Is Porn Hijacking Our Sexuality? (Part 4)

by Gail Dines

In the final entry in our debate on pornography, Gail Dines argues that opposition to porn ultimately derives from a philosophical commitment to equality and the idea that human life should not be commodified.

First published: 07 April, 2012 | Category: Culture, Gender equality

This week we have run a debate abot pornography and feminism between freelance writer and journalist Sarah Ditum and anti-porn academic and activist Gail Dines. In this last part, Dines argues that opposition to porn ultimately derives from a philosophical commitment to equality and the idea that human life should not be commodified. (The debate so far - Ditum's opener, Dines' response, Ditum's rejoinder.)


This debate feels like a marriage gone sour. After years of fighting with the same person, you know exactly what they are going to say, and with equal tedious predictability, you know what your response is going to be. It is a bit like fighting by numbers. This debate has been going on for thirty years, so instead of me arguing about capitalism, free speech and definitions of porn, I am going to end this debate by saying that there is no solution. There is no single study (or multitude of studies) I can cite that will shift those who sympathize with Ditum, and to be fair, this holds true for feminists who are anti-porn. At root what we have here are deep philosophical differences about the nature of agency, freedom, capitalism, sexuality, heterosexuality and power.

I am a radical feminist who is opposed to the commodification of human life. I do not believe that we should let a capitalist media industry shape our culture, sexuality, and gender relations, and I am opposed to the systems of inequality that supply the sex industry with human flesh. Women, and men, end up in the sex industry because they are the losers in the capitalist roulette. Yes, you may very well know someone’s cousin’s best friend who has a law degree but chooses to do porn, but this does not change the reality of how the vast majority of people end up in the sex industry. Take away capitalism, racism, and sexism, and tell me how you will staff the sex industry. Remove all the systems that make life unbearable for a majority of people on this planet, and my bet is that you will have not have thousands of women who volunteer to be in porn so that nameless men, who think they are nothing more than a cumbucket, can jerk off to them.

The ascendency of a toxic mix of neoliberal ideology and postmodern notions in the academy makes it almost impossible to recognize structures of power and the reality of exploitation, or to argue against the idea that we are all rational individuals freely choosing an empowering lifestyle. This insidious virus has infected feminist thinking, resulting in a feminism devoid of any political or structural analysis. This ridiculous turning away from feminist roots has made radical feminists look like relics of a bygone era who hold on to outdated notions of systematic power and systemic inequality that limit the life chances of women and shape the choices we make. We look like a bunch of party poopers who refuse to celebrate all that great agency young women now have as they are encouraged to strip, wax, and fuck themselves into empowerment.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Republicans have declared war on women’s bodies, women still earn less than men, are still the ones who are responsible for child care, are still raped, harassed, molested, trafficked, and are increasingly having to deal with men who are stuck in perpetual adolescence (what the sociologist Michael Kimmel calls Guyland, the parallel universe to Pornland). These men are their buddies, their bosses, their politicians, their lawyers, their doctors, and their partners. Guyland men continue to make laws that limit women’s lives economically, medically, legally and politically, because -- like for all adolescent boys with hard ons -- women who are not fuckable are invisible to them.

I have no studies up my sleeve to prove to Guyland men that women deserve true equality. As with civil rights, this is a political principle, not an empirical question. In any event, studies do not change the world. The only thing that makes a difference is collective organizing and education, and that is what radical feminists do. We believe in a future free of oppression, and a cornerstone of this future is a world free of commodified sex and a media landscape that does not reproduce patriarchal culture. This is a truth we hold dear and there is no study, argument, or theory that will persuade us otherwise.

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