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Gail Dines Headshot

UCSB, Feminism and Porn

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I have been a radical feminist for as long as I can remember. As I witness the marginalisation of radical feminism in the cultural discourse, in publishing, and in women's studies programs, I see the feminist movement I once loved become powerless to explain what is happening to women -especially the horrific levels of violence against women.

This failure has reached a new level following the massacre by Elliot Rodger of students at UC Santa Barbara. The media is on fire with women, and some men, writing about misogyny as the cause, as if that explains why Rodger targeted young women and rambled on about "sluts" refusing to date him.

Misogyny is not something created out of thin air, to be caught much like a cold, that drives those infected to commit horrendous acts of violence. It is an ideology produced and disseminated by social and cultural institutions that work seamlessly together to create a social reality that normalises, legitimises and glorifies violence against women.

Karl Marx was one of the first theorists to explain that ideology is not a free-floating set of ideas, but rather a coherent system of beliefs that are purposely and carefully created by the elite class to promote their interests. Using their ownership of key cultural institutions, the elite then set about distributing these ideas until they become the dominant ways of thinking.

Misogyny has now become the catch-all term to explain why men murder women, and that explanation is true as far as it goes. But if we see misogyny as an ideology, then the key question--too rarely asked - is where the norms, values and beliefs that constitute misogyny come from. Unless we believe that men are born misogynists, however - and feminists know only too well how dangerous the "biology is destiny" argument can be - then it is incumbent upon us to explain why some men hate women enough to rape, maim, and kill us. Blaming misogyny without delving into its aetiology is lazy social theory, and it does not cast any light on the specific institutions and processes that result in mass murders like Rodger's.

The more I read about Rodger's unspeakable acts, the more enraged I become with the unwillingness of the mainstream feminist movement to take on the elephant in the room: a well resourced, multi-billion dollar a year industry that doesn't just produce misogyny, but actually ties it to male arousal and ejaculation. Mainstream porn has now become so violent that when radical feminists describe it in debates and presentations, we are accused - including by other feminists -of exaggerating and only focusing on the very worst of porn.

In the best case scenario, this is because most mainstream feminists have never actually spent time on the most traveled porn sites, and in the worst case, it is a wilful desire to not rock the boat with boyfriends, husbands, brothers, publishers, and tenure committees.

So here is a test, and one that comes with a trigger warning because trigger warnings are not some right wing plot, as recent media stories would have us think, but ways to avoid re-traumatising victims of violence. I am going to quote extensively from a popular website that was made even more popular by the outing of Duke student "Belle Knox" as a porn performer.

We all know her name, - or at least her porn name - but does anyone know the name of the porn site where she was gagged almost to unconsciousness, smeared with semen to the point that she couldn't open her eyes, slapped, and penetrated so roughly that she was gasping in pain and sobbing? At one point she was pushing the male performer/abuser away because she couldn't breathe, and in typical porn-sex behaviour, he dragged her closer to his penis by yanking her hair, spitting in her face and screaming at her to shut up.

The site is called Facial Abuse, and the images and videos that populate it can only be described as torture. With no pretence that this is about consensual or mutually enjoyable sex, the text describes, in unbearable detail, what they are doing to the women:

Big Tits. Check. Airhead. Check. Daddy Issues. Check. Brook Ultra has all the makings of being the next big deal in big tit porn. I can totally see the LA companies gobbling up this cunt, but we had her first. Today, she was trained to be a submissive little whore, taking cocks in all three holes. Pauly Harker blew her asshole out with his giant knob. We shot some great fucking anal gapes with this pig... so much that you could see what she had for dinner last night. Another well rounded scene with a model who's top shelf. Enjoy this... and when you see her all over the place, remember who taught that cunt the ropes.

While most social and political institutions create woman-hating ideology, name one other that delivers it in such a crisp, succinct, unambiguous manner. Name one other cultural institution that prides itself on torturing women as its raison d'ĂȘtre. Porn is now the major form of sex education in the western world, and it produces an ideology that makes women seem disposable "sluts" who are undeserving of dignity, bodily integrity, or the slightest shred of empathy. Whatever psychological disorders Rodger had, he was sane enough to internalize the pornographic ideologies so perfectly embodied in Facial Abuse and the thousands of other websites that tell the same story.

Mainstream commentators and feminists tie themselves in knots trying to avoid any discussion of the way porn is implicated in violence against women. They talk about porn as empowering, as fun, as a celebration of women's sexual agency, and then express outrage when men act out the woman-hating messages that are the constituent elements of porn.

Radical feminists who make porn a central part of our activism are not (pick your slur) anti-sex, prudish, man haters, censors or ugly bitches who are jealous of porn stars. Rather, we fight the porn industry because we know that as long as this tsunami of woman-hating ideology continues to shape masculinity, there will be a never-ending supply of Elliot Rodger laying in wait for their next batch of victims.

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