A Refresher Course on What Constitutes Free Speech

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, June 7, 2013 13:08 EDT
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Stop your whining. This is not actually happening to you.

I’m sure regular readers of this blog have been following the whole debacle over Lindy West getting a bunch of rape threats and other nasty responses because she took the position that it’s uncool for comedians to write jokes indicating that they are supportive of the criminal choices of any potential rapists in the audience. (For that is what rapists hear when you make pro-rape jokes or jokes minimizing the realities of rape. Obviously, jokes that hinge on the assumption that rape is a terrible crime make rapists uncomfortable, and I support those jokes whole-heartedly.) But what I don’t really get and will never completely understand is why so many people get so bent out of shape because a rape-supportive joke was criticized. Isn’t the point of said jokes to provoke? Well, you got criticized, so there you go: Proof that you were provocative. Granted, you were provocative in the cheapest, most banal, laziest way possible—artful provocateurs expose social hypocrisies and injustices, they don’t support them—but your basic goal of pissing people off has been achieved. Good for you! Why are you whining?

And don’t say “free speech”. I am sick to the teeth of people misusing that phrase. Here is another example, of a couple of piggish sci-fi writerss who said some vile shit about women and, when criticized, acted like the Stasi was banging down their front door and executing them on the spot for the crime of sexism. That is not what happened. They were criticized. No doubt there will be more rounds of people whining that this is a violation of “free speech”. But it’s not. So, here’s a refresher for the sexist crybabies out there on what is and isn’t free speech.

Free speech entitles you to:

  1. Say what you want to without fear of government censorship or retribution.

Free speech does not entitle you to:

  1. An audience. You can say what you want, but people are not actually required to listen to you spew. So, contrary to many, many claims otherwise, your free speech rights are not trampled if someone ignores you, blocks you on Twitter, or refuses to give you a job as a writer or communicator for their organization. National Review isn’t stepping on my free speech rights because they don’t hire me. If your sexism stops you from getting a prominent job in media, that is also not a violation of your rights.
  2. To have others host your speech. This is a corollary to the first one. Facebook, blog comment sections, online forums, etc. are just like TV shows, radio shows, and magazines: Their house, their rules. They have built up an audience and they are not obligated to turn around and give you that audience to spew your garbage. Start your own damn website/magazine/forum.
  3. To be protected from criticism. I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but free speech protects your right to celebrate rape with your “jokes”, and it also protects my right to call you an asshole for it. Daniel Tosh can think it would be hilarious to watch someone get raped and say so, and I say that makes him a moral monster and a piece of shit. It is not censorship to hurt the tender feelings of people who think rape is hilarious.

Occassionally, you’ll see some people try to sidestep the obvious idiocy of yelling “free speech” to defend someone from, you know, free speech, by instead lodging accusations that feminists are “oversensitive” or some other garbage. But the only people I see being oversensitive in these debates are the sexists who are so torn up over criticism that they melt down, start yelling incoherent and easily disproved claims of censorship, and start issuing rape threats in order to stop the painful, painful criticism. If oversensitivity bothers you so much, physician, heal thyself.

This is your Friday afternoon public service announcement. No go forthwith and sin no more.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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