The Awful Question

At a meeting in Copenhagen in 1972, Germaine Greer spoke with Danish women. The atmosphere in the hall was high-spirited and optimistic, until suddenly a young woman cried out with desperation in her voice: “But how can we start a women’s movement when I bet three-quarters of us sitting in this room are masochists?”⁠1

This story begins Maria Marcus’ book, Den frygtelige sandhed. The meaning of her Danish title is “the awful truth,” but the English edition was titled “A Taste for Pain.” That removed the emphasis Marcus made on the need to deal with the woman’s question.

She was saying “this is a terrible problem; what are we going to do about it?” It was the whole point of the book.

It’s not just feminists who have the problem. Any woman who wants to feel authentic in her sexuality — any woman who asks “What is sex, for me? What do I want, in sex?” — any woman who faces Persephone’s choice — is facing this awful truth.

But for a feminist, the dilemma is compounded. How does a woman who believes in standing up for herself come to terms with being turned on by being put down?

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1 Marcus 1981, 5.

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