Friday, February 19, 2016

Is John Wrong? On Andrea Dworkin, Sex Difference, and Gender Dominance


image of book cover is from here

What follows seeks a careful, thoughtful read of Andrea's early writings. I hope to make two points:

1. Andrea's view of 'woman' was directly and politically tied to the female body—uncritically.
2. John decontextualises or overvalues key points in some of her early work, points she later abandoned or came to understand as politically problematic. In the process, the core of her work is ignored.

In John's article, "Andrea Dworkin was not Transphobic", he stated that her early views were profound and life-changing for him. From "Andrea Was Not Transphobic" at Feminist Times:
One passage in Woman Hating changed my life forever:
“The discovery is, of course, that “man” and “woman” are fictions, caricatures, cultural constructs. As models they are reductive, totalitarian, inappropriate to human becoming. As roles they are static, demeaning to the female, dead-ended for male and female both.”
That is the opening of the last chapter of the book, chapter 9: "Androgyny: Androgyny, Fucking, and Community." Also from that chapter, page 175:
... The first question then is: What of biology? There are, after all, men and women. They are different, demonstrably so. We are each of one sex or the other. If there are two discrete biological sexes, then it is not hard to argue that there are two discrete modes of human behavior, sex-related, sex-determined. One might argue for a liberalization of sex-based roles, but one cannot justifiably argue for their total redefinition.  
Hormone and chromosome research, attempts to develop new means of human reproduction (life created in, or considerably supported by, the scientist’s laboratory), work with transsexuals, and studies of formation of gender identity in children provide basic information which challenges the notion that there are two discrete biological sexes. That information threatens to transform the traditional biology of sex difference into the radical biology of sex similarity. That is not to say that there is one sex, but that there are many. 
The issue, in part, is this matter of whether there are "two discrete biological sexes". Beginning on page 176, she offers the following evidence of the two not being "discrete", or polar opposites, biologically:
The words “male” and “female, ” “man” and “woman, ” are used only because as yet there are no others. 
1. Men and women have the same basic body structure. Both have both male and female genitals —the clitoris is a vestigial penis, the prostate gland is most probably a vestigial womb. ... 
2. Until the 7th week of fetal development both sexes have precisely the same external genitalia. Basically, the development of sex organs and ducts is the same for males and females and the same two sets of ducts develop in both.  
3. The gonads cannot be said to be entirely male or female. Dr. Mary Jane Sherfey writes: In their somatic organization, the gonads always retain a greater or lesser amount of the opposite-sex tissue which remains functional throughout life. 
4. Chromosomal sex is not necessarily the visible sex of the individual. It happens that a person of one chromosomal sex develops the gonads of the other sex. Gonadal sex and chromosomal sex can be in direct contradiction.  
5. Chromosomal sex is not only XX or XY. There are other chromosomal formations, and not much is known about them or what they signify.  
6. A person can have the gonads of one sex, and the secondary sexual characteristics of the other sex.  
7. Men and women both produce male and female hormones. The amounts and proportions vary greatly, and there is no way to determine biological maleness or femaleness from hormone count.  
8. One hormone can be transformed by the body into its “opposite, ” male into female, female into male.  
9. It is now thought that the male hormone determines the sex drive in both men and women. 
10. The female hormone (progesterone) can have a masculinizing effect. Dr. Sherfey writes:
We may have difficulty conceiving it, but natural selection has no difficulty using sexually heterotypic structures for homotypic purposes. For example, progesterone is the “pregnancy hormone” essential for menstruation and the prolonged pregnancy. It is as uniquely a “female” hormone as one can be. Yet progesterone possesses strong androgenic properties. It may be used to masculinize female embryos. In 1960, Jones (27, 63) demonstrated that progesterone given to human mothers early in pregnancy to prevent threatened miscarriages. . . severely masculinized a female fetus.
11. Visible sex differences are not discrete. There are men with tiny cocks, women with large clits. There are men with highly developed breasts, women with almost no breast development. There are men with wide hips, women with no noticeable hip development. There are men with virtually no body hair, women with much body hair. There are men with high voices, women with low voices. There are men with no facial hair, women who have beards and mustaches.  
12. Height and weight differences between men and women are not discrete. Muscle structures are not discrete. We know the despair of the tall, muscular woman who does not fit the female stereotype; we know also the despair of the small, delicate man who does not fit the male stereotype. 
13. There is compelling cross-cultural evidence that muscle strength and development are culturally determined. There are cultures in which there are no great differences in somatotype of men and women...
14. There are hermaphrodites in nature. Robert T. Francoeur, in Utopian Motherhood: New Trends in Human Reproduction, admits: The medical profession and experimental biologists have always been very skeptical about the existence of functional hermaphrodites among the higher animals and man, though the earthworm, the sea hare, and other lower animals do combine both sexes in the same individual.
We are not being told two sexes don't exist, in nature or otherwise; we are being told they don't exist 'discretely'. Any casual observations of humans around the world, and even within one culture or region, bears that out: females and males are not "opposites" or entirely physically different kinds of people. Due to that, she concludes, "[w]e are justified in making a radical new formulation of the nature of human sexuality. We are, clearly, a multisexed species which has its sexuality spread along a vast fluid continuum where the elements called male and female are not discrete."

This is a crucial point for John in his work. The insight also informs the work of others, many of whom are neither radical nor feminist.

Gender, sex, and sexuality as "a vast fluid continuum" is pursued by many white sexual Liberals and Queer Theorists in the following decades. I describe them as Liberals because, unless exceptionally, they are not engaged in efforts to eradicate colonialist patriarchy from the roots up. And too often they seek to distance themselves from those who do. A problem occurs when focus on sexual fluidity or continuums becomes the primary work, not in collaboration or coalition with radical and feminist activists.

Achieving greater dignity and visibility to those who are intersex or transsexual is a worthwhile endeavor—life saving for some. But seeking visibility in an unchallenged status quo was not the objective, even in this early work of Andrea's. We are being led to consider the following:
"...the concrete implications of multisexuality as we find it articulated in both androgynous mythology and biology necessitate the total redefinition of scenarios of proper human sexual behavior and pragmatic forms of human community. If human beings are multisexed, then all forms of sexual interaction which are directly rooted in the multisexual nature of people must be part of the fabric of human life, accepted into the lexicon of human possibility, integrated into the forms of human community. By redefining human sexuality, or by defining it correctly, we can transform human relationship and the institutions which seek to control that relationship. Sex as the power dynamic between men and women, its primary form sadomasochism, is what we know now. Sex as community between humans, our shared humanity, is the world we must build." 
Isolated from her core message, some of the above can come across as post-modern and Liberal Queer Theory-making. It is important to note, the problem with post-modernism isn't its discursive critique of colonialist patriarchal modernism; it is its belief that changes in language adequately lead to sufficient changes in culture, and therefore society. The problem with Liberalism isn't that it necessarily refuses Radicalism. The problem is that people are seduced by speaking and writing projects that don't disturb the major power-brokers of society. And, it is easier to target radical activists than be accountable to them. It is also pro-hegemonic to ignore those who are most harmed by systems of exploitation and violence, effectively protecting and preserving the status quo.

People, usually those atop various political hierarchies, are far too satisfied to avoid and ignore the most heinous realities: they can also better afford to do so. I know of no one who occupies various positions at the bottom of several political hierarchies who are Liberal or who believe that only reforming colonialist patriarchy is sufficient to save their lives.

Yet, Liberals can and have worked with Radicals; the problem is that because Liberals don't actively pursue radical transformation, they instead attack Radicals and their theories and agendas, often as being illiberal and even conservative. To the extent that people seeking to reform the status quo only endeavor to create more text, more identities, or more laws within patriarchy, they are liberal and a problematic form of post-modern. Academic discourse aside, it means they are invested, often without intent and usually without awareness, in the mass subordination, enslavement, and murder of women and girls.

According to Andrea, "redefining human sexuality", or "defining it correctly" does not, by itself, leave us with something other than "the power dynamic between men and women, its primary form sadomasochism", unless we build it. Dworkin, in this abandoned early theory, is calling for a more complex, non-hierarchical mythology of gender and sex as part of an overall program of dismantling patriarchy. It is not an end unto itself. The goal is not "more genders". The goal is the end of gender-as-hierarchy, and all expressions of male supremacist violence. So if we don't get there by changing terms and sexual categories, how do we?
"We must destroy the very structure of culture as we know it, its art, its churches, its laws." — Andrea Dworkin, "The Rape Atrocity and the Boy Next Door", page 48, Our Blood.
The project isn't primarily discursive (one of creating new theory) or one of expanding identities (as liberal genderqueer proponents do). It is eradicating male supremacist violence, including as it expresses itself through culture, art, religion, and laws.

To appreciate the implications of anything she wrote, one must face this fact:

Andrea's writing was a radical and feminist political act; she wrote as an activist, building revolution into her prose and nonfiction. She wanted patriarchy dead as soon as possible, accomplished by ending all forms of sexual violence against women and girls—against their spirits and minds, and against their female bodies. This, more than anything else, was what I believe Andrea wanted to see achieved.

We must also keep this in mind. With Nikki Craft alone, over a period of years, Andrea carefully selected the contents of the Andrea Dworkin Online Library. The section from Woman Hating now being promoted by John as, according to him, dis-identifying womanhood with femaleness, was not chosen by Andrea as something she wanted to have preserved in cyberspace. What she did choose was a portion of part 2, "The Pornography" as an introduction to a full chapter called "Woman as Victim: Story of O", pp. 53-63, from Woman Hating, copyright © 1974 by Andrea Dworkin.

From "The Pornography":
Pornography, like fairy tale, tells us who we are. It is the structure of male and female mind, the content of our shared erotic identity, the map of each inch and mile of our oppression and despair. Here we move beyond childhood terror. Here the fear is clammy and real, and rightly so. Here we are compelled to ask the real questions: why are we defined in these ways, and how can we bear it?
Now, the opening paragraph from "Woman as Victim: Story of O"
The Story of O, by Pauline Reage, incorporates, along with all literary pornography, principles and characters already isolated in my discussion of children's fairy tales. The female as a figure of innocence and evil enters the adult worldthe brutal world of genitalia. The female manifests in her adult formcunt. She emerges defined by the hole between her legs. In addition, Story of O is more than simple pornography. It claims to define epistemologically what a woman is, what she needs, her processes of thinking and feeling, her proper place. It links men and women in an erotic dance of some magnitude: the sado-masochistic complexion of O is not trivialit is formulated as a cosmic principle which articulates, absolutely, the feminine.
What is epistemically existent is the colossal and subordinating violence done to women's female bodies by men. This, not the separation of female bodies from women's lives, is what Andrea exposed.

Far less frequently quoted than some of what is above, is this: Andrea states, "I think there are a lot of things really wrong with the last chapter of Woman Hating." See, Without Apology: Andrea Dworkin's Art and Politics, by Cindy Jenefsky (1998). The quote is from page 139, in her notes to chapter 3. Her point is not thoroughly discussed so we do not know all of what she meant.

John's article continues:
That belief in the possibility of life beyond gender was a core of both her work and mine. A speech I gave within a few months after our meeting was published as Refusing to Be a Man (the title I gave my first book). In a speech of Andrea’s written about a year later she drew a distinction between reality and truth in order to say that: 
“while the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true…. [T]he system based on this polar model of existence is absolutely real; but the model itself is not true. We are living imprisoned inside a pernicious delusion, a delusion on which all reality as we know it is predicated.”
As already indicated, I do not believe "life beyond gender", per se, was "a core" of her work. The distinction may appear subtle, but here, John is conflating his own literary and political project with hers, implying a mutually reinforcing intellectual pursuit and activist agenda. We are deliberately told the chronology of their early writings. But the thing is, he has not strayed from his earliest points. She moved on.

The speech he links to above appears as chapter 9 in Our Blood, "The Root Cause". I shall excerpt a substantial portion of the speech, here:
One basic principle of reality, universally believed and adhered to with a vengeance, is that there are two sexes, man and woman, and that these sexes are not only distinct from each other, but are opposite. The model often used to describe the nature of these two sexes is that of magnetic poles. The male sex is likened to the positive pole, and the female sex is likened to the negative pole. Brought into proximity with each other, the magnetic fields of these two sexes are supposed to interact, locking the two poles together into a perfect whole. Needless to say, two like poles brought into proximity are supposed to repel each other. 
The male sex, in keeping with its positive designation, has positive qualities; and the female sex, in keeping with its negative designation, does not have any of the positive qualities attributed to the male sex. For instance, according to this model, men are active, strong, and courageous; and women are passive, weak, and fearful. In other words, whatever men are, women are not; whatever men can do, women cannot do; whatever capacities men have, women do not have. Man is the positive and woman is his negative.
... 
This diseased view of woman as the negative of man, "female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities," infects the whole of culture. It is the cancer in the gut of every political and economic system, of every social institution. It is the rot which spoils all human relationships, infests all human psychological reality, and destroys the very fiber of human identity.

This pathological view of female negativity has been enforced on our flesh for thousands of years. The savage mutilation of the female body, undertaken to distinguish us absolutely from men, has occurred on a massive scale.
Here we see the core theme of her work, well reiterated, consistent with the quote above from "The Rape Atrocity". "The diseased view" is not that woman has a female body. "The pathological view" is not that women are female. The sociopathology is the uses and abuses to which women's female bodies are put, in patriarchal cultural mythology and in hard-core practice.

Advocating the addition of other genders, while leaving unchallenged the tyrannical sexual hierarchy that is globalised, is not a revolutionary effort. It is liberal to the core. The big mistake is thinking Dworkin sought to separate women's resistance to patriarchy from being female, or men's efforts to transform themselves from being male. What Andrea sought was the end of any association, presented to us as both truth and reality, of being a woman with being feminine and submissive, or being a man with being masculine and predatory.

Addendum:
Many people I know, respect, and love are intersex, non-binary, or transsexual. There is no unspoken claim here by me that Andrea was anti-transsexual or that she denied the existence of intersex people. She was an astoundingly empathic and compassionate human being, very much against cruel stereotyping and hatred of any group systematically targeted for violence and socially marginalised by the powerful. She wrote in Woman Hating, page 182:
...whatever we choose to make out of the data of what is frequently called Intersex, it is clear that sex determination is not always clearcut and simple. Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins University has basically isolated these six aspects of sex identity: 
1. Genetic or nuclear sexuality as revealed by indicators like the sex-chromatin or Barr-body, a full chromosomal count and the leucocytic drumstick;
2. Hormonal sexuality which results from a balance that is predominantly androgenic or estrogenic; 
3. Gonadal sexuality which may be clearly ovarian or testicular, but occasionally also mixed; 
4. Internal sexuality as disclosed in the structure of the internal reproductive system; 
5. External genital sexuality as revealed in the external anatomy, and finally; 
6. Psychosexual development which through the external forces of rearing and social conditioning along with the individual's response to these factors directs the development of a personality which is by nature sexual. 
At this point, Dr. Money is more commonly known to have been a child abuser and pro-predation.

And from page 186:
Transsexuality  
How can I really care if we win “the Revolution”? Either way, any way, there will be no place for me. A transsexual friend, in a conversation 
Transsexuality is currently considered a gender disorder, that is, a person learns a gender role which contradicts his/her visible sex. It is a “disease” with a cure: a sex-change operation will change the person’s visible sex and make it consonant with the person’s felt identity.  
Since we know very little about sex identity, and since psychiatrists are committed to the propagation of the cultural structure as it is, it would be premature and not very intelligent to accept the psychiatric judgment that transsexuality is caused by faulty socialization. More probably transsexuality is caused by a faulty society. Transsexuality can be defined as one particular formation of our general multisexuality which is unable to achieve its natural development because of extremely adverse social conditions.  
There is no doubt that in the culture of male-female discreteness, transsexuality is a disaster for the individual transsexual. Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency (see p. 185) as a transsexual. There are 3 crucial points here. One, every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means that every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition. Two, by changing our premises about men and women, role-playing, and polarity, the social situation of transsexuals will be transformed, and transsexuals will be integrated into community, no longer persecuted and despised. Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disappear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.
She goes on to discuss Transvestism, Bestiality, and Incest, although not in the pro-predation, pro-perpetration ways that MRAs claim. But it should be quite clear that what she proposes here was later rejected for several reasons, in part because it is victim-ignoring, politically naive, and speculative relative to her later work. For example, this, from page 180 of Woman Hating:
It is interesting here to speculate on the perceptions of men like Lionel Tiger (Men in Groups) who in effect project human cultural patterns of dominance and submission on the animal world. For instance, Dr. Sherfey tells us that “In many primate species, the females would be diagnosed hermaphrodites if they were human” (Italics hers.) Most probably, we often simply project our own culturally determined modes of acting and perceiving onto other animals—we effectively screen information that would challenge the notions of male and female which are holy to us. In that case, a bias toward androgyny (instead of the current bias toward polarity) would give us significantly different scenarios of animal behavior.
Nothing too dangerous happens to non-human animals if we don't bother to notice that female and male are not the only presentations of sexed being. A lot happens to them, and to us, if we fail to challenge the ways female human beings across their lifetimes, as girls and as women, are harassed, threatened, beaten, raped, and murdered, precisely for being female women. Colonialist patriarchy is a core problem in the West and beyond. Girls across the globe are imperiled right now, but more generations of girls will continue to be if we ignore the bulk of what Andrea so truthfully described in her work across the 1980s and until her death, about entirely unspeculative gendered atrocities.