By Layla Brener
In the twenty-first century, western culture has seen revolutionary growth in acceptance of sexuality and sexual behavior - the sex-positive movement. In particular, pornography has become less taboo and shameful over the years, flipping into something more regular and liberating. Some may applaud this greater acceptance of pornography, but in Pornography: Men Possessing Women by Andrea Dworkin, it is argued to be an aggressor in women's sexual enslavement. In the introduction and opening chapter -titled "Power"- of her societal critique, she proclaims it to be a tool of male dominance; Hateful and dangerous to the true liberation of women from subjugation and violence.
Andrea Dworkin was a prolific author within the American radical feminist ideology of the late twentieth century. Over thirty years, she shared numerous individual and co-authored nonfiction books, essays, and speeches addressing the societal shortcomings of her time. Many texts center around pornography and its emaciating impact on women and women's rights. Arguably her most influential book, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, focuses on the violence and dehumanization women are subject to that is directly and scarily aggravated by pornographic materials.
In the introduction, Dworkin shares women's testimonies of brutality, abuse, and humiliation at the hands of men influenced by pornographic material. Dworkin details each experience devoid of embellishment and matter-of-fact, then swiftly moves to the next. Dworkin is blunt in her presentation of each testimony, most of which are recounts of rape and violence experienced by real, living women committed against them by men in both the ideation and influence of pornographic imagery. Most of these women were shockingly young, in their teens and early twenties; the youngest was three. The stories range from singular events of brutality and rape to experiences traversing decades of first and secondhand continuous betrayal, abuse, and ownership over women by their fathers, brothers, uncles, husbands, and other "trusted" figures. Each statement came from women Dworkin knew personally. Each woman was one she had met in person, listened to their experiences, and spoke with. Each report came from a woman she had gotten to know; she trusted and vouched for their honesty. Thousands of women had sent Dworkin letters sharing their own experiences. These depositions were only a few of many. They were not cherry-picked. They were no more shocking or different than the mass of confessions Dworkin had received.
From these confessions, Dworkin became aware of how pervasive sexual violence inspired by pornography is amongst women of all races and ethnic origins, classes, regions of inhabitance, lifestyles, ages, and onwards. No type of woman is exempt from this brutality.
Established firstly in chapter one, men convey their power over women in a myriad of ways. Dworkin says that "the major theme of pornography as a genre is male power, its nature, its magnitude, its use, its meaning. Male power, as expressed in and through pornography, is discernible in discrete but interwoven, reinforcing strains: the power of self, physical power over and against others, the power of terror, the power of naming, the power of owning, the power of money, and the power of sex" (Dworkin 24). Dworkin recognizes the reciprocal relationship between pornography and the male hegemony of women. These are the outlines in which male supremacy exists. Throughout history, society has always likened women to children: meek, unknowing of themselves and the world around them. They are fragile and silly. Men, unlike women, are allowed to recognize their sense of self. "Self is incrementally expanded as the parasite drains self from those not entitled to it. To him it is given, by faith and action, from birth. To her, it is denied, by faith and action, from birth. His is never big enough; hers is always too big, however small" (Dworkin 14). Women have been forced into submission, told it is their nature, then shamed when they show any will to resist this "nature" they are responsible for upholding. They are told not to protest or show aggression, mocked if they try, and demonized if they do. Men are gifted with depth and the ability to dominate. They rule and battle for rulership by their birthright; by their nature and the will of their maker. They rule over their homes, over their women, over their families. Historically, they have had the power to control the societal narrative- the power of naming. They have named women meek; they have named themselves strong providers. Furthermore, they have historically controlled money and property. Before the mid-twentieth century, it was abnormal for a woman to earn money or buy her own home. If she were to have either, it was from her husband or father.
Dworkin barely even begins delving into other commonly exploited factors in pornography like race, class, size, and age -let alone transgender identity. However, she forcefully affirms that pornography furthers the suffering of the non-dominant class within the introduction and first chapter alone. Misogynistic sentiments are still the backbone of the pornography industry and are everywhere, even if it is not apparent. Dworkin makes her case with certainty and passion yet remains blunt and grounded. Her straightforward style of presenting such abhorrent truths is shocking and sobering to any listener. Dworkin recounts pain and misdeed so profoundly entrenched in Western history, society, and behaviors. As time passes, the narrative must adapt to societal changes. Recently, pornography has been marketed to young women as an easy form of sexual and financial liberation. With the advent of such an expansive and connected internet, how can we stop the perversion of true liberation? "Would we have to stop the people who are hurting us from hurting us? Not debate them; stop them" (Dworkin XV).
Dworkin, Andrea. “Introduction.” Pornography: Men Possessing Women, The Women's Press,
London, 1994. Dworkin, Andrea. “Power.” Pornography: Men Possessing Women, The Women's Press, London, 1994.