Andrea Dworkin, the militant feminist’s militant feminist, is dead at age 58. And I feel sort of the sorry for the old (or, sadly, not so old) gal who during life was a dead ringer for the Dutchess in “Alice in Wonderland.”
Despite the sloppy bluejeans and the rat’s-nest ‘do (I hope they fix up her hair before they lay her out), despite all that rhetoric about sex being the same thing as rape, Dworkin actually made a couple of good points. They are: 1) Pornography is degrading to women, just as Dworkin said; 2) Prostitution, aka “sex work” in the politically correct lingo of the Eve Ensler set, is not “empowering,” something Dworkin knew well because she tried it; 3) Those beads-wearing, “peace ‘n’ love”-spouting flower children of the Sixties could be nasty, wife-beating brutes (e.g. Dworkin’s first husband) when they were off their dope or you didn’t do what they told you to do; and 4) She supported the death penalty for convicted wife-murderer Scott Peterson and unlike her politically correct fellow rad-feminists, saw nothing wrong with his being convicted as well of the murder of his unborn son.
But oh, the medium with which she clothed those messages! Here is how the New York Sun describes her literary oeuvre:
“She followed ‘Women Hating’  with a book of essays and speeches, ‘Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses in Sexual Politics’ (1976). In short order, she published a collection of stories, ‘The New Woman’s Broken Heart,’ the major tract ‘Pornography: Men Possessing Women,” as well as ‘Right Wing Women’ (1983), an explanation of what might possess some women to register as Republicans, and her most notorious work, ‘Intercourse’ (1987), which finally brought Dworkin to popular consciousness. In one iconic statement, she held that intercourse ‘is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women.’ The gloom was not much relieved by her semiautobiographical first novel, ‘Ice and Fire,’ published the same year….
“In 2002, she published ‘Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant.’ Reviewers noted that she had not lost her way with invective, and she settled scores with everyone from her ninth-grade English teacher to Allen Ginsberg….”
Strangely enough, for someone who believed that heterosex was heterosexual men’s way of dissing women, Dworkin seemed to go out of her way to court deliberately the unpleasant and often criminal male behavior that she decried in her endless string of books and essays. For example, she related in her autobiography that as a teen-ager, she paid her way from her home in New Jersey to art classes in Manhattan by hitching rides and having sex with the drivers. Couldn’t she have got the train fare from her father, a politically left-leaning school guidance counselor and surely a believer in the arts for young people? Then there was the four-year marriage to the hippie wife-beater–what was that all about? Did she think the guy was cool because he was Dutch? And then, back in Manhattan after the divorce, Dworkin needed a job–so she became a prostitute! Was this really the best a highly literate graduate of Bennington College could do?
And when Dworkin launched her anti-pornography crusade during the 1980s with the radical feminist lawyer Catharine MacKinnon, she had to turn it into a bonanza for trial lawyers (a nearly 100 percent-male occupational group, by the way). The ordinances she and McKinnon got passed in a handful of cities–all later struck down by courts as unconstitutional–allowed women in the porn business to sue men in the porn business, on the grounds that the men had victimized the women (no suits the other way around seemed to be contemplated). What a strange way to go about trying to raise the level of public taste.
The oddest Dworkin-event of all occurred in 1999, when she came back from a trip to Europe and announced that she had been drugged and raped in a Paris hotel room–although she had never gotten around to reporting the event to any authorities. By this time, she had grown morbidly obese, hadn’t combed or perhaps even washed her hair for at least two decades, and proudly flaunted her unshaven armpits. Furthermore, Dworkin was by this time a self-proclaimed lesbian unlikely to be inviting men up to her room at odd hours. Most people treated the rape claim as a joke, and even many of her feminist allies concluded she was a few pages short of a manifesto.
Even now that she is dead, the feminist accolades for Dworkin seem a wee bit faint. Here is the best that Katharine Viner, writing in the oh-so-liberal U.K. Guardian can do:
“The fact that she presented herself as she was — no hair dyes or conditioner, no time-consuming waxing or plucking or shaving or slimming or fashion — was rare and deeply threatening….”
I love the “threatening”–the last verbal refuge of those who aren’t taken as seriously as they’d like to be. But perhaps Viner is right: Dworkin was “misunderstood” because she “refused to compromise.”
Whatever the case, Andrea Dworkin is gone, in the end a victim, not of men as she seemed to glory in being regarded, but of her own poor health. Age 58 is a tough age at which to go, and I’m genuinely sorry that Dworkin coated the handful of wise things she had to say with layer upon excessive layer of making a fool of herself.
But right now, I’m more worried about the sole surviving member of the Dworkin household, her husband (yes, she married again!), John Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg, by his own proclamation, is gay, and Dworkin used to call him a “nongenital man,” which was apparently how she liked them. Stoltenberg is the author of two books, “Refusing to Be a Man” (1990) and “The End of Manhood” (1993). And–get this–he’s also the managing editor of the AARP magazine–you know, the mag with the photos on the cover of the chirpy middle-American seniors playing golf and skiing the Jungfrau. I dunno if I want that man–or rather, non-man–lobbying to bankrupt my Social Security system when I’m an old lady.