OTI Online
Fall 1995

The Bill of Whose Rights?
by Andrea Dworkin


Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the Real Story of the Bill of Rights

Why isn't the Constitution working for women and African Americans? Did the Founding Fathers guarantee that equality would be against the law?


Amerika Now: The Eternal Present

The mental geography of Amerika is a landscape of forgetfulness, useful in a country saturated with sexual abuse; a flat nothingness - no history, no yesterday with facts and details; a desert lit up by the blinding glare of a relentless, empty optimism. The past is obliterated, because the past is burdened by bad news.

Bill of RightsSlavery is a rumor, except that some black folk seem extremely pissed off about it. Rape is a lie, useful once for persecuting black men haunted by the rumor of slavery but now taken up with malignant intent by fanatic, angry women, traitors to forgetting. Free speech is bigger than a right; it is a theme park in which pimps and esteemed writers alternate "Discourse" with spin-the-bottle: one-handed art, one handed sex - the sound of one hand typing. It's like a Utopian summer camp for spoiled brats: Once you enter Free Speech Park you can go on all the rides you want and nobody can stop you; so there.

My colleagues - writers and feminists - proudly call themselves First Amendment fundamentalists or absolutists, in self-proclaimed philosophical and pragmatic accord with those who learn rules by rote, recite dogma without deviation, and will not think. History moves and society changes but forgetfulness is both blissful and patriotic. In Amerika, optimism and amnesia are forms of nationalism; and so is First Amendment fundamentalism - a happy loyalty to the status quo; we live in the best of all possible worlds. A country devoted to the eternal present is, of course, a perpetrators dream-come-true; and Amerika does spawn perpetrators. Memory means accusation, recognition, discontent. In the Free Speech playground, one might rebel against being the pimp's ride, or even the esteemed writer's: Don't fuck with me, one might say, spoiling the fun. The players, certain of their right to bang at will, might feel really bad: like, "censored."

At Amerika's best it produced Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau - they hated slavery; Stanton, Anthony, Fuller, Wright - they hated slavery; Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman - they hated slavery. Each and every one of them embodied an honest Amerikan optimism in intellect and activism that was not based on forgetting. They thought; they acted; they were citizens no matter what the law said; and they did not hide from life, reality, and responsibility by hiding behind the law - oh, well, slavery is constitutional, enough said. They were also Victorians and moralists - current swear words.

The Founding Patriarchs Were Tyrants

George Washington was the wealthiest man in Amerika. He freed all his slaves when he died, unlike Thomas Jefferson, who did not.

James Madison made an annual profit of $257 on each slave he owned and spent $12 or $13 on maintenance.

In 1619, the first black slaves were imported and the Virginia House of Burgesses, the first representative assembly in Amerika, was established. The Virginia House set up a mechanism for recording and enforcing contracts, which made the exploitation of indentured servants easier and more secure, backed by local, not British, law and force.

By 1700, 50 Virginia families controlled most of the region's money and owned most of the land, slaves, indentured servants (to be precise: owned the contracts of the indentured servants). The males of those families seemed to rotate being governor, advisers to the governor, and local magistrates. In 1787, 55 white men met in Philadelphia to create a constitution, currently treated by both the political right and left as a divinely revealed text. Not much resembling Moses, most of them were lawyers; owned slaves and land or were rich from manufacturing or shipping (which implicated them in slave trafficking); owned white women - wives and daughters - who were not persons under the law. Half loaned money for profit. Forty had government bonds, thus a special interest in having a government that could redeem those bonds. Slaves, indentured servants, women, men who did not own property, and Indians were not invited to the party. It was a rich-white-guy thing.

The framers' idea was to form a republican central government that (1) could facilitate commerce among the states, internationally for the new union, and (if you are credulous) with the Indian nations; and (2) was too weak to interfere with slavery. Slavery was the basis for the agrarian economy of the South and the linchpin of what its ruling elite regarded as their "civilization." Slavery was still legal in the North, but the economy was industrial with a manufacturing and shipping base. This meant that the North profited handsomely from the transport and sale of kidnapped Africans.

The framers did protect slavery: outright in the body of the text ratified in 1787 for a 20-year period and by creating a legal framework that kept the federal government anemic while giving the states virtually all the authority and powers of governance. The federal government had only the powers explicitly designated in the Constitution. For instance, it got to regulate commerce, create a navy, coin money, tax, go to war, all with the famous checks and balances that made each exercise purposefully difficult; and, with its two representative assemblies standing in for white men with money, the federal government could provide the appearance of democracy, though never the substance.

The Bill of Rights, which is the first ten amendments to the 1787 Constitution, was ratified in 1791 largely because the rabble, having defeated the British in the name of equality as well as independence, demanded a legal guarantee of democratic rights - as in "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." The framers gave in after protracted and stubborn resistance. Not by accident, they saw to it that equality - as an idea, an ideal, a right, a principle, an element of liberty or law - disappeared from the Amerikan political vocabulary and was lost to constitutional law. But in tact the framers went even further: They created a trick bill of rights. Rather than guaranteeing democratic rights that were inalienable, inviolable, and affirmative - the states be damned - they used the Bill of Rights as yet another means of restricting federal power. No citizen had a straight-out right to speak, to assemble, to bear arms, such that the government was obligated to uphold the right for the sake of the citizen. The Bill of Rights applied only to the central government, not to the states; so that when the First Amendment said, "Congress shall make no law...," only the United States Congress was restricted.

The problem - from the point of view of those who value rights - is both structural and purposeful. James Madison - brilliant and cunning, contemptuous of ordinary (not elite) men, and an enemy of direct democracy - engineered the faux Bill of Rights so that it gave freedom from, not freedom to. The Second Amendment right "to keep and bear arms" suggested that all those guns vouchsafed to white men could be mobilized by the states to fend off illegitimate federal power, which was the elite definition of tyranny. Freedom from protected an armed, landed, moneyed, white-male ruling class from the projected incursions of a potentially bigger power, a central government. Speech and guns need to be thought of as forms of wealth analogous to land, slaves, money, women. If you had them, the federal government could not interfere; if you did not, Madison's faux Bill of Rights did not give you the right to them.

The system appeared to work as a democracy for white men because land was bountiful and could be acquired: taken from Indians. There were many efforts to turn Indians into slaves, but these failed; so the white guys killed the Indians instead. At first the conflict might have passed for a classic imperialist war with two armed if unequal sides; but it soon became an intentional, organized genocide.

State governments maintained supremacy over the federal government, even after the Civil War. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments were designed to stop slavery - to supersede all state slave laws and to stop the actual practice - as well as to enfranchise men, not women, who had been slaves. Their enactment - in 1865, 1868, and 1870 - amounted to a huge federal power grab, successful because the South lay ruined, in defeat. These amendments were victors justice, the Union's dignifying its dead through, finally, abolition and a new assertion of domestic federal power. But the idea was still to restrict government, this time state government, not to give affirmative rights to citizens. Under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, the state could not stand in the way of a black man's due process or voting rights, but a mob sure could. Only the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibited "slavery" and "involuntary servitude," restricted both states and individual citizens.

Congress still represented white men; and the states were still able, despite these new amendments, to enact despotic laws that contravened every value symbolized by the Bill of Rights to Amerikans, who were dazzled by the symbolism but indifferent to the substance. Without fear of challenge, southern states created complicated Jim Crow laws, a legal system of apartheid, enforced by police power, state courts, force of arms, and vigilante terrorism. States were able to determine which citizens had which rights until the defeat of de jure (legal) segregation, which could not have been possible without a triumph of federal power and the near-total destruction of states' rights as such. Empirically speaking, this happened sometime in the mid-1960s. Even then, the authority of the federal government to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not reside in the Bill of Rights - the government could not expand a right to speak or assemble to blacks, for instance, because no such right existed. The federal government's civil-rights authority resided in the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, in the so-called spending power of Congress (you take federal money, you do what the feds say), in the power of the federal government to organize its own agencies (e.g., to create a civil-rights commission), and in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. The segregationists tried to use the Bill of Rights (for instance, the First Amendment freedom-of-association right) as a shield; consequently the Bill of Rights had to be ignored - informally suspended, as it were - in order to enable the federal government to protect black lives and liberty: to extend the simplest rights of human civil society to blacks.

Women got the vote in 1920 by constitutional amendment, but it was not until 1971 that the U.S. Supreme Court deigned to recognize the civil existence of women by holding that, under the Fourteenth Amendment, Idaho could not favor males over women as administrators of wills and estates "solely on the basis of sex." Idaho, said the Supreme Court, had to have other good reasons, too. The decision {Reed v. Reed) is appallingly narrow and condescending; but sex discrimination became litigable and women litigious.

Fortunately in 1965, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the justices had found in the Bill of Rights "penumbras" (shadows) and "emanations" in the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth amendments - take that, Madison, you old fart - allowing them to strike down a state law criminalizing contraception. The justices were specifically protecting marital privacy, gender-neutral, by giving it constitutional legitimacy. By 1973 the "penumbras" and "emanations" joined with the Fourteenth Amendment in Roc v. Wade to strike down a Texas law criminalizing abortion; but this time the privacy, gender-specific, "cannot be said to be absolute." His is; the married couple's (his) is; hers ain't.

So, every time African Americans or women have needed a right in order to exercise liberty, we have needed an affirmative right - backed up by federal power: the opposite of what the Bill of Rights allows. Each time, we go against the way the Constitution was framed and freedom was conceived. For blacks and women, the states have been the tyrant; but both groups have needed affirmative rights that no government could trump. And although I myself have never met a penumbra I didn't like, it is wrong for women to continue to live in the shadows - of law or life. I want rights so affirmative they are lit up from inside: all flame, all fire, no shadow, no faux.

For these reasons - and more - each time I hear a colleague - writer or feminist - express adoration and obeisance to "the Founding Fathers" and their sacred founding texts, I get physically ill. I've been fluish a lot lately.

Thomas Jefferson: Privacy, Property, and Misogyny

In 1783 Thomas Jefferson wrote a model constitution for Virginia in which he included a free-speech clause: "Printing presses shall be subject to no other restraint than liableness to legal prosecution for false facts printed and published."

He meant printing presses, not satellites, video, or the Internet. Photography had not been invented yet; he did not take it into account.

Jefferson, though a lawyer and a politician, was not tricky like his protege James Madison. He respected language in a sincere and literary way. "False facts" meant lies, inaccuracies, untruths.

The cruelty of contemporary media would not have surprised him, but its invasiveness would have. Jack McLaughlin, who studied Jefferson's nearly lifelong preoccupation with designing and building Monticello, noted in Jefferson and Monticello that "loss of control of his privacy was one of Jefferson's few real fears, so he took extraordinary efforts to assure that this would not happen." It was not as if he were living in a row house. His father, Peter, was a land speculator, owned 1,000 acres outright in 1735, and was part of a company that had an 800,000-acre land grant. Shadwell, where Jefferson was born in 1743, was built on 400 acres. When John Wayles, his wife's father, died, Jefferson got control of her inheritance of 135 slaves and 11,000 acres of land. Still, he pulled down and rebuilt parts of Monticello to ensure privacy. In Thomas Jefferson, Willard Sterne Randall summed up the conclusions of many Jefferson biographers when he wrote that "Jefferson had a lifelong aversion to revealing his personal life except to members of his own family, and then only discretely. " Jefferson's sense of privacy - and his entitlement to it - go to the heart of his conception of free speech: Say what you want, standing on your land, not mine, and it had better be accurate, or the long arm of the law, indistinguishable from my own, will get you.

He was, like his peers, the head of a small empire, a feudal kingdom. He would not have given legal license to the camera to invade his domain. Limits to speech were implicit in his way of life, which is precisely what the Constitution and Bill of Rights were designed to protect. It was left to Tom Paine - not rich, not fortunate - to express the civic ethic that both men valued:

Calumny is a species of treachery that ought to be punished so well as any other kind of treachery. It is a private vice productive of public evils; because it is possible to irritate men into disaffection by continual calumny who never intended to be disaffected.

Both Paine and Jefferson thought that a democratic republic was characterized by civil harmony and that verbal harassment based on lies or inaccuracies was a subversion of citizenship and civic society.

Jefferson's experience of speech included his own writing, his public speaking (which was timid and ineffective), and his love of books. During his lifetime he collected several libraries. Books were destroyed in a fire at Shadwell, the plantation on which he grew up. Later he sold a second collection at a low price to the United States government when the British burned the Library of Congress in the War of 1812. He was, in fact, so angry at the British that, according to historian Fawn Brodie, "he suggested paying incendiaries in London to set British buildings afire in return."

Though Jefferson died considerably in debt (and some of his slaves were sold to pay it off), he never stopped buying books in his lifetime. He wrote political essays, a model constitution, a book, and an autobiography. He kept journals and wrote thousands of letters (28,000 survive him). He wrote down every expenditure he made.

Jeffersonian free speech presumed privacy, literacy, bookishness, civility in public discourse, and a legal requirement of accuracy for publishers. It is an egregious mistake to think about the great and mesmerizing idea of free speech without remembering Jefferson's thousands of acres and many hundreds of books.

Jefferson's sense of self-sovereignty was not based on an abstract conception of man's worth or on childhood self-esteem. It came from his social and economic dominance over white women and his ownership of black slaves, male and female. His misogyny in particular seems related to issues of property.

His father, Peter, died owning 60 slaves when Thomas was 14. Not believing in primogeniture and entail, Peter did not leave all his wealth (land, slaves, money, horses, hogs) to Thomas, the eldest son, as was the custom. Instead Peter left Thomas's mother the use of all the land and capital until Thomas turned 21, which Thomas seemed to resent deeply. Though Thomas himself did not believe in primogeniture and entail either, his antagonism to his mother became intense. Peter also left her lifetime use of one third of his estate, which she would lose if she remarried. He left dowries and some land and slaves to his six daughters. Although the females did not actually own anything, Thomas's misogyny was ignited by Peter's delaying of his own outright ownership until he was 21. When Shadwell burned down in 1770, Thomas mourned the loss of his books, a direct legacy from his father, but had no empathy for his mother. He used the occasion to move to Charlottesville while his mother and sisters lived in an overseer's shack; and he embarked on building Monticello for himself, as McLaughlin says, "motivated by a conscious desire to escape from the rule of his other." In 1772 Jefferson married Martha Wayles and that year received a shipment of 280 African slaves. Martha's father, also a lawyer, was an extremely wealthy landowner and slave trafficker. After the death of his third wife, John Wayles took as his consort the slave Betty Hemings, who bore him many children, including Sally. When Wayles died, the same year Sally was born, Martha inherited as property her father's illicit mate and her own half-sister. Martha died in childbirth in 1782 at 33.

As a young man, unmarried, Jefferson copied into his journals misogynist passages from Milton, Homer, Shakespeare, Pope, and now-lesser-known contemporary writers. In that same journal, according to Randall, "he fairly rants" against his mother. According to Brodie, "Later he confessed that when he suffered from insomnia as a young man, he would lie awake formulating 'a love and murder novel.'" In his later life he wrote to one of his daughters: "Nothing is more disgusting to our sex as a want of cleanliness and delicacy in yours," with detailed instructions as to how she should groom herself and dress. To another daughter on the occasion of her marriage he wrote: "The happiness of your life depends now on the continuing to please a single person. To this all other objects must be secondary, even your love to me." When Jefferson was in revolutionary France as United States ambassador, he hated the politically committed women he met: "The tender breasts of ladies were not formed for political convulsions and the French ladies miscalculate much their own happiness when they wander from the field of their influence into that of politicks." He saw to it that his own legitimate daughters were well-educated but not for any public or political purpose. (He even had his teenage slave Sally Hemings tutored in French and music.) While he publicly opposed slavery, the political disenfranchisement of his mother, wife, daughters, and sisters did not trouble him at all. He did not notice it. Instead, it seemed his daughters were educated for the purpose of intellectual and emotional intercourse with him. His letters to them are intimate and controlling, dictating every aspect of identity and behavior. His love is expressed with a sometimes seductive, sometimes overbearing intensity, but it is always conditional on obedience and compliance. "Keep my letters," he wrote his oldest daughter, "and read them at times, that you may always have present in your mind those things which will endear you to me." There is an incestuous quality to his intimacy and manipulation, further underscored by the callousness he felt to what would happen to them as adults when they were not his: "The chance that in marriage [my daughters] will draw a blockhead I calculate at about fourteen to one." Sally Hemings, of course, did not draw a blockhead: At the age of 14, not in marriage, she drew him.

Sally Hemings, Founding Rape Victim

"For any slave child at Monticello," wrote Fawn Brodie, who in Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate Biography (1974) made the strong circumstantial case that Hemings was Jefferson's mate for 38 years, "Jefferson was a kind of deity. Since her own father John Wayles had died in the year of her birth, Jefferson was perhaps as close to being a parental figure as anyone she had known." Brodie's sentimentality covers up the cruelty of both slavery and patriarchy: A master, an owner, a ruler, was the reigning father figure. This, too, was what the Constitution and Bill of Rights were constructed to protect: the southern way of life - the white legitimate family who worshipped the deity through submission in manners and morals, and the secret black family, intimate and coerced.

The story of Jefferson's sexual possession of his slave was first published in 1802, while Jefferson was president, by a political enemy. Published more than once, it got more checking and fact-checking than The Washington Post and The New York Times demand now; but it was suppressed by historians who wanted Jefferson unstained, uncompromised, by miscegenation or venal exploitation. In 1873, an Ohio newspaper printed the narrative of Madison Hemings, Sally's third son with Jefferson, born at Monticello in 1805. According to Madison, Sally - who had been sent to Paris to accompany one of Jefferson's daughters - refused to return to Virginia with Jefferson because she wanted her legal freedom. Still a young girl, she was nearly fluent in French. Jefferson promised her a high place in his household and to free her children at the age of 21. Sometime before leaving France, she became pregnant by Jefferson. Had she stayed in France she would have faced penury, social dislocation, and the omnivorous violence of the French Revolution. On returning to Monticello with Jefferson, she gave birth to their first son, Tom, who physically resembled his father. One Hemings son, according to Jefferson's legitimate white grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, "might have been mistaken for Mr. Jefferson." Jefferson did not free Sally's children; he let them run away, which put them in more jeopardy than if he had freed them.

The argument against characterizing Jefferson as a rapist is essentially this: Sally Hemings did not want freedom, and Jefferson exercised normative power for his rank in an ordinary way. Sally Hemings's lack of freedom cannot be denied; but romantics and patriots - and woman haters of both persuasions - want to believe that she would have chosen him if she could have; that in the realm of sex, for women, slavery and freedom have the same happy outcome, determined by nature, not oppression; that desire and force travel together, necessary and harmonious companions, each reinforcing the pull of the other. Epistemologies of desire aside, the culture works hard to make Sally responsible and Jefferson blameless.

It is, of course, considered rude and hyperbolic to call Jefferson a rapist. I call him that, with a sense of understatement. I think the emotional incest with his white daughters could be acted out with Sally Hemings and was. While the Bill of Rights when it was enacted kept the federal government from messing with Jefferson, it did nothing to keep Jefferson from messing with Sally.

And here is a fact with which to reckon - in the words of Brodie, who broke the boy-historians' covenant of silence with her careful and thorough investigation of Jefferson's life: Sally Hemings "was not mentioned in Jefferson's will, and after his death [in 1826] she appeared on the official slave inventory of 1827 as worth $50. She was fifty-four."

The Rapist Creates Social Reality: Dominance and Oppression, Speech and Silence

Asked why Thomas Jefferson did not send the slaves who looked just like him to another Jefferson-owned plantation "to keep them out of public sight," Jefferson's legitimate grandson answered:

Mr. Jefferson never betrayed the least consciousness of the resemblance and although [the grandson and his mother] would have been very glad to have them thus removed, that both and all venerated Mr. Jefferson too deeply to broach such a topic to him. What suited him satisfied them.

Jefferson, like a deity, created reality and imposed it on others through what he acknowledged and what he ignored. He was known never to discuss that which he preferred to avoid - which goes to the heart of speech and democracy, especially with respect to men and women. The power to determine the silence of others is the power of a tyrant: a power Jefferson and his peers had, one the Bill of Rights reified. Empirically real rights were not enunciated in the Bill of Rights; they were articulated in the social and sexual relations at Monticello. Jefferson's free speech depended on the coerced silence of his white and black subordinates: women white and black, slaves male and female. His speech required their silence. The law itself seemed to follow nature, not to be imposed on it: The enslaved were willing or weak or inferior or wanton; submission must have meant love; silence was consent. What could Sally Hemings, or Jefferson's wife or daughters or sisters or mother, have had to say?

The new democracy did not just exclude black slaves and white women formally so that when they finally were recognized to be persons they could be added in; the exclusion of blacks and women was the organizing principle on which the legal system itself was built. Blacks and women were the hidden foundation, made invisible so that white men could continue to steal their labor and love. This was a material exile from rights, the cruelty of which was camouflaged by a rhetoric of liberty: freedom from, not freedom to. Having speech meant having the power to define as well as promulgate it. And what was it that the government must not intrude on? Was it writing letters? reading books? - or might it include the photograph of an Asian girl, naked, her breasts bound in thick ropes, hanging from a tree?

Amerikan law was set up to confirm already existing power, pander to white men's wealth, and let white men rape 14-year-old black girls. Democratic rights have expanded: Men of all colors are now entitled, though a double standard still prevails; it takes less wealth to be a protected rapist; 14 is old now; and the girls, too, can be any color. The right wing militias lately being scrutinized because of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City understand the framers' Constitution exactly. They know that rights were intended for white men with land and guns, and that the goal was freedom from the federal government. They hate the blacks and the women using federal power since the sixties and spreading it everywhere, like hosts of a contagion; and it was stinkingly ugly that a woman attorney general ordered the attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, using armed federal force to wipe out a classic patriarch (guns, land, women, children - childbearing servants). They want the framers' country back. They want Jefferson's power (though not his erudition): the power to define what reality is. But they put their money on the wrong amendment (the Second) and their faith in the wrong political lobby (NRA). Liberals, representing themselves as advocates for women and blacks, found the speech clause of the First Amendment more amiable: They could talk the talk of equality but they did not have to walk the walk. Naive babes in the woods, not hardened by playing soldier on weekends, the liberals blabbed while the pornographers, snakes in the garden of happy talk, bought the speech clause right out from under them. With hard cash, pornographers deployed an army of lawyers into state and federal courts to litigate as if their sexual exploitation of women for profit were a federally protected speech right. The ACLU, which claims to defend civil liberties, colluded with these pimps to shield their for-profit exploitation as "speech."

It worked because speech is a right we all think we have. It is counterintuitive to think of speech as a negative right, freedom from: How can a speech right be anything other than freedom to? Most of us think that the founders' speech implied or included or anticipated our own. Freedom of speech be came a progressive political beachhead, the preeminent right that implied all others. At the same time, liberals and lawyers for the pimps could decry government interference in a culture of hostility to government - a distinctly Amerikan political hostility easy to manipulate to virtually any purpose.

As substantive equality became harder and harder to make real for women and African Americans, speech became a substitute for equality and a diversion from the tough political work of redistributing power and wealth. Speech covered up the structural wrongs in our constitutional system: its valuing of property over people; its intractable antagonism to the personhood of women and blacks; and the absence of a legal man date to racial and sexual equality, affirmative and unequivocal.

Liberals became gutless wonders who, instead of having a material stan dard for equality based on human dignity, accepted the dehumanization, humiliation, and injury of women in the sex industry as entertainment; liberals let women's bodies become the speech of pimps, a new chattel status - women's bodies became pimps' words and sentences and paragraphs, under law. The use of pornography in crimes of violence against women was ignored; but when terrorists attacked abortion-clinic doctors, New York City Planned Parenthood advertised its discovery that "words kill" and "words are like bullets." Patricia Ireland, the current president of NOW, refused to denounce pornography's role in rape to The New York Times in a news feature on pornography and racist hate speech; yet she was photographed carrying a sign saying "Gangsta Rap Is Rape" in a demonstration. Molly Ivins, in a National Coalition Against Censorship forum, conceded that pornography "probably does harm people...probably, all those ugly pictures do encourage violence against women"; but she went on to say, "What should we do about it? Well, my answer is, not a god dam thing. The cure for every excess of freedom of speech is more freedom of speech." While Ivins's bold indifference to violence against women is heartbreaking enough, her "excess of freedom of speech" is a euphemism for exploited and hurt women, actual women. If the pimps gag one, should we gag two? There's more freedom of speech for you.

Meanwhile, the political right, willing to attack pornography as obscene or indecent, will not support any policy that repudiates pornography as male dominance. In response to feminist activism defining pornography as an issue of equality, the political right has increasingly committed itself to a free speech absolutism that is libertarian and militant.

With both liberals and the political right converging to defend pornography, law protects money and power, consistent with the framers' vision: Speech is defined as the photograph of an Asian girl, naked, breasts bound in thick ropes, hanging from a tree. And when such a child is found, hung and tied just like that, dead, no one says "words are like bullets" or even "right-to-life."

Liberals, hearing inflammatory talk linked to abortion-clinic terrorism, began to reject what they called hate speech: to question just how expressive some people had the right to be. But they had already collaborated in protecting the for-profit hate of women, the brutality and terrorism of pornography, its role in rape, battery, incest, prostitution; they had not minded the hate involved in spreading the legs of a contemporary Sally Hemings - or lynching her or beating her or raping her or cutting her or mutilating her - for a consumer, or a million consumers, who want photographs of the violation, now called "speech." Ain't nobody heard her voice yet.

View Original Presentation of the article in PDF form


Andrea Dworkin is the author of Pornography: Men Possessing Women, Woman Hating, Intercourse, and the novel Mercy. She is co-author of legislation recognizing pornography as a violation of the civil rights of women.


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