How Andrea Dworkin, the Radical Feminist Who Fought Against Pornography, Died of a Heart Disease

Andrea Dworkin was one of the most influential and controversial feminists of the 20th century. She was known for her campaigns against pornography, prostitution, and violence against women, as well as her critiques of male supremacy, patriarchy, and sexual intercourse. She wrote more than a dozen books of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and collaborated with other feminist activists and scholars, such as Catharine MacKinnon and Gloria Steinem. She died on April 9, 2005, at the age of 58, in her home in Washington DC. What was the cause of her death and what legacy did she leave behind?

The Life and Struggles of Andrea Dworkin

Andrea Dworkin was born on September 26, 1946, in Camden, New Jersey, to a Jewish family. Her father was a socialist teacher and her mother was a birth control and abortion advocate. She had a happy childhood until she was molested by a stranger in a movie theater when she was nine years old. This traumatic experience marked the beginning of her lifelong fight against sexual abuse and exploitation.

She became involved in political activism as a student, protesting against the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race. She was arrested and subjected to a humiliating body cavity search, which further fueled her anger and distrust of the authorities. She married a Dutch anarchist, Cornelius Dirk de Bruin, in 1969, and moved to Amsterdam with him. There, she became a prostitute, partly out of financial necessity and partly out of curiosity. She later described her experiences in her first book, Woman Hating (1974), in which she exposed the horrors and degradation of prostitution and pornography.

She left her husband and returned to the US in 1971, where she met John Stoltenberg, a writer and feminist activist, who became her lifelong partner. They moved to New York City, where she joined the radical feminist movement and became a vocal critic of pornography, which she saw as a form of violence and oppression against women. She argued that pornography dehumanized, objectified, and harmed women, and that it promoted rape, incest, pedophilia, and misogyny. She also challenged the liberal notion of freedom of speech and expression, claiming that pornography violated the civil rights and dignity of women.

She co-authored with MacKinnon the Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinance, which defined pornography as a form of sex discrimination and allowed women to sue the producers and distributors of pornographic materials for damages. The ordinance was passed in several cities, but was later struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. Dworkin and MacKinnon also testified in the Canadian Supreme Court case of R. v. Butler (1992), which upheld the obscenity law and gave more weight to the harm principle than to the artistic merit of pornography.

Dworkin also wrote extensively on other topics related to feminism, such as rape, incest, domestic violence, abortion, lesbianism, prostitution, and sexual intercourse. She argued that rape was not a crime of passion, but a crime of power and domination, and that it was pervasive and normalized in patriarchal society. She also claimed that incest was a form of child abuse and a way of indoctrinating girls into submission and servitude. She advocated for the right of women to have safe and legal abortions, and denounced the anti-abortion movement as a form of terrorism. She identified as a lesbian, but also had a complex and ambivalent relationship with sexuality and gender. She rejected the idea that sexual intercourse was a natural or desirable act, and instead viewed it as a form of penetration and violation. She also questioned the binary categories of male and female, and explored the possibility of a third sex or gender.

Dworkin faced a lot of criticism and opposition from both the right and the left, as well as from some feminists. She was accused of being a man-hater, a prude, a censor, a fanatic, and a victim. She was also misunderstood and misrepresented by the media and the public, who often distorted or simplified her arguments. She was frequently attacked and harassed by pornographers, anti-feminists, and trolls, who sent her death threats, hate mail, and obscene messages. She also suffered from various health problems, such as osteoarthritis, which made her mobility difficult and painful. She was isolated and depressed, and struggled with addiction and suicidal thoughts.

The Death and Legacy of Andrea Dworkin

Dworkin died in her sleep on April 9, 2005, in her home in Washington DC. Her agent, Elaine Markson, said that the cause of death was not known, but that she had become increasingly frail as her knees had weakened and she suffered a series of falls. According to the Washington Post, an autopsy later revealed that she died of acute myocarditis, a heart condition caused by a viral infection

Dworkin’s death was mourned by many feminists and activists, who praised her courage, intelligence, and passion. Steinem said that she was “like an old testament prophet”, who warned about the dangers of patriarchy and pornography. MacKinnon said that she was “a woman with a rage for resistance and struggle”. Stoltenberg said that she was “a visionary, a brilliant writer, and a dear friend”

Dworkin’s legacy is still alive and relevant today, as her writings and ideas continue to inspire and challenge new generations of feminists and activists. She is widely recognized as one of the pioneers and leaders of the radical feminist movement, and as one of the most influential and controversial feminists of all time. She is also celebrated as a powerful and poetic writer, who used language as a weapon and a tool for liberation. She is honored by various awards, events, and publications, such as the Andrea Dworkin Award, the Andrea Dworkin Online Library, and the Andrea Dworkin Commemorative Conference. She is also the subject of several biographies, documentaries, and academic studies, such as Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant (2002), by Dworkin herself, Last Days at Hot Slit: The Radical Feminism of Andrea Dworkin (2019), edited by Johanna Fateman and Amy Scholder, and Andrea Dworkin: The Feminist as Revolutionary (2020), by Martin Duberman.

Andrea Dworkin was a radical feminist who fought against pornography, prostitution, and violence against women. She died of a heart disease in 2005, at the age of 58. She left behind a legacy of courage, wisdom, and resistance, that still resonates and inspires today. She was a woman who dared to speak the truth, and to challenge the status quo. She was a woman who hated injustice, and loved freedom.

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