Andrea Dworkin was born in 1946 and grew up in Camden, New Jersey. Her parents, Sylvia Spiegel and Harry Dworkin, were of Jewish ancestry. Some of her family members had experienced the Holocaust. Her aunt survived it and told her about the rape and forced prostitution. She had a younger brother, Mark. Sylvia had heart disease and was often ill in the hospital, and as a result, Harry had to work two jobs. She didn’t get along with her mother because she was always rebellious, but loved her mother dearly – “[s]he was my first great romance.” She got along really well with her father because of his kindness. He was stigmatized because of his empathy, “called a sissy and a fairy by my buddies on the street who no doubt heard it from their parents.”
At the age of nine, she was raped by a stranger:
This breach of a child’s body does count. It does register. The boundary of the body itself is broken by force and intimidation, a chaotic but choreographed violence. The child is used intentionally and reduced to less than human by the predator’s intelligence as well as his behavior. The commitment of the child molester is absolute, and both his insistence and his victory communicate to the child his experience of her – a breachable, breakable thing any stranger can wipe his dick on. When it is family, of course, the invasion is more terrible, more intimate, escape more unlikely.
In junior high her best friend and she were lovers, but she left Andrea for a man. Andrea also had an “affair” with a teacher in high school. She would also prostitute herself (which was advised to her by her teacher). After graduating, she went to Bennington College.
In 1965, at the age of 18, she was arrested at an anti-Vietnam war protest and sent to the Women’s House of Detention in New York City, where she was brutalized by two male doctors with a steel speculum – they tore her vagina and sexually harassed her. She bled for weeks. She was kicked out by the two men she was living with, and turned to Grace Paley, who convinced her to come out with her story. She went to her family doctor. He cried, because he had never seen a vagina so ripped or a cervix so bruised. She was sexually harassed by men over the phone and in letters who found a bruised and bleeding vagina titillating – men who would say how they’d love to rub their penises against the bruises, do with their penises what the speculum had done, and the like. The media had a field day. To escape the publicity, she left for Greece. (The prison, which had a history of abusing women, a disproportionate number of them black, was exonerated. It was torn down in 1972.)
She has also been a battered wife. What she, and other battered women, went through defies our sense of logic, of safety, of sanity.
…I was hit, that I was kicked. I do not remember when or how often. It blurs. I remember him banging my head against the floor until I passed out. I remember being kicked in the stomach. I remember being hit over and over, the blows hitting different parts of my body as I tried to get away from him. I remember a terrible leg injury from a series of kicks. I remember crying and I remember screaming and I remember begging. I remember him punching me in the breasts.
It got to the point where she wanted to die, hoping the next beating would kill her. She left, but didn’t get far – she had no money, no permanent place to stay. He found her. He beat her. Finally, in fear of her life, she left the country toward the end of 1972, with the help of a drug dealer.
After escaping her abusive husband, she turned to Ricki Abrams. Ricki introduced her to feminism. Andrea especially remembers the books Sexual Politics by Kate Millett, Sisterhood is Powerful edited by Robin Morgan, and The Dialectic of Sex by Shulamith Firestone. Together, she and Ricki planned to write a book about misogyny. In 1974, that book became Woman Hating, which Andrea Dworkin wrote herself. It was her second published work. (The first was Child, a book of poetry which was published in 1966 in Greece).
Soon before it was published, she met John Stoltenberg, who was to become her life-partner. They were first introduced at the Gay Academic Union, but met again when they both walked out of a benefit for the War Registers League because it became misogynist. He was one of the first to read Woman Hating because she gave him one of her first author’s copies:
…I read it immediately, enthralled and laughing out loud with joy. I especially remember where Andrea writes that “‘man’ and ‘woman’ are fictions, caricatures, cultural constructs” and that “we are…a multisexed species”…[T]hat liberating recognition saved my life…
In August of that same year, they moved in together, and are still together today.
In 1976, she published Our Blood, a collection of speeches. The year after, she made a speech in NYC at a panel on “Lesbianism as a Personal Politic” during Lesbian Pride Week. She received a lot of harassment from “200 sister lesbians, as angry as I have ever been” because she was apparently still sexually involved with men, who were the natural enemy to these women. In a piece inspired by the panel called “Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea”, she clearly repudiates the theory that men are biologically inferior to women and natural predators.
Pornography: Men Possessing Women
In 1978, she wrote First Love, an unpublished novel. In 1980, Andrea published the new womans broken heart, a collection of short stories. In 1981, Pornography: Men Possessing Women was published. She had already written and spoken out against pornography, but became more convinced that pornography contributed to women’s subordinate status in society as she did research for the book:
In writing my new book, I experienced the most intense isolation I have known as a writer. I lived in a world of pictures–women’s bodies displayed, women hunched and spread and hanged and pulled and tied and cut–and in a world of books–gang rape, pair rape, man on woman rape, lesbian rape, animal on woman rape, evisceration, torture, penetration, excrement, urine, and bad prose….
Under the best of circumstances, I do not have pleasant dreams. I work while I sleep. Life goes on, awake or asleep. I spent eight months studying the Marquis de Sade. I spent eight months dreaming Sadean dreams. Let the men joke: these were not “erotic” dreams; dreams of torture are dreams of hate, in this case the hate being used against female bodies, the instruments of hate (metal or flesh) being used to maim…
The photographs I had to study changed my whole relationship to the physical world in which I live. For me, a telephone became a dildo, the telephone wire an instrument of bondage; a hair dryer became a dildo–those hair dryers euphemistically named “pistols”, scissors were no longer associated with cutting paper but were poised at the vagina’s opening. I saw so many photographs of common household objects being used as sexual weapons against women that I despaired of ever returning to my once simple ideas of function. I developed a new visual vocabulary, one that few women have at all, one that male consumers of pornography carry with them all the time: any mundane object can be turned into an eroticized object–an object that can be used to hurt women in a sexual context with a sexual purpose and a sexual meaning…
…A doorway is a doorway. One walks through it. A doorway takes on a different significance when one sees woman after woman hanging from doorways. A lighting fixture is for light until one sees woman after woman hung from lighting fixtures. The commonplace world does not just become sinister; it becomes disgusting, repellent. Pliers are for loosening bolts until one sees them cutting into women’s breasts. Saran Wrap is for preserving food until one sees a person mummified in it.
Again, the nausea, the isolation, the despair. But also, increasingly, a rage that had nowhere to go…
That rage found somewhere to go.
The Minneapolis City Ordinance
In 1983, Andrea and Catherine MacKinnon, a feminist constitutional law lawyer/professor, created an ordinance that recognized the fact that women’s equality rights were encumbered by pornography. In the Ordinance, pornography is defined as the sexually graphic depiction of women in scenarios of pain, degradation, rape, dismemberment, bondage, and the like. It gives women the right to civilly sue pornographers and stop the sale of a specific piece of pornography because it was used in an assault against her (assault), she was forced into appearing in it (force), or it, as pornography, harms the equality rights of women (trafficking). A child, man, or transsexual can also sue. It was passed, but later struck down by Minneapolis’s mayor. Andrea and Kitty took it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the court agreed that pornography caused the harms they said it did – encouraged the trivialization of women, sexual harassment, rape, lower work wages, etc. – but that only proved it being speech worthy of constitutional protection. The Ordinance has been passed and vetoed in various other cities. This lead to Andrea and Kitty writing a book together, Pornography and Civil Rights.
In 1983, she published Right-Wing Women, an analysis of women in the right. In 1986, Ice and Fire, a novel, was published. In 1987, she published Intercourse, a book that had her detractors thinking, “A-ha! This proves that the bitch is a man-hater who thinks all intercourse is rape,” disregarding the fact that she was analysing what others said of intercourse and incorporating her own experiences, not at any point saying what many interpret her to be saying. As she explains in the ’95 introduction to Intercourse:
…If one has eroticized a differential in power that allows for force as a natural and inevitable part of intercourse, how could one understand that this book does not say that all men are rapists or that all intercourse is rape? Equality in the realm of sex is an antisexual idea if sex requires dominance to register as sensation.
In 1988, she went to Israel, where she experienced the status of women there. There she met with women who told of having to stay in shelters for battered wives under lock and key to protect them from the husbands and partners that were refusing to let them go, marital rights, abortion rights, what one woman called the Holocaust pornography, etc. (READ QUOTE FROM LIFE AND DEATH)
In 1990, Mercy, a novel, was published. In 1991, her mother died of heart disease, which she had had since childhood. On April 30, 1992, Andrea’s brother, Mark, died of cancer at the age of 42. He was living in Vienna with his wife of ten years, Eva Rastl. He and Eva had worked together as molecular biologists. At the time he became ill, they were doing research on the metabolism of cancer cells.
When my brother died, part of me died. This is not hyperbole or cliché. I could feel some of the light that is life going dead inside me and when he died, it went out. He was a gentle boy, the one life I knew from infancy. I had a utopian memory of loving him, a kind of ecstatic love for him that was nonverbal, inexplicable, untouched by growing older…
He was the kind child, the nurturer of my parents. As they grew older, he took care of them, with his company, his true concern. My mother died a year before Mark and I don’t believe he recovered from her death before his own. Like my father, like John [Stoltenberg], he was a good and giving man.
In 1993, Letters From a Warzone, a collection of speeches and essays was issued in the U.S. (It was originally published in 1988 in Britain.) In 1997, Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women, another collection, was published.
In 1999, Andrea was probably raped. She doesn’t really know because she passed out, probably because her drink was drugged. When she woke up, her vagina ached and she found blood. She had gashes on her legs and was bruised on her breast. She showered (mistake). She couldn’t really remember what happened. She called John (her partner) and told him. He advised her to call her gynaecologist. She did, but her gynaecologist said that an internal exam wouldn’t find anything.
I started hating every day. I hated seeing the sun rise. I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other and I wanted to put a butcher’s knife into my heart behind my ribs. I was very lonely. I was consumed by grief and sorrow until I was lucky enough to become numb…My body was a curse and had betrayed me. I couldn’t figure out why they would want to do this and why they would want to do it to me.
I couldn’t be consoled. I couldn’t talk to anyone. How could I say the words to the people I loved, most of whom work precisely to stop violence against women: this is what he, someone or they, did to me. Yeah, I know I represent something to you, but really I’m a piece of crap because I just got raped. No, no, you’re not a piece of crap when you get raped, but I am. John looked for any other explanation than rape. He abandoned me emotionally. Now a year has passed and sometimes he’s with me in his heart and sometimes not.
On December 4 1999, Andrea’s father died at the age of 84. A couple of weeks later, Andrea was hospitalized for bronchitis, pneumonia, cellulitis (an infection of the soft tissues in the legs – lethal if not treated with antibiotics) and blood clots. She was there for a month, and her leg atrophied, but she walks fine now. She has also had two other books published, Scapegoat, about how women and Jews have been used as scapegoats, and Heartbreak, a memoir.
Some Fave Dworkin Quotes
Men who want to support women in our struggle for freedom and justice should understand that it is not terrifically important to us that they learn to cry; it is important to us that they stop the crimes of violence against us.
A child can’t commit suicide. You have to murder a child. I couldn’t watch the children killed; I couldn’t watch the women taken one last time; throats bared; heads thrown back, or pushed back, or pulled back; a man gets on top, who knows what happens next, any time can be the last time, slow murder or fast, slow rape or fast, eventual death, a surprise or you are waiting with a welcome, an open invitation; rape leading, inexorably, to death; on a bare rock, invasion, blood, and death. Massada; hear my heart beat; hear me; the women and children were murdered.
Writing is alchemy. Dross becomes gold. Experience is transformed. Pain is changed. Suffering may become song. The ordinary or horrible is pushed by the will of the writer into grace or redemption, a prophetic wail, a screed for justice, an elegy of sadness or sorrow. It is the lone and lonesome human voice, naked, raw, crying out, but hidden too, muted, twisted and turned, knotted or fractured, by the writer’s love of form, or formal beauty: the aesthetic dimension, which is not necessarily familiar or friendly. Nor does form necessarily tame or simplify experience. There is always a tension between experience and the thing that finally carries it forward, bears its weight, holds it in. Without that tension, one might as well write a shopping list.
On the streets there were women who were both strong and fragile at the same time: immensely strong to bear the continuing sexual invasion, consistent brutality, and just plain bad weather (no joke); immensely strong to accept responsibility as the prostituting persona–I want this, I do this, I am this, ain’t nothin’ hurts me; and much too fragile to face either the cost of prostituting or its etiology. The cost was physical disintegration and mental splitting apart. The cost was getting dirtier and lonelier and anesthetizing pain with more and meaner drugs. The cost was accepting the physical violence of the johns, moving through it as if it didn’t matter or hadn’t happened, never facing that one had been hurt, then hurt again, nor asking why. Some girls were straight-out battered and forced. But even without a violent man in sight, the etiology always had to do with sexual abuse, in the present or in the past; also with homelessness and poverty; with the willingness of men to use any girl for small change; with abandonment–the personal abandonment of family, the social abandonment choreographed by the users. It may be harder to face abandonment than to endure exploitation…
In a system valuing men over women, girls with piss and vinegar carried a heavier burden than girls brimming over with sugar and spice; the stronger were punished more, and still are.
Any man who has enough money to spend degrading a woman’s life in prostitution has too much money. He does not need what he’s got in his pocket. But there is a woman who does.
The heavier the pressure toward conformity–no matter how lofty the proposed final goal– the more one must be suspicious of it and antagonistic to it. History has one consistent lesson in it: one by one, people give up what they know to be right and true for the sake of something loftier that they do not quite understand but should want in order to be good; soon, people are the tools of despots and atrocities are committed on a grand scale. And then it is too late. There is no going back.
We need to end rape. We need to end incest. We need to end battery. We need to end prostitution and we need to end pornography. That means that we need to refuse to accept that these are natural phenomena that just happen because some guy is having a bad day.
The fact of the matter is that if the First Amendment does not work for women, it does not work. With that premise as principle, perhaps the good lawyers might voluntarily put away the dirty pictures and figure out a way to make freedom of speech the reality for women that it already is for the literary and visual pimps. Yes, they might, they could; but they will not. They have their priorities set. They know who counts and who does not. They know, too, what attracts and what really offends.
The homophobe’s citing of actual or potential or projected or feared sexual abuse of boys in particular also functions to sustain male supremacy by obscuring this crucial fact: male sexual aggression is the unifying thematic and behavioral reality of male sexuality; it does not distinguish homosexual men from heterosexual men or heterosexual men from homosexual men. An absence or repudiation of this aggression, which is exceptional and which does exist in an eccentric and minuscule minority composed of both homosexual and heterosexual men, distinguishes some men from most men…
When I was 11, my mother told me that when I played games with boys, I must let them win. But I soon discovered that it’s pretty hard to keep losing at checkers. You really have to apply yourself to lose and I just wasn’t good at losing.
It’s absurd to say that I hate men or that women in general should hate men. After all, we give birth to male babies. We cannot pretend that men don’t exist, but it does seem reasonable to expect that we should not have to live in fear of them.
-42% of girls have had sexual rumours spread about them. (US)
-29% of ever-married women have been physically abused by a partner.
-In the U.S., every twelve seconds a woman is beaten. Every hour 78 women are raped.
-In a survey of college-aged men, 91.3% like to dominate women, 86.1% “enjoy the conquest part of sex”, 83.5% think some women look like they want to be raped, and 61.7% say it would be exciting to use force to subdue a woman. (US)
-Approximately 1 in 8 of women will be raped at some time in their lives.
-The false reporting rate of rape is only about 2%, the same for any other crime.
-About 75% of prostitutes have been sexually abused as children.
-In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, 98% of the prostitutes have had a “bad date” (abusive customer).
-16% of men have used a prostitute.
-Between 1991 and 1994, 70% of murdered women were killed by their male partner.
-53.5% of girls and 30.6% of boys under 21 have had a sexual offence committed against them. Almost half of child sexual assaults are committed by relatives.
-Fathers are the perpetrators of 59% of physical abuse of children and 99% of parent-child incest.