Silence Means Dissent – Andrea Dworkin RIP

This speech was given by Andrea Dworkin in Toronto in 1984, at a symposium on porn and media violence. The audience was mostly right-wing. It got a standing ovation.


“As a feminist I have been organising against pornography for a long time. I am very grateful to the research community, which has taken feminist theory seriously enough to try to see if in fact pornography does harm to women. I say that because I am entirely outraged that someone has to study whether hanging a woman from a meat hook causes harm or not. We are grateful to the research community out of our despair and our devastation, because mostly we are silent, and because when we speak up, nobody listens. We know how to quantify, we know how to count, we can show you the dead; yet it doesn’t matter if it comes from us. Objectivity, as I understand it, means that it doesn’t happen to you.

There  are women researchers who are trying very hard to bring what they know as women into their research. There are male researchers who have paid attention to what we have said. I am not dismissing them, but I am saying that we are living in a society where you can maim and kill a woman, and there is a question as to whether or not there is a social harm. Somebody has to study it to find out.

We know that men like hurting us. We know it because they do it and we watch them doing it. We know that men like dominating us because they do it and we watch them doing it. We know men like using us because they do it, and they do it, and they do it, and they do it, and they do it. And men don’t do things that don’t like, generally speaking. They like doing it and they like watching it and they like watching other men do it and it is entertainment and pay money to see it and that one of the reasons that men make pornography. It’s fun.

Now, what we know is – the “we” being women – that there are people that it is fun for, and there are people that it is not fun for, and that women are the people it is not fun for.

Pornography is the sexualised subordination of women. It means being put down through sex, by sex, in sex, and around sex, so that somebody can use you as sex and have sex and have a good time. And subordination consists of a hierarchy that means one person is on the top and one person is on the bottom. And while hierarchy has been described in beautiful ideological terms over thousands and thousands of years, for us it is not an abstract idea because we know who is on top. We usually know his name and address. Often we do. So we understand hierarchy, and this hierarchy that has men on the top and women on the bottom.

Subordination also consists of objectification. Objectification is when a human being is turned into a thing, a commodity, an object – someone is no longer a human being. They’re used, because they’re not human like the other people around; and that frequently happens on the basis of their race or it happens on the basis of their sex. It happens to women on the basis of both.

And subordination also consists of violence, overt violence – and it’s not just violence against people. It’s violence against women. It’s violence against children who are very closely connected to women in powerlessness. It’s violence that isn’t such a mystery. Crazy maniacs don’t do it. People who have power over other people do it. Men do it to women.

Now, if you take hierarchy and if you take sex and if you understand that hierarchy is very sexy, that what you have is a situation in which people are exploited systematically; and they are exploited in such a way that everyone thinks it’s normal. The people who are doing it think it’s normal. The people to whom it’s done think it’s normal. the people who study it think it’s normal. And it is normal. That’s the thing about it – it’s actually normal. It doesn’t make a difference if it happens in private or if happens in public, because women are primarily hurt in private. Now that pornography is out in the world, where it is an officially established form of public terrorism against women, we think we are dealing with something that is qualitatively different from anything we have dealt with before. This is, in fact, not true, because pornography gets acted out on women whether women see the pornography or not. This is because men use the pornography when it’s criminal, when it’s illegal – they still have access to it, they still use it, and it still has all the consequences that you heard about today and those consequences are acted out on the bodies of women.

I want to talk about social subordination, because women are not equal in this society and one of the ways that you can tell is the quality of our silence…. Women are the population that dissects most, through silence. The so-called speech of women in pornography is silence. Splayed legs on a page are silence. Being beaver, pussy, cunt, bunnies, pets, whatever, that is silence. “Give it to me”, “do it to me”, “hurt me”, “I want it bad”, “do it more”: that is silence. And those who think that is speech have never heard a woman’s voice. I want to tell you that even the screams, even the screams of women tortured in pornography, are silence. Men pay money and watch, but no one hears a human scream. They hear silence. And that’s what it means to be born female. No one hears you scream as if you are a human being.

Catherine MacKinnon and I wrote a civil rights bill that makes pornography a form of discrimination based on sex and a violation of the civil rights of women.  We hallucinated those rights in a frenzy of hope, in a delirium of dreaming. We hallucinated that women could be recognised as human beings in this social system. Human enough even to have civil rights. Human enough to be able to assert those rights in the face of systematic sexual exploitation, brutality and malice.

So human, in fact, that one would not have to study it to see if any harm is done when a woman is tortured. So human that no one would have to study it to see if harm is done by long-term pervasive systematic exploitation, dehumanisation, objectification. So human that one could actually assume as a premise throughout life – not just today but seven days a week all year long, forever – that when a woman is being tortured, or even exploited or even only used and used up, that a human being is being tortured, exploited, used and used up, and that that constitutes harm to a human being. You don’t have to study it. It’s happening to a human being so it constitutes harm to a human being.

We dreamed that women might be taken to be so extremely human that one would know, even without laboratory evidence, that when a woman is diminished in her integrity, in her rights, humankind is diminished because of it. And we thought that it might even be possible that a woman could be so human that even the law, which is not big on recognising human beings, might recognise her as being human enough to deserve equal protection under the law. Just that human, not a smidgen more, just that.

That’s not even equality; that’s not as human as men, not really, not entirely…. So human that when the pimps, the parasites sell her and coerce her and rape her and destroy her and abuse her and insult her – so that men can be entertained by her exploitation and abuse – that those pimps and those users will have to face her in court for violating her human rights because she is a human being.

Pornography is at the heart of male supremacy and that is true whether the pornography is in the public or in private. When you see pornography, you see male supremacy; and if you look around you and you see male supremacy, you had better believe that you’re seeing pornography even if you don’t know where it is in the room. The goal of feminists who are fighting pornography is to end the hierarchy, the objectification, the exploitation: the domination of men over women and children.

And we are going to do it. I want to tell you this: if you love male supremacy but you abhor pornography, then you do not abhor pornography enough to do anything about it. Some people don’t want pornography to be seen in public because it shows some very true things about what men want from women; for instance: dominance, power over women, women’s inequality, the use of women as sexual objects. It also shows what men do not want women to have: integrity, self-determination and complete and total control over our own bodies. We need these so we are not used, so that we are not forced into sex, forced into pregnancy, forced into any sexual relationship that is not our choice.

It’s important to understand that the feminist movement against pornography is a grassroots movement against male supremacy. We  are going to settle for nothing less than full social and sexual equality of the sexes. We are going to get whatever institutional changes have to be made to accomplish that. We are going to get self-determination for women. We’re even going to get something that people call justice.

I am wondering, and I think it is worth thinking about, what justice would look like for the raped and the prostituted, and I know how afraid men really are of what that justice would look like…. Study that.

We are going to stop the pornography in the shops and in our lives, when it’s written down and when it’s acted out, and we going to do it one way or another…. The man had made hundreds of pictures of other women, he had a list of names of other women he was going to assault. She went to the police; they didn’t do anything. She went to some people who knew the man; they didn’t do anything. Nothing, nothing, nothing. That is typical. What he said to her when he tied her up, after having raped her and started photographing her was, “Smile or I’ll kill you, I can get lots of money for pictures of women who smile when they’re  tied up like you.”

I want you to think about the way women smile. I want you to think about it every minute of every day, and I want to suggest to the men in this audience, in particular, that you had better be afraid of women who learn to smile at you that way.”

One response to “Silence Means Dissent – Andrea Dworkin RIP

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