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Andrea Dworkin

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Dworkin on the set of the Channel 4 discussion show After Dark
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You think intercourse is a private act; it's not, it's a social act. Men are sexually predatory in life; and women are sexually manipulative. When two individuals come together and leave their gender outside the bedroom door, then they make love.
—Andrea Dworkin, making an impressive series of crank points all at once: referencing traditional anarcha-feminism, completely misinterpreting it by using Social Darwinism, and then proclaiming to have a solution despite not challenging existing norms, which is the opposite of anarcha-feminism, all while arbitrarily altering definitions of meaningless, colloquial language to suit this narrative.[1]

Andrea Dworkin (1946–2005) was an influential[2] American radical feminist. Most of Dworkin's rhetoric follows the line that gender is a social construct and its deconstruction will leave us all the same as each other (except for the dirty bits). Dworkin is primarily known for her crusade against pornography. Her activism added fuel to the anti-feminist fire by helping to provoke a split between pro- and anti-sex feminists,[3] alienating liberals who were opposed to anti-pornography laws.[4] Her later radicalism and sensationalism further alienated potential allies, but this did not prevent some of Dworkin's supporters from lionising her in their eulogies.[5]

Anti-pornography activism[edit]

The common erotic project of destroying women makes it possible for men to unite into a brotherhood; this project is the only firm and trustworthy groundwork for cooperation among males and all male bonding is based on it.
—Andrea Dworkin, making a valid point about how patrilineality and patrilocality has historically been used to reduce the power of women in communities but then making a parody of herself by using hyperbole and generalisation while not providing adequate references for this[6]

In her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women,[7] she argued that pornography is a misogynistic, dehumanizing industry. She also analyzed pornography as a form of sexual assault on women.[2] Her anti-pornography rhetoric was translated into legalese by fellow radical feminist and lawyer Catharine MacKinnon.

These analyses have been criticized by, inter alia, feminist and former ACLU president Nadine Strossen[8] and Feminists for Free Expression, a group co-founded by Strossen.[9] Feminists for Free Expression argues that, because different women "interpret pornography in different ways", there is no "feminist code about which words and images are dangerous or sexist", and any attempt to write such terms into the law impugns the free choice of men and women.

One of her more erudite enemies was novelist Angela Carter, who, in her book The Sadeian Woman, argued that because sex was public and political, pornography was essentially political and revealing of power relations.[10] To Carter, even a writer as misogynistic as the Marquis de Sade could be read as a radical political theorist, and she criticised the self-pitying victimhood of Sade's fictional victims like Justine.[11] Dworkin condemned The Sadeian Woman, denouncing it as "pseudofeminist" and accusing Carter of "literary affectation" and contempt for Sade's fictional victims.[12] Carter responded, "If I can get up the Dworkin proboscis, then my living has not been in vain."[13]

Dworkin's anti-porn views have since been hijacked by wingnuts who, while caring little for women's rights, thought they could use it to justify laws against pornography.[14]

U.S. ordinance[edit]

Dworkin and MacKinnon's attempts to pass an ordinance based on their original model — which involved making pornography a civil rights violation rather than something criminal, allowing people alleging harm by pornography to seek damages[15] — failed in Minneapolis, Minnesota (passed by the City Council, vetoed by the mayor), but succeeded on the second try in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1984.

One large factor in the ordinance's later undoing was Dworkin and MacKinnon's unorthodox definition of "pornography." Pornography is generally recognized as being material that has been made with the sole intention of exciting the viewer sexually; one of the qualifications for restricting freedom of the press under the Miller test[16] is that the work under dispute must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. But the ordinance contained no exceptions for works with such value; in response to concerns that these sorts of works (examples cited were Ulysses and Iliad), could fall under the scope of the law, MacKinnon, instead of defining "Ulysses" and "Illiad" as art and pornography as non-art, in a statement that is, although endearingly idealistic, not reflective of current society or the way that we currently use literature as a means of understanding existing oppression through works like "Ulysses" and "Iliad" wrote:

If a woman is subjected, why should it matter that the work has other value?[17]

In the case American Booksellers Association v. Hudnut, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the ordinance unconstitutional on the grounds that it constituted ideology-based censorship:

The ordinance discriminates on the grounds of the speech … The State may not ordain preferred viewpoints in this way. The Constitution forbids the State to declare one perspective right and silence opponents.[17]

The Supreme Court affirmed with no further comment.

Canadian Supreme Court ruling[edit]

Her work got a broader audience in Canada, where in the case R v. Butler, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled, partly based on her work, that Canada's obscenity law was constitutional based on guarantees of gender equality. When the laws started to be used disproportionately against gay and lesbian materials, Dworkin was embarrassed and rapidly condemned this interpretation of her work.[18]

Dworkin did not support the ruling from the start on the grounds that it affirmed an obscenity law, as she was strongly opposed to obscenity-based censorship; however, she did support the idea that free speech is a lesser concern than gender equality and approved of the ruling insofar as it brought this idea into Canadian law. As she said in her statement:

In our neighbor nation to the north, Canada's Supreme Court has determined … that society's interest in sex equality outweighs pornographers' speech rights … We wish that U.S. constitutional consciousness were so far along.[18]


Her opposition to pornography caused the pornography industry to swing into gear with a bevy of satire directed against her, including claims that she was anti-sex and misandristic. In an attempt to stop this, Dworkin sued everyone in sight, but her efforts ultimately failed; Catharine MacKinnon blamed this on the patriarchy in her eulogy to Dworkin (and not on Dworkin's own words and deeds making those claims seem true), and called the satire libel.[19]


See the main article on this topic: Radical feminism

Dworkin attacked virtually anything that she felt was tainted by male-ness or male supremacy. Some of her major beliefs are portrayed below:


Dworkin's writing has been interpreted as being overtly misandrist. Under the patriarchy as Dworkin perceived it, it is difficult to disentangle men from the privilege they all enjoy (which, to be fair, they do — whether or not they want to enjoy it) which is oppressive to all women (whether or not men intend to oppress them). Dworkin's patriarchy allows little space for the male feminist, other than to shun him. Her ideas have also been criticised for taking the position that men and women are fundamentally different and can never be equal, which is similar to the argument used by many anti-feminists to justify treating men and women differently.[20] Way to go, Andrea!

For example, she argued that, in a patriarchal society, all men are enemies of all women, which can be considered valid insofar as women do end up raising men who are sexist even though having sexist sons would be of no benefit to them:

Under patriarchy, every woman's son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman.[21]

She also contended that men's influence is so insidious that even language is sexist, which is also a reference to the concept that there is a universal language as defined by Noam Chomsky or that language dictates reality:

Male supremacy is fused into the language, so that every sentence both heralds and affirms it.[22]

On the other hand, Dworkin made it clear that she was talking about men and women as products of socialization, not of biology; this is essential to take into account when interpreting her writing. She argued that the social construct of masculinity is the cause of men's violence toward women and strongly opposed gender essentialism based on biological sex, particularly as a justification for bigotry:

Citing genes, genitals, DNA, pattern-releasing smells, biograms, hormones, or whatever is in vogue, male supremacists make their case which is, in essence, that we are biologically too good, too bad, or too different to do anything other than reproduce and serve men sexually and domestically. The newest variations on this distressingly ancient theme center on hormones and DNA: men are biologically aggressive; their fetal brains were awash in androgen; their DNA, in order to perpetuate itself, hurls them into murder and rape; in women, pacifism is hormonal and addiction to birth is molecular.[23]

This allows for a more nuanced interpretation of some of Dworkin's most controversial quotes, which could otherwise be seen as gender essentialist or misandrist:

Men are distinguished from women by their commitment to do violence rather than to be victimized by it. Men are rewarded for learning the practice of violence in virtually any sphere of activity by money, admiration, recognition, respect, and the genuflection of others honoring their sacred and proven masculinity.[24]

Ironically, despite her gender essentialism, this is a reference to the fact that patriarchy arises in ape species due to the need for one half of the population to kill things and look for new land when there is food scarcity, thereby being rewarded for it, while matriarchy seems to arise in ape species when food is historically plentiful.

The same applies to her unusual redefinition of the term "manhood" to refer to toxic elements of masculinity, or institutions that promote male domination of politics & economics in the conclusion to her 1975 essay/lecture, "The Root Cause":

Only when manhood is dead — and it will perish when ravaged femininity no longer sustains it — only then will we know what it is to be free.[25]

Some context for this is provided by earlier passages in the same essay, which can be taken as more of a comment on gender than sex:

...once we do not accept the notion that men are positive and women are negative, we are essentially rejecting the notion that there are men and women at all. In other words, the system based on this polar model of existence is absolutely real; but the model itself is not true. We are living imprisoned inside a pernicious delusion, a delusion on which all reality as we know it is predicated. In my view, those of us who are women inside this system of reality will never be free until the delusion of sexual polarity is destroyed and until the system of reality based on it is eradicated entirely from human society and from human memory. This is the notion of cultural transformation at the heart of feminism. This is the revolutionary possibility inherent in the feminist struggle.[25]

Ariel Levy also noted of Dworkin "how frequently and passionately she wrote about men -- male writers, male lovers, male family members", in particular idolizing her father.[26] Presumably, he wasn't such a victimizer himself.


Dworkin had very contested, very sensational views on marriage. She was a self-declared lesbian but was married twice to men and swore herself to celibacy.[27] She had a long history as a victim of sexual assault beginning in a movie theater aged 9. As a college freshman, she was arrested on a Vietnam War protest and sexually assaulted in New York's Women's House of Detention; soon after, she fled to Crete where she survived by turning tricks. Her first marriage to a Dutch anarchist did not go very well, as he clubbed her with blunt instruments and put cigarettes out on her, and she was forced into hiding to escape him. She agreed to smuggle heroin into the US as a way out but ended up ripping off the dealer and escaping with US$1,000.[28] (In fairness, her experiences make a cynical attitude toward marriage and sex understandable.) Later, she married a gay man named John Stoltenberg,Wikipedia author of a book entitled Refusing to Be a Man;[29] this marriage lasted until her death in 2005.

She likened marriage to the rape of women by men, asserting that in both cases the man claimed to "own" the woman and took the initiative, while the woman had to go along with him in every way, which parodies radical feminist thought from the peak of the 1980s as seen by the works of Shulamith Firestone and other modern philosophers:

Marriage as an institution developed from rape as a practice. Rape, originally defined as abduction, became marriage by capture. Marriage meant the taking was to extend in time, to be not only use of but possession of, or ownership.[30]

Some people take this to mean that, presumably, women never initiate or really desire sex themselves when it's a comment on power dynamics, which leads to thinking that while those of us who are long-married might be tempted to think that's so, we're pretty sure that's a ridiculous stereotype. Even if men want sex more, and more often, and many of them are abusive, it can hardly be that women never desire sex and are always victims of it.[citation NOT needed]

Taking it even further, as an extension of these beliefs, Dworkin believed that "battered women have the right to kill their batterer".[31]


No woman needs intercourse; few women escape it.
—Andrea Dworkin[32]

In a discussion of how men in a patriarchal society view sex, she stated that "Violation is a synonym for intercourse".[33] She also equated seduction with rape, stating:[34]

Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine.

Due to the above, Dworkin is widely reported as having said explicitly that "all sex is rape". Dworkin never said quite those words. However, as Cathy Young remarked:[5]

If a male writer had written book after book arguing that women were evil creatures whose sole purpose in life is to sexually manipulate and destroy men, would we spend a lot of time quibbling over whether he actually used the phrase, "All women are whores"?


Dworkin had no children, as should be obvious from her views on childbearing:[35]

Childbearing is glorified in part because women die from it.

Dworkin was particularly opposed to Cesarean sections, which fit in nicely with her descriptions of sex as rape, which is perhaps the peak of her ridiculousness:

They cut directly into the uterus with a knife — a surgical fuck … the uterus of the whore entered directly by the new rapist, the surgeon, the vagina saved to serve the husband.[7]

Caesareans are physically-demanding procedures that are sometimes performed unnecessarily. However, women often undergo C-sections to alleviate the pain or risk of vaginal childbirth itself or because natural birth has ceased to be a viable option for any number of reasons. One can assume that the idea was not to rape the woman's uterus for the fun of it.

Left unstated in Dworkin's diatribes is exactly how humans are supposed to reproduce at all, or what a woman should do if complications make it impossible for her to complete a natural childbirth. Die, one would suppose, but it could also be implied that she is supporting the development of an artificial uterus or some other means of reproduction like past feminists such as Shulamith Firestone. However, when if ever this will happen isn't clear, nor what should be done until then in her view.

Transgender people[edit]

Dworkin was not a TERF, being generally supportive of the transgender community.[36] Just don't mention this fact within earshot of Cathy Brennan or Sheila Jeffreys.

Work with transsexuals, and studies of formation of gender identity in children provide basic information which challenges the notion that there are two discrete biological sexes. That information threatens to transform the traditional biology of sex difference into the radical biology of sex similarity… Every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions.[37]

Israel, Zionism[edit]

Dworkin, who was Jewish, had been raised to strongly support Israel. Even as a girl, however, she came to criticize Israel being a "Jewish state", as she felt this could not help but discriminate against non-Jews, which was completely contradictory to the liberal values her parents raised her with. She recounted this contradiction at length, recalling her parents telling her how American black people suffered, as her father admitted he had some racist feelings toward them but had to carefully stop that from influencing his work with black kids as a counselor. Dworkin saw no way to reconcile such views with Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, nor how it had been founded by displacing them. She fully understood and sympathized with the fact that the Holocaust made Jews think they required a country only for them in order to survive, but felt this path would lead to Israel being a "fortress or a tomb", as she put it, supporting, instead, a two-state solution with equal rights for all Israelis whether Jewish or not. She stated that being taught that Israel had gender equality influenced her and many other Jewish girls to become feminists, particularly through realizing that her home state of New Jersey (along with the wider US) had no such thing. Later, when she went to Israel, finally, in 1988, Dworkin realized they did not either and was strongly critical about women's rights there, with what she felt was an overly-tepid feminist movement. She particularly opposed rabbis' control over the legal system, which denied women rights in many areas since they enforced traditional Jewish law over personal matters of Jews (Christians and Muslims also have religious laws governing them in Israel regarding these things). She noted that one of the few places one found Arabs and Jews cooperating in Israel was women living in a domestic violence shelter together with their children. Pornography in Israel featured violent imagery invoking the Holocaust, which Dworkin felt was unbelievable given Jewish history. She criticized the common practice of women in Israel being sexually harassed blatantly, yet also assaulted for not being adequately covered in an Orthodox view, while further noting Palestinian stone-throwers were often shot while this activity was viewed as trivial. Dworkin supported Women in Black, a female peace movement opposed to the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.[38]



Dworkin has a reputation (particularly among people who never read her) as a fierce, savage person who hated almost everything, but people who knew her suggest this was, to some extent, an act or persona. Her friend Robin Morgan reportedly told her, "You’re a funny, funny, hilarious person, but you never let it through in your public persona. You never let the incredible gentleness and vulnerability of yourself through, and so consequently people see this fierce person living totally in her head."[26]

There is a degree of confusion over differences between public pronouncements and how she lived life. For instance, despite claiming to be a lesbian, it is unclear whether she had lesbian relationships or whether this was a part of another feminist movement, political lesbianism, of the 1980s where some feminists who believed women could simply choose to be lesbians should do so as a rejection of patriarchy. However, it didn't actually require sexual attraction for other women, nor having sex with them, just not doing it with men. As mentioned, she was married twice to men although one of these marriages was with a gay man, which is common between gay and lesbian friends who can't find partners or want to protect one person's reputation as was once commonplace in 18th-century England.[26]

She also frequently wrote in a challenging, literary style, ambitious for literary success despite a series of bad reviews, driven by very male models of the artist-rebel such as Charles Baudelaire. Her writing often seems to aim for an extreme literary register capable of meeting horrors she perceived rather than being simply a presentation of facts or ideas. She wrote several novels, notably Ice and Fire (1986) and Mercy (1990) which often mix passionate consensual lesbian sex and brutal male violence.[28] She explained her attempt to find a voice in terms that recall extreme avant-garde experimentation:

I would have to write a prose more terrifying than rape, more abject than torture, more insistent and destabilizing than battery, more desolate than prostitution, more invasive than incest, more filled with threat and aggression than pornography. How would the innocent bystander be able to distinguish it, tell it apart from the tales of rapists themselves if it were so nightmarish and impolite? There are no innocent bystanders.[28]

1999 rape controversy[edit]

In June 2000, Dworkin published an article claiming that she had been drugged and raped in a Paris hotel the year before. Despite the fact that feminists emphasise the importance of believing women who claim they have been sexually assaulted, her story was met with a surprising amount of skepticism by many feminists, even her friends, who believed she might have been having mental problems regardless of her previous references to being raped.[26][39]


  2. 2.0 2.1 "Dworkin, Andrea". 300 Women Who Changed the World. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  4. Honigsbaum, Mark. "Andrea Dworkin, embattled feminist, dies at 58". The Guardian. April 12, 2005.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Young, Cathy. "The Dworkin Whitewash". April 17, 2005. Hit & Run. Reason Magazine.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Dworkin, Andrea. Pornography: Men Possessing Women. 1989. The Andrea Dworkin Online Library.
  8. Strossen, Nadine. Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights.
  9. Position statements of Feminists for Free Expression.
  10. The Sadeian Woman by Angela Carter (2006) Virago. ISBN 1844083772.
  11. Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue by Marquis de Sade,‎ translated by John Phillips (2013) Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199572844.
  12. "Rape and Trauma through Angela Carter", Charley Barker, Ethics and Trauma in Contemporary British Fiction, pp. 69-70
  13. "A New Kind of Being", Jenny Turner, London Review of Books, 3 Nov 2016, p. 8
  14. "Andrea Dworkin Has Died". Susie Bright's Journal. April 11, 2005.
  16. See the Wikipedia article on Miller test.
  17. 17.0 17.1 American Booksellers Association, Inc. et al. v. William H. Hudnut, et al.. United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit. 1985.
  18. 18.0 18.1 MacKinnon, Catherine A. and Andrea Dworkin. "Statement by Catharine A. Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin Regarding Canadian Customs and Legal Approaches to Pornography". August 26, 1994. The Andrea Dworkin Online Library.
  19. MacKinnon, Catherine A. "Who Was Afraid of Andrea Dworkin?". New York Times. April 16, 2005.
  20. Male and Female, Men and Women, Carol Sternhell, New York Times, May 3, 1987
  21. Weisburg, D. Kelly. Applications of Feminist Legal Theory to Women's Lives. 1996. Google Books.,+every+woman's+son+is+her+potential+betrayer+and+also+the+inevitable+rapist+or+exploiter+of+another+woman.
  22. Friedman, Howard; Schustack, Miriam (2006). Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research. Pearson/Allyn and Bacon. p. 471. 
  23. "Biological Superiority: The World's Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea," first published in Heresies No. 6 on Women and Violence, Vol. 2, No. 2, Summer 1978. Copyright © 1977 by Andrea Dworkin.
  24. "Men and Boys," Chapter Two of Pornography: Men Possessing Women, copyright © 1981 by Andrea Dworkin.
  25. 25.0 25.1 "The Root Cause." Copyright © 1975, 1976 by Andrea Dworkin. All rights reserved. First delivered as a lecture under the title "Androgyny."
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 The Prisoner of Sex, Ariel Levy, New York magazine
  27. Dworkin, Andrea. "'They took my body from me and used it'". The Guardian. June 2, 2000.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 The Power of Andrea Dworkin’s Rage, Johanna Fateman, New York Review of Books, 15 Feb 2019
  29. Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice by John Stoltenberg (1990) Plume. ISBN 0452010438.
  30. Dworkin, Andrea quote. QuotationsBook.
  31. "The Lie Detector". The Andrea Dworkin Online Library. The Andrea Dworkin Web Site.
  33. Dworkin, Andrea. Intercourse: Occupation/Collaberation. 1987. The Andrea Dworkin Online Library.
  35. [1]
  36. Trans people have no dispute with feminists - they either support transgender rights or they do not, Paris Lees, The Independent (UK), 13 Feb 2016
  37. Dworkin, Andrea (1974). Woman Hating. New York City: E. P. Dutton. p. 175-186. ISBN 0-525-47423-4. 
  38. Israel: Whose Country Is It? First published in Ms. magazine, Volume I, Number 2, September/October 1990
  39. Doubting Dworkin: The radical writer's dubious account of being drugged and assaulted does no good for rape awareness, Leah McLaren, Globe and Mail, March 30, 2017