Editor’s note: As an eco-feminist organization, Deep Green Resistance draws links between the exploitation and mistreatment of women, the destruction of compassion and solidarity, and the ongoing ecocide of the natural world.
Rates of sexual abuse today are staggering. On average nearly 500,000 people over 12 years of age — the vast majority of them female — are sexually assaulted each year in the United States. Some 12.5% of children are sexually abused.
In this piece, Jocelyn Crowley draws links between the mainstreaming of violent pornography and endemic sexual abuse — increasingly normalized as “rough sex” or kink, reminding us that we must not forget that sexual abuse of women is at the core of patriarchy.
NB: This piece contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse. Click here for information about stopping porn addiction.
By Jocelyn Crawley
While doing research for an article I recently wrote regarding the level of radicalism which can and might exist within mainstream realms such as rape crisis centers, I stumbled across a documentary regarding how sex traffickers now frequent drug rehab facilities for the purpose of recruiting victims. These traffickers lure victims away by proposing that the victims are being transported to another drug rehab facility.
Although I formerly worked for an anti-trafficking facility, this was all new to me. I listened in a state of deep horror as several young women described how traffickers repeatedly “sold them for sex” (paid rape) to various individuals. While everything stated by the brave survivors who were strong enough to tell their stories left a deep imprint on my consciousness, the most disturbing and transformative story was from a young woman who stated that while being trafficked, the trafficker stated “Did you know that four men just ran a train on you for $20? Just $20. That’s it.” Her point was plain. The trafficker was informing her that she was worth little to nothing and that, as a mere object, he maintained the subjectivity necessary to determine what the cost of her objectification would be.
It is well-known that pimps use these types of breaking strategies to convince victims that no one cares about them, and the strategies wouldn’t be repeatedly used if they weren’t effective. Yet the reason that her words were particularly jarring to me at that moment is because I had recently become reirritated by the reality of fake feminists and their inaccurate discourse, nonempirical understanding of gender, and superficial work that they do to uphold male supremacy under the guise of creating a more equitable world when they could actually join the radical feminist family in the unapologetic, unrelenting condemnation of men who subject women to any and all forms of sexual abuse.
I won’t go into deep detail regarding the asinine, ineffective efforts of the liberal feminist community here, but suffice it to state that they make things like the cultivation of good heterosexual marriages, equal pay for equal work, and abortion rights integral to their platform and diminish the role that sexual abuse plays in perpetuating male supremacy due to fear of truly speaking to power and recognizing that the men they serve are the biggest threat to the viability of the planet and half its population
Although the recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade was a substantive blow to women, I agree with the radical feminists who argue that the sustained attention given to the abortion debate is actually a distraction and the diverting of female energy from the most significant source of women’s oppression: any and all forms of sexual abuse. Indeed, I think that radical feminist energy should be continually redirected to the recognition of, rumination regarding, and antagonistic response towards the variegated forms of sexual abuse that transpire in all realms, including the now sexually normative and culturally acceptable spheres of prostitution and pornography.
While other forms of gender-based abuse are problematic, rape and other forms of sexual assault and oppression are the most egregious because they reduce women to objects and revivify a cultural landscape in which individuals are reduced to a state eerily comparable to slavery in which their bodies are no longer their own but rather a resource that is extracted for capital and/or pleasure of nefarious masters (pimps, johns, boyfriends, husbands, and all other men who appropriate female bodies). (Also, if is true that prostitution is the oldest institution in the world, this would mean that it predates all forms of traditional slavery on the planet…and this would be saying a lot regarding which forms of oppression and against which groups are most deeply imbricated into the psyches of the citizens of the planet.)
While I have read much literature regarding rape and other forms of sexual abuse, I was most recently stirred by my rereading of Gloria Steinem’s stunning essay “The Real Linda Lovelace.” This essay recounts the horrific, brutal violence (both sexual and non) suffered by Linda Boreman at the hands of multiple men, including her former husband Chuck Traynor.
Much of Steinem’s retelling of Boreman’s sexual abuse stems from her awareness of the pornographic film Deep Throat. Although individuals immersed in malestream, normative thinking regarding gender and sexuality viewed the film as an intriguing and perhaps grotesquely fascinating representation of “sex,” radical feminists know that the accurate interpretation of this media representation is a replication of the culturally normative practice of treating women as sexual objects and physical receptacles (mouth, anus, and vagina are just “holes” for men to enter) who exist as such for male pleasure. This assessment is grounded in material reality rather than mere abstract philosophical speculation because we know the film involved a man inserting his penis in Linda Boreman’s mouth as well as a hollow glass dildo being stuck in her vagina while men sipped liquid from it.
Radical feminists can learn many lessons from these depictions, one of which is that culturally normative male sexuality is about disregarding the concept of female pleasure in sexuality or inverting it to promote the myth that women receive pleasure from giving men pleasure. These patriarchal myths are perpetuated through Deep Throat, and Steinem makes this reality plain upon noting that the director-writer of the film, Gerry Damiano, “decided to tell the story of a woman whose clitoris was in her throat, and who was constantly eager for oral sex with men” (267).
Here we see the inversion of biological reality, which is that the clitoris is a central and primary source of sexual pleasure for women, such that this component of female anatomy is geographically relocated to the back of a woman’s throat for the purpose of suggesting that having a penis inserted into a female’s mouth is physically stimulating in a manner that results in substantive pleasure. The reality, which Damiano diminished through this inversion of biological materiality, is that this form of oral sex has the primary impact of generating male, not female, pleasure. The pleasure is not mutual or equally distributed between both partners because the clitoris is indeed not located in the back of a woman’s throat.
Damiano’s mythological distortion of female sexuality and the female body reinforces male dominance by perpetuating the core patriarchal idea that women exist to service men. As a cultural artifact, the film reinforces the idea that this ideology can be legitimated through the development of fictional narratives regarding women’s biology.
The use of a hollow glass dildo in Deep Throat also upholds the mythology of male supremacy that is normalized within the pornographic realm. Steinem recounts this scene in context of the horrified response of Nora Ephron, a writer who, upon seeing this in the film, stated “All I could think about was what would happen if the glass broke” (268). I’m fairly confident that I would have responded similarly if I sat through a scene in which a hollow glass dildo was inserted into a woman’s vagina and then filled with Coca-Cola that was subsequently drunk through a surgical straw.
Yet when Ephron shared her concern with some male friends, they told her “that she was “overreacting” and that the Coca-Cola scene was “hilarious”” (268). This response reflects the desensitization that most people, particularly men, experience when confronted with the reality of female objectification coupled with the perpetuation of the idea that women’s bodies exist for the purpose of servicing men. In this case, the servicing grotesquely melded the realms of food and sex such that the source of male satisfaction involved being able to use a component of female anatomy for sexual titillation and the alleviation of thirst. (If the person who drank the Coca-Cola was actually thirsty, because it is quite plausible that he was not and just wanted to demonstrate the extent of his control over a female body by indicating that he could find more than one way to utilize her vagina and, given the opportunity, would do so. I think it’s also important to note that this component of the film reflects the male proclivity to utilize the power of creation and artistry in a perverse manner that involves misusing, obliterating, or disfiguring female bodies such that their process of “creation” is actually more comparable to “destruction,” making their “creative process” a patriarchal reversal (the opposite of what it claims to be). I think it’s also important to note what this specific form of patriarchal reversal might be rooted in, which is plausibly male jealousy over female anatomy and its capacity to give birth and life to a living thing, with the male perverted response being a proclivity for destroying the source of life, female bodies.)
The lies that men tell about female bodies through pornography are not limited to the mythology of a clitoris in the back of the throat or the insertion of a hollow glass dildo into a woman’s vagina. Chuck Traynor, Linda’s long-time abuser/husband, perpetuated myths regarding female psychology and anatomy by having her memorize a set of lies to recite regarding her role in pornographic films when interviewed by the public. This is why, when Nora Ephron interviewed Linda Boreman and asked how she felt about making Deep Throat, Boreman responded “I totally enjoyed myself making the movie” and “I don’t have any inhibitions about sex. I just hope that everybody who goes to see the film…loses some of their inhibitions” (268).
As Steinem notes, “Linda would later list these and other answers among those dictated by Chuck Traynor for just such journalistic occasions” (268). Furthermore, Traynor punished Boreman for showing any type of unacceptable emotion when he sold her for sex (paid rape). For example, Boreman cried after being successively raped by the five men Traynor sold her to. One of the men, apparently disturbed by her emotive response, refused to pay. Upon learning of this, Traynor punished her with physical abuse. In recounting this, Steinem notes that Boreman “had been beaten and raped so severely and regularly that she suffered rectal damage, plus permanent injury to the blood vessels in her legs” (268).
The reality of the physical and sexual abuse that Boreman suffered at the hands of Chuck Traynor as he sold her for paid rape is disturbing for several reasons, including the fact that it constitutes a form of severe dehumanization. This abuse is operative and real male depravity, not simulation or speculation.
Yet while the reality of male depravity is disturbing, the level of ignorance that the masses have regarding its occurrence within the realms of pornography and prostitution is perhaps even more disorienting. Collective resistance plays a key role in defanging male supremacy. Therefore, the reality that most individuals are not fully aware of the profound abuse that transpires within these realms of cultural acceptability means that there will be a lack of attention towards solving the problem because of a lack of awareness that there even is a problem.
Even though Boreman was forced to make the film Deep Throat at gunpoint, this is not what the viewers of the film saw. What they saw was her happy, smiling face in the film, with this depiction being utilized for promoting a multitude of male myths regarding female sexuality, including the fact that women are most sexually satisfied when they are satisfying men (which is one of the reasons that I think fellatio has become normative within heterosexual relationships despite how profoundly one-sided it is). The masses are unaware of the dynamic of violence that went into making this film and thus don’t even understand that Boreman was not a willing participant.
It is also disturbing to note that while many individuals may have been horrified to learn of the abuse behind Deep Throat, they would be unperturbed about watching a modern pornographic film in which a woman “willingly chose” to participate, but did not give consent for various sexual acts that were subsequently forced upon her — under the premise that “she is just acting” and therefore it’s “not real, just a creative depiction of sexuality without the typical inhibitions.” This type of abuse, along with so-called “revenge porn,” voyeur videos, rape fantasies, racist tropes, incest themes, and videos of child and adult sexual abuse, are common on modern porn websites that are accessible free, 24/7.
Thus while many people might be uncomfortable regarding the reality of a lack of female consent, they are unbothered by rape and abuse if it occurs in context of a “fantasy.” (I put the word fantasy in quotation marks here because the creation of pornographic films that involve this system of relationality is not entirely fantastical because the production required real actors and we also now know that many of the female actresses are not actually giving consent to portray themselves as not giving consent. Rather, they are actually being raped. In fact, many porn films are filmed rapes that were uploaded into communities of individuals who consume porn.)
With all of this in mind, there is an important point for radical feminists to consider: lack of female consent and arousal regarding forms of “sex” that take place in its absence appear to be a part of normative collective consciousness, also known as the mainstream. So, the low level of receptivity to banning porn and prostitution should perhaps be unsurprising and respected, meaning that radical feminists should perhaps redirect their energy away from convincing individuals who accept and appreciate the perversity of porn that it is a problem toward the development of alternative communities for those who want it to have neither central nor tangential impact and import in their lives.
As I continue to think critically about the sexual abuse of women, I find that new and old questions and concepts flourish in my psyche. One is an assertion that I have heard many ostensibly empathetic, sensitive individuals make regarding radical feminist discourse on sexual abuse. The assessment is: “Sometimes I think these radical feminists take the most grotesque, egregious cases of sexual abuse and present them to the public for either 1. shock value or 2. To promote the idea that these extreme cases are normative and widespread.”
Sometimes I think the people who make this statement have been trained to recite a line for the purpose of perpetuating fake conversations and false consciousness rather than engaging in a potentially awkward or life-altering discourse, or perhaps they simply don’t want to believe that abuse is as common as it actually is. I haven’t drawn clear conclusions regarding the motivation for the recitation yet. Anyway, there are many problems with these assertions, but I only wish to address one here.
The individuals who assert that extreme sexual abuse (such as that experienced by Linda Boreman) is somehow detached from what transpires in the mainstream heteronormative culture are submitting a misleading supposition. This is the case because even though most men are not traffickers and pimps, and most women are not trafficked or prostituted by these men, the majority of the male populace consumes the sexual objectification and assault of women in the form of pornography, prostitution, and/or attendance in strip clubs (where many young women are seasoned to go from stripping to prostitution).
Additionally, while it is not the fault of women that men engage in these nefarious activities, the majority of the female populace creates the conditions necessary for these depraved behaviors to continue through self-silencing, victim-blaming, and becoming a male apologist (ie, “Oh, he’s really a good guy. What we saw right there is not who he really is, just a mistake he made.” Blah blah blah.)
This is what the people who say that radical feminists are presenting extreme cases that don’t reflect what most men and women think and feel or would consent to need to understand: “Literally millions of women seem to have been taken to Deep Throat by their boyfriends or husbands (not to mention prostitutes who were taken by their pimps) so that each one might learn what a woman could do to please a man if she really wanted to. This instructive value seems to have been a major reason for the movie’s popularity, and its reach beyond the usual universe of male-only viewers” (267).
In reflecting on Steinem’s assertion here, it should be plain that the production and consumption of media depicting the sexual abuse of women and thwarting/inversion of female sexuality is an unequivocally mainstream endeavor. While the abuse that Boreman suffered may be considered extreme and not reflective of what most women experience in heteropatriarchy, most of the American populace is now actively contributing to the sustaining of industries that profit from the violation of her and other women trapped in the realms of prostitution (including pornography) and trafficking.
In summation, male supremacy in context of abortion laws is a significant topic that should continually be addressed. Yet, this newest manifestation of male supremacy should not sideline radical feminist discourse regarding the most egregious form of patriarchy, sexual abuse. As such, let’s keep talking about the sexual abuse of women, please.
Jocelyn Crawley is a radical feminist who resides in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Steinem, Gloria. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1983.
Photo: MMIW marchers at a 2019 march in Washington D.C., taken by S L O W K I N G on Wikimedia. CC BY NC 3.0.
Trinity La Fey reflects on the ubiquity of child abuse, the links between childhood trauma and addictive behaviors, the brain chemistry of pornography addiction, and the ways in which patriarchy is reproduced and transmitted from generation to generation through children.
by Trinity La Fey
“The first step in resisting exploitation is seeing it and knowing it and not lying about where it is sitting on you. The second step is caring enough about other women that if today you are fine and yesterday you were fine, but your sister, hanging from the tree is not fine, that you will go the distance to cut her down.”
– Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating Right and Left
* * *
During his 1981 interview regarding Boys for Sale, the documentary exposé on child sexual abuse in Huston, Texas, University History Professor Tom Philpott marveled that around the world, sexual predation of children is observed, but it is not accompanied by the “mayhemic violence” that is seen in America.
Dr. Robert Sapolski, in his Behavioral Biology Class at Stanford University, explains tournament species: who are competitive, non-monogamous maters; and pair bonding species: who mate for life. He describes our hyper-plastic human sexuality as being socially and biologically expressed somewhere between these two.
In When God was A Woman, Merlin Stone documents globally reoccurring Neolithic Goddess worship that included practices of priestesses taking youthful lover/son partners that were later ritually sacrificed. Especially in the chapter, “If The King Did Not Weep”, it becomes clear that widespread sexual predation of the opposite sex, in their youth, is an (or perhaps the most) effective way to ensure sex-based social dominion in a culture. As men attained more cultural power, gaining ritual access, especially in Anatolia, they did so by castrating themselves and wearing the long robes of women.
Jeffrey M. Masson related his discoveries of Sigmund Freud’s letters, in the possession of his daughter, Anna Freud, in Freud and the Seduction Theory, A challenge to the foundations of psychoanalysis, and how she had perpetuated her father’s abuse of women, through psychoanalysis, to discredit them further to themselves and society regarding the large-scale father/daughter incest that was occurring and debilitating his patients well past the years of the physical abuse.
Interviewed for the documentary series The Keepers, former student of Seton Keough High School, Jean Hargadon Wehner, wondered how her abusers knew she wouldn’t expose them; why they trusted her silence as completely as they did.
Dr. Gabor Maté said, in the interview with California Healthline: Addiction Rooted In Childhood Trauma, Says Prominent Specialist, “All addictions — alcohol or drugs, sex addiction or internet addiction, gambling or shopping — are attempts to regulate our internal emotional states because we’re not comfortable, and the discomfort originates in childhood. For me, there’s no distinction except in degree between one addiction and another: same brain circuits, same emotional dynamics, same pain and same behaviors of furtiveness, denial and lying.”
Detailing a near compulsory removal of foreskin during infancy, without anesthetic, the documentary American Circumcision explicitly reveals how the first sexual experience of most American males is a mutilating, traumatic abuse, the memories to which, they have no access.
Porn, Pseudoscience and DeltaFosB, published by yourbrainonporn.com, run by Gary Wilson, “lists 41 neuroscience-based studies (MRI, fMRI, EEG, neuropsychological, hormonal). They provide strong support for the addiction model as their findings mirror the neurological findings reported in substance addiction studies.” A follow up article: Unwiring & Rewiring Your Brain: Sensitization and Hypofrontality, Intro to neuroplasticity, explains the physical results of porn addiction. “Hypofrontailty means the frontal lobes are under performing. Structurally, this manifests as:
- Decline in gray matter (the cortex)
- Abnormal white matter (the communication pathways)
- Decreased metabolism or lowered glucose utilization”
Mohammedraza Esmail, in his article, What Porn Does to Your Brain and How to Quit, displays a common exculpation tactic in his misinterpretation of modern patriarchy as how humanity is (men are) hardwired, even as diagrams from his own article show the pornography addicted brain all but dissolved of frontal cortex: “While a husband and wife commit to being loyal to each other until the end of their days, evolution is laughing in the background. Because evolution doesn’t care about your life-long commitments. Evolution only cares about passing your genetic code to as many females as possible. Therefore, the brain is designed to want no female to be left unfertilized.” he posits, conflating limbic attention to novelty with the mass willingness to be complicit in sex crimes displayed by men.
But, as Sapolski and Maté both point out, only the traumatized, isolated or otherwise epigenetically triggered are disposed to addiction. “Nobody’s saying that every traumatized person becomes addicted. I’m saying that every addicted person was traumatized.” Maté clarifies.
When asked if the sale of children in his city was related to the legacy of trauma in the land on which it stood, Tom Philpot said it best:
“This subject has baffled me, from the time I first became aware of it, until this day. I can’t understand it and I’m trying very hard. As a historian, I know that this society, probably above all in the world and in the history of the world romanticizes childhood, but the historical record, child labor for one thing, indicates this society has not been good to children, has not protected children, and in fact is contemptuous of children, heartless to children, and they’re such helpless victims. Who can they go to? What constituency do they have? Nobody. The heartlessness that goes into it is certainly somehow connected with the heartlessness which ground up the Indians, black people, immigrant laborers, poor people in general, motivating the cuts in social programs today, blindness to the living reality of people’s situation. Yes, it’s connected. It’s about the most hair-raising thing I think I’ve encountered in studying the history of my country: the slaughter of the innocents and it goes on and on and when the public gets a hint of it, nothing happens. There doesn’t seem to be any willingness to make the connections and face them. It’s time we did.”
Trinity La Fey is a smith of many crafts, has been a small business creatrix since 2020; published author; appeared in protests since 2003, poetry performances since 2001; officiated public ceremony since 1999; and participated in theatrical performances since she could get people to sit still in front of her.
Tom Philpott, Boys For Sale Interview, 1981. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6mrC2NabIg.
Rober Sapolski, Behavioral Biology, Human Sexual Behavior I, Stanford University 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOY3QH_jOtE&t=2s.
Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman, 1976, p. 149.
Jeffrey M. Masson, Freud and the Seduction Theory, A challenge to the foundations of psychoanalysis The Atlantic, February 1984. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1984/02/freud-and-the-seduction-theory/376313/.
Ryan White, The Keepers, s1:e4, Netflix, 2017.
Dr. Gabor Maté, Addiction Rooted In Childhood Trauma, Says Prominent Specialist, California Healthline, January, 2019. https://californiahealthline.org/news/addiction-rooted-in-childhood-trauma-says-prominent-specialist/.
American Circumcision, Brendon Marotta, 2018.
Gary Wilson, Unwiring & Rewiring Your Brain: Sensitization and Hypofrontality, Your Brain On Porn,
https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/tools-for-change-recovery-from-porn-addiction/rebooting-basics-start-here/unwiring-rewiring-your-brain-sensitization-and-hypofrontality/#hypofrontality, c. 1/5/2020.
Mohammedraza Esmail, What Porn Does to Your Brain and How to Quit, August, 2020,
View at Medium.com
In this article Ben offers the reader a clear rationale regarding the control, oppression and abuse of women as a class by men as a class and a heartfelt plea to end it.
By Ben Warner
“The power exercised by men, day to day, in life is power that is institutionalised. It is protected by law. It is protected by religion and religious practice. It is protected by universities, which are strongholds of male supremacy. It is protected by a police force. It is protected by those whom Shelley called “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”: the poets, the artists.” Andrea Dworkin I Want a Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape
Members of my family have been raped and abused. I know the consequences are devastating, long lasting, across the generations. As someone who wants to be a good brother, son, and uncle I am writing this for all men who do not believe in patriarchy. I am writing for men who do not believe women when they talk about their experiences and how it makes them feel. Patriarchy is the system that objectifies woman. It is the same system that offers woman the choice of either unpaid careers or lower paid and harder working jobs of the workforce. It is the system that tries to blame woman for their own rape and which, in England and Wales, prosecutes less than 2% of rapes.
The fact that men rape in alarmingly high numbers, should be enough to convince you that patriarchy exists, and it is a cruel and disastrous system. Men rape women in alarmingly high numbers. Men also rape children, babies, and other men. How many of you know a rapist? Shockingly, we probably all do. Most of us just do not realise it. Many men have ‘used’ a prostitute. What makes paying someone for intercourse anything other than rape with financial compensation? That means for sure, we all know a rapist.
You may not believe in patriarchy, because it is hidden.
It is in our language. Hidden in plain sight. The word semen comes from the same root as the words sow and seed. Men often talk of planting their seed. Despite the fact that patriarchy prides itself in its rational scientific mind, this is unscientific emotional wish fulfilment, in other words a lie. As Stephen Buhner points out in Plant intelligence and the Imaginal Realm, human semen is biologically more like pollen. So, men are more like butterflies or bees delivering pollen in exchange for the nectar of orgasm and companionship. A woman is not a passive receiver of the seed. She is not earth for man to dominate and neither is Earth.
Patriarchy encourages men to see themselves as farmers dominating and controlling the land as he dominates and controls his woman. His dominance is either resisted or impossible. This leads to the murder of women and the murder of Earth. It is literally happening right now, and men under the direction of radically politicised women can stop it.
If we see ourselves as butterflies or bees, how would we treat women, trees and Earth?
If you do not believe in patriarchy, it’s in the fucking dictionary. Dictionaries are mainly written by dusty old white men, who dwell in small Oxford or Cambridge rooms. So the Oxford dictionary offers words like; bitch, bird, wench and bint for woman. Bint is still a neutral Arabic word for girl or daughter. It has meant whore in English since soldiers brought it back from Egypt. What do you think these soldiers did to girls and daughters, while they were there? The same thing they do wherever they go. The definition for man is longer and the synonyms are human, person, individual, personage, soul.
Bint is an example of pejoration, which is when a word starts with a neutral or positive meaning and devolves into something negative the opposite is amelioration. Buddy and sissy now mean friend and weak or effeminate man. They used to simply mean brother and sister. Master and mistress both used to mean a person in a position of authority. Now to master is a verb that means to gain control of and a mistress remains a noun but now means a sexually promiscuous woman. Can you see a pattern here?
The list of formally neutral female words that have pejorated and male words that have ameliorated is almost endless.
Let us take another one pussy. For four hundred years it was a metaphor for a vagina. Then male, of course, writers started using it to mean tame weak males. Another patriarchal lie. If your penis bled once a month you would run crying to a hospital. Every. Fucking. Time. That is only if it bled, what if it was preceded by intense abdominal pain and unwanted feelings of distress, anger and anxiety?
Even if your mother is not a ‘good’ mother (rare in comparison to the avalanche of bad fathers). Even then she risked her life for yours. She was born with the egg that became you. It was there fully formed with all her other eggs, before she was born while she was still in her own mother’s stomach. She carried it in her, until your father, the butterfly donated his pollen at just the right moment. Your mother went through the discomfort of pregnancy and the body changing life-risking pain of childbirth. Make that mean something. Do not let that birth be so you can spend one single moment of your life denying that patriarchy exists.
A few years ago, I read a I Want a Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape by the thinker and writer Andrea Dworkin. She asked for men to stop raping woman for just one day. She wanted the “nice” men to use their fabled physical strength to stop the bad ones from raping. Since I read it, I have been wondering how to do this. Violence is not something that comes easily to me, so I am writing this instead. If you are a man, who is physically braver, stronger and more skilful than me, if you want to use your physical prowess for something good, use it to stop rape and rapists.
Ben Warner is a long time DGR Guardian in the UK and a teacher.
This article was originally a talk given in 2004 in North Carolina by historian Gerda Lerner, who was 84 years old at the time. Gerda describes the creation (social construction) of patriarchy based on hierarchy and enslavement. She describes how this system is antiquated and dangerous to men and women.
HISTORY MATTERS: A ‘Brief’ History of Patriarchy
By Dr. Gerda Lerner
I’m doing something very difficult today and that is I’m going to talk about 2,500 years of history in 50 minutes. So, you will have to accept on faith that the facts I’m citing are amply proven by examples, but I can’t give you the examples. They are in the book, but I think in the discussion next week we will have a chance to go into more concrete examples. And what I was, what I’m trying to tell you also, is that studying the ancient near East, which is the area around in which all the trouble is going on now – the current day Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia between the Euphrates and the Tigris – which is where Western civilization started – it’s very interesting for a historian because the sources are very much more plentiful than our sources are for say 13th century Europe. And the reason is that the people there wrote on clay tablets and clay tablets don’t destruct as paper does – and as papyrus does – so we have tens of thousands of pieces of evidence for everything that I’m going to say.
It’s a very rich area for research. I was interested in this book in finding out whether there is a history of patriarchy possible. Whether it’s possible to do a history. Is it a historic construct? And the reason, of course, is that in everything we are taught, we are taught by traditional history that women are in some way essentially different from men and are designed to perform different functions. And when we question that, we are always told, “Well, it’s always been like that.” And depending on the religious affiliation – it’s either God given or Nature given.
I wanted to see whether that can be challenged with historical evidence. And so, I’m starting with the first division within human society which occurred as soon as human beings lived in groups and that is, of course, the division between men and women. The obvious differences between men and women are there; they are recognized by human beings and they were always incorporated in a sexual division of labor. Okay? Now, I just want to anticipate my final finding. Namely, what I’m trying to prove to you is that patriarchy is a historical system. It was created by human beings. It has a historical beginning. And it has an end. That may be news to you. *laughter from audience.*
Established over a period of nearly 2,500 years, and I roughly date that period from 3,100 before the common era to 600 BCE. Now 600 BCE is the period in which all the major monotheistic religions are already written down and established, in which Greek philosophy is developed, Greek science is developed, and that’s the period when, in other words, patriarchy is firmly established. Now, the sexual division of labor already occurred in the Neolithic tribal villages that arose in that area. And, we have some evidence on the lifespan of the people at that time. And it was a very, very short lifespan. For males it was 35 years, and for females 30 years. That’s rounded up a little bit.
Now if you remember that in 30 years, the age at which girls reached puberty was later than it is now. It always has been getting earlier since historic time. So even if we dated it to 14, a woman had 16 years in which she could bear children, alright? Infant mortality rates were about 80% at the time, so 20% of the children would survive from the first year of life, which meant that a woman had to have pregnancies practically every year or every year and a half in order to have two or three children survive into adulthood. Okay?
And, of course, what it means in practical terms, if those groups in which the social arrangements did not work for the survival of children, those are the groups that disappeared. Right? So the sexual division of labor made it absolutely essential for groups to develop a system by which women could raise children. And now generally when we are told about the subordination of women, and we are told why it happens, we are told that it has to do with the fact that women “bear” children. I find that this is not – that “child bearing” – is NOT the issue. The main issue is child “nurture.”
Human children need many years of care before they can survive – and in more primitive conditions, more years of care.
And so, the long nursing and the effective mothering are the key issues in the survival of tribes. And as a result, the essential division of labor that we find in most of the early societies is that women who are…women take care of the hunting and gathering around the area, which, in fact, supplies as much as 70 or 80% of the nutrition of the group, and men take care of the hunting and then later on that turns into warfare – defending against other tribes.
This – both of these functions – when needed for group survival – and the sexual division of labor were an effective means of assuring group survival under very harsh conditions and IT DID NOT CONNOTE INEQUALITY. And we know that from many evidences of graves of early settlements where male and female graves are of the same type, and so forth. The next thing that happens is that little groups of tribes in settlements begin to encroach upon each other and they need to find a way in which they can stop from constantly having warfare.
What develops is the exchange of women.
Women are exchanged for two reasons: to foster inter-tribal relations and also later on to assure tribes that they have an efficient supply of women who can raise children. Now this exchange of women takes place in all known societies and it is very often marked by a shift from what we call matriliny to patriliny. Now matriliny is the way in which society is organized so that you reckoned the descent through the mother, and the couple lives in the location of the mother’s home. Very often the husband of the daughters will come occasionally as a visitor and not even live there. Matriliny was very, very widespread in all early settlements and then in the period I’m describing, we see a shift to patriliny – which is also patrilocality. The descent begins to be reckoned through the father. The bride, or the wife, leaves the home of her parents and goes to the location of the father.
Now, one example of the early arrangement we find in the Bible in the story of Jacob who goes to Laban’s house to live there for seven years to get his daughters. So that’s still matrilocality. And then he takes his wife and children, at the time that patrilocality is established, and he takes them to the house of his father. So there is a perfect example of proof of a shift. What is very interesting is as we study the evidence that while this process takes place everywhere, it never is reversed. We have no record of patriliny changing to matriliny. Okay? So you can say that this is sort of a historic development.
You might ask, why were women exchanged and not men?
Or why were not children exchanged? If you wanted to secure the friendship of another tribe and you gave your children – this was done for example in the middle ages among ruling families, they often exchanged the children of the rulers to secure a peace. Well the reason for that is essentially that (this is an assumption, an hypothesis) one could not be sure by exchanging men, that they would stay and that they would be peaceful. And they didn’t know how to control the men, but if you had women, you knew that by exchanging, that the moment they were pregnant and had children they stayed with their children. And so the ability of women, the biological ability, and the hardwired ability of women to nurture children made them predisposed to being cast in this role. So in that sense there is some biological basis. But that does NOT mean that that role had to be cast as an inferior role. And that’s just my point.
At a certain point, this becomes changed to an inferior role. Other explanations that have been given for the rise of patriarchy are that it had to do with the fact that men invented animal husbandry – out of the hunting role. They learned how to domesticate animals, and because they learned how to domesticate animals, the theory goes, man, the hunter, acquired some wealth in animals and then started controlling the world. This is ahistorical because animal husbandry was invented in the region we’re talking about about 8000 BC. And we have evidence, hard evidence through diggings, of relatively egalitarian societies in the region that practiced animal husbandry 2000-4000 years later. So, this could not be the reason. This is not what happened.
So, but it did happen that men learned to domesticate animals and that the sexual division of labor became reinforced by that, very strongly.
Now, at the time of about the period that I’m starting to talk about, 3000 BCE, there were city states being formed in this region, in Ur, in Lagash, in Kish, in Sumer, and we have very good records from those. And what we find when these city states are formed is that they already have developed a more elaborate division of labor. Namely, there are people who specialize in military functions, there are people who specialize in the arts and crafts, and there are people who specialize in taking care of the community and hunting and gathering.
What we find developing in these early settlements is a new role for women of the elite. And, I’m talking here about the wives of rulers. In these city states, you have the temple which is the big center for activity, and the reason for that is that in that region, you need to have large-scale watering systems in order to do agriculture. And these watering systems require a supply of labor and they are managed by the temple – by the temples. And so there’s a temple elite, and gradually you see some individuals that begin to function as rulers.
These rulers are – most of them are -usurpers.
That is their claim to fame – is that they won in some warfare against the neighboring tribe and that the king gave them land and so now they are the men of the king and to show their legitimacy, they usually claim that they are also related to the Goddess. I’ll talk about that later. But, one of the troubles that they have is that they are constantly engaged in warfare. And when they are away being usurpers, they could be easily replaced, you know. And so they’re very insecure, so they set up their wives as deputies. And that’s the role of the wife as deputy, or called the stand-in wife.
And I just want to point out to you, without being able to give you all the examples that I could easily give you, that that role is with us to this day. Alright? It’s the role of the woman of the elite, like you had in say the Gandhi family in India – if they are running out of boys, the women take over. Okay? These women have tremendous power. They conducted warfare. They collected taxes. They bought and sold slaves. They had tremendous power, but they also were very vulnerable because, at that same time, we already have documents from that time from the city of Ur and from others, that the men had already begun to keep harems.
To kings it was a sign of status and legitimacy that the bigger your harem, the more powerful you were. And these women could be replaced at any time by a second wife or a concubine if they no longer sexually pleased their husbands. And there are many cases where we have letters where these women are set aside – these powerful women.
So what you have here is a prototype of a patriarchal role for elite women.
They give up their sexual freedom, but in exchange they get a lot of power – but only so long as they sexually serve and reproductively serve their husband. If they don’t have boys, for example, if they don’t give birth to sons, they can be set aside. Out. Out of nowhere. And they can be, there are cases where they are imprisoned, they are set aside. Okay? So this is with us to this day. This elite wife role.
Now, we come to the big change in the Bronze Age. And it is, of course, again, there are many, many things that change, and I have to simplify it very greatly and I’m sorry for that. But the main outstanding thing about the Bronze Age is that due to the fact that you now have bronze tools and weapons, warfare intensifies and becomes much more effective. And more and more people are killed in warfare, on the one hand. On the other hand, you now have bronze tools for tilling the soil and plowing, agriculture comes in. And it is much more efficient – and all of a sudden there is enough food supply so that these small communities can feed other people that they bring in – which before was impossible.
Because of that, and because there’s now a constant need for labor, they develop a system of acquiring that labor.
And the labor that they acquire are slaves. And, but before that, I just need to say that this whole agricultural revolution brings with it a much greater specialization of the economy. It brings with it the development of kingships, so that instead of small city states and tiny tribes, you get sizable kingdoms now, right? And it brings a rivalry between the temple bureaucratic elite, which controls the irrigation system, and the kings. Okay? And that has a great impact also on what develops.
So, for example, at that time there’s one of the rulers, Sargon of Akkad, and he rules over Sumer, Assyria, Elam, and the Euphrates Valley. This is in the middle of the second millennium. And I’m mentioning him because he had a daughter named Enkheduanna, who’s the first known woman poet in the history of the world. She was a great poet, and her work is available to this day. And he set her up as the High Priestess, that was another stand in role for women. If you made her High Priestess, then she could penetrate power in the temple elite. And so the women of the elite were used as pawns.
Of course, the males too. Males didn’t have free choice either.
Now, in this same period, warriors were rewarded with, in other words, successful warriors of the usurper king, in order to consolidate his power, he gave them conquered land and he gave them conquered women. Before that time, whenever there was warfare, and we have very accurate descriptions, they described how they piled up the corpses and they killed everybody. Piles and piles of corpses: men, women, and children were killed.
But after the agricultural revolution, we come to the development of, what I call, the invention of slavery. Alright? This is VERY crucial. And the point here is that because men had already learned that if you exchange women and you either rape them, or you marry them and they have children, they will stay in the family of the conqueror. Because they had learned that, they could transfer that to the conquered enemy. And what is very interesting is that in every society in the world that developed slavery, THE FIRST ENSLAVED PEOPLE WERE WOMEN AND CHILDREN. And what’s really interesting about this, when I first started researching this – I found it almost impossible to believe – I looked at dozens and dozens of sources on the origin of slavery, and they all had that sentence in it. And nobody, NOBODY asked WHY or WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS! THAT’S ALL I DID. I asked WHY? And WHAT’S THE MEANING OF IT? OKAY?
So we have the record that for several hundred years in this area, while they enslaved women and children, they did not enslave the conquered men.
They either killed them, or they mutilated them. They cut their Achilles tendons, they blinded them, they mocked them and branded them. They didn’t know what to do with them, because if a man had been fighting you with a bronze cudgel, right? And you conquered him, and now you brought him home, and you put a tool in his hand that was a stick with a bronze hoe on it and said, “Now work for me for free,” he might very well at night use it for a weapon. And they didn’t know what to do then.
So you had to invent a way in which you could make people enslaved. This was NOT a natural thing, okay? And men learned that you could do that by making the slave a MARKED human being that was denigrated so that he was not considered, he or she was not considered, quite human. You turn him into an “Other.” And this was done by a variety of ways. Very often the people conquered actually looked different, very different race – so racism starts. You know, racism is one of the very bases on which slavery is built.
But even if it was a next door neighbor that looked just exactly like your own tribe – they started cutting their hair differently, or they marked their ears, or they cut off their noses. They did very brutal things. The point was to mark them – as “different”. And then, to construct an idea that because they are different that they are inferior. And they’re not quite human. And once you have done that, then you can – then they found that you could use “difference” and turn it into “dominance”. And,
THAT IS THE KEY MORAL PRINCIPLE OF PATRIARCHY.
AND I CAN’T TELL YOU HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE KEY TO PATRIARCHY COMBINES ALL THE DISCRIMINATIONS IN ONE: You’re different if you’re female, you’re different if you are from a different race, you’re different if you are from a different ethnicity, you’re different, later, if you’re a different religion, and, finally, YOU ARE DIFFERENT IF WE SAY SO.
You know, we create. Welfare mothers? All of a sudden, they are different? They’re not our neighbors? They’re not exactly like us, only they are poor? No, you see. THIS is the essence of the moral principle on which patriarchy is built. And so, the intertwining of the forms of discrimination that are involved in slavery and sexism are so connected from the beginning that you cannot separate them out, and the mistake we have been making in the past 40 years is that everybody’s fighting their own little thing. You cannot abolish this that way. From the beginning it’s been interlocked, alright? And I think that’s the importance of this research.
What this also means, is that once slavery is invented, class is formed in a new way.
I call it in a phrase, class is formed “genderic-ly”. Namely, class is never the same for men and women. The enslaved people, the enslaved men and women and children are used as the exploited labor. That’s – they share that. But for women, slavery from the beginning means sexual services and reproductive services to the conquered males. And it does not mean that for males. For some periods, there are examples where males are used that way – in the Roman Empire and so forth. But those are the exceptions. And that’s the second principle. For woman subordination and oppression always involves the control of their sexual and reproductive functions by males or male dominated institutions. And this has not changed in 3,000 years. Okay?
Now, that means also that class – if class is defined as the access to resources, or the access of what the Marxists used to call “the means of production” – but I prefer “resources”, as there are all kinds of resources, then males have direct access to resources. Males of the dominant group have direct access to resources. But women have access to resources only THROUGH the men on whom they depend which is either the men in their family of origin or the men they marry. And this is a very, very BIG difference. So class is NOT the same for men and women and slavery is NOT the same for men and women. Now from here I’m going to a – I feel like I’m on a racetrack – from here I’m going to go to a period at the end of the second millennium and mostly the first millennium BCE when you already have kingships and states and the archaic states are formed.
At that time you have the big major law codes that are available and almost everything I’m saying here is based on the study of the four major law codes.
Mainly the code of Hammurabi, which is put down about 752 BCE, the Hittite and Assyrian law which was created and written down between the 15th and 11th century (you remember that it goes backwards before) and the Hebrew, and I’m mostly basing this on Genesis, which was completely written down in the 7th century BCE. So I’m going to give a quick overview, of how now, after we have – after human beings invented a way to turn difference into dominance and to organize the societies accordingly, that didn’t mean yet that they could get away with a lot of excess or with a lot of rights. That took a long time to develop. It was not a sudden overthrow. It was something that developed over a thousand years in this case.
So, first of all, in the law codes, what we see is before the laws are passed, kinship was the way in which the law took its order. In other words, if there was a crime committed, the head of the kin group – or the males in the kin group would take care of settling it. Usually with some kind of bloodbath, you know – an eye for an eye, or something like that. Gradually, that shifts.
The laws are written, and the laws are written so that the king suddenly starts intervening.
So for example, adultery. Adultery is a crime that only women can commit in these societies. There is no adultery for males, they can sleep around as much as they want. Women’s adultery is usually punishable by death. A very brutal death. But we see the difference between, at first, used to be the males in the family would kill their sister, daughter, whoever, to avenge a breach of law that shamed the family. But now in these law codes, it’s put down exactly what is to happen, and they have to go to the court, and the court puts in the punishment. So the state takes over the enforcement of the patriarchal arrangements of marriage.
Now these marriage arrangements vary by class. They are always considered “contracts” between two male heads of families. Nobody has any choice in marriage. Okay? And their – for the upper class group, the father of the bride receives a bride prize from the father of the groom. And that bride prize is, becomes the property of the husband and he has all the rights over it. And, however, he has a big constraint. He cannot sell it or use it for himself because he is obliged to keep that bride prize in case of his death. That is the support for his widow, alright? So the bride prize is a way in which the families assured a common interest for both husband and wife in the marriage, a financial interest, and they give some sort of protection to the widow. But what happens when the widow dies? That money, she can’t dispose of it. It goes to her sons.
So what we see here is the first development of something we are seeing all through historical time, and that is property passes from man to man, but it passes THROUGH women.
That’s the second principle of the patriarchy. So if you want to know what woman’s status actually is, there’s no use just looking at what some woman do – you have to look at the property relations. And you have to look at widowed women. That’s a very crucial way of finding out the actual status of women in a society.
Now the middle class of the ancient near Eastern societies, they don’t have that much property, and they don’t have that much property usually to be able to pay a bride prize for their sons, so what they do is they try and get a marriage for the daughter and the bride prize for their daughter is used to pay for the marriage of the son. So again, the property goes through women, but it’s used for the males in the family.
The lower class, the totally lower class, impoverished people, have, if they need to bury… First of all, they have one loophole that exists in patriarchy, is that if they have a very beautiful daughter, they can perhaps marry her to someone in the upper class. It’s possible for women to change their class status by marriage, but generally, the arrangements are all such that the property of the group, the class as a whole, stays in the class. They encourage people to marry within their class. But the very poor then, what they can do is to sell a daughter into prostitution or slavery and use the money to buy a bride for the son. Or, to go get out of debt, as the debt-slavery develops as an institution. There are many laws about it. If a man is in debt, he can take his wife and children and make them debt-slaves, and with money he can get from them, he can pay his debt.
So property in women and children is legalized as part of the legal institution of the patriarchal state.
Of course you can understand, when you, by the way, any time you open the newspapers and you read about some women in Afghan societies whose fathers are killing them, or whose brothers are killing them because they’ve been raped or disgraced – I mean, that’s the old system still working fine. It’s incredibly…it has an incredible longevity. The virginity of brides and the chastity of wives become a commodity for the family. And that’s how patriarchy starts. Okay? Rape is considered a crime by the rapist against the father of the raped woman or against the husband. And very often the punishment is that the raped woman gets married – has to get married – to the rapist.
So women have an – you can easily confuse that and think that it means women have become enslaved – they have NOT become enslaved. These very same middle and upper class women that I have described to you, in all these law codes, we have a picture of a society in which women are very active commercially. They have many occupations. They have a much higher economic status than 18th century American women, for example. They can buy and sell slaves. They can oppress other people. They can manage businesses – and they do. But yet, everything depends upon their marital and sexual arrangement.
Essentially, to establish patriarchy as a functioning system, men have to guarantee, and the state guarantees, that the sexuality and reproductive power of women is controlled by men and male dominated institutions.
Of course, we could spend a long time, and maybe next week we will, discussing how that still today plays out. And that of course informs feminist attitudes about such questions as abortion and rape. Because what’s involved is a very ancient and very, very important principle that’s the mainstay of this oppressive system. Now, to zoom right through. *laughter* Zooming right along, even in this whole period when all these institutions developed, women still have power. And one of the big powers that women still have in the ancient near Eastern societies is that they served the gods. They serve as priestesses, they serve in the temple, they rule over temples, and in a certain important way – you know, in ethical culture we understand religion as a human construct, and the human construct in religion has always been based on who creates life, who controls death, and who brings sin into the world.
And in the period that I’m talking about, all these societies have a pantheon of gods and goddesses who act very much like human beings, who have all the failings of human beings. In one of the oldest epics, the epic of Gilgamesh, it opens up with the gods bringing Gilgamesh who’s half god and half human to trial because he goes around raping women and it’s creating a disturbance. So you see what I mean. The gods and goddesses have human qualities and they’re equally obnoxious to each other. They conduct warfare, they conduct intrique. So if a person had something wrong with them, and they wanted help, they were as likely to go the the temple of the goddess where the priestess was in charge as to a temple of a god. This all changes. And it changes in the latter part of the first millennium, but it changes in different places at different times depending on the condition. It always changes in one direction only.
The gods and goddesses are replaced by a powerful male god.
It is the storm god, the god of the wind. It’s very interesting. That’s the most powerful god. And all of a sudden, or gradually, the goddess is dethroned and all of a sudden becomes his consort or his wife. That, of course, is the preliminary to, finally, to the development of monotheism, right? And as this development takes place, more and more, you find the creation stories changing so that it is no longer the mother goddess that creates life, and I didn’t have a chance to talk about the mother goddess cult in the Neolithic that’s pervasive. And, those mother goddesses were always also in charge of death.
So the mother goddess, who was in charge of life and death, is now the wife of the storm god. And all of a sudden you learn that it’s the storm god that gives life. And the next thing that you will be told in the Hebrew Bible is that it is God who creates life. God opens the womb of Sarah. God decides who is fertile and not. It’s no longer the Goddess, alright? So the dethroning of the Goddess takes place everywhere, and if you look at it historically, as I did, it takes place when a particular state becomes IMPERIALIST. It’s very interesting. It doesn’t take place in any other time. When the state begins to make claims that it has the right to conquer its neighbors and to rule – as one ruler said, “I rule the four corners of the Earth. God has given me this right.” There we are.
To conclude this sad story.
*laughter from audience* By the time that monotheism develops, by the time you have empires in this region, you have powerful military states that control the lives of their citizens, you see the development of science, Greek science, Greek philosophy, and women by that time have been fairly well removed from contact with the Divine. That also is a process that takes many hundreds of years, but it takes place always in the same directions. So the founders of Greek philosophy, especially Aristotle, are very explicit about their view of women: Women are crippled human beings. They are incomplete. They are not quite human. And therefore, you can compare them to slaves. And the comparison is made.
So what we are seeing is, that – now if we talk about two kinds of things that give power – one is the region of actual power – which is militarism and the distribution of land. That’s one source of power for human beings. But there’s another source of power. And that’s the symbol system. What you put into people’s heads. How you explain the world and the relationship to the universe and the meaning of life. Okay? So by the time that men, and IT WAS MEN IN THIS CASE, create the first meaningful symbol system of Western civilization, the subordination of women has been accomplished “in fact” – every place they live. And so it isn’t questioned. It isn’t an issue. They discuss slavery.
They discuss whether it’s right to enslave people, but they do NOT discuss whether women are EQUAL human beings. That comes later.
And so because of that antiquity, by that time then, when the very values of Western civilization are created, the men who create this mental construct, assume the subordination of women as either “Natural” or “God given”. They assume as a verity that God does not speak to women. And that a “male” god creates life and that “sin” was brought into the world by women. Well, by the time you have that mental construct firmly established and men and women believe in it and teach it to their children, nobody can question patriarchy.
And we now add, which I don’t have time to do unfortunately for you, 2000 further years of systematically depriving women of education. Okay? Systematically and in EVERY place in the world. Okay? And then you ask, why aren’t women better off? Why didn’t they start for their struggle for rights sooner? So, in conclusion, patriarchy was established by men and women, I believe. And when it was first established, it served a purpose. I call it the patriarchal bargain that women made. And the bargain was: I give up my sexual freedom. I give up the idea of any, you know, and my reproductive freedom, and in exchange one man or the state will protect me and my children from warfare and will allocate resources to me.
Okay? That’s the bargain. So it was once a good bargain, IN THE NEOLITHIC. *laughter from the audience* We’re no longer living the Neolithic. And what we have is an idea system that’s based on a perfectly wonderful arrangement FOR THE NEOLITHIC. And which is TOTALLY dysfunctional now, OKAY?
WOMEN AND CHILDREN PERISH IN MODERN WARFARE IN EXCESSIVE PREDOMINANCE OVER MALES, OKAY? SO – PROTECTION IS OUT THE WINDOW. We can argue to what extent men provide resources for women. THAT’S ARGUABLE.
My point is that to further existence of patriarchy as it is based on hierarchy, militarism, enslavement, and the constant pitting against each other of one group for the benefit of another, ENDANGERS NOT ONLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN, BUT THE WORLD. IT’S DYSFUNCTIONAL. IT’S OUTDATED. IT CAN BE ABOLISHED.”
Dr. Gerda Lerner (April 30, 1920 – January 2, 2013) was an Austrian-born American historian and woman’s history author. In addition to her numerous scholarly publications, she wrote poetry, fiction, theater pieces, screenplays, and an autobiography. She served as president of the Organization of American Historians from 1980 to 1981. In 1980, she was appointed Robinson Edwards Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she taught until retiring in 1991.
Lerner was one of the founders of the academic field of women’s history. In 1963, while still an undergraduate at the New School for Social Research, she taught “Great Women in American History”, which is considered to be the first regular college course on women’s history offered anywhere.
She taught at Long Island University from 1965 to 1967. She played a key role in the development of women’s history curricula and was involved in the development of degree programs in women’s history at Sarah Lawrence College (where she taught from 1968 to 1979 and established the nation’s first master’s degree program in women’s history) and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she launched the first Ph.D. program in women’s history. She also worked at Duke University and Columbia University, where she was a co-founder of the Seminar on Women.
Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005) was a radical feminist theorist, writer, and campaigner. In this excerpt from her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Dworkin discusses the power of naming. In her analysis, the development of the culture of patriarchy has empowered men with almost sole access to the power to define language. This control over language allows for expansions in ideological hegemony, and has serious implications for women over the centuries.
By Andrea Dworkin
How Patriarchy Works: The Power of Naming
Men have the power of naming, a great and sublime power. This power of naming enables men to define experience, to articulate boundaries and values, to designate to each thing it’s realm and qualities, to determine what can and cannot be expressed to control perception itself.
As Mary Daly, who first isolated this power, wrote in Beyond God the Father “… It is necessary to grasp the fundamental fact that women have had the power of naming stolen from us“.
Male supremacy is fused into language, so that every sentence both heralds and affirms it. Thought experienced primarily as language, is permeated by the linguistic and perpetual values developed expressly to subordinates women.
Men have defined the parameters of every subject. All feminist arguments, however radical in intent or consequence, are with or against assertions or premises implicit in the male system, which is made credible or authentic by the power of men to name.
No transcendence of the male system is possible as long as men have the power of naming. Their names resonate wherever there is human life. As Prometheus stole fire from the gods, so feminists will have to steal the power of naming from men, hopefully to better effect. As with fire when it belonged to the gods, the power of naming appears magical: he gives the name, the name enjoys she gives the name the name is lost. But this magic is illusion.
The male power of naming is upheld by force, pure and simple.
On its own, without force to back it, measured against reality, it is not power; it is process, a more humble thing. “The old naming,” Mary Daly wrote, “was not the product of dialogue – a fact in advertently admitted in the Genesis story of Adam’s naming the animals and the woman.”
It is the naming by decree that is power over and against those who are forbidden to name their own experience; it is the decree backed up by violence that writes the name indelibly in blood in a male dominated culture. The male does not merely name women evil; he exterminates nine million women as witches because he is named them evil. He does not merely name women weak; he mutilates the female body, binds it up so that it cannot move freely, uses it as a toy or ornament, keeps it caged and stunted because he has named women weak. He says that the female wants to be raped; he rapes. She resists rape; he must beat her, threaten her with death, forcibly carry her off, attack her in the night, use knife or fist; and still he says she wants it, they all do. She says no; he claims that means yes.
He names her ignorant then forbids her education.
He does not allow her to use her mind or body rigourously, their names her intuitive and emotional. He defines femininity and when she does not conform he names her deviant, sick, beats her up, slices of her clitoris (repository of pathological masculinity), tears out her womb, (source of her personality), lobotomizes or narcotizes her (perverse recognition that she can think, though thinking in a woman is named deviant).
He names antagonism and violence, mixed in varying degrees “sex”; he beats her and names it variously “proof of love“ (if she is wife) or “eroticism“ (if she is mistress). If she wants him sexually he names her slut; if she does not want him he rapes her and says she does; If she would rather study or paint he names her repressed and brags he can cure her pathological interests with the apocryphal “good fuck“. He names her housewife, fit for only the house, keeps her poor and utterly dependent, only to buy her with his money should she leave the house and then he calls her whore. He names her whatever suits him. he does what he wants and calls it what he likes.
He actively maintains the power of naming through force and he justifies force through the power of naming.
The world is his because he has named everything in it, including her. She uses this language against herself because it cannot be used any other way. […]
Whatever contradicts or subverts male naming is defamed out of existence; the power of naming itself, in the male system, is a form of force.
You can read Andrea Dworkin’s full works on the Andrea Dworkin Online Library: http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/