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The American Spectator

Feminism, Pornography, and Choice

By Nathan Harden

You may think you know what porn is. But there is a good chance you don’t.  In particular, if you are a woman, or if you grew up in the age prior to the Internet, the word “pornography” might evoke images of a blushing Playboy centerfold, or perhaps some flimsy-plotted film with a delivery man, a desperate housewife, and just a bit more sex and nudity than an R-rating would allow. In reality, mainstream pornography today is far more brutal, more graphic, and more violent than most could imagine if they hadn’t seen it for themselves.

In her new book, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, Gail Dines draws on years of research to reveal just how extreme the porn industry has become. She takes readers deep into the world of hardcore porn, describing one nightmarish scene after another, full of men punishing and humiliating women sexually on camera.

The material she covers is truly shocking, and, often, difficult to read. I physically gagged more than once while reading her descriptions. Every sort of bodily waste and fluid, and every conceivable method by which a woman’s body can be pushed to the limit, often at the hands of two or three men at a time, is commonplace in today’s porn.

Forget about Hugh Hefner and his silk pajamas. These days porn is dominated by Gonzo filmmakers. In the Gonzo genre, the emphasis is on “real” rather than scripted scenes. Such films are cheap to produce. In the Internet age anyone with a camera and a computer can sell porn to the world. In order to stand out, porn producers are coming up with ever more extreme material. If the girl is crying, vomiting, or even bleeding, that’s Gonzo gold. According to Dines, it is not uncommon for pornographers to film close-ups of the injuries that have occurred to the girl’s body, once a scene is over.

Dines argues persuasively that porn today is not simply about men looking at naked women, or watching sex acts. Rather, the goal of much of it seems to be to depict the maximum amount of humiliation for the girl on screen. One website proudly offers its customers the opportunity to “access total degradation.”

Almost as disturbing as the abusive material itself is the fact that so many men view it as a turn-on. Like drug users always looking for a more powerful fix, porn addicts are often shocked by how quickly they became desensitized to porn, seeking out increasingly bizarre material that they once found distasteful.

The average age of first exposure to porn for American males is eleven. Internet porn now serves as a de facto sex education for America’s youth. To suppose that porn is mere fantasy, with no effect on the real world, is simply not credible. Dines reports that many young women come to her, complaining that their boyfriends expect them to act out the humiliating scenes they see in hardcore porn.

Dines is a feminist. She makes no effort to hide the fact. Her fierce opposition to porn is motivated chiefly by her objection to the sexual inequality it depicts. However, as a self-described “progressive,” she finds herself uncomfortably aligned with social conservatives on the issue of pornography. Consequently, she has the tiresome habit of gratuitously singling out conservatives for attack, as though she were anxious to reassert her liberal bona fides. (Gee whiz, did you know Mitt Romney sits on the board of Marriot Hotels; and Marriot sells porn on pay-per-view?)

Dines also seems to have a problem with capitalism. Pornography is “first and foremost a business,” she writes in one weighty passage, as though that fact alone were enough to damn the enterprise. Admittedly, smut peddlers are a greedy lot. But Dines never says exactly how Karl Marx might save our sexual culture. Once again, her main point seems to be that she is not a conservative.

It is easy to see why Dines and other anti-porn feminists have a hard time reconciling their “conservative” views on porn with their liberal views on personal choice. Feminists, after all, have been saying for a long time that a woman should be able to do whatever she wants with her own body. The question is: if a girl allows a man to urinate on her on camera in exchange for a thousand bucks, can a feminist really approve the transaction merely on the basis of the girl’s consent?

Porn pits the principles of choice and equality against one another. As a liberal, Dines believes the basis of morality is the unrestrained freedom to choose any sort of lifestyle one desires. As a feminist, she also believes that gender equality is an inviolable moral standard.

In her epilogue entitled, “Fighting Back,” Dines articulates feminism’s moral confusion thusly: “We need to offer an alternative way of being, a way to envisage a sexuality that is based on equality, dignity, and respect.” (This is her expression of equality-based morality.) She goes on to say, “Such a sexuality cannot be scripted by a movement because it belongs to individuals and reflects who they are and what they want sexually.” (This is her expression of personal choice-based morality.)

Choice is the holiest word in feminism. To comprehend a moral order that originates outside the domain of personal choice, one must acknowledge a higher law — one above human will. As a liberal, the very idea of a revealed moral standard conflicts with Dines’s commitment to personal choice. Dines understands that porn is wrong; but I don’t think she really understands why.

What is wrong with porn is that it debases the modesty and dignity of the human beings who make it, as well as those who consume it. In the sixties, feminists spent so much energy throwing off the strictures of religion and tradition. They never realized that chastity itself was a form of power. They never realized that the moral restraints they discarded were vital to the equality they so desperately wanted.

“Bras are a ludicrous invention,” declared Germaine Greer in her 1970 feminist hell-raiser, The Female Eunuch. Two years earlier, the mythical burning of the bras at the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City had signified feminists’ rejection of the strictures of male-dominated society — especially in the realm of sexual mores.

The disappearing bra soon became a metaphor for feminism itself. The image is all too fitting. No metaphor could better capture the way in which feminism has left women exposed, when all along it was supposed to bring their liberation. By embracing sexual liberation as a fundamental tenet of the women’s movement, feminists embraced the irreconcilable aims of getting under men and getting out from under them at the same time.

Feminists preach moral self-determination as an article of faith. The porn-saturated culture we now live in is, in this sense, of half their making. And for the same reason, Dines is unable to offer any real solution to the problem she articulates. Nevertheless, her book deserves attention because the porn industry is currently doing hardcore damage to an entire generation of young people, both conservative and liberal alike. If you have a strong enough stomach to read Pornland, you will gain a new appreciation for just how poisonous pornography is to our sexual culture.

Nathan Harden blogs about higher education at National Review Online.

Link to original review.


The Boston Globe

The Shaping of Things

By Don Aucoin July 27, 2010

With just a few clicks of her desktop computer’s keyboard in her home office here, Gail Dines travels to a place she wishes did not exist: a pornographic website.

The images seem designed to maximize the women’s humiliation, a point that is not lost on Dines. “If you really watch it carefully, you can see that they’re in pain, exhausted, demoralized,’’ she says, looking somberly at the screen.

For three decades, Dines has been watching the pornography industry very carefully. What she has seen has ignited such a fury and sense of mission that she has made pornography a focus of her research, writing, teaching, and activism. As she has emerged as a leading anti-porn advocate, Dines has also become a target of venomous attacks: In one of the criticisms that can be printed in a family newspaper, a writer called her a “blind, delusional, opportunistic hack.’’

Her critics will not be pleased to learn that Dines is escalating her campaign with a new book titled “Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality’’ (Beacon Press). In particular, she is sounding the alarm about the ubiquity of “gonzo’’ porn, an extreme form of pornography that specializes in the degradation of women and that is available 24/7 on the Internet.

“Pornography today is not your father’s Playboy,’’ says Dines, 51, a Wheelock College professor of sociology and women’s studies. “It’s hard-core, cruel, and brutal. So you’re bringing up a generation of boys who are more cruel, bored, and desensitized.’’

To say she’s waging an uphill battle would be a colossal understatement, especially since the Internet has so greatly expanded pornography’s reach. According to statistics Dines cites in “Pornland,’’ there are more than four million pornographic websites worldwide, an estimated 420 million pages, and 68 million search requests for pornography each day.

At a time when the average boy first views pornography at age 11, Dines argues that we need to recognize porn for what it really is: a cultural force that is shaping the sexual attitudes of an entire generation.

“Pornography is the major form of sex ed today for boys,’’ Dines says. “It’s going to have dire consequences for the boys, for the girls, and for the culture.’’    Read the rest of this entry »


New York Post

By Gail Dines. Published July 11, 2010

Today’s porn is not your father’s Playboy. Type porn into Google and you won’t see anything that looks like the old pinups; instead, you will be catapulted into a world of sexual cruelty and brutality where women are subject to body-punishing sex and called vile names. It’s not surprising how little women really know about porn today, since most women avoid looking at these sites. Not true for the men I meet, especially the college-age and even high-school boys. They have grown up with porn and, for them, this has been their major form of sex education.

In porn, sex is not about making love. The feelings and emotions we normally associate with such an act — connection, empathy, tenderness, caring, affection — are missing, and in their place are those we normally associate with hate — fear, disgust, anger, loathing and contempt. In porn, the man “makes hate” to the woman, as each sex act is designed to deliver the maximum amount of degradation. Whether it be choking her or violent intercourse, the goal of porn sex is to illustrate how much power he has over her. Yet the women are still portrayed as enjoying these scenes. It is images like these that are now commonplace all over the Internet and are shaping the way men think about sex, relationships and intimacy.

The size of the industry today is staggering. Though reliable numbers are hard to find, the global industry has been estimated to be worth around $96 billion in 2006, with the US market worth approximately $13 billion. Each year, more than 13,000 films are released, and despite their modest budgets, pornography revenues rival those of all the major Hollywood studio films combined. According to Internet Filter Reviews, there are 420 million Internet porn pages, 4.2 million porn websites, and 68 million daily porn search engine requests. A recent study from Optenet, an online security firm, found that approximately 37% of online pages contain pornographic content. Meanwhile, the number of porn sites increased 17% from last year.

Without a doubt, a key factor driving the growth of the porn market has been the development of technologies allowing users to buy and consume porn in private, without embarrassing trips to seedy stores or video rental shops. These technologies also enable pornography to be viewed anywhere, anytime; even the global cellphone market for porn is expected to reach $3.5 billion this year, according to the Britain-based Juniper Research.

This is a business with considerable political clout, with the capacity to lobby politicians, engage in expensive legal battles, and use public relations to influence public debate. Like the tobacco industry, this is not a simple matter of consumer choice; rather the business is increasingly able to deploy a sophisticated and well-resourced marketing machine, not just to push its wares but also to cast the industry’s image in a positive light. Indeed, one of the key myths that the industry promotes is that porn is harmless fun: that it is all about fantasy and play, and that we should not take it too seriously.   Read the rest of this entry »


The Guardian

The Truth about the Porn Industry

Julie Bindel, July 2, 2010

The last time I saw Gail Dines speak, at a conference in Boston, she moved the audience to tears with her description of the problems caused by pornography, and provoked laughter with her sharp observations about pornographers themselves. Activists in the audience were newly inspired, and men at the event – many of whom had never viewed pornography as a problem before – queued up afterwards to pledge their support. The scene highlighted Dines’s explosive charisma and the fact that, since the death of Andrea Dworkin, she has risen to that most difficult and interesting of public roles: the world’s leading anti-pornography campaigner.

Dines is also a highly regarded academic and her new book, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, has just come out in the US, and is available online here. She wrote it primarily to educate people about what pornography today is really like, she says, and to banish any notion of it as benign titillation. “We are now bringing up a generation of boys on cruel, violent porn,” she says, “and given what we know about how images affect people, this is going to have a profound influence on their sexuality, behaviour and attitudes towards women.”

The book documents the recent history of porn, including the technological shifts that have made it accessible on mobile phones, videogames and laptops. According to Dines’s research the prevalence of porn means that men are becoming desensitised to it, and are therefore seeking out ever harsher, more violent and degrading images. Even the porn industry is shocked by how much violence the fans want, she says; at the industry conferences that Dines attends, porn makers have increasingly been discussing the trend for more extreme practices. And the audience is getting younger. Market research conducted by internet providers found that the average age a boy first sees porn today is 11; a study from the University of Alberta found that one third of 13-year-old boys admitted viewing porn; and a survey published by Psychologies magazine in the UK last month found that a third of 14- to 16-year-olds had first seen sexual images online when they were 10 or younger – 81% of those polled looked at porn online at home, while 63% could easily access it on their mobile phones.

“I have found that the earlier men use porn,” says Dines, “the more likely they are to have trouble developing close, intimate relationships with real women. Some of these men prefer porn to sex with an actual human being. They are bewildered, even angry, when real women don’t want or enjoy porn sex.”

Porn culture doesn’t only affect men. It also changes “the way women and girls think about their bodies, their sexuality and their relationships,” says Dines. “Every group that has fought for liberation understands that media images are part and parcel of the systematic dehumanisation of an oppressed group . . . The more porn images filter into mainstream culture, the more girls and women are stripped of full human status and reduced to sex objects. This has a terrible effect on girls’ sexual identity because it robs them of their own sexual desire.” Read the rest of this entry »


Pulse Media

Interview with Christian Avard, June 29, 2010

This is an interview that you may not be accustomed to viewing at PULSE, but pornography is an issue I don’t take lightly.  As a father of two boys, I am concerned with how pornography conveys sex to today’s youth; how it exploits both women and men;  and the fact that pornography is getting more and more graphic (and violent) than ever.  Dr Gail Dines, of Wheelock College, puts pornography in some much-needed perspective and I hope this engages a lively, yet respectful, discussion. – Christian Avard

In today’s world, sex has become commodified and industrialized. We see it all the time in print publications, television commercials, cable television shows, major motion pictures, and adult entertainment. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry that misuses and abuses sex and represents it in disturbing ways. Pornographers sell and produce films based on teen sex, torture porn, humiliation, and/or racist caricatures. What’s more disturbing is that hard-core porn is becoming more mainstream in society.

Dr. Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College and an expert on pornography. Her new book, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, has just been released by Beacon Press and is considered a groundbreaking study of how today’s pornography shapes men and women’s ideas, attitudes, and perceptions of sex. Here is what Dines has to say about her new book and the effects of pornography.

In the preface of your book, you share a personal story about a conversation you had with your son over pornography. You write, “I said [to him] that should he decide to use porn, that he was going to hand over his sexuality—a sexuality that he had yet to grow into, that made sense for who he was and who he was going to be—to someone else.” How and why do boys and young men give their power away to pornography? What kind of power does pornography have in shaping boys’ and men’s perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs toward sex?

Dr. Gail Dines:

Boys and men don’t realize the power they’re giving away to pornography. They don’t understand the power it has to shape who they are, their sexuality, and their sexual identity. In this culture, we think of pornography as a joke or something to laugh about. We don’t take it seriously as a source of information that has the ability and power to impact on the way we think about the world. Most boys and men go to pornography for an ejaculation; they come away with a lot more. I don’t think they’re quite aware of it.

Pornography, like all images, tells stories about the world. It tells stories about women, men, sexuality, and intimacy. In pornography, intimacy is something to be avoided, and—as I say in the book—“In pornography nobody makes love. They all make hate.” The man makes hate to the woman’s body. It’s about the destruction of intimacy.

Is it true that what most boys and men see in current trends of pornography are things that they expect in sex? How did that happen, and how is it impacting on boys’ and men’s perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs toward sex?

Well, a lot of people don’t know what pornography is. The first thing I do in the book is very purposefully describe it in detail. I know that for many people it’s going to be hard to read. I understand that. But if you’re really going to understand what I’m saying and why I’m saying it, then you have to understand the material I’m talking about. A lot of older men and women think I’m talking about Playboy from 15 years ago: a centerfold or a woman with no clothes on smiling in a cornfield. They think, “What’s wrong with that?” Well, that was bad enough in the way it objectified women, but we’re on a whole new level now with this kind of imagery.  Read the rest of this entry »


Ms. Magazine

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. Read the rest of this entry »


Sacramento Book Review

Review published June 22, 2010

Several years ago, when Paris Hilton was on the brink of turning her party girl celeb status into television star status, her ex-boyfriend released a sex tape featuring himself and a younger Paris. We can’t know if Hilton would have become the celebrity she is now without the release of 1 Night in Paris, but it’s undeniable that getting naked and having sex on film catapulted Hilton into the mainstream spotlight in a way that simply showing up at nightclubs had not. She’s parlayed pornography into a successful career as an actress, musician, author and brand. And we’ve let her.

Though we joke about Paris Hilton — sometimes cruelly — and few people would openly admit to seeking out the products she promotes, the fact is somebody is paying attention. The reasons for this are complex and hard to nail down, but in Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, Gail Dines asks important questions and makes pointed observations about the ways in which porn culture has become pop culture.  From changing our standards of beauty to normalizing sexual violence against women to lending credence to pseudo-scientific “facts” about “average” men and women, porn — particularly the now-mainstream genre known as “gonzo porn”— isn’t changing the social landscape, it’s already so deeply rooted in our collective cultural conscience that we hardly notice it anymore.

Most disturbing to Dines is the widely accepted notion that modern porn culture is a triumph of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  It’s a mantra many of us have heard before, and it seems to make sense at first glance. But Dines barely scratches the surface of this claim before she reveals the ugly truth: Pornography and the mainstream culture fed by it still offer few choices to women who seek to be desired by men. Sexuality, as painted by porn culture, is still very much dictated by men.  But here’s the rub: Men suffer from this culture, too. For in Pornland, all men are aggressive, misogynistic, often violent predators.  As if previous notions of masculinity weren’t harmful and limiting enough to our boys.

Dines has written a treatise that is equally powerful and disturbing. She asks tough questions and makes uncomfortable observations, but the results ought to be game-changing: a world in which we have healthy attitudes about the feminine, the masculine, about sex and about ourselves. A world far-removed from Pornland.

Reviewed by Amanda Mitchell


Endorsements (book jacket)

“We’re now so pornography saturated that our capacity for sexual delight is being brutalized. Gail Dines brilliantly exposes porn’s economics, pervasiveness, and impact with scholarship as impeccable as her tone is reasonable. This book will change your life. Ignore it at your peril.”
—Robin Morgan

“Bravo to Gail Dines!  She exposes a huge problem of our time that few people are willing to confront.  Dines follows the extensive money trail, uncovering the role of corporate duplicity and greed, while showing how steadily pornography has infiltrated into everyday life from almost cradle to grave, harming children, youth, women, and men. Pornland will arm readers with the information, understanding, and outrage they need to take on the perpetrators of this assault on humanity.”
—Diane Levin, coauthor of So Sexy, So Soon

“This is, without question, the definitive book on pornography and pop culture in the twenty-first century.”
—Robert Jensen, author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity

Pornland takes a quantum leap beyond the tired pro-porn vs. anti-porn debates of recent decades.  From now on, it will be the starting point for serious discussions about how porn shapes and distorts social and sexual norms. Gail Dines understands both the economics and cultural power of the pornography industry perhaps better than anyone ever has. This is accessible and grounded social analysis and commentary at its finest.”
—Jackson Katz, Ph.D., creator of the video Tough Guise and author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help

“An eyes-wide-open-look at the way the porn industry exploits and damages the gift of our sexuality to fuel itself. Pornland is well-researched, well-written, and heartfelt. I highly recommend it.”
—Wendy Maltz, L.C.S.W., D.S.T., coauthor of The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography

Pornland is a must read for anyone who is concerned or puzzled about our ever intensifying pornographic culture. From the intricate linking of the porn industry with Fortune 500 companies to behind the scenes of Girls Gone Wild, young men’s confessions of being turned off by natural female bodies, and much more, Dines makes eye-opening connections and breaks new ground with every chapter. Thoroughly researched and forcefully argued, this phenomenal book pulls you in with a unique blend of humor, fierce intellect, and compassion for humanity.”
—Chyng Sun, associate professor of media studies at New York University and director of The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality, and Relationships


Library Journal

May 1, 2010

This book is nothing short of a scathing critique of modern pornography. Dines (sociology & women’s studies, Wheelock Coll.; Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality) convincingly argues that the porn industry has distorted, commercialized, and repackaged sexuality for both men and women. As a prosex, antiporn feminist, Dines is disturbed by the mainstreaming of porn into popular culture and the increasing brutality of hard-core pornography. Although her cause is honorable and her argument sound, Dines’s sexually explicit descriptions of pornographic web sites (often with text quoted verbatim) and movies render this an extremely uncomfortable read. Owing to the fine line between exposing exploitation and re-exploiting victims by exposing their stories, Dines makes a valiant effort at truth telling… More compelling is her thoughtful analysis of pornography’s infiltration into the American economy, its detrimental effects on the sexual and emotional health of women and men, and its ability to perpetuate both sexism and racism. —Veronica Arellano, Lexington Park, MD

Link to original review


Publishers Weekly

April 5, 2010

As pornography has become both more extreme and more commercial, antiporn activist Dines argues, it has dehumanized our sexual relationships. The radical objectification and often brutal denigration of women in porn, she holds, “leaks” into other aspects of our lives. Dines’s argument rests on a compelling, close reading of the imagery and narrative content of magazines, videos, and marketing materials; what is missing, however, is a similarly compelling body of research on how these images are used by viewers, aside from Dines’s own anecdotal evidence. The author’s appropriation of addiction terminology–viewers are called “users,” habitual viewing is an “addiction,” and pornography featuring teenagers is called “Pseudo-Child Pornography” or “PCP”–is distracting and suggests that rhetorical tricks are needed because solid argumentation is lacking. Likewise, Dines’s opponents are unlikely to be swayed by her speculation tying porn viewing to rape and child molestation, nor by the selective sources she draws on to support her point (convicted sex offenders). The book does raise important questions about the commoditization of sexual desires and the extent to which pornography has become part of our economy (with hotel chains and cable and satellite companies among the largest distributors).

Link to original review