More Death: Andrea Dworkin (September 9, 1946 – March 9, 2005)

This is turning into a regular blog of death.

This weekend, Andrea Dworkin, the famed feminist and anti-porn activist died. She was 59 years old.

Dworkin is one of those people about whom it is rare to hear anything intelligent about, from either her supporters or detractors. She was either a bold, brilliant warrior for feminism or a vicious, man-hating bitch. Few had anything else to say about her, and bringing up her name in a discussion about feminism often worked as a variation on Godwin’s Law, ending all intelligent conversation right then and there. The paradox was that her position in feminism during the 1970’s and 80’s was so important that there was virtually no way to avoid bringing her up at some point.

I count myself among her detractors, and I’ve certain damned her name passionately in the past. I considered her the enemy of many of the things that I hold dearest: freedom of speech, gender equality, and positive sexuality. For Dworkin, there were two kinds of people: men and women. Other than that, she saw few class, social, or psychological distinctions, and she could easily break down all conflicts into a polarized power struggle between the two. But still, my heart always sympathized just a little with her. As offensive as I found her, she did go through many vicious and brutal experiences in the early part of her life. Whenever I listened to interviews with her, it was obvious that she was sharply intelligent and well-read, a great intellect who was one of the great anti-intellectuals of her time. The feminism that she represented to me was one that, instead of smashing open the doors that locked our society into narrowly-defined gender roles, leaned up against those same doors, keeping them locked. Read her works, like Intercourse, and the picture she paints of male and female sexuality is not at all different from what priests and imams have told us for centuries. Despite her tirades against men, her work helped silence and stifle many of her fellow women and lesbians, especially those whose sexualities were outside of the mainstream, such as practitioners of BDSM and erotic writers.

Susie Bright has no real reason to love or even respect Dworkin; certainly Dworkin never expressed any for her while she was alive. And yet, Bright’s writing has always been compassionate and even admiring of Dworkin. True to form as our premier sexual intellectual, Bright’s blog has some fascinating things to say about Andrea Dworkin in her passing that neither villify nor sanctify her, and even embraces her as a kind of mother figure:

Here’s the irony… every single woman who pioneered the sexual revolution, every erotic-feminist-bad-girl-and-proud-of-it-stiletto-shitkicker, was once a fan of Andrea Dworkin. Until 1984, we all were. She was the one who got us looking at porn with a critical eye, she made you feel like you could just stomp into the adult bookstore and seize everything for inspection and a bonfire.

The funny thing that happened on the way to the X-Rated Sex Palace was that some of us came to different conclusions that Miss Dworkin. We saw the sexism of the porn business… but we also saw some intriguing possibilities and amazing maverick spirit. We said, "What if we made something that reflected our politics and values, but was just as sexually bold?"

I’m impressed by the humanity that Bright gives Dworkin, a woman who spent so much of her life trying to dehumanize others, and who condemned her personally. Feminism has moved beyond Dworkin in the past 15 years, and more towards her daughters who, like Susie Bright, adopted her rebellious fire and rejected her authoritarianism. In the end, it’s a move that makes us all stronger.


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