So what have you heard about Andrea Dworkin? Wacko lesbian feminist? Angry anti-sex conspirator? Vitriolic protesting machine? Perhaps you have heard all or none of these things about Ms. Dworkin. So let's get some of the facts straight, shall we? Before we go off ranting about things we may or may not have any idea about. On we go ...
She often told me that she loved me but did not like me.
Andrea Dworkin, on her mother
Andrea Dworkin was born in Camden, New Jersey in 1946. As a Jewish girl in post-Holocaust America, Dworkin was continuously conscious about her own survival. Her mother was very sick throughout her childhood, suffering at least one stroke and many small heart attacks. Despite her constant attempts at love and affection, Andrea's mother often was terse and distant with her only daughter. As Andrea entered adolescence, conflict between her and her mother reached a high point. Andrea kept her distance from her mother after leaving the house, and made peace with her only a few years before the elder Dworkin passed away, in 1991.
Meanwhile, Dworkin's father was a hard-working man, taking on three jobs to support his family while working late into the night to earn his PhD (which he never did). He was a very progressive man, fighting for racial integration and labor unions. He and Andrea often debated over the political climate of the day, and she often claims him as her personal hero.
I distracted myself with drugs, sex, and politics.
About this time, Andrea began taking her first stabs at fiction, writing novellas throughout her junior high years. They were often filled with homoerotic imagery and energy, although at the time Andrea was not a pronounced lesbian. Many of these stories went on to become the basis for her later published fiction. By high school, she was already sexually active, and eventually began sleeping with her English teacher. She also began working as a prostitute around Greenwich Village. In 1964, she began attending Bennington College on a scholarship. She spent one year there before dropping to actively protest the Vietnam War. In 1965, while demonstrating, Andrea was arrested and taking to a detention center in Manhattan, where she was sexually abused by prison guards and doctors. Upon her release, she began actively campaigning against the prison, eventually getting the prison shut down (temporarily) and earning accolades from the New York Times for her whistleblowing. Shunned by her parents and revolutionary friends (who thought her independence and strong-willed nature were trouble), she ran away to Greece with $100 in her pocket. She did, however, send in her senior thesis to Bennington and received her bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1969.
How many times, after all, can one say
fear, anguish, dread,
he's going to kill me?
Andrea was married in 1970 (she has never publicly revealed her husband's name). Over the next 14 months she suffered through abuse and battery of the worst kind. While she rarely uses her past as a crutch, she often points to these years as the ones which formulated her current views on patriarchy, pornography, and sexuality. Andrea divorced her husband in 1971 and escaped to Amsterdam with the help of some newfound friends in the feminist movement developing. Her husband continued to chase her, however, forcing her into hiding for the next 3 years of her life. It is very important to note that at the time, there were no domestic violence laws; no shelters for abused women; no support groups; no literature. Finally, Andrea moved back to America in 1973.
1974 proved important to Andrea for two reasons: first, her book, Women Hating, was released, and secondly, she met John Stoltenberg, who remains her life partner to this date. Although both of them are out of the closet, they both proclaim to be deeply in love with one another. They lead a very private life, and rarely grant interview requests.
In 1981, she published probably her most famous book, Pornography: Men Possessing Women. In it, she characterized pornography as the degradation of women, and that it had no value in a truly equal society. She was vilified by many people, particularly pornographers themselves. She was lampooned in Hustler, Playboy, and Penthouse, and trashed viciously by The Village Voice. The book struck a chord with the American people, however, and topped the New York Times bestsellers list for nonfiction for 6 weeks. To date it has sold over 3 million copies. She continued to write, releasing RIght-wing women in 1983, in which she argued that abortion was male issue to avoid complications from reckless sex. This was followed by Ice And Fire (1987), a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel about a battered woman; Intercourse (1988), a nonfiction analysis of sexual practices in America; Letters From A War Zone (1988), a book of collected essays on feminism and abuse; Mercy (1990), her second dabbling into autobiographical fiction, about a 9 year old girl who must deal with being molested; and another essay anthology, Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women, published in 1997.
Andrea has also had essays published in over 30 other books, and has penned articles for The New York Times Book Review, Ms., Mother Jones, The London Sunday Times, Social Policy, and the Harvard Women's Law Journal, along with over 50 other magazines and periodicals.
In 1992, Andrea's brother Mark died of cancer at 42. She was profoundly affected by his death, her lingering link to her mother and her childhood. She still actively works for March Of Dimes and other foundations and societies seeking to cure and prevent cancer.
Ms. Dworkin continues today to fight against pornography as a degrading, abusive, and loathsome treatment of women; she speaks frequently throughout the United States, and continues to write about her beliefs. Her most recent book is Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant, published in 2001.
I can't believe what is said about me sometimes,
so much that sometimes it even shocks me.
Andrea Dworkin is not antisex, antiabortion, or antimen. She does not believe women are the superior sex, does not believe that all sex is rape, does not believe that all men are (potential) rapists, or that lesbianism is the only escape from patriarchy.
She does believe that pornography is degrading to women, that men still do not focus enough on women's issues and that men's dominance in America and the world is a problem, and that women should not be expected to sit idly by and let men direct their lives.
So, what have we learned? Andrea Dworkin is associated with the second wave feminist movement, but not all aspects of it. She was one of its first proponents and activists, and she continues to support it, but her views and the movement's views are not always copasetic. She lives with a gay man, has written many books, articles, and essays, and primarily focuses her energies on fighting pornography. She was a battered wife, a victim of molestation and rape, and a war protester. Most importantly, she turned her life's tragedies into something positive, fighting hard to help other women escape the situations she had so undeservedly been through in her own life. For more information on Ms. Dworkin, please visit her official website - http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/ - , where you can find virtually all of her original writings (both nonfiction and fiction) as well as transcripts of various speeches and debates she has participated in throughout the years.