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April 11, 2005

Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005)

Feminist scholar Andrea Dworkin died last night at the age of 59.

Sheezlebub has an obituary.

Trish Wilson reacts:

I just received word in e-mail that Andrea Dworkin has died in her sleep. I was never a fan of Dworkin's, but I know from reading a couple of her books that her comments about rape and marriage have been taken out of context. I really don't have much more to say about this than to let my readers know she has died. I figured that was newsworthy enough.

Indeed. I have about as much regard for Dworkin's work as I do for the philosophical writings of the late pope. However, it is unthinkable to me that the death of a major feminist thinker should receive so little attention.

As of this posting, Google News shows no obituaries or notices of her death.

Update: I second Creep and Blink's take on Dworkin's legacy.


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» Dworkin and Steinem from Political Animal
DWORKIN AND STEINEM....Andrea Dworkin has died, and Lindsay Beyerstein writes that "it is unthinkable to me that the death of a major feminist thinker should receive so little attention." I don't have much of an opinion about that, but I... [Read More]

» Pornography and Its Discontents from Grammar.police
Cathy Young of Reason takes up the unenviable task of speaking ill of the dead in a Boston Globe obit-ed on Andrea Dworkin. Her column is the first responsible comment on Dworkin's legacy I've seen. With all due respect—I don’t... [Read More]


I noticed that Google News has no obituaries, either. Neither does the NY Times.

I think Dworkin's death took the establishment press by surprise -- after all, she was only 59 years old. I don't think anyone had obits in the can ready to run. I expect we'll see the Times obit as soon as they manage to cobble one together.

Thad has a point--Dworkin went to great pains to hide that she was sick, apparently.

It's still pretty surprising, I think. I hunted pretty extensively before blogging about it and still couldn't find anything on an "official" news site...

Yeah, but still - not even a blurb about her death? Sad.

I hope you'll share some thoughts on why you have so little regard for Dworkin. I thought she was often misunderstood, and I disagree with her a some of her central arguments, but in the end, I found her to be dated (relying on terms like "violation" and "surrender" (when no one I know uses those terms or has in the last 25 years) to make her point. I also felt she could be prudish (at some level her views can be seen as sexual conservatism) but in arguing for sexual equality, she was, in effect arguing for the expansion of sexual expression - which could be seen as a recipe for more fun. Anyway, I thought she was articulate and provocative and rather liked her writings (even as I disagreed with them).

I don't consider Dworkin a feminist. I consider her a puritian.

Hello. I have to defend Dworkin here. First of all, I am a guy. Guys are supposed to be threatened by her writing, and when I first approached her, yes, it was somewhat intimidating. I read her years ago, btw, when I had periods of time available to be bored in a public library.

Most of the anger at Dworkin was from her views on pornography and the "all sex is rape" canard. I disagree with the censoriousness, yes, but the point is still clear: a GREAT deal of pornography (look at your spam!) is driven by degrading women and depicting them as "wanting it." And that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as male sexual domination of women is. I think that her view that pornography is the DNA of patriarchy was wrong; it is the other way around. You won't stop patriarchy by censoring pornography; the uber-patriarchs are in favour of censoring pornography. But porn (referring not to all sexual expression, but the very prevalent images and writing of sexual domination for male consumption) is a way of reinforcing patriarchy in a world of liberated women.

So why would uber-patriarchs want to kill pornography? Because they believe that the proper way to dominate women is openly and not furtively.

As for the "all sex is rape" canard, if you read Dworkin she writes quite lovingly of her father and brother. Her father, well, fathered her at some point. It's hard to see how she could love him and yet consider him a rapist, given her deep, deep anger at rape.

Rather, her argument as I understand it is that patriarchal culture casts sexual intercourse as a necessary violation of a woman's body, and a violation to which women must surrender as such. The act of intercourse itself does not have this essential quality, but culture legitimizes rape by imagining sexual intercourse this way. If a woman's being is cast as something to be violated, than what does that say about how society (and not HER) views the relationship between sex and rape?

Obviously, men can't do more than ask for, receive, and honestly evaluate consent. And can't be accused of rape if they have sex with a consenting partner. But, in light of pornography (being, again, the depiction of sex as the degradation of women---"cum sluts" from spam again), how does society as a whole actually secretly distinguish an act of love from an act of dominion?

Obits finally up from Reuters and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Dworkin's central theme was that the only possible male-female relationship was an exploitative one. She despised the very concept of maleness. The only choices she considered legitimate were renunciatory ones.

I don't like separatists. I don't like their philosophies of unbridgeable differences and eternal hostility. I don't like it when it's racial, religious, or ethic; why should I like it when it's gender-based?

Basically, I think Dworkin's empirical foundations are shoddy. For example, her arguments for a direct connection between pornography and rape are unconvincing. She certainly doesn't marshall enough evidence to justify censorship.

My position is that Dworkin's death is a chance for us to celebrate her purported goals as well as celebrate how wrong she was about female sexuality.

I agree, Eli. I think your post struck exactly the right balance.

Dworkin was a comrade-in-arms with the radical right. She called herself a feminist and an ally of rape victims in much the same manner that Randall Terry and the other wild-eyed "supporters" of Teri Schiavo claim to be "advocates for the disabled". I am sure that she had friends who will feel a deep loss, and they have my sympathy. I do not think that Dworkin made the world-at-large a better place.

Maybe I take some of the above back. After reading this:

...probably I should. Damn. What a requiem.

Dworkin's central theme was that the only possible male-female relationship was an exploitative one. She despised the very concept of maleness. The only choices she considered legitimate were renunciatory ones.

This is just simply, demonstrably not true.

Personally, I think that the whole idea of a literally -- not metaphorical to Dworkin at all -- "War on Women" is wrong. Violence against women is a serious problem, and our society does a terrible job of addressing it. The idea of a literal war on women, IMHO, trivializes how bad real wars are.

However, I think that comparing Andrea Dworkin to the Pope would be considered ridiculously overwrought adulatory praise anywhere outside an atheist philosophy blog. I don't think it's too terrible an insult to be compared to the Pope. Really.

I think that, while Dworkin may not be easily universalized, she is relevant to many women's experiences. She may not be relevant for an upper-middle class sex worker stripping through law school, but she's relevant for the 15-year old Ukrainian girl conned into going to Germany and kept as an enslaved prostitute there. She may not be relevant for a couple in a wonderful, happy marriage, but she's relevant for a housewife whose husband keeps her financially dependent and alternates between beating her and apologizing with obsequious professions of his love for her. She may not be relevant for the thirteen year old girl who has a wonderful mom and dad and has a lot of friends in middle school and is learning algebra and reading The Catcher in the Rye, but she's relevant to the thirteen year old girl whose dad molests her while her mom pretends not to know.

I think that, to the extent that Dworkin is relevant, it is largely a bad thing. But she is still relevant, because the world isn't all sunsets and flowers. There are MANY women and girls in the categories I described above, for whom Dworkin's writings are still quite relevant.

Dworkin was a difficult person but not a bad one. She was, I'm afraid, an example of how a really good mind can go just a little off-track, with the result that all its conclusions grow geometrically off-track. I first met her at a party given by a literary agent whom we shared. Much of the discussion at the party had to do with the possible formation of a National Writers Union, and Dworkin and I found ourselves discussing the issue. She argued that if there were to be such a union, it would have to be formed by women, since everyone knows that men don't know anything about organizing labor unions.
A couple of years later (we're talking early to mid-70s), I was on the editorial staff of a leftist magazine, and she submitted an article to us, which we ran. It was well-written (of course) and provocative (of course). The subject was sex with men. Her argument : it's not necessarily politically incorrect to have sex with men, but since the erect phallus is the symbol of male oppression, a true feminist will only have sex with men with limp penises. It occurred to us that there was no really good slang expression for a limp penis, and we thought maybe "a dworkin" might be the answer.

Submitted with affection. I liked Andrea. But while her ideas couldn't be ignored, because she presented them so eloquently and forcefully, they weren't always easy to take with a straight face, either.

*chuckles* That's pretty funny. Soo... how would that work? You get your man to have an orgasm before sex by masturbating or something, then you quickly scramble to have sex during his refractory period? Unless, of course, this is a gay guy (why is he participating in this at all?) or disabled or something.

I think the idea was that a real sensitive feminist guy would renounce his role as oppressor, and never get an erection.

The New York Times obit is here.

Something very odd here. Dworkin died on Saturday but as of last night the DC medical examiner had not indicated a cause of death. And no indication of a potentially fatal illness.

andrea dworkin spoke to me.

i had experienced a lifetime of brutal sexual violence when i came to her work in the 1970s and i will always be indebted to her.

perhaps she didn't speak for all women for all time. but she spoke for me at a time in my life when i couldnt speak for myself. she stood in solidarity with those who are most hurt by misogyny in all its forms. she spoke of the inherent connections between pornography, rape, domestic violence, and sex work in a way that gave context to my life's experience.

many of those who now sigh "that lunatic?"; those who hate her for her solution, forget that she was the one who brought the discussion of misogyny to the fore. it is in no small part because of her that we now have sexual offender registries, longer statutes of limitations on child rape, and domestic violence shelters. it is because of her writing that we now have fewer movies about women being raped and slaughtered and more movies with strong female leads

some may argue that she overreached. that she mistook A truth for THE truth. and perhaps they are right. she was an unapologetic warrior against misogyny in all its forms. she was the malcolm x of feminism. the one who plowed the road so that more moderate feminists could walk the path. and she gave voice to my experience before i even knew i had a voice. in short, her works gave me.... me.

rest in peace andrea.

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