Hear no, see no, speak no evil. A saying that could relate to two different articles in a few words. As they both address the limiting of free speech, neither of their subjects have come to a common ground based on the First Amendment. Lawrence states, ‘ The problem has been framed as one in which liberty of free speech is in conflict with the elimination of racism’ (Lawrence 1). The First Amendment allows the public to speak in a racistly with no consequences. Lawrence feels the first amendment should no longer allow the ability to speak racistly. Brownmiller states, ‘To equate the free and robust exchange of ideas and political debate with commercial exploitation of obscene material demeans the grand conception of the First Amendment and it’s high purposes in the historic struggle for freedom. It is a misuse of the great guarantees of free speech and free press’ (Brownmiller 1). Although she fully supports First Amendment rights and is not in favor of censorship, there is a limit to the types of material that should be defended under the First Amendment. Pornography is not one of them. Lawrence and Brownmiller provide a diverse array of representations as to why all forms of free speech should not be protected under the First Amendment.
One of Lawrence’s main supporting details is the case of Brown v. Board of Education. ‘The landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education is not a case that we normally think of as a case about speech’ (Lawrence 1). This case eliminated segregation in public schools but did not eliminate speech of a racist manner. If the racist speech would inflict face-to-face tension, at that level it is not protected under the First Amendment. ‘‘If we understand the necessity of eliminating the system of signs and symbols that signal the inferiority of blacks, then we should hesitate before proclaiming that all racist speech that stops short of physical violence must be defended’ (Lawrence 1). Another main idea Lawrence used to support his thesis was the idea of the ‘fighting words’ principle of the First Amendment. ‘When racist speech takes the form of face-to-face insults, catcalls, or other assaultive speech aimed at an individual or small group of persons, it falls directly within the ‘fighting words’ exception to First Amendment protection’ (Lawrence 1). The Supreme Court had ruled that if speech is meant to inflict injury or create a dispute of peace it is not protected by the First Amendment (Lawrence 1). Racist speech serves as a form of injurious speech because the purpose of the speech is to injure the victim not to bring any form of information. Racism at home is another detail Lawrence used to support his thesis. Lawrence states that racist speech is one thing to deal with as a society, and another thing to deal with when it comes to comfort. ‘Courts have held that offensive speech may not be regulated in public forums such as streets where the listener may avoid the speech by moving on, but the regulation of otherwise protected speech has been permitted when the speech invades the privacy of the unwilling listener’s home or when the unwilling listener cannot avoid the speech’ (Lawrence 2). Safe havens fall in the reasoning of this. Minorities should not have to hibernate to remain free of racism.
One of Brownmiller’s supporting details to her thesis is the negative feminist view towards porn. ‘The feminist objection to pornography is based on our belief that pornography represents a hatred of women, that pornography’s intent is to humiliate, degrade, and dehumanize the female body for the purpose of erotic stimulation and pleasure’ (Brownmiller 2). Brownmiller tried to express that porn is demeaning to the female body based on the acts performed under the umbrella formed by the First Amendment. She continued to support her opinion by stating a decision by the court, that a person is not compelled to look at pornography. ‘This is hardly true. To buy a paper at the corner newsstand is to subject oneself to a forcible immersion in pornography, to be demeaned by an array of dehumanized, chopped up parts of the female anatomy, packaged like cuts of meat at the supermarket’ (Brownmiller 3). She goes on to state the First Amendment was not meant to protect obscenities in the public and with pornography being mainstream it makes it harder to avoid it then just not looking. Lastly, she supports that people have become desensitized to violent sexual practices which have caused those practices to become the normal, expected behavior. ‘They have everything to do with the creation of a cultural climate in which a rapist feels he is merely giving in to a normal urge and a woman is encouraged to believe that sexual masochism is healthy, liberated fun’ (Brownmiller 2). Sexuality is supposed to be an intimate, private action between you and a partner. It harms our relationships because of the constant thoughts of what should be happening.
Lawrence and Brownmiller have similar styles in the way they approach their writing. The writers both approach their writing style with personal bias formulated from everyday life. For example, ‘I happen to like my body and I work hard at the gym to keep it in good shape, but I am embarrassed for my body and for the bodies of all women when I see fragmented parts of us so frivolously, and so flagrantly, displayed’ (Brownmiller 3). This shows Brownmiller’s connection as a woman to how pornography bothers her solely and shows personal connection. Lawrence states that he spent the better part of his life as a dissenter using the First Amendment (Lawrence 1). For most of his life, he used the First Amendment as a tool to express himself. Now that it hits close to home, he has mixed feelings on how racism should be approached. Lawrence and Brownmiller both use the same solution to their arguments for modifications of the First Amendment by the legal system. Lawrence expresses to let the lawyers and the courts determine what racist speech is and how those offenses should be punished. ‘Good lawyers can create exceptions and narrow interpretations that limit the harm of hate speech without opening the floodgates of censorship’ (Lawrence 3). Likewise, Brownmiller expresses to let the legislatures decide what can be displayed or what cannot be displayed using realistic and humane contemporary community standards. ‘The courts, after all, will be the final arbiters’ (Brownmiller 3). They are both demonstrating that the courts have the final say, and they are the only opinion that matters. Finally, the two writers use a strong sense of pathos and ethos to appeal to the reader and allow for a connection with the audience. When Brownmiller paints a strong, offensive picture by claiming that women are ‘being stripped, bound, raped, tortured, mutilated, and murdered in the name of commercial entertainment’ (Brownmiller 2). This statement is flawed in the sense that it does not provide our audience with any factual evidence. Also, Brownmiller’s hasty generalizations to pornography allowing people to believe certain things, such as rape, are acceptable, and lacks support, and relies primarily on a pathos appeal. Lawrence also uses pathos writing technique to express the values of the opposing argument. ‘There are very strong reasons for protecting even racist speech’ (Lawrence 1). The quote speaks to the audience of the article that doesn’t totally agree with the writer. The author uses this clever style of writing to attract even the reader that opposes his argument.
Lawrence’s core argument is that racist speech should not be protected by the First Amendment. He expresses that racist speech needs to be diminished by a society as a unit, because discrimination does not just affect one person, but society. He continues to argue this by entailing that not allowing mixed schools gives a signal that conveys segregation is all right. Lawrence argues that the First Amendment should not protect racist speech, which inflicts mental injury upon an individual or group of people. Brownmiller’s core argument is that pornography shouldn’t be protected by the First Amendment. Pornography is degrading and abusive towards women, which allows for desensitizing of these acts of a sexual nature. Brownmiller explains there are laws that protect against obscene media but don’t find certain pornography offensive. It is hard to avoid something that is right in your face.
In my opinion, both writers share a common argument based off of different subjects within the First Amendment. Lawrence has a more solid argument with racist speech than Brownmiller over pornography. Brownmiller uses a lot of her opinions over factual information which makes the argument a weaker stance then Lawrence. I do not agree with the all the examples that Brownmiller made to support her statement. ‘To buy a paper at the corner newsstand is to subject oneself to a forcible immersion in pornography, to be demeaned by an array of dehumanized, chopped up parts of the female anatomy, packaged like cuts of meat at the supermarket’ (Brownmiller 3). This is one of the many offensives, emotional claims she makes to support her argument. Lawrence’s examples are more of factual evidence which helps make it his argument more inviting as well. ‘Brown held that segregated schools were inherently unequal because of the message that segregation conveyed– that black children were an untouchable caste, unfit to go to school with white children’ (Lawrence 1).
In conclusion, did both writers explain how the First Amendment needs to be changed to benefit society as a whole? Lawrence supported his decision with factual information to expose weaknesses in the First Amendment. Brownmiller based her support on opinionated measures with little fact, and big emotions. They both have personal connections to the topics at hand that fell under problems within the First Amendment. The First Amendment may allow for free speech but doesn’t always benefit society as a multi differentiated group of people. People are as a majority, a morally diverse group, but anyone who has any emotional appeal can connect with the flaws of the First Amendment based on these two topics.
- Brownmiller, Susan. “Let’s Put Pornography Back in the Closet.” AntiPorno, www.susanbrownmiller.com/susanbrownmiller/html/antiporno.html. 1 Oct. 2018.
- Lawrence, Charles R. “The Debates Over Placing Limits on Racist Speech Must Not Ignore the Damage It Does to Its Victims.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 Oct. 1989, www.chronicle.com/article/The-Debates-Over-Placing/68662. 1 Oct. 2018.