Andrea Dworkin: Feminist writer and tireless campaigner against pornography and the violent oppression of women
Andrea Dworkin, who has died aged 58, was a feminist who came to represent the fierce debate on pornography and sexual violence. The author of 13 books of feminist theory, fiction and poetry, she was a formidable campaigner against violence towards women.
To the libertarians and pornographers, who argue that pornography is harmless, she was a man-hating misery. But for her admirers around the world, she was an inspiration and great political thinker.
Since the mid-1970s, Dworkin symbolised women's war against sexual violence. Heroine or hate figure, her name became an adjective, used and misused to describe the type of feminist we are supposed to strive not to be.
Although her previous books, including the notorious Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981), were widely read in feminist circles, both in the US and Britain, Dworkin achieved fame when, in 1983 along with legal academic Catharine MacKinnon, she drafted and promoted the civil rights law recognising pornography as sex discrimination in Minneapolis.
In 1980 Andrea asked MacKinnon to help her bring a civil rights suit for Linda Marchiano, who as Linda Lovelace had been coerced into making the film Deep Throat. They discovered that, under current law, there was nothing they could do.
Three years later, Dworkin and MacKinnon were commissioned by the Minneapolis city council to draft a local ordinance that would embody the legal principle that pornography violates the civil rights of women, and is "hate speech". Public hearings on the ordinance were organised across the US, and it was the first time in history that victims of pornography testified directly before a government body.
This sent the pornographers wild. Shouting about "freedom of speech" and the first amendment. Al Goldstein, founder of Screw Magazine, said that he would "rather suck dick than have sex with Andrea Dworkin".
When Larry Flint published cartoons in Hustler magazine depicting Andrea in a sexually explicit way, she sued the publisher, but lost. After receiving anonymous death threats, she hired security whenever she spoke publicly.
Dworkin was born in New Jersey and had what she described as an idyllic childhood in many ways. She attended a progressive school and grew up to lead a bohemian life in the 1960s.
Her political career began when she was 18. While a student at Bennington College, Vermont, she was arrested at the United States Mission to the UN, protesting against the Vietnam war. Dworkin was sent to the Women's House of Detention in Greenwich, New York, where she endured several violent internal examinations.
Her testimony was reported in newspapers around the world and helped bring public pressure on the New York City government to close the detention centre down. It worked.
She graduated in literature from Bennington in 1968, and soon after moved to Amsterdam and married a Dutchman. Among the events that led her to the anti-violence movement was the abuse she endured in that relationship. "I was a battered wife," she said, "and pornography entered into it. Both of us read it, and it helped give me the wrong idea of what a woman was supposed to be for a man."
She left the marriage in 1971 aged 25, and fled the country, describing that time as her "living as a fugitive, sleeping on people's floors and having to prostitute for money to live."
Dworkin then met a feminist named Ricki Abrams, who took her in and proposed they write a book together entitled Woman Hating, but Abrams left it to Dworkin to write.
However, it took a sit-in, supported by feminist authors such as Phyllis Chesler at the office of the publishers to persuade them to bring out a paperback edition of Woman Hating in 1974.
That year she met the writer John Stoltenberg. They lived together for more than 30 years, with Dworkin encouraging John in his work to educate young men about rape and sexual assault.
In 1999 she wrote of being drugged and raped in a hotel room in Europe, the trauma of which led her to take heavy medication to enable her to sleep.
In recent years, she had become increasingly disabled. Operations to replace her knees, worn down by years of obesity, left her in constant pain.
Last year, during a visit to London, she made contact with the Guardian and was given commissions to write on topics such as the trial of Scott Peterson, convicted of killing his pregnant wife, and living with disability. In the past few years Dworkin had been, she believed, cast into the wilderness as a writer because of her stance against pornography.
"It's heartbreaking," she wrote to me, "to know I am censored in my own country."
But Dworkin was no feminist separatist or man-hater. She despised those men who choose to hurt women and children. In Heartbreak (2002) she described the deep sense of betrayal she felt from men in the political left who used pornography.
"I seemed to learn the lesson that pornography trumped political principle and honour," she says.
Although rarely described as such, Dworkin was an intellectual. The book she was working on when she died is Writing America: How Novelists Invented And Gendered A Nation, an exploration of the contribution that writers such as Hemingway and Faulkner have made to American identity.
She also had a brilliant, though wicked, sense of humour. Her kindness and humility surprised those who expected to meet a frothing Rottweiler.
The last time I spoke to her, a few weeks ago, we were talking about what it was that motivated her to carry on fighting for women, when she had suffered enough in her life. "Julie", she said in that famous, gravelly but soft voice, "I see it like this. All women are on a leash, because we are all oppressed. But those who get to adulthood without being raped or beaten have a longer leash than those who were. It should be that the ones with the longest leashes do more to help others. But it doesn't work that way, so we are the ones that fight the fight."
When asked in this newspaper how she would like to be remembered, she replied:
"In a museum, when male supremacy is dead. I'd like my work to be an anthropological artefact from an extinct, primitive society." She meant it.
Her partner, John Stoltenberg, survives her.
Andrea Dworkin, feminist and writer, born September 26 1946; died April 9 2005