The Gears

Please see our “About” and “Why Radfem?” pages for additional information about this project.

Below are several common themes in media images illustrating — and also normalizing and invisiblizing — the mechanisms of women’s real-life oppression by men and the foundations of male individual and institutional power; and some common manifestations of those themes:

Femicide
Fetishize female vulnerability
Handmaidens of the patriarchy
Harm reduction/refusal to name the agent
Joke’s on women
Male bonding over misogyny
Male entitlement
Mansplaining/women’s perspective is wrong
Necrophilia
Normalize abuse/neglect
Normalize porn/prostitution
PIV-centric narrative
— Goal is to “land a man”
— Normalize exaggerated/simulated female pleasure
— Normalize reproductive stress and pain
— Pathologize menstruation
— Pathologize older women and menopause/fetishize female youth
— Rape and rape culture
Pornify girl children/infantilize adult women
Primacy of the nuclear family
Reversal
Support patriarchal institutions (medicine/religion/law)
Woman as “useful object”
Women’s culture/positive images

Femicide
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, women as a class are targeted for extermination. Women are murdered, disappeared, placed in harm’s way, tortured and raped until we die from it, but this is never addressed as a class issue or as comparable to other acts of deliberate, political genocide, even though it is.  Modern women exist against an historical backdrop of the Burning Times in which millions of allegedly supernaturally-powerful women were persecuted, tortured and murdered, but this history — and its implications on modern issues of power and female “empowerment” rhetoric — is minimized, ignored and erased.  The too-frequent rapes and murders by men of female-bodied persons exist within the broader context of global femicide (and necrophilia), but that context or the political implications of rape and woman-murder are never discussed.

Why? Because…

Femicide supports male power. Males as a class are working very hard to destroy females as a class, and they are succeeding: globally, women are underrepresented due to “gendercide” against females, where female fetuses and babies are literally killed before or at the time of birth. In what the The Economist has dubbed “The Worldwide War on Baby Girls,” the extreme male-supremacist ratio of males to females in many regions simply would not exist in nature: in some places there are over 130 males for every 100 females due to gendercide. In some places at different times in history, according to census takers, no girls were found at all. The result is that males exist in unnatural numbers globally and share power and resources amongst themselves without sharing it with girls and women — power which they actually lord over girls and women and which includes mandatory PIV and rape. And unnatural numbers of males lording sexual power over girls and women, and where female infants are then killed and males aren’t, exacerbates and perpetuates the problem of “overpopulation” and specifically male global overrepresentation and unequal male political and physical power and resource-hoarding with no end in sight.

In popular culture, images of “powerful” women often include unnaturally-powerful women, even though historically the female “witch” was not politically powerful and was actually the victim of terrible state-sanctioned persecution including brutal torture — including sexual torture and rape — and murder.  Also included as examples of femicide are gynecology and psychiatry, which Mary Daly noted are “tools of gynocide” used against women by men, who seek to cut, sedate, pathologize, and otherwise torture women and remove our wildness and creativity.  The end-effect of such conflicting messages and “dueling realities” around issues of female power and powerlessness is thought-termination, where the implications and context of global femicide are literally unthinkable.  This is, of course, deliberate, and keeps us stuck in ahistorical, apolitical discourses about power that are not reality-based, and do not challenge patriarchy or hold any promise at all of liberating women from male dominance.  See also Necrophilia; Normalize abuse/neglect; Normalize porn/prostitution; PIV-centric narrative — Rape and rape culture; Reversal; Support patriarchal institutions (medicine/religion/law).

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Fetishize female vulnerability
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, women as a class are made economically, sexually, and physically vulnerable to men and to interpersonal and institutional misogynistic abuse.  This occurs through social conditioning and exploiting biological realities as well as through systematic sex-based discrimination that deprives us of opportunities and autonomy, including sexual autonomy.  Women’s vulnerability on every axis is a disaster for women and ruins women’s lives, and is the source of terrible pain and suffering for women, and yet women’s various vulnerabilities are simultaneously portrayed as being sexually charged. But from whose perspective is women’s impending doom sexy?

For example, women’s clothing and shoes are notoriously restrictive, painful, and do not allow for spontaneous movement, making women physically vulnerable to both the elements and to men’s whims, including male violence. When “properly” dressed, such as in overly restrictive or overly cumbersome clothing that is prescribed for women cross-culturally, women cannot easily run away from physical danger including sexual assault. Binding and otherwise restricting and harming women’s feet is especially fetishized across cultures, because healthy feet are critical to physical autonomy; in women, physical autonomy is not sexy, and women’s vulnerability, injury, and perpetual victimhood are. These imposed vulnerabilities are actually very dangerous, require extreme vigilance and planning for contingencies, and can and do cause serious physical and emotional harm to women, and this heightened risk and potential and actual female harm are both sexually arousing (for men) and (therefore) mandatory for women.

Why? Because…

Female vulnerability supports male power. The entire world would look different if women were not deliberately made vulnerable by men and male institutions; in other words, if the playing field were level. Men and male institutions make sure it’s not, because economically and physically vulnerable women are easy targets for male abuse and men like it that way. Men’s relative and absolute physical and economic power increase as women’s decrease, where women are physically hobbled and where sex-based discrimination against women leaves opportunities on the table for men to share amongst themselves. When women make less, and spend more, money than men do, considering both the wage gap and women’s unpaid domestic labor as well as female-specific consumer spending such as hormonal contraceptives and fuckability mandates, men are left with more discretionary income with which they may further increase their economic power through investments, or further abuse economically vulnerable women through economic coercion within relationships, and by using prostituted women and porn. If women as a class weren’t made economically, socially and physically vulnerable to predators, and if male predators were without the financial and institutional resources to engage in vast and extremely profitable criminal conspiracies against women, global rape trafficking would end; similarly, prostitution and porn would no longer exist, and neither would marriage for that matter, to whatever extent each is dependent on vulnerable women being desperate enough for money to engage in PIV and sexualized abuse in return for economic security or a paycheck. See also Normalize porn/prostitution; PIV-centric narrative – Goal is to “land a man”.

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Handmaidens of the patriarchy
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, women often police other women’s behaviors, dress, or life choices and situations, engage in girl-fighting, handmaidensplain to other women how to shift their perspective to a more male-centric one or why a woman-centric perspective is wrong, and otherwise enforce patriarchal mandates on themselves and others. For example, girls or women might fight with each other over an individual man, while never acknowledging the possibility of eschewing all men and PIV-centric sexuality altogether; or a mother might be hypercritical of her daughter’s appearance, and enforce femininity or fuckability, while the father might stay silent or even disagree that the mother’s actions or values are appropriate.  This female enforcing of patriarchal mores gives the impression that women are in control over their own and each other’s lives and destinies, or that men are individually or collectively kind, benign or blameless compared to women; this impression is incorrect, yet it is pervasive and normalized.

Why? Because…

Handmaidens of the patriarchy support male power. By getting women to do patriarchy’s dirty work, the patriarchal agenda is advanced even within female-only or female-dominated spaces, such as the household and female friendships, and there is simply nowhere for girls and women to go to get away. While the role of the handmaiden obscures this truth, in reality, patriarchal mandates, all of them, regardless of who enforces them, benefit men and men only; girls and women who are stuck in patriarchal families, workplaces and communities are almost completely powerless to radically change patriarchal mandates or the anti-woman, pro-patriarchy value system, or to create a culture to benefit themselves. This dynamic of the female patriarchal enforcer invisiblizes who has the real power, what that power looks like, where it comes from, and how it is used: namely, men have power that they frequently wield over women, and use it abusively; it is sexual, physical, economic, and structural; and they get it from other men and male-centric institutions, and by abusing women through economic coercion and sexual violence, and decreasing women’s power through sex-based discrimination.  See also Harm reduction/refusal to name the agent; Mansplaining/women’s perspective is wrong.

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Harm reduction/refusal to name the agent
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, girls and women employ various strategies to mitigate the harms to themselves of living under a brutal patriarchal regime, such as utilizing contraception and abortion to mitigate the harms of dangerous PIV-centric sexuality, or not walking alone at night to avoid male violence including rape. When these harm reduction strategies are addressed, it is in the complete absence of context, where the agent of harm — namely, men, and male violence and male-centric values and institutions — is invisible and never named. Popular discourse around various methods of birth control — including abortion — are perhaps the most obvious, as are all ads for all medications, policies, practices and procedures meant to “cure” or “relieve” women’s suffering, but without ever acknowledging that the conditions necessitating treatment are patriarchy-derived and that under different conditions, these afflictions and stressors would be avoidable or even unheard of.

Why? Because…

Harm reduction/refusal to name the agent supports male power. In their global campaign to increase their own power, men harm women, children and each other through aggression and violence, war, industry, and sexuality, to name but a few, and obfuscating that is politically useful. Examination of the realities of dangerous PIV-centric sexuality and male sexual violence against women and children — including who is perpetrating it — bodes poorly for men as a sexual class. When these harms are examined, and the agent(s) of harm named, such as by radical feminists, it logically suggests further inquiry into the patriarchal constructs of compulsory heterosexuality, marriage, and fatherhood; such analyses threaten to undermine male power and are to be avoided. Women are made to expend all of their time, energy and resources on the daily tasks of survival and have nothing left over to put towards examining the sources of their oppression or achieving their own ends, and we see pervasive advertising for a booming consumer market of female-specific products, devices, and services that allegedly improve women’s lives or rejuvenate us via consumerism, i.e. by doing something, but we are never meant to consider how women’s lives would improve if misogynistic or male-centric cultural practices that are specifically harmful to women were stopped.  See also PIV-centric narrative – Normalize reproductive stress and pain.

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Joke’s on women
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, women and women’s reality are mocked and dismissed, and the often brutal conditions that women must negotiate under patriarchy are the source of endless perverse pleasure for men. In fact, men’s perverse pleasure at the expense of girls and women is fundamentally what comprises male-centric comedy and we see this frequently such as in rape jokes. Often, comic situations involve women putting up with men who are not adequate or viable sexual partners, and this is seen as funny: men are even laughed at such as with the “bumbling husband” meme, but the joke isn’t on men, the joke’s on women, who often put up with incompetent men because they have little or no other meaningful choice. Men literally jumping out and scaring women is an emerging trend in advertising, where women respond very reasonably with shock, fear and horror at what is in actuality a real-life assault or battery, only to have their very reasonable fear responses dismissed and ridiculed, and their actual victimization justified and ignored.

Why? Because…

“Joke’s on women” supports male power. Regarding the bumbling or oafish husband meme, it is clear to anyone observing that these men do not deserve the women who settle for them, but as entitled men, they are able to “get” women anyway. While these men are obviously not living up to the deal they struck when they became partnered or married, these men also obviously still demand and receive domestic and sexual services from their wives, and this fundamental inequality and the suffering women experience in unequal partnerships is the source of endless perverse pleasure for men. Similarly, men’s incompetence “in bed” is often joked about, but in reality, this is not funny: in reality, it normalizes PIV-centric sexuality, and invisiblizes the fact that many women are putting up with unpleasureable and dangerous PIV because they have to, where PIV for pleasure’s sake alone would never survive a cost-benefit analysis in a non-patriarchal context. And “joking” with women often is intended to and does place women at a disadvantage where they do not have needed information, or where they are made even more vulnerable to abuse and made to suffer extreme and unnecessary stress or worry. This and all the slights, inequalities and brutalities of women’s reality are not taken seriously even though they are very serious. The demonstrable fact that poking fun at men in these contexts is really a backhanded, yet very potent jab at women is often ignored, and we see men’s rights activists (MRAs) complaining about how these images allegedly harm men, with no proof of any actual harm, or how the bumbling husband meme or any media image is reflective of a real-life inequality or a source of powerlessness in men’s lives. See also Male bonding over misogyny; Male entitlement; Mansplaining/women’s perspective is wrong; PIV-centric narrative; Goal is to “land a man”; Reversal.

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Male bonding over misogyny
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, men bond with each other through observing and perpetrating acts of misogyny, such as working in groups to sexually harass women, watching misogynistic pornography together, and sexually abusing women such as in sharing hired prostituted women and strippers, sharing sexual partners, gang rape, and woman-murder.

Why? Because…

Male bonding over misogyny supports male power. Men increase their individual and collective power through all-male group-bonding, which creates relationships and networks through which they pass along opportunities and knowledge. This power-sharing over misogyny is often literal, such as business deals that take place in strip clubs where oftentimes, the women performing are economically coerced and exploited, and where female associates are either not invited or do not feel comfortable so are unable or unwilling to participate, and are denied opportunities that are in effect only available to men. Male bonding over misogyny creates a shared identity and group cohesion, where they reassure each other that they are not powerless sexual slaves, rape-objects, domestic servants, physically weak or saddled with children; women are. They build trust over knowing that they are part of the same group, the privileged oppressor class, and that they share experiences, perspectives, and values, namely, male entitlement, male supremacy, misogyny, and a willingness to abuse their male privilege, including harming and committing crimes against girls and women. See also Joke’s on women; Normalize abuse/neglect; Normalize porn/prostitution.

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Male entitlement
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, being male is the only thing one needs to gain access to the good things in life, including gainful employment, physical safety and comfort, and sexual access to women. Even oafish or “beta” males are entitled to have a woman as a domestic, sexual and reproductive slave and we see this portrayal often such as in television shows such as “The Big Bang Theory” or VH-1′s reality series “The Pickup Artist“. Because they were born into the privileged class, all males are also entitled to financial and material success, including driving nice cars, wearing stylish clothes, or living in nice homes, even when they very obviously do not deserve it because they are incompetent, or where they cannot afford it, often leeching off of women, including girlfriends, mothers, and wives or committing crimes to achieve the lifestyles to which they feel entitled. Men are entitled to literally do whatever they want without suffering any consequences of any kind, or where others suffer the consequences of men’s actions, such as where men eat obviously unhealthy food because it tastes good, without regard for their health, or engage in dangerous “jackass” type stunts, extreme sports and other activities where women will be the ones taking care of them when they inevitably fall ill or are hurt. Also included is men’s PIV-entitlement, where men fully expect sexual access to women but where the reproductive consequences are women’s to bear alone.

Why? Because…

Male entitlement supports male power. It is never questioned that the world owes men what women can only dream of having, such as financial security, physical safety, and bodily autonomy; when men are deprived of these things, it is seen as a devastating blow, and much time and energy is spent on remedying perceived slights that men experience, usually at the hands of other men. Male-centric “social justice” movements consist of socially or politically “underprivileged” men fighting amongst each other to be treated as privileged white men are treated, including their unquestioned, unfettered access to women; meanwhile, all men continue to use women as their sexual, domestic and reproductive slaves and social justice movements do not address or satisfactorily address institutionalized misogyny, sex-based discrimination or male abuses of women. And because men are deferred to and praised even when they don’t deserve it, and only because they are men, men are known to overestimate their own abilities and feel and exude “confidence” even when they are actually incompetent or perform in the below-average range on any task; however, patriarchy rewards “confidence” as a personality trait in men even when it is baseless. The actual and perceived entitlement that all men are born with normalizes and naturalizes male “success” even when their material wealth, career successes, familial status and sexual access to women are achieved through unethical and even violent means, including political corruption, systemic institutional discrimination against women, economic coercion and rape. See also Joke’s on women; Normalize porn/prostitution; PIV-centric narrative; Goal is to “land a man”; Rape and rape culture; Primacy of the nuclear family.

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Mansplaining/women’s perspective is wrong
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, men mansplain to women constantly. Often, men mansplain to women who do not like pornography why it’s really harmless, or mansplain to women who criticize or abstain from PIV on political grounds or women who do not enjoy PIV that they are just “doing it wrong.”  Doctors and other experts and professionals are actually experts in mansplaining and professional mansplainers; unsurprisingly, male experts — being male — often mansplain to women on the topics of PIV and porn too. Of course, from women’s perspective, not liking porn and PIV is very reasonable, where porn is often documentary evidence of coercive sex (i.e. rape) and where pornographic imagery provides no obvious indicators that the “sex” is consensual, and where the circumstances do not imply consent. And where PIV is a dangerous sex-act for women that causes anxiety, stress and medical events (even when it is otherwise pleasurable) because it can and often does result in unwanted pregnancy, starting a chain of events that can harm, seriously harm, and even literally kill you. Rather than acknowledging the validity of women’s perspective on any issue, which is based on centuries of collective lived experience and biological reality as well as individual and even professional expertise, women’s perspective is considered defective or based in ignorance.

Why? Because…

Mansplaining supports male power. Mansplanations are not merely a waste of women’s time or inane — but essentially harmless — babbling by oafish men; in actuality, mansplanations are an exercise in forced-perspective, where men force women to view the world the proper way, which under patriarchy means through men’s eyes. Mansplanations are thought-terminating — they are intended to and do actually stop women’s thought processes and women’s discussions in their tracks, where those processes and discussions are coming dangerously close to representing a female-centric reality, or where men’s interests are not being properly represented and catered to. The intent of mansplaining is to get women “back on track” to furthering the patriarchal agenda, and to undermine the true revolutionary potential of majority-female or female-only spaces where women are free to go to the ends of our thoughts, based on our shared reality and experiences and our hope for a better future, and our shared, sincere desire for the end of patriarchy and undermining of male power. Because of male entitlement, men are simply used to unearned deference on every issue (especially from women) and having sexual and other access to women and women’s spaces, including inside our discussions and in our heads. See also Handmaidens of the patriarchy; Male entitlement; Normalize porn/prostitution; PIV-centric narrative.

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Necrophilia
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, boys and men are obsessed with death.  Mary Daly referred to this obvious male preoccupation with death as “necrophilia,” meaning the love of death. Men’s necrophilic tendencies are not limited to literally sticking their dicks into corpses, although it includes that; necrophilia refers to men’s obsession with death and all things related to death and antithetical to life, including neglect and abuse, causing reproductive harm, rape, murder, torture, war, inflicting physical and emotional pain generally, and placing themselves and others in harm’s way in every way. Where women are interested in and indeed heavily invested in preserving and nurturing life, often because they have to, or face legal or social consequences if they fail, men are working very hard to undermine women’s efforts to nurture life at every turn.

Why? Because…

Necrophilia supports male power. Obviously, the power to take life or to cause extreme suffering is a form of power, and men embrace this power fully when they torture and kill animals, girls and women, and each other. Where boys and men are obsessed with death and creating destruction, women are left to perform damage control, utilizing all their time, energy and resources on mitigating the harm that men inflict; women are then left with few or no resources to use towards building a female-centered culture or to support our own interests. This diversion of women’s resources away from woman-centered and non-patriarchal ends is deliberate. The unusual man who is even slightly interested in nurturing or preserving life is the beneficiary of enormous false gratitude, but when women make a mistake or are unable to perform caretaking duties at a high level for any reason, we are severely punished by patriarchal institutions which place extreme controls on women’s lives and enforce our caretaking role with institutional violence, including incarceration. Of course, it is frequently men’s necrophilic actions such as PIV-centric sexuality creating unwanted or ambivalent children, or men harming themselves and others, that create the need for women’s usually unpaid, institutionally-unsupported caretaking labor in the first place, and opening the door to patriarchal institutional control over women’s lives. Granting men the power to open the door to institutional patriarchal control over women is critically important to and supportive of male power. See also Mansplaining/women’s perspective is wrong; Normalize abuse/neglect; Normalize porn/prostitution; PIV-centric narrative; Normalize reproductive stress and pain; Rape and rape culture.

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Normalize abuse/neglect
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, the abuse and neglect women and children suffer at men’s hands are normalized such as in women putting up with oafish husbands who are inadequate partners, or worse. Heterosexual “romantic love” and marriage, which are almost always always based on intercourse and women’s financial dependance, are privileged over all other relationships, especially over woman-centered sexual, platonic, familial or sisterly love that would benefit women and center women’s needs. Men cannot or will not take care of their own children, pets or even houseplants in a way that sustains life and this is regarded as humorous; often we are even let in on the joke, whereby men are only pretending to be incompetent so that their female partners will just do everything ourselves. Men do stupid and dangerous things and get themselves hurt, leaving women saddled with additional unpaid domestic caretaking duties.

Why? Because…

Normalizing abuse/neglect supports male power. Normalizing abuse/neglect normalizes and legitimizes the way men “do business” when it comes to the primary relationship where men are abusive and neglectful generally compared to women. Marriage and the nuclear family are the center of the patriarchal power structure and are normalized, despite failing to meet women’s needs and despite being the source of so much female suffering around the world. Normalizing abuse/neglect leads women to believe that it is they who “love too much” rather than men who love too little, and stops women’s thought processes short of considering spinsterhood, lesbianism or political lesbianism as legitimate identities or behaviors more in line with their values, attractions or interests, and prevents women from considering individual or political solutions to the problem of unsatisfying, degrading or dangerous partnerships with abusive or neglectful men. Normalizing abuse/neglect invisiblizes the abusive and neglectful patriarchal context within which women live our lives, and women’s individual misfortunes, no matter how common or foreseeable, are treated as isolated and individual “bad luck” rather than evidence that male-centric reality, institutions and cultural practices are deliberately harmful and neglectful of women’s interests generally. See also Necrophilia; Normalize prostitution/porn; PIV-centric narrative; Goal is to “land a man”; Normalize reproductive stress and pain.

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Normalize porn/prostitution
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, pornography and prostitution are normalized. Very young girls are sexualized as in baby beauty-pageants and “prosti-tot” culture and fashion, while practices that were once largely or exclusively confined to stripping, porn and prostitution are becoming normalized such as pole-dancing workouts, heterosexual anal intercourse and feigned enthusiasm for PIV. Feminist critics have noted that pornographic imagery and values are invading mainstream media more and more, which is particularly terrifying, considering that porn is getting more and more violent and woman-hating.

Why? Because…

Normalizing porn/prostitution supports male power. Normalizing porn and prostitution normalizes intercourse and a male-centric construction of sex and women’s sexuality that centers the penis, and has little to do with female pleasure, and a lot to do with women’s pain and suffering, including women’s reproductive-related suffering, on a global scale. Normalizing a global industry that profits from the “sex” of women, including coerced “sex” otherwise known as rape, normalizes the fact that females are the sex class and the rape class; males are not. Both women and men are put in their respective places with this knowledge: men internalize and bond over the knowledge that they are the sexual and economic power-elite and have a permanent underclass of sexual slaves at their disposal, while girls and women internalize the knowledge that extreme sexualized abuse and extreme objectification including repeated rape and worse are what await us if we do not “succeed” materially or financially, where “success” for women almost always requires pleasing men and serving patriarchal ends through marriage, employment or (often) both. Both the pornography industry and the global trade in raped, trafficked and prostituted girls and women is extremely lucrative and supports men’s economic power. Women in prostitution and porn and trafficked women’s “earning potential” actually decrease over time, despite gaining “work experience” and seniority that is valuable in other work contexts. This is evidence that they are victims of a unique exploitation, and not “workers” in an ordinary or legitimate sense, yet the exploitation is made unobvious.

Normalizing porn and prostitution, where they are experienced or expected to be experienced in a positive light is a daily exercise in forced-perspective, where girls and women are taught to see the world through men’s eyes and never through women’s: if we did view either of these things through women’s eyes, we would see not pleasure or even sexuality, but extreme pain and fear, economic and physical coercion including violence, rape and rape-trafficking and rape-slavery, drug and alcohol addiction, unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. That these things are a part of “sex” or sexuality or sexual pleasure is a decidedly male-centric and penis-centric point of view that is rarely shared by the women involved in the industry, and is not shared by women who report that they do not like watching pornography, but a negative response is never normalized no matter how common (or reasonable) it actually is.  Women who are brutalized by these industries, as well as the men who brutalize them are invisiblized; there is no agent of harm because there is no harm where only or primarily women are harmed and men are not. See also Handmaidens of the patriarchy; Male bonding over misogyny, Mansplaining/women’s perspective is wrong; Necrophilia; Normalize abuse/neglect; PIV-centric narrative; Rape and rape cultureWoman as “useful object”.

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PIV-centric narrative
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, penis-in-vagina sex (PIV) or “intercourse” comprises the totality or majority of heterosexuality, including women’s sexuality, despite women having reported for centuries that intercourse is not their preferred sex act. Intercourse also has reproductive consequences to female-bodied persons, and is therefore uniquely harmful to women who engage in it when they do not wish to become pregnant. Normalizing intercourse and normalizing and invisiblizing the harms of intercourse through media images is accomplished through a complicated multi-faceted narrative which is particularly insidious. The details of the narrative are important individually and collectively and are given thorough treatment here.

Why? Because…

PIV and PIV-centric sexuality support male power. Intercourse and its attendant female-specific reproductive harm is the source of terrible suffering for women all around the world. While some women may experience pleasure from intercourse, many do not; regardless, intercourse always occurs against a backdrop of institutional and interpersonal misogyny and includes extreme physical and emotional risks to women, who are both more vulnerable to disease transmission than are men via PIV, and where women and only women experience pregnancy, including unwanted and ambivalent pregnancy.  Intercourse is a harmful cultural practice which harms women and benefits men, as women are frequently removed from the public sphere, whilst they spend time, energy and resources dealing with intercourse-related complications, leaving opportunities and resources for men to share amongst themselves.

The harmful consequences of intercourse to female-bodied persons are clear. Even in this day and age, some 500,000 women continue to die globally each year due to complications from pregnancy.  Many more are made gravely ill or are permanently injured, often being left to suffer the rest of their lives with obstetric fistulas which leave the women incontinent of urine and/or feces, for which they are abandoned by their husbands and families. All of this female suffering, every bit of it, is due to the reproductive consequences to women of mandatory PIV and rape. And where almost all instances of rape include PIV, normalizing PIV also serves to normalize rape: we are expected to accept that penises belong in vaginas regardless of context, and where the reproductive harms of PIV as well as the political and coercive context of all PIV under conditions of patriarchy are routinely ignored.

Intercourse being central, necessary or even included in female sexual pleasure is ahistorical, acontextual, and dependent on consumerist “first world” conveniences and harm-reduction strategies such as hormonal and other birth control devices and products which are dangerous themselves, and less than 100% effective. To call intercourse “sex” or conflate it with women’s or even men’s sexual pleasure is not merely misguided, but rather, a deliberate and effective means of normalizing female submission and suffering and increasing men’s individual and collective power.  Because PIV and its attendant harms affect all women, across time and place, and is central to our suffering and our political and interpersonal standing, and because men’s political and interpersonal standing increase as ours decrease, intercourse should rightly be seen as the foundation of patriarchy itself.

Regardless of the wishful-thinking of — and deliberate obfuscation by — some liberals and feminists, intercourse continues to be very much a political act and a political institution that is supportive of male power: the “Big 3″ of the patriarchal institutions, namely, medicine, religion and law, all attach to women’s bodies and women’s lives at the moment of conception, where the same oppressive controls never attach to men’s bodies and men’s lives. The direct correlation and causation between intercourse and formal, institutional and often state control of women is obvious, and deliberate, and is obviously supportive of male power, but the political implications of intercourse are never addressed (except by radical feminists) and have yet to be remedied. Indeed, when the many ways intercourse benefits men are revealed, and when it is accepted that the relationship between intercourse and patriarchal institutional control of women is deliberate, and meant to harm women and to support male power, it seems unlikely that the harms will ever be remedied under patriarchy because men like things the way they are. And although politically-active women and radical feminists have been doing intercourse-critical work for decades, anyone who continues to address it continues to be shunned and marginalized, and the long history of this work is all but erased.

The PIV-centric narrative is comprised of six (6) elements or sub-themes, which are detailed below. All the sub-themes serve to normalize intercourse and remove it from its historical and political context, and erase the clear and present dangers of intercourse that persist for women, even modern, “first-world” women who have access to contraception and abortion. In fact, the PIV-centric narrative and its sub-themes lead women directly into the patriarchal meatgrinder, where women are literally “sleeping with the enemy” and suffering harm that only women can experience, and only at the hands of men; and once there, the overlapping forces of patriarchy make it almost impossible for women to escape. See also PIV on TV for examples of the PIV-centric narrative in 20 popular television shows.

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— Goal is to “land a man”. This sub-theme normalizes PIV-centric sexuality because the endgame is marriage or a long-term partnership with a man, where it is expected that PIV will be a requirement of the continuation of the partnership.

Heteronormativity, when applied to women, is literally the normalization of intercourse, the harms of intercourse to women, and of women’s submission to men. Here, the ultimate goal, which is framed in positive terms and as the thing critical to women’s success, is actually — and historically — the path to women’s undoing.  When successfully “landing a man”, the female-centered world of a woman’s upbringing including female relatives and friends (if she was lucky enough to experience that) is replaced with a male-centric world that requires constant male-pleasing and being compliant and pleasing to the patriarchal institution of marriage itself. Where the goal is to land a man, lesbianism or spinsterhood are not options; so-called “women’s sexuality” becomes penis-centric, despite the reproductive consequences to women and regardless of whether the intercourse is pleasurable or wanted by the woman; and female friends and relatives take a back seat to the romantic heterosexual partnership and are not welcome in the co-habitative or marital home.

Included are heteronormativity/lesbophobia and femininity; male-pleasing generally; unattainable and unavailable men and spending vast amounts of time and energy “trying to change” men into suitable partners; the “bumbling husband” meme and unappealing men being partnered with women who are too good for them; dating and serial dating; fuckability mandates including clothing and grooming; competing or vying for male attention; marriage preparation.

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— Normalize exaggerated/simulated female pleasure. This sub-theme normalizes PIV-centric sexuality by conflating PIV with female sexuality and female sexual pleasure, when in reality many women do not enjoy PIV at all. Female pleasure from PIV is read as net-pleasure, meaning — essentially — female pleasure minus female risk, when in fact an honest cost-benefit analysis of PIV is never performed and the risks are rarely if ever addressed.

In all media imagery, we have paid female actors, as part of their job description, “acting” aroused by PIV and faking orgasms from it, and they do a convincing job. Considering the countless PIV-centric narratives on TV where women are literally pretending (acting) to enjoy PIV, and considering the acting in porn too, we have all probably seen and/or heard thousands if not hundreds of thousands of women faking extreme — or any — pleasure from PIV. The effect is to normalize exaggerated/simulated female pleasure from PIV-centric sex. Women faking it is normal — if a woman is actually having PIV in real life, and it doesn’t feel like she imagines it should from all the simulated female pleasure she’s seen in the media, her experience is not normalized, even though unwanted, unpleasurable or downright painful PIV is part of women’s shared experience as women, as sexual class around the world, and has been reported by millions (billions?) of women across time and place. Many times, PIV just doesn’t feel that good, especially compared to how risky it is. But from watching PIV on TV (and porn) you would never know it.

Included are all media and entertainment using actors; porn and pro-porn; faking it; discussions of sexual positions and increasing female sexual response to PIV, and pathologizing women’s “inadequate” sexual response to it; PIV-related mansplaining or handmaidensplaining; “bad” or painful intercourse that is made to seem like an aberration; sex that’s “dangerous” or with extreme or heightened female risk, implying a correspondingly-extreme payout in terms of female pleasure; extreme or simulated female pleasure in non-sexual contexts, such as with food; and female sexual aggression.

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— Normalize reproductive stress and pain. This sub-theme normalizes PIV-centric sexuality by normalizing and invisiblizing female-specific reproductive harm, namely, trauma bonding from intercourse, unwanted pregnancy, and pain and stress arising from pregnancy-prevention methods; and invisiblizing the fact that these harms would not exist outside the PIV-as-sex paradigm, where intercourse was only used where the woman desired to become pregnant, and where “sex” for pleasure’s sake alone would only be found elsewhere, and never from PIV.  In reality, PIV-as-sex is a construct, and neither natural nor inevitable, and the harms to women which flow from PIV aren’t natural or inevitable either.  Where the harms to women of intercourse are made invisible, we are left with the image of PIV as sexy funtime or as stress-relief without physical or emotional complications and consequences (or stress!) but in reality, this is a male-centric perspective only. For women, for the entirety of our reproductive lives, the fantasy of stress free, harmless PIV is just a fantasy: it’s simply not true.

Included are uncomfortable discussions about “sex,” birth control, or going on “the Pill”; missed periods, pregnancy scares and pregnancy tests; vaginal or urinary tract infections or STDs; and female-bonding over any of the above; unwanted/unexpected pregnancies, miscarriages and abortions; not knowing “who the father is” or becoming unwillingly impregnated through an affair; having too many children to easily care for; “change of life” babies; tubal ligation or permanent or painful contraception/sterilization procedures; and making all of this female stress and pain seem normal, and inevitable. e.g. “it’s time for me to go on the Pill.”  Also included are keeping fertility-related secrets, including keeping possible pregnancies secret from the man “until you’re sure” so as “not to worry him”.

The plight of the “accidental impregnator” is also normalized — and the harms to women invisiblized and made to seem inevitable or unavoidable — where boys and men are shown to experience stress over possibly causing an unwanted pregnancy; but more often we see boys and men celebrating impregnating an unwilling woman, e.g. “My boys can swim!”  The effect is the same — to normalize women’s reproductive stress and pain, to make it seem like it’s no big deal, or completely reversing it and making it seem positive when it’s not.

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— Pathologize menstruation. This sub-theme normalizes PIV-centric sexuality by pathologizing the non-pregnant female body and normalizing the impregnated female-body unconditionally, regardless of whether the pregnancy is wanted by the woman and regardless of the danger. This normalizes and invisiblizes the harms of PIV by framing them in positive terms, and normalizes PIV itself: the only “cure” for menstruation is PIV — and pregnancy.

The effect of constantly, constantly denigrating and problematizing menstruation, including PMS, is to normalize pregnancy — including unwanted pregnancy — for women. Menstruation is proof that a pregnancy has not occurred, and problematizing it makes it clear that a pregnancy — even an unwanted one! — was both expected and preferable. Various prejudiced attitudes persist about pregnant women, but it is never questioned that pregnancy and bearing children is what women are for: men control the means of (re)production through mandatory PIV and rape and they demand that women give birth.  Contrast the pathologizing of menstruation with the medicalization of pregnancy versus pathologizing it: pregnancy is medicalized and seen as a medical event requiring male medical intervention, but no one ever says that women aren’t supposed to be impregnated, that it is unhealthy for women (even when it is, and it often is) or that this is not what women are for. Some women are even said to be “beautiful” and “glowing” when they are pregnant — this *is* what women are for, even women who have too many children (they are thought of as animalistic, or breeders). Now contrast the “beautiful” pregnant woman with the menstruating woman: menstruating women are literally terrifying in comparison.

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— Pathologize older women and menopause/fetishize female youth. This sub-theme normalizes PIV-centric sexuality similarly to the above, “pathologizing menstruation.” It normalizes the female body — and only that one — that is vulnerable to impregnation and reproductive harm via mandatory PIV and rape. This vulnerability to reproductive harm via the penis is framed positively, rendering the harm invisible.

The effect of pathologizing older women, and women in a permanent, non-impregnable state makes it clear that “normal, healthy” women are impregnable and that this state is preferable to the alternative. This normalizes pregnancy unconditionally and without regard to the woman’s wishes and the attendant dangers, it normalizes the “need” for birth control to avoid an inevitable result (but one that’s only inevitable within a specific context: the context of PIV-centric sexuality, but the context is made invisible).  Often, the PMS-like effects on women of menopause are exaggerated (inconsistent mood etc.) while the vaginal changes associated with menopause are completely ignored, and women well into their 60s, 70s and older are depicted as being “sexually active” with men, indicating that intercourse is taking place. In reality, if intercourse is to continue, post-menopausal women’s bodies are pathologized and treated with local and systemic hormone therapies to maintain “youthful” vulvar and vaginal tissues that are able to be penetrated without becoming damaged, and even seriously damaged. This pathologizing and medicalizing of women’s normal, aging bodies is completely normalized and invisiblized, and PIV is assumed to continue for women’s entire lives; if it doesn’t, it’s because there is something wrong with women, and not because there is anything wrong with PIV, and normalizing PIV.

Included is the “evil mother in law” meme; cosmetic surgery and “rejuvenating” beauty rituals; reminiscing about youth.

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— Rape and rape culture. This sub-theme normalizes PIV-centric sexuality because normalizing rape normalizes penis-in-vagina in any and all contexts, even obviously harmful contexts such as under conditions amounting to human trafficking and slavery.  Whether rape is normalized or criticized, when rape-imagery is used in the media, the effect is that “regular” PIV is normalized. If rape is normalized, it normalizes all PIV under all circumstances; if rape is criticized, PIV looks harmless by comparison.

PIV includes penile-vaginal intercourse under all circumstances, including rape; PIV is necessary to the concept and definition of rape in nearly every context, where “rape” is almost always men raping women vaginally with their penises. Where this is not the case, other nonconsensual, intentionally harmful penetrations are modeled after vaginal rape, i.e. thrusting with body parts or objects, targeting orifices, and male gratification and ejaculation. The problem, really, is that rape and PIV are almost the same thing, but no one ever says it: for example, “normal” PIV is often coerced or occurs under circumstances that are or objectively appear to be coercive; both PIV and rape are politically motivated and politically effective, and specifically and uniquely oppressive to women; rape and PIV are the only things *in life* that cause unwanted pregnancy; and both are known to cause trauma-bonding.

Included are alcohol and drugs, which reduce or eliminate legal capacity under “consent” rhetoric; all violence, including women having to be clever to avoid male violence or anger; restrictive female clothing, accessories and shoes; psychiatry and gynecology; prostitution and pornography; men’s PIV-entitlement; all abuse of power; deception and womanizing; rape-apologism, including mansplaining, framing rape in terms of consent only, accusations of “crying rape” and he-said/she-said; “runaway bride” meme; chivalry; kidnapping and alien abduction; “Pickup Artistry” and the seduction community; and “teen sexuality” and underage girls.

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Pornify girl children/infantilize adult women
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, very young girls are sexualized and mature women are made to resemble sexualized girls. No girl is too young to be penetrated by men; older women who are both sexually experienced and of full mental and legal capacity to consent to intercourse are relatively unappealing, and can be made more appealing if their apparent life-experience and capacity to consent are removed by making them look like children. Both presentations are evocative of the rape of female children by boys and men.

Why? Because…

Pornifying girl children/infantilizing adult women — and raping very young girls — supports male power. Raping girl children is a powerful grooming technique, whereby men condition young, inexperienced girls to accept penis-centered sex and penetration under all circumstances and regardless of context, and to expect physical pain from it, before they are old or experienced enough to know what is “sexual” (ie. sexually pleasurable) for them. And raped girl-children are known to grow up to be “promiscuous” adults, often running away from home only to be recruited into human trafficking and rape-slavery, and often working in prostitution and porn. A permanent class of previously abused women for whom sexual abuse and pain, including painful intercourse, has been normalized and is expected, benefits men, who can “purchase” economically coerced women on whom to practice abusive sex, and who benefit from women’s “promiscuous” unpaid male-centric sexuality. See also Normalize porn/prostitution; Normalize abuse/neglect; Fetishize female vulnerability; PIV-centric narrative; Rape and rape culture.

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Primacy of the nuclear family
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, the nuclear family is privileged and prioritized over all other familial or living arrangements. Marriage and children are portrayed as the ultimate success for women, and a situation that fosters women’s health and creativity; and the generally-happy-housewife is portrayed as the norm, when in fact the happy housewife may be the aberration.

Why? Because…

The primacy of the nuclear family supports male power. The heterosexual partnership, including marriage, is the site of much, if not most, of women’s sex-based oppression, around the world. The nuclear family and “the home” or private sphere is the location of girls’ and women’s sexual, domestic and reproductive servitude, where women are isolated from other women and from extended family and friends, and where male-pleasing is synonymous with partner-pleasing, and fostering domestic harmony and healthy relationships for women. Considering what kind of pornographic, abusive and generally female-exploitative situations many men find pleasing, the requirement that women be male-pleasing is a huge problem for women in all contexts, and yet the abusive potential of the nuclear family is never discussed. In reality, the home is where the majority of rapes and other assaults happen to both girl children and adult women, and where women’s economic dependence, which often increases when children are born, ensures that women will be sexually available to men, with the understanding that PIV in particular is required to maintain the partnership, and often without regard to whether the PIV or its attendant reproductive consequences are desired by the woman. And coercive PIV, as we all know, is rape.

The household is also the site of egregious thefts of services, where women perform thousands of hours of work annually but are not paid for it, and in fact sink more deeply into dependance and poverty the more committed they are to their families, whereas men benefit from women’s domestic work and often would not and indeed could not succeed outside the home without it. Women also frequently perform tasks for men that are directly related to men’s paid employment or careers, such as co-writing (or writing) men’s novels, or men stealing ideas from their wives without ever giving proper credit or compensation. Men individually and collectively become increasingly successful where it counts — in the public sphere — and build their empires on women’s backs and through women’s labor without sharing power with women individually or collectively, and male power is then wielded over all women abusively.  See also Woman as “useful object”; Male entitlement; PIV-centric narrative; Goal is to “land a man”; Rape and rape culture.

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Reversal
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, we encounter patriarchal reversals. Orwell uses the concept of “reversal” in his infamous dystopian novel “1984″ where the oppressors deliberately alter reality through manipulating language and disseminating obviously false political propaganda; for example, the three “slogans” of Orwell’s oppressive political party were WAR IS PEACE; FREEDOM IS SLAVERY; and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. And like the other mechanisms of oppression in Orwell’s novel, the concept of the reversal is based in reality and is known to be politically useful. And while Orwell described the use — and the usefulness — of the reversal under a more generically-oppressive political regime, Mary Daly took it further and showed how reversals are used — and useful — against women under an oppressive patriarchal regime.

Why? Because…

Reversals support male power. Mary Daly described the mechanism by which men and male institutions create false narratives that are not reality-based, but where the actual truth might serve to undermine male power, or where a complete 180-degree reversal of the truth would be supportive of male power. For example, the ideas that “sex decreases stress” and “women are sluts” are examples of reversals, where “sex” meaning intercourse actually increases stress for women, and where men are sexually promiscuous and have no biological or social inhibitions to having penetrative sex. Reversals specifically relating to PIV effectively turn harms into benefits, and reverse the subject and object — the actor versus the acted-upon — and make it impossible to recognize in which direction the harms and benefits flow, or to recognize constants and patterns whereby men benefit from intercourse at women’s expense.

Some “double standards” may be more accurately identified as flat-out reversals, such as the double standard whereby prostituted women have been singled out for oppressive and restrictive state interventions meant to “stop the spread of disease” but male johns weren’t.  (See Sheila Jeffreys, The Spinster and her Enemies, chapter 1).  But idea that prostituted women carry and spread disease is also a reversal, when in fact it is male johns who are more likely to infect prostituted women than the other way around, the johns often first becoming infected themselves through having penetrative sex with other men.  Thus, the patriarchal reversal often serves as a pretext, justifying patriarchal controls on women that are indefensible and serve no legitimate non-patriarchal purpose. See also Handmaidens of the patriarchy; Mansplaining/women’s perspective is wrong; PIV-centric narrative; Support patriarchal institutions (medicine/religion/law).

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Support patriarchal institutions (medicine/religion/law)
In her groundbreaking 1969 book Sexual Politics, Kate Millet advanced a theory of sexual politics, whereby “sex” (meaning the reproductive sex with which one was born) could be seen as a “status category with political implications.” (See “Sexual Politics” chapter 2). She noted that the existence of a patriarchy at once becomes clear when one considers that all of society’s institutions, and institutionalized power, including the military, industry, technology, universities, science, political office, finance, and the coercive power of the police lie entirely in men’s hands. While individual men may have varying degrees of power in relation to each other, all men are powerful over women; and all of society’s institutions are designed to and do actually empower men as a sexual class. Millet noted that in democracies, females hold either no power or are represented in such miniscule numbers as to be below even token representation. Her theory of sexual politics and observations of men’s institutional power, of course, hold true today. The realities of male-held institutional power and female tokenism are commonly mirrored in media images; indeed, it is difficult to imagine a world that does not mirror the power structures of our own, and when this is attempted it is presented as science fiction and represents an exceptional departure from reality, where patriarchal power is the rule.

Why? Because…

Supporting patriarchal institutions supports male power. Male power is institutionalized, whereby men make the rules to benefit themselves; women have to “go along to get along” and are often brutalized, exploited and neglected by patriarchal institutions that were designed by men to benefit men, at women’s expense. The ways male-designed institutional policies overlap and work in tandem with each other to support men’s individual and collective power may be best observed in how medicine, religion and law all have specially-designed rules and controls that attach to women and women’s bodies at the moment we are impregnated, in ways that these institutional controls never attach to men and men’s bodies and lives. And because men hold the power to impregnate women through mandatory PIV and rape, men have granted themselves the power to open the door to these institutional patriarchal controls on women.  This is, obviously, deliberate.  Women’s very lives hang in the balance and we are made to pay false gratitude when we are tossed crumbs from men when they release their grip on us the tiniest bit, but we are always in danger of those crumbs being taken away.

And of course, the academy itself is a patriarchal institution, and it is difficult to find a university that does not advance the values of religion, medicine or law specifically, and all patriarchal values generally. This indicates that the patriarchal value system replicates and perpetuates itself through education and the very creation of knowledge, where the patriarchal context, perspective and agenda is always central and yet remains insidiously hidden. See also PIV-centric narrative; Primacy of the nuclear family.

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Woman as “useful object”
In real life, and as mirrored in media images, women are continuously objectified — presented as non-human objects existing only to better men’s lives and to help men achieve their own goals. Women are used by men like all people use literal objects to better their lives, for example, objects like toasters, or brooms: just like a toaster is a useful object for a person who likes toast, a woman is a useful object for men who enjoy PIV, a clean home, a personal secretary, event planner or social director and for (re)production of biological heirs. But when the toaster no longer works, or it starts burning the toast, or otherwise doesn’t fulfill the ends for which it was intended, one generally feels no remorse in getting rid of the toaster and perhaps even getting a new one; and indeed this is how many men treat the women who have cared for them and bettered their lives, often for decades. Women who stop functioning properly might be taken to a psychiatrist or gynecologist just as one might take a particularly useful object to a mechanic, to see if it might be “fixed” and when it is possible, we are fixed by medications, procedures, surgeries and the like, to get us back to our condition as useful objects working toward patriarchal ends. But once we cease to be functional, and it is men who define women’s role and what that means, women are disposed of like so much garbage.

Why? Because…

Woman as “useful object” supports male power. Women are literal objects under patriarchy, and exist only to serve men, male interests and male power. Women dutifully fulfill numerous male-centric ends all the time, including unpaid sexual, domestic and reproductive labor, underpaid “women’s work” in the public labor market, and exploitative sexual and domestic labor such as in human trafficking, sexual and domestic slavery, prostitution, and porn. Men’s individual economic power increases as women’s labor allows them to work more hours in the public workplace and to focus on their careers, while women’s economic power decreases the more time women spend outside the workplace caring for their children and the marital home. Men also steal women’s ideas all the time, and take credit for them such as in women writing men’s books, or using their wives as unpaid consultants on matters that ultimately benefit men outside the home. Women’s labor and life energies are constantly being used toward patriarchal ends to benefit men, and we are left drained and exhausted, with nothing left over to create our own culture, or to help ourselves and each other. Women around the world are literally used up by men, until we die from it: women are raped literally to death, we are subjected to numerous unwanted pregnancies that are known to kill us and in fact do kill some 500,000 women globally every year, and we are driven to illness and suicide from the stress and torment of living and laboring under the brutal conditions of patriarchy and of individual men.

Also telling is the fact that women who are being used as objects to benefit men and male power see their own worth and earning capacities decreasing over time, even though these women are gaining experience and “seniority” that would be valuable in other contexts.  This indicates that women are being exploited, and are not “workers” in an ordinary or legitimate sense when they toil domestically, or in other exploitative contexts such as modeling, acting, prostitution and porn.  See also Male entitlement; Normalize porn/prostitution; PIV-centric narrative; Pathologize older women and menopause/fetishize female youth; Rape and rape culture.

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Women’s culture/positive images
In the real world, and as mirrored in media images, truly woman-centric, female-positive images are, in a word, nonexistent. It is simply against the rules of patriarchy, and thus against the rules of the patriarchal propaganda machine, to acknowledge or represent women’s reality, or to allow us to name the agents of patriarchal harm or to imagine a better future where we are not men’s sexual, domestic and reproductive slaves. If an image one finds in the media seems positive (or even power-neutral) the proper way to approach it would be to ask the following question: “How does this image or message support male institutions and male power?” Or more plainly, as we should always ask ourselves about everything under patriarchy, “How does this benefit men?” If it is an image generated by the patriarchal propaganda machine, one is sure to find something, and should continue examining it until that patriarchal purpose is revealed.

Thus, the “positive images” we are likely to find and which we will archive and discuss here will be created largely by women artists, bloggers and commentators who have more to gain than lose by examining the roots of women’s oppression by men, and who are truly invested in imagining a woman-centric future where girls and women are truly free. If you come across such an image in your travels, please feel free to drop the link here.

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3 responses to “The Gears”

  1. Noanodyne says :

    Excellent categories and descriptions.

  2. Noanodyne says :

    This page may be the best radical feminist primer ever created for describing exactly how the patriarchy maintains itself.

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