Andrea Dworkin, Pornography Crusader, Dies at 59

Andrea Dworkin, perhaps the archetype of what Rush Limbaugh termed “feminazi,” has died at the age of 59 of unspecified causes.

Feminist icon Andrea Dworkin dies (The Guardian)

The American feminist icon, writer and campaigner Andrea Dworkin, who linked pornography to rape and violence, died at the weekend, her agent said today. She was 59 years old. Her radical-feminist critique of pornography began with her first book, Woman Hating, published when she was 27. She campaigned frequently on the subject, helping to draft a law in 1983 that defined pornography as a civil rights violation against women.

[…]

Ms Dworkin’s agent, Elaine Markson, said the cause of death was not known, but she had become increasingly frail as her knees had weakened and she suffered a series of falls. She died at the home in Washington DC she shared with John Stoltenberg, her partner of 30 years and husband since 1998.

I should offer some compassionate words of grievance for someone passing so young. But it’s hard to generate much sympathy for such a vile, contemptible bitch.

Katharine Viner believes Dworkin was misunderstood:

‘She never hated men’

Like most, I feel a shudder of shock whenever I read the words of Andrea Dworkin. On crime: “I really believe a woman has the right to execute a man who has raped her.” On romance: “In seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine.” On sexual intercourse: “Intercourse remains a means, or the means, of physiologically making a woman inferior: communicating to her, cell by cell, her own inferior status … pushing and thrusting until she gives in.” Her radicalism was always bracing, sometimes terrifying; and, in a world where even having Botox is claimed as some kind of pseudo-feminist act, she was the real thing. Her death at the age of 58 deprives us of a truly challenging voice.

But Andrea Dworkin was always more famous for being Andrea Dworkin than anything else. Never mind her seminal works of radical feminism, never mind her disturbing theorising that our culture is built on the ability of men to rape and abuse women. For many, Dworkin was famous for being fat. She was the stereotype of the Millie Tant feminist made flesh – overweight, hairy, un-made-up, wearing old denim dungarees and DMs or bad trainers – and thus a target for ridicule. The fact that she presented herself as she was – no hair dyes or conditioner, no time-consuming waxing or plucking or shaving or slimming or fashion – was rare and deeply threatening; in a culture where women’s appearance has become ever more defining, Dworkin came to represent the opposite of what women want to be. “I’m not a feminist, but … ” almost came to mean, “I don’t look like Andrea Dworkin but … ”

In 2001, the critic Elaine Showalter said: “I wish Andrea Dworkin no harm, but I doubt that many women will get up at 4am to watch her funeral.” A couple of years ago, in an article in this newspaper on hairiness, Mimi Spencer wrote: “The only visibly hairy woman at the forefront of feminism today appears to be Andrea Dworkin, and she looks as though she neither waxes nor washes, nor flushes nor flosses, and thus doesn’t really count.” She didn’t count because of how she looked; she only cared about rape because no man could fancy her.

The attacks on Dworkin were not only personal; they also applied to her work. John Berger once called Dworkin “the most misrepresented writer in the western world”. She has always been seen as the woman who said that all men are rapists, and that all sex is rape. In fact, she said neither of these things. Here’s what she told me in 1997: “If you believe that what people call normal sex is an act of dominance, where a man desires a woman so much that he will use force against her to express his desire, if you believe that’s romantic, that’s the truth about sexual desire, then if someone denounces force in sex it sounds like they’re denouncing sex. If conquest is your mode of understanding sexuality, and the man is supposed to be a predator, and then feminists come along and say, no, sorry, that’s using force, that’s rape – a lot of male writers have drawn the conclusion that I’m saying all sex is rape.” In other words, it’s not that all sex involves force, but that all sex which does involve force is rape.

[…]

People were startled by her gentleness and vulnerability; were surprised that her friendships included the British author Michael Moorcock and John Berger as well as feminists Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan. And although she once said she was a lesbian, she lived with the writer John Stoltenberg for three decades, saying: “It’s a very deep relationship, a major part of my life which I never thought possible.” As Julie Bindel, feminist and Dworkin’s friend of 10 years, says: “She was the most maligned feminist on the planet; she never hated men.”

Dworkin’s feminism often came into conflict with the more compromising theories of others, such as Naomi Wolf. “I do think liberal feminists bear responsibility for a lot of what’s gone wrong,” she told me in 1997. “To me, what’s so horrible is that they make alliances for the benefit of middle-class women. So it has to do with, say, having a woman in the supreme court. And that’s fine – I’d love a woman, eight women, in the supreme court – but poor women always lose out.” She did concede, however, that her radicalism was too much for some: “I’m not saying that everybody should be thinking about this in the same way. I have a really strong belief that any movement needs both radicals and liberals. You always need women who can walk into the room in the right way, talk in the right tone of voice, who have access to power. But you also need a bottom line.”en do? Is there a plan? If not, why not?” And indeed, who is left to replace her?

It’s probably true that if Dworkin looked more like Naomi Wolfe or Camile Paglia, she wouldn’t have been so reviled. But the same is true of Larry Flynt or even Rush Limbaugh. But if, despite decades on the public stage and having published numerous books and articles, it is clear to only those who knew her best that she doesn’t harbor hatred for half the human race, I’d say she had a problem. I’m sorry that she had some tragedies in her personal life that tormented her. But she did both women and feminism a huge disservice. Being a poster child for what’s wrong for a position serves perhaps to make others seem reasonable by comparison but, mostly, it makes it easy to dismiss the arguments themselves.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Gregory Carlin says:

    Camille Paglia is a pop art celebrity and Andrea Dworkin is and was a feminist icon.

  2. The Truth says:

    She spoke the truth, and most people don’t like that.

  3. Bithead says:

    Dworkin was in fact the inspiration for the statement that Feminism was designed so as to allow ugly women the run of society.

  4. Brian Carr says:

    This half-assed appraisal of Andrea Dworkin’s life and political positions is just another cheap shot at a woman who was at least savvy enough to know that Mr. Joyner would think that calling her a “vile, contemptible bitch” could ever suffice as anything more that a willful refusal to think too hard. It’s not exactly tough to find Dworkin and her work contemptible–apparently, even immediately after her death–and surely almost everyone would disagree with much of what she thought and wrote.

    The problem is, we still don’t really HEAR her: we refuse to understand what was at stake for her, WHY she might have taken the positions she took. The fact is she was not always at extreme odds with dominant feminism; indeed, she and Catherine McKinnon have both published a great deal and received much attention, including support, over the last few decades. I mean, how incredibly “extreme” can one really be to draft legislation that is upheld by the Supreme Court? We might want hastily to regard Dworkin as an exaggerated, overdosed kind of feminism–but as surely the vilification of her on these sloppy grounds only proves her point.

    I disagree largely with Dworkin’s work, but I have learned a great deal from her brand of feminism–if only to learn to hear and appreciate in her thought the seriousness of the issues with which she was most concerned.

    Simply dismissing her is boring, anyway. I’d like to think that, even in her death, she might take some satisfaction in knowing that–surprise, surprise–yet one more dumbass thinks that calling her a bitch actually says something about her and not about him.

  5. E.A. Vargas says:

    The truth does not change according to one’s ability to stomach it. However, someone parading around with what they call the truth does not make it so.

  6. “I mean, how incredibly “extreme” can one really be to draft legislation that is upheld by the Supreme Court?”

    You mean like the Indianapolis law that the 7th Circuit struck down and the Supremes laughed out of court in American Booksellers Association v. Hudnut?

  7. That said, I don’t know that calling her a “bitch” is particularly helpful.

  8. Catherine Pierce says:

    Mr. Joyner:

    Despite your education and numerous civic accomplishments, your commentary regarding Andrea Dworkin is tasteless and without merit.
    Your views are simply fodder for the continuing backlash against the feminist movement.

    Your argument that it was easy to dismiss her arguments is simply untrue. Andrea Dworkin was a crusader who shone a light in a dark corner of our culture and we responded very affirmatively that violence against women is unacceptable and will be punished. She was unsuccessful in legislating the morality of adult pornographers. However, in the years after her crusade, laws against child pornography were strengthened and new date rape and domestic abuse laws were passed. Regardless of her extreme opinions or her looks or her tragic life, she should be applauded for her efforts to end the cycle of violence against women.

    I realize you are too young to have witnessed the power imbalance that was radically changed in our culture due to the passionate struggle of the “feminazis” you refer to in this op ed/biopic/obituary. It may come as a surprise to you, but many men welcome the benefits of the power balance in shared responsibilities. I find they actually respect the women in their lives for becoming more than the labels attached to them: fat, ugly, vile, et al by the media. I was a feminist when I was twenty and a thin and beautiful college student, and also now at forty-five as CFO, mother, and a member of Weight Watchers. Despite their rhetoric, Pretty Naomi Wolfe and thin Camile Paglia know to whom they owe their allegiance.

    By the way, I still believe labeling the deceased “a vile, contemptible bitch” would be considered tasteless in any respectable rag in this country. Oops! Your extremes are showing…

  9. JowBloe says:

    She spoke the truth. She didn’t speak the truth. Did she ever give any fucking evidence for any fucking statement she made?

  10. Kate says:

    It’s not our week, James. I wonder if Angolans attacking WHO workers trying to stop the spread of that Marwhatever virus should be quarantined and left to their own devices (earning the label of “bigot” and the the denunciation of outraged leftists across the dominion) and I pop by over here to see you baiting every feminist moonbat to pass through your orbit…

    All I can say is ….

    Yay for us!

  11. Jay says:

    “Being a poster child for what’s wrong for a position”

    Do you imagine you are doing any less than that, when you call a woman who just passed away a “vile contemptible bitch”?

    To whatever extent you had a point here, it could have been made far more effectively without this lazy, stupid provocation.

  12. Kate says:

    Oh where oh where was the feminist outrage over the crass cracks about the the “horseface Camilla” Parker Bowles over the past 5 years or so.

    The objectification of women cuts both ways.

    Now.. had she become pregnant and wanted an abortion, feminists would have flooded the streets protesting for her cause…

    Fucking hypocrites, every one of you.

  13. Meezer says:

    Katherine:
    I’m a woman and “old enough” to know exactly how much hatefull damage the woman did.
    She CREATED dark corners, not did away with them.
    She is one of those responsible for the myth that women are the sole adult victims of abuse (allowing for the exceptions that prove the rule, of course).
    This has done incalculable harm that is just barely being undone – against great resistance created by her and her ilk.

  14. Just another says:

    Hasn’t anyone noticed the string of “teacher-abusers” lately? Wondered how long that has been going on? Aren’t most of them women? I contend that violence is a characteristic of human nature, and none of the species is more responsible. Or less responsible.

    I for one am a male that has had enough of letting the ‘bad apples’ spoil the lot. I have known terrible, vile, awful, WRONG people all my life. I don’t believe I’m one of them, regardless of my genitalia.

    Spewing hate in general at one-half of the species IS a vile and contemptible act. Question: if a rapist or women-hater had just died, how many feminists would hail the Great Reaper and dance in the streets? No, two wrongs don’t make a right, but haven’t we had enough guys? Aren’t you sick of it? When is enough enough?

  15. Anderson says:

    Dworkin, alas, was the classic example of an extremist that the Rushes of the world could turn to as a “typical feminist” in order to discredit feminism. I think a study would show that most of her fame arises from her frequent citation by the Right.

    I’ve hung with some fairly rad feminists, none of whom took Dworkin very seriously, though they could find bits here & there which were plausible, as indeed one can do with almost anyone who writes a few books.

    But “vile, contemptible bitch”? Come, sir.

  16. Man's man says:

    HAHAHA.. the bitch is dead.. ding dong…

  17. Guy Boulding says:

    Who is this James Joyner, who can lower himself to calling ANY woman a vile, contemptible bitch?
    He says more about himself than about Andrea Dworkin, whatever her views.

  18. Rad Geek says:

    “But if, despite decades on the public stage and having published numerous books and articles, it is clear to only those who knew her best that she doesn’t harbor hatred for half the human race, I’d say she had a problem.”

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but your diagnosis of the “problem” seems to neglect an important fact. Her “decades on the public stage and … numerous books and articles” would only disabuse her critics of their misunderstandings about her if her critics actually bothered to read them. But no small number of the people who attack her — and especially those who like to traffic in the myths that she “hated men” as such or thought that “all heterosexual sex is rape” (which she did not believe and never said), as well as those who preferred to simply bypass any discussion of her ideas whatsoever to deride her as “ugly,” “fat,” “hysterical,” or a “vile, contemptible bitch” — never took the time to read a damned one of her numerous books and articles from beginning to end.

    Have you?

  19. Jay says:

    Whatever words you want to use, it appears she boiled down to one thing:
    Evil.

  20. Improbulus Maximus says:

    I just wonder if any of you bleeding heart dipshits ever stop and think that it’s almost exclusive the fat, ugly, hideously repulsive hogs like Dworkin who have the biggest problems with men? I don’t know what her fascination with rape was, other than the fact that it could never, ever, happen to her in a million years unless she went out of her way to find someone as repulsive as she was, then tease them by wallowing in a mudhole and making squealing noises.
    Unless they are lesbians, hot chicks like guys, average chicks like guys, and even ugly chicks like guys, but it’s the ones who couldn’t get the time of day from guys who are worried about rape. Dumbasses.

  21. ALH says:

    I find Improbulus Maximus’ words to be some of the most reprehensible I’ve read in my lifetime.

    1. What do you think rape is? Have you worked in a rape crisis center? Have you studied rape statistics? Do you even know what you’re talking about? Rape isn’t about how attractive a woman is. Otherwise elderly women wouldn’t get raped in nursing homes by orderlies (they do), little girls wouldn’t get raped by pedophiles (they do), men wouldn’t get raped by heterosexual men (they do), dyke lesbians wouldn’t get raped (they do), etc. For someone who works with rape victims every day of my life, I can’t stress enough how moronic your comments are, not to mention how painful they would be to hear for someone who has been raped.

    2. Take a logic class. Insulting someone on the basis of his or her looks isn’t an argument; it’s an ad hominem attack. Have you read any of Dworkin’s books, or are you giving us an emotional reaction borne out of ignorance and preconceptions fed to you by the media? Come to the table with some arguments about how you think Dworkin was wrong and we’ll listen to you. Keep spewing filth and vile insults and you’re just a plain idiot.

  22. Brian Carr says:

    Sorry to mislead folks in claiming in my earlier posting that McKinnon and Dworkin’s ordinance was upheld by the Supreme Court–it was the Canadian Supreme Court that accepted their view. They also did have some at least provisional success in Minneapolis and Indianapolis as far as advancing anti-porn city ordinances (pertaining to things like zoning). Tellingly, many of their supporters in the US and Canadian contexts were actually conservative/right wing folks on a moral crusade against “obscenity.”

    Again, I don’t support these legalistic/literalistic understandings of porn, but it would be wrong to say that they have not had some strong support in a variety of legal and non-legal venues.

    I wanted to say, too, that it’s good to know that most people on here don’t buy the quick dismissal of Dworkin or her work. And for the folks, particularly the dudes, who do i have to say: i’m a man’s man, am not a “fat” “ugly” “hog,” and I–not unlike Dworkin–have my share of problems with a lot of men. If you don’t act wrong, if you don’t rape women, if you don’t think calling someone a bitch is in-itself an argument, if you have the courage to take a stand against the (mostly) fellas who DO keep sexism alive–then what’s the problem? Ain’t nobody talkin about u.

  23. April says:

    I don’t think that having poor hygiene and being unhealthily obese as a political statement really helps anybody in the long run. There’s nothing wrong with having a neat appearance, and in fact obesity is claimed to be a contributing cause to her death. Oh, there’s a winner for women’s issues. Yeah.

    And I found her work to be, by and large, insulting. Blaming all ills on men implies that women are not tough enough or strong enough, without the leadership of a few nutcase radicals, to amount to anything on their own; that men are in fact more powerful and able than women and we must rely on feminists or else we will get sucked in to oppression. And that’s a bunch of baloney. If I don’t need my daddy to hold my hand through life, I sure as heck don’t need her.

  24. Gregory Carlin says:

    “She spoke the truth. She didn’t speak the truth. Did she ever give any fucking evidence for any fucking statement she made?”

    Andrea Dworkin could have written the Abu Ghraib narrative from theory.

    There were not enough ‘good apples’ to crew a motorcycle and therefore the ‘normality’.

  25. Gregory Carlin says:

    “Hasn’t anyone noticed the string of “teacher-abusers” lately? Wondered how long that has been going on? Aren’t most of them women?”

    Most educational sexual abuse has a male culprit, most victims are female.

    The comparative rate of incidence is in conformity with the prosecution statistics.

    Abuse within the Catholic Church is generally less than other positions of trust.

  26. Gregory Carlin says:

    “Dworkin, alas, was the classic example of an extremist that the Rushes of the world could turn to as a “typical feminist” in order to discredit feminism. I think a study would show that most of her fame arises from her frequent citation by the Right.I’ve hung with some fairly rad feminists, none of whom took Dworkin very seriously, though they could find bits here & there which were plausible, as indeed one can do with almost anyone who writes a few books.”

    I arrived at her work from the perspective of organized crime and trafficking.

    I would advise anybody researching sexual misconduct to read Andrea Dworkin.

    Dworkin knew more about sex crime than the FBI and Scotland Yard rolled into one.

    Andrea Dworkin had a PERFECT understanding of prostitution, child pornography etc.

  27. Gregory Carlin says:

    “Simply dismissing her is boring, anyway. I’d like to think that, even in her death, she might take some satisfaction in knowing that—surprise, surprise—yet one more dumbass thinks that calling her a bitch actually says something about her and not about him.”

    The so-called feminists who disliked her, talked about diets, food, & hairstyles.

    I have no doubt she anticipated the way the pro-pornography girls would respond.

    “Dworkin pretends to be a daring truth-teller,” wrote the feminist Camille Paglia, “but never mentions her most obvious problem, food.”

    Paglia being the gold-standard. I doubt Paglia has *ever* met a prostitute.

  28. Scott R says:

    Let me first remind you to use profane words and insults in place of actually having the ability to formulate your own thoughts in a focused, formatted, logical form. When you speak and write, your soul is speaking.

    RADGEEK HAS POSTED A MESSAGE FOR YOU. YOU CAN READ, I KNOW YOU CAN. START READING THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK, CONTINUE READING UNTIL THE LAST PAGE IS READ, AND THEN YOU HAVE READ THE ENTIRE BOOK. YOU HAVE THEN GIVEN YOURSELF THE RIGHT TO DISCUSS THE BOOK.

  29. Vern Edwards says:

    Every positive comment that I have read about Andrea Dworkin said that she has been badly and widely misunderstood, and that she did not say the things that her critics have said she said. I accept those comments at face value, but whose fault is it that she was widely misunderstood? There are a lot of stupid readers in the world, but a writer has to accept some responsibility for being misunderstood. If the only people who properly understand you are the ones who agree with you, then what can you hope to accomplish in the world?

  30. Scott R says:

    Cathy Young in the Boston Globe has just misquoted Ms.Dworkin again. She omitted the word “potential” before the word betrayer, in a piece about Andrea. Cathy Young misquotes the recently deceased while calling Andrea Dworkin a hate monger. Just another unsurprising example of laziness.