18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2011
I am an unpopular person in the current world of sadomasochistic, sex-working-as-"empowerment" lesbian "feminists" who volunteer to be painfully copulated by men and enjoy "consensual" slave/master relationships with their girlfriends. Yes, I agree with a lot of what Andrea Dworkin has to say in this book, and those who spew vitriolic hatred towards her in response for her theories are merely knee-jerk reactionaries (from both the left "sex radical" and right wing Dudebro sides)! If you at all have an open mind no matter your gender, and you are against domination and dehumanization (even if the person supposedly "consents" to be abused), you owe it to yourself to read this book and start thinking. It was written decades ago yet has EVEN MORE relevance in today's society, where women supposedly feel "empowered" by powerlessness (as well as competing with men in the misogyny arena). Also check out "Refusing to be a Man" by John Stoltenberg. Only when we all refuse to take on the gender roles of the cruel man or the happy-to-be-objectified woman can this miserable pit of a world improve. I'm not holding my breath, but Andrea and John's work at least give me the hope that I'm not the only one who feels the way I do. RIP, Andrea, you were sorely unappreciated as a great writer and thinker.
80 of 107 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2000
Holy gawd, a male who loved this book! And I did. It's sad how most people can only see the sophomoric caricatures their biases craft in this book, rather than the real story: which is not hatred for males, nor an indictment of all heterosexuality as rape. Though it will be read that way if a person can *only* concieve of sex which contains an element of domination: take away the domination aspect, and for them, sex is abolished. The men and women (such as the odious Camille Paglia) who fear this book have minds too entrenched in patriarchal pseudoscientific essentialist nonsense to get over that. As for me, I love sex. I think it's beautiful -- and that's also why I love this book. It suggests to me that intercourse can retain that beauty, and that it doesn't have to be debased by being used as a weapon and a tool of oppression. Dworkin is a brilliant mind whose works have altered my life.
26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2007
After Betty Friedan, Andrea Dworkin seems to top the list as one of the most referenced feminists. Her popularity did not prepare me in the least for what exactly her book de jour is. That is, Intercourse, the book coined as "saying" "all sex is rape," is actually an intriguing literary criticism with a brief peppering of art history. Any quotes I previously listed by Dworkin were taken out of context in that it would only make sense that after Dworkin is read a conversation must occur on art's ability (and lack of) to reflect and represent life.
Dworkin's book begins at Tolstoy and moves through biographies of he and his wife and his literary work The Kreutzer Sonata. The book provides a feminist and specific sexual critique on how sexuality is represented throughout classical, fictional pieces ranging from Tennessee Williams to James Baldwin to Bram Stoker to the Bible and how these works reflect the reality of the culture they were produced in. This bundle of information is presented to the reader and then weaved together in a luxurious manner to critique present views on sexuality. (Absolutely fascinating to me as this is what I did for my late modern art assignment last semester.)
Similar to Reading Lolita in Tehran, it is not necessary that you've actually read any of these works. However, as with any literary criticism it's a bit difficult to rebut or disagree with it without reading the actual texts the critique is based on. Overall, it's a brilliant piece of feminist literature that is blunt and honest and thought provoking. Whether or not you agree with everything (or anything) that Dworkin says, it's a thought stimulating book that consistently questions the reader.
29 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2007
The problem with "Intercourse" isn't so much that Dworkin takes her rhetoric overboard. That much was probably intentional, in order to make a point about how deep sexism runs in most cultures and for how long it has been that way - and she definitely got that point across. The book's downfall is that she not only doesn't make it clear that that's what she's doing, she even eschews any opportunity to clue readers in to that end.
"Intercourse" is probably the work that gave rise to the myth that Dworkin believed all sex was rape. In fact she never said that, here or elsewhere, and as such it would be wrong to attribute that belief to this or any other of her works. That said, she doesn't quite NOT say that either, and it's not entirely unreasonable to conclude that she is implying as much. Perhaps she considered it unnecessary to spell out the point that a survey of literary sex scenes could never be completely comprehensive. But after chapter upon chapter of examples in which she (correctly) shows various classic works of literature to be rather misogynistic, it may well have strengthened her thesis if she'd shown an example or two of more female-positive works. Never is the possibility of such things even floated. Also, for all her later denials that she was arguing that women can never really enjoy sex or that men can never be anything but dominating in the bedroom, she scrupulously avoids allowing for either of those possibilities throughout the book. Given the opportunity to clarify those points directly, she refused. In the preface to the updated 1997 printing, she asked rhetorically if men could ever hope to understand her thesis, pointedly refused to give a straight answer, and then referred to any and all of her detractors with a word I can't repeat here.
I certainly understand why any writer would resent having to address a baseless accusation cooked up by one's critics. But Dworkin ultimately had no one but herself to blame for the degree to which this book was misinterpreted. Which is too bad, because her larger points about the eroticization of violence against women in literature would be well taken if they weren't so ambiguous.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2011
I agree with all of the other five-star reviews I've read here, and don't want to reiterate what they've stated so well. This is an excellent book from a genuine feminist, not one of the "enlightened" sexists who masquerade as feminists today (see Susan Douglas's daring book on the topic). Read this text for an authentic look at the perception most men in our society have of heterosexual sexuality. Dworkin doesn't hold back, and her boldness may be shocking at times, but she says what needs to be said.
22 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2003
As the title suggests "Intercourse" explores perhaps the most private and primitive of human acts. Topics of scrutiny include: virginity, possession, patriarchy, law and death each sliced and dissected with the sharp knife of blatant realism. "Intercourse" is not against penetrative sex per se, it suggests an alternative approach to intercourse, one where the female is wholly - body, mind and soul, in control of the act: the initiator and the dictator. Throughout reading this text you can feel very frustrated simply because you do not agree with the point of view of the writer. You might, for example, believe that god exists, and find the whole atheist approach that Dworkin takes, in "exposing" the scams of religion, very frustrating. When you are reading it is rather like a conversation with a very talkative person who goes on and on without any breaks for you to speak. It can feel very oppressive if you disagree at a fundamental level and want to raise an objection. It can be difficult to carry on "driving" yourself forward through the text. On the other hand, many issues seem implausible when you first come across them. If you were only to read what you already agreed with, you would not learn very much. Part of reading such literature is learning to cope with not feeling too happy with what the author is saying - distancing yourself from your hostile feelings and reading on to see what arguments are put forward. Eventually you may or may not decide that the author has a point, as I did, but you need to give yourself a chance to find out what is on offer.
It is best to read the book in short bursts preferably than long drawn-out sessions. Rather than plunge, take a dip into the deep, morbid and yet thrilling pool of Dworkin's unique critic. It may take some time to become accustomed to the style and specialist language in which Intercourse is written. Accept this language and take it in your stride. I found the underlying purpose of reading this book is to develop your thoughts; to weave new ideas and information into the understanding you already have and to give new angles to your thinking. If you are a feminist, atheist and social truth-seeker, as I am, you will relish this book!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2012
In this book, Dworkin extends her analysis from pornography to sexual intercourse itself. She argues that in a male supremacist society the sexual subordination depicted in pornography is central to men's and women's experiences of heterosexual intercourse, although in a later interview she said, "I think both intercourse and sexual pleasure can and will survive equality." Dworkin uses classical literature from Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Bram Stoker, the Bible, Tolstoy, D.H.Lawrence and others to note how sexuality is understood. I particularly appreciate these three chapters: Communion, Possession, and Occupation/Collaboration.
A few quotes: "The measure of women's oppression is that we do not take intercourse . . and ask or say what it means. . . Instead, intercourse is a loyalty test. . . We are supposed to be loyal to the male meanings of intercourse." Dworkin refers to Victoria Woodhull, the nineteenth century advocate of the "female-first" model of intercourse, who suggested that "the only condition under which women could experience sexual freedom in intercourse . . was in having real and absolute control in each and every act of intercourse, which would be, each and every time, chosen by the woman. . . The woman would not force or rape or physically own the man because she could not. Thus, giving the woman power over intercourse was giving her the power to be equal."
112 of 161 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 1999
I had read so much of Dworkin second-hand that I decided to seek out this wildly-praised "feminist classic" and see her in her own context.
Oh, Brother (sister?) This is an EXECRABLE work. It's bile and hatefulness towards people who happen to be born with a Y chromosome seems "heroic" to some readers, but what struck me more than this rather obvious fact is that the book is quite poorly written, one long screaming screed. Any pretense toward logical argument, careful evaluation of sources or the traditional processes of reasoned scholarship are thrown out, like the proverbial baby with the bath water.
Many will claim that such claims for 'linear' argumentation are part of the 'male hegemonic power structure'. Ho hum. All I'm asking for is coherence. The book will primarily appeal to people who find hatemongering illogic compelling when deployed against men and appalling in other contexts.
I went into this book thinking that Camille Paglia had done Dworkin a horrible disservice, and now I think she was being kind. Evidence not of insight or courage but, I'm afraid, of a warped consciousness and deep-seated biases. What makes this especially sad is that so many of Dworkin's *conclusions* deserve a hearing, but they are seated next to absurd ones that -- I'm not making this up, as Dave Barry might put it -- 'boldly' assert that heterosexual relations are at base a structure of domination, and that women who 'want it' are somehow psychologically mutilated. Sorry for the flippancy here; you don't come across something so achingly bad, and so wildly overpraised, every day.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
In Ariel Levy's forward to my 2006 edition of this work, she says: "'Intercourse' is an inventive, combative, and wildly complicated piece of work, and to imagine that all there is between these covers is the assertion that all sex is rape is about as sophisticated as reducing Proust to a pile of Madeleine crumbs." I found Levy's sentiment quite correct. This book is wildly polarizing: just look at the reviews at Amazon, overwhelmingly concentrated in the one and five star categories. At the risk of being charged with that old Clinton "sin" of "triangulation," I find myself in the thinly populated middle crowd.
There is no question that Dworkin's book if grim; overall it is a most depressing "downer," characterizing what can be the most joyful and exciting of human experiences as universally negative. True, her personal experiences, if they are accepted as told, had to color her outlook, and they ranged from grim to grimmest. But what I have never heard adequately explained, from her supporters, is why, again and again, this very intelligent woman would enter into abusive relationships.
The strength of this book is Dworkin's erudition. She has read voluminously, and in this one work she has accumulated some damning evidence of misogynistic sentiments in the works of some "great (male) writers." For example, she dissects Leo Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories (Oxford World's Classics), Abe Kobo's works, particularly The Woman in the Dunes, Tennessee Williams' works, naturally, and in particular A Streetcar Named Desire, James Baldwin's Another Country, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary and numerous other writers and works. It is a depressing catalogue. Also, from the forward, Levy says: To borrow Gloria Steinem's language, Dworkin became the feminist movement's `Old Testament prophet: raging in the hills, telling the truth.'"
I've heavily marked up my copy of this work, normally a sign of a work that at least engages and provokes. And such sentiments as: "The spread of religious fundamentalism throughout the world right now is men retrenching to undo the civil and social advances of women; to reestablish male power as a fundamental reality by reestablishing gender as an absolute." are hard to casually dismiss. More ambiguously, primarily because she does not assign percentages to the women in the two categories, but lumps them all under that one gender term, she says: "Women have wanted intercourse to work and have submitted- with regret or with enthusiasm, real or faked- even though or even when it does not. The reasons have often been foul, filled with the spiteful but carefully hidden malice of the powerless." And for those who believe in the absolute truth of the Bible, it never hurts to be reminded of certain passages from Leviticus or Deuteronomy. In 22:5 of the latter, it says: "But if this thing be true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the damsel; then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die..."
In concluding her work, Dworkin also telling cites a passage from Joan Didion's A Book of Common Prayer: "I recall once telling Charlotte about a village on the Orinoco where the female children were ritually cut on the inner thigh by their first sexual partners, the point being to scar the female with the male's totem. Charlotte saw nothing extraordinary in this. `I mean that's pretty much what happens everywhere, isn't it,' she said. `Somebody cuts you? Where it doesn't show?'"
The fundamental flaw of this "Old Testament Prophet," and her work, is that she cannot see the "gray." Dworkin doesn't "do" nuance. Half of humanity is the evil aggressor, the other half are the innocent victims who may get a little "squirrelly" due to their powerlessness. A triangle does have three vertices, a good number for the stars for this book.
21 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2002
this book is not an easy read. it is full of information that provokes and ravages "comfort levels" that allow us to mindlessly tolerate the deep cruelty that goes on will not be ideas most people will want to entertain, but allowing oneself to entertain the idea that this sort of cruelty exploitation and violence can and does exist, if not in your day to day experience, somewhere in the world, should be enough to cause any person who still retains a morself of humanity outrage. As humans we have the ability to transcend survival of the fittest and exploiting the "weaker" for the needs of the stronger in our own human family, and this book removes the gauze from any eyes that may be confused about just how brutal life can be in the body of a woman in times and places where being such is not genuinely honored. This book IS like a slap to the face, and upon first reading it can cause discomfort, but like a slap to someone in a daze, it's also sobering in it's unabashed straightforward call-it-as-it-is style. It makes you realize how often communication especially by women is modified to be innocuous and palatable to the reader. At the very least this book is refreshing in that it is as far from that as it gets, but it's much more. It is important to the evolution of a society to name the subtle and flagrant violence and humiliation that is inflicted on some to keep others in power. This book does that. To call things as they are and point to how society is structured around a certain segment [namely males] at the expense of another is NOT doing so to demonize that segment but to name what goes on and point out that what society has allowed to be comfortable for men to believe is complicit and fine for women is not actually so. Only through truly knowing women in their own right and authenticity is it possible to have healthy relations between the sexes.