Pornography rules needed to limit harassment
I would like to take issue with some of the points made in Harvey Silverglate's letter ["MIT should repeal pornography policy altogether," Nov. 28].
Although it is heartwarming to know that the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts is looking out for the interests of MIT students, I am surprised by the naivete displayed in their arguments regarding the showing of pornographic films on campus.
Their first argument goes as follows: censoring pornographic films involves defining pornographic films. Defining pornography is extremely difficult. Therefore, it is wrong to censor pornography. With a small amount of thought, the reader will realize that this argument is invalid. Correct social policy is not always the easiest social policy, and sometimes we must attempt extremely difficult tasks if we are to do the right thing. After all, it is extremely difficult to determine whether or not a company is engaging in anti-competitive behavior, and yet it is widely agreed that it is a good idea to try to make this judgment anyway and prohibit such activity. Once we have started to make our policies on the basis of their ease of implementation, we have discarded our conscience. I agree that defining pornography is an extremely difficult and dangerous task, but I also believe that it must be attempted.
However, I don't expect that anyone on campus other than Adam Dershowitz really takes the "difficulty of definition" argument seriously ["Institute should be fighting against censorship, not furthering it," Nov. 3], so I must investigate the other objections that Silverglate presents to the proposed policy. He claims that any attempt to restrict the topics which some students may think about, discuss, or believe, harms irreparably the entire foundation upon which the university is built.
I agree with this entirely. However, the move from this statement to a belief that it should be permissible to view pornography wherever and whenever you want is not as clear as Silverglate would have us believe.
Silverglate's argument really rests on an additional premise, one that he completely glosses over in his discourse. To accept his argument, one must accept that viewing pornography in a public lounge is a medium for discussion and thought. I claim that it is not. My guess is that when Dershowitz displayed Deep Throat on registration day, his intention was to get an erection. Even if it is the case that this was not his intention, I believe that most of the people who showed up to view the films were not there for a thought-provoking discussion, but that they came to get an erection. I think that anyone would be hard-pressed to demonstrate to me that there was any intention of an intellectual exploration of the free marketplace of ideas in Dershowitz's showing of Deep Throat.
Presumably the members of the audience did indeed get their erections. I would not deny anyone the pleasure of getting an erection. I would not even place restrictions on getting erections in public places. However, what I would deny someone is the ability to intimidate or harass people.
In general, showing pornographic films in public lounges accomplishes two things. It gives males erections and it insults women. One usually does not stimulate discussion or challenge any thoughts in displaying pornographic films. However, one does intimidate women by showing films such as Deep Throat, since in them women are presented in an extremely negative way. In fact, with Deep Throat in particular, the leading character performed her role under threats of physical violence. (See, for example, K. MacKinnon's book Feminism Unmodified.) The enjoyment of this film can be seen as a belief in the permissibility of rape, something that is incredibly offensive to all, I hope. By prohibiting the showing of Deep Throat in an East Campus lounge, the MIT administration would accomplish two things. It would prevent a group of men from getting erections, and it would save some women from the trauma of seeing men get turned on by the sight of Linda Marciano being raped. It would not inhibit any exchange of thoughts or ideas and it would not prevent those men from viewing pornography in other venues.
MIT does not have an obligation to protect men's erections. MIT does have an obligation to protect students from harassment. It is not only permissible, but it is right for MIT to place restrictions on what can be viewed in the public areas of the dormitories.
Finally, there are some occasions in which someone would like to show a pornographic film specifically to inspire debate or discussion, to encourage thought and challenge ideas, and these occasions are allowed for in MIT's proposed policy. This policy does not restrict the freedom of speech. It only restricts the freedom to hurt fellow members of the MIT community.
David Hogg '92->