Andrea Dworkin, feminist iconoclast, dies at 59

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Andrea Dworkin, for almost four decades a campaigner, writer, and feminist activist who helped break the long standing taboo against violence against women, has died at her home here. She was 59.

Andrea Dworkin, for almost four decades a campaigner, writer, and feminist activist who helped break the long standing taboo against violence against women, has died at her home here. She was 59.

She was called the "eloquent feminist," by the syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, while Gloria Steinem, her friend and fellow activist, was even more lavish with her praise. "Every century there are a handful of writers who help change the world. Andrea is one of them."

Ms Dworkin's agent, Elaine Markson, said the cause of death was not known, but she had become increasingly frail as her knees had weakened and she suffered a series of falls. She died at the home in Washington DC she shared with John Stoltenberg, her partner of 30 years and husband since 1998.

Andrea Dworkin was born in Camden New Jersey. Her father was that American rarity, a committed socialist who was appalled by racism and discrimination, and was an unwavering supporter of organised labour. A teacher and a post office worker, he became her quiet inspiration: "it would be hard to overstate how much he taught me about human rights and human dignity, how to talk and how to think," she said years later.

Her public life as a political activist began in 1965, as a 19-year-old protester against the Vietnam war ? long before suich protest became commonplace. She was arrested outside the US mission to the United Nations, and sent to New York City's Women's House of Detention. After she was subjected to a crude internal examination, her description of the experience created headlines worldwide.

But she did not come to feminism until several years later, in her mid 20s. Her outlook was shaped by years during which she had worked as a prostitute, married, and then experienced spousal abuse at first hand. Increasingly, she grew horrified by the indifference with which women were treated - an indifference, she came to believe, in part brought about the pornography, brutalising and degrading the act of sex, in which a woman was an object to be exploited, enjoyed, abused, and at the end cast away.

Thus began the crusade against pornography that shaped her career, and for which she became internationally famous. Her first book, 'Woman Hating,' was published in 1973 when she was 27. Thereafter Ms Dworkin campaigned tirelessly on the subject, helping draft the pioneering Minneapolis and Indianapolis ordinances that define pornography as a civil-rights violation against women.

That law, since repealed, formed the basis for a civil rights suit on behalf of Linda Marchiano, better whom as Linda Lovelace, contending that she had been coerced into pornography. Quickly she became an authority on the issue testifying before the US Attorney General's Commission on Pornography and before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The case became a precedent that would exercise legal thinkers and inspire a generation of grassroots feminist activists.

Thereafter her fame only grew, on both sides of the Atlantic. She appeared on national television shows including Donahue, The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, 60 Minutes, CBS Evening News, before featuring in an hour-long documentary titled "Against Pornography" on the BBC. For her admirers, Ms Dworkin was a visionary. For her critics (mostly male) she was a tiresome scold, a man-hater and an undisguised advocate of censorship.

In addition to her crusade against pornography, Ms Dworkin wrote 13 books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including Ice and Fire, and Mercy, as well as Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women. She was a featured speaker at universities, conferences, and, for an event she helped create, Take Back the Night marches.

A speech to the University of Chicago Law School in 1993, summed up her philosophy as well as any. "Dehumanisation is real. It happens in real life, it happens to stigmatized people. It has happened to us, to women. We say that women are objectified."

"We hope that people will think that we are very smart when we use a long word. But being turned into an object is a real event; and the pornographic object is a particular kind of object. It is a target. You are turned into a target. And red or purple marks the spot where he's supposed to get you."

In the words of Dworkin

  • 'Heterosexual intercourse is the pure, formalised expression ofcontempt for women's bodies'
  • 'Erotica is simply high-class pornography; betterproduced, better conceived, better executed, better packaged, designed for a better class of consumer'
  • 'Men know everything... no matter how stupid or inexperienced or arrogant or ignorant they are'
  • 'Women?s fashion is a euphemism for fashion created by men for women'