowing one’s own human value is fundamental to being able to respect others: females are remade into objects, not human in any sense related to freedom or justice–and so what can females recognize in other females that is a human bond toward freedom? Is there anything in us to love if we do not love each other as the objects we have become? Who can love someone who is less than human unless love itself is domination per se? Alienation from human freedom is deep and destructive; it destroys whatever it is in us as humans that is creative, that causes us to want to find meaning in experiences, even hard experiences; it destroys in us that which wants freedom whatever the hardship of attaining it. In women, these great human capacities and dimensions are destroyed or mutilated; and so we find ourselves bewildered–who or what are these so-called persons in human form but even that not quite, not exactly, who cannot remember or manifest the physical reality of freedom, who do not seem to want or to value the individual experience of freedom? Being an object for a man means being alienated from other women–those like her in status, in inferiority, in sexual function. Collaboration by women with men to keep women civilly and sexually inferior has been one of the hallmarks of female subordination; we are ashamed when Freud notices it, but it is true. That collaboration, fully manifested when a woman values her lover, the National Socialist, above any woman, anyone of her own kind or class or status, may have simple beginnings: the first act of complicity that destroys self-respect, the capacity for self-determination and freedom–readying the body for the fuck instead of for freedom. The men have an answer: intercourse is freedom. Maybe it is second-class freedom for second-class humans.
What does it mean to be the person who needs to have this done to her: who needs to be needed as an object; who needs to be entered; who needs to be occupied; who needs to be wanted more than she needs integrity or freedom or equality? If objectification is necessary for intercourse to be possible, what does that mean for the person who needs to be fucked so that she can experience herself as female and who needs to be an object so that she can be fucked?
The brilliance of objectification as a strategy of dominance is that it gets the woman to take the initiative in her own degradation (having less freedom is degrading). The woman herself takes one kind of responsibility absolutely and thus commits herself to her own continuing inferiority: she polices her own body; she internalizes the demands of the dominant class and, in order to be fucked, she constructs her life around meeting those demands. It is the best system of colonialization on earth: she takes on the burden, the responsibility, of her own submission, her own objectification. In some systems in which turning the female into an object for sex requires actual terrorism and maiming–for instance, footbinding or removing the clitoris– the mother does it, having had it done to her by her mother. What men need done to women so that men can have intercourse with women is done to women so that men will have intercourse; no matter what the human cost; and it is a gross indignity to suggest that when her collaboration is complete– unselfconscious because there is no self and no consciousness left–she is free to have freedom in intercourse. When those who dominate you get you to take the initiative in your own human destruction, you have lost more than any oppressed people yet has ever gotten back. Whatever intercourse is, it is not freedom; and if it cannot exist without objectification, it never will be. Instead occupied women will be collaborators, more base in their collaboration than other collaborators have ever been: experiencing pleasure in their own inferiority; calling intercourse freedom. It is a tragedy beyond the power of language to convey when what has been imposed on women by force becomes a standard of freedom for women: and all the women say it is so.
If intercourse can be an expression of sexual equality, it will have to survive– on its own merits as it were, having a potential for human expression not yet recognized or realized–the destruction of male power over women; and rape and prostitution will have to be seen as the institutions that most impede any experience of intercourse as freedom–chosen by full human beings with full human freedom. Rape and prostitution negate self-determination and choice for women; and anyone who wants intercourse to be freedom and to mean freedom had better find a way to get rid of them. Maybe life is tragic and the God who does not exist made women inferior so that men could fuck us; or maybe we can only know this much for certain–that when intercourse exists and is experienced under conditions of force, fear, or inequality, it destroys in women the will to political freedom; it destroys the love of freedom itself. We become female: occupied; collaborators against each other, especially against those among us who resist male domination–the lone, crazy resisters, the organized resistance. The pleasure of submission does not and cannot change the fact, the cost, the indignity, of inferiority.