I’ve had a Dworkin binge this week: wept, broke my heart, dried my tears and recovered, hopefully stronger. I always weep when I read Andrea’s work, not because her writing is sentimental (which it’s not) but because it’s truthful and she writes about women. Truth and Women. What else can you do but weep?
There were two particular elements that jumped out at me personally:
1) the nullification of women, and then
2)that nullification being linked to motherhood as a survival tactic (in Right Wing Women, which I was inspired to order after digesting FCM’s series)
One of the most difficult things for me to accept along this feminist journey of mine has been the realization that women’s pain is not legitimate: not in the eyes of society, nor in the eyes of men in general.
In fact this underpins the trans ideology, whereby they insist that words are just as hurtful as rape and murder. It also links to the “Porn is free speech” ideology that men do so love.. because women’s actual experiences are not seen as real, even when specific women are clearly suffering, coerced, in pain, being maimed, raped or killed, right there in front of their eyes.
This realization caused in me a short bout of depression; and I am now morbidly fascinated by the thought processes of a civilization so devoid of humanity and empathy that it can nullify the pain of a group of people. And what is so exceptional about women’s oppression vis a vis other oppressive systems… is that men have mothers, sisters, wives and daughters… and yet they still do not notice women’s pain. The dehumanization by men of daughters, mothers and sisters is particularly baffling to me. Women, by contrast, empathize with the world–they gave birth to all human life on earth, after all.
Rebecca Mott, an exited prostituted woman, has made it clear that the nullification of the prostituted woman is specific, separate and different to that of non-prostituted women, and I’ve been thinking a lot about her words. Yes, your average woman has some semblance of a claim to legitimacy if she says she experiences pain or rape or humiliation..whereas a prostituted woman has no legitimate right to any humanity. She cannot be raped. She cannot feel pain. If she is murdered it is no great loss and it is of no consequence. Dworkin, herself an exited prostituted woman had these words to say on the silence, and on how this silence is necessary for the continuing nullification of women:
I want us to think about far we have come politically. I would say we have accomplished what is euphemistically called “breaking the silence.” We have begun to speak about events, experiences, realities, truths not spoken about before; especially experiences that have happened to women and been hidden – experiences that the society has not named, that the politicians have not recognized; experiences that the law has not addressed from the point of view of those who have been hurt. But sometimes when we talk about “breaking the silence,” people conceptualize “the silence” as being superficial, as if there is talk – chatter, really – and laid over the talk there is a superficial level of silence that has to do with manners or politeness. Women are indeed taught to be seen and not heard. But I am talking about a deep silence: a silence that goes to the heart of tyranny, its nature. There is a tyranny that preordains not only who can say what but what women especially can say. There is a tyranny that determines who cannot say anything, a tyranny in which people are kept from being able to say the most important things about what life is like for them. That is the kind of tyranny I mean.
The political systems that we live in are based on this deep silence. They are based on what we have not said. In particular, they are built on what women – women in every racial group, in every class, including the most privileged – have not said. The assumptions underlying our political systems are also based on what women have not said. Our ideas of democracy and equality – ideas that men have had, ideas that express what men think democracy and equality are – evolved absent the voices, the experiences, the lives, the realities, of women. The principles of freedom that we hear enunciated as truisms are principles that were arrived at despite this deep silence: without our participation. We are all supposed to share and take for granted the commonplace ideas of social and civic fairness; but these commonplace ideas are based on our silence. What passes as normal in life is based on this same silence. Gender itself – what men are, what women are – is based on the forced silence of women; and beliefs about community -what a community is, what a community should be – are based on this silence. Societies have been organized to maintain the silence of women – which suggests that we cannot break this deep silence without changing the ways in which societies are organized….
The silence, of which Rebecca Mott and Dworkin write.. is the determination of men and some women not to know. The steadfast refusal to see.
I want to emphasize that my own thoughts on the non-existence of women’s pain are based on the limited frame of my own experiences.
But I do have experiences as a woman, all the same, which come with their own, specific, pain.
Women’s social condition is built on the simple premise: women can be fucked and bear babies, therefore women must be fucked and bear babies. [italics mine].
She is not talking about women’s choice to do this that or the other; she is talking about the social condition of how women are seen and how they are oppressed on that basis.
“The accounts of rape, wife beating, forced childbearing, medical butchering, sex-motivated murder, forced prostitution, physical mutilation, sadistic psychological abuse, and the other commonplaces of female experience that are excavated from the past or given by contemporary survivors should leave the heart seared, the mind in anguish, the conscience in upheaval. But they do not. No matter how often these stories are told, with whatever clarity or eloquence, bitterness or sorrow, they might as well have been whispered in the wind or written in sand: they disappear as if they were nothing. The tellers and the stories are ignored or ridiculed, threatened back into silence or destroyed, and the experience of female suffering is buried in cultural invisibility and contempt….
…The problem, simply stated, is that one must believe in the existence of the person in order to recognize the authenticity of her suffering. Neither men nor women believe in the existence of women as significant beings. It is impossible to remember as real the suffering of someone who by definition has no claim to dignity or freedom, someone who is in fact viewed as some thing, an obhect or an absence.”
And there you have it. The reason why, despite all the suffering already heaped on women, men are not on their knees begging our forgiveness, and are instead trying to find more ways to hurt us every day.
Women are not allowed to be. They learn from an early age that they must adapt, contort, and alter themselves in order to be acceptable to men and society at large. Women who do not recognize that this has happened to them, have probably forgotten what they were like as girls. They have forgotten what it means to be happy, which is why they don’t rage and scream every day but make do with patriarchy’s paltry offers of compensation–such as safety, a roof over their head, or the ‘love’ of a man– instead.
Every human being wishes to be loved for who they are. But the closer a woman gets to her true self, the less she represents what a woman should be. The discrepancy between the woman she is and the woman she is supposed to be is too glaringly huge for the marriage to remain harmonious. The only way it can survive is by the woman’s efforts at altering herself to a prescribed and circumscribed set of behaviours. Patriarchy strives to knock any individuality out of women. This is particularly true in heterosexual relationships: he will not see her for who she is. As she ages in a culture where young women are valued over older women, she sees the sliding value placed on her looks as an implicit (accurate) threat.. That women fear the consequences of this drop in value is obvious if we look at the booming cosmetic surgery industry which targets women who are “past their prime”. He cannot “see” her suffering, because it is not legitimate. Only his experience of life has legitimacy. Let her cut up her body to please him, spend her money to remain seductive to him, let her clean up after him slavishly, let her devise interesting ways to keep the spark alive in the bedroom, let her hate herself for not being up to scratch. She must be constantly judged in the negative….
“It is the fashion among men to despise the smallness of women’s lives. The so-called bourgeois woman with her shallow vanity, for instance, is a joke to the brave intellectuals, truck drivers, and revolutionaries who have wider horizons on which to project and indulge deeper vanities that women dare not mock and to which women dare not aspire. The fishwife is a vicious caricature of the small-mindedness and material greed of the working-class wife who harasses her humble, hardworking, ever patient husband with petty tirades of insult that no gentle rebuke can mellow. The Lady, the Aristocrat, is a polished empty shell…”
and so forth…If a woman persists on remembering and asserting her individuality she will discover that the two routes open to her are insanity, or divorce. It is the specific individuality of each woman that must not be seen in order for patriarchy to continue. Prostitutes know that women are interchangeable to an individual man. Wives have an inkling of this understanding too… the thought visits them from time to time.
But motherhood cannot be nullified. This is the hope of Right Wing Women.
Virginia Woolf called attention to the statement made by a journalist at the time “..that when children cease to be altogether desirable, women cease to be altogether necessary.” She then warned the audience of women she was addressing to “heed his words.”
It took me a long while to fathom what she was saying but now finally I do understand. Women still have something men need, but for how long..? And if male reproductive technology gets its way…what then? Trans women are already moving in to replace real woman: patriarchy makes no secret of the fact that feminized men are more desirable than women. Wombs are already being brought down to the basest level: bought and sold on the common market for a few bucks more than a woman would be able to make in the exploitative economic system. Women are losing their grip on the one thing men need from them: the one reason men allow them to stay alive at all.
The farming model, which is marriage and motherhood, is known by patriarchy to be inefficient. Prostitution, the sex model, by contrast, is efficient. You can keep fucking the same woman until she dies an early death. But pregnancies are different. For a man to know for certain that a woman is carrying his seed and not another’s–and this is a universal patriarchal prerogative–he must shelter and sustain that woman. If he does not he cannot legitimately lay claim on her sexuality: even men under patriarchy generally do not have the resources to keep a woman faithful to him without some form of coercion, and without the threat of consequences, women usually take lovers. Male power does have its limits: controlling women’s passions without offering something in return: kindness, shelter, affection is not viable, in other words it takes too much energy for too little return on investment. This is the deal that right wing women make. But the inefficiency of this system still remains a problem for male supremacy. She may give birth to girls, or never fall pregnant at all. The “problem” has traditionally been overcome by forcing almost all women to become wives. But still then the farming model is risky. There are gaps: the subordination is not quite complete. Historically, wives have had the spare time to organize and agitate politically.
The next ideological step along the left end of the political spectrum is for men to do as Elton John has done, (individually and through the might of his male class,) and simply withhold economic resources from women through sex class based economic exploitation (for the left has only ever been concerned about male economic exploitation), and then offer those same resources back to her in return for the rent of her womb. She will have no claim on the child. This is only the beginning. Men are obsessed with usurping women. What will the future look like when men make babies in a lab? What does life look like now where a woman’s suffers in childbirth not even to be rewarded the prize at the end? To be tossed a few dollars by a couple of men instead, a couple of members of the oppressor class.
Already, laws are making certain that women have no legitimate right to the babies they birthed in pain. The women behind the births are disappeared. RWW wish to cling on to women’s humanity… in the small way it is offered to them… as cherished, protected, farmed females… no matter how dehumanizing this is, no matter how invisible the women behind the wombs are, they see it as a simple survival tactic. They heed Virginia Woolf’s words.