Wednesday, June 11, 2008
(9:07 AM) | Dominic:
Wednesday Sex: Andrea DworkinOne of many memorable phrases in Andrea Dworkin's Ice and Fire is her description of a female lover who "fucks like a gang of boys". Dworkin is generally seen as promoting, in opposition to the "metaphysics of power" implicit in penetrative intercourse, a kind of diffuse eroticism of caresses, and this in turn is generally construed as lacking in gusto, the sort of thing one might go in for if one lacked the manly vigour to deliver a good hard poke where it was needed. But the sex in Dworkin's fiction is seldom less than shattering; even the bad sex, of which there is rather a lot, is often fiercely and disturbingly eroticised. Near the start of the Ice and Fire, a group of children play a game called "witch" which involves boys chasing girls; if you're caught, you get put in a cage. Dworkin vividly describes the thrill of running, being chased, wanting to be caught and wanting not to be caught: the adrenaline rush produced by the dread of capture. It's evident that this is a fun game, a game the girls want to play, even if they might want to be in pursuit rather than pursued from time to time.
Dworkin's problem is not that female sexuality is diffuse, placid and affectionate while male sexuality is selfish, genitally focused and violent; her sexual politics do not amount to a demand that men adopt the "female" sexual persona so that we can all flop around together in lacy undergarments cooing like soft-porn lesbians. The problem is that this separation of roles, which filters the components of generic sexuality and assigns them arbitrarily by gender, is ideologically subservient to the metaphysics of male domination: it insinuates that metaphysics into the most intimate bodily experience.
A secondary problem is that Dworkin more or less wholeheartedly buys into the notion that sexual pleasure is self-shattering or dislocating: that it dissolves the body's boundaries, releasing it from its fictive integrity. This self-shattering is ambiguous: it may be construed as the liberation of desire, the realisation of some deeper and more complex self concealed beneath the crust of habit; or it may be construed as destructive of selfhood, as annihilation. Dworkin argues that there is a tradition of male sexual ideology (manifest in both pornography and scientific writings on sexuality) that represents women's sexual pleasure as destructive of selfhood, as submission to a superior force which objectifies and pulverises, and that this view of female sexuality is not compatible with a view of women as sexual (or political) subjects. By contrast, where male (heterosexual) literature characterises men's sexual pleasure as self-shattering, it represents this shattering either as liberatory or as wilfully self-annihilating ("expense of spirit in a waste of shame"), rather than being-annihilated: there is comparatively little in this tradition to suggest that men's authentic sexual being is realised by their being pummelled into oblivion.
Where contemporary feminists tend to take issue with Dworkin is over the experiential character of intercourse: the idea that fucking men weakens your bodily and political integrity (the one grounding or shadowing the other) doesn't fit with their self-experience as (or aspiration to be) both sexually and politically active and confident. That fucking women them diminishes them (and, also, that being fucked and being diminished by being fucked are natural for women, are what they're there for) is evidently an idea that misogynists have about women - but it would be oddly self-hating for women to have the same idea about themselves.
Dworkin's response to objections along these lines was to insist that, whatever private libidinal spaces people might carve out for themselves, the political reality of male dominance meant that the misogynistic conception of women's sexuality had been institutionalised, was continually promoted in the guise of sexual "fantasy", and needed to be confronted at every turn.