During her visit to Australia for the 2011 Sydney Writers' Festival, academic, activist and social critic Dr Gail Dines stirred strong debate with her radical feminist position. Particularly controversial is her critique of the pervasive influence pornography wields over the mainstream of contemporary media culture, as articulated in her book Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality. Following a passionate discussion on ABC TV’s Q&A program, Dines speaks with writer and fellow feminist Monica Dux.
Dines opens by expressing her astonishment at the ease of access to major media outlets in Australia compared to larger countries, where some have predicted her book wouldn’t be read by anyone other than academics. She explains her views on porn’s relationship with popular culture, beginning by tracing the history of its development and following the movement of creative talent between porn and the mainstream. (Later, she adds in response to an audience question that, at its core, our fetishisation of female purity has strongly contributed to the rise of porn.)
Dines goes on to say that she “can actually tell, when I’m watching a movie or something, just how much the guy who created it is into porn.”
Briefly pondering a link with Jim Henson, Dux asks Dines to explain what she often refers to as gonzo porn, the primary target of her critique. Dines unflinchingly describes the violent, debasing acts commonly seen in the genre, including ‘ATM’.
An avid researcher, Dines shares a story from her encounter with ‘Real Dolls’, an unfortunate source of otherwise scarcely found tenderness in porn. She describes interviewing convicted paedophiles and the ‘pseudo child porn’ which they say led them to their transgressions. She also expresses her disappointment with the failure of “left-wing men” to rail against the inequality and violence of pornography, despite their ardent opposition to many other exploitative capitalist institutions.
As for the argument that porn acts as a kind of catharsis, satisfying and thus managing perverse desire and fantasy, Dines maintains it’s not fantasy, it’s real. A more legitimate fantasy, she continues, would take the form of a more positive, inclusive and generous sexual culture.
Dux articulates her difficulty in believing that so many men prefer graphic gonzo films. The desire for depictions of degrading sex is not innate, Dines agrees, but is results from how the screen manipulates male sexual desire.
On the the West’s apparent love affair with “death-loving sexuality”, Dines doesn’t advocate banning pornography but holding the indsutry to account. Yet she also confesses: “As a radical, I don’t believe that industries within capitalism can be changed… Certain industries are too rotten to be salvaged. Slavery was one of them… same with pornography. It’s too rotten to the core, it’s too corrupt and it can’t be changed.” She adds that “we have to figure out what authentic sexuality looks like outside of a corporate, capitalist, industrialised, generic, roboticised imagery.”
Dr Gail Dines was in Australia as a guest of the Wheeler Centre and Sydney Writers' Festival.
Dr Gail Dines is professor of sociology and women’s studies at Boston’s Wheelock College. Her work focuses on the hypersexualisation of culture and the way porn filters into pop culture. Her latest book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality.
Monica Dux is a columnist with the Age, and the author of Things I Didn’t Expect (when I was expecting) (2013), co-author of The Great Feminist Denial (2008), and editor of the forthcoming anthology Mothermorphosis (April 2015). She can be heard regularly on ABC radio and 3RRR, and has published widely, especially on women’s issues. Monica is a founding board member of the Stella Prize.