Andrea Dworkin Biography

Born Andrea Rita Dworkin, September 26, 1946, in Camden, NJ; died April 9, 2005, in Washington, DC. Author. Known for her unrelenting and unforgiving stance on pornography, Andrea Dworkin had as many admirers as she had enemies. Her past as a battered wife and prostitute led her to become a major opponent in the fight for equal rights for women. Her books, Woman Hating, and Pornography: Men Possessing Women, continued to bring about public awareness about the ills of pornography. Together with legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon, Dworkin worked to bring an ordinance that would allow people, women in particular, to sue the producers of porn if their lives had been negatively impacted by the products. A couple of cities in the Midwest did adopt the ordinance but it was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dworkin was born to Jewish parents on September 26, 1946, in Camden, New Jersey. Dworkin's mother had heart trouble, so Andrea was constantly being shuffled among her relatives. Her father worked for the Post Office and as a guidance counselor. Her father was also a Socialist who taught his daughter to be a nonconformist at an early age. When she refused to sing the Christmas carol "Silent Night," Dworkin was forced out of the school choir.

At 18, Dworkin entered Bennington College, hoping to become a Greenwich Village artist. While protesting the Vietnam War, she was arrested and sent to New York's Women's House of Detention. While there she was subjected to a humiliating body cavity search that not only scarred her physically, but also emotionally. Upon her release, she was encouraged by Grace Paley, a writer and activist, to tell the newspapers about her abuse. Her story was picked up by the New York Times and other major newspapers around the country. This led to a government investigation and the eventual closing of the prison. Unfortunately for Dworkin, her parents disowned her after her disclosure. She then moved to Greece. With little money, she turned to prostitution to make ends meet. After spending a year abroad, she returned to Bennington College and earned a bachelors degree in 1968.

Dworkin moved overseas again and married a Dutch radical. Her husband began abusing her, sometimes burning her with cigarettes. She sought help, but no one would come to her aid. In an article for the Los Angeles Times , Dworkin wrote, "I was buried alive in silence. I didn't know that such horror had ever happened to anyone else." She ran away and hid from her husband until a female friend helped her leave the country.

Dworkin returned to the United States and divorced her husband. She worked menial jobs before becoming the assistant to Muriel Rukeyser, a poet, who encouraged Dworkin to write. At 27, Dworkin released Woman Hating , which included her critique of pornography. She also wrote about violence against women by examining fairy tales and myths. The Washington Post stated that by writing Woman Hating , she sought to "destroy patriarchal power at its source, the family, [and] in its most hideous form, the national state." According to the Los Angeles Times , Dworkin also concluded that reading pornographic material with her former husband in part led to her spousal abuse. Woman Hating was met with praise as well as denouncement. Many thought her stance on pornography as a tool of violence against women was refreshing, while others labeled her as a man-hater. Dworkin denied that she was against men, but she did feel "heterosexual intercourse is the pure, formalized expression of contempt for women's bodies," according to London's Independent . She also believed that battered women should be allowed to kill their batterers.

In 1980, the star of the porn film Deep Throat , Linda Marchiano (also known as Linda Lovelace), wanted to sue the film producers and distributors after suffering from being coerced into the porn business. Dworkin sought the help of fellow feminist MacKinnon, who was also a Yale law professor, to represent Marchiano. The two could not find anything in the law to help Marchiano. They drafted an ordinance that would allow people to sue the producers of porn, due to pornography being a form of sex discrimination. The ordinance was supported by various factions, including radical feminists and conservatives. Among the major opponents were feminist groups, who deemed that the ordinance hindered women's rights to explore all facets of their sexuality. The cities of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Indianapolis, Indiana, adopted the ordinances. However, it was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court as it violated first amendment rights.

With her strong political stance on pornography and equal rights for women, Dworkin was a popular speaker on the lecture circuit. She also continued to release books, including Pornography: Men Possessing Women . After the release of this book, she was asked to speak at a conference in the United Kingdom, where opposition to pornography was growing. She also lent her support to those in the United Kingdom who were bringing about awareness concerning the ills of pornography on society. Dworkin contributed to the U.K. book, Pornography: Women Violence and Civil Liberties .

A number of Dworkin's releases were published by U.K. publishing houses because many American companies found her rhetoric too radical to promote. She continued to release books throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including Intercourse, Pornography and Civil Right: A New Day for Women's Equality, Letters From a War Zone , and Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel and Women's Liberation . She also released novels and poetry, including Ice and Fire and Mercy .

Dworkin continued writing until she was unable to due to a number of illnesses. She had surgery to help her weakening knees, but suffered a series of falls post-surgery. Dworkin died in her sleep on April 9, 2005, in her home in Washington D.C.; she was 58. Dworkin is survived by her life partner of 30 years and husband (though both were homosexual) of nine years, John Stoltenberg, managing editor of AARP magazine. Sources: Contemporary Authors Online , Thomson Gale, 2005; Independent (London), April 12, 2005, p. 3; April 13, 2005, p. 42; Los Angeles Times , April 15, 2005, p. B10; New York Times , April 12, 2005, p. B7; Washington Post , April 12, 2005, p. B6.

Ashyia N. Henderson

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