views updated

Dworkin, Andrea 1946–2005

PERSONAL: Born September 26, 1946, in Camden, NJ; died April 9, 2005, in Washington, DC; daughter of Harry (a retired guidance counselor) and Sylvia (a secretary; maiden name, Spiegel) Dworkin; married (divorced, 1972). Education: Bennington College, B.A., 1968. Politics: "Radical feminist."

CAREER: Writer and lecturer. University of Minnesota, visiting professor, 1983. Lectured at universities in the United States, England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and Sweden, and at "Take Back the Night" rallies across the United States and Canada. A ppeared on television shows, including Donahue, 60 Minutes, Nightwatch, CBS Evening News, MacNeil-Lehrer Report, 48 Hours, and the hour long documentary "Against Pornography: The Feminism of Andrea Dworkin" in the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) series Omnibus. Worked variously as a waitress, receptionist, secretary, typist, salesperson, factory worker, Head Start teacher, paid political organizer, and teacher. Previously member of usage panel for American Heritage Dictionary.

MEMBER: Amnesty International, PEN, Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (fellow), Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Planned Parenthood, National Organization for Women, National Council on Women and Family Law (former adviser), National Abortion Rights Action League, National Women's Political Caucus, the Abortion Fund (founding sponsor), Coalition against Trafficking in Women, Southern Poverty Law Center.

WRITINGS:

NONFICTION

Woman Hating, Dutton (New York, NY), 1974.

Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics (essays), Harper (New York, NY), 1976.

Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Putnam (New York), 1981, published with a new introduction by the author, 1989.

Right-Wing Women: The Politics of Domesticated Females, Putnam, 1983.

Intercourse, Free Press (New York, NY), 1987, tenth anniversary edition, Free Press, 1997.

(With Catharine A. MacKinnon) Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women's Equality, Organizing against Pornography, 1988.

Letters from a War Zone: Writings, 1976–1989 (essays), Dutton, 1989.

Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War against Women, Free Press, 1997.

(Editor, with Catherine A. MacKinnon) In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women's Liberation, Free Press, 2000.

Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant, Basoc Books, 2002.

Also author of Marx and Gandhi Were Liberals: Feminism and the "Radical" Left, 1977, and Why So-called Radical Men Love and Need Pornography, 1978. Con-tributor to anthologies, including Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography, Morrow, 1980, Transforming a Rape Culture, edited by Emilie Buchwald, Milkweed, 1993; Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography, edited by Diana E.H. Russell, Teachers College Press, 1993; and The Price We Pay: The Case Against Racist Speech, Hate Propaganda, and Pornography, edited by Laura Lederer and Richard Delgado, Hill & Wang, 1995. Author of introduction, Sexual Harassment: Women Speak Out, Crossing, 1993. Contributor to periodicals, including America Report, Christopher Street, Times Higher Education Supplement, Gay Community News, Ms., Social Policy, and Village Voice. Works translated into several languages, including French, German, Dutch, Russian, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Lithuanian.

FICTION

The New Woman's Broken Heart (short stories), Frog in the Well (East Palo Alto, CA), 1980.

Ice and Fire, Secker & Warburg (London), 1986.

Mercy, Secker & Warburg, 1990, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1991.

Also author of the novel Ruins.

SIDELIGHTS: Called "one of the most compelling voices" in the women's movement by Ms. critic Carole Rosenthal, Andrea Dworkin, self-proclaimed radical feminist, author, and lecturer, "is still out there fighting … against the way American culture treats women," observes Lore Dickstein in the New York Times Book Review. Author of fiction about victimized women, Dworkin is perhaps best known for the forceful expression of her politics in controversial nonfiction about sexual roles in contemporary society.

"The role polarity of sex in our culture, which stresses the differences of man and woman, creates problems of power and violence that a culture which stresses the similarities between the sexes can peacefully avoid," explained Jeanne Kinney in a Best Sellers review of Dworkin's 1974 book, Woman Hating. And although Dworkin's graphic examples of sexual abuses of women repelled her, Kinney stated that "it also awakened me to Woman as Victim in ways I never knew existed." In Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics, according to Rosenthal, Dworkin "scrutinizes historical and psychological issues, including female masochism, rape, the slavery of women in 'Amerika,' and the burning of nine million witches during the Middle Ages. Then she calls for—insists upon, really—a complete cultural transformation, the rooting out of sex roles from our society."

In Right-Wing Women, which appeared almost ten years after the publication of her first book, Dworkin theorizes that fear of male violence has forced many women to seek protection by accepting the rigid, predetermined social order of conservatism, which promises "form, shelter, safety, rules, and love," in exchange for female subservience. She cautions that the price for this protection is high, suggesting that with the possibility of laboratory reproduction comes the only role sanctioned by men for women—the prostitute. Consequently, she envisions a "gynocide," or female holocaust, with survivors reduced to the status of worker ants in a brothel-ghetto. The problem with the book, suggested Anne Tyler in New Republic, is that Dworkin "avoids the particular and makes generalizations so sweeping that the reader blinks and draws back."

Intercourse "consists of accounts of the attitudes and behavior of men in sexual relations with women," wrote Naomi Black in the Toronto Globe and Mail. "Some of them documentary, most of them literary, these accounts are harrowing." Although she declared that "Dworkin uses texts selectively to support her argument," Black concluded that "it is surely crucial to accept women's own accounts of their experience, which distinguish by implication between more and less harmful versions of male sexuality." In Dworkin's opinion, wrote Black, "heterosexuality is necessarily exploitative" because of the typically dominant role of the male, and such exploitation extends throughout heterosexual society. When accused of being a man-hater, Dworkin's response, reported Catherine Bennett in a London Times review of Intercourse, is: "Women are supposed to be loyal and devoted to men. And if you don't have loyalty and devotion you are called a man hater. I am not loyal and devoted but I am deeply responsive to men of integrity, who care about women's rights."

Although critics have faulted Dworkin on stylistic grounds, especially her use of language, her strong convictions and passionate language usually impress even those reviewers who do not agree with her politics. Bennett pointed to "the unvarying, obstreperous crudity of her language," and the "relentless battering" of her prose style. However, in a Punch review of Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Stanley Reynolds proclaimed that "Dworkin writes like a Leon Trotsky of the sex war. Short, sharp sentences, full of repetitions but never boring. She is full of power and energy. She writes—dare I say it?—with an aggressive manner, like a man. Except that no men write with such utter conviction these days." Similarly, Rosenthal stated that although Dworkin's revolutionary demands are sometimes unrealistic, her "relentless courage" in calling for drastic social reform is admirable. "If she overstates her case, it is because she is a true revolutionary," noted Reynolds.

Dworkin believes that pornography is one of the primary weapons used by men to control women. It is not about sex, she says, but about male power. Pornography: Men Possessing Women, stated Reynolds, analyzes numerous pornographic stories to illustrate that they "all—even those dealing with homosexuals—demonstrate the male lust for violence and power." By portraying women as masochistic, submissive playthings for men, "it creates hostility and aggression toward women, causing both bigotry and sexual abuse," she told Contemporary Authors. Dworkin discusses the subtle effects of pornography upon both the sexes and believes, as Sally O'Driscoll pointed out in the Village Voice, that "men make pornography to justify their treatment of women in real life, but at the same time men treat real women that way because pornography proves that's how they are. It's a vicious cycle."

Dworkin has not limited her crusade against pornography to her writings; she and lawyer Catharine A. MacKinnon, with whom she wrote Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women's Equality, are responsible for a controversial anti-pornography ordinance that was passed in Indianapolis, twice passed and twice vetoed in Minneapolis, and is being considered in other cities. The ordinance defines pornography as a form of sex discrimination and allows any person who feels harassed by pornography to sue its maker or seller. Opponents of the legislation have said that it violates the First Amendment and restricts basic personal freedoms. Dworkin disagrees in Ms.: "The law really doesn't have anything to say about what people do in their private lives, unless they're forcing pornography on somebody or coercing somebody or assaulting somebody. If personal, private sexual practice involves the use of pornography that someone else has to produce, the question then is, do they have a right to that product no matter what it costs the people who have to produce it?"

In her fiction, which she has had difficulty publishing in the United States, Dworkin attempts to convey to the reader the emotional impact of her nonfictional topics. Her first novel, Ice and Fire, begins with recollections of childhood by a disillusioned young woman. Increasingly contemptuous of men and the violence she sees at their core, the narrator descends into a squalid life of drugs, prostitution, and panhandling in New York City, and is eventually rescued by the act of writing. "Dwor-kin creates an atmosphere that evokes the suffocating intensity and impotent panic of a nightmare," wrote Sherie Posesorski in the Toronto Globe and Mail. "The scenes flash like strobe lights. Her short, punchy paragraphs and assertive syntax establish a rhythm of explosive anger." Jean Hanff Korelitz contended in the Times Literary Supplement that "Dworkin completely fails to flesh out any of the points made in her non-fiction works," but Posesorski maintained that the novel "invades the consciousness like a migraine headache; its provocative aura and disturbing vision vibrate with unforgettable urgency."

A more recent novel, Mercy, is about "a young woman whose journey through the misogynist world … constitutes an almost encyclopaedic survey of male sexual violence," wrote Zoe Heller in a Times Literary Supplement review. The main character, named Andrea, has her first sexual encounter at the age of nine, when she is molested in a movie theater. As a teenager, she frequents Greenwich Village where she lives on the street, penniless. She marries a European revolutionary, only to be beaten and otherwise abused by him. Unable to verbalize her anger, she expresses it by beating up male tramps at night. As her life and her identity disintegrate, she continues to repeat three facts: her name, her place of birth, and the address of Walt Whitman's home in Camden, New Jersey. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that "Andrea's high-pitched voice is at first hard to take," yet concluded that "its vehemence and candor build to a convincing indictment of a society that tolerates violence against women." A Time Out contributor similarly observed that the novel "offers a strangely moving account of the girl's recognition of the major and minor, deliberate and casual denigration of women." Heller found that "Dworkin has written a mad, bad novel; and one doesn't have to be a man, a rapist, or a self-hating woman to admit as much." And Brian Morton called Dworkin a "considerably underrated novelist," adding in his Bookseller review that "for all the skeltering violence and fury of her fiction, there is a unity of voice and a dim hope of transcendence in the telling that keeps one (this one; personally) to the page." In the Glasgow Herald, Morton suggested, "There is hope, too, in Dworkin's writing. The fact that she is writing is a gesture of hope in itself."

Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War against Women is a collection of essays and speeches by this "eloquent, impassioned, but often stunningly illogical feminist," as Dworkin is described by a Kirkus Reviews writer. Her subjects include the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the years of abuse his slain ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, endured at Simpson's hands; the systematic rape of Croatian and Muslim women in Serbian death camps; pornography; and her own experiences as a battered wife. The Kirkus Reviews contributor found Dworkin's arguments unbalanced, stating that she is "melodramatic" about attacks on her work and inaccurate in her claims of being censored. The reviewer concluded, "Those already converted to Dworkin's strain of feminism will find much to admire here; those who disagree with her will likely remain unconvinced. But political specifics aside, her critique of our culture's vicious and persistent woman-hating is powerful and painful." A writer for Publishers Weekly singled out Dworkin's report on a visit to Israel as a unique condemnation of the Jewish state as theocratic, racist, and founded on dispossession and theft. That reviewer further commented on a particular strength of Dworkin's: the ability to "forcefully link the personal to the political." Library Journal reviewer Barbara Hutcheson summarized: "Her language is powerful but controlled; the images … often brutal; her logic is inescapable."

Dworkin expanded on her thoughts about Israel in Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women's Liberation. In this book, she illustrates ways in which the modern world has been shaped by institutionalized male violence against women, children, and Jews. Equating these victims with the "scapegoat"—an animal sacrificed for the sins of a group—she then takes a look at the principle of the scapegoat in Nazi Germany and contemporary Israel. The use of these two settings to illustrate her point is only one of many startling aspects of Scapegoat. Her book serves as a "towering indictment and call to action," declared a Booklist reviewer, who also stated that the author's prose "has never been sharper, or her feminist vision more arresting." Identifying herself as a "lapsed pacifist," Dworkin exhorts women to start accepting responsibility for putting an end to violent crimes against humanity committed by men. Her book is an "onslaught of information, statistics and analysis," reported a Publishers Weekly writer. Cautioning that she "frequently overstates her case," the reviewer credited Dworkin with making "potent points" and concluded: "This weighty treatise unfailingly engages and provokes."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 21, Thomson Gale (Detroit), 1995.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 43, Thomson Gale, 1987.

Dworkin, Andrea, Right-Wing Women, Putnam, 1983.

Jenefsky, Cindy, and Ann Russo, Without Apology: Andrea Dworkin's Art and Politics, Westview (Boulder, CO), 1997.

PERIODICALS

American Book Review, October, 1994, review of Letters from a War Zone, p. 9.

Belles Lettres, spring, 1994, review of Letters from a War Zone, p. 74.

Best Sellers, July 1, 1974.

Booklist, February 15, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Life and Death, p. 978; July, 2000, review of Scapegoat, p. 1994.

Bookseller, September 21, 1990, p. 837.

Choice, October, 1974.

Glasgow Herald, October 4, 1990.

Globe and Mail (Toronto), August 2, 1986; July 11, 1987.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1997, review of Life and Death, p. 32.

Lambda Book Report, January, 1993, review of Mercy, p. 43; September, 1993, review of Letters from a War Zone, p. 47.

Library Journal, June 1, 1974; January, 1997, Barbara Hutcheson, review of Life and Death, p. 127.

Listener, December 3, 1981.

Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1983.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 3, 1987; March 16, 1997, review of Life and Death, p. 9.

Ms., February, 1977; June, 1980; March, 1981; June, 1983; April, 1985; January-February, 1994, p. 32; March, 1997, review of Life and Death, p. 82.

New Pages, spring, 1982.

New Republic, February 21, 1983; June 25, 1984; August 11-18, 1997, review of Life and Death, p. 36.

New Statesman, November 6, 1981; July 29, 1983; June 5, 2000, Andrea Dworkin, "The Day I Was Drugged and Raped," p. 13.

Newsweek, March 18, 1985.

New Yorker, March 28, 1977.

New York Times Book Review, July 12, 1981; May 3, 1987; October 29, 1989.

Observer, May 16, 1982; September 28, 1997, review of Life and Death, p. 18; October 26, 1997, review of Life and Death, p. 18.

OnIssues, summer, 1994, review of Pornography, p. 47.

Playboy, October, 1992, p. 36.

Progressive, November, 1993, L.A. Winokur, review of Sexual Harassment, p. 38.

Psychology Today, July, 1987, Beryl Lieff Benderly, review of Intercourse, p. 69.

Publishers Weekly, February 25, 1974; July 25, 1991, review of Mercy, p. 36; September 27, 1993, review of Letters from a War Zone, p. 61; September 9, 1996, Judy Quinn, "Dworkin Returns to the Free Press," p. 30; December 30, 1996, review of Life and Death, p. 46; April 24, 2000, Scapegoat, p. 69.

Punch, February 10, 1982.

Spectator, August 5, 2000, Michael Moorcook, review of Scapegoat, pp. 31-32.

Time Out, September 26, 1990, p. 1049.

Times (London), June 4, 1987; May 18, 1988.

Times Literary Supplement, January 1, 1982; June 6, 1986, p. 622; October 16, 1987; June 3-9, 1988; October 5-11, 1988; October 5, 1990, p. 1072; September 4, 1998, review of Life and Death, p. 28; September 1, 2000, David Vital, review of Scapegoat, p. 24.

Tribune Books, November 1, 1992, review of Mercy, p. 8.

Village Voice, July 15-21, 1981.

Washington Post Book World, June 21, 1981.

West Coast Review of Books, March-April, 1983.

Woman's Journal, January, 1998, review of Life and Death, p. 11.

ONLINE

No Status Quo, http://www.nostatusquo.com/ (August 23, 2000) Graham Broad, "Andrea Dworkin and the New Evangelists".

About this article

Dworkin, Andrea 1946–2005

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article