Susan Brownmiller, "Let's Put Pornography Back in the Closet"
Susan Brownmiller (1935- ) was born on Susan B. Anthony's birthday in
Brooklyn, and attended Cornell University on scholarships from 1952 until
1955. She has worked as a file clerk, waitress, actress, editor, and as
a reporter for both newspapers and television. Brownmiller was an active
participant in the Civil Rights Movement, and came to national renown
as a radical feminist. Her books include the highly influential Against
Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape (1975), Femininity (1984), Seeing
Vietnam: Encounters of the Road and Heart (1994), and In Our Time:
Memoir of a Revolution (1999). Brownmiller's work also appears in
periodicals such as the New York Times Magazine, Esquire,
Rolling Stone, and Newsday. "Let's Put Pornography
Back in the Closet," which takes a look at the sex industry within
the context of the First Amendment, was first published in Newsday
in 1979, and reprinted in the anthology Take Back the Night: Women
on Pornography (1980).
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- Who are the Hollywood Ten?
- According to Brownmiller, what's the "high purpose" of
the First Amendment?
- What distinction does the author make between "permission to
publish and permission to display"?
- In what context does the author mention James Joyce's Ulysses?
Which other authors and books are mentioned in the same context?
- What is the basis of the feminist objection to pornography, according
to this author?
- Briefly explain the decision in the Supreme Court case Miller
v. California. Who wrote the majority opinion?
- How have changes in the porn industry led to confusion among the
public, according to Brownmiller?
STRATEGY AND STYLE
- What do you make of the title of this essay? Where else have you
heard the phrase "in the closet"? What, do you think, the
author is driving at here?
- Why does Brownmiller ask the reader directly to notice the quotation
marks at the end of paragraph three? How can you link this action with
her ideas about the First Amendment and pornography?
- Brownmiller "quickly" mentions that she doesn't like the
work of D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller, but she respects their work
as art. What effect does the adverb "quickly" have on the
sentence? What criticism might she have subjected herself to if she
deleted paragraph six entirely?
- How would you characterize the tone of this piece? Is it chatty,
personal, impersonal, academic, or something else? Make sure you describe
the tone clearly and use evidence from the reading to support your answer.
- Find a simile in paragraph thirteen. What comparison is being made,
and how does it relate to Brownmiller's point about the representation
of women's bodies in pornography?
ENGAGING THE TEXT
- How do you place yourself regarding feminism? How do you define the
term? Can men be feminists? Why or why not? How might your thoughts
along these lines have affected your reading of this essay?
- Recall a time when you thought your desire to express yourself was
stifled. Describe it in as much detail as you can. Did you have a right
to express yourself? Explain, and make sure your definition of a right
is clearly stated. How can your relate your feelings to this essay?
SUGGESTIONS FOR SUSTAINED WRITING
- Describe Brownmiller's thesis as precisely as you can. Then, go through
the major points of her argument, noting the type and nature of her
support, using specifics from your reading.
- How do you define pornography? Should pornography be banned
or restricted more severely? Who should decide? Does an adult woman
have the right to do what she pleases with her body? How about an adult
FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
This essay was first published in 1979. Study the history of pornography
legislation in one U.S. state, city, or region from that date to the present.
Identify the prominent figures involved and explain their positions. What
major changes, if any, have taken place over this period of time?
A big part of Brownmiller's argument depends upon limiting the First
Amendment. Would you like to take a look at this issue in more depth?
Take a look at this page
that explores First Amendment law. How reliable did you find the information
at this site? What ways are there to judge the reliability of information
you find online?
Here's a great starting point for your online research: SusanBrownmiller.com.
Visit and you'll find links to essays on topics ranging from Vietnam
to September 11th, a guestbook, and even a quiz.
with Brownmiller from Bookreporter.com, about the current state of feminism,
contains a good bit of biographical information.
Here's a photo and another interview
and a photo, this time from Salon.com, which the author conducted in
1999 upon the publication of her book In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution.
to read an email response Brownmiller gave about her claim regarding
false rape reports in New York City. What issues are raised here? Would
you feel confident in using this material in a research paper? Why or
Ready for more of Brownmiller's work in etext? Then check out these
from her book In Our Time. Do you like using etext? What are
some differences between etext and hard copy? Does etext have any advantages
over the other medium?
How about some information from another point of view on a topic
that Brownmiller's written about? Here's an essay
about feminism and pornography by a male author. What is your position
on this topic?
Interested in putting this author's work into a cultural context? Here
are some feminism
and women's literature links. How would you go about narrowing a
topic if you'd like to write about Brownmiller from this perspective?
How can the Internet help?
Read this review
of Brownmiller's book Seeing Vietnam. After reading the review
do you want to read the book? Why or why not? If you do, what would
be an efficient way of getting a copy?