Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women

Everyone’s got an opinion on Andrea Dworkin and it’s frequently one based in myth. I love Dworkin’s writing. I don’t always agree with her (and she’s sometime historically inaccurate) but she was an utterly brilliant polemicist. Her gift was amazing. She was a truly brilliant woman.

I’ve collated some quotes from the text here and here but the full text is available on the online Andrea Dworkin library.

Karen Boyle’s Everyday Pornography

Karen Boyle’s Everyday Pornography is an inter-disciplinary collection of 13 essays which are situated within the anti-pornography movement. Its focus is on the pornification of mainstream culture but also on the mainstream of pornography; that is to say the heterosexual male audience and the materials created specifically that audience. This is the praxis of the “everyday” of pornography and this is what makes Boyle’s book so powerful: it destroys the myth that porn is an isolated part of our culture that we can refrain from being exposed to. Karen Boyle’s personal contribution to the book “Porn Consumers’ public faces: Mainstream media, address and representation” demonstrates the ubiquity of porn within popular culture through films like American Pie, Showtime’s Porn: A Family Business and the extremely tedious program Friends. Sarah Neely examines how pornography and other parts of the commercial sex industry are reflected and constructed within the virtual online reality game Second Life. Meagan Tyler’s research focuses on how the porn industry defines itself. Tyler’s findings demonstrate that degradation, abuse, and violence are not only common in pornography but that the industry actively promotes it. Lisa Jean Moore and Juliana Weissbein’s is a fascinating study of the fetishisation of semen. 

The academic language of the text can make it easier to disassociate from the violence within. In many ways, Everyday Pornography is the perfect companion to Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray’s Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry. Big Porn Inc. written by a collection of activists and radical feminists. I had a more immediate visceral reactions to the violence committed during the making of pornography in the text Big Porn Inc. Everyday Pornography was easier to process despite the fact that it is equally distressing. 

Everyday Pornography is a necessary read. It is hard but we can not destroy the capitalist-patriarchy unless we understand just how just how it functions: Jennifer Johnson’s analysis of porn’s use social networking is essential to this understanding.

Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industy

Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Pornography Industry, edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray, is a collection of articles from radical feminists, activists, and academics who all believe that pornography is not about “pleasure, self-empowerment and freedom of choice”; rather that  pornography represents the systemic subjugation of women as a sex class.  Therefore pornography is not about sex, it is a form of violence against women. I am an anti-porn, anti-sex industry feminist so it’s fairly clear that I agree with the basic premise of this book.

I wasn’t prepared for what I read. I had already read Gail Dines’ Pornland and Robert Jensen’s Getting Off. I even attended the Challenging Porn Conference in London in 2011. I already knew the links between pornography and the pharmaceutical/ medical business. I knew how the pornography industry uses “free sites” to suck people into payed-for porn. I knew the violence perpetrated on women’s bodies. I knew how porn was predicated on racist constructions of the human body. I thought I understood just how mainstream violent and child pornography actually is. I had seen images I never wanted to see in the first place. I still wasn’t prepared for this book.

I wasn’t prepared for the soul-destroying mundanity of it all; of realising just well pornography is integrated into the capitalist economy; how horrifically common-place extreme violence is. I wasn’t prepared for just how normal porn involving children and teenagers is. I wasn’t prepared to read what men do to the bodies of women and children. I wasn’t prepared to realise just how many men hate women.

I have  storified some of the quotes I tweeted out over the weekend whilst I was reading hereAllecto from Liberation Collective has written an excellent review here. It includes a graphic description of child rape so please take care before opening this link.

Big Porn Inc is an incredibly powerful book and I’m going to recommend it to every single person who tries to convince that porn is just a laugh and women like being brutally assaulted.

Angela Bourkes’ The Burning of Bridget Cleary

Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary is a social history of the use of fairies and other myths to control people’s behaviour in Ireland in the 19th century. She traces the history of these myths to contextualise the brutal torture and murder of Bridget Cleary by her husband and kinsmen. It is very powerful but equally horrifying. What impressed me the most is that Bourke places the murder of Bridget firmly within a narrative of domestic violence. There are no excuses for male violence so, whilst the murder is contextualised with a history of faeries, changelings, power struggles, and jealousy  Bourke holds the murderers accountable. Bourke then situates the trial of Bridget’s murderers within the political context of British Home Rule of Ireland and the British construction of Irish people as savages.

The Burning of Bridget Cleary is one of the most fascinating and well-researched books I have ever read. Bourke traces multiple layers of  history and myth to tell the story of the murder of Bridget Cleary. It’s rather like Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher* but from a feminist perspective rather than a comprehensive social history. 

I honestly can not recommend this book enough. It is brilliant, insightful, frightening and, above all, a true picture of the complicated processes required to tell the history of women. 

*The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is worth a read too as it contextualises the origins of detectives in British society within the literature of the day particularly in relation to the work of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens.

Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven

I love Barbara Kingsolver’s books. I know I’m late to the party on this having only discovered her books two years ago but she is an amazing writer. The Poisonwood Bible is one of the best books I have ever read. Pigs in Heaven covers the same terrain as The Poisonwood Bible: motherhood, sisterhood, female friendships, family and surviving.

Pigs in Heaven is the story of Taylor and her adopted daughter Turtle who is Cherokee. The central plot is who Turtle really belongs too: the woman who illegally adopted her but who nurtured her through the trauma of her extensive physical and sexual abuse or the Cherokee nation into whom she was born. Kingsolver asks complicated questions about family and sisterhood and, whilst the ending is too pat, it is, fundamentally, a testament to how we should be raising our children: not as possessions but as members of extended communities built on love and tradition.

These are my two favourite quotes: 

Alice realises something important about her daughter at this moment: that she’s genuinely a mother. She has changed in this way that motherhood changes you, so that you forget you every had time for small things like despising the color pink. 


Sympathizing over the behavior of men is the baking soda of women’s friendships, it seems, the thing that makes them bubble and rise.  

For obvious reasons. 

The Daddy Rat : Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, The Real Science Behind Sex Differences

It’s a standing joke in the Mumsnet Feminism/ Women’s Rights section that we should all be receiving royalties for Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. I must recommend it at least once a week on threads about gendering children or men being too stupid to see dirt so they, consequently, stink at housework. This, of course, is the same men who are so “visual” that they need to look at porn in order to get off. How, precisely, one can be simultaneously visual and non-visual is beyond me but that’s the argument always put forward by those who believe in innate gender differences.

I’m a neuroskeptic. I don’t believe in innate gender differences. I certainly don’t think we can “scientifically observe” gender differences when our culture is so seeped in woman-hating that anything constructed as “female” is immediately wrong. I have no tolerance for people who claim that boys are physical and girls are emotional. Or, that boys are better at math and spatial awareness than girls because their brains are hardwired that way. All the neuroscience I see insisting on innate gender [and never sex which is what they actually mean] differences has been about supporting the status quo of women’s subordination. 

Cordelia Fine deconstructs all the major “research” on innate gender differences and demonstrates what unrelenting twaddle it is. She is equally snarky, funny and downright angry at the misuse and falsification of “scientific evidence” to support fallacious constructions of gender [which fail to acknowledge the historical and cultural situations in which they were created]. I can not recommend this book enough for anyone who thinks that its totally normal for boys to be violent and girls to be nurturing. This is by far one of my most favourite feminist texts, despite not being advertised as such.

This is my favourite quote from the book: The Daddy Rat

Male rats don’t experience the hormonal changes that trigger maternal behaviour in female rats. They never normally participate in infant care. Yet put a baby rat in a cage with a male adult and after a few days he will be caring for the baby almost as if he were its mother.  He’ll pick it up, nestle it close to him as a nursing female would, keep the baby rat clear and comforted and even build a comfy nest for it. The parenting circuits are there in the male brain, even in a species in which paternal care doesn’t normally exist. If a male rat, without even the aid of a William Sears baby-care manual, can be inspired to parent then I would suggest that the prospects for human fathers are pretty good. (88)

It makes me snigger every time I read it.

Some interesting Discussions on Mumsnet: 

Jewly Hight’s Right By Her Roots: Americana Women and Their Songs

The problem with this book is that it is just one book. It should be nine separate books: the eight singer-songwriters that Hight adores so much:
And, Jewly Hight herself; because Hight might claim to be writing the stories of these eight women singers-songwriters and their examination of “their geographical, cultural, familial, and religious roots in their music” but Hight’s actually written herself into the text. I want to know more about the 8 female artists and Hight.  A longer book would have allowed the inclusion of more of the lyrics by these talented women but also more of Hight herself. Right by Her Roots is a love affair with these talented women singer-songwriters and it’s love-affair that just isn’t long enough.

It’s all fascinating but at 200 pages, there simply isn’t enough space to really examine these issues and fully explore the back catalogues of the music of these women. I want to know more about all 8 women but equally I want to know about Hight. I want to know about how Hight traces her roots and I want more of Hight’s personal responses to these women.

I definitely recommend this book but with fingers crossed that Hight writes more in-depth books about these women (and herself).


Barbara Black Koltuv’s The Book of Lilith

I’m in two minds about Barbara Black Koltuv’s The Book of Lilith. I found the history of the myths surrounding Lilith, and her previous incarnations in other cultural traditions, utterly fascinating. This is a history of women and myth that I knew nothing about. Koltuv’s choice to quote large sections of original text were of immense value. On the other hand, I was less fond of Koltuv’s use of psychoanalysis because I felt it involved an essentialist construction of women as being either Eve or Lilith. This is obviously an odd criticism considering Koltuv is a well-respected psychoanalyst but the constant reference to the power of modern women’s sexuality detracted from the origin myths of Lilith. 

Prior to reading this, I knew nothing of Lilith and I will have to reread this book as there is just so much information packed into such a short text that I feel I have missed out on pieces of Lilith’s story.  I knew Lilith was the first woman in one version of the Christian tradition but I did not know about Lilith’s construction within Jewish texts. I certainly did not know that Lilith is purported to be one of the two “mothers” of the infant in the Biblical story the Judgement of Solomon. I want to know more but I found myself distracted by Koltuv’s inclusion of her current patients. Koltuv’s use of psychoanalysis to read the stories of Lilith throughout history was really powerful and riveting but the references to her modern practise were simply not. 

Lilith’s rewriting as mother and whore, as the moon but also a deity fascinates me. So, if anyone has any excellent recommendations to read on the story of Lilith [and written by women!], please let me know.

“Books We’ve Read”

I just found this list entitled Books We’ve Read in my sticky notes. I have no idea what website it’s from or even when I saved it in my sticky notes. I only found when I decided that it was probably time to edit the 40 or so sticky notes saved on my laptop. Wherever it has come from, it’s a fascinating list. I’ve bolded the ones I’ve already read and italicised those I own but still need to read. I’m adding others to my wish list!*
  • Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem

  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

  • What Do Women Want? by Luise Eichenbaum and Susie Orbach

  • One Dimensional Woman by Nina Power

  • Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present by Lillian Faderman
  • The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf

  • The Equality Illusion: The Truth About Women and Men Today by Kat Banyard

  • Suffragettes: A Story of Three Women by Gertrude Colmore

  • Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter

  • From Homebreakers to Jailbreakers: Southall Black Sisters by Helena Kennedy (Foreword) and Rahila Gupta (Editor)

  • Beyond God the Father by Mary Daly

  • Self-made Man: My Year Disguised as a Man by Norah Vincent

  • The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality, 1880-1930 by Sheila Jeffreys

  • Black British Feminism: A Reader by Heidi Safia Mirza

  • Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour by Maria Mies

  • Small Expectations: Society’s Betrayal of Older Women by Leah Cohen

  • Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

  • Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank

  • Provoked by Kiranjit Ahluwalia and Rahila Gupta

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

  • The Myth of Women’s Masochism by Paula Caplan

  • Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West by Sheila Jeffrey

  • The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It by  Victor Malarek

  • Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora: The ‘Abortion Trail’ and the Making of a London-Irish Underground, 1980-2000 by Ann Rossiter

  • Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy edited by Barbara Ehrenreich

  • The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage edited by Cathi Hanauer

  • Bodies by Susie Orbach

  • The Industrial Vagina by Sheila Jeffreys

  • Back off! How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers by Martha J. Langelan

  • The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner

  • Women as Revolutionary Agents of Change by Shere Hite

  • Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing by Jill Radford and Diana E.H. Russell

  • Herland and the Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  • Women of Ideas And What Men Have Done to Them by Dale Spender

  • That Takes Ovaries! Bold Females and Their Brazen Acts by Rivka Solomon

  • Encounters with Strangers: Feminism and Disability by Jenny Morris

  • Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

  • The Politics of Reality by Marilyn Frye

  • Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier

  • Right Wing Women: The Politics of Domesticated Females by Andrea Dworkin

  • Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines (The Holdfast Chronicles, Books 1 & 2 – also known as The Slave and The Free) by Suzy McKee Charnas

  • From Where We Stand: War, Women’s Activism and Feminist Analysis by Cynthia Cockburn

  • Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography edited by C. Stark and Rebecca Whisnant

  • The Idea of Prostitution by Sheila Jeffreys

  • Femininity by Susan Brownmiller

  • The SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas

  • The Female Man by Joanna Russ

  • Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • The Creation of Feminist Consciousness from the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy by Gerda Lerner

  • Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

  • My Mother My Self by Nancy Friday

  • Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women by Susan Faludi

  • Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy

  • The Women’s Room by Marilyn French

  • Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues by Catharine A MacKinnon
*If this is your list, let me know so I can credit you!

Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

My mother bought this book for my daughter two years ago. My daughter has never bothered to read it since it lacks vampires (sighs) so I read it instead.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an utterly beautiful book about the relationship of two women in 19th century China. It is the story of the friendship between Lily and her laotong Snow Flower. I had never heard this term before but Lily’s aunt defines it as “made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose – to have sons.” I can’t decide if the acknowledgment that women’s emotional needs are worth consideration and are, therefore, encouraged formally makes me sad or relieved.

The relationship between Lily and Snow Flower is not a healthy one. The two women are very different and Lily’s insecurities all but destroy Snow Flower. Their friendship should have saved them, and it does maintain them through their footbinding as children, but both suffer dreadfully throughout their lives. Snow Flower’s husband is violently abusive, whilst Lily, who ‘marries well’ remains deeply unhappy and hurts those she loves the most.

In many ways, the book is about the power of women’s friendship and the trauma when it is torn asunder. Despite this particular friendship being destroyed by jealousy, it is the thought of the friendship which sustains both women through civil war, VAW, marriage, childbirth and infant loss.

It is a young adult fiction book but I enjoyed it very much.