Alan Dershowitz responds to Anita Diamant
Your “Flashbacks” column, re-running a piece by Anita Diamant about my 1981 “debate” with the late Andrea Dworkin, gives me an opportunity to correct the record and respond to Diamant’s biased and inaccurate report.
Dworkin gives Dershowitz the finger
I was told by the sponsors that this was “Dworkin’s show” and that I was merely to comment on her presentation. I was told to sit during my response and not to go to the lectern. It is true that I was repeatedly shouted down by 40 or 50 radical feminists, even before I uttered a word. “Down with the pornocrats,” they shouted, whenever it was my turn to speak. “We don’t want to hear from people who support porn.” These women wanted to censor not only pornography itself but those who would defend it on First Amendment grounds. A smaller group — calling themselves “Dykes on Bikes” and carrying chains — threatened violence. The woman who reported the story in the Boston Globe described the event as follows: “What these ... men and women saw — and some of them created — was an ugly collision between about 40 enraged radical feminists in the audience and Dershowitz, who defended free speech and became a symbol for the entire American legal system.”
In the course of our debate, Dworkin urged her followers to take the law into their own hands when necessary — to destroy the pornographic presses. Some time thereafter several gunshots were fired through the window of a local bookstore that carried material deemed to be pornographic.
When it was my turn to speak, I tried to explain — over the booing and hissing — that what I support is freedom of choice about pornography. I informed the audience that a recent law in Iran prohibiting pornography also required all women to keep their faces covered. I reminded them that efforts by the Moral Majority to “clean up” television included feminist programs within the definition of pornography. I told them that the same district attorney who had attempted to ban Deep Throat had succeeded in censoring a beautiful film about lesbianism, by invoking the same anti-pornography statute. I quoted Gloria Steinem to the effect that “the long history of anti-obscenity laws makes it clear that such laws are most often invoked against political and lifestyle dissidents.” I cautioned that if any group of Americans could succeed in taking the law into its own hands it would be the Moral Majority, who far outnumber the radical feminists. They would destroy the presses that publish books they deem offensive: books advocating birth control, abortion, and sex outside of marriage. “Among the first books they would want to ban,” I warned, “are the writings of Andrea Dworkin.” Dworkin scoffed, and then gave me the finger in an obscene gesture.
History has proved both Dworkin and Diamant wrong: there is now more porn than ever — much of it watched by women — and less rape than ever in the US. And yes, the US is better than Iran.
Alan M. Dershowitz
Harvard Law School
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