Censorship & Feminism


In this pamphlet are reprinted a news item and eleven letters that appeared in WIN Magazine from 19 January to 13 July 1978. Also included is my reply (7 August 1978), which was not printed because WIN has “adopted a policy of not running any more SNUFF letters for the time being.”

As I do not think Censorship should get the last word, I am publishing this pamphlet, which is intended primarily for archives. Perhaps, if the Fates permit, a future generation may glimpse some of the madness with which we had to contend when we were fighting for social justice in our time.

The letters are reprinted with the permission of WIN Magazine.

It was suggested that my reply might be stronger if the limericks were dropped, so that any dignity in the exchange would remain on the side of Free Speech. This criticism was correct, I believe — and certainly my sense of humor has undone me more than once — but I do not apologize for the limericks. By analogy, one need not regard the story of Chicken Little as a tragedy: was the sky really falling down, or wasn't it? — is the life of Everywoman in such danger that we need censorship, or isn't it?

John Lauritsen
26 St. St. Mark's Place
New York City 10003
December 1978
[This address is no longer valid.]


Jane Verlaine and Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) scored an important victory on December 16 when a Sullivan County N.Y. judge ordered an obscenity trial for the movie Snuff.
    Sullivan County Court judge Louis Scheinman reversed Monticello Village Justice Burton Ledina's dismissal last December of charges brought by WAVAW against theater owner Richard Dames who showed Snuff in March, 1976. The group hired a special prosecutor, Andrea Moran of Kingston, when District Attorney Emmanual Gellman refused to prosecute Dames.
    In his decision, Scheinman stated that the action of the Justice Court, which granted a defense motion demanding the film be produced but then quashed Moran's subpoena for the film and denied her request for a delay in which to reissue the subpoena, was an “abuse of discretion”.
    Stephen L. Oppenheim, Dames' attorney, said that he is planning to appeal Scheinman's decision.
    — Barbara Deming/WAVAW    Jan. 19, 1978 WIN


An item by Barbara Deming in the “changes” section of WlN (l/19/78) begins, “Jane Verlaine and Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) scored an important victory on December 16 when a Sullivan County N.Y.judge ordered an obscenity trial for the movie Snuff.”
    I believe it would be more accurate to say that civil liberties suffered an important defeat.
    Are there still people who do not know the truth about the Snuff hoax? Well, contrary to the rumors that seemed ubiquitous at the time of the Snuff protests (February 1976), the leading actress in Snuff was not harmed in any way, let alone chopped into pieces and murdered. Furthermore, there has never existed such a thing as “snuff movies” (which, according to the fabricated hysteria of the period, were movies produced for the sadistic titillation of depraved men — movies which featured the actual torture. dismemberment, and murder of unsuspecting actresses).
    A history and analysis of the Snuff hoax appears in my pamphlet, “Dangerous Trends in Feminism”. An article by Mary Lou Fox in Majority Report (March 1976) exposed the Snuff hoax, and gave most of the relevant facts. Before the Snuff protests even began. the rumors about “snuff movies” had already been exposed as a hoax in the pages of Variety, Screw, and the Village Voice.
    Some who still defend the Snuff protests claim that the issue is not whether the actress in Snuff was really dismembered. etc., but rather “violence against women”, and that it was still right to call for the prosecution of Snuff on this ground.
    I do not agree that Truth is so trivial a matter. And I do not wish to stand on the side of Censorship.
    We in the movements for sexual freedom have suffered long enough at the hands of prosecutors armed with obscenity laws, blasphemy laws, and the like. To those who would expand censorship, who would call for more stringent enforcement of obscenity laws. and who would increase the powers of prosecutors and district attorneys, we must say; “It does not matter whether you call yourselves ”feminists“, ”pacifists“, or whatever — you are in the camp of the enemy!”
            New York, N.Y.     WIN February 9,1978

In the February 9th letters column of WIN John Lauritsen — in response to news that Jane Verlaine has won the right to have SNUFF brought to trial under the obscenity statute — writes, “We in the movement for sexual freedom have suffered long enough at the hands of prosecutors armed with obscenity laws, blasphemy laws and the like” — and he tells her she is “in the camp of the enemy”.
    He speaks as one concerned for blasphemers as well as pornographers, but I do think it is we women in Women Against Violence Against Women who are the blasphemers in this instance. We dare to utter the blasphemy that the “Sexual freedom” too many men tell themselves they are seeking is not sexual freedom at all but sexual tyranny: the “right” to do with the bodies of women (and often children) anything — and I mean anything — that they feel like doing. Pornography is propaganda for this so-called “right”. We begin at last to dare to see this and dare to say it.
    I hope that the news accounts of real “snuff” films (in which women are actually tortured to death in front of cameras) — I hope that these news accounts are hoaxes. (Though a New York Times story as recent as last July 24th — never followed up — reports a police hunt near Palm Springs, California, for the graves of prostitutes murdered in the making of such films). If the news stories are hoaxes, they are not hoaxes perpetrated by women. (Though, outrageously. lauritsen seems almost to suggest this.) They are hoaxes that have terrified women. And hoaxes that the promotion for SNUFF exploited shamelessly. When we picketed the film, we found all too many men headed to see it who had been led to expect, and did expect to see a woman actually tortured to death in front of their eyes. And they took it for granted that this was being allowed by our society as legitimate “sexual” entertainment. Think about that for a moment, John Lauritsen. And then try for just one moment to imagine yourself a woman.
    No. the actress in SNUFF was not actually tortured to death, and Jane Verlaine does not pretend, in her suit, that she was. But the movie was viewed, don't forget, by men who had been affected by the promotion for it, which seemed to promise an actual murder. And here is SNUFF's piece de resistance: a scene in which a movie director, declaring he's been “turned on” by a scene he's just filmed in which a pregnant women [sic] is stabbed in the belly, throws a female assistant onto a couch, saws off her arm, then slits her with a knife and tears out her entrails and sex, as be bellows in orgasm. “Sexual freedom” indeed. May I ask John Lauritsen: Are you at all concerned for the sexual freedom of women?
    The obscenity statute, fortunately for us, is so phrased that it forbids an appeal to a “prurient interest” in “sadism”. I say fortunately, though no D.A. has been willing to prosecute SNUFF. The State does not exert itself in our defense. We are on our own.
    The issue here is terrorism — waged against women, waged with the complicity of the State, against our sexual autonomy. The 1st Amendment was never written to protect terrorism. And the concept of clear and present danger has been an important one in 1st Amendment challenges. Rape is escalating, battering is widespread, and our right of choice in childbearing is again seriously threatened. The very present danger to our autonomy — and to our very lives — is clear. Though apparently not to Lauritsen. I do suggest that he question himself a little more deeply as to what the “rights” are he is demanding.
            Sugarloaf Key, FL     WIN March 2,1978

Since John Lauritsen (letters, WIN 2/9/78) capitalizes the words “Truth” and “Censorship” perhaps he should also capitalize “The Enemy.”
    But the world is not quite so simple. We are placed in increasingly crowded theatres with many new ways of shouting “Fire!” — and unless we can find democratic new ways of encouraging or discouraging the flow of various kinds of information, this world will soon become quite uninhabitable for all, including would-be libertarians.
        Beacon, N.Y.    March 9, 1978 WIN

l must disagree with the position expressed by Barbara Deming in her March 2 response to John Lauritsen on the question of whether or not the film Snuff should be tried under obscenity statutes. The question is not one of “sexual freedom,” but one of First Amendment rights. l am continually amazed at how easily leftists acquiesce to the erosion of the First Amendment in the name of a particular “cause,” considering that the First Amendment is the major source of protection for leftist speech and action.
    May I suggest that we will all be better off if the First Amendment is given the broadest possible interpretation and that the range of material protected by the First Amendment be made as inclusive as possible? To take an extreme position: if I wish to indulge my “prurient interest in sadism” by watching Snuff, that is my right; no one who finds such a film offensive need see it, though they are free to deplore my bad taste in doing so if they wish. We do not need more censors, be they political or cultural, leftist or rightist. I do not understand how leftists who remember blacklisting of Hollywood screenwriters in the fifties or the “Rap Brown” law of the sixties or the prosecution of Bill Baird for displaying birth control materials can be comfortable with Ms. Deming's stance. Is it too difficult to imagine these same obscenity statutes being directed against pro-abortion leaflets, gay publications. or leftist journals at some future time. Some laws are better left unenforced. (Yes, Ms. Deming, we are concerned with the sexual autonomy of women.)
    Ms. Deming states that “The 1st Amendment was never written to protect terrorism” — this is not strictly true. The First Amendment does not protect terrorist acts, but it does protect terrorist speech. These distinctions are important; blurring them is a disservice to us all.
    The increasing incidence of rape and assault — predominantly (though not uniquely) directed against women — reflects a profound illness in our society, but to see pornography as a cause (rather than as a symptom) of the illness is dangerously simplistic. Existing laws prescribe penalties for rape and assault and the sexual exploitation of children: perhaps a more productive use of our energy would he to see that these laws are properly enforced. To embrace archaic and oppressive legislation such as the obscenity statutes, however, sets a dangerous precedent, opens up vast avenues to governmental abuse, and will ultimately prove ineffectual against the evils we are trying to eradicate.
        — JOHN HEVELIN
            Somerville, Mass.     March 16, 1978 WIN

I write to respond to the two gentlemen who have so gallantly defended “freedom of speech” in the matter of Snuff. (John Lauritsen, WIN 2/9/78, and John Hevelin, WIN 3/16/78.) Congratulations to both of you on your moral purity in your refusal to “stand on the side of censorship,” but, like many civil libertarians with a vested interest in the status quo (in this case, male caste privilege), you continue to confuse “freedom to speak” with “freedom to abuse.” Snuff and films like it are but reinforcements of the socialization of men to view womyn as less than human, and to see their own masculinity as contingent upon their ability and desire to subjugate womyn, other men, and the earth itself.
    Mr. Hevelin wrote, “To embrace archaic and oppressive legislation such as the obscenity statutes ... will ultimately prove ineffectual against the evils we are trying to eradicate.” I'm not sure what evils you are trying to eradicate, Mr. Hevelin, but womyn are trying desperately to save each other's lives. Films like Snuff celebrate the rape, destruction, and degradation of womyn. They are actions against us in themselves, and they are part of a daily threat against our bodies and a continual patriarchal challenge to our very right to exist. Like so many more or less subtle violations of our humanity, they are weapons in the war against our caste. As such, we must struggle against them.
    Mr. Lauritsen wrote, “It does not matter whether you call yourselves `feminists,' `pacifists,' or whatever — you are in the camp of the enemy!” No, sir; you are in the camp of the enemy. And you will stay there until you decide to take seriously the absolute threat to our lives which Snuff represents and until you stop your talk of “sexual freedom” when what you really mean is “sexual caste privilege” — your own. (You might not be so glib about freedom if we were dealing, instead, with a porno film which showed a male being castrated.)
    I'd like to suggest to both of you that if you truly took violence against womyn seriously you wouldn't be writing letters to WIN to question our methods of trying to stay alive because you wouldn't have time. Instead you would be trying to counter that violence by dealing with your own sexism and your own socialization, by listening to and learning from what womyn have to say about our oppression, and by entering into dialogue with other men about your lives and about ways to overcome the lies you've absorbed about the values you should embrace. Only when you begin to do these things conscientiously and consistently will there be any room for discussion between us.
    — JOAN CAVANAGH New Haven, Ct.     April 6, 1978 WIN

Joan Cavanagh's letter [4/6/78] on the question of the censorship of films such as Snuff produces more heat than light. Cavanagh is correct when she states that “Snuff and films like it are but reinforcements of the socialization of men to view womyn as less than human...”; she fails to prove her assumption that censorship is a justifiable action against ideas that may prove dangerous to a particular class or caste. Censorship is a two-edged sword: Cavanagh avoids the tough question of who is to decide what is ”responsible“ and what is “dangerous” free speech. Ideas are usually “dangerous”: shall we allow Das Kapital to be banned because of its danger to capitalist society; shall we ban Rubyfruit Jungle because its favorable portrait of a gay woman is “dangerous” to straight ethics; shall we let right-to-lifers ban pro-abortion publications because they're a “danger” to the unborn fetus? The First Amendment was created to prevent such irresponsible and arbitrary silencing of one group by another. “Danger” is always the watchword of those who would curtail civil liberties: we must resist the blandishments of this line of thinking — it will work for us today and against us tomorrow. Trash like Snuff is the price we pay for relatively free and open debate of the issues that affect our lives — and I say “we” because Cavanagh is naive if she believes that pornography exploits only women and appeals only to men.
    The question of pornography is many-faceted. I see it as a “crime” without a victim; Cavanagh would probably disagree. In either case, who would Cavanagh prosecute: the men and women who act or pose out of economic necessity? The financers/producers/ distributors? The men and women who pay for sexual titillation? I don't think the answers are simple. “Caste war” rhetoric packs an emotional whallop, but ideological arrogance is no substitute for analysis.
    Cavanagh's assertion that “sexual freedom” is synonymous with “sexual caste privilege” is not convincing, and I think it's time we stopped paying lip service to the notion that the “sexual revolution” was an all-male conspiracy to rip off women. The struggle to make birth control widely available; the struggle to provide safe, legal abortions; the struggle for liberalized divorce procedures; the philosophy that sexuality is a healthy, positive activity; the attempts to find alternative lifestyles and eliminate sex roles, the rejection of the get-married-buy-a-house-have-kids syndrome: none of these ideas seems inherently exploitative of women. Doubtless there are many who have good reason to be disillusioned with one aspect or another of the “sexual revolution,” but to assert that the struggle for “sexual freedom” has benefitted only men is neither fair nor accurate.
    Two insidious concepts underlie Cavanagh's arguments. The first is that a civil liberties position on the issue of censorship is equivalent to a defense of the status quo of “male caste privilege” — that is, that men, because they are men, don't take violence against women seriously: “You might not be so glib about freedom if we were dealing, instead, with a porno film which showed a male being castrated.” This is egotistical, self-aggrandizing bullshit. Rejection of a particular tactic does not mean rejection of the goal. I have enough firsthand experience with violence and intimidation not to delude myself with the notion that suppressing a few skin flicks is going to save the lives of my friends and lovers, of either sex. Women can save their lives by learning to defend themselves physically, by avoiding potentially dangerous situations (the way any man in his right mind does), by achieving economic autonomy (“equal pay for equal work,” and more), and by acquiring legal control over their own bodies (abortion on demand, etc.). I think civil liberties — particularly the concept of equal protection under the law (a right that has been denied women for too long) — play a key role here. In any event, the concept of “male caste privilege” seems of limited usefulness to me in this context.
    Cavanagh's second assumption seems to be that those who do not agree entirely with her analysis of the problem and the tactics used to confront it are “the enemy.” This is probably unavoidable if one accepts Cavanagh's battlefield metaphor as a model for the state of affairs between the sexes; frankly, l think such a concept is an ideological straitjacket. Thinking individuals are bound to have honest differences on complex questions; to attribute these differences to “conditioning” rather than “consideration” shows more rancor than reason. The key to understanding is in mutual education and mutual criticism — it's worth risking hurt feelings and bad temper, yes?
        Somerville, Mass.     May 18, 1978 WIN

The debate in WIN on censorship of Snuff films has not been a happy one. John Lauritson [sic] makes much of the fact that Snuff films are a hoax. And yet, he has little to say about the present media-orchestrated campaign to mock and vilify women. In too much of the advertising and pornography it has been a commonplace tactic to brutalize. In this context Lauritson's nitpicking about detail is altogether offensive.
    John Hevelin makes a cogent and lucid defense of the First Amendment. His distinction between terrorist speech and terrorist acts is a useful one to draw. He also does deal with the increasing violence against women, and is right to view the current pornography as more a symptom of the profound social illness which this violence reflects than a cause. But he is too oblivious to the impact of institutionalized propaganda. The advertising and pornography tactics do grant a strong measure of social legitimacy to the assault on women. They dangerously exploit festering hatred and rage. And they give diffuse, inchoate hostility a viable framework. Hevelin therefore grossly underestimates the valid fear of violent pornography.
    By contrast, Barbara Deming makes fear the only serious consideration. She calls openly for state censorship and plays fast and loose with freedom of speech. With Barbara Deming I am profoundly bitter and shocked. As a young person moving toward a radical vision, she was one of my first teachers and models. One learned from her how to mingle complexity and passion. She could speak with force while not grinding an ideological ax. Now she eloquently articulates the halftruth and crudely negates libertarian values.
    On the left at present there is a pervasive contempt for liberty. Too many of us wish to silence all dangerous and evil expression. Look closely at the debate in WIN on political persecution in socialist Cuba and Vietnam. See how many of us would put reactionaries behind prison walls for merely advocating their viewpoint on politics. Watch the recent debate on the left over the contested right of Nazis to hold street demonstrations. As a Jew, I support this right, and I am neither complacent nor myopic about Nazi influence. The Nazis are not only harmless fanatics, but the potential cutting edge of a movement which might well inflame latent anti-Semitism. Yet, as a radical seeking to project a vision for a new future, I must defend their freedom. I must resist a walk down the Stalinist road.
    John Lauritson [sic] neglects the fear and pain of women; he evades the meaning and weight of their protest; he will not attend to the depth of their appeal. Barbara Deming casts too many fundamental concerns to the wind. Things among us are indeed unhappy.
        Forest Hills, N.Y.     May 25,1978 WIN

I am sorry that Arnold Sacher is shocked and embittered by my arguments that Snuff should be censored. (WIN, 5/25/78) (Snuff is the movie in which a man achieves orgasm by disembowelling a woman — the movie whose promotion leads the movie-goer to expect to watch not a simulated act of deadly sadism but a real one). Sacher does acknowledge that institutionalized pornography is “a strong measure of social legitimacy to the assault on women”; but he says that I make fear “the only serious consideration” and play “fast and loose with freedom of speech.” He is shocked, too, by those who would deny the American Nazi party the right to march through Skokie, Illinois — home of many Jewish survivors of the German Nazi terror. He sees a pervasive contempt for liberty on the left, now. Many, he says, would “put reactionaries behind prison walls for merely advocating their viewpoint on politics.” He says, “I must resist a walk down the Stalinist road.”
    Of course we must resist that walk. But I ask Sacher, who writes of me with such disdain, “She calls openly for state censorship”: does he approve of libel laws, and of blackmail laws? If he does. he too calls for censorship and should be less quick to cast me out with those words. The issue surely is: what must we censor, and what must we be very careful not to censor? The right to express dissent I hold as sacred as he does. But the right to libel I do not hold sacred. And the right to threaten I do not hold sacred. Both Snuff and the projected Nazi march through Skokie I would name not spoken but dramatized threats. If you wanted to stretch a point, you could say that a political statement is implicit in each threat: “There is a master race;” “Women belong to men — to do with as they please.” But if you argue that this implicit statement must be allowed its hearing, even if it takes the form of a threat — you are forgetting that one of the effects of a threat is to inhibit the free speech of others.
    There is little danger that the political point of view implicit in Snuff will lack a hearing (the view that women belong to men). It is, after all, the point of view of those who run this country. The real danger is that those threatened by Snuff will lack a voice. The intimidation of women takes many forms under patriarchy; for the patriarchal credo — the credo that one is entitled to own another human being — tends by its very nature to assume threatening forms. And the State, which is the product of patriarchy, which exists to perpetuate patriarchy, does little to protect women from any of these assaults — whether the brute assault of rape or battery or the more sophisticated assault of, say, economic discrimination. So — women live in fear. And so there is a real danger that they will not find their voices, that they will be afraid to find them. Too many women are still afraid to allow themselves to think thoughts that dissent from the patriarchal view of what our place is. They are afraid even to admit to themselves that they are afraid. For that is a dissenting thought. The patriarchal myth is that we are protected. Yes, i do give a great deal of consideration to the problem of fear among women. But I deny that this is to play fast and loose with freedom of speech. The two issues — of terrorism and free speech — cannot be separated.    
        Sugarloaf Key, Fla.     June 15, 1978 WIN

“Women can save their lives...by learning to defend themselves physically, by avoiding potentially dangerous situations (the way any man in his right mind does)...”
    Hevelin wrote this as part of a rebuttal to Joan Cavanagh's letter (WIN, 5/18/78) in which she said: “...men because they are men don't take violence against women seriously.” Hevelin's comment strongly supports that. Any place can be dangerous to a woman. Playing in her yard, going back and forth to school, sitting in a locked house, going to work. Women are raped at any age in any situation. Can you imagine that, Mr. Hevelin? How do you avoid that danger?
    He implies that it's not safe to be out after darkness. That simplicity is offensive and makes me sick with rage and disgust. Of course he doesn't understand. Even if it were that one area of danger, we should tolerate not being able to enjoy darkness? I can't put into words how angry his statement made me.
    We might add to his list of “things women can do to save their lives” a reminder to trust our woman's fury and intuition in dangerous scenes, and not put emphasis on the well-intentioned advice of men who don't deeply feel our fear and anger.
        Baltimore, Md.     WIN June 22, 1978

As a libertarian feminist who is also a First Amendment absolutist, I agree with Arnold Sacher that both sides in the debate on Snuff films are right — and wrong. (Letters, WIN, 5/25/78) The fact that a movie such as Snuff has an audience at all is surely an indictment of our civilization — why are only women's groups protesting it? If it portrayed the “thrill” of killing Jews or blacks, instead of women, wouldn't more prestigious men be taking it seriously as the abomination it is and speaking out against it?
    But I submit that calling for government censorship is not the answer. We can exercise our own right of free speech by picketing such enterprises, and our own economic rights by boycotting them. And let's insist that the State's prosecutors find out if these movies depict fact or fantasy — and prosecute everyone with any financial interest in them, if they can be shown to be depictions of actual violent acts, as accessories to murder.
        Stockbridge, Mass.     June 22,1978 WIN

A friend recently handed me several issues of WIN, with an ongoing series of letters around the issue of censoring Snuff, and I feel impelled to add my voice to the discussion. There are two issues here, not one: what constitutes “free speech” and censorship, and the right of the oppressed to determine their own survival strategy.
    None of the men who wrote in, with the exception of Pete Seeger, seem to understand the nature of what we are asking to be censored: propaganda for the torture and murder of women. I am not denying the danger of censorship, and the seriousness of choosing it as a tactic. But we do not live in some post-patriarchal utopia. Misogyny is real, it is all-pervasive: women are terrorized by it every day of our lives. Battered wives are frequently raped after the battery: the sadism-as-turn-on of Snuff is an everyday reality. David Berkowitz runs around shooting pretty young women, and the patriarchy that created him is righteously horrified about what's been done to his — their — victims. The Real Paper in Boston reports that the publisher of a Snuff-type magazine temporarily suspended its publication when a fan wrote in about his own favorite fantasy of placing barbed wire on a toilet seat and seeing a woman get cut up on it. (Don't worry, fellows, the forces of censorship were defeated: there was so much demand that the mag be returned that the publisher restored it.) If women weren't being beaten and murdered and raped every day by men, we could afford to shrug off some guy's sick fantasy. But despite John Hevelin's snide and sexist remark that “women can save their lives by...avoiding potentially dangerous situations (the way any man in his right mind does)”, our lives are always in danger. A “potentially dangerous situation” for a woman is walking down the street, sitting in her home, going to work, not going to work; wearing a dress a man interprets as a come-on, not obeying her husband, etc., etc., etc.
    The anti-Snuff women are not trying to censor all public misogyny — since 90% of all media is, with more or less subtlety, misogynistic, such.a task would be impossible. Nor are we unaware that the forces of government to whom we appeal are themselves misogynist, and might well turn on us later, using our appeal to justify censorship of us. But it's absurd to think that we would cause them to do that. When the state wants to shut us up, it will — regardless of how we use or don't use it ourselves. We are censored, in various and usually unofficial ways, already, and so are you, fellas. Do you really think there's total free speech in this country? We have to use whatever tools the patriarchy allows us to fight the patriarchy with — whether it's to curtail the free speech of mutilation-propagandists, or to call the police to arrest a battering husband.
    But even if we were wrong, does a man, with his privilege, have a right to dictate to women how we should fight for our survival? I'm sick to death of male leftist [sic] who wash a few dishes, change their kid's diaper, add “women” to their litany of the oppressed — and think that gives them the right to dictate our strategy. If you recognize that you have power over our lives — and without such recognition any authentic support for our movement is impossible — how can you dare to use that power against us, even if you think we're wrong? I don't think that those who belong to an oppressor caste have a moral obligation to beat their breasts and castigate themselves — but they do have a moral obligation to recognize the right of the oppressed to fight as they feel they must. Is your right to see Snuff — or the right of your brothers to see it — really so important that you are willing to take advantage of your male privilege to retain it? I would not, as a gentile, presume to pass public judgement on the strategies Jews choose to fight the rise of Nazism in this country, no matter how I felt.
    Obviously there are exceptions — but only when the issue is so dire that there is no other choice: I do not suggest that whites need accept the Zebra killings quietly, for example — and if feminists began randomly shooting men on the streets, you'd have a right to try and stop us. But in the far more typical instances in which the danger of violence is not innocent members of the oppressor caste but to innocent members of the oppressed, the people in power had better learn a little humility in the face of those they've harmed, intentionally or not.
        Somerville, Mass.     July 13, 1978 WIN

[The letter below was submitted to WIN, but rejected because they had “adopted a policy of not running any more SNUFF letters for the time being.” In other words, WIN felt it was right to publish vicious attacks on me, one after the other, and then to deny me the right to reply. — JL]

7 August 1978
WIN Magazine
503 Atlantic Ave., 5th floor
Brooklyn, New York 11217

    If, as Arnold Sacher says, the censorship debate “has not been a happy one”, this is from the way that wild emotion and rhetoric have swept aside common sense and led to a contempt for civil liberties. However, I feel that the censorious feminists, Barbara Deming, Joan Cavanagh, Rosemary Bramble, and Karen Lindsey, have failed to make their case: that Censorship is a Good Thing. (Capital letters are all intended to annoy Pete Seeger. Special offer: a free copy of Dangerous Trends in Feminism to anyone who can explain what Pete's letter of 9 March 197 was trying to say.)
    A clarification: When I wrote, “we in the movements for sexual freedom...”, I was referring inter alia to my role in the gay liberation movement, to fighting for the right of men to love men, and women to love women. Barbara Deming's insinuation, that by “sexual freedom” I meant the atrocities depicted in Snuff, represents demagoguery at its most despicable. If Deming had made any effort to follow the gay liberation movement, she'd have recognized my mention of “prosecutors armed with obscenity laws, blasphemy laws, and the like” as an obvious reference to the prosecutions currently being waged against the world's two foremost gay papers: The Body Politic in Toronto (obscenity) and Gay News in London (blasphemy).
    Joan Cavanagh's letter (6 April 1978) is unworthy of a reply. Students of propaganda techniques for lying will wish to compare Cavanagh's “quote” from my letter (9 February 1978) with the full paragraph from which it was so insidiously excerpted.
    I am in full agreement with both letters by John Hevelin. Considering how sensible the letters were, and how moderate in tone, the abuse later heaped upon him is all the more reprehensible.
    I do not agree with Arnold Sacher that it is “nitpicking” to care whether or not Snuff was a hoax. Since we know now that Snuff was a hoax, then it is entirely possible that the whole thing, from the earliest “rumors” to the latest “prosecutions”, was engineered by the Political Police (whatever agencies) in order to justify political repression. Certainly the whole sorry episode served to drum up support for new censorship laws, the real target of which is by no means pornography, but political radicalism. This is not “nitpicking”. I think it is frightening that part of a valid movement for social change, the women's liberation movement, could allow itself to be used as a cats paw for Reaction.
    Yes, I do support all of the rational goals of the women's liberation movement. However, when civil liberties are under attack, I will defend them, and it doesn't matter from which quarter the attacks are ostensibly coming.
    I finally saw Snuff last week, when it was shown on 42nd St. A few clarifications are in order, since feminist propaganda has thus far been grossly inaccurate.
    A great many killings are gruesomely depicted in Snuff — of men, women, and children. However, until the final scene, all of the murders are committed by women (the only exception being when a dying man shoots a women who has already knifed him in the back). The final scene was indeed sickening, mainly because of the vast quantity of ketchup that was discharged. However, no one in her right mind could have watched the “dismemberment” scene and believed that it was real — so extremely crude were the special effects employed. Furthermore, contrary to Deming's claim that the “dismembering” actor was bellowing in orgasm, there was no sexual element whatever in the scene.
    There was, however, one scene in Snuff which did involve sexual torture. This was a particularly vicious episode where three lecherous female homicidal maniacs strap a naked man to a tree, whip him, mutilate him, and finally kill him. Why, I ask, did the Snuff protesters never mention this particular episode?
    To Rosemary Bramble: I don't believe that the “woman's fury and intuition” you mention have served us very well in the present debate. May I suggest that you take a deep breath and try thinking.
    Against heavy competition, Karen Lindsey's letter wins the prize for obnoxiousness. She asks, “But even if we were wrong [!], does a man with his privilege have a right to dictate to women how we should fight for our survival?” The mind reels. Here is Lindsey, shilling for Censorship, helping to forge the weapons of political repression that will be used against all of us in movements for social change -- and she tells us, with sanctimonious truculence, that we dare not “dictate” that she cease cutting our throats!

        The feminists shrieked in a huff:
        “The censorship laws aren't enough
            We need gallant protectors
            Who'll stamp out those sectors
        From which we've had oh so much guff!”

        Libertarians called their bluff
        And said, “Your discomfort is tough
            But we need Free Speech
            Albeit you preach
        Such a terrible huff over Snuff.”

                        John Lauritsen
                        26 St. Mark's Place
                        New York City 10003
                        [address no longer valid]

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