Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: “Pleasure under Patriarchy”


Epigraphs

then she says (and this is what I live through over and over)—she says: I do not know if sex is an illusion I do not know

who I was when I did those things

or who I said I was

or whether I willed to feel

what I had read about

or who in fact was there with me

or whether I knew, even then

that there was doubt about these things

Adrienne Rich, “Dialogue”

I had always been fond of her in the most innocent, asexual way. It was as if her body was always entirely hidden behind her radiant mind, the modesty of her behavior, and her taste in dress. She had never offered me the slightest chink through which to view the glow of her nakedness. And now suddenly the butcher knife of fear had slit her open. She was as open to me as the carcass of a heifer slit down the middle and hanging on a hook. There we were . . . and suddenly I felt a violent desire to make love to her. Or to be more exact, a violent desire to rape her. Milan Kundera, “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”

She had thought of something, something about the body, about the passions which it was unfitting for her as a woman to say. Men, her reason told her, would be shocked. . . . Telling the truth about my own experiences as a body, I do not think I solved. I doubt that any woman has solved it yet. The obstacles against her are still immensely powerful—and yet they are very difficult to define. Virginia Woolf, “Professions for Women”

Note from the author

Prior versions of these views are published in J. Geer and W. O’Donohue, Theories of Human Sexuality (New York: Plenum Press, 1987) and as preface to J. Masson’s A Dark Science: Women, Sexuality, and Psychiatry in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986). This article is a chapter from Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, to be published by Harvard University Press in 1989. The quotation in the title is from a note by Judith Friedlander in Diary, a preconference publication of the Barnard Conference on Sexuality, 1982, p. 25. Sources for the epigraphs are as follows: Adrienne Rich, “Dialogue,” in Poems: Selected and New, 1950-1974 (New York: Norton, 1975), p. 195. Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (New York: Knopf, 1980), p. 75; Virginia Woolf, “Professions for Women,” in her The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942; reprint, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1974), pp. 240-41.

Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: “Pleasure under Patriarchy”

What is it about women’s experience that produces a distinctive perspective on social reality? How is an angle of vision and an interpretive hermeneutics of social life created in the group women? What happens to women to give them a particular interest in social arrangements, something to have a consciousness of? How are the qualities we know as male and female socially created and enforced on an everyday level? Sexual objectification of women—first in the world, then in the head, first in visual appropriation, then in forced sex, finally in sexual murder—provides answers.1

Male dominance is sexual. Meaning: men in particular, if not men alone, sexualize hierarchy; gender is one. As much a sexual theory of gender as a gendered theory of sex, this is the theory of sexuality that has grown out of consciousness raising in the women’s movement. Recent feminist work, both interpretive and empirical—on rape, battery, sexual harassment, sexual abuse of children, prostitution, and pornography—supports it (see Appendix). These practices, taken together, express and actualize the distinctive power of men over women in society; their effective permissibility confirms and extends it. If one believes women’s accounts of sexual use and abuse by men;2 if the pervasiveness of male sexual violence against women substantiated in these studies is not denied, minimized, or excepted as deviant3 or episodic; if the fact that only 7.8 percent of women in the United States are not sexually assaulted or harassed in their lifetimes4 is considered not ignorable or inconsequential; if the women to whom it happens are not considered expendable; if violation of women is understood as sexualized on some level—then sexuality itself can no longer be regarded as unimplicated. The meaning of practices of sexual violence cannot be categorized away as violence, not sex, either. The male sexual role, this work taken together suggests, centers on aggressive intrusion on those with less power. Such acts of dominance are experienced as sexually arousing, as sex itself.5 They therefore are. The evidence on the sexual violation of women by men thus frames an inquiry into the place of sexuality in gender and of gender in sexuality.

A feminist theory of sexuality would locate sexuality within a theory of gender inequality, meaning the social hierarchy of men over women. To make a theory feminist, it is not enough that it be authored by a biological female. Nor that it describe female sexuality as different from (if equal to) male sexuality, or as if sexuality in women ineluctably exists in some realm beyond, beneath, above, behind—in any event, fundamentally untouched and unmoved by—an unequal social order. A theory of sexuality becomes feminist to the extent it treats sexuality as a social construct of male power: defined by men, forced on women, and constitutive in the meaning of gender. Such an approach centers feminism on the perspective of the subordination of women to men as it identifies sex—that is, the sexuality of dominance and submission—as crucial, as a fundamental, as on some level definitive, in that process. Feminist theory becomes a project of analyzing that situation in order to face it for what it is, in order to change it.

Focusing on gender inequality without a sexual account of its dynamics, as most work has, one could criticize the sexism of existing theories of sexuality and emerge knowing that men author scripts to their own advantage, women and men act them out; that men set conditions, women and men have their behavior conditioned; that men develop developmental categories through which men develop, and that women develop or not; that men are socially allowed selves hence identities with personalities into which sexuality is or is not well integrated, women being that which is or is not integrated, that through the alterity of which a self experiences itself as having an identity; that men have object relations, women are the objects of those relations, and so on. Following such critique, one could attempt to invert or correct the premises or applications of these theories to make them gender neutral, even if the reality to which they refer looks more like the theories—once their gender specificity is revealed—than it looks gender neutral. Or, one could attempt to enshrine a distinctive “women’s reality” as if it really were permitted to exist as something more than one dimension of women’s response to a condition of powerlessness. Such exercises would be revealing and instructive, even deconstructive, but to limit feminism to correcting sex bias by acting in theory as if male power did not exist in fact, including by valorizing in writing what women have had little choice but to be limited to becoming in life, is to limit feminist theory the way sexism limits women’s lives: to a response to terms men set.

A distinctively feminist theory conceptualizes social reality, including sexual reality, on its own terms. The question is, What are they? If women have been substantially deprived not only of their own experience but of terms of their own in which to view it, then a feminist theory of sexuality that seeks to understand women’s situation in order to change it, must first identify and criticize the construct “sexuality” as a construct that has circumscribed and defined experience as well as theory. This requires capturing it in the world, in its situated social meanings, as it is being constructed in life on a daily basis. It must be studied in its experienced empirical existence, not just in the texts of history (as Foucault), in the social psyche (as Lacan) or in language (as Derrida). Sexual meaning is not made only, or even primarily, by words and in texts. In feminist terms, the fact that male power has power means that the interests of male sexuality construct what sexuality as such means in life, including the standard way it is allowed and recognized to be felt and expressed and experienced, in a way that determines women’s biographies, including sexual ones. Existing theories, until they grasp this, will not only misattribute what they call female sexuality to women as such, as if it is not imposed on women daily, they will participate in enforcing the hegemony of the social construct “desire,” hence its product, “sexuality,” hence its construct “woman,” on the world.

The gender issue thus becomes the issue of what is taken to be “sexuality”: what sex means and what is meant by sex, when, how, and with whom and with what consequences to whom. Such questions are almost never systematically confronted, even in discourses that purport feminist awareness. What sex is—how it comes to be attached and attributed to what it is, embodied and practiced as it is, contextualized in the ways it is, signifying and referring to what it does—is taken as a baseline, a given, except when explaining what happened when it is thought to have gone wrong. It is as if “erotic,” for example, can be taken as having an understood referent, although it is never defined. Except to imply that it is universal yet individual, ultimately variable and plastic. Essentially indefinable but overwhelmingly positive. “Desire,” the vicissitudes of which are endlessly extolled and philosophized in culture high and low, is not seen as fundamentally problematic or calling for explanation on the concrete, interpersonal operative level, unless (again) it is supposed to be there and is not. To list and analyze what seem to be the essential elements for male sexual arousal, what has to be there for the penis to work, seems faintly blasphemous, like a pornographer doing market research. Sex is supposed both too individual and too universally transcendant for that. To suggest that the sexual might be continuous with something other than sex itself—something like politics—is seldom done, is treated as detumescent, even by feminists. It is as if sexuality comes from the stork.

Sexuality, in feminist light, is not a discrete sphere of interaction or feeling or sensation or behavior in which preexisting social divisions may or may not be played out. It is a pervasive dimension throughout the whole of social life, a dimension along which gender pervasively occurs and through which gender is socially constituted; in this culture, it is a dimension along which other social divisions, like race and class, partly play themselves out. Dominance eroticized defines the imperatives of its masculinity, submission eroticized defines its femininity. So many distinctive features of women’s status as second class—the restriction and constraint and contortion, the servility and the display, the self-mutilation and requisite presentation of self as a beautiful thing, the enforced passivity, the humiliation—are made into the content of sex for women. Being a thing for sexual use is fundamental to it. This identifies not just a sexuality that is shaped under conditions of gender inequality but this sexuality itself as the dynamic of the inequality of the sexes. It is to argue that the excitement at reduction of a person to a thing, to less than a human being, as socially defined, is its fundamental motive force. It is to argue sexual difference as a function of sexual dominance. It is to argue a sexual theory of the distribution of social power by gender, in which this sexuality that is sexuality is substantially what makes the gender division be what it is, which is male dominant, wherever it is, which is nearly everywhere.

Across cultures, from this perspective, sexuality is whatever a given culture defines it as. The next questions concern its relation to gender asymmetry and to gender as a division of power. Male dominance appears to exist cross-culturally, if in locally particular forms. Is whatever defines women as “different” the same as whatever defines women as “inferior” the same as whatever defines women’s “sexuality”? Is that which defines gender inequality as merely the sex difference also the content of the erotic, cross-culturally? In this view, the feminist theory of sexuality is its theory of politics, its distinctive contribution to social and political explanation. To explain gender inequality in terms of “sexual politics”6 is to advance not only a political theory of the sexual that defines gender but also a sexual theory of the political to which gender is fundamental.

In this approach, male power takes the social form of what men as a gender want sexually, which centers on power itself, as socially defined. Masculinity is having it; femininity is not having it. Masculinity precedes male as femininity precedes female and male sexual desire defines both. Specifically, “woman” is defined by what male desire requires for arousal and satisfaction and is socially tautologous with “female sexuality” and “the female sex.” In the permissible ways a woman can be treated, the ways that are socially considered not violations but appropriate to her nature, one finds the particulars of male sexual interests and requirements. In the concomitant sexual paradigm, the ruling norms of sexual attraction and expression are fused with gender identity formation and affirmation, such that sexuality equals heterosexuality equals the sexuality of (male) dominance and (female) submission.

Post-Lacan, actually post-Foucault,7 it has become customary to affirm that sexuality is socially constructed.8 Seldom specified is what, socially, it is constructed of, far less who does the constructing or how, when, or where.9 When capitalism is the favored social construct, sexuality is shaped and controlled and exploited and repressed by capitalism; not, capitalism creates sexuality as we know it. When sexuality is a construct of discourses of power, gender is never one of them; force is central to its deployment but only through repressing it, not through constituting it; speech is not concretely investigated for its participation in this construction process. “Constructed” seems to mean influenced by, directed, channeled, like a highway constructs traffic patterns. Not: Why cars? Who’s driving? Where’s everybody going? What makes mobility matter? Who can own a car? Are all these accidents not very accidental? Although there are partial exceptions (but disclaimers notwithstanding), the typical model of sexuality that is tacitly accepted remains deeply Freudian10 and essentialist: sexuality is an innate primary natural prepolitical unconditioned11 drive divided along the biological gender line, centering on heterosexual intercourse, that is, penile intromission, full actualization of which is repressed by civilization. Even if the sublimation aspect of this theory is rejected, or the reasons for the repression are seen to vary (for the survival of civilization or to maintain fascist control or to keep capitalism moving), sexual expression is implicitly seen as the expression of something that is to a significant extent presocial and is socially denied its full force. Sexuality remains precultural and universally invariant to some extent, social only in that it needs society to take what are always to some extent socially specific forms. The impetus itself is a hunger, an appetite founded on a biological need; what it is specifically hungry for and how it is satisfied is then open to endless cultural and individual variance, like cuisine, like cooking.

Allowed/not-allowed are this sexuality’s basic ideological axes. The fact that sexuality is ideologically bounded is known. That there are its axes, central to the way its “drive” is driven, and that this is fundamental to the gender difference, is not.12 Its basic normative assumption is that whatever is considered sexuality should be allowed to be “expressed.” Whatever is called sex is attributed a normatively positive valence, an affirmative valuation. This ex cathedra assumption, affirmation of which appears indispensable to one’s credibility on any subject that gets near the sexual, means that sex as such (whatever it is) is good—natural, healthy, positive, appropriate, pleasurable, wholesome, fine, one’s own, and to be approved and expressed. This, sometimes characterized as “sex-positive” is, rather obviously, a value judgment.

Kinsey and his followers, for example, clearly thought (and think) the more sex the better. Accordingly, they trivialize even most of those cases of rape and child sexual abuse they discern as such, decry women’s sexual refusal as sexual inhibition, and repeatedly interpret women’s sexual disinclination as “restrictions” on men’s natural sexual activity, which left alone would emulate (some) animals.13 Followers of the neo-Freudian derepression imperative have similarly identified the frontier of sexual freedom with transgression of social restraints on access, with making the sexually disallowed allowed, especially male sexual access to anything. The struggle to have everything sexual allowed in a society we are told would collapse if it were, creates a sense of resistance to, and an aura of danger around, violating the powerless. If we knew the boundaries were phony, existed only to eroticize the targeted transgressable, would penetrating them feel less sexy? Taboo and crime may serve to eroticize what would otherwise feel about as much like dominance as taking candy from a baby. Assimilating actual powerlessness to male prohibition, to male power, provides the appearance of resistance, which makes overcoming possible, while never undermining the reality of power, or its dignity, by giving the powerless actual power. The point is, allowed/not-allowed become the ideological axes along which sexuality is experienced when and because sex, hence gender, is about power.

One version of the derepression hypothesis that purports feminism is: civilization having been male-dominated, female sexuality has been repressed, not allowed. Sexuality as such still centers on what would otherwise be considered the reproductive act, on intercourse: penetration of the erect penis into the vagina (or appropriate substitute orifices) followed by thrusting to male ejaculation. If reproduction actually had anything to do with what sex was for, it would not happen every night (or even twice a week) for forty or fifty years, nor would prostitutes exist. “We had sex three times” typically means the man entered the woman three times and orgasmed three times. Female sexuality in this model refers to the presence of this theory’s ‘sexuality,’ or the desire to be so treated, in biological females; ‘female’ is somewhere between an adjective and a noun, half possessive and half biological ascription. Sexual freedom means women being allowed to behave as freely as men to express this sexuality, to have it allowed, that is, to (hopefully) shamelessly and without social constraints initiate genital drive satisfaction through heterosexual intercourse.14 Hence, the liberated woman. Hence, the sexual revolution.

The pervasiveness of such assumptions about sexuality throughout otherwise diverse methodological traditions is suggested by the following comment by a scholar of violence against women: “If women were to escape the culturally stereotyped role of disinterest in and resistance to sex and to take on an assertive role in expressing their own sexuality, rather than leaving it to the assertiveness of men, it would contribute to the reduction of rape. . . . First, and most obviously, voluntary sex would be available to more men, thus reducing the ‘need’ for rape. Second, and probably more important, it would help to reduce the confounding of sex and aggression.”15 In this view, somebody must be assertive for sex to happen. Voluntary sex—sexual equality—means equal sexual aggression. If women freely expressed “their own sexuality,” more heterosexual intercourse would be initiated. Women’s “resistance” to sex is an imposed cultural stereotype, not a form of political struggle. Rape is occasioned by women’s resistance not by men’s force; or, male force, hence rape, is created by women’s resistance to sex. Men would rape less if they got more voluntarily compliant sex from women. Corollary: the force in rape is not sexual to men.

Underlying this quotation lurks the view, as common as it is tacit, that if women would just accept the contact men now have to rape to get—if women would stop resisting or (in one of the pornographers’ favorite scenarios) become sexual aggressors—rape would wither away. On one level, this is a definitionally obvious truth. When a woman accepts what would be a rape if she did not accept it, what happens is sex. If women were to accept forced sex as sex, “voluntary sex would be available to more men.” If such a view is not implicit in this text, it is a mystery how women equally aggressing against men sexually would eliminate, rather than double, the confounding of sex and aggression. Without such an assumption, only the confounding of sexual aggression with gender would be eliminated. If women don’t resist male sexual aggression anymore, the confounding of sex with aggression would, indeed, be so epistemologically complete that it would be eliminated. No woman would ever be sexually violated because sexual violation would be sex. The situation might resemble that evoked by a society Sanday categorized as “rape-free” in part because the men assert there is no rape there: “Our women never resist.”16 Such pacification also occurs in “rape-prone” societies like the United States, where some force may be perceived as force but only above certain threshold standards.17

While intending the opposite, some feminists have encouraged and participated in this type of analysis by conceiving rape as violence not sex.18 While this approach gave needed emphasis to rape’s previously effaced elements of power and dominance, it obscured its elements of sex. Aside from failing to answer the rather obvious question, if it’s violence not sex why didn’t he just hit her, this approach made it impossible to see that violence is sex when it is practiced as sex.19 This is obvious once what sexuality is, is understood as a matter of what it means, of how it is interpreted. To say rape is violence not sex preserves the “sex is good” norm by simply distinguishing forced sex as “not sex,” whether it means sex to the perpetrator or even, later, to the victim, who has difficulty experiencing sex without reexperiencing the rape. Whatever is sex, cannot be violent; whatever is violent, cannot be sex. This analytic wish-fulfillment makes it possible for rape to be opposed by those who would save sexuality from the rapists while leaving the sexual fundamentals of male dominance intact.

While much prior work on rape has analyzed it as a problem of inequality between the sexes but not as a problem of unequal sexuality on the basis of gender,20 other contemporary explorations of sexuality that purport to be feminist lack comprehension either of gender as a form of social power or of the realities of sexual violence. For instance, the editors of Powers of Desire take sex “as a central form of expression, one that defines identity and is seen as a primary source of energy and pleasure.”21 This may be how it “is seen” but it is also how they, operatively, see it. As if women choose sexuality as definitive of identity. As if it is as much a form of women’s “expression” as it is men’s. As if violation and abuse are not equally central to sexuality as women live it.

The Diary of the Barnard conference on sexuality pervasively equates sexuality with ‘pleasure.’ “Perhaps the overall question we need to ask is: How do women . . . negotiate sexual pleasure?”22 As if women under male supremacy have power to. As if “negotiation” is a form of freedom.

As if pleasure and how to get it, rather than dominance and how to end it, is the “overall” issue sexuality presents feminism. As if women do just need a good fuck. In these texts, taboos are treated as real restrictions—as things that really are not allowed—instead of as guises under which hierarchy is eroticized. The domain of the sexual is divided into “restriction, repression and danger” on the one hand and “exploration, pleasure and agency” on the other.23 This division parallels the ideological forms through which dominance and submission are eroticized, variously socially coded as heterosexuality’s male/female, lesbian culture’s butch/femme, and sadomasochism’s top/bottom.24 Speaking in role terms, the one who pleasures in the illusion of freedom and security within the reality of danger is the “girl”; the one who pleasures in the reality of freedom and security within the illusion of danger is the “boy.” That is, the Diary uncritically adopts as an analytical tool the central dynamic of the phenomenon it purports to be analyzing. Presumably, one is to have a sexual experience of the text.

The terms of these discourses preclude or evade crucial feminist questions. What do sexuality and gender inequality have to do with each other? How do dominance and submission become sexualized, or, why is hierarchy sexy? How does it get attached to male and female? Why does sexuality center on intercourse, the reproductive act by physical design? Is masculinity the enjoyment of violation, femininity the enjoyment of being violated? Is that the central meaning of intercourse? Why do “men love death”?25 What is the etiology of heterosexuality in women? Is its pleasure women’s stake in subordination?

Taken together and taken seriously, feminist inquiries into the realities of rape, battery, sexual harassment, incest, child sexual abuse, prostitution, and pornography answer these questions by suggesting a theory of the sexual mechanism. Its script, learning, conditioning, developmental logos, imprinting of the microdot, its deus ex machina, whatever sexual process term defines sexual arousal itself, is force, power’s expression. Force is sex, not just sexualized; force is the desire dynamic, not just a response to the desired object when desire’s expression is frustrated. Pressure, gender socialization, withholding benefits, extending indulgences, the how-to books, the sex therapy are the soft end; the fuck, the fist, the street, the chains, the poverty are the hard end. Hostility and contempt, or arousal of master to slave, together with awe and vulnerability, or arousal of slave to master—these are the emotions of this sexuality’s excitement. “Sadomasochism is to sex what war is to civil life: the magnificent experience,” writes Susan Sontag.26 “It is hostility—the desire, overt or hidden, to harm another person—that generates and enhances sexual excitement,” writes Robert Stoller.27 Harriet Jacobs, a slave, speaking of her systematic rape by her master, writes, “It seems less demeaning to give one’s self, than to submit to compulsion.”28 Looking at the data, the force in sex and the sex in force is a matter of simple empirical description—unless one accepts that force in sex is not force anymore, it is just sex; or, if whenever a woman is forced it is what she really wants or it or she does not matter; or, unless prior aversion or sentimentality substitutes what one wants sex to be, or will condone or countenance as sex, for what is actually happening.

To be clear: what is sexual is what gives a man an erection. Whatever it takes to make a penis shudder and stiffen with the experience of its potency is what sexuality means culturally. Whatever else does, fear does, hostility does, hatred does, the helplessness of a child or a student or an infantilized or restrained or vulnerable woman does, revulsion does, death does. Hierarchy, a constant creation of person/thing, top/bottom, dominance/subordination relations, does. What is understood as violation, conventionally penetration and intercourse, defines the paradigmatic sexual encounter. The scenario of sexual abuse is: you do what I say. These textualities become sexuality. All this suggests that that which is called sexuality is the dynamic of control by which male dominance—in forms that range from intimate to institutional, from a look to a rape—eroticizes as man and woman, as identity and pleasure. It is also that which maintains and defines male supremacy as a political system. Male sexual desire is thereby simultaneously created and serviced, never satisfied once and for all, while male force is romanticized, even sacralized, potentiated, and naturalized, by being submerged into sex itself.

In contemporary philosophical terms, nothing is “indeterminate” in the post-structuralist sense here; it is all too determinate.29 Nor does its reality provide just one perspective on a relativistic interpersonal world that could mean anything or its opposite.30 The reality of pervasive sexual abuse and its erotization does not shift relative to perspective, although whether or not one will see it or accord it significance may. Interpretation varies relative to place in sexual abuse, certainly; but the fact that women are sexually abused as women, in a social matrix of sexualized subordination does not go away because it is often ignored or authoritatively disbelieved or interpreted out of existence. Indeed, some ideological supports for its persistence rely precisely upon techniques of social indeterminancy: no language but the obscene to describe the unspeakable; denial by the powerful casting doubt on the facticity of the injuries; actually driving its victims insane. Indeterminacy is a neo-Cartesian mind game that undermines the actual social meaning of words by raising acontextualized interpretive possibilities that have no real social meaning or real possibility of any, dissolving the ability to criticize actual meanings without making space for new ones. The feminist point is simple. Men are women’s material conditions. If it happens to women, it happens.

Women often find ways to resist male supremacy and to expand their spheres of action. But they are never free of it. Women also embrace the standards of women’s place in this regime as “our own” to varying degrees and in varying voices—as affirmation of identity and right to pleasure, in order to be loved and approved and paid, in order just to make it through another day. This, not inert passivity, is the meaning of being a victim.31 The term is not moral: who is to blame or to be pitied or condemned or held responsible. It is not prescriptive: what we should do next. It is not strategic: how to construe the situation so it can be changed. It is not emotional: what one feels better thinking. It is descriptive: who does what to whom and gets away with it?

Thus the question Freud never asked is the question that defines sexuality in a feminist perspective: What do men want? Pornography provides an answer. Pornography permits men to have whatever they want sexually. It is their “truth about sex.”32 It connects the centrality of visual objectification to both male sexual arousal and male models of knowledge and verification, connecting objectivity with objectification. It shows how men see the world, how in seeing it they access and possess it, and how this is an act of dominance over it. It shows what men want and gives it to them. From the testimony of the pornography, what men want is: women bound, women battered, women tortured, women humiliated, women degraded and defiled, women killed. Or, to be fair to the soft core, women sexually accessible, have-able, there for them, wanting to be taken and used, with perhaps just a little light bondage. Each violation of women—rape, battery, prostitution, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment—is made sexuality, made sexy, fun, and liberating of women’s true nature in the pornography. Each specificially victimized and vulnerable group of women, each tabooed target group—black women, Asian women, Latin women, Jewish women, pregnant women, disabled women, retarded women, poor women, old women, fat women, women in women’s jobs, prostitutes, little girls—distinguishes pornographic genres and subthemes, classified according to diverse customers’ favorite degradation. Women are made into and coupled with anything considered lower than human: animals, objects, children, and (yes) other women. Anything women have claimed as their own—motherhood, athletics, traditional men’s jobs, lesbianism, feminism—is made specifically sexy, dangerous, provocative, punished, made men’s in pornography.

Pornography is a means through which sexuality is socially constructed, a site of construction, a domain of exercise. It constructs women as things for sexual use and constructs its consumers to desperately want women to desperately want possession and cruelty and dehumanization. Inequality itself, subjection itself, hierarchy itself, objectification itself, with selfdetermination ecstatically relinquished, is the apparent content of women’s sexual desire and desirability. “The major theme of pornography as a genre,” writes Andrea Dworkin, “is male power.”33 Women are in pornography to be violated and taken, men to violate and take them, either on screen or by camera or pen, on behalf of the viewer. Not that sexuality in life or in media never expresses love and affection; only that love and affection are not what is sexualized in this society’s actual sexual paradigm, as pornography testifies to it. Violation of the powerless, intrusion on women, is. The milder forms, possession and use, the mildest of which is visual objectification, are. The sexuality of observation, visual intrusion and access, of entertainment, makes sex largely a spectator sport for its participants.

If pornography has not become sex to and from the male point of view, it is hard to explain why the pornography industry makes a known ten billion dollars a year selling it as sex mostly to men; why it is used to teach sex to child prostitutes, recalcitrant wives and girlfriends and daughters, and to medical students, and to sex offenders; why it is nearly universally classified as a subdivision of “erotic literature”; why it is protected and defended as if it were sex itself.34 And why a prominent sexologist fears that enforcing the views of feminists against pornography in society would make men “erotically inert wimps.”35 No pornography, no male sexuality.

A feminist critique of sexuality in this sense is advanced in Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women. Building on her earlier identification of gender inequality as a system of social meaning,36 an ideology lacking basis in anything other than the social reality its power constructs and maintains, she argues that sexuality is a construct of that power, given meaning by, through, and in pornography. In this perspective, pornography is not harmless fantasy or a corrupt and confused misrepresentation of otherwise natural healthy sex, nor is it fundamentally a distortion, reflection, projection, expression, representation, fantasy, or symbol of it.37 Through pornography, among other practices, gender inequality becomes both sexual and socially real. Pornography “reveals that male pleasure is inextricably tied to victimizing, hurting, exploiting.”38 “Dominance in the male system is pleasure.”39 Rape is “the defining paradigm of sexuality,”40 to avoid which boys choose manhood and homophobia.41

Women, who are not given a choice, are objectified, or, rather, “the object is allowed to desire, if she desires to be an object.”42 Psychology sets the proper bounds of this objectification by terming its improper excesses “fetishism,”43 distinguishing the uses from the abuses of women. Dworkin shows how the process and content of women’s definition as women, an underclass, are the process and content of their sexualization as objects for male sexual use. The mechanism is (again) force, imbued with meaning because it is the means to death44 and death is the ultimate sexual act, the ultimate making of a person into a thing.

Why, one wonders at this point, is intercourse “sex” at all? In pornography, conventional intercourse is one act among many; penetration is crucial but can be done with anything; penis is crucial but not necessarily in the vagina. Actual pregnancy is a minor subgeneric theme, about as important in pornography as reproduction is in rape. Thematically, intercourse is incidental in pornography, especially when compared with force, which is primary. From pornography one learns that forcible violation of women is the essence of sex. Whatever is that and does that is sex. Everything else is secondary. Perhaps the reproductive act is considered sexual because it is considered an act of forcible violation and defilement of the female distinctively as such, not because it ‘is’ sex a priori.

To be sexually objectified means having a social meaning imposed on your being that defines you as to be sexually used, according to your desired uses, and then using you that way. Doing this is sex in the male system. Pornography is a sexual practice of this because it exists in a social system in which sex in life is no less mediated than it is in representation. There is no irreducible essence, no “just sex.” If sex is a social construct of sexism, men have sex with their image of a woman. Pornography creates an accessible sexual object, the possession and consumption of which is male sexuality, to be possessed and consumed as which is female sexuality. This is not because pornography depicts objectified sex but because it creates the experience of a sexuality which is itself objectified. The appearance of choice or consent, with their attribution to inherent nature, are crucial in concealing the reality of force. Love of violation, variously termed female masochism and consent,45 comes to define female sexuality, legitimizing this political system by concealing the force on which it is based.

In this system, a victim, usually female, always feminized, is “never forced, only actualized.”46 Women whose attributes particularly fixate men—such as women with large breasts—are seen as full of sexual desire. Women men want, want men. Women fake vaginal orgasms, the only ‘mature’ sexuality, because men demand that they enjoy vaginal penetration.47 Raped women are seen as asking for it: if a man wanted her, she must have wanted him. Men force women to become sexual objects, “that thing which causes erection, then hold themselves helpless and powerless when aroused by her.”48 Men who sexually harass, say women sexually harass them. They mean they are aroused by women who turn them down. This elaborate projective system of demand characteristics—taken to pinnacles like fantasizing a clitoris in women’s throats49 so that men can enjoy forced fellatio in real life assured that women do too—is surely a delusional and projective structure deserving of serious psychological study. Instead, it is women who resist it that are studied, seen as in need of explanation and adjustment, stigmatized as inhibited and repressed and asexual. The assumption that, in matters sexual, women really want what men want from women makes male force against women in sex invisible. It makes rape sex. Women’s sexual “reluctance, dislike, and frigidity,” women’s puritanism and prudery in the face of this sex, is the “silent rebellion of women against the force of the penis … an ineffective rebellion, but a rebellion nonetheless.”50

Nor is homosexuality without stake in this gendered sexual system. Putting to one side the obviously gendered content of expressly adopted roles, clothing, and sexual mimicry, to the extent the gender of a sexual object is crucial to arousal, the structure of social power that stands behind and defines gender is hardly irrelevant, even if it is rearranged. Some have argued that lesbian sexuality—meaning here simply women having sex with women not men—solves the problem of gender by eliminating men from women’s voluntary sexual encounters.51 Yet women’s sexuality remains constructed under conditions of male supremacy; women remain socially defined as women in relation to men; the definition of women as men’s inferiors remains sexual even if not heterosexual, whether men are present at the time or not. To the extent gay men choose men because they are men, the meaning of masculinity is affirmed as well as undermined. It may also be that sexuality is so gender marked that it carries dominance and submission with it, no matter the gender of its participants.

Each structural requirement of this sexuality as revealed in pornography is professed in recent defenses of sadomasochism, described by proponents as that sexuality in which “the basic dynamic … is the power dichotomy.”52 Exposing the prohibitory underpinnings on which this violation model of the sexual depends, one advocate says, “We select the most frightening, disgusting or unacceptable activities and transmute them into pleasure.” The relational dynamics of sadomasochism do not even negate the paradigm of male dominance, but conform precisely to it: the ecstasy in domination (“I like to hear someone ask for mercy or protection”); the enjoyment of inflicting psychological as well as physical torture (“I want to see the confusion, the anger, the turn-on, the helplessness”); the expression of belief in the inferior’s superiority belied by the absolute contempt (“the bottom must be my superior . . . playing a bottom who did not demand my respect and admiration would be like eating rotten fruit”); the degradation and consumption of women through sex (“she feeds me the energy I need to dominate and abuse her”); the health and personal growth rationale (“it’s a healing process”); the antipuritan radical therapy justification (“I was taught to dread sex. … It is shocking and profoundly satisfying to commit this piece of rebellion, to take pleasure exactly as I want it, to exact it like tribute”); the bipolar doublethink in which the top enjoys “sexual service” while the “will to please is the bottom’s source of pleasure.” And the same bottom line of all top-down sex: “I want to be in control.” The statements are from a female sadist. The good news is, it’s not biological.

As pornography connects sexuality with gender in social reality, the feminist critique of pornography connects feminist work on violence against women with its inquiry into women’s consciousness and gender roles. It is not only that women are the principal targets of rape, which by conservative definition happens to almost half of all women at least once in their lives. It is not only that over a third of all women are sexually molested by older trusted male family members or friends or authority figures as an early, perhaps initiatory, interpersonal sexual encounter. It is not only that at least the same percentage as adult women are battered in homes by male intimates. It is not only that about a fifth of American women have been or are known to be prostitutes, and most cannot get out of it. It is not only that 85 percent of working women will be sexually harassed on the job, many physically, at some point in their working lives.53 All this documents the extent and terrain of abuse and the effectively unrestrained and systematic sexual aggression of one-half of the population against the other half. It suggests that it is basically allowed.

It does not by itself show that availability for this treatment defines the identity attributed to that other half of the population; or, that such treatment, all this torment and debasement, is socially considered not only rightful but enjoyable, and is in fact enjoyed by the dominant half; or, that the ability to engage in such behaviors defines the identity of that half. And not only of that half. Now consider the content of gender roles. All the social requirements for male sexual arousal and satisfaction are identical to the gender definition of “female.” All the essentials of the male gender role are also the qualities sexualized as ‘male’ in male dominant sexuality. If gender is a social construct, and sexuality is a social construct, and the question is, of what is each constructed, the fact that their contents are identical—not to mention that the word ‘sex’ refers to both—might be more than a coincidence.

As to gender, what is sexual about pornography is what is unequal about social life. To say that pornography sexualizes gender and genders sexuality means that it provides a concrete social process through which gender and sexuality become functions of each other. Gender and sexuality, in this view, become two different shapes taken by the single social equation of male with dominance and female with submission. Being this as identity, acting it as role, inhabiting and presenting it as self, is the domain of gender. Enjoying it as the erotic, centering upon when it elicits genital arousal, is the domain of sexuality. Inequality is what is sexualized through pornography; it is what is sexual about it. The more unequal, the more sexual. The violence against women in pornography is an expression of gender hierarchy, the extremity of the hierarchy expressed and created through the extremity of the abuse, producing the extremity of the male sexual response. Pornography’s multiple variations on and departures from the male dominant/female submissive sexual/gender theme are not exceptions to these gender regularities. They affirm them. The capacity of gender reversals (dominatrixes) and inversions (homosexuality) to stimulate sexual excitement is derived precisely from their mimicry or parody or negation or reversal of the standard arrangement. This affirms rather than undermines or qualifies the standard sexual arrangement as the standard sexual arrangement, the definition of sex, the standard from which all else is defined, that in which sexuality as such inheres.

Such formal data as exist on the relationship between pornography and male sexual arousal tend to substantiate this connection between gender hierarchy and male sexuality. ‘Normal’ men viewing pornography over time in laboratory settings become more aroused to scenes of rape than to scenes of explicit but not expressly violent sex, even if (especially if?) the woman is shown as hating it.54 As sustained exposure perceptually inures subjects to the violent component in expressly violent sexual material, its sexual arousal value remains or increases. “On the first day, when they see women being raped and aggressed against, it bothers them. By day five, it does not bother them at all, in fact, they enjoy it.”55 Sexual material that is seen as nonviolent, by contrast, is less arousing to begin with, becomes even less arousing over time,56 after which exposure to sexual violence is sexually arousing.57 Viewing sexual material containing express aggression against women makes normal men more willing to aggress against women.58 It also makes them see a woman rape victim as less human, more object-like, less worthy, less injured, and more to blame for the rape. Sexually explicit material that is not seen as expressly violent but presents women as hysterically responsive to male sexual demands, in which women are verbally abused, dominated and degraded, and treated as sexual things, makes men twice as likely to report willingness to sexually aggress against women than they were before exposure. So-called nonviolent materials like these make men see women as less than human, as good only for sex, as objects, as worthless and blameworthy when raped, and as really wanting to be raped and as unequal to men.59 As to material showing violence only, it might be expected that rapists would be sexually aroused to scenes of violence against women, and they are.60 But many normal male subjects, too, when seeing a woman being aggressed against by a man, perceive the interaction to be sexual even if no sex is shown.61

Male sexuality is apparently activated by violence against women and expresses itself in violence against women to a significant extent. If violence is seen as occupying the most fully achieved end of a dehumanization continuum on which objectification occupies the least express end, one question that is raised is whether some form of hierarchy—the dynamic of the continuum—is currently essential for male sexuality to experience itself. If so, and gender is understood to be a hierarchy, perhaps the sexes are unequal so that men can be sexually aroused. To put it another way, perhaps gender must be maintained as a social hierarchy so that men will be able to get erections; or, part of the male interest in keeping women down lies in the fact that it gets men up. Maybe feminists are considered castrating because equality is not sexy.

Recent inquiries into rape support such suspicions. Men often rape women, it turns out, because they want to and enjoy it. The act, including the dominance, is sexually arousing, sexually affirming, and supportive of the perpetrator’s masculinity. Many unreported rapists report an increase in self-esteem as a result of the rape.62 Indications are that reported rapists perceive that getting caught accounts for most of the unpleasant effects of raping.63 About a third of all men say they would rape a woman if they knew they wouldn’t get caught.64 That the low conviction rate65 may give them confidence is supported by the prevalence rate.66 Some convicted rapists see rape as an “exciting” form of interpersonal sex, a recreational activity or “adventure,” or as a means of revenge or punishment on all women or some subgroup of women or an individual woman. Even some of those who did the act out of bad feelings make it clear that raping made them feel better. “Men rape because it is rewarding to do so.”67 If rapists experience rape as sex, does that mean there can be nothing wrong with it?

Once an act is labeled rape—indeed, this is much of the social function served by labeling acts rape—there is an epistemological problem with seeing it as sex.68 Rape becomes something a rapist does, as if he is a separate species. But no personality disorder distinguishes most rapists from normal men.69 Psychopaths do rape, but only about 5 percent of all known rapists are diagnosed psychopathic.70 In spite of the number of victims, the normalcy of rapists, and the fact that most women are raped by men that they know (making it most unlikely that a few lunatics know around half of all women in the United States), rape remains considered psychopathological and therefore not about sexuality.

Add this to rape’s pervasiveness and permissibility, together with the belief that it is both rare and impermissible. Combine this with the similarity between the patterns, rhythms, roles, and emotions, not to mention acts, which make up rape (and battery) on the one hand and intercourse on the other. All this makes it difficult to sustain the customary distinctions between pathology and normalcy, parophilia and nomophilia, violence and sex, in this area. Some researchers have previously noticed the centrality of force to the excitement value of pornography but have tended to put it down to perversion. Robert Stoller, for example, observes that pornography today depends upon hostility, voyeurism, and sadomasochism and calls perversion the erotic form of hatred.71 If the perverse is seen as not the other side of a bright normal/abnormal line but as an undiluted expression of a norm which permeates many ordinary interactions, hatred—that is, misogyny—becomes a dimension of sexual excitement itself.

Compare victims’ reports of rape with women’s reports of sex. They look a lot alike.72 Compare victims’ reports of rape with what pornography says is sex. They look a lot alike.73 In this light, the major distinction between intercourse (normal) and rape (abnormal) is that the normal happens so often that one cannot get anyone to see anything wrong with it. Which also means that anything sexual that happens often and one cannot get anyone to consider wrong is intercourse not rape, no matter what was done. The distinctions that purport to divide this territory look more like the ideological supports for normalizing the usual male use and abuse of women as “sexuality” through authoritatively pretending that whatever is exposed of it is deviant. This may have something to do with the conviction rate in rape cases (making all those unconvicted men into normal men, and all those acts into sex). It may have something to do with the fact that most convicted rapists, and many observers, find rape convictions incomprehensible.74 And the fact that marital rape is considered by many to be a contradiction in terms. (“But if you can’t rape your wife, who can you rape?”)75 And the fact that so many rape victims have trouble with sex afterward.76

What effect does the pervasive reality of sexual abuse of women by men have on what are deemed the more ordinary forms of sexual interaction? How do these material experiences create interest and point of view? Consider women. Recall that over a third of all girls experience sex, perhaps are sexually initiated, under conditions that even this society recognizes are forced or at least unequal.77 Perhaps they learn this process of sexualized dominance as sex. Top-down relations feel sexual. Is sexuality throughout life then ever not on some level a reenactment of, a response to, that backdrop? Rape, adding more women to the list, can produce similar resonance. Sexually abused women—most women—seem to become either sexually disinclined or compulsively promiscuous or both in series, trying to avoid the painful events, and/or repeating them over and over almost addictively, in an attempt to reacquire a sense of control or to make them come out right. Too, women widely experience sexuality as a means to male approval; male approval translates into nearly all social goods. Violation can be sustained, even sought out, to this end. Sex can, then, be a means of trying to feel alive by redoing what has made one feel dead, of expressing a denigrated self-image seeking its own reflection in self-action in order to feel fulfilled, or of keeping up one’s stock with the powerful.

Many women who have been sexually abused (like many survivors of concentration camps and ritual torture) report having distanced themselves as a conscious strategy for coping with the abuse. With women, this dissociation often becomes a part of their sexuality per se and of their experience of the world, especially their experience of men. Women widely report this sensation during sex. Not feeling pain, including during sex, may have a similar etiology. As one pornography model put it,

O: I had quite a bit of difficulty as a child. I was suicidal for a time, because I never felt attached to my body. I just felt completely detached from my body; I felt like a completely separate entity from it. I still see my body as a tool, something to be used.

DR: Give me an example of how today you sense not being attached to your body.

O: I don’t feel pain.

DR: What do you mean, literally?

O: I really don’t feel pain. . . .

DR: When there is no camera and you are having sexual relations, are you still on camera?

O: Yes. I’m on camera 24 hours a day. . . .

DR: Who are you?

O: Who? Olympia Dancing-Doll: The Sweet with the Super-Supreme.

DR: What the hell is that?

O: That’s the title of my act. . . .

DR: [Pointing to her.] This is a body. Is it your body?

O: Yes.

DR: Are you your body?

O: No. I’m not my body, but it is my body.78

Women often begin alienating themselves from their body’s self-preserving reactions under conditions under which they cannot stop the pain from being inflicted, and then find the deadening process difficult to reverse. Some then seek out escalating pain to feel sexual or to feel alive or to feel anything at all. One particularly devastating and confusing consequence of sexual abuse for women’s sexuality—and a crisis for consciousness—occurs when one’s body experiences abuse as pleasurable. Feeling loved and aroused and comforted during incest, or orgasm during rape, are examples. Because body is widely regarded as access to un-mediated truth in this culture, women feel betrayed by their bodies and seek mental justifications (Freudian derepression theory provides an excellent one) for why their body’s reactions are their own true reactions, and their values and consciousness (which interprets the event as a violation) is socially imposed. That is, they come to believe they really wanted the rape or the incest and interpret violation as their own sexuality.79

Interpreting women’s responses to pornography, in which there is often a difference between so-called objective indices of arousal, like vaginal secretions, and self-reported arousal, raises similar issues. Repression is the typical explanation.80 It seems at least as likely that women disidentify with their bodies’ conditioned responses. Not to be overly behavioral, but does anyone think Pavlov’s dogs were really hungry every time they salivated at the sound of the bell? If it is possible that hunger is inferred from salivation, perhaps humans experience81 sexual arousal from pornographic cues and, since sexuality is social, that is sexual arousal. Identifying that as a conditioned response to a set of social cues, conditioned to what is for political reasons, is not the same as considering the response proof of sexual truth simply because it physically happens. Further, research shows that sexual fetishism can be experimentally induced readily in ‘normal’ subjects.82 If this can be done with sexual responses that the society does not condone out front, why is it so unthinkable that the same process might occur with those sexual responses it does?

If the existing social model and reality of sexuality centers on male force, and if that sex is socially learned and ideologically considered positive and is rewarded, what is surprising is that not all women eroticize dominance, not all love pornography, and many resent rape. As Valerie Heller has said of her experience with incest and use in pornography, both as a child and as an adult, “I believed I existed only after I was turned on, like a light switch by another person. When I needed to be nurtured I thought I wanted to be used. . . . Marks and bruises and being used was the way I measured my self worth. You must remember that I was taught that because men were fucking my body and using it for their needs it meant I was loved.”83 Given the pervasiveness of such experiences, the truly interesting question becomes why and how sexuality in women is ever other than masochistic.

All women live in sexual objectification like fish live in water. Given the statistical realities, all women live all the time under the shadow of the threat of sexual abuse. The question is, what can life as a woman mean, what can sex mean to targeted survivors in a rape culture? Given the statistical realities, much of women’s sexual lives will occur under post-traumatic stress. Being surrounded by pornography—which is not only socially ubiquitous but often directly used as part of sex84—makes this a relatively constant condition. Women cope with objectification through trying to meet the male standard, and measure their self-worth by the degree to which they succeed. Women seem to cope with sexual abuse principally through denial or fear. On the denial side, immense energy goes into defending sexuality as just fine and getting better all the time, and into trying to make sexuality feel all right, like it is supposed to feel. Women who are compromised, cajoled, pressured, tricked, blackmailed, or outright forced into sex (or pornography) often respond to the unspeakable humiliation, coupled with the sense of having lost some irreplaceable integrity, by claiming that sexuality as their own. Faced with no alternatives, the strategy to acquire self-respect and pride is: I chose it.

Consider the conditions under which this is done. This is a culture in which women are socially expected—and themselves necessarily expect and want—to be able to distinguish the socially, epistemologically, indistinguishable. Rape and intercourse are not authoritatively separated by any difference between the physical acts or amount of force involved but only legally, by a standard that revolves around the man’s interpretation of the encounter. Thus, although raped women, that is, most women, are supposed to be able to feel every day and every night that they have some meaningful determining part in having their sex life—their life, period—not be a series of rapes, the most they provide is the raw data for the man to see as he sees it. And he has been seeing pornography. Similarly, “consent” is supposed the crucial line between rape and intercourse, but the legal standard for it is so passive, so acquiescent, that a woman can be dead and have consented under it. The mind fuck of all of this makes the complicitous collapse into “I chose it” feel like a strategy for sanity. It certainly makes a woman at one with the world.

On the fear side, if a woman has ever been beaten in a relationship, even if “only once,” what does that do to her everyday interactions, or her sexual interactions, with that man? With other men? Does her body ever really forget that behind his restraint he can do that any time she pushes an issue, or for no reason at all? Does her vigilance ever really relax? If she tried to do something about it, as many women do, and nothing was done, as it usually isn’t, does she ever forget that that is what can be done to her at any time and nothing will be done about it? Does she smile at men less—or more? If she writes at all, does she imitate men less—or more? If a woman has been raped, ever, does a penis ever enter her without some body memory, if not a flashback then the effort of keeping it back; or does she hurry up or keep trying, feeling something gaining on her, trying to make it come out right? If a woman has ever been raped, does she ever fully regain the feeling of physical integrity, of self-respect, of having what she wants count somewhere, of being able to make herself clear to those who have not gone through what she has gone through, of living in a fair society, of equality?

Given the effects of learning sexuality through force or pressure or imposition; given the constant roulette of sexual violence; given the daily sexualization of every aspect of a woman’s presence—for a woman to be sexualized means constant humiliation or threat of it, being both invisible as human being and always center stage as sex object, low pay, and being a target for assault or being assaulted. Given that this is the situation of all women, that one never knows for sure that one is not next on the list of victims until the moment one dies (and then, who knows?), it does not seem exaggerated to say that women are sexual, meaning that women exist, in a context of terror. Yet most professionals in the area of sexuality persist in studying the inexplicabilities of what is termed female sexuality acontextually, outside the context of gender inequality and its sexual violence, navel-gazing only slightly further down.85

The general theory of sexuality emerging from this feminist critique does not consider sexuality to be an inborn force inherent in individuals, nor cultural in the Freudian sense, in which sexuality exists always in a cultural context but in universally invariant stages and psychic representations. It appears instead to be culturally specific, even if so far largely invariant because male supremacy is largely universal, if always in specific forms. It does not vary by class, although class is one hierarchy it sexualizes. Sexuality becomes, in this view, social and relational, constructing and constructed of power. Infants, although sensory, cannot be said to possess sexuality in this sense because they have not had the experiences (and do not speak the language) that give it social meaning. Since sexuality is its social meaning, infant erections, for example, are clearly sexual in the sense that this society centers its sexuality on them, but to relate to a child as though his erections mean what adult erections have been conditioned to mean is a form of child abuse. Such erections have the meaning they acquire in social life only to observing adults.

When Freud changed his mind86 and declared that women were not telling the truth about what had happened to them when they said they were abused as children, he attributed their accounts to “fantasy.” This was regarded as a theoretical breakthrough. Under the aegis of Freud, it is often said that victims of sexual abuse imagine it, that it is fantasy, not real, and their sexuality caused it. The feminist theory of sexuality suggests that it is the doctors who, because of their sexuality, as constructed, imagine that sexual abuse is a fantasy when it is real—real both in the sense that the sex happened and in the sense that it was abuse. Pornography is also routinely defended as “fantasy,” meaning not real. It is real: the sex that makes it is real and is often abuse, and the sex that it makes is sex and is often abuse. Both the psychoanalytic and the pornographic “fantasy” worlds are what men imagine women imagine and desire because they are what men, raised on pornography, imagine and desire about women. Thus is psychoanalysis used to legitimize pornography, calling it fantasy, and pornography used to legitimize psychoanalysis, to show what women really want. Psychoanalysis and pornography, seen as epistemic sites in the same ontology, are mirrors of each other, male supremacist sexuality looking at itself looking at itself.

Perhaps the Freudian process of theory-building occurred like this: men heard accounts of child abuse, felt aroused by the account, and attributed their arousal to the child who is now a woman. Perhaps men respond sexually when women give an account of sexual violation because sexual words constitute sexual reality, in the same way that men respond to pornography, which is (among other things) an account of the sexual violation of a woman. Seen in this way, much therapy as well as court testimony in sexual abuse cases are live oral pornography. Classical psychoanalysis attributes the connection between the experience of abuse (hers) and the experience of arousal (his) to the fantasy of the girl child. When he does it, he likes it, so when she did it, she must have liked it, or she must have thought it happened because she as much enjoys thinking about it happening to her as he enjoys thinking about it happening to her. Thus it cannot be abusive to her. Because he wants to do it, she must want it done.

Feminism also doubts the mechanism of repression in the sense that unconscious urges are considered repressed by social restrictions. Male sexuality is expressed and expressed and expressed, with a righteousness driven by the notion that something is trying to keep it from expressing itself. Too, there is a lot of doubt both about biology and about drives. Women are less repressed than oppressed, so-called women’s sexuality largely a construct of male sexuality searching for someplace to happen, repression providing the reason for women’s inhibition, meaning their unwillingness to make themselves available on demand. In this view, one function of the Freudian theory of repression (a function furthered rather than qualified by neo-Freudian adaptations) is ideologically to support the freeing of male sexual aggression while delegitimizing women’s refusal to respond.

There may be a feminist unconscious, but it is not the Freudian one. Perhaps equality lives there. Its laws, rather than a priori, objective, or universal, might as well be a response to the historical regularities of sexual subordination, which under bourgeois ideological conditions require that the truth of male dominance be concealed in order to preserve the belief that women are sexually self-acting: that women want it. The feminist psychic universe certainly recognizes that people do not always know what they want, have hidden desires and inaccessible needs, lack awareness of motivation, have contorted and opaque interactions, and have an interest in obscuring what is really going on. But this does not essentially conceal that what women really want is more sex. It is true, as Freudians have persuasively observed, that many things are sexual that do not present themselves as such. But in ways Freud never dreamed.

At risk of further complicating the issues, perhaps it would help to think of women’s sexuality as women’s like black culture is blacks’—it is, and it is not. The parallel cannot be precise because, due to segregation, black culture developed under more autonomous conditions than women, intimately integrated with men by force, have had. Still, both can be experienced as a source of strength, joy, expression and as an affirmative badge of pride.87 Both remain nonetheless stigmatic in the sense of a brand, a restriction, a definition as less. This is not because of any intrinsic content or value but because the social reality is that their shape, qualities, texture, imperative, and very existence are a response to powerlessness. They exist as they do because of lack of choice. They are created out of social conditions of oppression and exclusion. They may be part of a strategy for survival or even of change—but, as is, they are not the whole world, and it is the whole world that one is entitled to. This is why interpreting female sexuality as an expression of women’s agency and autonomy is always denigrating and bizarre and reductive, as if sexism does not exist, just as it would be to interpret black culture as if racism did not exist. As if black culture just arose freely and spontaneously on the plantations and in the ghettos of North America, adding diversity to American pluralism.

So long as sexual inequality remains unequal and sexual, attempts to value sexuality as women’s, possessive as if women possess it, will remain part of limiting women to it, to what women are now defined as being. Outside of truly rare and contrapuntal glimpses (which almost everyone thinks they live almost their entire sex life within), to seek an equal sexuality, to seek sexual equality, without political transformation is to seek equality under conditions of inequality. Rejecting this, and rejecting the glorification of settling for the best inequality has to offer or has stimulated the resourceful to invent, are what Ti-Grace Atkinson meant to reject when she said, “I do not know any feminist worthy of that name who, if forced to choose between freedom and sex, would choose sex. She’d choose freedom every time.”88

Appendix

A few basic citations from the massive body of work on which this article draws are:

On rape: D. Russell and N. Howell, “The Prevalence of Rape in the United States Revisited,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 8 (1983): 668—95; D. Russell, Rape in Marriage (New York: Macmillan, 1982); L. Clark and D. Lewis, Rape: The Price of Coercive Sexuality (Toronto: Canadian Women’s Press, 1977); D. Russell, The Politics of Rape (New York: Stein & Day, 1975); A. Medea and K. Thompson, Against Rape (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974); S. Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975) ; I. Frieze, “Investigating the Causes and Consequences of Marital Rape,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 8 (1983): 532-53; N. Gager and C. Schurr, Sexual Assault: Confronting Rape in America (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976) ; G. LaFree, “Male Power and Female Victimization: Towards a Theory of Interracial Rape,” American Journal of Sociology 88 (1982): 311—28; M. Burt, “Cultural Myths and Supports for Rape,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38 (1980): 217-30; Kalamu ya Salaam, Our Women Keep Our Skies from Falling (New Orleans: Nkombo, 1980); J. Check and N. Malamuth, “An Empirical Assessment of Some Feminist Hypotheses about Rape,” International Journal of Women’s Studies 8 (1985): 414-23.

On battery: D. Martin, Battered Wives (San Francisco: Glide Productions, 1976); S. Steinmetz, The Cycle of Violence: Assertive, Aggressive, and Abusive Family Interaction (New York: Praeger, 1977); R. E. Dobash and R. Dobash, Violence against Wives (New York: Free Press, 1979); R. Langley and R. Levy, Wife Beating: The Silent Crises (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977); E. Stark, A. Flitcraft, and W. Frazier, “Medicine and Patriarchal Violence: The Social Construction of a ‘Private’ Event,” International Journal of Health Services 9 (1979): 461—93; L. Walker, The Battered Woman (New York: Flarper & Row, 1979).

On sexual harassment: Merit Systems Protection Board, Sexual Harassment in the Federal Workplace: Is It a Problem? (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1981); C. A. MacKinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979); D. Benson and G. Thomson, “Sexual Harassment on a University Campus: The Confluence of Authority Relations, Sexual Interest and Gender Stratification,” Social Problems 28 (1981): 263-51; R Crocker and A. Simon, “Sexual Harassment in Education,” Capital University Law Review 10 (1981): 541-84.

On incest and child sexual abuse: D. Finkelhor, Sexually Victimized Children (New York: Free Press, 1979); J. Herman, Father-Daughter Incest (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981); D. Finkelhor, Child Sexual Abuse: Theory and Research (New York: Free Press, 1984); A. Jaffe, L. Dynneson, and R. TenBensel, “Sexual Abuse: An Epidemiological Study,” American Journal of Diseases of Children 129 (1975): 689-92; K. Brady, Fathers Days: A True Story of Incest (New York: Seaview Books, 1979); L. Armstrong, Kiss Daddy Goodnight (New York: Hawthorn Press, 1978); S. Butler, Conspiracy of Silence: The Trauma of Incest (San Francisco: New Glide Publications, 1978); A Burgess, N. Groth, L. Homstrom, and S. Sgroi, Sexual Assault of Children and Adolescents (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1978); F. Rush, The Best-kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1980); D. Russell, “The Prevalence and Seriousness of Incestuous Abuse: Stepfathers v. Biological Fathers,” Child Abuse and Neglect: The InternationalJournal 8 (1984): 15—22, “The Incidence and Prevalence of Intrafamilial and Extrafamilial Sexual Abuse of Female Children,” Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal 7 (1983): 133—46, and The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Women and Girls (New York: Basic Books, 1986).

On prostitution: K. Barry, Female Sexual Slavery (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979); J. James and J. Meyerding, “Early Sexual Experience as a Factor in Prostitution,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 7 (1977): 31-42; United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Working Group on Slavery, Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others E/Cn.4/AC.2/5 (New York: United Nations, June 16, 1976); J. James, The Politics of Prostitution (Social Research Association, 1975); K. Millett et al., The Prostitution Papers (New York: Avon Books, 1973).

On pornography: L. Lederer, ed., Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography (New York: William Morrow, 1980); A. Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (New York: Perigee, 1981); L. Lovelace and M. McGrady, Ordeal (New York: Berkeley Books, 1980); P. Bogdanovich, The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten, 1960—1980 (New York: William Morrow, 1984); M. Langelan, “The Political Economy of Pornography,” Aegis: Magazine on Ending Violence against Women 32 (1981): 5-7; D. Leidholdt, “Pornography Meets Fascism,” WIN, March 15, 1983, 18-22; E. Donnerstein, “Erotica and Human Aggression,” in Aggression: Theoretical and Empirical Reviews, ed. R. Green and E. Donnerstein (New York: Academic Press, 1983), and “Pornography: Its Effects on Violence against Women,” in Pornography and Sexual Aggression, ed. N. Malamuth and E. Donnerstein (New York: Academic Press: 1985); Geraldine Finn, “Against Sexual Imagery, Alternative or Otherwise,” Symosium on Images of Sexuality in Art and Media, Ottawa, Canada (March 13-16, 1985); Diana E. H. Russell, “Pornography and Rape: A Causal Model,” Political Psychology 9 (1988): 41—73; Report of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1986).

See generally: D. Russell, Sexual Exploitation (New York: Russell Sage, 1984); D. Russell and N. Van de Ven, Crimes against Women: Proceedings of the International Tribunal (Les Femmes, 1976); E. Morgan, The Erotization of Male Dominance/Female Submission (Pittsburgh: Know, Inc., 1975); A. Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 5 (1980): 631—60; J. Long Laws and P. Schwartz, Sexual Scripts: The Social Construction of Female Sexuality (Hinsdale, 111.: Dryden Press, 1976); L. Phelps, “Female Sexual Alienation,” in Women: A Feminist Perspective, ed. J. Freeman (Palo Alto, Calif.: Mayfield, 1979); S. Hite, The Hite Report: A Nationwide Survey of Female Sexuality (New York: Macmillan, 1976); Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse (New York: Free Press, 1987). Recent comparative work provides confirmation and contrasts: Pat Caplan, ed., The Cultural Construction of Sexuality (New York: Tavistock, 1987); Marjorie Shostak, Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman (New York: Vintage Books, 1983).


  1. See Jane Caputi, The Age of Sex Crime (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1987); Deborah Cameron and Elizabeth Frazer, The Lust to Kill: A Feminist Investigation of Sexual Murder (New York: New York University Press, 1987).

  2. Freud’s decision to disbelieve women’s accounts of being sexually abused as children was apparently central in the construction of the theories of fantasy and possibly also of the unconscious. That is, his belief that the sexual abuse his patients told him about did not actually occur created the need for a theory like fantasy, like unconscious, to explain the reports (see Rush [Appendix]; J. Moussaieff Masson, The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory [New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983]). One can only speculate on the course of the modern psyche (not to mention modern history) had the women been believed.

  3. E. Schur Labeling Women Deviant: Gender, Stigma and Social Control (New York: Random House, 1983) (a superb review urging a “continuum” rather than a “deviance” approach to issues of sex inequality).

  4. Diana Russell produced this figure at my request from the random sample data base of 930 San Francisco households discussed in her The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women, pp. 20-37 [Appendix], and Rape in Marriage, pp. 27-41 [Appendix]. The figure includes all the forms of rape or other sexual abuse or harassment surveyed, noncontact as well as contact, from gang rape by strangers and marital rape to obscene phone calls, unwanted sexual advances on the street, unwelcome requests to pose for pornography, and subjection to peeping toms and sexual exhibitionists (flashers).

  5. S. D. Smithyman, “The Undetected Rapist” (Ph.D. diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1978); N. Groth, Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender (New York: St. Martin’s, 1982); D. Scully and J. Marolla, “‘Riding the Bull at Gilley’s’: Convicted Rapists Describe the Rewards of Rape,” Social Problems 32 (1985): 251. (The manuscript version of this paper was subtitled “Convicted Rapists Describe the Pleasure of Raping.”)

  6. K. Millett, Sexual Politics (New York: Doubleday, 1970).

  7. J. Lacan, Feminine Sexuality, trans. J. Rose (New York: Norton, 1982); M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, An Introduction (New York: Random House, 1980), and Power/Knowledge, ed. C. Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1980).

  8. See generally (including materials reviewed in) R. Padgug, “Sexual Matters: On Conceptualizing Sexuality in History,”Radical History Review 70 (1979): 9; M. Vicinus, “Sexuality and Power: A Review of Current Work in the History of Sexuality,” Feminist Studies 8 (1982): 133—55; S. Ortner and H. Whitehead, Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Red Collective, The Politics of Sexuality in Capitalism (London: Black Rose Press, 1978); J. Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800 (New York: Longman, 1981); J. D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); A. Snitow, C. Stansell, and S. Thompson, introduction to Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, ed. A. Snitow, C. Stansell, and S. Thompson (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983); E. Dubois and L. Gordon, “Seeking Ecstasy on the Battlefield: Danger and Pleasure in Nineteenth-Century Feminist Social Thought,” Feminist Studies 9 (1983): 7—25.

  9. An example is Jeffrey Weeks, Sexuality and Its Discontents (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985).

  10. Luce Irigaray’s critique of Freud in Speculum de I’autre femme (Paris: Minuit, 1974) acutely shows how Freud constructs sexuality from the male point of view, with woman as deviation from the norm. But she, too, sees female sexuality not as constructed by male dominance but only repressed under it.

  11. For those who think that such notions are atavisms left behind by modern behaviorists, see one entirely typical conceptualization of “sexual pleasure, a powerful unconditioned stimulus and reinforcer” in N. Malamuth and B. Spinner, “A Longitudinal Content Analysisof Sexual Violence in the Best-Selling Erotic Magazines,” Journal of Sex Research 16 (1980): 5. See also B. Oilman’s discussion of Wilhelm Reich in Social and Sexual Revolution (Boston: South End Press, 1979), pp. 186-87.

  12. The contributions and limitations of Foucault in such an analysis are discussed illuminatingly in Frigga Haug, ed., Female Sexualization, trans. Erica Carter (London: Verso, 1987), pp. 190-98.

  13. A. Kinsey, W. Pomeroy, C. Martin, and P. Gebhard, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1953); A. Kinsey, W. Pomeroy, and C. Martin, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1948). See the critique of Kinsey in Dworkin, Pornography (see Appendix), pp. 179—98.

  14. Examples include: D. English, “The Politics of Porn: Can Feminists Walk the Line?” Mother Jones (1980), pp. 20-23, 43-44, 48-50; D. English, A. Hollibaugh, and G. Rubin, “Talking Sex: A Conversation on Sexuality and Feminism,” Socialist Review, vol. 11 (1981); J. B. Elshtain, “The Victim Syndrome: A Troubling Turn in Feminism,” Progressive (1982), pp. 40-47; Ellen Willis, “Feminism, Moralism, and Pornography,” Village Voice (1979). This approach also tends to characterize the basic ideology of “Human Sexuality Courses” as analyzed by C. Vance in Snitow, Stansell, and Thompson, eds., pp. 371-84. The view of sex so promulgated is distilled in the following quotation and taught to doctors through Materials from Courses on Human Sexuality. After an alliterative list, perhaps intended to be humorous, headed “determinants of sexuality” (on which “power” does not appear, although every other word begins with “p”) appears: “Persistent puritanical pressures promoting propriety, purity, and prudery are opposed by a powerful, primeval, procreative passion to plunge his pecker into her pussy” (College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Rutgers Medical School, January 29-February 2, 1979, p. 39).

  15. A third reason is also given: “To the extent that sexism in societal and family structure is responsible for the phenomena of ‘compulsive masculinity’ and structured antagonism between the sexes, the elimination of sexual inequality would reduce the number of ‘power trip’ and ‘degradation ceremony’ motivated rapes” (M. Straus, “Sexual Inequality, Cultural Norms, and Wife-beating,” Victimology: An International Journal 1 [1976]: 54—76). Note that these structural factors seem to be considered nonsexual, in the sense that “power trip” and “degradation ceremony” motivated rapes are treated as not erotic to the perpetrators because of the elements of dominance and degradation, nor is “structured antagonism” seen as an erotic element of rape or sex (or family).

  16. P. R. Sanday, “The Socio-cultural Context of Rape: A Cross-cultural Study,” Journal of Social Issues 37 (1981): 16. See also M. Lewin, “Unwanted Intercourse: The Difficulty of Saying ‘No,’” Psychology of Women Quarterly 9 (1985): 184-92.

  17. See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), chap. 9 for discussion.

  18. Brownmiller, Against Our Will (see Appendix), originated this approach, which has since become ubiquitous.

  19. Annie McCombs helped me express this thought (letter to off our backs [1984], p. 34).

  20. Brownmiller did analyze rape as something men do to women, hence as a problem of gender, even if her concept of gender is biologically based (see, e.g., her pp. 4, 6, and discussion in chap. 3). An exception is Clark and Lewis (see Appendix).

  21. Snitow, Stansell, and Thompson (n. 8 above), p. 9.

  22. C. Vance, “Concept Paper: Toward a Politics of Sexuality,” in H. Alderfer, B. Jaker, and M. Nelson, eds., Diary of a Conference on Sexuality, record of the planning committee of the Conference, the Scholar and the Feminist IX: Toward a Politics of Sexuality, April 24, 1982, p. 27: to address “women’s sexual pleasure, choice, and autonomy, acknowledging that sexuality is simultaneously a domain of restriction, repression and danger as well as a domain of exploration, pleasure and agency.” Parts of the Diary, with the conference papers, were later published. C. Vance, ed., Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984).

  23. Vance, “Concept Paper,” p. 38.

  24. For examples, see A. Hollibaugh and C. Moraga, “What We’re Rolling around in Bed with: Sexual Silences in Feminism,” in Snitow, Stansell, and Thompson, eds., pp. 394-405, esp. 398; Samois, Coming to Power (Berkeley, Calif.: Samois, 1983).

  25. A. Dworkin, “Why So-called Radical Men Love and Need Pornography,” in Lederer, ed. (see Appendix), p. 48.

  26. S. Sontag, “Fascinating Fascism,” in her Under the Sign of Saturn (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975), p. 103.

  27. R. Stoller, Sexual Excitement: Dynamics of Erotic Life (New York: Pantheon, 1979), p. 6.

  28. Harriet Jacobs, quoted by Rennie Simson, “The Afro-American Female: The Historical Context of the Construction of Sexual Identity,” in Snitow, Stansell, and Thompson, eds., p. 231. Jacobs subsequently resisted by hiding in an attic cubbyhole “almost deprived of light and air, and with no space to move my limbs, for nearly seven years” to avoid him.

  29. A similar rejection of indeterminacy can be found in Linda Alcoff, “Cultural Feminism versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 13 (1988): 419-20. The article otherwise misdiagnoses the division in feminism as that between so-called cultural feminists and post-structuralism, when the division is between those who take sexual misogyny seriously as a mainspring to gender hierarchy and those who wish, liberal-fashion, to affirm “differences” without seeing that sameness/difference is a dichotomy of exactly the sort post-structuralism purports to deconstruct.

  30. See Sandra Harding, “Introduction: Is There a Feminist Methodology?” in Feminism and Methodology, ed. Sandra Harding (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).

  31. One of the most compelling accounts of active victim behavior is provided in Give Sorrow Words: Maryse Holder’s Letters from Mexico (New York: Grove Press, 1979). Holder wrote a woman friend of her daily frantic, and always failing pursuit of men, sex, beauty, and feeling good about herself. “Fuck fucking, will feel self-respect” (p. 89). She was murdered soon after by an unknown assailant.

  32. This phrase comes from M. Foucault, “The West and the Truth of Sex,” Sub-stance (1978), p. 20. The ironic meaning given to it here is mine.

  33. Dworkin, Pornography (see Appendix), p. 24.

  34. J. Cook, “The X-rated Economy,” Forbes (1978), p. 18; Langelan (see Appendix), p. 5; Public Hearings on Ordinances to Add Pornography as Discrimination against Women, Minneapolis, Minnesota: December 12 and 13, 1983 (hereafter cited as Public Hearings); F. Schauer, “Response: Pornography and the First Amendment,” University of Pittsburgh Law Review 40 (1979): 616.

  35. John Money, professor of Medical Psychology and Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, letter to Clive M. Davis, April 18, 1984. The same view is expressed by A1 Goldstein, editor of Screw, a pornographic newspaper, concerning anti-pornography feminists, termed “nattering nabobs of sexual negativism”: “We must repeat to ourselves like a mantra: sex is good; nakedness is a joy; an erection is beautiful. . . . Don’t let the bastards get you limp” (“Dear Playboy,” Playboy [1985], p. 12).

  36. A. Dworkin, “The Root Cause,” in Our Blood: Prophesies and Discourses on Sexual Politics (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), pp. 96-111.

  37. See MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (n. 17 above), chap. 12 for further discussion.

  38. Dworkin, Pornography (Appendix), p. 69.

  39. Ibid., p. 136.

  40. Ibid., p. 69. “In practice, fucking is an act of possession—simultaneously an act of ownership, taking, force; it is conquering; it expresses in intimacy power over and against, body to body, person to thing. ‘The sex act’ means penile intromission followed by penile thrusting, or fucking. The woman is acted on, the man acts and through action expresses sexual power, the power of masculinity. Fucking requires that the male act on one who has less power and this valuation is so deep, so completely implicit in the act, that the one who is fucked is stigmatized as feminine during the act even when not anatomically female. In the male system, sex is the penis, the penis is sexual power, its use in fucking is manhood” (p. 23).

  41. Ibid., chap. 2, “Men and Boys.”

  42. Ibid., p. 109.

  43. Ibid., pp. 113-28.

  44. Ibid., p. 174.

  45. Freud believed that the female nature was inherently masochistic (S. Freud, “The Psychology of Women,” in his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis [London: Hogarth Press, 1933], chap. 23). Helene Deutsch, Marie Bonaparte, Sandor Rado, Adolf Grunberger, Melanie Klein, Helle Thorning, George Battaille, Theodore Reik, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir all described some version of female masochism in their work, each with a different theoretical account for virtually identical observations. H. Deutsch, “The Significance of Masochism in the Mental Life of Women,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 11 (1930): 48-60; Psychology of Women (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1944), vol. 1. Several are summarized by Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, ed., in her introduction to Female Sexuality: New Psychoanalytic Views (London: Virago, 1981); Theodore Reik, Masochism in Sex and Society (New York: Grove Press, 1962), p. 217; Helle Thorning, “The Mother-Daughter Relationship and Sexual Ambivalence,” Heresies 12 (1979): 3-6; Georges Bataille, Death and Sensuality (New York: Walker & Co., 1962); Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), pt. 3, chap. 3, “Concrete Relations with Others,” pp. 361-430. Betsy Belote states, “Masochistic and hysterical behavior is so similar to the concept of ‘femininity’ that the three are not clearly distinguishable” (“Masochistic Syndrome, Hysterical Personality, and the Illusion of the Healthy Woman,” in Female Psychology: The Emerging Self, ed. Sue Cox [Chicago: Science Research Associates, 1976], p. 347). I was directed to these sources by Sandra Lee Bartky’s valuable examination, “Feminine Masochism and the Politics of Personal Transformation,” Women’s Studies International Forum 7 (1984): 327-28. Andrea Dworkin writes: “I believe that freedom for women must begin in the repudiation of our own masochism. … I believe that ridding ourselves of our own deeply entrenched masochism, which takes so many tortured forms, is the first priority; it is the first deadly blow that we can strike against systematized male dominance” (Our Blood [n. 36 above], p. 111).

  46. Dworkin, Pornography (Appendix), p. 146.

  47. A. Koedt, “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” Notes from the Second Year: Women’s Liberation, vol. 2 (1970); Ti-Grace Atkinson, Amazon Odyssey (New York: Link Books, 1974); Phelps (see Appendix).

  48. Dworkin, Pornography (Appendix), p. 22.

  49. This is the plot of Deep Throat, the pornographic film Linda “Lovelace” was forced to make. It is reportedly the largest grossing film in the history of the world. That this plot is apparently so widely enjoyed suggests that something extant in the male psyche is appealed to by it.

  50. Dworkin, “The Root Cause,” p. 56.

  51. A prominent if dated example is Jill Johnston, Lesbian Nation (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974).

  52. This and the rest of the quotations in this paragraph are from P. Califia, “A Secret Side of Lesbian Sexuality,” Advocate (December 27, 1979), pp. 19-21, 27-28.

  53. The statistics in this paragraph are drawn from the sources referenced in the Appendix, as categorized by topic. Kathleen Barry (see Appendix) defines “female sexual slavery” as a condition of prostitution that one cannot get out of.

  54. E. Donnerstein, testimony, Public Hearings (see n. 34 above), pp. 35—36. The relationship between consenting and nonconsenting depictions and sexual arousal among men with varying self-reported propensities to rape are examined in the following studies: N. Malamuth, “Rape Fantasies as a Function of Exposure to Violent-Sexual Stimuli,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 6 (1977): 33-47; N. Malamuth andj. Check, “Penile Tumescence and Perceptual Responses to Rape as a Function of Victim’s Perceived Reactions,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 10 (1980): 528-47; N. Malamuth, M. Heim, and S. Feshbach, “The Sexual Responsiveness of College Students to Rape Depictions: Inhibitory and Disinhibitory Effects,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38 (1980): 399—408; N. Malamuth and J. Check, “Sexual Arousal to Rape and Consenting Depictions: The Importance of the Woman’s Arousal,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 39 (1980): 763—66; N. Malamuth, “Rape Proclivity among Males,” Journal of Social Issues 37 (1981): 138-57; E. Donnerstein and L. Berkowitz, “Victim Reactions in Aggressive Erotic Films as a Factor in Violence against Women,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 41 (1981): 710-24; J. Check and T. Guloien, “Reported Proclivity for Coercive Sex Following Repeated Exposure to Sexually Violent Pornography, Nonviolent Dehumanizing Pornography, and Erotica,” in Pornography: Recent Research, Interpretations, and Policy Considerations, ed. D. Zillman and J. Bryant (Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, in press).

  55. Donnerstein, testimony, Public Hearings, p. 36.

  56. The soporific effects of explicit sex depicted without express violence are apparent in the Report of the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1971).

  57. Donnerstein, testimony, Public Hearings, p. 36.

  58. Donnerstein and Berkowitz (see n. 54 above); E. Donnerstein, “Pornography: Its Effect on Violence against Women,” in Malamuth and Donnerstein, eds. (Appendix). This conclusion is the cumulative result of years of experimental research showing that “if you can measure sexual arousal to sexual images and measure people’s attitudes about rape you can predict aggressive behavior with women” (Donnerstein, testimony, Public Hearings, p. 29). Some of the more prominent supporting experimental work, in addition to citations previously referenced here, include E. Donnerstein and J. Hallam, “The Facilitating Effects of Erotica on Aggression toward Females,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36 (1978): 1270-77; R. G. Green, D. Stonner, and G. L. Shope, “The Facilitation of Aggression by Aggression: Evidence against the Catharsis Hypothesis”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31 (1975): 721-26; D. Zillman, J. Hoyt, and K. Day, “Strength and Duration of the Effects of Aggressive, Violent, and Erotic Communications on Subsequent Aggressive Behavior,” Communications Research 1 (1974): 286—306; B. Sapolsky and D. Zillman, “The Effect of Soft-core and Hard-core Erotica on Provoked and Unprovoked Hostile Behavior,” Journal of Sex Research 17 (1981): 319-43; D. L. Mosher, “Pornographic Films, Male Verbal Aggression against Women, and Guilt,” in Technical Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1971), vol. 8. See also E. Summers and J. Check, “An Empirical Investigation of the Role of Pornography in the Verbal and Physical Abuse of Women,” Violence and Victims 2 (1987): 189-209; and P Harmon, “The Role of Pornography in Women Abuse” (Ph.D. diss., York University, 1987). These experiments establish that the relationship between expressly violent sexual material and subsequent aggression against women is causal, not correlational.

  59. Key research is summarized and reported in Check and Galoien (see n. 54 above); see also D. Zillman, “Effects of Repeated Exposure to Nonviolent Pornography,” presented to U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, Houston, Texas (June 1986). Donnerstein’s most recent experiments, as reported in Public Hearings and his book edited with Malamuth (see Appendix), clarify, culminate, and extend years of experimental research by many. See, e.g., D. Mosher, “Sex Callousness toward Women,” in Technical Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, vol. 8; N. Malamuth and J. Check, “The Effects of Mass Media Exposure on Acceptance of Violence against Women: A Field Experiment,” Journal of Research in Personality 15 (1981): 436—46. The studies are tending to confirm women’s reports and feminist analyses of the consequences of exposure to pornography on attitudes and behaviors toward women. See J. Check and N. Malamuth (Appendix).

  60. G. G. Abel, D. H. Barlow, E. Blanchard, and D. Guild, “The Components of Rapists’ Sexual Arousal,” Archives of General Psychiatry 34 (1977): 395-403; G. G. Abel, J. V. Becker, and L. J. Skinner, “Aggressive Behavior and Sex,” Psychiatric Clinics of North America 3 (1980): 133-55; G. G. Abel, E. B. Blanchard, J. V. Becker, and A. Djenderedjian, “Differentiating Sexual Aggressiveness with Penile Measures,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 2 (1978): 315-32.

  61. Donnerstein, testimony, Public Hearings, p. 31.

  62. Smithyman (n. 5 above).

  63. Scully and Marolla (n. 5 above).

  64. In addition to previous citations to Malamuth, “Rape Proclivity among Males” (see n. 54 above); and Malamuth and Check, “Sexual Arousal to Rape and Consenting Depictions” (see n. 54 above); see T. Tieger, “Self-Reported Likelihood of Raping and the Social Perception of Rape,” Journal of Research in Personality 15 (1981): 147-58; and N. Malamuth, S. Haber, and S. Feshbach, “Testing Hypotheses Regarding Rape: Exposure to Sexual Violence, Sex Differences, and the ‘Normality’ of Rape,” Journal of Research in Personality 14 (1980): 121-37.

  65. M. Burt and R. Albin, “Rape Myths, Rape Definitions and Probability of Conviction,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, vol. 11 (1981); G. D. LaFree, “The Effect of Sexual Stratification by Race on Official Reactions to Rape,” American Sociological Review 4-5 (1984): 842-54, esp. 850; J. Galvin and K. Polk, “Attribution in Case Processing: Is Rape Unique?” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 20 (1983): 126-54. The latter work seems not to understand that rape can be institutionally treated in a way that is sex-specific even if comparable statistics are generated by crimes against the other sex. Further, this study assumes that 53 percent of rapes are reported, when the real figure is closer to 10 percent (Russell, Sexual Exploitation [see Appendix]).

  66. Russell, “The Prevalence and Incidence of Forcible Rape and Attempted Rape of Females” (see Appendix), pp. 1-4.

  67. Scully and Marolla, p. 2.

  68. Sometimes this is a grudging realism: “Once there is a conviction, the matter cannot be trivial even though the act may have been” (P. Gebhard, J. Gagnon, W. Pomeroy, and C. Christenson, Sex Offenders: An Analysis of Types [New York: Harper Sc Row, 1965], p. 178). It is telling that if an act that has been adjudicated rape is still argued to be sex, that is thought to exonerate the rape rather than indict the sex.

  69. R. Rada, Clinical Aspects of Rape (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1978); C. Kirkpatrick and E. Kanin, “Male Sex Aggression on a University Campus,” American Sociological Review 22 (1957): 52-58; see also Malamuth, Haber, and Feshbach.

  70. Abel, Becker, and Skinner (n. 60 above), pp. 133-51.

  71. Robert Stoller, Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred (New York: Pantheon, 1975), p. 87.

  72. Compare, e.g., Hite (see Appendix) with Russell, The Politics of Rape (see Appendix).

  73. This is truly obvious from looking at the pornography. A fair amount of pornography actually calls the acts it celebrates “rape.” Too, “In depictions of sexual behavior [in pornography] there is typically evidence of a difference of power between the participants” (L. Baron and M. A. Straus, “Conceptual and Ethical Problems in Research on Pornography” [paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, 1983], p. 6). Given that this characterizes the reality, consider the content attributed to “sex itself” in the following methodologically liberal quotations on the subject: “Only if one thinks of sex itself as a degrading act can one believe that all pornography degrades and harms women” (P Caliha, “Among Us, against Us—the New Puritans,” Advocate [April 17, 1980], p. 14 [emphasis added]). Given the realization that violence against women is sexual, consider the content of the “sexual” in the following criticism: “The only form in which a politics opposed to violence against women is being expressed is anti-sexual” (English, Hollibaugh, and Rubin [n. 14 above], p. 51). And “the feminist anti-pornography movement has become deeply erotophobic and anti-sexual” (A. Hollibaugh, “The Erotophobic Voice of Women,” New York Native [1983], p. 34).

  74. J. Wolfe and V. Baker, “Characteristics of Imprisoned Rapists and Circumstances of the Rape,” in Rape and Sexual Assault, ed. C. G. Warner (Germantown, Md.: Aspen Systems Co., 1980).

  75. This statement was widely attributed to California State Senator Bob Wilson; see Joanne Schulman, “The Material Rape Exemption in the Criminal Law,” Clearinghouse Review, vol. 14 [1980]) on the Rideout marital rape case. He has equally widely denied that the comment was seriously intended. I consider it by now apocryphal as well as stunningly revelatory, whether or not humorously intended, on the topic of the indistinguishability of rape from intercourse from the male point of view.

  76. Carolyn Craven, “No More Victims: Carolyn Craven Talks about Rape, and What Women and Men Can Do to Stop It,” ed. Alison Wells (Berkeley, Calif., 1978, mimeographed) p. 2.; Russell, The Politics of Rape (see Appendix), pp. 84-85, 105, 114, 135, 147, 185, 196, and 205; R Bart, “Rape Doesn’t End with a Kiss,” Viva 11 (1975): 39-41 and 100-101; J. Becker, L. Skinner, G. Abel, R. Axelrod, and J. Cichon, “Sexual Problems of Sexual Assault Survivors,” Women and Health 9 (1984): 5-20.

  77. See sources on incest and child sexual abuse, Appendix.

  78. Olympia, a woman who poses for soft-core pornography, interviewed by Robert Stoller, “Centerfold: An Essay on Excitement,” Archives of General Psychiatry (1979).

  79. It is interesting that, in spite of everything, many women who once thought of their abuse as self-actualizing come to rethink it as a violation, while very few who have ever thought of their abuse as a violation come to rethink it as self-actualizing.

  80. See G. Schmidt and V. Sigusch, “Psychosexual Stimulation by Film and Slides: A Further Report on Sex Differences,” Journal of Sex Research 6 (1970): 268-83; G. Schmidt, “Male-Female Differences in Sexual Arousal and Behavior during and after Exposure to Sexually Explicit Stimuli,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 4 (1975): 353-65; D. Mosher, “Psychological Reactions to Pornographic Films,” in Technical Reports of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (n. 58 above), 8:286-312.

  81. Using the term “experience” as a verb like this seems to be the way one currently negotiates the subjective/objective split in Western epistemology.

  82. S. Rachman and R. Hodgson, “Experimentally Induced ‘Sexual Fetishism’: Replication and Development,” Psychological Record 18 (1968): 25-27; S. Rachman, “Sexual Fetishism: An Experimental Analogue,” Psychological Record 16 (1966): 293-96.

  83. March for Women’s Dignity, New York City, May 1984.

  84. Public Hearings (n. 34 above); M. Atwood, Bodily Harm (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1983), pp. 207-12.

  85. This is also true of Foucault, The History of Sexuality (n. 7 above), vol. 1. Foucault understands that sexuality must be discussed with method, power, class, and the law. Gender, however, eludes him. So he cannot distinguish between the silence about sexuality that Victorianism has made into a noisy discourse and the silence that has been women’s sexuality under conditions of subordination by and to men. Although he purports to grasp sexuality, including desire itself, as social, he does not see the content of its determination as a sexist social order that eroticizes potency as male and victimization as female. Women are simply beneath significant notice.

  86. Masson (n. 2 above).

  87. On sexuality, see, e.g., A. Lorde, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Out and Out Books, 1978); and Haunani-Kay Trask, Eros and Power: The Promise of Feminist Theory (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986); both attempt such a reconstitution. The work of Trask suffers from an underlying essentialism in which the realities of sexual abuse are not examined or seen as constituting women’s sexuality as such. Thus, a return to mother and body can be urged as social bases for reclaiming a feminist eros.

  88. Ti-Grace Atkinson, “Why I’m against S/M Liberation,” in Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis, ed. R. Linden, D. Pagano, D. Russell, and S. Star (East Palo Alto, Calif.: Frog in the Well, 1982), p. 91.