To the editors:
It looks like the Reader has joined the rush to push the First Amendment to its limits by being offensive, irresponsible, and demeaning to women just to show you can. Something can be legal to do and still be morally wrong.
If your publisher, Robert Roth, had decided to expose a girl’s genitals for his private viewing, it would be a crime. But because it has been done through the picture “Honey” [Hot Type, November 9], the girl has lost her legal protection because this is free speech; it’s still wrong.
Children are not allowed to vote, drive, or consent to sexual activity because their capacities for judgment are not fully formed, and they wouldn’t understand the full impact of their actions. Because they are particularly vulnerable, they need special protections. The girl in the Robert Mapplethorpe picture did not have the capacity to consent to that picture; it is therefore at least an invasion of her privacy for Mapplethorpe to have taken and the Reader to have printed that picture. The picture is not obscene, in my view, but it is exploitive. I would not have this objection if the picture had been of a consenting adult, but it’s not. Can you be sure no harm will come to this girl, now a young woman, because of it? I don’t see how you can answer that question, “Yes.” And unless you can, you shouldn’t have run it. Not because it’s illegal but because you should be sensitive to the special vulnerabilities of children and the potential for harm and exploitation.
Showing that the Reader’s insensitivity applies to women of all ages, apparently, you accepted that ad from the Crash Palace with such a personally demeaning caricature of Barbara Bush [section two, November 9]. I can understand that although George is the elected official that Barbara Bush can be considered a public figure, and I enjoy political satire probably more than the average person. But this is a personally demeaning attack on Barbara Bush that demeans her as a woman, not on the basis of something she stands for. Her image has been used without her consent for marketing purposes, in an attempt to make her an object of ridicule in a sexual way. To make such a caricature of anyone without their consent violates their right to personal dignity as a human being. I believe such characterizations of women lead to an attitude whereby men view women as less than fully human and contribute to violence against women because the perpetrators of the violence then see women as something “other,” and something less than themselves. It is time for men who demean and degrade women to stop; and it is time for men who don’t do this to take some responsibility for the behavior of the men who do and work to stop it.