Civil Liberties The National Newsletter of the ACLU #380, Spring 1994 (c) 1994 American Ci

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Civil Liberties The National Newsletter of the ACLU #380, Spring 1994 (c) 1994 American Civil Liberties Union THE PRESIDENT'S WORD Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU I have just finished writing a book about some current civil liberties controversies of major importance, entitled Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights. Due from Scribner's in the fall, this book gave me an opportunity to counter widespread misunderstandings about "pornography," a term that literally means sexually arousing expression, but which some have come to wield as an epithet to stigmatize any sexually oriented expression that they dislike. Prominent in the news recently have been feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, who advocate censoring what they label "pornography," and whose definition of porn -- sexually explicit speech that "subordinates" women -- has enjoyed steady promotion in the media spotlight. As a result, the public believes that the pornography debate pits free speech against women's equality, and civil liberatians against women's rights advocates. Case in point: The general counsel of Women Against Pornography has said: "The ACLU is a male dominated organization that uses its women to further its antifeminist agenda. When Strossen became an apologist for the pornographers, she passed their litmus test to become president." My book sets the record straight on these misconceptions, showing that the ACLU's steadfast opposition to censoring pornography reflects its longstanding commitment to both women's rights and free speech. For example, in an Indianapolis case that struck down a Dworkin/MacKinnon-inspired law, the ACLU argued that the law violated both the First Amendment and women's equality rights. Our friend-of-the-court brief noted that the law perpetuated outmoded, infantilizing stereotypes about women's inherent vulnerability and need for governmental "protection" in the sexual realm, and concluded: "A statute that formally equates women with children and men with satyrs is hardly a step toward sexual equality." That censoring sexual speech harms the women's rights cause has been vividly demonstrated in Canada, where the Dworkin-MacKinnon angle was enshrined in law two years ago. The primary victims of Canada's anti-porn statute have been feminist, lesbian and gay writers, along with booksellers who purvey their writings. The latter, in fact, have been so systematically harassed under the law that one storeowner -- represented by Canada's ACLU counterpart -- is challenging the discrimination in court. And predictably, two books by none other than Andrea Dworkin have been confiscated. We told you, Andrea .... Censorship is a driftnet that invariably ensnares not only the designated targets, but also those committed to advancing the rights of oppressed groups. Thus, the ACLU, during its very first decade, had to defend the pioneer advocates of birth control, such as Margaret Sanger and our own founding mother Mary Ware Dennett, against prosecution under obscenity laws. More recently, we challenged the Reagan/Bush Administrations' "gag rule," which barred the staffs of federally funded family planning clinics from informing their patients about abortion. Historically, all laws that have suppressed sexually-related information have thwarted women's autonomy. Any Dworkin/MacKinnon law would fit neatly "in the tradition," as presaged by incidents in which these two feminists were themselves involved in campaigns to suppress expression. Dworkin led an effort to "kill" A Woman's Book of Choices, by reproductive rights activists Rebecca Chalker and Carol Downer, because she disagreed with one passage in it. And both Dworkin and MacKinnon figured in the decision of law students at the University of Michigan to remove, from an art exhibit, a video created by some female feminist artists that addressed issues of sexuality. (The artists, represented by Marjorie Heins, Director of the ACLU'S Arts Censorship Project, were eventually vindicated.) For those of us who are both civil libertarians and feminists, former ACLU women's rights lawyer Kathleen Peratis said it all: "If you love freedom and like sex, censoring pornography is bad news." ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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