Private Action against Pornography: An Exercise of First Amendment Rights


The feminist movement has increasingly devoted its attention to the subjects of sexual assault and battered women, in part as a response to the whole stereotyping of women as weak and ineffectual. There have been a number of efforts associated with this, one of the most prominent of which is by a group on the west coast, Women Against Violence Against Women. This group describes itself as “an activist organization working to stop the gratuitous use of images of physical and sexual violence against women in mass media, and the real world violence against women it promotes through public education, consciousness raising, and mass consumer action.” Their activities included a protest of the showing of the movie “Snuff” in Los Angeles.

A spokeswoman for Women Against Violence Against Women elaborated on their purpose, particularly in connection with the group’s efforts to remove degrading images of women from record album covers:

The record album covers perpetuate the myths that women like to be victims, that they’re easy and appropriate targets, that as victims they’re sexually exciting and entertaining, as well as the myth that this is appropriate and natural behavior for men. We think that it’s harmful in that it contributes to the overall environment that romanticizes, trivializes, and even encourages violence against women.

The group has stated that it neither advocates nor supports censorship; it urges that the recording industry demonstrate a sensitivity to women that parallels its willingness to refrain from advertising that is racist or that glorifies drug usage. They have engaged in typical consumer boycott techniques such as picketing and letter-writing campaigns.

I will address myself to how one who is a civil libertarian feminist should respond to this program. That the activities of this group, even though it does not advocate government censorship, raises civil liberties questions seems undeniable. Although the first amendment prohibits only government interference or control of free expression, a boycott or other effort designed to eliminate expression of a particular kind may curtail the diversity of expression which the first amendment seeks to protect.

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Panel I: Defund Means Defund Andrea Ritchie (she/her) is a Black lesbian immigrant whose writing, litigation, and advocacy has focused on policing of women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. She is currently a researcher with