A Bennington Time Capsule: Andrea Dworkin on Campus Sex in 1967
Andrea Dworkin testifying before a federal panel on pornography in 1986
Gloria Steinem called Andrea Dworkin the feminist movement’s “Old Testament prophet.” But before this 1968 Bennington graduate made her name as a writer and anti-pornography activist with books like Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981) and Intercourse (1987), Dworkin was a student activist against the Vietnam War and a critic of Bennington’s old-fashioned attitude about sex on campus. In 1967, while Dworkin was a literature student from Cherry Hill, New Jersey—and Bennington was still an all-women’s college—she wrote this letter to the editor of Quadrille, the College alumni magazine, about the school’s willful blindness when it came to contraception.
The Letters to the Editor page from Quadrille v. II, issue number one, October 1967
The letter begins,
We have a great many problems at Bennington, problems for the most part brought about by the pursuit of educational excellence. We have problems of direction, purpose, morale, problems which create tension, which aggravate constituent and personal conflicts, problems which make difficult the reasonable, considered exploration of reasonable, considered solutions.
Sound like a familiar qualm? Still, it’s 1967, and Dworkin is calling for better birth control options and awareness for her female peers. At a time when female sexual activity was not “socially recognized” on campus, the future radical activist and feminist demanded both conversation and action, writing, “we have no problem larger or more important than the one we do not talk about.” Dworkin boldly calls Bennington College’s birth control policies “reactionary and irresponsible.” She calls out health services for taking a neutral stance and refraining from becoming involved in the lives of the students.
Last year the Health Service knew of eleven abortions involving Bennington students. One was legal. It is estimated by the Health Service that a number of girls secured abortions in such a way that the Health Service was not informed.
Dworkin’s efforts to raise awareness of the unplanned pregnancy problem in campus included the formation of a coalition of students who demanded information on counseling and birth control options. She also campaigned to educate students about the responsible use of birth control.
After graduating from Bennington College, Dworkin became known as a spokeswoman for the anti-pornography movement. She argued that the adult film industry was linked to rape and other forms of violence against women, and she raised the ire of many—even fellow feminists—with provocative statements about the unequal nature of heterosexual sex. Dworkin called romance “rape embellished with meaningful looks.” She wrote in her memoir, Heartbreak, that “men are shits and take pride in it.”
Dworkin would end up dying young, at 58, from multiple health problems. But the last words of her letter to the editor from 1967 reveal Dworkin’s strong determination and willpower, as well as a communal feeling in her writing that is often overlooked:
It is our hope that hard-headed honesty may serve to increase sexual responsibility among Bennington students, lessen the number of unwanted pregnancies substantially, and thereby protect human life and increase the dignity and decency of sexual relations. It is a strange kind of "morality" that would seek to do less.
Annika Kristiansen ‘18