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.
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 wasa brilliant rhetoricianto 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 asLinda Lovelacehad 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 throughspeech,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 intospeech.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 onpolitical correctnessat the prestigious Cambridge Union.
Calledthe eloquent feministby 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 ashighly 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 admiresthe 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
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:
- Trish Wilson 2005-04-10: R. I. P. Andrea Dworkin
- LiveJournal Feminist Community 2005-04-10: Andrea Dworkin died
- GT 2005/04/10: May she be at peace: Andrea Dworkin (26 September 1946 – 9 April 2005)
- feministe 2005-04-10: Controversial feminist Andrea Dworkin dead at 59
- Dr. B. 2005-04-10: Andrea Dworkin R. I. P.
- CultureCat 2005-04-10: Andrea Dworkin 1946-2005
- Pseudo-Adrienne 2005-04-11: Reqiuem in Pace…
- The Guardian 2005-04-11: Feminist icon Andrea Dworkin dies. (This is the only mainstream press obituary for Dworkin that I have found to date.)
- Cool Beans 2005-04-11: R.I.P. Andrea Dworkin
- Jessica @ feministing 2005-04-11: Andrea Dworkin passes away
- Third Wave Agenda 2005-04-11: Andrea Dworkin is dead
- Honestly, Camille 2005-04-11: Actual Post: Andrea Dworkin
- Sappho’s Breathing 2005-04-11: Andrea Dworkin has died
- Pinko Feminist Hellcat 2005-04-11: Andrea Dworkin 1946-2005
- ms. musings 2005-04-11: Andrea Dworkin Dies
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 acelebrityby 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 anAndrea Dworkin-likeattitude 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.
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 saidthat’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 thinkdemocracya 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.
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.