Pornography and the First Amendment


I must begin with a couple of clarifications. One is for Mr. Fahringer. If he really believes that pornography can be used to sublimate the violent sexuality of men, he must also believe that the problem of child beating can be eliminated by having bookstores and movie theatres devoted to the pictorial representation of parents beating children, so the impulses of real parents to beat real children can be sublimated.

And now a very important clarification for Mr. McGeady, and also for the Supreme Court. We have heard the phrase “appealing to prurient interest” used a lot here today, as a definition of what is pornographic, or what is obscene. I must make it clear that this is not the feminist definition of pornography. We are not afraid of prurient interest. We are not troubled by the idea of people thinking about the sex act; we are not troubled by the idea of people being stimulated by seeing an explicit picture of the sex act. What we object to is the sexual humiliation and degradation of women that is the essence of pornography. Pornography’s purpose is to distort and ridicule female sexuality; pornography’s intent is a call to violence against the female body. We object to the presentation of rape, torture, mutilation, and murder for erotic stimulation and pleasure.

I want to say to the civil libertarians here today that the pornography question has become a first amendment issue in the 1970’s not because of the growing power of the women’s movement, but because of the growing power of the pornographers. We feminists now find ourselves in the curious situation of having the sexual intimidation of women actually buttressed by some free speech advocates-the so-called absolutists.

The question I want to raise is whether a powerful group, a sick group, a mentally unstable group, an evil group, has a protected right to promote sexual violence against an oppressed group for commercial exploitation and gain. I agree with Earl Warren that the federal and state governments can constitutionally punish the purveyors of obscenity. I would like to remind this audience of the words of Warren Burger: “To equate the free and robust exchange of ideas and political, debate with commercial exploitation of obscene material demeans the grand conception of the first amendment and its high purposes in the historic struggle for freedom. It is a ‘misuse of the great guarantees of free speech and free press…”

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