Dworkin, Andrea Rita

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Dworkin, Andrea Rita

(b. 26 September 1946 in Camden, New Jersey; d. 9 April 2005 in Washington, D.C.), radical feminist author, speaker, and activist who was best known for her antipornography crusade.

Dworkin was the daughter of Harry Dworkin, a high-school science teacher and guidance counselor, and Sylvia (Spiegel) Dworkin, a secretary. She had one younger brother. In 1956 the family moved from blue-collar, ethnically diverse Camden to Delaware Township (renamed Cherry Hill in 1961). The town was affluent, but the Dworkin family was poor. Unhappy, Dworkin felt that she had been “kidnapped by aliens and taken to a penal colony.” Her father held a night job unloading packages at the post office so as to earn money for his wife’s health care, as she had heart disease and suffered a stroke before Dworkin was a teenager. Dworkin and her brother were often separately sent to stay with relatives during periods of their mother’s illness.

Dworkin’s father instilled a spirit of social activism in her. In elementary school, she refused to sing Christmas carols, being Jewish, and endured anti-Semitic comments, the roots of a lifetime concern with the Holocaust. Her parents allowed her to read library books normally forbidden to children. In the seventh or eighth grade, she refused to participate in atomic-bomb drills. Dworkin was sexually assaulted in a movie theater at age nine. Although she reported that incident to her parents, when she was later beaten and raped as a teenager, she told no one.

In 1964, after graduation from Cherry Hill High School, Dworkin entered Bennington College, an innovative women’s school in Bennington, Vermont, on a scholarship. On 19 February 1965 she was arrested at an anti–Vietnam War demonstration in New York City and sent to the Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village. There, she was physically brutalized by prison doctors during her internal examination before being released on 24 February. She publicized the incident, which led to an investigation and to the 1974 closing of the detention center. Dworkin traveled to Crete, Greece, in 1965 and published Child, a collection of poetry and prose, in 1966. That same year, she self-printed and published 120 copies of Morning Hair, also a prose and poetry collection. Returning to Bennington that year, she was politically active, urging the school administration to rescind parietal hours to allow men in the students’ rooms. She received a BA in literature in 1969.

In 1969 Dworkin moved to Amsterdam and married a radical activist, Cornelius Dirk de Bruin (also called Iwan), and together they helped American military deserters from the Vietnam War escape to Sweden. Her husband brutalized her, however, and stalked her when she left him in 1971. She was divorced in June 1972. Ricki Abrams, an American expatriate whom Dworkin credited for inspiring her to become a feminist, befriended her, and they began writing together. In 1974 Dworkin alone finished Woman Hating, both a women’s history and a political manifesto to end “male dominance.” Meanwhile, she earned money prostituting herself and began to recognize battering as a political act.

Returning to “Amerika,” as she always referred to the United States, she was active in the “Take Back the Night” antirape movement begun in the 1970s. She described herself as a “poor assistant” to the poet Muriel Rukeyser and was also helped by the author Grace Paley. In 1974 she met John Stoltenberg, a self-described gay feminist, when they both left a War Resisters League poetry reading they felt was degrading to women. After living in poverty together for many years in Massachusetts, New York, and Florida, they settled into their own brownstone in Brooklyn, New York. They would marry in Cape Coral, Florida, on 6 January 1998, and in February 2004 she would move to Washington, D.C., where Stoltenberg had taken a job.

Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics was published in 1976, after having been rejected by most publishers. It was reviewed only in Ms. magazine. Dworkin believed that her book was intentionally ignored, despite attempts by well-known feminists to review it. In 1980 she published a book of short stories entitled The New Woman’s Broken Heart. In 1981 Dworkin wrote Pornography: Men Possessing Women.

The lawyer Catharine MacKinnon and Dworkin taught a class about pornography at the University of Minnesota in 1983. They also crafted an antipornography bill, using civil rights principles to attack pornography as a form of sex discrimination, designed to enable women to testify as victims of violence. The law was twice enacted and vetoed in Minneapolis; a similar law was also passed in Indianapolis, Indiana, but declared unconstitutional in 1984. Dworkin maintained that she did not support antipornography laws, as they merely drove pornography underground, but she averred that pornography was not a First Amendment free-speech issue. She later supported antipornography initiatives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1985, and in Bellingham, Washington, in 1988. Some New York City stores removed Playboy and Penthouse magazines after Dworkin testified before the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography (also known as the Meese Commission) in 1986. However, that campaign, too, eventually lost in court.

Right Wing Women, political essays, was published in 1985, followed in 1986 by Ice and Fire: A Novel. In Intercourse (1987), Dworkin argued that sexual intercourse, almost universally portrayed as heterosexual, was closely aligned with violence. She was accused of equating heterosexual intercourse with rape, which she denied. Her libel suit against Hustler magazine, which published what she deemed anti-Semitic and sexually offensive cartoons in response to Intercourse, was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1989.

Mercy, a novel, was published in the United Kingdom in 1990. Although Dworkin denied that her fiction was autobiographical, Mercy mirrors her own life, and the narrator’s name is Andrea. In 1997 she published Life and Death, a collection of articles published between 1987 and 1995. Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon co-authored In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings in 1997. Letters from a War Zone: Writings, 1976–1987, originally published in London in 1988, was a New York Times Notable Book in 1998. That publication printed many of her letters to the editor.

In 1999, in an article in New Statesman, Dworkin described being drugged and raped in her hotel in Paris. The article was received with great skepticism. In 2000 she published Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation, comparing violence against women to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews and arguing that, like post-Holocaust Jews, women should have a country of their own. In 2002 Dworkin published Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant, in which she describes her relationship with her parents, her sexual relations with high-school teachers and with faculty wives at Bennington, her public dispute with the poet Allen Ginsberg over pornography, and her social and political activism.

Dworkin wore denim overalls, was overweight, and had wild, unkempt hair, for which she was reviled by the press and by her opponents. Strident and angry, she was unapologetically radical and uncompromising, making enemies on the left and right alike. She called herself a lesbian but angered the gay community with her exposé of “rampant homosexuality” at the Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village. She believed that battered women had the right to kill their batterers. She dedicated her life to fighting all forms of violence against women, defining pornography as violence that led to rape. Dworkin is included in the Encyclopædia Britannica’s Top 300 Women Who Changed the World.

In failing health from weight-loss surgery and knee-replacement surgery, Dworkin died at home in Washington, D.C., of acute myocarditis. Memorial services were held at the New School in New York City on 25 May 2005, when she was eulogized by Robin Morgan, Gloria Steinem, and Catharine MacKinnon, and at City Hall in London, England, on 22 September 2005. She was cremated, and her ashes were scattered on 9 April 2006 in Crete.

Dworkin’s papers are at the Schlesinger Library, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and some of her correspondence is included in the Student Peace Union portion of the Swarth-more College Peace Collection. Dworkin’s memoir is Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant (2002). Dworkin’s husband, John Stoltenberg, wrote about her in “Living with Andrea Dworkin,” the Lambda Book Report (May–June 1994). A chapter on Dworkin by Meryl F. Schwartz is in Jewish American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical and Critical Sourcebook (1994), edited by Ann R. Shapiro. Cindy Jenefsky, Without Apology: Andrea Dworkin’s Art and Politics (1998), is a detailed critique of her work. Extended interviews with Dworkin were conducted by Teri Brooks, “Fighting Sexual Abuse,” Women & Therapy 17, nos. 1–2 (1995): 171–186; and by Michael Moorcock, “Fighting Talk,” New Statesman & Society (21 April 1995). Obituaries are in the New York Times and the Washington Post (both 12 Apr. 2005).

Jane Brodsky Fitzpatrick