The nullification of women (Dworkin)

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.



33 thoughts on “The nullification of women (Dworkin)

  1. Wow, a truly brilliant post CBL.
    Yes, reproductive technology and its advances are frightening, as you point out, childbirth is the main reason (most) women have a standard of living (which frequently gets withdrawn anyway when the kids are small and she finds herself a single mother, his seed is sewn).

    Once reproductive technologies continue advancing like that, they don’t have any reason to keep us alive, or even treat us as human.

    Very much The Handmaid’s Tale vs Brave New World.

    Gay men like Elton John lead the way in this. Gay men are not the allies of females.

    • That probably should have read:
      The Handmaid’s Tale meets Brave New World.
      We are heading towards elements of both, although Handmaid’s Tale is closer to the reality that females will face.

  2. CBL, my radical wake-up call wasn’t really all that long ago in the scheme of things and everything you say in this post is almost making me feel nostalgic! 😛

    Seriously though, after I recovered from the initial downer I realized that I actually felt stronger and more free than I ever had because at least I knew. At least I knew why I had felt so angry and confused all the time and could see clearly how to avoid (to the extent available to me) dealing with men in any way. It started with what I called Dude Free Thursday wherein the goal was to not acknowledge in any way any male (besides the old geezer I was looking after) I would encounter during the normal course of my day. It’s the best lifestyle change ever and now every day is Thursday!

    I do interact with some men these days but it is only when I want something from them and is completely on my terms; turn about is fair play, after all 😛 Incidentally one of my sidelines is playing poker and that world is about 99.7% male, but as I said, I only deal with ’em if I want something from ‘em and in this case it’s their cash money! And the female dealers L.O.V.E. me.

    What will the future look like when men make babies in a lab?

    That’s an excellent question and one I think about often. And just as I am undecided about whether it might not be such a bad thing if tranz became the New Sex Class (because it wouldn’t bother me one bit if they all just fucked each other to death) but common sense tells me that men will never, ever tire of demeaning, brutalizing and otherwise stomping on Real Women and Girls ™. It’s just too ingrained, too much fun.

    So too I think with lab babies; it might mean that we would not have to knit them and birth them but we would still be required to CARE for them. Elton John and his partner do not CARE for that baby, a phalanx of nannies do and I’d bet dollars to donuts that they are all women.

    Ack! This comment is very long! So I’ll stop, but I would be interested in what others might have to say (if anything) about tranz as the New Sex Class and the effects on Real Women and Girls.

    • Love the advice on what to do with my Thursdays!!

      “but common sense tells me that men will never, ever tire of demeaning, brutalizing and otherwise stomping on Real Women and Girls ™. It’s just too ingrained, too much fun.”

      Yes.. we have to give up hoping. The only way to stop it is by restructuring the power in society and setting it in stone so that men never ever again will have the power to fuck so many people over as they have done in the past. The little boys have proven they aren’t capable of handling power.

  3. Oops! My tags are crapola today, sorry!

    And, yeah, HMT meets BNW for sure 🙂 Reminds me to replace my copy of HMT because it’s on The Kid’s reading list.

  4. Pingback: FEAR OF BEING AN INDIVIDUAL Why do activists so often focus on hard facts, |

  5. Truly brilliant. I kept having to go back up and see who was speaking because I thought “is this Dworkin or Blossom?”. I’m so glad you made this post here.

    You’re simply amazing.

    • Yes Jilla, I’d say that Cherry does have the *gift* of being straightforward with generous amounts of empathy and THEN being able to put all of that into written words. Lovely.

  6. This is an excellent post, Cherry. I think, one day, you might write the next important radical feminist book. As Sargasso Sea says, you write with courage and empathy and your style is accessible for most women, which is very important.

    I think once men can make wombs very few girls will be born, look at China, look at India, those that can afford ultrasound, abort baby girls.
    I am afraid, those girls that are born, will be kept as sexual curiosities and suffer terrible cruelty.

    • whereas in a world where there were very few males, those males would be coddled and adored for being the sons/brothers/lovers they were.

      Men and women are so different from each other. Women are love, men are hate.

  7. Thanks so much for bigging up my work, deeply flattered.

    I tend to think that Andrea Dworkin is the beginning of an opening of feminists taking on board some of the multiple voices of the prostituted women and girls – but it is tragic that for centuries, women who claim to fight against male violence have completely ignored the voices and writings of prostituted stating the many differences between the way men treat the prostituted and what the same men framed as “real” women and girls.
    That is my purpose of writing is to show that the prostituted are made into nothing – they are not just invisible, they are not just made silenced – they are made that they have no right even to believe they have an existence outside of the male porn dream.

    I think Andrea Dworkin was brilliant at opening that conversation with radical feminists – but she was not in a place or time, where outsiders were prepared to heard or see the differences, so it must keep on the continuum of male violence. It is utterly clear in the pain and grief in her works, that she is very aware there vast differences how violent men view the prostituted and non-prostituted – but she also know must feminists cannot hear or know the raw anger and pain of the politicised exited woman.

    I think that now as we are getting some hope with the Nordic Approach – slowly and with great the prostituted will have a separate voice. Not a comfortable voice, not a voice that is always towing the old line that male violence is the same for prostituted and non-prostituted women and girls.

    No, these are multiple voices that are not afraid to challenge feminists who still framed the prostituted as non-humans – still use them just as examples of the far end of male violence, still only recognise the prostitute if she is keep safe inside statistics, a book or academic studies.
    That is when we cannot hold back our raw voices any more.
    When we are made to feel our pain and being forced to made into goods – is seen as just a cautionary story or something to frighten other women just how bad men can be.

    We want more than that from women who claim to fight male violence.
    We want to stop your world, and listen to what it really is to be prostituted. What is is to made into disposal goods that survive by pretending to be fine.

    Being a prostitute is not just that you are made nothing – that you are surrounded by millions of girls and women made commodities – it is the hell, that you are made easy to replace by any other whore.
    That is the is a constant genocide of the prostituted – but it is made nothing for the goods are continually replaced.

    I hope I and many other exited women just go further than Andrea Dworkin – we deserve a separate voice.

  8. it is the hell, that you are made easy to replace by any other whore.
    That is the is a constant genocide of the prostituted – but it is made nothing for the goods are continually replaced.


    Replaced by any other woman. That’s why I think it’s a continuum, and also, but also agree with you Rebecca, “whores” are a class. But the ranks of that class are replenished by women/girls, not whores.

    • Excellent point Jilla.
      Bottom line is that the majority of males think that all females are just whores-in-waiting.

  9. The other thing males impose on us is that the continuum is a one-way road. Any woman can move to whore class. Males spend their whole energy to make that happen. But prostituted women can never move back to non-whore, not even if exited, not even if dead. That’s where the class exists.

  10. Jilla – although I partly agree that many women and girls can be made into the prostituted – it not true that any women or girls is made into the prostituted class.
    To be made into the prostituted class most women and girls need to have lived a life without real love – this make it very easy to mold her into the prostitute role.
    That is why not all women who were sexually abused, or live with poverty become prostitutes. We need to look beyond easy stereotypes and see the realities of the prostituted. We need to explore why women from poverty, who have live with abuse or have addicted to drugs/drink do not become prostituted.
    We need to look more at peer pressure, at how women and girls without real love in their lives are taught they notthing but ex objects, how that self-hate from all classes and cultures of women and girls is the major driving force into entering the sex trade.
    It is not all women and girls – sorry to leave the regular voice on prostitution.

    • Self hate promoted by the misogynistic culture…

      but you’re saying that there is also an extra catalyst for some women. Which means there’s a reason why not *all* girls from poverty and abuse become prostitutes .

      I remember watching a documentary about a 16 year old homeless heroine addict in Glasgow, who had been on the streets for years after escaping child abuse. She talked about how she’d have to find herself a “boyfriend” at each new homeless shelter to prevent men from raping her. She wasn’t a prostitute and I wondered at the time why not. She would have been warm, her belly would have been full (er) and she’d have known where she was sleeping from one day to the next. Something stopped her, some sort of self-preservation… is that what you mean rmott?
      [please correct me if I’m way off base here]

      Of her home life she said that when it was good a lot of the time, but when it was bad it was horrific. I got the feeling there had been love there. My guess is that a stepfather abused her.

  11. I think self-hate is usually very complicated and comes from many angles, of which of course misogyny is a huge factor.
    I believe it about listening hearing the multiple voices of the prostituted, and trying however hard not to have preconceived ideas of who and what a prostitute is – or to assume that because a girl or women its into a certain stereotype so she must become a prostitute.

    I know that is no answer, just many more questions. But that is the complexity of prostitution.

    I think it is better to look from the sex trade profiteer’s point of view. That is they want a massive variety of living porn dreams to offer the punters – that is why prostitute is every type of women and girl. From the angle of the profiteer, they are looking for women and girls from all backgrounds to fill the gaps or create a new market. They see goods that are replaceable.

    This does means that all women and girls will made into goods for the sex trade – it that no sector of women and girls is safe from being made into commodities by the sex trade.

  12. Prostituted women move from segment to segment of the trade. The woman who was prostituted to get protection and a room is being used in one sector of the spectrum. She or someone like her will probably be moved on line to something more desperate, and then a next step and another. She didn’t start out as a loved, protected, self-assured and valued woman. She as well as any prostituted woman has the same background of self-hate, being abused (somewhere on the lifeline, by someone or all) feeling not loved, not protected and preyed upon. What makes one woman end up in a meat grinder and one women of similar background able to get out is most likely chance. Race and drugs play a huge, huge role, the latter used to control and enslave the women.

  13. I find it very difficult to talk about it. So I just don’t My survival technique, once “safe”, has been to turn it off in my mind. It is, literally, my survival.

    It is why I get very upset when I see someone pandering around the idea of stripping to pay their tuition, or young women working at Hooter’s (and getting “tuition loans” for breast engorgement. It’s the start. There are so many ways self-loathing plays out, but I maintain all women have it, they cannot escape it, only cover it up, put it away, negotiate, move from one aspect of it to another — IF they are lucky.

    It would be so much easier to sit and talk with each other.

    I am constrained.

  14. Jilla – I so sorry I give a short answer before, but I am so mentally exhausted at the moment. I know my writing can make it seem as if I strong and together, and it is a huge defence mechanism from the reality of trauma.

    I was more talking about when women or girls first enter, and saying are thousands of reasons why they first enter – some it can be forced and or trafficked, or they may enter out what they believe is their free choice.
    But, you are totally right that once inside the sex trade, whatever reason the woman or girl first enter – the vast, vast majority will be trapped, and it is just luck who survive or not.
    Many, many strong and wonderful prostituted women and girls do not survive.

    Please do not force yourself to confront or look at your past if you not ready.
    Living a full life in the present, and building a good future is the best revenge.

    Your voice is clear and part of the war against the sex trade – please put yourself first.
    The sex trade takes too many brilliant women and girls.

  15. This conversation is proving to be helpful. Thanks for sharing, and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. ❤ ❤

  16. It’s not a question of not being ready, it’s taking a different way. I don’t find going over and over it helpful. I have found personal testimony has it’s place if used judiciously. as here, to point out there is not ONE voice of exited prostituted women.

    I disagree there is a static “class” of prostituted women. There is a continuum, and it is because we are all women living in a misogynistic culture.

    Thanks Rainsinger. I assume I’m included in “all”.


  17. I find I may not be a radical feminist -so I am properly not good to be here. My focus is on ending the sex trade and giving voices to exited women who want to and can speak out. I very sorry if I upset or offended anyone – but now I am completely burnt out.

    • You definitely have a place in radical feminism.

      It may be that exited prostitutes “breaking the silence” will be the catalyst for the number one social change of all time. Ever : the elimination of the sex industry.

      Men have justified it long enough. And now we have the internet, women can actually write their experiences and can’t be silenced.

      Take time to recuperate, rmott. Sleep and recover. Writing is exhausting, and writing about experiences such as yours is incredibly so.

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