So it's very interesting. It's almost a product of the diversity of
our society that we have these new calls for censorship. And I
think, although it seems very depressing some days to open the paper
and see so many of the things that we've fought for going down the
drain, it's in a way a symbol of how much we have reached people,
that there should be a worry about pornography on the internet, too
free an expression of ideas and so on. So maybe there is a little
bit of hope here.
Forty years ago Margaret Mead, who wrote beautifully about so many
things that were not in her anthropological purview, supposedly said
that censorship would always increase in a pluralistic democracy as
each group warred with the other, trying to figure out who had the
right to be on top and who had the right to say what other people
could speak about.
I think we live in a time where the freedom to publish sexually
oriented material is increasingly coming under attack. Large
publishing conglomerates increasingly control all means of
communication and the forces of cultural reaction are becoming
extremely well organized. The brief cultural glasnost that we
enjoyed in the sixties is already beginning to seem quaint. And when
you think about this century and you think that it's the century
that started with The Wasteland, with Prufrock, with Ulysses, and
with great fights to liberate literature, which came to fruition
just about 1962 when the Supreme Court liberated Tropic of Cancer.
And then, in the sixties, a time that we all remember, probably
well, there was a moment when literature all over the world was
changed by the release of Tropic of Cancer. Suddenly authors didn't
have to shut the bedroom door when they wrote about sexuality.
Suddenly, the tremendous force and passion of sexuality inspired the
whole culture and created a kind of exuberance that went to other
areas as well.
But that period of time was extremely narrow. I would say 20 years,
25 years. And then there was a tremendous desire for censorship
again. And we come to the end of the century, and we seem to be back
in 1895. It seems that we have made a complete circle.
And now the calls for censorship are coming not just from the right,
but also from the left. They are coming distressingly from
feminists, members of my own movement, who believe, some of them,
like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, that there is no danger
in their joining forces with the forces of reaction. For example,
Andrea Dworkin and Kitty McKinnon joined the Meese Commission in
1986, which was very strange.
So there are feminists who are saying: We don't care about the First
Amendment; the First Amendment is sentimental; the First Amendment
is foolish; the First Amendment is romantic and Rousseauish. We
don't need that, a higher good is protecting women and protecting
women against rape and protecting women against being denigrated in
print, in pictures, on the internet and so on.
Well, let's look at that and what that has really accomplished in
the last few years. Basically what it has accomplished, is it has
given guys like Dole, like Gramm, a new vocabulary. And it's given
people like Pat Robertson a new vocabulary. Instead of having to say
now they are for censorship, because they want to keep all women
barefoot and pregnant in Christ, they can now say: We are protecting
women against denigration and abuse. And the reason that we want the
Communications Decency Act is in order to protect women.
In other words, they have taken the vocabulary that Dworkin and
McKinnon have given them and they've used it to drape their old
barefoot and pregnant ideas. So they've become very much harder to
counter. All those same old farts, the alter kockers in the Congress
who sat there when Anita Hill was being pilloried and tormented, and
who didn't understand anything, who didn't get it, they are getting
up and saying: We are protecting women against denigration and
So basically, what Dworkin and McKinnon have done for the
evangelical right, is that they've given them a new dialect that
they can use to cloak their very, very ancient ideas. And that's
even more terrifying, I think, than anything else that they've done
and they seem not to understand that they've done this.
I'm not so interested in talking to you about why it's important to
have free sexual expression in society, because I think probably
many of us here agree with that. But I want to talk about why people
are so interested in censoring expression when there are so many
other problems in our society that need addressing.
I think that people become hysterical about expression when they
feel out of control: They cannot stop rape. Children are raised in a
way that they are not parented, they are not educated, they are not
given values, there are too many of them, they are too poor, they
are too ill, they are too hungry. Instead of addressing these
problems in society, problems that come from overpopulation,
problems that come from the breakdown of the family, problems that
come from the severe inequity of financial access between races,
between rich and poor, instead of addressing these questions, which
are the real questions, it's easier to address expression and
censorship. It's easier to get up and rave about how our society is
being corrupted by pornographic images on the internet. Much easier
to talk about that than it is to talk about the fact that there is
inequality economically and that because there is inequality
economically, we have people who are not socialized to be part of
our society, and we don't know what to do about that problem, so
let's talk about censorship and expression.
It is absolutely a red herring. It is total bullshit. It is like
arresting prostitutes instead of Johns.
Do you remember last year there was a mayor, I believe it was in
Miami, who decided that she was going to have the names of the Johns
who frequented prostitutes read on television and printed in the
newspaper? And I thought, what a sensible idea. Rather than
arresting these women whose financial lack of access has put them in
this profession, which is the only way they can make money, instead,
expose the guys who are using the prostitutes. Don't criminalize
these poor women.
It never lasted very long. It spread to a couple of other cities,
but basically it didn't last very long. And we have a perfectly
analogous situation, for example, in the whole debate about
pornography. If criminal acts are perpetrated when pornography is
made, if a child is injured, if a woman is drugged and raped during
the making of a pornographic film, why not arrest these guys for
rape or for child molestation. We have plenty of laws on the books
that protect against rape and child molestation.
But, no, that would mean that we were going to come down on
organized crime, which basically profits from pornography, and
that's too hard. Perhaps it's too hard because organized crime
basically contributes to the PAC funds of the people in the
Congress. Who knows why? Maybe it's too hard to do that. Better to
jump on expression and say that free expression is causing these
So look at the underside of the problem. Look at this great debate
that we've been having about censorship, free expression, the
internet. It's not really about that. It's not really about whether
it's good or bad to have Tropic of Cancer out there so people can
It is not really about any of the things that it claims to be about.
What it is really about is that people do not know how to stop the
Mafia from selling pornography in which children are abused, or they
don't want to do it because they profit in some way from it.
And so instead of going to the root of the problem, instead of
exposing the Johns, basically it's much much easier to beat up on a
bunch of fuzzy minded liberals who want to make little distinctions
about what is right and what is wrong, i.e. us.
And we play right into their tendency to smokescreen the real
problems, because as members of the left we're more interested in
fighting each other than in fighting our real enemies. We love to
fight each other. We love to make subtle distinctions and argue with
And I think that we better really look at what's going on in our
culture and we better look at who profits from pornography. And we
better look at the laws that we already have and which ones are
enforced and which ones aren't. And we better stop letting them make
it an issue of censorship versus free speech, because really it's
not about that. It's about economics at the bottom. It's about the
fact that women and children are the lowest priority in this
society. It's about the fact that women and children's rights are
cut first. It's about the fact that our teenage daughters can't walk
on the streets without danger of being raped. It's about a total
social breakdown and it has absolutely nothing to do with
expression, that is a smokescreen.
And suddenly, after having these endless conversations on TV with
all kinds of people from Phyllis Schafley to Claire Short -- the
shadow minister of labor, in England, who is calling for censorship
of pornography because it's a wonderful way for her to get elected
-- it suddenly occurred to me that this is not the issue at all. And
I would ask you, as my colleagues, to please address the basic
Rather than arguing with the people who would censor, about whether
or not this is censorship. I would look at the root causes. I would
look at the root causes of why people participate in pornography. I
would look at the inequalities, the economic inequalities that
underlie the system and I would address those and not be jollied
into this whole argument about censorship. Because the truth is that
anybody's political agenda,
if it is not your own, is obscene.
And basically censorship, once it gets on the books, is always used
in that way, to politically harass the dissenter. The reason I
remain a First Amendment fundamentalist, is because I understand as
a feminist, as a Jew, as a woman, as a woman who has been battered
for expressing herself freely in all her books, I understand the
First Amendment protects the minority,
protects the dissenter, protects the woman, protects the witch.
Basically, I understand that unless you have a government of laws,
rather than a government of people, you cannot protect dissent. And
I understand, as a woman who probably would have been burned in the
marketplace for witchcraft only about 200 years ago, that I need the
First Amendment more than anybody does. And that even if I am
repelled by child pornography or Bob Guccione's productions, that I
have to protect those things, because essentially it's in my
self-interest to do so.
So those are the terms of the debate, the way I would define it now,
and I would really invite your questions.
Erica Jong Speech
On Free Speech