RECENTLY a student said to me: “No one has seen women the way that Andrea Dworkin saw us.” In fact, I think few have seen the human condition with as much clarity as Andrea Dworkin did. Still fewer writers have dared to write the truth about it in the way that she did. She was a force both destructive and liberating. And that caused her to be feared, hated, and much maligned. The brutal, misogynistic, often pornographic caricature of her as a hyperbolic manhater who thought all sex was rape (she never said that) is alien to anyone who has actually read her work; but it stuck. The real Dworkin was often eclipsed by it.
I never got to know her personally in any real sense. However, because some of her loved ones and close friends—namely John Stoltenberg and Catharine MacKinnon, who figure prominently in this biography—have also been my close friends and professional collaborators for many years, I have often felt as if I knew her. The woman who emerged for me through the eyes of her loved ones was multifaceted, vulnerable, uncompromising, easily wounded, fiercely protective of her work, and convinced of her entitlement to a creative life. She was a personality, like most, riven with contradictions, only more so—softness, compassion, fury, and a huge capacity to love that was shot through with a steely survival instinct and the resolve to cut offenders out of her life with surgical precision and without any apparent doubt as to the necessity of her actions. They sometimes included erstwhile close friends, among them Martin Duberman, the author of a recent biography titled Andrea Dworkin: The Feminist as Revolutionary.
Shannon Gilreath is professor of Law and of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Wake Forest University. He is the author of The End of Straight Supremacy and other books.