An anti-war activist and anarchist in the late 1960s, Dworkin wrote 10 books on radical feminist theory and practice. During the late 1970s and the 1980s, she gained national fame as a spokeswoman for the feminist anti-pornography movement, and for her writing on pornography and sexuality, particularly in Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981) and Intercourse (1987), which remain her two most widely known books.
Dworkin was born in Camden, New Jersey, to Harry Dworkin and Sylvia Spiegel. She had one younger brother, Mark. Her father was a schoolteacher and dedicated socialist, whom she credited with inspiring her passion for social justice. Her relationship with her mother was strained, but Dworkin later wrote about how her mother's belief in legal birth control and legal abortion, "long before these were respectable beliefs," inspired her later activism.
Though she described her Jewish household as being in many ways dominated by the memory of the Holocaust, it nonetheless provided a happy childhood until the age of nine when an unknown man molested her in a movie theater. When Dworkin was 10, her family moved from the city to the suburbs of Cherry Hill, New Jersey (then known as Delaware Township), which she later wrote she "experienced as being kidnapped by aliens and taken to a penal colony". In sixth grade, the administration at her new school punished her for refusing to sing "Silent Night" (as a Jew, she objected to being forced to sing Christian religious songs at school).
Dworkin began writing poetry and fiction in the sixth grade. Throughout high school, she read avidly, with encouragement from her parents. She was particularly influenced by Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Henry Miller, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Che Guevara, and the Beat poets, especially Allen Ginsberg.
She was married 1969–1972 to Cornelius (Iwan) Dirk de Bruin.
In 1965, while a student at Bennington College, Dworkin was arrested during an anti-Vietnam War protest at the United States Mission to the United Nations and sent to the New York Women's House of Detention. Dworkin testified that the doctors in the House of Detention gave her an internal examination which was so rough that she bled for days afterwards. She spoke in public and testified before a grand jury about her experience, and the media coverage of her testimony made national and international news. The grand jury declined to make an indictment in the case, but Dworkin's testimony contributed to public outrage over the mistreatment of inmates. The prison was closed seven years later.
Soon after testifying before the grand jury, Dworkin left Bennington to live in Greece and to pursue her writing. She traveled from Paris to Athens on the Orient Express, and went to live and write in Crete. While in Crete, she wrote a series of poems titled (Vietnam) Variations, a collection of poems and prose poems that she printed on the island in a book called Child, and a novel in a style resembling magical realism called Notes on Burning Boyfriend -- a reference to the pacifist Norman Morrison, who had burned himself to death in protest of the Vietnam War. She also wrote several poems and dialogues which she hand-printed after returning to the United States in a book called Morning Hair.
After living in Crete, Dworkin returned to Bennington for two years, where she continued to study literature and participated in campaigns against the college's student conduct code, for contraception on campus, for the legalization of abortion, and against the Vietnam War. She graduated with a degree in literature in 1968.
After graduation, she moved to Amsterdam to interview Dutch anarchists in the Provo countercultural movement. While there, she became involved with, then married, one of the anarchists she met. Soon after they were married, she said, he began to abuse her severely, punching and kicking her, burning her with cigarettes, beating her on her legs with a wooden beam, and banging her head against the floor until he knocked her unconscious.
After she left her husband late in 1971, Dworkin said, her ex-husband attacked, persecuted, and harassed her, beating her and threatening her whenever he found where she was hiding. She found herself desperate for money, often homeless, thousands of miles from her family, later remarking that, "I often lived the life of a fugitive, except that it was the more desperate life of a battered woman who had run away for the last time, whatever the outcome". For a while, she was a prostitute. Ricki Abrams, a feminist and fellow expatriate, sheltered Dworkin in her home, and helped her find places to stay on houseboats, a communal farm, and deserted buildings. Dworkin tried to work up the money to return to the United States.
Abrams introduced Dworkin to early radical feminist writing from the United States, and Dworkin was especially inspired by Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex, and Robin Morgan's Sisterhood is Powerful. She and Abrams began to work together on "early pieces and fragments" of a radical feminist text on the hatred of women in culture and history, including a completed draft of a chapter on the pornographic counterculture magazine Suck, which was published by a group of fellow expatriates in the Netherlands.
Dworkin later wrote that she eventually agreed to help smuggle a briefcase of heroin through customs in return for $1,000 and an airplane ticket, thinking that if she was successful she could return home with the ticket and the money, and if caught she would at least escape her ex-husband's abuse by going to prison. The deal for the briefcase fell through, but the man who had promised Dworkin the money gave her the airline ticket anyway, and she returned to the United States in 1972.
Before she left Amsterdam, Dworkin spoke with Abrams about her experiences in the Netherlands, the emerging feminist movement, and the book they had begun to write together. Dworkin agreed to complete the book — which she eventually titled Woman Hating — and publish it when she reached the United States. In her memoirs, Dworkin relates that during that conversation she vowed to dedicate her life to the feminist movement:
Sitting with Ricki, talking with Ricki, I made a vow to her: that I would use everything I knew, including from prostitution, to make the women's movement stronger and better; that I'd give my life to the movement and for the movement. I promised to be honor-bound to the well-being of women, to do anything necessary for that well-being. I promised to live and to die if need be for women. I made that vow some thirty years ago, and I have not betrayed it yet. — Andrea Dworkin, Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant, 122.In New York, Dworkin worked again as an anti-war organizer, participated in demonstrations for lesbian rights and against apartheid in South Africa. The feminist poet Muriel Rukeyser hired her as an assistant (Dworkin later said "I was the worst assistant in the history of the world. But Muriel kept me on because she believed in me as a writer.") Dworkin also joined a feminist consciousness raising group, and soon became involved in radical feminist organizing, focusing on campaigns against violence against women. In addition to her writing and activism, Dworkin gained notoriety as a speaker, mostly for events organized by local feminist groups. She became well known for passionate, uncompromising speeches that aroused strong feelings in both supporters and critics, and inspired her audience to action, such as her speech at the first Take Back the Night march in November 1978, and her 1983 speech at the Midwest Regional Conference of the National Organization for Changing Men (now the National Organization for Men Against Sexism) entitled "I Want a Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape."
In 1974, she met feminist writer and activist John Stoltenberg when they both walked out on a poetry reading in Greenwich Village over misogynist material. They became close friends and eventually came to live together. Stoltenberg wrote a series of radical feminist books and articles on masculinity. Although Dworkin publicly wrote "I love John with my heart and soul" and Stoltenberg described Dworkin as "the love of my life", she continued to publicly identify herself as lesbian, and he as gay. Stoltenberg, recounting the perplexity that their relationship seemed to cause people in the press, summarized the relationship by saying "So I state only the simplest facts publicly: yes, Andrea and I live together and love each other and we are each other's life partner, and yes we are both out."
Dworkin and Stoltenberg were married in 1998; after her death, Stoltenberg said "It's why we never told anybody really that we married, because people get confused about that. They think, Oh, she's yours. And we just did not want that nonsense."
During her final years, Dworkin suffered fragile health, and she revealed in her last column for the Guardian that she had been weakened and nearly crippled for the past several years by severe osteoarthritis in the knees. Shortly after returning from Paris in 1999, she had been hospitalized with a high fever and blood clots in her legs. A few months after being released from the hospital, she became increasingly unable to bend her knees, and underwent surgery to replace her knees with titanium and plastic prosthetics. She wrote, "The doctor who knows me best says that osteoarthritis begins long before it cripples—in my case, possibly from homelessness, or sexual abuse, or beatings on my legs, or my weight. John, my partner, blames Scapegoat, a study of Jewish identity and women's liberation that took me nine years to write; it is, he says, the book that stole my health. I blame the drug-rape that I experienced in 1999 in Paris."
When a newspaper interviewer asked her how she would like to be remembered, she said "In a museum, when male supremacy is dead. I'd like my work to be an anthropological artifact from an extinct, primitive society." She died in her sleep on the morning of April 9, 2005, at her home in Washington, D.C. The cause of death was later determined to be acute myocarditis. She was 58 years old.
Andrea Dworkin, 1992, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1123935)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant by Andrea Dworkin
Reading level: Ages 16 and up
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Basic Books (December 24, 2002)
Amazon: Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant
Always innovative, often provocative, and frequently polarizing, Andrea Dworkin has carved out a unique position as one of the women's movement's most influential figures, from the early days of consciousness-raising to the "post-feminist" present. Heartbreak reveals for the first time the personal side of Dworkin's lifelong journey as an activist and a writer. By turns wry, spirited, and poignant, Dworkin tells the story of how she evolved from a childhood lover of music and books into a college activist, embraced her role as an international advocate for women, and emerged as a maverick thinker at odds with both the liberal left and the mainstream women's movement. Throughout, Dworkin displays a writer's genius for expressing emotional truth and an intellectual's gift for conveying the excitement of ideas and words. Beautifully written and surprisingly intimate, Heartbreak is a portrait of a soul, and a mind, in the making.
Intercourse [Deluxe Edition] by Andrea Dworkin
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Basic Books; 20 Anv edition (November 7, 2006)
Andrea Dworkin, once called “Feminism’s Malcolm X,” has been worshipped, reviled, criticized, and analyzed-but never ignored. The power of her writing, the passion of her ideals, and the ferocity of her intellect have spurred the arguments and activism of two generations of feminists. Now the book that she’s best known for-in which she provoked the argument that ultimately split apart the feminist movement-is being reissued for the young women and men of the twenty-first century. Intercourse enraged as many readers as it inspired when it was first published in 1987. In it, Dworkin argues that in a male supremacist society, sex between men and women constitutes a central part of women’s subordination to men. (This argument was quickly-and falsely-simplified to “all sex is rape” in the public arena, adding fire to Dworkin’s already radical persona.) In her introduction to this twentieth-anniversary edition of Intercourse, Ariel Levy, the author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, discusses the circumstances of Dworkin’s untimely death in the spring of 2005, and the enormous impact of her life and work. Dworkin’s argument, she points out, is the stickiest question of feminism: Can a woman fight the power when he shares her bed?
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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