Death of Anti-Violence Activist Andrea Dworkin
When John Stoltenberg, Andrea Dworkin’s partner, first met her, he remembers feeling “like we had both walked off a cliff.”
Dworkin inspired strong feelings in those who encountered her in person (often at a rally or protest) or through her many pieces of writing. Her opposition to the Vietnam War and her disillusion with men of the New Left led her to radical feminism and from there into more controversial waters.
Born in 1946, she was sexually molested at 9, again as a teenager, and abused by prison doctors following an arrest for protesting the war at the age of 19. The last incident led to her activism with Grace Paley to protest the treatment of incarcerated women. Dworkin moved to Greece, often completing her coursework at Bennington College by mail. Married to an abusive husband, she sought refuge with feminist Ricki Abrams, who encouraged her to write her first non-fiction book, Woman Hating, in 1974. In it, she railed against pornography as an incitement of violence against women, and against marriage, which she described as a “legal license to rape.”
Her need “to try and make people understand how destructive and cruel battering is—and how accepted by society,” later led her to publish two essays on the subject: “A Battered Wife Survives” (1978) and “What Battering Really Is” (1989), both included in Letters from a War Zone (1989). In 1978, she addressed a crowd of 3,000 at the first “Take Back the Night” event in San Francisco. Her notoriety led her to state, “I'm a radical feminist, not the fun kind.”
She stirred others with her strength, courage, and convictions. As she wrote, “Women have been taught that, for us, the earth is flat, and that if we venture out, we will fall off the edge. Some of us have ventured out nevertheless, and so far we have not fallen off. It is my faith, my feminist faith, that we will not.”
Altogether, Dworkin published ten works of non-fiction, including Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel and Women’s Liberation (2000), a political explication of the nation of Israel, three works of fiction, and one book of poetry.
For the last twenty years of her life Andrea Dworkin lived happily with her devoted feminist partner, John Stoltenberg, a writer and editor who founded Men Against Pornography. In this, she lived up to her professed ideal, “I dream that love without tyranny is possible."
As Nikki Craft wrote on the first anniversary of Dworkin’s death, “She sought not simply to tell a story—of a woman's life—but the story of how a human life comes to be a woman's life, and how she moved herself forward toward a new kind of humanity.”
Sources: Andrea Dworkin Memorial Website; “The Prisoner of Sex,” New York; “April 9,” This Day in Jewish History; “Andrea Dworkin, 58, Feminist Thinker Wrote Against Pornography, Violence,” New York Sun, April 12, 2005.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Death of Anti-Violence Activist Andrea Dworkin." (Viewed on June 5, 2023) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/apr/09/2005/this-week-in-history-death-of-anti-violence-activist-andrea-dworkin>.
Andrea Dworkin set the position of women, like me, back so much it's hard to overstate. Her angry, bitter and rabidly far far far far left railings against societal norms were so intellectually fragile they fell apart on the simplest examination.
For a generation of fair minded men willing to give a woman like me a chance in the legal world, Dworkin became the best/worst case argument against allowing people like me a chance to succeed.
Please don't celebrate someone like Andrea Dworkin who provided thoughtless ammunition to risk adverse managers eager to do the right thing but who were unable to progress people like me because people like Andrea Bloody Dworkin made us look unstable.