The following is one of three reports written for publication in the feminist newsjournal off our backs, the other two being Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture and Pornography, Prostitution & Sex Trafficking: How Do You Tell the Difference?
Pornography and Pop Culture: Reframing Theory, Rethinking Activism
was a conference held at Wheelock College in Boston in March 2007 to reinvigorate the feminist antipornography movement and introduce modern methods of organizing resistance to an increasingly pornified culture.
The New Antipornography Slide Show
Gail Dines reported by S.M. Berg
Gail Dines, professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock
College in Boston, has struggled uphill to educate people about
pornography for the past 20 years. Pornography consumption has changed
dramatically the past two decades, but pornographic product remains
focused on the same titillation at women's humiliation that has always
been its central theme. Missing no opportunity to bust a pornography
myth, Dines had barely begun her presentation before exploding the
common retort that pornography is as ancient as cave paintings by
reminding people that before the 1950s, pornography was not distributed
through the mainstream channels of American capitalism. Her critique
framed the watershed moment of Playboy's publication in 1953 such that
its obvious capitalist intent was forefront instead of the usual
diversions about sexual liberation that have effectively silenced
feminist criticism of this profit-driven industry.
One of Dines' strengths as a speaker is how deftly she uses the images
and social conventions familiar to the audience to make her points
about their insidious socializing effects. In the landscape she paints,
blonde jokes are not mere quips on hair color but cruel stabs at women
infantilized and idiotized spanning back from Jessica Simpson to
Generation X icon Meg Ryan to 1970s sweetheart Goldie Hawn and so on.
The "come on big boy" invitation staring from thousands of impossibly
gorgeous models in magazines and music videos becomes less annoying and
more sinister when Dines points out how they encourage men's belief in
their entitlement to women's bodies. Men who rape are taking women up
on the "fuck me" look promised by models and would-be feminists like
Madonna, but models don't inhabit the daily lives of men like ordinary
women do and Madonna has a retinue of bodyguards protecting her that
ordinary women don't.
The power of images cannot be understated. One doesn't engage with
an image intellectually, one feels its loaded messages instantly and
intrinsically, or as Dines puts it, "You cannot have a rational
discussion with an erection." Just as the animalization of black women
presented in pornography and popular culture imagery says nothing about
black women, but a whole lot about white men, pornography as a whole
says much more about who men are than women. Says Dines, "We think it's
about women because it's a picture of women, but, no, pornography is
really the story of masculinity. Pornography is the place where men
speak to each other using the female body as the screen to project
their words and thenimages."
What these images say about women is that men derive great sexual
pleasure from hurting women and seeing women be hurt, and their sadism
is on rise. Just when you think pornography has crossed every boundary
and has filmed every possible combination of mouths, anuses and
genitals being penetrated by every object known to humankind,
pornographers find a way to up the degradation ante. A new trend in
pornography is "pink eyeing," men intentionally ejaculating into a
woman's eye, and it is a glimpse at what is happening now that facial
shots have become too passť for the porn addicted to get sufficiently
Overall it was a bleak presentation; there's no getting around the
grim reality of the damage pornography is doing to us all. But from
great depths of sadness well great reservoirs of resolve to change the
prevailing pornified culture. Dines more than adequately prepared
conference attendees for the grand unveiling of the slide show, "Who
Wants To Be A Porn Star?" a ready-made presentation with helpful tips
for public presenting intended for use by the next generation of
Gail Dines is professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College in Boston.
She is coeditor of Gender, Race and Class in Media.
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