Dworkin, Andrea (1946–2005)

2012-06-15 10:50:10

With the 1979 publication of her book, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Andrea Dworkin established herself as a feminist poised on the procensorship camp of the pornography debates, alongside theorists such as Catharine MacKinnon. In Pornography, Dworkin argued that the major theme of pornography as a genre is male power. She postulated that pornography does not fall under the protection of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause because that amendment only protects those who can exercise the rights it protects. She argued that pornography trades in a class of people who have been systematically denied the rights protected by the First Amendment, so pornography should not receive First Amendment protection.

Along with Catharine MacKinnon, Dworkin coauthored an antipornography ordinance first introduced in Minneapolis in 1983. Dworkin and MacKinnon based the ordinance on their definition of pornography as a discriminatory practice based on sex. They included speech and action under their ordinance, arguing that speech and action work together to form a discriminatory system of sexual exploitation based upon sex-based powerlessness, which generates sex-based abuse. They also argued that photographic porn should be indisputably classified as action since they believed it only receives classification as speech because the women in pornographic photography have been depicted as objects or as commodities by the pornography. Thus, the speech belongs to those people who control the consumption of the images— the pornographers—and not the women featured in the pictures.

In the ordinance, Dworkin and MacKinnon constructed pornography as a human rights violation against women; they posited that men learn to sexually abuse women through pornography because pornography creates, in their words, a physiologically real conviction in men that women want to be abused. They argued that their antipornography ordinance articulated, for the first time, how pornography uses and affects women by recognizing an ‘‘energetic’’ agent of male domination over women. The First Amendment, they argued, cannot protect pornography because it would then be protecting exploitation since, by their definition, pornography functions as sexual exploitation that produces sexual abuse and discrimination. Through the Indianapolis ordinance (which was ultimately declared unconstitutional), Dworkin and MacKinnon postulated that porn in any form constituted an act inescapably linked to the general disempowerment of women. Pornography thus shows the ‘‘truth’’ of women’s enslavement to men.

In a 1985 case, American Booksellers Association, Inc., et al v. William H. Hudnut II, 84-3147 (1985), a unanimous federal appeals court upheld the district court finding that the ordinance functioned too broadly and violated the First Amendment.

Dworkin wrote several other books, including Intercourse (published in 1987), in which she maintained that, according to men, the inferiority of women originates in sex, where women are inherently unequal; since men have the ‘‘right’’ to exploit women in sex, then they have the right to possess women in other realms as well. Marriage, according to Dworkin, perpetuated an institution of inequality because of what women must do to attract husbands. She continued to work, write, and lecture on topics concerning women’s rights and sexuality until her death in 2005.


References and Further Reading

  • Dworkin, Andrea. Pornography: Men Possessing Women. New York: Perigee, 1979.
  • ———. Intercourse. New York: The Free Press, 1987.
  • ———. Letters from a War Zone: Writings, 1976–1989. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1989.
  • ———. Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant. New York: Basic Books, 2002.
  • Dworkin, Andrea, and Catharine MacKinnon. Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women’s Equality. Minneapolis, MN: Organizing Against Pornography, 1988.
  • ———, eds. In Harm’s Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.
  • Soble, Alan. Pornography, Sex, and Feminism. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2002.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • American Booksellers Association, Inc., et al v. William H. Hudnut II, 84-3147 (1985)

See also MacKinnon, Catharine; Strossen, Nadine