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Pre-2008 Posts

Dispelling Myths About Andrea Dworkin

Love Me, Love My Cat by Tom Dukich

Over at the Den of the Biting Beaver, someone using the screen name “Andrea D” trollishly posted excerpts from Andrea Dworkin’s book, Woman Hating, to a thread about bestiality, apparently intending to create the impression that Dworkin didn’t oppose bestiality so as to score a “gotcha” on feminists who admire and respect her work. Several commenters countered that Woman Hating was Dworkin’s first book, written in the 1970s, and that she had later repudiated certain things and this was probably one of them. One commenter posted the quotes in context, but nobody offered the analysis which I think needed to be offered.

BB’s post focused on the harm done in bestiality to both animals and women, but particularly to women in bestiality pornography. She was speaking to important issues around rape and sexual violence in general and did some good educating about the actual mechanics and biology of bestiality and how women are harmed by it.

Andrea Dworkin, in the paragraphs she wrote about bestiality, was writing about something entirely different. The paragraphs from which the quotes were extracted are found in Part IV of her book in a subsection entitled “Androgyny.” The focus of this subsection is on the construction of gender stereotypes and heterosexuality as normative. She writes in her introduction to Part IV:

We want to destroy sexism, that is, polar role definitions of male and female, man and woman. We want to destroy patriarchal power at its source, the family; in its most hideous form, the nation-state. We want to destroy the structure of culture as we know it, its art, its churches, its laws: all of the images, institutions, and structural mental sets which define women as hot wet fuck tubes, hot slits.

Androgynous mythology provides us with a model which does not use polar role definitions, where the definitions are not, implicitly or explicitly, male=good, female=bad, man=human, woman=other. Androgyny myths are multisexual mythological models. They go well beyond bisexuality as we know it in the scenarios they suggest for building community, for realizing the fullest expression of human sexual possibility and creativity.

Dworkin then goes on to write of these androgyny myths and of human biology, as well, arguing that biologically speaking, there really are not two discrete sexes, that sex differences exist along a continuum and are not a polarity. She then writes something about sexuality, about her conception of eros, which is foundational to all of her work and which provides vital and essential context to her comments about bestiality. When she uses the term “androgyny” here, she is talking about mutuality-celebrating relationships between people who reject dominance hierarchies, gender stereotypes and the power inequalities which accompany them.

Any sexual coming together which is genuinely pansexual and role-free, even if between men and women as we generally think of them (i.e., the biological images we have of them), is authentic and androgynous. Specifically, androgynous fucking requires the destruction of all conventional role-playing, of genital sexuality as the primary focus and value, of couple formations, and of the personality structures dominant-active (“male”) and submissive-passive (“female”).

…An exclusive commitment to one sexual formation generally involves the denial of many profound and compelling kinds of sensuality. An exclusive commitment to one sexual formation generally means that one is, regardless of the uniform one wears, a good soldier of the culture programmed effectively to do its dirty work. It is by developing one’s pansexuality to its limits (and no one knows where or what those are) that one does the work of destroying culture to build community.

She is talking here about a wholly new, completely restructured, re-created, revisioned definition of what is erotic, to include “many profound and compelling kinds of sensuality,” and along with that the “destruction of … genital sexuality as the primary focus and value.”

What Andrea Dworkin wrote about bestiality and incest is only problematic if sexuality, sensuality, and the erotic are conflated with genital sexuality. But historically, radical feminists, including Dworkin, have sought to challenge the idea that sex ought to be shut up to genital intercourse between a man and woman and have sought to expand the notion of sex to include many kinds and forms of intimacy and connection, many forms of sensuality, and to view the erotic not as shut up to genital urges, impulses, feelings and acts only, but as a force, a human drive, a source of creative power which informs our creative work as women as well as virtually all of our relationships. Nourishing, life-giving, pleasurable sensuality need have nothing at all to do with the genitals. So the problem is not with what Dworkin wrote about bestiality or incest — although extracted from its context, it certainly seems problematic — the problem is in our own inability to view sex, sensuality or eros as anything other than a penis in a vagina or some other available orifice or some derivation of these. Because heterosexual men have been the definers, not only of gender, but of sex and of eros, then everything intimate or sensual expression outside of heterosexual genital sex has been made to be feared as criminal, gender disordered, sick, disgusting, immoral, sinful, all of which works, of course, to regulate both sex and gender.  

In her subsection on Androgyny, Dworkin lists homosexuality, transsexuality, transvestism, bestiality, incest, the family, and children because taboos and ideas around all of these are central to, and therefore sites of resistance to, patriarchal power. When she says the following (posted by the trollish person at the Den),

“Primary bestiality (fucking between people and other animals) is found in all nonindustrial societies. Secondary bestiality (generalized erotic relationships between people and other animals) is found everywhere on the planet, on every city street, in every rural town. Bestiality is an erotic reality, one which clearly places people in nature, not above it.”

she is making a statement about hierarchy and dominance. She is saying that we, as humans, are not “above” the animals, big us and little them, we are not better than, or more equal than, they are.  Instead, animals and humans beings are all part of creation, of nature; none should be subordinated to others, dominated, viewed as existing to serve the others. To illustrate the point she is making, she begins this section with this quote:

“[In the Middle Ages] copulation with a Jew was regarded as a form of bestiality, and incurred the same penances.” — G. Rattray-Taylor, Sex in History

Here again, she is saying that naming others inferior, subordinate, “beasts,” different, is a function and construction of power.  She doesn’t condone what she calls “primary bestiality,” or “secondary bestiality,” she uses the fact that they have always existed as evidence that we are all part of creation, of nature, we share much in common and are not so different from one another as we insist that we are. In fact — and this is the point she makes throughout her book — it is this insistence that we are so very different which in the end becomes the justification for those who had the power to pronounce the different “different” to oppress them on the basis of that same pronouncement. The “difference” of other creatures, human or animal, becomes the basis and excuse for their subordination, exploitation and abuse. 

Following is the rest of the section on bestiality:

The relationship between people and other animals, when nonpredatory, is always erotic since its substance is nonverbal communication and touch. That eroticism in its pure form is life-affirming and life-enrichng was sufficient reason to make bestiality a capital crime in the Dark Ages, at least for the nonhuman animal; sufficient reason for the English in the Dark Ages to confuse sheep and Jews.

In contemporary society relationships between people and other animals often reflect the sadomasochistic complexion of human relationships. Animals in our culture are often badly abused, the objects of violence and cruelty, the foil of repressed and therefore very dangerous sexuality. Some animals, like horses and big dogs, become surrogate cocks, symbols of ideal macho virility.

Needless to say, in androgynous community, human and other-animal relationships would become more explicitly erotic, and that eroticism would not degenerate into abuse. Animals would be part of the tribe, and, with us, respected, loved, and free. They always share our fate, whatever it is.

— Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating, pp. 188-189

I think it is very clear here that Dworkin is talking about an expanded and revolutionary view of the erotic and of sexuality and sensuality. She defines the erotic as “touch and nonverbal communication.” When she says relationships between humans and animals would become more “explicitly erotic,” she isn’t making a statement about genital sexuality or any sort of patriarchally-envisioned or defined sexuality, she is making a statement about touch, nonverbal communication, respect, love and freedom.

If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. If, for you, sexuality, sex, the erotic, sensuality equals a penis in an orifice, then you will read these paragraphs and see a defense of bestiality. If on the other hand you are always looking to change the world, to challenge the patriarchal status quo, if you are always looking to redefine and revision and re-create what has  been used to oppress and subordinate you, then what you read in these paragraphs will be very different.

While I’m here, given that this post is intended to dispel myths about Andrea Dworkin, I wanted to draw attention to this line once again:

Any sexual coming together which is genuinely pansexual and role-free, even if between men and women as we generally think of them (i.e., the biological images we have of them), is authentic and androgynous.

One of these days, people will stop telling lies about Andrea Dworkin, including the lie that she said all sex between men and women was rape.




9 thoughts on “Dispelling Myths About Andrea Dworkin

  1. Useful post, thanks.

    Posted by Professor Zero | July 10, 2006, 7:36 am
  2. Thank you for this post.

    Posted by Ylva | July 10, 2006, 10:39 am
  3. Excellent post Heart,

    I didn’t attempt to tackle this because, to be frank, I do not have the book nor the context of the comments. Thank you for giving this the time it deserves!

    Posted by bitingbeaver | July 10, 2006, 11:16 am
  4. Woman Hating is actually my favorite Dworkin book, precisely for the information on androgyny, so this really steamed me as well.

    There is a very uncomfortable section in Kate Millett’s The Loony-Bin Trip where she speaks at length and in fairly graphic terms about the erotic feelings she has for her horse. To be honest, it still disturbs me, and I don’t what to make of it. Given the larger context of her book, she could have originally written it in as further evidence of her “mania,” but as she later rejected the terms of her illness AFTER the main book was written, it’s all kind of confusing. If it’s no longer pathological, then what is it? It appears to be in that murky area of not acceptable, not unacceptable, not feminist, not unfeminist.

    I think it makes sense that some would make an argument in favor of beastiality on feminist terms. Don’t treat women like animals, treat animals like animals, or that sort of thing. Or if a woman is pro-porn, perhaps she has looser ideas about the issue of consent. As I always like to say in these situations, just like a person could technically be a racist and still be a feminist, a person can be in favor of cruelty to animals and be a feminist, too. It’s all a continuum. The irony of that, considering the narrow-minded take “Andrea D” is using on her very own section about “continuum”!

    Posted by Edith | July 10, 2006, 1:31 pm
  5. Oh, this gets my goat. I read a comment a few weeks ago where some fool claimed that feminism has gotten a bad name because of people like Andrea Dworkin who argue for matriarchy.

    WTF? I replied with something like “Where did you see THAT?” but of course no source was forthcoming.

    Posted by Shell | July 10, 2006, 8:01 pm
  6. Great post. Her work is so misunderstood, it’s tragic.

    Posted by Meg | July 10, 2006, 11:34 pm
  7. That was cool, thanks.

    Posted by MythicPower | July 12, 2006, 6:45 am
  8. a healthy, empathetic, & thought-provoking treatise.

    it is of special interest to me in that I have been working on a piece of fiction (in correspondential form) entitled “androgyny.”

    thanks for the posting.

    Posted by h.c. nash | August 17, 2006, 12:56 pm


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