This week, we're reading selections from Intercourse, by Andrea Dworkin (referenced in at least one, if not both, of the Atlantic articles from last week), This Sex Which Is Not One, by Luce Irigaray, and if we have time, the last chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses.
The first chapter we're reading from Intercourse is called "Skinless," which is needless to say an attractive image to start off with. Dworkin's powerfully sensual style lends itself to descriptions of how the skin dissolves in the act of sex. The skin represents physical boundaries and personal identity, both of which are lost during intercourse: "The skin is separation, individuality, the basis for corporeal privacy and also the point of contact for everything outside the self" (26-27).
So that's the title of the chapter. As it relates to sex and sexuality, nakedness reduces us to our most basic humanity: "Sex is the dim echo of that original nakedness, primal, before anything else that is also human" (27). According to Dworkin, men and women respond differently to nakedness:
"The men are tortured in their minds by the meaning of being naked, especially by the literal nakedness of women but also by their own nakedness: what it means to be seen and to be vulnerable. [...] The women are at ease being naked. ...being naked does not unnerve or expose her. [...] Men's nakedness is unbearable to them without the nakedness of a woman; men need women to survive their own nakedness" (40-41).Dworkin maintains that men's inability to reconcile their nakedness is due to their obsession with identity. Men are self-absorbed; therefore, their sex is wrapped up in abstraction, in looking without touching, in thinking rather than feeling. Men can't really touch because touch is real, and what is real may not be what the man wants. Since men can't really touch, they can never really dissolve their skin, lose their boundaries, and fuse with another person. Throughout the chapter Dworkin examines these ideas in the work of author Kobo Abe, and one of her examples is a man who barricaded a woman in a house with him and shut off the electricity so that in the dark, as long as he didn't touch her, he could pretend she was naked and be comforted, because:
"The women are the escape route from mental self-absorption into reality: they are the world, connection, contact, touch, feeling, what is real, the physical, what is true outside the frenetic self-involvement of the men, the convulsions of their passionate self-regard" (42).
So female sexuality, female nakedness, is earthly and corporeal. Women live in the body while men live in the mind, according to Dworkin. This is interesting to consider because depending on the context, this is either in keeping or in opposition to the widely held belief. Our modern romantic ideas perpetuate the image of women being the aloof lover, the abstracting lover. Women relent to men's demands of physicality indifferently, reluctantly, and only partially. Men require touch and body and often don't think beyond it. However, in religious stories like that of Eve, Lilith, and Mary Magdalene, and in historical perceptions of women, the idea that females were constantly at risk of falling off a sexual precipice prevails. Men were enlightened, rational, leading "the mental life," while women were emotional, subject to fits of hysteria (in other words, excessively physical) and had to be chaperoned whenever men were present lest they abandon themselves to passion.