We Need To Stop Nodding Along

January 24, 2012

 – Feminist Anti Porn Activists Need to be Challenged

 Words By: Art Mitchells-Urwin

 Whilst at a recent conference on the academic study of pornography, I attended a talk given by Professor Gale Dines, whose website describes her as having “been at the forefront of the anti-pornography movement for 2 decades”. During this impassioned talk, Dines spoke about her belief that pornography consumers enjoy watching scenes of anal penetration because it was presented as being painful to the receptive performer, in her given example, the female partner. As a result, Dines argued, pornography was effectively contributing to the proliferation of sexual (and non-sexual) violence towards women through the circulation of violent images. The room nodded in uniform agreement, and Professor Dines continued with her talk.

    There is a real issue with what Professor Dines implied, and continues to be implied in a large amount of feminist discourse regarding pornography. The issue here is either ignorance, or the willful disregard of pornography consumers’ awareness of the construction and fantasy-element of pornography. In the past two decades, consumers of almost all types of media have become increasingly aware of the process of construction that produces the media they choose to consume. One only has to look at the ubiquitous ‘making of’ featurettes on DVDs, television shows, film and music magazines that go to great lengths to document the construction of the final product, in order to see audiences’ appetite for such offerings. The porn industry is not outside of this process.

    If we take the gay porn company, Bel Ami, it is evident that the company’s business model is built not only upon the main features of hardcore pornography containing Eastern-European men, but also the deconstruction of its own pornography. Its website includes lengthy making-of documentaries, video footage of “auditions” and first attempts at scenes which are not up to the standard of their main releases. Often such videos outnumber the main feature videos. Indeed, such an appetite for looking beyond the parameters of the projected pornographic screen is evident, such as in heterosexual pornographic series “Porn’s Most Outrageous Outtakes” which became so popular it ultimately ran to five volumes. Another example “Behind The Sex” runs to four hours long. These DVDs are by their very nature pornographic, and are obviously still intended to arouse the viewer. However the willful deconstruction of the porn is observable.

    It is not only porn producers that are deconstructing pornography for the consumer. The Internet is filled with forums, blogs and review sites that allow consumers to participate in the deconstruction of the medium. Porn 2.0, named after Web 2.0, which allows participation in the creation of a particular webpage or website, has allowed consumers to discuss and comment on the pornography they are consuming, at length and at no cost to the consumer. Whereas once a porn actor or actress would be an anonymous figure, framed only by their stage name and the scenario given to them in any pornographic scene, Porn 2.0 now allows for consumers to reveal the actors and actresses’ real names, their personal histories and their previous pornographic credits. Whether they are enjoying themselves or not, what sexual acts they enjoy on and off screen and their age, are regularly discussed in such spaces.

    Why is this important? Because Gale Dines, and her fellow anti-porn activists have, for many years now, projected the view that consumers (predominantly men, in the feminist argument) are unable to separate the fantasy and performance that is presented within the parameters of the pornographic screen. As a result, they argue, men are viewing some of the more outlandish, violent and paraphernalia-based porn as reality. It should be noted, although rarely is by such activists, that much of the outlandish, violent and paraphernalia-based sex portrayed in porn is practiced by healthy sexual adults in everyday life. The claim that those men are interested in anal sex predominantly due to their exposure to the act in pornography (and want to see and perform it themselves due to their belief that it is painful to the receptive partner) is severely undermining porn audiences’ sexual and intellectual autonomy. It hardly needs to be noted that anal sex has existed amongst homosexuals and heterosexuals long before porn presented it to us through a visual medium.

    As a gay male, my boyfriend and I certainly don’t have anal sex because we desire to hurt each other, nor because ‘it is the only thing available to us’. Like any sexual experience, we do it because regardless of any respective porn use, we are able to separate what is healthy sexually, and what is unhealthy for our relationship and bodies. I am also a researcher on the topic of pornography and thus an automatically assumed to be an apologist for the porn industry. This is simply not true. I think porn can be destructive, dangerous and an unhealthy medium for some, as can many other forms of media, but it can also be a very healthy medium for others.

    Feminism has always occupied a space in the theoretical discussions of pornography. For a number of decades, various splinter groups of feminists have argued against and for pornography, reaching a peak in the “feminist sex wars” of the 70’s and 80’s. For those feminists who opposed pornography, such as Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, pornography became the visual manifestation of male misogyny and the continued subjugation of women through male sexual power. Porn allowed these feminist theories to leap from the dusty pages of academia and be used as the visual evidence of their claims. These claims almost invariably focused on what was identified by such feminists as violent, sadistic and degrading images of women.

    Here, in 2012, Third Wave Feminism has reached not only a new generation of women (and men), but has also revisited feminist discussions regarding the depictions of sex in pornography. Thankfully, some of these discussions have progressed after decades of stagnation. Some Third Wave Feminists are also deconstructing porn by arguing that the image presented should not occupy the central consideration, and that it is what the viewer brings to the image which dictates its potential harmful or positive effects.

    If we are to truly look at the effects of porn, regardless of whether they are bad or good, we first need to strip away some of the willfully misguided concepts that anti-porn activists have released into the public consciousness. Only then can we approach pornography with the clarity that is currently missing from such discourses. Feminist anti-porn activists need to be challenged, not necessarily on their beliefs that porn is bad, but challenged to truly evaluate some of the conclusions of pornography that we have begun to take for granted. We need to stop nodding along to Gale Dines.

One Response to “We Need To Stop Nodding Along”

  1. Laure Says:

    A really interesting and well written article Art! Definitely made me think about the way we see and discuss Porn. I also found the idea of “what the viewer brings to the image which dictates its potential harmful or positive effects.” a really interesting one. I really like the fact that you don’t claim to know what the right answers are, but you want us to not be lazy in our own quest to find the right answers.


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