I have recently been trying to read Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines and I’ve been finding it infuriating. I’m halfway through it and now really have to go and read Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Volume One: An Introduction in the next couple of weeks before meeting with my supervisor (!) but I do plan to review it here once I’ve managed to finish it. So for now I’ll leave you with some links to really good articles I’ve found online critiquing Dines’ work. She was recently in Australia and was all over the media. She spoke at the Sydney Writers festival, she was on Q and A on May 23 (you can download the episode from itunes or watch it on the ABC website), Triple J’s Hack program and had a column in the Sydney Morning Herald. Luckily there have been a lot of people critiquing her arguments, because they really need critiquing. Dr Alan McKee responded to Dines’ SMH piece by asking Is There a Difference Between Good Pornography and Bad Pornography? (because Dines seems unable to see such a thing). He talks about things like ethics and consent and women’s pleasure – all things Dines claims to care about but is unable to ever see when talking about porn.
Sex educator Charlie Glickman has some really great stuff on his blog and I really like his writings on Dines. He had this to say in his 7 ways to create a sex-positive critique of porn:
So why do I think that Dines’ strategies are sex-negative? Because she deliberately works to trigger disgust about a sexual practice in order to manipulate people into rallying to her call. Rather than opening up a dialogue about the real reasons that some porn is problematic or asking how the performers on the site feel about their experiences, she uses tactics that depend on and deepen sexual shame in order to sway people to her point of view. And that makes them sex-negative. Facefucking is not inherently abusive, violent, or misogynistic any more than intercourse is inherently respectful, pleasurable, or egalitarian. As with any sexual act, it’s a question of whether you want to do it, how you do it, and how you feel about it during it and afterward. When Dines makes it sound otherwise, she reinforces sex-negativity. It doesn’t really matter whether she deliberately chose this strategy or happened to discover its effectivenessby accident.
Another good article from Glickman is If Gail Dines Would Stop Shaming People, Maybe Folks Would Listen. I really like Glickman’s stuff because, like me, I think he agrees with a lot of what Dines says she is concerned about (e.g. objectification of women, sexualisation of children, consent), but he is less-than-impressed with how she talks about sex and the conclusions that she draws.
Another good article, from Violet Blue’s blog, is Gail Dines, SlutWalk, Saudi Arabia and The Place of Porn in a “Just Society” by Thomas Roche (NSFW). This article has a lot of links to other stuff by and about Gail Dines. Here’s an excerpt:
For every population except squicked-out anti-porn commandos, Dines has all the credibility of a mad dog at a peace rally. She can’t say the word “porn” without foaming at the mouth. In all her writings, Dines expresses rampant anti-male sexism, and cherry-picks her information when she can’t be bothered to make it up. When she wants to conjure some violin music, she calls up some vague generalization about women she meets at her classes and presentations, and how “they” feel.
But the plural of anecdote is not data; the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, and when Dines can’t even be bothered to relate specific anecdotes, she summarizes them…and guess what? Her summaries of the experiences of the “women” “she” “meets” suspiciously support the “truths” about male-female interaction that Dines has already told you she already decided.
But none of that is news. What troubles me most about Dines in this Herald article is her use of the term “normal,” which is, to my way of thinking about sex education, absolutely the most dangerous term there is. Dines uses it, here, to completely disregard any flavor of female desire that doesn’t exactly match what I presume must be her own.
So there’s some reading to get you started about what is wrong with Gail Dines (and anti-porn feminism generally). I certainly do not think that there is nothing wrong with porn. I think we should ask the same questions of pornography that we ask of everything else in culture – Who makes it? Who consumes it? How do they use it? What meanings might they be making from it? How might it have changed over time? There are so many feminists looking at pornography and making really good critiques and raising valid questions about it and there are feminists working within the sex industry trying to raise ethical standards for the workers involved. It’s such a shame when people like Dines come along and get all this media coverage with their sex-negativity and bad scholarship that is not going to do anything to improve the lives of people in the sex industry or improve the kind of porn being made.