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How to Silence Content with Porn, Context and Loaded Questions



Catharine MacKinnon claimed that pornography silence's women's speech where this speech is protected by free speech legislation. MacKinnon's claim was attacked as confused because, so it seemed, pornography is not the kind of thing that can silence speech. Using ideas drawn from John Austin's account of speech acts, Rae Langton defended MacKinnon's claim against this attack by showing how speech can, in principle, be silenced by pornography. However, Langton's defence requires us to deviate from a widely held understanding of what kind of speech is protected; namely the expression of opinions, ideas, and thoughts. In this paper I provide an alternative defence of MacKinnon's claim which requires no such deviation. I argue that because the truth-conditions of sentences are context-sensitive it is possible for there to be contexts in which, when those in attendance believe rape myths, it is not possible to express certain opinions, ideas, or thoughts. Given that pornography is a significant contributor to rape myth acceptance, this argument addresses the accusation of confusion facing MacKinnon without the need for deviation. The cross-examination of a complainant in a rape trial is used as an illustration.

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