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More by and about Andrea Dworkin

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 19 years ago, in 2005, on the World Wide Web.

I want to say some more about Andrea Dworkin and what her life’s work meant and what we have lost with her death. If there’s one fact about her that’s hard to avoid, it’s how fiercely personal the reactions she inspired were. (The reactions were, at the same time intensely political. That’s because that famous slogan happens to be the truth.) I’ve only encountered Andrea Dworkin through her writing–I never had the chance to meet her or to hear her speak, but the news of the death felt like hearing about the death of someone I had known half my life. But rather than saying more than the halting words I said last night when I heard the news, I think it may be better to remember her in her own words, and in the impact that she made on others in life.

Here’s how L. put it earlier today:

Andrea Dworkin has died, and I’ve wanted to say something about it, and I’m at a loss, because I didn’t expect her absence to feel so immediate and so huge. I hadn’t read very much by her in the past few years, but Intercourse and Letters from a War Zone were probably the last books to really change my life, back at the frayed end of my arrogant adolescence, steeped as I was in privilege and bad literary criticism, when I went around telling everyone that Dworkin was a brilliant rhetorician to avoid having to confront her ideas.

The best I can do is repeat what someone said on feminist_rage: that Andrea Dworkin was “a necessary person.” It’s common, and tempting, to wish peace on the dead, and Andrea Dworkin deserves to be at peace, but I can’t imagine her being satisfied with death, or with anything short of an almost unimaginable justice.

Andrea’s partner, John Stoltenberg, sent out an obituary and bio this morning based on information for publishers that she had prepared before her death. I got this over the off our backs e-mail list:


September 26, 1946 – April 9, 2005


Andrea Dworkin is internationally renowned as a radical feminist activist and author who has helped break the silence around violence against women. In her determination to articulate the experiences of poor, lower-class, marginal, and prostituted women, Dworkin has deepened public awareness of rape, battery, pornography, and prostitution. She is co-author of the pioneering Minneapolis and Indianapolis ordinances that define pornography as a civil-rights violation against women. She has testified before the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography and a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She has appeared on national television shows including Donahue, MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, 60 Minutes, CBS Evening News, and 48 hours. She has been a focus of articles in The New York Times, Newsweek, The New Republic, and Time. And an hour-long documentary called Against Pornography: The Feminism of Andrea Dworkin, produced by the BBC, was watched by more viewers in England than any other program in the Omnibus series and has been syndicated throughout Europe and Australia. Filmed in New York City and Portland, Oregon, it included excerpts from Dworkin’s impassioned public speaking and intimate conversations between Dworkin and women who had been used in prostitution and pornography, most since childhood.

The author of 13 books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Dworkin is a political artist of unparalleled achievement. In every century, there are a handful of writers who help the human race to evolve, said Gloria Steinem; Andrea is one of them. Dworkin’s first novel, Ice and Fire, was published in 1986; Mercy followed in 1990 to wide acclaim in the U.S. and abroad- lyrical and passionate, said The New York Times; one of the great postwar novels, said London’s Sunday Telegraph; a fantastically powerful book, said the Glasgow Herald. Her latest nonfiction book is Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women (The Free Press).

Dworkin’s activist political life began early. In 1965, when she was 18 and a student at Bennington College, she was arrested at the United States Mission to the United Nations, protesting against the Vietnam War. She was sent to the Women’s House of Detention, where she was given a brutal internal examination. Her brave testimony about the sadism of that experience–reported in newspapers around the world–helped bring public pressure on the New York City government to close the Women’s House of Detention down. An unmarked community garden now grows in Greenwich Village where that prison once stood.

Dworkin’s radical-feminist critique of pornography and violence against women began with her first book, Woman Hating, published in 1974 when she was 27. She went on to speak often about the harms to women of pornography and addressed the historic rally in 1978 when 3,000 women attending the first feminist conference on pornography held the first Take Back the Night March and shut down San Francisco’s pornography district for one night.

In 1980 Dworkin asked Yale law professor Catharine A. MacKinnon for help in bringing a civil-rights suit for Linda Marchiano, who as Linda Lovelace had been coerced into pornography, including Deep Throat. Under current law, Dworkin and MacKinnon discovered, there was no way to help her. Later, in 1983, while co-teaching a course on pornography at the University of Minnesota Law School in 1983, they were commissioned by the Minneapolis City Council to draft a local ordinance that would embody the legal principle, first proposed by Dworkin in Linda Marchiano’s behalf, that pornography violates the civil rights of women. Dworkin, MacKinnon, and others organized public hearings on the ordinance-the first time in history that victims of pornography testified directly before a governmental body. Dworkin has been a uniquely influential inspiration both to legal thinkers and to grass-roots feminist organizers. Her original legal theory–that harm done to women ought not be legally protected just because it is done through speech, and that sexual abuse denies women’s speech rights–has not only fomented a rift between advocates of civil rights and civil liberties but has also generated a Constitutional crisis, a fundamental conflict between existing interpretations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. A tireless fighter against the pornography industry and those who collaborate with it, Dworkin has herself been stigmatized professionally for her efforts to help women harmed by pornography–in part because U.S. media conglomerates side with pornographers’ right to turn women into speech. Since the American Booksellers Association and the American Publishers Association became plaintiffs in a 1984 lawsuit against the Indianapolis ordinance, Dworkin’s options for publishing in the U.S. have dropped off dramatically. Her last three books have had to be published in England first. Attempts to get the BBC documentary broadcast in the U.S. have so far been unsuccessful. Yet in 1992 the BBC invited Dworkin to return, to participate in a nationally televised debate on political correctness at the prestigious Cambridge Union.

Called the eloquent feminist by syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, Dworkin has been a featured speaker at universities, conferences, and Take Back the Night marches throughout North America and Europe, speaking out powerfully against crimes of violence against women, the new right, racism, and anti-Semitism. The New York Times described one of her lectures on pornography at New York University Law School as highly passionate, and reported that the audience responded with a standing ovation. She moved this audience to action, said a Stanford University spokesperson. A University of Washington spokesperson said, She empowered the women and men present; in fact a coalition on violence against women came out of her lecture. Ms. magazine admires the relentless courage of Dworkin’s revolutionary demands. . . Her gift . . . is to make radical ideas seem clear and obvious.

Stoltenberg said that contributions in memory of Andrea’s life and work can be made to:

The Schlesinger Library
The Andrea Dworkin Fund
Radcliffe Institute
10 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138-3600

… or to the domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center of your choice.

(Contributions to The Schlesinger Library designated for the Andrea Dworkin Fund will go towards processing her papers and creating an online guide to her work–much of which is hard to find or out of print.)

There’s more about her life, her legacy, and her passing at:

One of the most fitting pieces I’ve read on Andrea and her life’s work is actually a few years old: Louise Armstrong’s piece (in The Guardian, again), The trouble with Andrea (2005-06-25):

It may well be time to face one of the stranger phenomena of contemporary feminist life. And it is this: despite all the requirements for feminist celebrity status, spelt out for us recently by Elaine Showalter in these pages — TV appearances, public buzz, a blitz of stories in the press — the ur-feminist icon, the real template, is a woman with none of the above. It is not Hillary Clinton or Oprah or Princess Diana. This woman is not a celebrity by the acknowledged standard. She is… Andrea Dworkin. More than any of the above, she matches Showalter’s definition of feminist icon: someone on to whom a disproportionate amount of adulation and loathing is projected.

Projected is the key word here. To the pornographers and the new female libertines, she is the symbol for man-hater, sex-hater, killjoy. The feminists who adore her and flock to her lectures sit so rapt it is tempting to use the word rapture (she is a brilliant, even mesmerising speaker). There is something quasi-religious about the divide between devoted followers and those who would brand her a heretic, pillorying her over and over, as though to reassure themselves that they have the power.

Both sides have transformed a human being into a symbol. No other living person I can think of, who is so much out of the public eye, is so deeply entrenched in the public psyche as either heroine or demon.

What is strangest about the demonisers is, why do they bother? She does not have her own TV show, her books are not bestsellers. Why the need to keep bringing her up in order to put her down? It is parallel to what so much media does to feminism itself: It’s over! Retro! Let’s party, girls!

So strong a signifier has Dworkin’s name become that it is dragged in, higgledy-piggledy, whenever the speaker/author wishes to dump poo on advocacy with which he/she disagrees. I have seen her name yanked in out of left field, in the New York Times, for example, to say that an author displays an Andrea Dworkin-like attitude toward the genetic alteration of apples.

Think of it this way: Dworkin is a true feminist icon precisely because she is not a celebrity in the safe sense. She has not been brought down to scale, as Hillary Clinton was, by constant exposure; by Bill’s peccadilloes; by her own efforts to adjust to please the public, to moderate.

Dworkin is a threat, of course, to exactly the extent that radical feminists have always posed a threat — pointing out unapologetically the degree to which violence against women and children by men remains rampant. She will not shut up.

Read the whole thing.

And it’s true, as Armstrong says, that it’s tempting to say that if Andrea Dworkin didn’t exist, we would have had to invent her. … Which, come to think about it, is exactly what we have done. But the truth is that Andrea was not just a symbol–although she was that–she was a living, breathing, fierce, outraged, loving, hurt, unflinchingly principled, deeply compassionate human being. She could not have been made what she has been made, or meant what she has meant, without being who she is. And that is something that’s best experienced first hand, in her own words. You can read a lot of her most important work at The Andrea Dworkin Web Site. Here are some passages that struck me last night and today when I was reading over her books again.

These quotes are from Letters from a War Zone, a collection of essays, articles, and speeches from 1976 – 1989.

From Feminism: An Agenda (1983):

So let me just talk with you briefly about how the women’s movement gets its information, and why we are almost always right. In the last ten years there has been a pattern. Feminists have said that something happens or is true and then ten thousand authorities have said that’s bullshit. And then somebody started doing studies, and then three years later they say, well, well, rape is endemic. Right? They say to us, well your figure was too low, it’s ten times that, right? The FBI discovers rape, right?

The same thing happened with battery. Women love to be beaten: that is what authorities think and say. Battered wives begin speaking. Women begin to emerge from situations in which they have been held captive and terrorized for ten years, twelve years, fifteen years. Oh, what crap, the authorities say. Five years later we have sociologists telling us that they did a study in California and found out that fifty percent of married women have been beaten. It wasn’t news to us. We have a terrific trick. We listen to the women. It is an unbelievably top secret method that we don’t let anyone else know about.

From A Feminist Looks at Saudi Arabia (1978):

But mostly, inability to believe surfaces on days when Mr Carter and his cronies–and yes, I must admit, especially Andrew Young–discuss our good friend, Saudi Arabia. That is, their good friend, Saudi Arabia. I hear on newscasts that Mr Carter was enchanted by Saudi Arabia, that he had a wonderful time. I remember that Mrs Carter used the back door. I remember that the use of contraceptives in Saudi Arabia is a capital crime. I remember that in Saudi Arabia, women are a despised and imprisoned caste, denied all civil rights, sold into marriage, imprisoned as sexual and domestic servants in harems. I remember that in Saudi Arabia women are forced to breed babies, who had better be boys, until they die.

Disbelief increases in intensity as I think about South Africa, where suddenly the United States is on the side of the angels. Like most of my generation of the proud and notorious sixties, a considerable part of my life has been spent organizing against apartheid, there and here. The connections have always been palpable. The ruthless economic and sexual interests of the exploiters have always been clear. The contemptuous racism of the two vile systems has hurt my heart and given me good reason to think democracy a psychotic lie. Slowly activists have forced our government, stubborn in its support of pure evil, to acknowledge in its foreign policy that racist systems of social organization are abhorrent and intolerable. The shallowness of this new commitment is evident in the almost comical slogan that supposedly articulates the aspirations of the despised: One Man, One Vote. Amerikan foreign policy has finally caught up, just barely, with the human rights imperatives of the early nineteenth century, rendered reactionary if not obsolete by the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.

From I Want a Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape (1983):

And if there would be a plea or a question or a human address in that scream, it would be this: why are you so slow? Why are you so slow to understand the simplest things; not the complicated ideological things. You understand those. The simple things. The clichés. Simply that women are human to precisely the degree and quality that you are.

And also: that we do not have time. We women. We don’t have forever. Some of us don’t have another week or another day to take the time for you to discuss whatever it is that will enable you to go out into those streets and do something.

I want to see this men’s movement make a commitment to ending rape because that is the only meaningful commitment to equality. It is astonishing that in all our worlds of feminism and antisexism we never talk seriously about ending rape. Ending it. Stopping it. No more. No more rape. In the back of our minds, are we holding on to its inevitability as the last preserve of the biological? Do we think that it is always going to exist no matter what we do? All of our political actions are lies if we don’t make a commitment to ending the practice of rape. This commitment has to be political. It has to be serious. It has to be systematic. It has to be public. It can’t be self-indulgent.

From Look, Dick, Look. See Jane Blow It. (1979):

I came here to say one simple thing: our honor and our hope is in our ability to name integrity the essential reality of revolution; our future will bring that integrity to realization only if it we put it first; we put it first by keeping our relationship to real life immediate and by respecting our capacity to understand experience ourselves, not through the medium of male ideology, male interpretation, or male intellection. Male values have devalued us: we cannot expect to be valued by honoring male values. This is a contradiction without resolution except in our obliteration.

These passages are from Andrea’s memoir, Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant (2002, pp. 191, 211):

I long to touch my sisters; I wish I could take away the pain; I’ve heard so much heartbreak among us. I think I’ve pretty much done what I can do; I’m empty; there’s not much left, not inside me. I think that it’s bad to give up, but maybe it’s not bad to rest, to sit in silence for a while. I’m told by my friends that it’s not evil to rest. At the same time, as they know, there’s a child being pimped by her father with everyone around her either taking a piece of her or looking the other way. How can anyone rest, really? What would make it possible? I say to myself, Think about the fourth-generation daughter who wasn’t a prostitute; think about her. I say, Think about the woman who asked herself whether or not it was bad to penetrate a baby with an object and figured out that it might be; think about her. These are miracles, political miracles, and there will be so many more. I think that there will be many more.

A memoir, which is what this is, says: this is what my memory insists on; this is what my memory will not let go; these points of memory make me who I am, and all that others find incomprehensible about me is explained by what’s in here. I need say that I don’t care about being understood; I want my work to exist on its merits and not on the power of personality or celebrity. I have done this book because a lot of people asked me to, and I hope this work can serve as a kind of bridge over which some girls and women can pass into their own feminist work, perhaps more ambitious than mine but never less ambitious, because that is too easy. I want women to stop crimes against women. There I stand or fall.

6 replies to More by and about Andrea Dworkin Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Spicy

    There will be a full obitury in Tuesday’s Guardian.

  2. Julie Bindel

    I wrote this obituary of Andrea, in today’s Guardian. Like so many others, my life is now less than it was because she isn’t here.

    Julie Bindel

    Andrea Dworkin

    Feminist writer and tireless campaigner against pornography and the violent oppression of women

    Julie Bindel Tuesday April 12, 2005 The Guardian

    Andrea Dworkin at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Photo: Murdo Macleod

    Andrea Dworkin at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Photo: Murdo Macleod

    Andrea Dworkin, who has died aged 58, was a feminist who came to represent the fierce debate on pornography and sexual violence. The author of 13 books of feminist theory, fiction and poetry, she was a formidable campaigner against violence towards women.

    To the libertarians and pornographers, who argue that pornography is harmless, she was a man-hating misery. But for her admirers around the world, she was an inspiration and great political thinker.

    Article continues Since the mid-1970s, Dworkin symbolised women’s war against sexual violence. Heroine or hate figure, her name became an adjective, used and misused to describe the type of feminist we are supposed to strive not to be.

    Although her previous books, including the notorious Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981), were widely read in feminist circles, both in the US and Britain, Dworkin achieved fame when, in 1983 along with legal academic Catharine MacKinnon, she drafted and promoted the civil rights law recognising pornography as sex discrimination in Minneapolis.

    In 1980 Andrea asked MacKinnon to help her bring a civil rights suit for Linda Marchiano, who as Linda Lovelace had been coerced into making the film Deep Throat. They discovered that, under current law, there was nothing they could do.

    Three years later, Dworkin and MacKinnon were commissioned by the Minneapolis city council to draft a local ordinance that would embody the legal principle that pornography violates the civil rights of women, and is “hate speech”. Public hearings on the ordinance were organised across the US, and it was the first time in history that victims of pornography testified directly before a government body.

    This sent the pornographers wild. Shouting about “freedom of speech” and the first amendment. Al Goldstein, founder of Screw Magazine, said that he would “rather suck dick than have sex with Andrea Dworkin”.

    When Larry Flint published cartoons in Hustler magazine depicting Andrea in a sexually explicit way, she sued the publisher, but lost. After receiving anonymous death threats, she hired security whenever she spoke publicly.

    Dworkin was born in New Jersey and had what she described as an idyllic childhood in many ways. She attended a progressive school and grew up to lead a bohemian life in the 1960s.

    Her political career began when she was 18. While a student at Bennington College, Vermont, she was arrested at the United States Mission to the UN, protesting against the Vietnam war. Dworkin was sent to the Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich, New York, where she endured several violent internal examinations.

    Her testimony was reported in newspapers around the world and helped bring public pressure on the New York City government to close the detention centre down. It worked.

    She graduated in literature from Bennington in 1968, and soon after moved to Amsterdam and married a Dutchman. Among the events that led her to the anti-violence movement was the abuse she endured in that relationship. “I was a battered wife,” she said, “and pornography entered into it. Both of us read it, and it helped give me the wrong idea of what a woman was supposed to be for a man.”

    She left the marriage in 1971 aged 25, and fled the country, describing that time as her “living as a fugitive, sleeping on people’s floors and having to prostitute for money to live.”

    Dworkin then met a feminist named Ricki Abrams, who took her in and proposed they write a book together entitled Woman Hating, but Abrams left it to Dworkin to write.

    However, it took a sit-in, supported by feminist authors such as Phyllis Chesler at the office of the publishers to persuade them to bring out a paperback edition of Woman Hating in 1974.

    That year she met the writer John Stoltenberg. They lived together for more than 30 years, with Dworkin encouraging John in his work to educate young men about rape and sexual assault.

    In 1999 she wrote of being drugged and raped in a hotel room in Europe, the trauma of which led her to take heavy medication to enable her to sleep.

    In recent years, she had become increasingly disabled. Operations to replace her knees, worn down by years of obesity, left her in constant pain.

    Last year, during a visit to London, she made contact with the Guardian and was given commissions to write on topics such as the trial of Scott Peterson, convicted of killing his pregnant wife, and living with disability. In the past few years Dworkin had been, she believed, cast into the wilderness as a writer because of her stance against pornography.

    “It’s heartbreaking,” she wrote to me, “to know I am censored in my own country.”

    But Dworkin was no feminist separatist or man-hater. She despised those men who choose to hurt women and children. In Heartbreak (2002) she described the deep sense of betrayal she felt from men in the political left who used pornography.

    “I seemed to learn the lesson that pornography trumped political principle and honour,” she says.

    Although rarely described as such, Dworkin was an intellectual. The book she was working on when she died is Writing America: How Novelists Invented And Gendered A Nation, an exploration of the contribution that writers such as Hemingway and Faulkner have made to American identity.

    She also had a brilliant, though wicked, sense of humour. Her kindness and humility surprised those who expected to meet a frothing Rottweiler.

    The last time I spoke to her, a few weeks ago, we were talking about what it was that motivated her to carry on fighting for women, when she had suffered enough in her life. “Julie”, she said in that famous, gravelly but soft voice, “I see it like this. All women are on a leash, because we are all oppressed. But those who get to adulthood without being raped or beaten have a longer leash than those who were. It should be that the ones with the longest leashes do more to help others. But it doesn’t work that way, so we are the ones that fight the fight.”

    When asked in this newspaper how she would like to be remembered, she replied:

    “In a museum, when male supremacy is dead. I’d like my work to be an anthropological artefact from an extinct, primitive society.” She meant it.

    Her partner, John Stoltenberg, survives her.

    � Andrea Dworkin, feminist and writer, born September 26 1946; died April 9 2005

  3. Julie Bindel

    A life without compromise

    When the feminist academic Andrea Dworkin wrote about being drug-raped, she was met with doubt and hostility. Four years on, Julie Bindel asks how it affected her

    Thursday September 30, 2004 The Guardian

    Andrea Dworkin

    Andrea Dworkin

    There was a time, not so long ago, when Andrea Dworkin thought her life was over. Just over four years ago, she wrote an article for New Statesman magazine about being drug-raped in a hotel room in France. She had been drinking a kir royale in the bar, she wrote, when she started feeling sick and weak. She made it back to her hotel room, where she was brought dinner by a waiter – the same waiter who had served her her drink – and passed out. When she woke five hours later, she was bleeding internally, bruised and disoriented.

    “I couldn’t remember,” she wrote, “but I thought they had pulled me down toward the bottom of the bed so that my vagina was near the bed’s edge and my legs were easy to manipulate. I thought that the deep, bleeding scratches, right leg, and the big bruise, left breast, were the span of a man on top of me. I had been wearing sweatpants that just fell right down.” The hardest thing to cope with, she said, was the not remembering: she couldn’t be certain what had happened. “They took my body from me and used it,” she wrote, and ended, “I am ready to die.”

    This experience, and the strongly divided reaction to her article, led to a self-imposed exile from Europe. She is in the UK this week, but has not been back for five years. Her account of her drug-rape was questioned by some feminists. Why, people asked, had she not called a doctor, or reported the rape to the police? How could she be sure of the details of the attack when, by her own admission, she had been unconscious for several hours? And, most strikingly, why did Dworkin, a radical feminist, run through a checklist of reasons she might have been raped – a list she might otherwise have dismissed as a catalogue of myths about rape victims. “I blame me no matter what it takes. I go down the checklist: no short skirt; it was daylight; I didn’t drink a lot even though it was alcohol and I rarely drink, but so what? … I didn’t drink with a man, I sat alone and read a book, I didn’t go somewhere I shouldn’t have been … I wasn’t hungry for a good, hard fuck that would leave me pummelled with pain inside.”

    Dworkin’s account of her rape, like much of her writing (including the feminist texts Pornography: Men Possessing Women and Intercourse), polarised opinion. People believed her, or they didn’t; they were either with her, or they were against. “It was unbearable being disbelieved by my so-called sisters,” she says. Even her long-term partner, the writer and feminist activist John Stoltenberg, found it hard to believe her, looking, Dworkin wrote at the time, for “any explanation other than rape”. The article was not published in the US.

    There were those who stuck by her. “After it happened,” she says, “Gloria Steinem sent a psychiatrist who specialises in post-traumatic stress syndrome to see me. I was drowning and took the offered hand. I still talk to her every week. At first I wanted very much to die. Now I only want to die a few times a day, which is damned good. I still feel intense suffering and loneliness. I have fought very hard to be able to work again.”

    She is in London this week to visit friends and to find a British publisher for her autobiography, Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Militant Feminist, published in the US two years ago.

    Given that the past four years have seen her professionally, and to some extent personally out in the cold, it is an unexpectedly uplifting and hopeful book, a reflective and often funny journey through a life that charts her love of music, literature, rebellion and women. There are a number of surprises. For instance, considering her attitude towards sex (“I don’t have intercourse. That is my choice”), there is the stand she took against campus rules during her time at Bennington College, Vermont, when she was 18: “From 2am to 6am the houses in which the girls lived were girls-only,” she writes. “One could have sex with another girl, and many of us did, myself included. But the male lovers had to disappear, be driven out like beasts into the cold mountain night. The elimination of parietal hours was a huge issue, in some ways as big as the war. It was law and order versus personal freedom, and I was on the side of personal freedom.”

    This episode is one of the many contradictions in Dworkin’s life. Another is her friendship with the poet and gay liberationist Allen Ginsberg. “To me he was like a god,” she says. “I plucked up the courage to visit him after we met at an event. He told me over and over again as I was leaving, ‘I love you, I love you.’ It was very strange.”

    Dworkin and Ginsberg ended up sharing a godson. In Heartbreak, she describes the confrontation that turned them into sworn enemies. On the day of their godson’s barmitzvah, child pornography was criminalised by the supreme court. Dworkin was delighted, but knew that Ginsberg had problems with the legislation.

    “Ginsberg told me he had never met an intelligent person who had the ideas I did,” she writes. “I told him he didn’t get around enough. He said, ‘The right wants to put me in jail.’ I said, ‘Yes, they’re very sentimental; I’d kill you.'” When I repeat this story to her, she chuckles, and says in her slow, throaty way, “Oh good , I love that. Don’t worry, you can print it now, he is very dead.” (Ginsberg died in 1997).

    The myths that surround Dworkin – that she is hard, aggressive, a man-hating misery – contradict the reality. In person, she is shy, softly spoken and courteous, with a cracking sense of humour. (The critic John Berger described her as “the most misrepresented writer in the western world”.) I have met her several times, and am always struck by how caring and generous she is. Once, we were having tea at a London hotel when I saw a mouse under the table and screamed. Dworkin held my hand and muttered soothingly, all the while screaming for a waiter to “come immediately”. My pathetic phobia became her emergency – impressive in a woman whose writing deals with life and death.

    She is principled to the point where she will lose friends and alienate colleagues rather than sacrifice an inch of ground. The feminist author Robin Morgan says, “Andrea is a dear friend, a fine writer, a fierce intellect, and someone with enormous personal, political, and literary integrity, and the scars to show for it. She is much misunderstood, but then compromise isn’t really a working word in her vocabulary.”

    She has a dark sense of humour. During the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, when Dworkin was having bitter rows with Clinton’s feminist supporters, she told me, “What needs to be asked is, was the cigar lit?” Does she now lose much sleep over Bush? “He needs to go. Half of the American people want him out.”

    Even so, she figures she is still more unpopular than the president in the US, mainly for her stance against pornography, interpreted by many as an assault on the first amendment (freedom of speech). To libertarians and pornographers, her name has become synonymous with censorship and rightwing, Christian ideals, but Dworkin denies links with either camp. “The power of the state and of the moral right seduced many feminists,” she says, “but I would never compromise my principles. They use the language of obscenity and decency, not women’s equality.”

    Dworkin has written 13 books to date, first achieving notoriety with Pornography in 1979, and until the drug-rape was a regular on the feminist lecture circuit. Her life, as well as her work, has been shaped by sexual violence: she was assaulted in a cinema at the age of nine, and her former husband was physically abusive. She says she first learned about “social sadism” from listening to her aunt, a Holocaust survivor.

    She wrote Heartbreak in four months. Was this because it had been inside her all along, bursting to be written? “My other books were written with blood, sweat and tears,” she says. “This one almost just appeared, like a gift.” The book is the result of a deal she made with her US publisher: she wanted to write a different book, Scapegoat, about the links between Jewish identity, antisemitism and misogyny, but they were more interested in her autobiography, a book she had not planned to write. So she spent nine years on Scapegoat, then four months on the memoir.

    For all the controversy and doubt that surrounded the New Statesman article, she is excited about being back in the UK and says she feels her work is better understood here. “I can’t get published in the US without great difficulty. They took my last two books, but I am literally censored by newspapers and television networks. I have heard from several people that they are afraid to be seen with my books. This is the kind of cowardice that is creeping up on Americans lately.” Even so, she has another book in the pipeline, and has written two chapters of Writing America: How Novelists Invented and Gendered a Nation, a look at the contribution that writers such as Hemingway and Faulkner have made to American identity, a move away from previous, more overtly political works.

    So what does the future hold? There are moments in Heartbreak that show us Dworkin at her most raw and emotional. “I have a heart easily hurt,” she writes. “Apartheid broke my heart. Apartheid in Saudi Arabia still breaks my heart – I don’t understand why every story about rising oil prices does not come with an addendum about the domestic imprisonment of women in the Gulf states. I can’t be bought or intimidated because I’m cut down the middle. I walk with women whispering in my ears.” Elsewhere, there is a sentence that reads almost like an epitaph: “I think I’ve pretty much done what I can do; I’m empty; there’s not much left, not inside me.” But Dworkin wrote this two years ago, and she isn’t giving up yet. “I thought I was finished,” she says, “but I feel a new vitality. I want to continue to help women.”

  4. Discussed at news.blogcarnival.com

    News from Around the World:

    More by and about Andrea Dworkin

    It could be much worse:…

  5. Discussed at www.unbsj.ca


    Andrea Dworkin, R.I.P.

    Obituary in the NYTimes (registration required), The New York Sun, and a balanced retrospective with some good links in…

  6. Discussed at www.sapphosbreathing.com

    Sappho's Breathing:

    Andrea Dworkin links

    I’m collecting these links on my site for myself as well as my readers. I’m indebted to many linkers who came before me, most notably Rad Geek. The Andrea Dworkin website. The on-line memorial. Tributes and quotes. Obituaries in the…

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