AUTHOR: ANDREA DWORKIN
“How did I become who I am?”- This would seemingly be the question Andrea Dworkin attempts to answer in her memoir ‘Heartbreak’, satiating the curiosity of the several inquisitive about the life of one of the most feared and influential woman in the history of feminist movement. The opening line of the preface itself is testament to the mystique Dworkin generates, “I’ve been asked politely and not so politely why I am myself.”
Andrea Dworkin to the world was an American feminist icon who gained national fame for her anti-pornography crusades and for linking porn to rape and violence. Immensely infamous for being passionately vocal about oppression of women in a male dominated society, Heartbreak reveals the lesser and not in the least tamer side of Andrea, in particular the Andrea who was a writer, who craved jazz music and had read most of Freud, all of Darwin and most of Marx before she even graduated from high school.
Andrea Dworkin is the author of thirteen books with titles as impolite as the writing it contains. When it came out in 1987, her book ‘Intercourse’ fuelled fire to her already ‘man hater’ image. Her argument that sex between men and women in a male supremacist society is part of women’s subordination was falsely interpreted as ‘All sex is rape’ leading to antagonistic movements comprising mainly of people who had not even read the book.
The first impression that Heartbreak makes is of the uniqueness in the author’s voice, forceful yet intimately and unapologetically honest. It is a journal of incidents and memories important to her and which chartered the course of her life, written chronologically. Born in a Jewish household, Dworkin became acquainted with the harsh realities of the society at a young age. She relays the ‘Silent night’ incident which involved her being punished and termed a ‘kike’ on refusing to sing Silent Night, a Christmas carol, in sixth grade as the point in life where she realized that the society dominates and lies to its children. In the sixth grade Andrea’s opinion, Christians had killed Jews and that was reason enough to not sing the carol.
The only adult in her life, who she claimed to be honest in all terms with her, was the unnamed high school teacher who introduced her to music, educated her on all matters frowned upon by society and encouraged disobedience and defiance of rule. His only fault, he bargained this curiosity with sex, more specifically, sex with him. In Dworkin’s words, “He was dazzling. He was the world outside prison walls and escape was my sole desire.”
The memoir acquaints the audience with various episodes of Dworkin’s eventful life. She describes her love for books and of a particular bookstore whose owners gave her access to all censored material and books which her parents withheld from her. Also mentioned is the time she had to sleep with men for money on her trip to Athens where she had retired to escape media coverage.
Dworkin’s writing can be profoundly impressionistic and it is very easy to be influenced by her effortless flow of thought. While the beginning of the memoir exhibits traces of humor, the termination treads to an introspection rant.
The memoir would not be an easy read for readers who are not familiar with her previous work, but do give it a try, for it is a voice of a woman who despite all her misfortunes worked wholeheartedly for a cause, even when facing resistance and who manages to raise questions we did not think even existed.