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Susan Brownmiller

Susan Brownmiller

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).



  1. Who are the Hollywood Ten?
  2. According to Brownmiller, what's the "high purpose" of the First Amendment?
  3. What distinction does the author make between "permission to publish and permission to display"?
  4. In what context does the author mention James Joyce's Ulysses? Which other authors and books are mentioned in the same context?
  5. What is the basis of the feminist objection to pornography, according to this author?
  6. Briefly explain the decision in the Supreme Court case Miller v. California. Who wrote the majority opinion?
  7. How have changes in the porn industry led to confusion among the public, according to Brownmiller?


  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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?


  1. 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?
  2. 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?


  1. 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.
  2. 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 man? Explain.


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: Visit and you'll find links to essays on topics ranging from Vietnam to September 11th, a guestbook, and even a quiz.

This interview with Brownmiller from, 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, which the author conducted in 1999 upon the publication of her book In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution.

Click here 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 why not?

Ready for more of Brownmiller's work in etext? Then check out these excerpts 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?