“Andrea Dworkin: The Feminist as Revolutionary” by Matin Duberman— A New Look at Dworkin

Duberman, Martin. “Andrea Dworkin: The Feminist as Revolutionary”, The New Press, 2020.

A New Look at Dworkin

Amos Lassen

 

Marin Duberman’s “Andrea Dworkin” is a new look at the radical feminist and anti-pornography activist and is based on exclusive access to her archives Still fifteen years after her death, Andrea Dworkin is one of the most important and challenging figures in second-wave feminism. Even though she has often been relegated to feminism’s radical fringes, Dworkin was a formidable and influential writer, a philosopher, and an activist as well as a brilliant figure who inspired and angered equally. Her detractors wanted to reduce her to the caricature of the angry, man-hating feminist who believed that all sex was rape, and because of this her work has long been misunderstood. However, in recent years, there has been an interest in her ideas.

Duberman was given exclusive access to never-before-published photographs and archives including her letters to major figures of second-wave feminism. He follows Dworkin’s life, from her abusive first marriage through her central role in the sex and pornography wars of the following decades. We get a reassessment of the life and work of one of the major figures of second-wave feminism.

Andrea Dworkin was among the most controversial figures in the second-wave feminist movement. She was caricatured by her critics as a man-hating lesbian who believed all heterosexual sex was rape. Duberman knew her personally and gives us a much more nuanced picture, showing that Dworkin lived for 40 years in a nonexclusive, occasionally sexual relationship with a male partner and that she was ahead of her time in seeing gender as a social construct that denied the fluidity of human sexual behavior. During Dworkin’s childhood and youth, she was a precocious rebel with a deep commitment to social justice and a confrontational personality unwilling to compromise. When she was forced to undergo a brutal and humiliating vaginal exam after being arrested at a sit-in protesting the Vietnam War, Dworkin, who was then just 18, wrote to every newspaper in New York City describing her ordeal and the conditions at the Women’s House of Detention. This was the beginning of her battle to make the world see that women were routinely mistreated and abused. Duberman argues that Dworkin was misunderstood as a call for censorship when actually she advocated for the right of women who had been harmed by pornography to sue its purveyors and their obligation to prove their case in court. They way she reacted to free-speech absolutists shows her belligerence and intelligence. Duberman shows her bravery, her public voice and her spirit.

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