[Editor's note: This article was originally pubished in April, 2005] died this week.
Maybe the name means nothing to you, but for women of a certain age, Andrea Dworkin's very name is "fighting words." A fiercely radical feminist, she (along with law professor ) pioneered a blistering feminist attack on pornography and male sexuality in general. As a former battered wife, she fused these concerns with a broadside against male violence against women. Think "intercourse is rape," and you are thinking vintage Dworkin.
Andrea Dworkin's book Intercourse (which Germaine Greer called "the most shocking book any feminist has yet written") came out in 1987. At the time, I was a young editor, contemplating leaving National Review to write a critique of orthodox feminism, which was eventually published as .
To most conservatives, Andrea Dworkin was an expletive to be deleted, demented, dangerous and probably lesbian. By rights, I should have hated her book.
Yes, I received a gift from Andrea, the kind of gift which, intellectually speaking, you can receive only from someone with whom you profoundly disagree. From the opposite ends of the political spectrum, we had each glimpsed a piece of the same truth. Against the backdrop of a pornographic Playboy culture that tried to teach us that sex is just a trivial appetite for pleasure, radical feminist Andrea Dworkin wrote that "sexual intercourse is not intrinsically banal."
What Dworkin observes is essentially true. Sex is not an act which takes place merely between bodies.
I was not alone! Andrea saw it, too. As I wrote in Enemies of Eros: "In sex, persons become male and female, archetypically, exaggeratedly, painfully so. And to us, corseted in modern sexual views, femininity appears incompatible with the personhood of women. ... What Dworkin observes is essentially true. Sex is not an act which takes place merely between bodies. Sex is an act which defines, alters, imposes on the personhood of those who engage in it. We wander through the ordinary course of days as persons, desexed, androgynous, and it is in the sexual act in which we receive reassurance that we are not persons, after all, but men and women."
And as I later learned, to a lesser degree, Andrea Dworkin received the same gift from me. Standing in the local bookstore in Park Slope in Brooklyn (where we both then lived), she thumbed through my first book. "At last, someone who understands my writing!" she shrieked excitedly.
Then she, the infamous feminist, invited me, the unknown young conservative, to tea. I found her soft-spoken, pale, intellectual, anxious, motherly. She seemed to me the kind of woman who has the peculiar courage of her fears. Andrea lived with a man whom she introduced as John. "Every day I wake up and realize that tomorrow John may not be there," she told me.
As she spoke, it occurred to me that everything I had written was a deliberate and desperate attempt not to live in her kind of world.
She was describing a kind of unmarital bond, endorsing the special kind of relationship produced when two people know they can leave and yet each morning still choose to be together. Once again, Andrea put her finger on my truth. For as she spoke, it occurred to me that everything I had written about (as everything I've done since) was a deliberate and desperate attempt not to live in her kind of world. I longed to find marriage ties as binding as the ties between mother and child. I wanted not only to get, but to become the kind of person who can give that kind of dependable love, the kind that can be taken for granted because it lasts.
According to Reuters, "Dworkin is survived by her husband, John Stoltenberg, also a feminist activist and author."
Maybe in the end, she found that kind of love, too. I hope so. Rest in peace, Andrea.