According to the conventional civil libertarian narrative, the First Amendment protects all people, but is especially protective of the speech of the most vulnerable. In reality, however, the First Amendment has been interpreted, applied, and invoked primarily to defend the interests of men, in particular white, powerful, wealthy men. This is not to say that the First Amendment never protects the free speech interests of women and minorities, but this protection is largely limited to how much these interests converge, as Derrick Bell would phrase it, with those of white men. Assessments of the value and harm of speech are made with a presumptively male subject in mind, so that speech particularly harmful to women and minorities is far more likely to be characterized as protected speech than speech particularly harmful to men. The unacknowledged androcentrism of the First Amendment injures women and other vulnerable groups in many ways, including by chilling their speech. This results in a dysfunctional and impoverished free speech culture. If the First Amendment is to live up to its promise to truly protect free speech for all, the male bias in its design and application must be confronted and rejected. I suggest that in its place should be an orientation toward the “last girl.” The principle of “the last girl,” derived from late writings of Gandhi, means looking to the experience of the most exploited member of a community as a guide for legal and social choices. Guaranteeing free speech for “the last girl” is not only a matter of justice, but the most effective way to protect free speech for all.

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2019-20 Faculty Speaker Series

The Faculty Speaker Series at Loyola University Chicago School of Law brings distinguished legal scholars to campus to discuss current and emerging issues of law related to their areas of interest and expertise. All presentations will be held at the Corboy Law Center, 25 E. Pearson Street, Chicago.