Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Violation and the Power of the Female Orgasm

"Violation is a synonym for intercourse" (154).

So says Andrea Dworkin in today's chapter from Intercourse, "Occupation/Collaboration." In this chapter, she begins her discussion of the body by saying that it is inviolate. Women, however, are penetrated during intercourse, and that "The discourse of male truth--literature, science, philosophy, pornography--calls that penetration violation. [...] At the same time, the penetration is taken to be a use, not an abuse; a normal use; it is appropriate to enter her, to push into ("violate") the boundaries of her body" (154). Women's bodies are designed to be entered; the vagina is like a curtain, which, even when closed, can be easily pushed open.

Female roles, social and biological, have been built around this assumption that penetration/violation of women is "normal" and "appropriate." If we think of it in the basest terms, it is only through penetration of women that the human race can continue; therefore, it is necessary to some degree. For hundreds of years, into the present even, women are defined by their childbearing ability, but the reproductive power has only in the last few decades been given to women. Previous to widespread birth control and pro-choice laws, it was men who controlled which women they penetrated and impregnated. Marriages and pregnancies were economic. A woman's purpose was fulfilled by the penetration of her by a man.
"There is a deep recognition in culture and in experience that intercourse is both the normal use of a woman, her human potentiality affirmed by it, and a violative abuse, her privacy irredeemably compromised, her selfhood changed in a way that is irrevocable, unrecoverable. And it is recognized that the use and abuse are not distinct phenomena but somehow a synthesized reality: both are true at the same time as if they were one harmonious truth instead of mutually exclusive contradictions" (154).
Yet, as Dworkin points out in the above, society also recognizes that penetration changes a woman. There are psychological components to having something inside oneself. Sometimes they're positive, with feelings of welcoming, trust, fulfillment, satisfaction, intimacy. Sometimes, they're negative: violation, pain, invasion, betrayal, derogation, humiliation. As modern women, we tend to think of the distinction as clear, with laws of consent and such; but is it? Remember the "Hazards of Duke" article: Karen Owen was humiliated by a one-night stand she consented to. Even with a partner one trusts, some positions and methods of intercourse are considered more derogatory to women than others by society.
"...that slit that means entry into her--intercourse--appears to be the key to women's lower human status" (155).
As I said earlier, women are designed to be entered, occupied, as it were--and Dworkin likens the situation to occupied countries, dominated by a foreign army. Out in the world, it's all political, superficial even, but when used metaphorically to describe the situation of women it is intrinsic. Unlike an occupied country or subjected race/ethnicity, women can't throw off male occupation, refuse male penetration, without being viewed as deviant. "Intercourse is a particular reality for women as an inferior class; and it has in it, as part of it, violation of boundaries, taking over, occupation, destruction of privacy, all of which are constructed to be normal and also fundamental to continuing human existence" (156).

So what can we do about this? If women are biologically made to be dominated, how can we be free, equal? Dworkin quotes another feminist and sex researcher Shere Hite, who argues that it's through orgasm: "the ability to orgasm when we want, to be in charge of our stimulation, represents owning our bodies, being strong, free, and autonomous human beings" (158). Interestingly, Dworkin does not discuss this quote--I guess she's more interesting in doom-and-glooming--but I find it to be one of the most important things in this chapter.

The female orgasm is a strange and mysterious thing. It seems impossible to quantify; you just know when it happens. These days it seems to be sought by men and women alike ("Was it good for you, babe?" You know what I mean), but in the past it was largely ignored, passed over, or diagnosed as hysteria. Remember Lady Chatterley's Lover, and the modern women who had to be "active" if they wanted to achieve orgasm. Connie (at least in the beginning of the novel, before she submits to rough male domination) seems like someone Dworkin would approve of: a woman who keeps herself aloof from sexual submission and who takes charge of her own stimulation when the man falls limp.

Fundamentally, female orgasm means that we're getting something out of sex too; it's not just the man invading and taking what he wants. It becomes two people working together so that both can be satisfied. In terms of give and take, female orgasm means that we're taking something from the man/he's giving us something too. It creates balance. So I agree with Hite: orgasm returns our bodies to us--so go ye forth and be satisfied, ladies.

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