Among the epigraphs in Flash Count Diary, Darcey Steinke’s incandescent account of the menopause is a line from The Second Sex via Simone de Beauvoir: “The frame isn’t a factor however a scenario.” Steinke is being assailed, even menaced with the aid of warm flushes. They come with a caution: first an aura, a vertigo-inducing plunge into anxiety, then an explosion of warmth. They hit her at work, in mattress, bringing insomnia and despair in their wake. They may be generated via the smallest shift in temperature – a plate of scrambled eggs positioned too close to her stomach, the door ultimate on a bus. Lying on her couch in Brooklyn, “a slab of frozen ham balanced on my brow”, she recognizes that she has become the butt of a cultural joke: the menopausal girl, out of estrogen, evolutionary roadkill.
In Feminine Forever, the 1966 book that kickstarted the popularity of HRT, she reveals submit-menopausal women defined as “castrates” with pathologically dry vaginas. Half a century on, now not plenty has modified. At the eleventh European Conference on Menopause and Andropause in Amsterdam, she watches a video approximately laser remedy to sandblast the menopausal vagina, accompanied with the aid of an animation that suggests a withered brown rose rework into a tight crimson bud. As an Italian physician dismisses a nurse’s concerns approximately the breast cancer chance of HRT, she realizes “all his descriptions give an explanation for how the vagina may experience to an incoming penis”. Is the trouble truly her body, this getting older animal thing, or a cultural state of affairs that insists women’s fee is predominantly sexual or reproductive? And what is the word for this situation? Could it be patriarchy?
Patriarchy as a concept becomes long out of favor. As Katherine Angel explains in Daddy Issues, her smart, thoughtful essay approximately the cultural vicinity of fathers in the #MeToo age, it became sunk alongside the corpse of second-wave feminism. “The nineties – decade of lady power, and of an insistence on women’s monetary and social freedom, on the situation that women themselves abandon a critique of gender relations – gave invocations of patriarchy, because it gave feminism, a fusty experience, an old-fashioned whiff, conjuring all the age-old stereotypes of feminism: joylessness, sexlessness, uptightness.”
Nothing embodies those stereotypes greater than the monumental, dungarees figure of Andrea Dworkin, whose alliance with the religious right over the censorship of pornography dealt radical feminism a body blow. Now she too has been delivered lower back into the stream with the timely booklet of Last Days at Hot Slit, an expansion of her writings that makes an effective case for her complexity, wit, stylistic originality and political relevance inside the seize-’em-by means of-the-pussy generation. Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein: none of it’d have surprised Dworkin. “Our enemies – rapists and their defenders – not handiest move unpunished; they continue to be influential arbiters of morality; they have got excessive and esteemed locations in society; they’re priests, lawyers, judges, lawmakers, politicians, doctors, artists.”
The frame’s scenario changed into her top territory. Her first husband battered her almost to demise earlier than she escaped him, and her experience of being “just some bleeding component break up at the floor” drove all her work. How do you carry the systemization of violence in opposition to women while there’s a conspiracy of silence around it when it is so tolerated and disseminated and sustained as to have merged with the material of regular fact?
Dworkin’s choice, and the motive her writing stays so pungent and uncanny, turned into to extend. To cross hard. To find a language “greater terrifying than rape, more abject than torture, greater insistent and destabilizing than the battery, more desolate than prostitution, greater invasive than incest, extra filled with threat and aggression than pornography”. Though there’s lots of cloth here that are dated, hyperbolic or simple wrong-headed (like Johanna Fateman, the co-editor of this series, I’ve regularly occupied the other function to Dworkin, mainly on problems of censorship and sexual freedom), her arguments are extra nuanced than the caricatures perpetuated nowadays. Then there’s her bizarre, electric fashion. “I need his boot off my neck.” “Carnivorous in its use of women.” “There are no harmless bystanders.” She wrote in 1995: “I have usually cherished the writing that takes one deep, regardless of how odd or sour or dirty the descent.”
Her very own eyes were opened via the ebook in 1970 of Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics, a revolutionary evaluation of sexual dynamics in literature, which painstakingly revealed that the superstructure of patriarchy become by no means limited to economics or the regulation, however, permeated to the furthest reaches of the tradition, infiltrating and informing the home and erotic. Nearly 50 years on, it’s both pleasurable and troubling that the equal technique continues to be in use, deployed liberally via Steinke and Angel in books which have again to the contested ground, if no longer the tone, of radical feminism. Angel assesses fathers in Sally Potter’s film Ginger & Rosa, Radio four’s The Archers and Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall: narcissistic, self-concerned, violently possessive. Both Steinke and Dworkin linger over The Story of O, Dworkin as proof that guys regard women mainly as a zero, a hole – Steinke in regretful publish-publish-feminist reverie approximately the erotic charge that submitting to this unique fantasy of abasement should result in.
Patriarchy is a totalitarian system. How do you avoid conscription, or prevent its all-seeing gaze? Angel, encountering Anthea Hamilton’s exhibition The Squash at Tate Britain, takes pleasure in the “deliciously genderless” nature of the creature – the performer in the squash-like gown. It has no eyes or even a real face, but the “stunning, bulbous, obscene” head nonetheless seems to show and take her in. What an alleviation to have a come upon in which gender plays no component. On a whale-looking experience, Steinke likewise experiences a “dilation” of her experience of self while she’s miraculously eyed by using Granny, the submit-reproductive matriarch who leads three pods of killer whales in the Pacific.