Dworkin, Andrea

Dworkin, Andrea

Andrea Dworkin is a radical feminist writer and activist concerned with illuminating and clarifying sexual and social values, who seeks to create a world in which men have no dominion over women. Famous for making pointed statements such as "I am a feminist … not the fun kind," Dworkin is considered an extremist by most people familiar with her work, including many of her fellow feminists. She has zealously advocated the Censorship of all Pornography, which, she says, degrades women, discriminates against them as a class, and incites men to sexual violence.

With Professor Catherine MacKinnon of the University of Michigan Law School, Dworkin has championed antipornography ordinances for several cities in the United States. The two also helped author the violence against women act (S. 11, 103d Cong., 1st Sess. [1993]), a federal law signed by President bill clinton as part of a larger crime bill in September 1994, which makes sex-based violence a Civil Rights violation and allows victims to sue for compensatory and Punitive Damages and attorney's fees (42 U.S.C.A. § 13981 [Supp. V 1993]). The Canadian Criminal Code adopted the MacKinnon-Dworkin definition of pornography Criminal Code R.S.C., ch. C-34, § 159 (8) (1970) (Can.), and the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the constitutionality of that definition, which was transferred to § 163 in 1985. Butler v. The Queen (1 S.C.R. 452) in February 1992, making the shipment and sale of pornographic materials in Canada more difficult for that country's booksellers. MacKinnon and Dworkin define pornography as any material whose "dominant characteristic is the undue exploitation of sex or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects, namely crime, horror, cruelty and violence."

Dworkin was born September 26, 1946, in Camden, New Jersey, the daughter of Harry Spiegel and Sylvia Spiegel. She has devoted much of her adult life to fighting what she sees as the most visible signs of men's need to control and do violence to women: pornography, prostitution, Incest, Domestic Violence, Sexual Harassment, Stalking, and rape.

Although much has been written about Dworkin, little of the coverage has dealt with her early life. However, Dworkin's admittedly autobiographical novel Mercy (1991) may provide insight into some of the events that helped to shape this controversial feminist crusader: the book chronicles the sexual victimization—including molestation and rape—faced by the protagonist, Andrea, as a child, a rebellious teenager, and a young woman.

Dworkin was drawn toward the law after graduating from high school in 1964, but she did not pursue a legal career because she believed law schools at the time were run by people who didn't think women should be there. She joined the embryonic anti–Vietnam War movement; graduated from Bennington College, of Vermont; and spent the late 1960s living overseas. While in Amsterdam, she married a political radical, who beat her repeatedly.

Having been a waitress, receptionist, secretary, typist, salesperson, and factory worker, Dworkin fully embarked on a career as a radical feminist after her marriage ended and she returned to the United States in 1972. In the 1970s, she began speaking and writing about the politics of sexuality and her affinity for women. Her early books include Woman Hating: A Radical Look at Sexuality (1974) and a compilation of essays called Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics (1976), which called for an abandonment of women's quest for sexual equality in favor of more radical solutions necessary to achieve a complete social realignment of the sexes. During the time she was publishing these works, Dworkin gained notoriety for her assertions that all sex is rape and all sexually explicit materials are evidence of rape.

After the 1991 Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas hearings, Dworkin wrote an introduction to a book called Sexual Harassment: Women Speak Out (Sumrall and Taylor, eds., 1993), in which she shared some of her experiences with sexual harassment.

Dworkin met MacKinnon, a graduate of Yale Law School and also an avid feminist, in 1977. They began giving speeches and Lobbying together for antipornography ordinances. In the fall of 1983, they attracted attention when they teamed up to teach a course on pornography at the University of Minnesota Law School, the first class of its kind. As a result of the course, several members of the city council in Minneapolis asked the pair to write an antipornography ordinance for the city. In the resulting ordinance, Dworkin and MacKinnon defined pornography as "the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women, whether in picture or in words." The law would have allowed female rape victims to sue producers and distributors of erotic materials for damages if their attacker claimed that pornography made him do it, even if no criminal charges were filed.

Following two days of explosive public hearings on the issue, the city council adopted the ordinance in late 1983, only to have the mayor Veto it. In 1984, a new Minneapolis city council again adopted the same ordinance, and the mayor again vetoed it. A Dworkin-MacKinnon supporter in Minneapolis doused herself with gasoline and set herself ablaze amidst the controversy.

Dworkin and MacKinnon subsequently proposed the same type of ordinance in Indianapolis, but after booksellers and readers challenged its constitutionality, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that the ordinance discriminated on the grounds of free speech (American Booksellers Ass'n v. Hudnut, 771 F.2d 323 [1985]). In the late 1980s, Dworkin again coauthored a similar ordinance, this time for Bellingham, Washington. Although voters in Bellingham endorsed the concept by ballot in November 1988, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) persuaded a federal judge to invalidate the ordinance in February 1989 on first amendment freedom-of-the-press grounds. In the early 1990s, Dworkin and MacKinnon introduced yet another similar initiative in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was opposed by the ACLU and ultimately struck down.

In addition to leading antiporn legislative efforts in several states, Dworkin also looked for change at a national level. In 1985, she testified before Attorney General Edwin Meese III's Commission on Pornography—established at President Ronald Reagan's behest to assess pornography's social effects—about the causal link between pornography and violence against women. As part of her evidence that pornography provides a "blueprint for male domination over women," she cited serial killer Ted Bundy's admission, on the eve of his execution, that pornography had made him kill women.

The resulting bill, officially called the Pornography Victims' Compensation Act (S. 1521, 102d Cong., 2d Sess.)—but nicknamed the Bundy Bill—would have allowed victims of sex crimes to sue producers and distributors of sexual material if the victims could prove that the material incited the crimes. The bill did not pass in Congress. Dworkin went on to consult with Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) who sponsored a related bill in 1990 (S. 2754, 101st Cong., 1st Sess.). A version of this bill was ultimately incorporated into President Clinton's crime bill and passed as the Violence Against Women Act (108 Stat. 1902 to 1955).

In the 1990s and into the 2000s, Dworkin continued to advocate her controversial theories of feminism. She has lectured at Colleges and Universities and appeared at rallies throughout the United States and numerous foreign countries. She has produced a number of works, including essays, books, and poetry, among them: Intercourse (1987), Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women (1997), Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women's Liberation (2000), and Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant (2002).

"Woman is not born: she is made. in her making, her humanity is destroyed. she becomes symbol of this, symbol of that: mother of earth, slut of the universe; but she never becomes herself because it is forbidden for her to do so."
—Andrea Dworkin

In 2002, Dworkin donated her papers to the Schlesinger Library of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. The collection includes traditional types of material, including personal and professional correspondence, drafts of writings and speeches, transcripts of interviews, reviews of her work, and newspaper clippings. In addition, she donated teaching materials, photographs, and audio and videotapes from her public life.

Further readings

"Anti-Porn Legal Theorists Gather in Chicago." 1993. National Law Journal (March 22).

Dworkin, Andrea. 2002. Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant. New York: Basic Books.

MacKinnon, Catharine, and Andrea Dworkin, eds. 1997. In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.


Women's Rights.