Firing of high school teacher for NAMBLA-related political ac
tivi ty upheld
Tobias Barrington Wolff
tbwolff at UCDAVIS.EDU
Thu Feb 28 13:32:12 PST 2002
>Nor do I understand how pornography silences women. The widespread,
>outspoken protest of women against pornography seems like an obvious
>contradiction to the claim. Maybe I'm missing the meaning of "silencing"
>here, and this could be explained.
This is only an indirect response to Frank's question, but perhaps it will
I just got through with my unit on affirmative action -- six classes, over
a week and a half. My constitutional law class has 104 students, about 25
of whom are black, Latino or Asian. Only one of my non-white students made
a comment, and then only one single comment, during the entire 6-class
discussion -- this despite the fact that many of those students are very
smart and thoughtful, and have been vocally participating students of mine
in previous classes. For the rest of the time, the extremely lively
discussions were carried on entirely by white students.
Various of my non-white students attended my office hours throughout this
period, and they had wonderful insights. After speaking with them, I would
ask whether they might not feel comfortable contributing their thoughts to
the class. To a person, they said no. When I asked why, they said that
they felt personally implicated by these discussions -- specifically, that
they felt that they would sound like they were trying to justify their
presence at our law school, or defend their abilities or their personal
worth, by speaking up.
Obviously, pornography is not affirmative action. But I think that
MacKinnon and Dworkin seek to capture a similar phenomenon in their
analysis. Images of sexual objectification -- and, particularly, sexually
graphic, subordinating images -- make many women feel personally
implicated. For many women, I think, participating in public conversations
is made more complicated by such images. They either feel that their
contributions will not be taken seriously because they will be viewed as
sexual objects, or that they must justify their participation in public
discourse despite the powerful presence of these messages.
To make the point rather starkly: Imagine utilizing pornographic images in
a classroom discussion of pornography and the First Amendment -- passing
around Hustler magazine, or screening Deep Throat. (I know there are some
teachers who employ this device -- I do not.) I dare say that many women
in the classroom would feel the same reticence about speaking that my
non-white students felt when we were discussing affirmative action -- a
feeling that, in speaking, they must somehow justify themselves, or
otherwise situate themselves personally in relation to the images of women
that we have just viewed.
Personally, I do not conclude from these observations that pornography
should be more heavily regulated by the State -- just as I do not conclude
that affirmative action is unconstitutional or unwise, despite the
dignitary problems that the issue clearly raises for my non-white students
in class discussions. But, in both cases, I think there is a very real
"silencing effect" that is important to acknowledge, even if it is not
dispositive of the larger legal questions.
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