Hello, I was reading the answer to question 726, where Jay L. Garfield discusses Andrea Dworkin's argument about whether a woman can consent to a man's sexual advances: "The person most associated with this claim was Andrea Dworkin, though she was not alone in asserting it. The claim was a bit hyperbolic, but reflected an interesting, controversial claim. Consent, she argued, presupposes rough equality. If you are a violent person holding a gun, and ask me politely for all of my money, even if you don't threaten me, my handing it over is nonconsensual. And that is the case, on this view, even if, had you not had the gun, I would have consented, out of generosity, to give you the cash you wanted. The presence of an unequal power relationship, and the background of potential violence renders consent conceptually impossible." That may be so, but consider that I am on very friendly terms with the violent person holding a gun - that is, I have a good history with her or him and that I know he or she won't be violent if I don't comply. Wouldn't consensus be conceptually possible in this scenario? By Dworkin's reasoning, we may say that children can never consent to their parents' suggestions about their lives, since children and parents differ widely in power and knowledge. However, this seems counterintuitive, for we usually don't view parents as oppressing their children. I guess, then, my question is, doesn't Dworkin's argument horribly simplify the relationship between men and women? I agree that women are subordinated, oppressed and seen as "the second sex" in most walks of life but Dworkin's argument is a biased, faulty machinery that crudely produces conclusions she likes. Best...

I agree with you that Dworkin's arguments "horribly simplify" the relationships between men and women. But I would also say that this kind of simplification is unavoidable in arguments of the general kind she makes--from any point of view. For one thing, notice the difference in how I put my agreement with you--from the way you put the point. In my agreement, I put "relationships" in the plural. Dworkin understands well the generality of male domination and oppression. But arguments such as hers fail (and cannot help but fail, by their very nature as generalities) to take into account the indefinitely great variety of ways in which human beings can be related and can interact.

This is not at all to say that Dworkin's arguments do not deserve our attention and respect. But we should always take care not to allow such arguments to obscure the fact that the generalities to which they point are, to some degree and by many individual cases, not at all without exceptions.

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