Porn: Pleasure or Profit? An Interview With Gail Dines, Part I
by Shira Tarrant, June 29, 2010
Move over dot-com, dot-org, and dot-gov. There’s a new domain on the block: dot-xxx. With 370 million sites and $3,000 spent for online porn every second, the industry’s revenues surpass earnings by Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined.
This is author Gail Dines’s point: Porn is about profit, not pleasure. Some people make a buck; many more are harmed, argues Dines in her new book PORNLAND: How Pornography Has Hijacked our Sexuality (Beacon Press).
Gail Dines calls herself an anti-porn feminist, but she is quick to clarify that she’s not anti-sex. Unlike Dines—and in the interest of full disclosure—I am not anti-porn. I oppose censorship and unproductive arguments pitting sex-positive feminists against anti-porn activists. This keeps rival groups in far corners of the Sex Wars boxing ring. We need more conversation—not less—which means asking tough questions across ideological divides. To that end, I interviewed Gail Dines, curious about our agreements and differences on The Porn Question.
Ms./Shira Tarrant: You wrote Pornland for a mainstream audience. What is your primary hope for this book?
Gail Dines: I wrote Pornland to raise consciousness about the effects of the contemporary porn industry. Many people have outdated ideas that porn is pictures of naked women wearing coy smiles and not much else, or of people having hot sex. Today’s mainstream Internet porn is brutal and cruel, with body-punishing sex acts that debase and dehumanize women.
Pornland looks at how porn messages, ideologies, and images seep into our everyday life. Whether it be Miley Cyrus in Elle spread-eagle on a table dressed in S&M gear, or Cosmopolitan telling readers to spice up their sex lives with porn, we are overwhelmed by a porn culture that shapes our sexual identities and ideas about gender and sexuality. Pornland explores how porn limits our capacity for connection, intimacy and relationships.
ST: What is it about Miley Cyrus in S&M gear that bothers you? Is it her age? Or simply that she’s wearing pseudo-bondage gear?
GD: The problem is that women in our culture have to conform to very narrow definitions of femininity and it’s defined by porn. Miley Cyrus’s performance is not about creativity but dictated by capitalism. She aged out of Disney and this is the carefully planned-out launch of the new Miley Cyrus.
My issue is about the market and about how pornography frames femininity. Women are either fuckable or invisible. Miley Cyrus wouldn’t make any money [with an unfuckable image].
ST: Are you opposed to consensual BDSM sex in real life? Or do you see this as a harmful and exploitative relationship?
GD: What people do outside corporate forces, or outside capitalism, is none of my business.
I’m critiquing the commodification of sex. That gets confused with the idea that I’m telling people what to do in the bedroom. It’s a much easier argument to make [but] it’s a refusal to take seriously a radical feminist critique of the culture.
ST: Some people working in the business argue that porn is a legitimate way to earn a living. I know you disagree, but that keeps us stuck in an us-versus-them sex war. Do you see a way to move past that stalemate?
GD: The industry frames the work as a choice, because otherwise that would ruin porn. Choice is built into the way men enjoy porn. Men I interviewed are convinced the women in porn really choose this and enjoy their job.
Increasingly, women are drawn to porn by the glamorization of the industry. Some women have made porn work for them—Sasha Grey, Jenna Jameson. Jenna Jameson was on Oprah, who was gushing about her. Oprah went to her house and showed the audience Jameson’s expensive cars and private art collection. This looks attractive to women with limited resources. Capitalism can only succeed if there are people around who will do the shit work. Women with law degrees are not lining up to do porn. The vast majority of women doing porn don’t make it and don’t get famous. They end up in low paid work as well as the brothels of Nevada.
We need a world where women have real options to make a living. This is a class issue and a race issue. To talk about choice is to ignore how people are constrained by their social and economic situations
To be continued in Part II …