Andrea Dworkin Biography

Women's Rights Activist, Activist (1946–2005)
Andrea Dworkin was an American feminist, author and outspoken critic of sexual politics, particularly of the victimizing effects of pornography on women.


Andrea Dworkin was born on September 26, 1946, in Camden, New Jersey. During college, she became involved in demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Her writing explored the male subjugation of women. She drafted an anti-pornography ordinance with Catharine A. MacKinnon that was passed in several cities, but later ruled unconstitutional. Dworkin died in 2005.

Early Life

Born in Camden, New Jersey, on September 26, 1946, Andrea Dworkin devoted much of her life to the women's movement. She wrote about and lectured on such subjects as misogyny and pornography. Dworkin campaigned for several causes, including ending violence against women. She showed her strength and determination as an activist early on in her life. As a young student, Dworkin refused to sing Christmas carols at school because her Jewish faith.

Dworkin grew up in what is now Cherry Hill, New Jersey. She later explained that her father, an educator with socialist beliefs, was a great influence on her life. "It would be hard to overstate how much he taught me about human rights and human dignity, how to talk and how to think," Dworkin once said, according to the Telegraph newspaper. Her happy childhood, however, was marred by violence. She was raped when she was only nine years old.

After graduating from Cherry Hill High School in 1964, Dworkin attended Bennington College in Vermont. She was arrested at a Vietnam War protest in New York City the following year. She was taken to the Women's House of Detention and subjected to a brutal exam by the facility's doctors, according to some reports. Dworkin later testified about her experience there, helping to get jail closed.

Dworkin spent some time abroad after finishing her degree in 1969. She married a Dutch activist, and together they helped those seeking to avoid service in the Vietnam War. While they shared a common cause, their union was anything but perfect. Her husband turned out to be abusive. According to the Guardian newspaper, she left him and ended up "living as a fugitive, sleeping on people's floors and having to prostitute for money to live."

Radical Feminist

After discussing the book with feminist Ricki Abrams, Dworkin wrote her first book of feminist theory Woman Hating in 1974. She analyzed a range of cultural phenomena, including fairy tales. Her next major work, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981), made a case for pornography being a violation of women's civil rights.

Dworkin worked hard in her campaign against pornography. She and Catharine MacKinnon taught a class on the subject at the University of Minnesota. While living in the area, they wrote a piece of legislation to classify pornography as a form of sex discrimination in Minneapolis, but they were unable to get their bill approved. Dworkin and MacKinnon also worked together on a civil rights suit launched by a former porn star known as Linda Lovelace in the mid-1980s.

In 1987, Dworkin published Intercourse, which explored the relationship between sex and violence. She became embroiled in a libel suit against Larry Flynn's Hustler magazine for publishing sexually explicit cartoons about her. But the case was later dismissed. In addition to her political views, Dworkin found herself under harsh criticism for her size and her looks over the years.

Besides her extensive array of works on social and political issues, Dworkin wrote several novels. She had a difficult time getting her fiction published, especially in the United States. Her first novel, Fire and Ice came in 1986 in Britain. Four years later, Mercy was released there as well. Neither book found much of an audience.

Final Years

A dedicated activist for decades, Dworkin told her own story in 2002 in Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant. She was suffering from poor health in her final years, and she was especially plagued by problems with her knees.

Dworkin died on April 9, 2005, in her Washington, D.C. home at the age of 58. She was survived by her husband and fellow activist John Stoltenberg. While she had once identified herself as a lesbian, Dworkin had a long and happy relationship with Stoltenberg. The couple had been together for 30 years and had married in 1998.

A few weeks after her death, Dworkin was remembered a special service at New York City's New School of Social Research. Catharine MacKinnon and Gloria Steinem were among those who honored the late feminist. "In every century, there are a handful of writers who help the human race to evolve," said Steinem, according to BBC News. "Andrea is one of them."

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