Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In Intercourse, Andrea Dworkin attributes women’s societal subordination to their becoming a colonized people through the act which intimately connects them to their oppressor—sexual intercourse. She asks if since women have no physical privacy—that is, they must be entered for intercourse—can they truly be free? Her answer is no.

In the first section, “Intercourse in a Man-made World,” Dworkin discusses the portrayal of intercourse and sexuality in works of five male authors: Leo Tolstoy, explaining how his writings reflect repulsion at being sexual; Kb Abe, whose images of intercourse invoke the sense of going beneath the skin, sometimes through its removal; Tennessee Williams, who connects sexual expression in females with a negative stigma; James Baldwin, who illustrates the pain which must be experienced for two people to commune with each other sexually; and Isaac Bashevis Singer, who provides an example which Dworkin uses to suggest that, for women, intercourse is destructive and requires being possessed. Attitudes and behaviors depicted in the fiction are treated as reflecting real-world attitudes toward the sexuality of women.

In part 2 of the text, Dworkin examines “The Female Condition” first through changing views of virginity, as evidenced in the lives of Joan of Arc and the fictional characters of Madame Bovary and Dracula’s female victims, and then through woman’s agreement or collaboration in being...

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Intercourse Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In Intercourse, Andrea Dworkin has added a new dimension to the pornography debate, showing how much mainstream literature (in addition to so-called actual pornographic literature) includes themes expressing men’s perception that women’s sexuality exists to be controlled and punished, often violently.

Dworkin believes as Baldwin does that, “It is really quite impossible to be affirmative about anything which one refuses to question.” Hence, addressing sex-role conditioning, Dworkin has posed a previously unasked question; namely, whether sex is an inherently intrusive act perpetuated on women by men and whether as such it stands in the way of truly equal and loving relationships between women and men.

Some reviewers have referred to Dworkin’s language as filthy, not reprintable, and mimicking the very pornographic speech that she would see eliminated. Others have reacted to it as powerful and lyrical. Response to Intercourse has been overwhelmingly negative, in part because of Dworkin’s language usage and tone and in part because of her ideas, which have not been popular among women and which have made some men too angry to consider the work rationally. After such a negative reception, it is interesting to note that references to Intercourse are almost nonexistent in many late 1980’s and early 1990’s publications that cite other works by Dworkin, such as Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Right-Wing Women (1983), and Letters from a War Zone (1988). References to Intercourse do appear in discussions on changing views of masculinity, much of it written by men. While references to Intercourse may not occur directly in feminist conversations on female subordination, male domination, popular literature, sex-role conditioning, and pornography, the questions that Dworkin has asked will remain an undercurrent in these discussions.

Intercourse Bibliography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Assiter, Alison. Pornography, Feminism, and the Individual. London: Pluto Press, 1989. Assiter dedicates two chapters to examining works by Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women and Intercourse. She argues that Dworkin’s rhetoric is impressive but that her theories are flawed, mainly because they rely on individual action for change and deny the need for collective responsibility.

Booker, M. Keith. Literature and Domination: Sex, Knowledge, and Power in Modern Fiction. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993. This text is for those well versed in literary criticism. Issues of domination are examined in works including Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955). Types of domination range from female-male relations to class relations.

Brittan, Arthur. Masculinity and Power. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1989. Although making no reference to Intercourse, Brittan does mention two of Dworkin’s earlier works. This feminist author explores connections between masculinity and social and political power, what men could do about imbalances, and why they do so little.

Ferguson, Ann. Blood at the Root: Motherhood, Sexuality, and Male Dominance. London: Pandora, 1989. In this text, the author’s theory “weaves together . . . key insights of radical feminism, Marxism and...

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