One of three reports written for the feminist newsjournal off our backs covering the Pornography and Pop Culture: Reframing Theory, Rethinking Activism conference held at Wheelock College in March 2007.
The New Antipornography Slide Show
Gail Dines reported by Samantha 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 passé for the porn addicted to get sufficiently tingled.
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 antipornography activists.
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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