Friday, April 9, 2010

On the Fifth Anniversary of the Death of Andrea Dworkin: I am remembering what she meant to so many, including to me

 [image is from here]

Andrea Dworkin
26 September 1946 - 9 April 2005

I have posted often about the work of Andrea Dworkin, how misunderstood that work has been, especially by men who willfully seek to dismiss her insights, analysis, and vision. It is always easier to kill the messenger. But with the messenger gone, for half a decade now, we are left with her work, her words, her wisdom.

She had a great impact on Western society, due to her uncompromising determination to expose the harms of racist patriarchy as such; not sugar-coating the difficult and horrific news; not making gross exploitation seem like it could be fun; not accepting pornography as just an idea or a purely subjective interpretation but rather revealing it to be what it was an is: a multi-billion dollar a year industry pumping pro-rape misogyny and racism into the minds and bodies of citizens of countries who are far less free for it existing; not taking the symbols of dispossession and oppression and pretending they are badges of empowerment and liberation; not accepting white male supremacy as either natural or inevitable. 

For all this and more, she was and is vilified. For me, this vilification has always been the surest sign she was speaking radical feminist truth to entrenched patriarchal power. And the boys were not and are not happy about it one bit. Because for them to hold onto their privileges and entitlements, their abusive forms of power and dominance, the systems, institutions, dynamics, and ideologies that underlie and comprise them, must be rendered invisible, or be called something moral, good, and necessary. Patriarchal atrocities, abuses, and avarice, are global and totalitarian. To willfully and systematically oppose such force is to be a freedom fighter. 

There are hundreds of remembrances, reflections, commemorations, declarations of homage, statements of great respect and great remorse, and heartfelt indications of love and loss, all held on the Andrea Dworkin Memorial Website, very lovingly created by Nikki Craft, with support and help from me. Working on this site got me through the most intense period of my grief. But the grief remains, as does the will to never let her intentions and directives be lost or forgotten.

Here are a few of those tributes that came flooding in over the next days and weeks:

April 11, 2005


Andrea Dworkin matters because what happens to women - the fact that we do not truly own our own bodies and minds, the fact that we are always to some extent public property, commodities, products - she matters because all that shit pissed her off.

She wasn't polite about it, she wasn't quiet or diplomatic. I want someone to be angry about it. I needed that. Being angry, being outraged proves that someone, somewhere does not think that the way women are used and discarded is natural or acceptable.

Yeah, it's great that people get sad over it, theorize about it, write papers. But really, what I need is for someone to get pissed. And the fact that she could write like mad and hit you in the gut, that made it all the more satisfying. Someone was outraged about what happened to me. Thank God for Andrea Dworkin.
September 15, 1963, four little girls were killed in a racially motivated church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. The whole country got outraged, finally, thankfully. Something turned.

Right now in the world, each year 2 million women and children are trafficked into the sex trade, generating more profit for their traffickers worldwide than the drug trade. In case you think this is a third world problem, 45,000 to 50,000 of those women and children are trafficked into the United States every year. In countries where trafficking is tolerated, or prostitution is allowed, there are more brothels than schools.

And by the way, trafficking is the polite term. What we are talking about here is more accurately called sexual slavery.

Where is the outrage for these women and little girls? Where is their movement?

If that is too abstract and huge to actually hurt you, think about this: In my neighborhood, statistically speaking, there are more than just four little girls who have experienced rape already. Before they can even vote, drive or graduate high school.

In yours, too. Everywhere.

Andrea Dworkin was outraged, I am outraged. She taught me that the only natural emotion for women experiencing violence - whether culture-wide or interpersonal - is rage. Anyone who asks that we feel something more 'civilized' (read quiet, polite, ineffective) hasn't actually confronted the reality of what it means to be born a woman.

Posted by: M. Zorah at April 11, 2005 08:35 PM

I first heard of Andrea Dworkin in the early 1980's. During my child care course, a lecturer distributed 2 opposing articles on fairy tales, one by Dworkin. You could guess which side she was on, but it was electrifying to read a dissenting voice such as hers. I remember it was so sharp, intellectually rigourous and exciting. Her ideas, along with Steinem's and Greer's, still push me to question society's norms and fight for women's rights everywhere.

I guess a fitting tribute for Andrea is how hated she was by conservatives and anti-feminists. She should wear it as a badge of honour.

Posted by: Ron Holmes at April 11, 2005 08:44 PM

Andrea Dworkin, feminist theorist and shit-starter
died this weekend. There has been no media coverage of her death, partially because her family has been mourning and dealing with the specifics of her death.

I know that not evey feminist I know agreed with
Andrea. I know that there are tons of places where I don't agree with her, places in her theory where she is incomplete or just plain wrong.

But she was the first person who taught me to be angry. She was the first theorist that I read who talked about the rage that we feel when we've been hurt, when we've been raped, when we've been because we are wymyn.

She was the first to draw attention to rape as a gendered crime. She was the first person to name "domestic violence" and say that it was something that happened to us because we were wymyn. She was one of the first people to ever say that we had a right to be angry at the hand that we have been dealt.

I will be lighting a candle for Andrea Dworkin tonight because I mourn the end of that validation. I will miss it.
I will miss HER.

Posted by: Krista Benson at April 11, 2005 08:54 PM

I have lost a friend. Women have lost a champion. And the world seems more unsafe.

Posted by: Sally Owen at April 11, 2005 09:03 PM

The death of Andrea Dworkin is devastating. We have lost a sage. Andrea's courage and integrity inspired women to acts of resistance that we didn't know we were capable of. Her generosity and support of women who constantly spoke with her about the brutal sexism in our lives was legendary. In debates, her sardonic humor cut to the bone. Andrea was a humanitarian who always considered the viewpoint of those who were marginalized - most recently, the viewpoint of those marginalized because of disability. I am certain that Andrea Dworkin's life and her work will be appreciated in the years to come in new ways and by new generations of people.

Posted by: Melissa Farley at April 11, 2005 09:24 PM

I'm so saddened to learn of this loss. I cried all afternoon. Somehow, knowing she was always out there speaking "truth to power" with that unflinching, relentless honesty about women's experience under male dominance, was a comfort to me, one that I realize I took for granted in the years since I traded in my activism for raising two strong daughters. For years, I would pull her _Letters from a War Zone_ off the shelf (which she autographed for me at Southern Sisters in 1991, and she was so much warmer than I had expected!), and it would give me so much courage to name and inhabit my own experience, however briefly.

Even now, on one my favorite left-wing listservs, a few of us are mourning her and the rest are vilifying her, reminding me of the male dominance on the left that I'd prefer to ignore in the context of America's incipient fascism. If we have a 22nd century (indeed, if the Earth isn't destroyed in the 21st), she will be known as one of the greatest, and most unappreciated, political thinkers of our day. If any of her family and friends are reading this, I thank you for sustaining her through good times and bad, and extend my deepest sympathy for your personal loss. She has given so much more to human race than most of its members, unfortunately, can presently comprehend.

Posted by: Lydia Tolar at April 11, 2005 09:28 PM

Although I don't always agree with Andrea and locate women's oppression in a different place,I am saddened that we have lost such inspiring radical feminist, activist, and thinker. My heart goes out to her family and friends and to all of the feminist communities who have lost a scholar worth arguing with. Please accept my deepest condolences.

Amanda Luke
Miami University of Ohio
Posted by: Amanda Luke at April 11, 2005 09:32 PM

Andrea Dworkin spoke for me. She spoke for my rage, my pain, and my hope for women. She wrote with beauty, honesty and courage. My eternal thanks to her.

Posted by: Beth at April 11, 2005 09:59 PM

I read _Pornography_ many years ago in researching my thesis, and I was struck by Dworkin's fierce eloquence and strength of conviction on such a polarizing subject. I believe she was, above all, one who held us to be our better selves in defense of others, and not just when we felt like it. The resistance she faced speaks volumes about how precious, how guarded, and how fraught our most private moments are.

I am sad to hear of Andrea's passing, and I send my deepest condolences to those who loved her. I wondered many times if we would have had her voice if she had had more peace in her life. I thank her for her unwavering commitment to women's sexual safety and expression and hope that she has peace now. I will revisit some of her writings now to remember why I sought her out in the first place.

Posted by: ae at April 11, 2005 10:02 PM

While her writings kept me up at night (hard to sleep when you're angry), I appreciate her voice and the way it kept me (and probably many women) from feeling pressured to "go with the flow," especially as regards pornography.

Thank you, Andrea, for helping us think in new ways!

Posted by: Abby at April 11, 2005 10:19 PM

When I was not much older than twenty, as an undergraduate, I took a "student directed seminar" in feminist issues. One of the assigned readings was Andrea Dworkin's book Woman Hating. I remember devouring that book in what seems (in retrospect) one long mesmerised, horrified sitting. To say it hit me hard would be understatement; it demolished my worldview. I was raised by parents who believed that girls could do anything boys can do. I was raised in a middle-class home without pornography; my parents's conflicts may have been at times angry, but they were not resolved by violence. I managed to make it through high school without being assaulted. I was, in other words, completely clueless about my political position as a female, about the ugly realities of "woman's place" and the mechanisms men have devised to keep her -- us! -- in it. Andrea Dworkin's book gave me a clue. It also broke my heart.

It seems odd perhaps to feel, over 25 years later, such gratitude for this devastating (at the time) experience. To an extent I can honestly say, "Andrea Dworkin made me a radical feminist" -- obviously there were other influences, but that first kick in the pants seems, in my memory, where it all started: sitting crosslegged on my rumpled bed, reading Woman Hating, and weeping, and not being able to stop reading because it all made sense. My life might have been more calm and pleasant if I had remained in illusion or denial. It might also have remained "an unexamined life."

Every commitment to social justice I have ever made, every analysis of power and abuse, of corruption and malfeasance, harks back to that first basic understanding of the injustices done to women in a culture still (to this day) pretty much run by and for men. Like the seed crystal that launches a runaway reaction in a saturated solution, Andrea's book dropped into my life and set, irrevocably, the direction of my moral philosophy. I read all her other books as well, over the years, and all were valuable. I disagreed with her here, cheered her there, marvelled at her ability to sustain such passion, such incandescent rage, and yet remain alive. I cancelled my sub to The Nation because of the gratuitous and vile insult offered to Andrea by one of their guest writers. And always her writing -- particularly her writing for public speaking -- set a high standard which I aspired to but never matched; her emotional and physical courage set a standard even harder to emulate. We never met in person, yet she was always a presence -- intellectual, moral, literary -- in my life. So I feel not so much as if a close friend had died, as a teacher, a role model -- a personal hero.


Those of us who have been fortunate enough to enjoy the marginal advantage of safety, of partial immunity, that comes with race and class privilege (not to mention plain old random luck) -- those of us who (so far) have not been prostituted, not battered, not raped -- we owe an unique debt to the mentor who first opened our eyes to the injustice that was right in front of us all along, who set a lifelong challenge before us, who made us look upon the face of suffering and let it break our hearts, who made us know in our guts that the prostituted woman, the battered woman, the raped woman, the murdered woman, is not Other, but us, and our cause is hers. That debt I owe to Andrea Dworkin -- an untamed spirit.

Posted by: DeAnander at April 11, 2005 10:23 PM

I don't know what to say really but I'd not feel right saying nothing. I know a lot of people will post how Andrea got them started, how she helped form their opinions... and I suppose I'm no different... but I don't want to talk about that really. I just want to say that... I know I've never met her, never spoken to her... but I love her, I do. She will be missed. She will really... really be missed.

Posted by: Tahereh at April 11, 2005 10:36 PM

Andrea Dworkin was the first woman I encountered who was angrier than I, but in her reasoned rage, she gave me vent and voice. I am simply and sadly stunned that she is gone.

Posted by: Leigh Ann at April 11, 2005 11:03 PM

Wow, I just realized what she meant to me. She was there, in the background of my life, ready to be called if I needed her. I always felt a sense of security as a woman, knowing she was "on the case". Now I feel more alone. It's amazing that someone I didn't know personally, had never even met, could have been such an integral part of my personal life. That's the thing....I feel like I did know her. I feel like she was a little bit of me. Who can ever fill her shoes? I hope someone...

Posted by: Leslie Thaw at April 11, 2005 11:18 PM

I am so sorry - Andrea was part of my young adulthood and a big part of my political, social and sexual consciousness. A lot of my awareness and lessons came from her writings. She was an example to us all - she was used as a threat to us, held up as a bad example, but was actually our vanguard. Be who you are. Be as much as you can be. Don't let anyone else (male or female) define you. Good grief, we are still arguing about body hair. Still told it is our duty to stay looking young and sexualised. Still ourselves both consumer and a commodity.

Bless you Andrea - for changing the way we looked at the world, for really making a difference. After so much suffering, and so much vilification - now you are home at last.

And my condolences to those close to her and supported her. After the sadness of her passing and her loss, we will always celebrate her life and work.

Posted by: Helen at April 11, 2005 11:36 PM

i don't really have words. but she did.
my god, she did.

her words on violence towards women, raging out against porn, her own painful accounts of rape, her passion and her rage are still relatively new to me. still, struck a chord in me that will continue to hum with what she's given until i'm old and grey.

she reminds me that it's not just "okay"- it's fucking necessary to be angry -to feel rage- for all the atrocities and violations that have happened to my women-friends, to all the women in the world.

she's helped me better understand my girlfriend.

in helping me accept my rage as necessary, as vital and good, she's helped me love myself more.
such a gift. severely missed, never forgotten.

Posted by: jen at April 12, 2005 12:19 AM

It's so interesting to me that Andrea passed somewhere between the pope's funeral and a royal wedding, and that hour after hour of papal coverage and news about Charles and Camilla subsumed the story of the passing of one of our great civil rights leaders.

We expect so much from our women leaders, yet she always chose to carry the burden of that expectation.
Rereading her autobiography, I love how she thought to use her strong, clear voice, her work, as a 'weapon of war' (in response to the war against women). She wanted her work to act as a 'landmine' that would 'explode the status quo'.

The idea of using one's work to literally blow up the status quo, to realize the power that a writer, an artist, can have to transform injustice, is yet another of her brillant ideas: sharp, fierce, and clear.
It's this clarity, and her fierceness, that I most appreciate.

It was a requirement in one of my women's studies courses to read 'Woman Hating.' I could just barely get through the chapter on foot binding---and I had to put the book aside. I wasn't able to finish it for several years.

Reading that book (that documentation) made me feel as if I had been slammed against a brick wall, but that reaction came from the depth of the truth and authenticity in it.

The world still needs this documentation about our shared history as women. It's a history that keeps repeating itself, a history too many women choose to distance themselves from, thinking (wrongly) that it will protect them---or that this story isn't connected to *them*.

She bore witness tirelessly. She was on the receiving end of so much hate----and somehow, she took that hate, turn it into a mirror on paper, and held it up to the haters so they would be forced to see their image reflected back at them. And all of us, in the course of reading her work, would be forced to bear witness, too.
She forced us all to *know*---we couldn't go around pretending we didn't know about this or that injustice---she made sure of that.

I 'm grateful for her blinding courage, intelligence, and commitment. The only way to repay such devotion is to pick up the mantle and contribute our own words, our time, our activism, and continue pushing the species to evolve.

Kim McCarten
Posted by: Kim McCarten at April 12, 2005 12:19 AM


I'm 25, and Andrea Dworkin saved my life. I was born the year "Pornography:Men Possessing Women" was published, but she still managed to save me. She saved me from the pornography I grew up with, with my father, and gave me a voice, one that said, pornography hurts, and women have a right to say how much.
It's always strange to me whenever I hear somone attack Dworkin as being 'anti-sex.' I can honestly say, before I read 'Intercourse,' I thought sex would be impossible for me. I thought sex was what I'd seen in pornography, inherently humiliating for women, invasive, and then I read what she wrote, with her wit: "his penis is buried inside another human being; and his penis is surrounded by strong muscles that contract like a fist shutting tight and release with a force that pushes hard on the tender thing, always so vulnerable no matter how hard . . . his penis is gone--disappeared inside someone else, enveloped, smothered, in the muscled lining of flesh that he never sees . . . she has engulfed it inside her, and it is small compared with the vagina around it, pulling it in and pushing it out: clenching it, choking it . . . afterward, shrunk into oblivion . . . he finally surrenders, beat, defeated in endurance and strength both."

I remember how I felt when I read that. I cried, and smiled. I laughed. I had my dignity back.

Posted by: stephanie at April 12, 2005 12:23 AM


Andrea spoke at Mills College during the student strike after trustees voted to admit men. She was the only national figure that I recall being there. She was an enormous inspiration and part of what kept the students strong and helped overturn the decision.

Whether you agreed with everything she said, most of what she said or none of it, there can be no denying that a strong, eloquent and vital voice for woman AND men is no longer with us. Her writing, however, is still available for future generations -- and I'm quite sure that the truth of what she wrote will be much more evident in years to come. She was truly ahead of her time.

Posted by: Cheryl Reid-Simons at April 12, 2005 12:52 AM


Andrea Dworkin: She saw reality for what it was. She was brilliant. She fought the good fight.
Posted by: Laurent A. Beauregard at April 12, 2005 01:04 AM


For the rest, please visit *here*. If you read through these powerful and moving tributes, you will understand what she meant to so many, why she was despised by woman-haters, and loved by women (and many caring men also).


Sophia said...

Perhaps one of the essays in our new book, Wings & Dreams: 4 Elements of a New Feminism, would be helpful for this issue.

Hope you enjoy the reading online.

Julian Real said...

Hello Sophia,

I have only had the chance, so far, to watch a video discussion of this new book that is in German and in English. So for now, what I want to say in response is this:

I hope for a time when men will stop defending, supporting, advocating for, and apologising for men who make it their daily practice to put down and oppress women or remain silent about those who do.

I long for the time when men break ranks with men, across all lines, for the reason of opposing patriarchal atrocities men commit against women globally.

For me, that would constitute a new wave in the history of men's involvement in feminist and womanist activism.

I long for the time when men listen to and understand this quote by Andrea Dworkin, and accept full responsibility for the many forms of violence against and subordination of women that men perpetrate and perpetuate and benefit from materially, if not morally or spiritually:

"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."

I extend every wish that all revolutionary feminist women, and the men who stand with them, will succeed in ending every form of patriarchal abuse of womankind, for the sake of women's humanity and freedom, not because "it will help men too".

On spiritual and moral levels, I do believe that men stopping rape will help men--it certainly will help the boys who are raped by men, and the boys who are disturbed by hearing their fathers rape their mothers and sisters. Men stopping battering women will help men--especially the men and boys that men beat up, and the boys who witness their fathers beating the shit out of their mothers. And men stopping pimping, procuring, trafficking, and enslaving women will help men, women, trans people, intersex children and adults, boys, and girls. But any man who works on these issues "for men" can go to hell, as far as I'm concerned. Why?

Because if men can't support human rights work for women because this work makes women's lives better, those men aren't human enough to care about.

Owl Eyes said...

Andrea is such an inspiration. Her words follow me daily. She has done so much, this is a beautiful post.

Julian Real said...

Welcome, Owl Eyes,

You have no idea how happy your comment makes me. I know so few people who respect Andrea Dworkin's work, and who also are inspired by her.

I hold her words close to me to not forget her strength, passion, brilliance, and clarity of vision.

I am very glad to have posted something that supports and honors your heartfelt regard for her.

May her determined, fierce, and unfathomably compassionate and intelligent spirit live on in us.

Owl Eyes said...

I should mention, i am pillheadvirgin who was mentioning themadshangi - i just finally got a blogspot :) i added your blog to my blog links.

Julian Real said...

Thanks Owl Eyes,

I am linking to your blog too.

Your URL is among my favorites of all time.

We got lots to discuss: I can discuss the work of Andrea D. all day and night and day and so on. You?

What's your favorite work of hers?