This week, I'd like to celebrate the life and work of a highly influential feminist writer and activist, Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005).
Andrea Dworkin was, and is still, a highly controversial figure. She lived quite a life, from working as a prostitute, to marrying and abusive Dutch anarchist, to coming out as a lesbian, to being sexually assaulted while in police custody after being arrested during and anti-war protest, to later marrying a gay man (John Stoltenberg) with whom she lived for decades, to her outspoken activism against pornography, to having some of her books held up at the border after laws designed to stop the proliferation of hamrful pornography were passed in Canada. She spoke out against pornography during a time when pornography began to become more and more violent and companies selling pornography made more money than ever, with circulation rates higher than any other magazines in the world. She was the subject of several pornographic "political" cartoons published in pornographic magazines. Even now, after her death, she is still the subject of heated discussion and controversy.
Andrea was a proficient writer, and authored non-fiction and fiction books as well as poetry and short stories. Her writing is beautiful and eloquent, and her non-fiction work on pornography is cutting. Most of her detractors have been men who have been threatened by her outspokenness and her identification of patriarchy as "male-supremacy." She viewed pornography as representative of male-dominated culture's opinion and value of women: that the nature of women and women's sexuality was wanting to be raped and prostituted, and so doing those things was not wrong, not abuse, not cruel. She also wrote about prostitution, abortion, lesbianism, the Holocaust, rape, and spousal abuse.
Andrea Dworkin was certainly a radical feminist, a woman with a mission. Because she argued so strongly against pornography because it creates a hostile environment in the world under which women must live, she was able to affect change in legislation that offered women protection against these harms. Dworkin was a popular and effective orator; many of her speeches have been published, and she spoke before congress, graduating law students, men's groups, and feminist activists (as part of the very first North American Take Back The Night March in San Fransisco in 1978).
There have been some really powerful things said about Andrea Dworkin. Gloria Steinem said, "Every century there are a handful of writers who help the human race evolve. Andrea is one of them." Also, "Andrea Dworkin is to Patriarchy what Karl Marx was to Capitalism." — Erik Emanuelsson. After her death, her co-author and friend, feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon said, "It feels like the north pole is gone now."
I came to find Andrea Dworkin last year during the study of pornography law in Canada for one of my courses. She intrigued me, and after reading her work, I find her to be a powerful contributor to feminism. I don't think feminism would be what it is today without the contribution and work of Andrea Dworkin. I'm glad she was with us, and I'm sorry she is not here any longer. Celebrate with me the life and work of a great feminist, Andrea Dworkin!