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:
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.