Under patriarchy, every woman’s daughter is a victim, past, present and future. Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman. —Andrea Dworkin
…sex and murder are fused in the male consciousness, so that the one without the imminent possibility of the other is unthinkable and impossible. —Andrea Dworkin, Letters from a War Zone, 1989
Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior [and is] the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women. —Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, 1987
When Andrea Dworkin—radical feminist, author, and a Founding Mother of the modern feminist movement—died on April 9 at the age of 58, a great many men cheered.
Andrea Dworkin was falsely credited with saying “all sex is rape” (a quote that Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young calls “fairly accurate shorthand for [Dworkin’s] ravings”). What she did say, consistently and without nuance, is that all men are misogynist oppressors, and that all sexual intercourse is war: the male invades, subdues and occupies the female, just as Hitler’s armies did in Europe.
It would be comforting to shrug off Andrea Dworkin as a member of the lunatic fringe, and many have tried to do so. Unfortunately, her inflammatory language has been embraced by many of her sisters in the feminist movement:
- Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times, along with the use of fire, and the first crude stone ax. —Susan Brownmiller
- Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that… freedom for women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage. —Sheila Cronan
- And if the professional rapist is to be separated from the average dominant heterosexual [male], it may be mainly a quantitative difference. —Susan Griffin
- In a patriarchal society all heterosexual intercourse is rape because women, as a group, are not strong enough to give meaningful consent. —Catherine MacKinnon
It was Andrea Dworkin who first popularized this kind of thinking. Where did that rage come from?
Dworkin was raised in a middle-class, Jewish home in New Jersey. Dworkin’s family was deeply affected by the Holocaust, a horror that shaped her thinking about the terrors that could be wrought by powerful men. Those terrors became personal at the age of 9 when she was sexually assaulted in a dark movie theater. In 1965, while studying at Bennington College in New York, Dworkin was jailed for her role in an anti-Vietnam protest. While awaiting a hearing, she was sexually assaulted by two male prison doctors. She was so badly injured that she bled for 15 days.
After graduating, she moved to Amsterdam and married a Dutch political activist. Not long into her marriage, her new husband began beating her, a pattern of abuse that would last five years. She finally escaped and, fearing for her life, hid out in the city, becoming a prostitute to support herself. It was during this time that she began writing her first book, Woman Hating.
This was Andrea Dworkin’s education in the world of male-female relationships. She learned that male sexual desire can be wielded as a weapon. She learned that intercourse, ostensibly an act of love, can also be brutal, emotionally sterile and self-serving. She learned that men relate to women from a position of power looking down at weakness.
And, she learned that women unwittingly make themselves victims by submitting to men, pinning their hopes on some fantasy of love that men do not share.
Dworkin’s attacks on the nuclear family, on motherhood, on patriarchy and traditional gender roles all brought scorn from social conservatives who (rightly) feared that feminists intended to destroy the institution of marriage and family.
What is odd, however, is that Dworkin also made a great many enemies on the left. And what got her into trouble with her allies might seem surprising: pornography.
Dworkin had been in the sex trades. She saw a clear link between pornography and the objectification of women. She saw clearly that pornography incited male hostility towards women. She felt a deep compassion for these women and wanted to restore their dignity.
With her friend, Catharine MacKinnon, Dworkin drafted a law that would have banned pornography on the grounds that it debased women and violated their civil rights. The law passed in Indiana, but was soon struck down by the US Supreme Court.
In Canada, however, Dworkin’s anti-porn efforts succeeded. A Canadian court ruled that pornography was not protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that it was in fact degrading to women. When Canadian Customs officers began seizing porn, GLBT advocates were outraged—porn is big in the gay community.
Dworkin’s anti-porn crusade set off shock waves on the left. The right to pornography is the new third-rail of modern liberal politics—touch it and you’ll die.
In the church of sexual libertinism, pornography is a holy sacrament. It is “high-brow” and liberating. The free flow of porn has become a leading indicator that the old moral values are dead and the new ethic of sexual narcissism is alive and well. In the view of many on the left, Dworkin’s attempt to eradicate pornography amounted to censorship and showed an appalling lack of enlightenment.
What Andrea Dworkin knew instinctively is that male-female relationships are terribly broken, the pieces so scattered and torn that no one seems to know what the thing ought to look like. She blamed this brokenness on men, and there she made a philosophical wrong turn. But if she failed to understand the root causes of the evil she witnessed, she did not fail to grasp the terrible price women were paying in a society that views them as sexual objects.
What Andrea Dworkin got right is that men are promiscuous. The liberalization of divorce laws has aided and abetted men who want to shirk their family commitments and spread their DNA far and wide. Marriage is on the decline because too many men lack the self-discipline to honor their commitments to the women they marry and the children they father.
What Andrea Dworkin got right is that pornography encourages the basest instincts of male sexuality. The porn industry is like a giant whirlpool, dragging down vulnerable men and women (and children!) by the thousands. Sexual objectification has gone mainstream, from beer commercials to women’s fashions to media to gangsta rap and Britney Spears. The pervasive message is this: women are sex toys; women exist to please their men.
What Andrea Dworkin got right is that male lust is intrinsically self-serving. And since nature has made men more powerful than women, sexual liberation inevitably benefits men and hurts women. The playing field will never be level; the rules of biology always favor men.
The Christian view of male-female sexuality is not domination and submission, not anonymous hook-ups and one-night-stands, not sex as recreational sport nor sex as a weapon. All of these are the rotten fruit of the sin that has corrupted all of creation. The Apostle Paul understood the damage done by sin and the promise of renewal in Christ:
Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. —Ephesians 4:22-24, The Message
The Christian view of marriage is a relationship modeled on the unbreakable covenant and unselfish love that God himself has for us. Marital sexuality is not rape, but a consensual commitment before God to create new life. It is to be a joyous experience of intimacy and trust, of mutual enjoyment and mutual giving.
Andrea Dworkin never knew that kind of love. As a prostitute and a three-time rape victim (she was raped again in a Paris hotel in 1999), Dworkin only saw women as the objects of male lust and male hatred. A great many women have come to share Dworkin’s view.
Dworkin may never have witnessed a marriage based on mutual respect and self-denying love (…you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her… you wives submit to your husbands as you do to the Lord. —Ephesians 5:22,25, NLT). Such marriages are rare, even among Christians. The proof is in the divorce statistics, which show little difference between couples who profess faith in Christ and couples who don’t. Reality too often falls short of the promise.
The Christian church has to answer the criticisms of people like Dworkin. In Christ there is hope: for peace, for respect, for love, for trust, for commitment, for fulfillment, all in the context of a marriage between a man and a woman. That promise too often goes unfulfilled.
Only when manhood is dead—and it will perish when ravaged femininity no longer sustains it—only then will we know what it is to be free. —Andrea Dworkin
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “we have never been slaves to anyone on earth. What do you mean, ‘set free’?”
Jesus replied, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” —John 8:31-34, NLT
Andrea Dworkin saw plainly the sin-ravaged state of male-female relationships. What she never grasped was the promise that men and women could be set free from sin and all of the evil it brings to human relationships. Manhood need not die, but the one man, Jesus Christ did die to heal all of the wounds men and women have inflicted on each other.
Freedom, healing, and peace between the sexes is possible. Sexual liberation is possible, but only through the work of the one, true liberator—Jesus the Redeemer.
If women are being treated as sexual objects, it is men who are creating that hostile environment. The US sex industry has greater annual revenues than the combined revenues of ABC, NBC and CBS, and most of those dollars come from men. More than 25% of all internet searches are for porn sites, and more than 12% of all web sites serve up pornographic materials.
The problems between the sexes are bigger than just pornography, but pornography is a huge part of the problem. If you know someone who has become entangled in pornography, a great place to find help is X3 Church, a Christian ministry that reaches out compassionately to men and women who find porn controlling their lives. X3 Church is even exploring ways to bring the message of Christ into the midst of the porn industry. Take their PorNO! Pledge as a start. These guys are on the level and have some great resources for men, women, teens and families.
Correction: Reader Charles Johnson pointed out that the quote I attributed to Catherine MacKinnon (In a patriarchal society all heterosexual intercourse is rape because women, as a group, are not strong enough to give meaningful consent.) was never written by her, though she is erroneously credited for it. In fact, this quote is a paraphrase of MacKinnon’s views by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge in their book Professing Feminism. In my opinion, the quote summarizes MacKinnon well. However, since she did not utter these words, I will resort to the Dan Rather Rule and call this quote “fake, but accurate.”