Andrea Rita Dworkin (September 26, 1946 – April 9, 2005) was an American radical feminist and writer best known for her criticism of pornography, which she argued was linked to rape and other forms of violence against women.
An anti-war activist and anarchist in the late 1960s, Dworkin wrote 10 books on radical feminist theory and practice. During the late 1970s and the 1980s, she gained national fame as a spokeswoman for the feminist anti-pornography movement, and for her writing on pornography and sexuality, particularly in Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1979) and Intercourse (1987), which remain her two most widely known books.
Dworkin was born in Camden, New Jersey, to Harry Dworkin and Sylvia Spiegel. Harry was the grandson of a Russian Jew who fled Russia when he was fifteen in order to escape military service and Sylvia was the child of Jewish immigrants from Hungary. She had one younger brother, Mark. Her father was a schoolteacher and dedicated socialist, whom she credited with inspiring her passion for social justice. Her relationship with her mother was strained, but Dworkin later wrote about how her mother's belief in legal birth control and legal abortion, "long before these were respectable beliefs," inspired her later activism.
Though she described her Jewish household as being in many ways dominated by the memory of the Holocaust, it nonetheless provided a happy childhood until the age of nine when an unknown man molested her in a movie theater. When Dworkin was 10, her family moved from the city to the suburbs of Cherry Hill, New Jersey (then known as Delaware Township), which she later wrote she "experienced as being kidnapped by aliens and taken to a penal colony".In sixth grade, the administration at her new school punished her for refusing to sing "Silent Night" (as a Jew, she objected to being forced to sing Christian religious songs at school).
Dworkin began writing poetry and fiction in the sixth grade. Throughout high school, she read avidly, with encouragement from her parents. She was particularly influenced by Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Henry Miller, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Che Guevara, and the Beat poets, especially Allen Ginsberg.
In 1965, while a student at Bennington College, Dworkin was arrested during an anti-Vietnam War protest at the United States Mission to the United Nations and sent to the New York Women's House of Detention. Dworkin testified that the doctors in the House of Detention gave her an internal examination which was so rough that she bled for days afterwards. She spoke in public and testified before a grand jury about her experience, and the media coverage of her testimony made national and international news.The grand jury declined to make an indictment in the case, but Dworkin's testimony contributed to public outrage over the mistreatment of inmates. The prison was closed seven years later.
Soon after testifying before the grand jury, Dworkin left Bennington to live in Greece and to pursue her writing. She traveled from Paris to Athens on the Orient Express, and went to live and write in Crete. While in Crete, she wrote a series of poems titled (Vietnam) Variations, a collection of poems and prose poems that she printed on the island in a book called Child, and a novel in a style resembling magical realism called Notes on Burning Boyfriend – a reference to the pacifist Norman Morrison, who had burned himself to death in protest of the Vietnam War. She also wrote several poems and dialogues which she hand-printed after returning to the United States in a book called Morning Hair.
After living in Crete, Dworkin returned to Bennington for two years, where she continued to study literature and participated in campaigns against the college's student conduct code, for contraception on campus, for the legalization of abortion, and against the Vietnam War. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in literature in 1968.
After graduation, she moved to Amsterdam to interview Dutch anarchists in the Provo countercultural movement. While there, she became involved with, then married, one of the anarchists she met: Cornelius (Iwan) Dirk de Bruin.Soon after they were married, she said, de Bruin began to abuse her severely, punching and kicking her, burning her with cigarettes, beating her on her legs with a wooden beam, and banging her head against the floor until he knocked her unconscious.
After she left de Bruin late in 1971, Dworkin said, her ex-husband attacked, persecuted, and harassed her, beating her and threatening her whenever he found where she was hiding. She found herself desperate for money, often homeless, thousands of miles from her family, later remarking that, "I often lived the life of a fugitive, except that it was the more desperate life of a battered woman who had run away for the last time, whatever the outcome." For a while, she was a prostitute. Ricki Abrams, a feminist and fellow expatriate, sheltered Dworkin in her home, and helped her find places to stay on houseboats, a communal farm, and deserted buildings. Dworkin tried to work up the money to return to the United States.
Abrams introduced Dworkin to early radical feminist writing from the United States, and Dworkin was notably inspired by Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex, and Robin Morgan's Sisterhood is Powerful. She and Abrams began to work together on "early pieces and fragments" of a radical feminist text on the hatred of women in culture and history, including a completed draft of a chapter on the pornographic counterculture magazine Suck, which was published by a group of fellow expatriates in the Netherlands.
Dworkin later wrote that she eventually agreed to help smuggle a briefcase of heroin through customs in return for $1,000 and an airplane ticket, thinking that if she was successful she could return home with the ticket and the money, and if caught she would at least escape her ex-husband's abuse by going to prison. The deal for the briefcase fell through, but the man who had promised Dworkin the money gave her the airline ticket anyway, and she returned to the United States in 1972.
Before she left Amsterdam, Dworkin spoke with Abrams about her experiences in the Netherlands, the emerging feminist movement, and the book they had begun to write together. Dworkin agreed to complete the book – which she eventually titled Woman Hating – and publish it when she reached the United States. In her memoirs, Dworkin relates that during that conversation she vowed to dedicate her life to the feminist movement:
Sitting with Ricki, talking with Ricki, I made a vow to her: that I would use everything I knew, including from prostitution, to make the women's movement stronger and better; that I'd give my life to the movement and for the movement. I promised to be honor-bound to the well-being of women, to do anything necessary for that well-being. I promised to live and to die if need be for women. I made that vow some thirty years ago, and I have not betrayed it yet.
— Andrea Dworkin, Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant, 122.