Letters-from-a-War-Zone

Women do the lowest work of the society whatever that lowest work is perceived to be; and when women are the primary workers in a field, the field itself takes on the females’ low status. Therefore, it is false to think that the inferior status of women will dissolve when women do productive labor or enter freely into high status professions. When women enter any field in great numbers, the status of the field itself is lowered. The men who are in it leave it; the men looking for work will not enter it. When men leave a field, they take its prestige with them; when men enter a field, they bring prestige to it. In this way, the subordination of women to men is perpetuated even when women work for a wage and no matter what work women do.
—  Andrea Dworkin, Letters From A War Zone
One may discover integrity in the companionship of others, but one does not ever discover integrity by bowing to the demands of peer pressure. The heavier the pressure is toward conformity— no matter how lofty the proposed final goal— the more one must be suspicious of it and antagonistic to it. History has one consistent lesson in it: one by one, people give up what they know to be right and true for the sake of something loftier that they do not quite understand but should want in order to be good; soon, people are the tools of despots and atrocities are committed on a grand scale. And then, it is too late. There is no going back.
Women are especially given to giving up what we know and feel to be right and true for the sake of others or for the sake of something more important than ourselves. This is because the condition in which women live is a colonized condition. Women are colonized by men, in body, in mind. Defined everywhere as evil when we act in our own self-interest, we strive to be good by renouncing self-interest altogether.
—  Andrea Dworkin, Letters from a War Zone
The victim of encapsulating violence carries both the real fear and the memory of fear with her always. Together, they wash over her like an ocean, and if she does not learn to swim in that terrible sea, she goes under.
—  Andrea Dworkin, Letters From A War Zone
In general then, women do the lowest work of the society whatever that lowest work is perceived to be; and when women are the primary workers in a field, the field itself takes on the females’ low status. Therefore, it is false to think that the inferior status of women will dissolve when women do productive labor or enter freely into high status professions. When women enter any field in great numbers, the status of the field itself is lowered. The men who are in it leave it; the men looking for work will not enter it. When men leave a field, they take its prestige with them; when men enter a field, they bring prestige to it. In this way, the subordination of women to men is perpetuated even when women work for a wage and no matter what work women do.
No matter what we knew of cruelty, we all believed in kindness; and no matter what we knew of hatred, we all believed in friendship or love. Not one of us could have imagined or would have believed the simple facts of life as we have come to know them: the rapacity of male greed for dominance; the malignancy of male supremacy; the virulent contempt for women that is the very foundation of the culture in which we live.
—  Andrea Dworkin. Letters From a War Zone

I represent the morbid side of the women’s movement. I deal with the shit, the real shit. Robin Morgan calls it “atrocity work.” And that’s pretty much what it is.

I deal with what happens to women in the normal course of women’s lives all over this planet: the normal stuff that is abusive, criminal, violating— the point being that it is considered normal by the society at large. It is so systematic that it appears that women are not being abused when these commonplace things happen to women because these abuses are so commonplace.

Because women are everywhere, and because, as Shulamith Firestone said, a sex class is invisible because everyone takes it to be nature, and because many of the abuses that women systematically suffer are called sex, and because women are socialized in a way to make us indifferent to the plight of other women, and because there are no institutional means of redress for the crimes committed against us, feminism sometimes seems as if a group of women are standing in front of a tidal wave with one hand up saying: “Stop.” That is why people say, “Well, it’s hopeless.” And from “it’s hopeless,” people say: “Well, it’s life.”

The stance of the women’s movement is that it is not “just life.” It is politics; it is history; it is power; it is economics; it is institutional modes of social organization: it is not “just life.” And that applies to all of it: the sexual abuse, the economic degradation, the “natural” relationship between women and children (to paraphrase Firestone again: women and children are not united by biology, we are united by politics, a shared powerlessness; I think this is true).

Marx himself recognized that under capitalism women were
viciously exploited, as men were not, as domestic servants. He
therefore favored protective labor legislation to shield women from the worst ravages of industrial exploitation so that they would be better able to perform their domestic labors. Socialists since Marx have supported protective labor legislation for women. The effect of this socialist chivalry is to keep women from being able to compete for jobs on the same terms as men or to match male earning power. Consequently, the role of the woman as unpaid domestic is reinforced and men are also assured an adequate supply of reproductive and carnal servants.

A great many men, no small number of them leftist lawyers, are apparently afraid that feminists are going to take their dirty pictures away from them. Anticipating the distress of forced withdrawal, they argue that feminists really must shut up about pornography— what it is, what it means, what to do about it— to protect what they call “freedom of speech. ” Our “strident” and “overwrought” antagonism to pictures that show women sexually violated and humiliated, bound, gagged, sliced up, tortured in a multiplicity of ways, “offends” the First Amendment. The enforced silence of women through the centuries has not. Some elementary observations are in order.

The Constitution of the United States was written exclusively by white men who owned land. Some owned black slaves, male and female. Many more owned white women who were also chattel.

The Bill of Rights was never intended to protect the civil or sexual rights of women and it has not, except occasionally by accident:

The Equal Rights Amendment, which would, as a polite afterthought, extend equal protection under the law such as it is to women, is not yet part of the Constitution. There is good reason to doubt that it will be in the foreseeable future.

The government in all its aspects— legislative, executive, judicial, enforcement— has been composed almost exclusively of men. Even juries, until very recently, were composed almost entirely of men. Women have had virtually nothing to do with either formulating or applying laws on obscenity or anything else. In the arena of political power, women have been effectively silenced.

… In most instances, women have been deprived of the opportunity even to formulate, let alone articulate or spread, values that contradict those of the male. The attempts that we make are both punished and ridiculed. Women of supreme strength who have lived in creative opposition to the male cultural values of their day have been written out of history— silenced.

… [B]iological arguments for the superiority of one group over another are not new. They are as old as genocide and slave labor. If women are held to be a natural class that exists to be fucked and to bear babies, then any method used to get women to do what they exist to do is also natural. And— to add insult to injury— they dare to call it Mother Nature.

Subordination itself is a broad, deep, systematic dynamic discernible in any persecution based on race or sex. Social subordination has four main parts. First, there is hierarchy, a group on top and a group on the bottom. For women, this hierarchy is experienced both socially and sexually, publicly and privately. Women are physically integrated into the society in which we are held to be inferior, and our low status is both put in place and maintained by the sexual usage of us by men; and so women’s experience of hierarchy is incredibly intimate and wounding.

Second, subordination is objectification. Objectification occurs when a human being, through social means, is made less than human, turned into a thing or commodity, bought and sold. When objectification occurs, a person is de-personalized, so that no individuality or integrity is available socially or in what is an extremely circumscribed privacy (because those who dominate determine its boundaries). Objectification is an injury right at the heart of discrimination: those who can be used as if they are not fully human are no longer fully human in social terms; their humanity is hurt by being diminished.

Third, subordination is submission. A person is at the bottom of a hierarchy because of a condition of birth; a person on the bottom is dehumanized, an object or commodity; inevitably, the situation of that person requires obedience and compliance. That diminished person is expected to be submissive; there is no longer any right to self-determination, because there is no basis in equality for any such right to exist. In a condition of inferiority and objectification, submission is usually essential for survival. Oppressed groups are known for their abilities to anticipate the orders and desires of those who have power over them, to comply with an obsequiousness that is then used by the dominant group to justify its own dominance: the master, not able to imagine a human like himself in such degrading servility, thinks the servility is proof that the hierarchy is natural and that objectification simply amounts to seeing these lesser creatures for what they are. The submission forced on inferior, objectified groups precisely by hierarchy and objectification is taken to be the proof of inherent inferiority and subhuman capacities.

Fourth, subordination is violence. The violence is systematic, endemic enough to be unremarkable and normative, usually taken as an implicit right of the one committing the violence. In my view, hierarchy, objectification, and submission are the preconditions for systematic social violence against any group targeted because of a condition of birth. If violence against a group is both socially pervasive and socially normal, then hierarchy, objectification, and submission are already solidly in place.

As a class (not necessarily as individuals), we [females] can bear children. From this, according to male-supremacist ideology, all our other attributes and potentialities are derived. On the pedestal, immobile like waxen statues, or in the gutter, failed icons mired in shit, we are exalted or degraded because our biological traits are what they are. Citing genes, genitals, DNA, pattern-releasing smells, biograms, hormones, or whatever is in vogue, male supremacists make their case which is, in essence, that we are biologically too good, too bad, or too different to do anything other than reproduce and serve men sexually and domestically.

The newest variations on this distressingly ancient theme center on hormones and DNA: men are biologically aggressive; their fetal brains were awash in androgen; their DNA, in order to perpetuate itself, hurls them into murder and rape; in women, pacifism is hormonal and addiction to birth is molecular. Since in Darwinian terms (interpreted to conform to the narrow social self-interest of men), survival of the fittest means the triumph of the most aggressive human beings, men are and always will be superior to women in terms of their ability to protect and extend their own authority. Therefore women, being “weaker” (less aggressive), will always be at the mercy of men. That this theory of the social ascendancy of the fittest consigns us to eternal indignity and, applied to race, conjures up Hitler’s identical view of evolutionary struggle must not unduly trouble us. “By current theory, ” writes Edward O. Wilson reassuringly in Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, a bible of genetic justification for slaughter, “genocide or genosorption strongly favoring the aggressor need take place only once every few generations to direct evolution.”

I have told you the very low opinion in which you [women] were held by Mr. Oscar Browning. I have indicated what Napoleon once thought of you and what Mussolini thinks now. Then, in case any of you aspire to fiction, I have copied out for your benefit the advice of the critic about courageously acknowledging the limitations of your sex. I have referred to Professor X and given prominence to his statement that women are intellectually, morally and physically inferior to men… and here is a final warning … Mr. John Langdon Davies warns women “that when children cease to be altogether desirable, women cease to be altogether necessary.” I hope you will make note of it. - Virginia Woolf, A Room of Ones Own

Throughout patriarchal history, not just now, biological determinists have made two essential claims: first, that male superiority to women resides in an organ or a fluid or a secretion or a not-yet-discovered but urgently anticipated speck on a gene; and second, that we should study primates, fish, and insects to see how they manage, especially with their women. Sociobiologists and ethologists, the latest kinds of biological determinists, are selective in the species they study and the conclusions they draw because their argument is political, not scientific. The male, they say, regardless of what bug they are
observing, is naturally superior because he is naturally dominant
because he is naturally aggressive and so are his sperm; the female is naturally compliant and naturally submissive and exists in order to be fucked and bear babies. Now, fish do not reproduce through fucking; but that did not stop Konrad Lorenz’s followers from holding up the cichlid as an example to the human woman. The cichlid is a prehistoric fish, and according to Lorenz the male cichlids could not mate unless
the female cichlids demonstrated awe. Kate Millett wonders in Sexual Politics how one measures awe in a fish. But biological determinists do not wait around to answer such silly questions: they jump from species to species as suits their political purposes. And of course there are species they do avoid: spiders, praying mantises, and camels, for instance, since the females of these species kill or maim the male after intercourse. Biological determinists do not find such behaviors
instructive. They love the gall wasp, which they have affectionately nicknamed the “killer wasp"— so one gets an idea of its character— and they do not pay much attention to the bee, what with its queen. There are also relatively egalitarian primates who never get a mention, and male penguins that care for the young, and so forth. And of course, no biological determinist has yet found the bug, fish, fowl, or even baboon who had managed to write Middlemarch.

Another mode of argument about women’s inferiority— a pervasive mode— has to do with biology. There are a lot of ways to address this issue. It is, in a certain sense, the basic issue of women’s rights, of what women’s rights should be: because there is a question as to what rights we women should have. If it were a common supposition that we should enjoy the same rights as men and that our lives had the same worth, we would be living in a very different world. There is not that supposition. There is not that premise. So in trying to discuss what rights women should have, many people refer to biology, and they do so in a myriad of ways. For instance, they may find— they go to great great lengths to find— various crawling things that behave in certain specified ways and they say: “Look at that! Seven million years ago you were related to that.” This is an abuse of Charles Darwin to which any literate person should object; one should cringe to see such formidable theoretical work used in such a vile way. But these same people point to primates, fish, they point to anything that moves, anything that is actually alive, anything that they can find. And they tell us that we should infer our rights from the behaviors of whatever they are pointing to.

Frequently they point to things that aren’t alive, that are only postulated to have been alive at some previous moment in prehistory. One outstanding example is the cichlid, which is my personal favorite. It is a prehistoric fish— or, to be more precise, some men think it was a prehistoric fish. The followers of Konrad Lorenz— and these are scientists, okay? — say that the male cichlid could not mate unless his partner demonstrated awe. Now is this a projection or is this … a fish? Kate Millett wondered in Sexual Politics how a fish demonstrates awe. People who look to other animals (I will concede that we are also animals) to find reasons why women, human women, should be subordinate jump from species to species with alarming dexterity and ignore all information that contradicts their ideological point of view. Now, this is a quite human failing, and that is the point: it is a human failing. One need not postulate that a chimpanzee or an insect has the same failing to locate something human.

[tw: abuse/battery]

The victim of encapsulating violence carries both the real fear and the memory of fear with her always. Together, they wash over her like an ocean, and if she does not learn to swim in that terrible sea, she goes under.

…[T]here is the fact that, during those weeks that stretch into years when one is a battered wife, one’s mind is shattered slowly over time, splintered into a thousand pieces. The mind is slowly submerged in chaos and despair, buried broken and barely alive in an impenetrable tomb of isolation. This isolation is so absolute, so killing, so morbid, so malignant and devouring that there is nothing in ones life but it. One is entirely shrouded in a loneliness that no earthquake could move. Men have asked over the centuries a question that, in their hands, ironically becomes abstract: “What is reality?” They have written complicated volumes on this question. The woman who was a battered wife and has escaped knows the answer: reality is when something is happening to you and you know it and can say it and when you say it other people understand what you mean and believe you. That is reality, and the battered wife, imprisoned alone in a nightmare that is happening to her, has lost it and cannot find it anywhere.

I remember the isolation as the worst anguish I have ever known. I remember the pure and consuming madness of being invisible and unreal, and every blow making me more invisible and more unreal, as the worst desperation I have ever known. I remember those who turned away, pretending not to see the injuries— my parents, dear god, especially my parents; my closest female friend, next door, herself suffocating in a marriage poisoned by psychic, not physical, violence; the doctor so officious and aloof; the women in the neighborhood who heard every scream; the men in the neighborhood who smiled, yes, lewdly, as they half looked away, half stared, whenever they saw me; my husband’s family, especially my mother-in-law, whom I loved, my sisters-in-law, whom I loved. I remember the frozen muscles of my smile as I gave false explanations of injuries that no one wanted to hear anyway. I remember slavishly conforming to every external convention that would demonstrate that I was a “good wife, ” that would convince other people that I was happily married. And as the weight of social convention became insupportable, I remember withdrawing further and further into that open grave where so many women hide waiting to die— the house. I went out to shop only when I had to, I walked my dogs, I ran out screaming, looking for help and shelter when I had the strength to escape, with no money, often no coat, nothing but terror and tears. I met only averted eyes, cold stares, and the vulgar sexual aggression of lone, laughing men that sent me running home to a danger that was at least familiar and familial.

Home, mine as well as his. Home, the only place I had. Finally, everything inside crumbled. I gave up. I sat, I stared, I waited, passive and paralyzed, speaking to no one, minimally maintaining myself and my animals, as my husband stayed away for longer and longer periods of time, slamming in only to thrash and leave. No one misses the wife who disappears. No one investigates her disappearance. After awhile, people stop asking where she is, especially if they have already refused to face what has been happening to her. Wives, after all, belong in the home. Nothing outside it depends on them. This is a bitter lesson, and the battered wife learns it in the bitterest way.

The women’s movement is like other political movements in one important way. Every political movement is committed to the belief that there are certain kinds of pain that people should not have to endure. They are unnecessary. They are gratuitous. They are not part of the God-given order. They are not biologically inevitable. They are acts of human will. They are acts done by some human beings to other human beings.

If you believe that God made women to be submissive and inferior, then there is almost nothing that feminism can say to you about your place in society. A political movement against the will of God does not sound like a very reasonable form of organizing. And in fact frequently a misogynist will say: “Your argument isn’t with me. It’s with God.” And we say: “Well, since you’re created in His image, you’re the best we can do. So stand there and let’s discuss this. You represent Him, you do that all the time anyway.”