Absent voices

Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality, by Gail Dines (Beacon Press), reviewed by Jennie O’Hara
November 2010

Pornland offers a scathing critique of the sexist and detrimental impact that the American porn industry has on its consumers and, by extension, society as a whole. It is a product of Dines’ 20‑year campaign against pornography, impassioned by a strong belief that the industry is innately sexist. She deals with a wealth of topics, from the debasing treatment of porn actresses to racism in the industry, via capitalism and child porn.

Given the easily perceivable negative impact of the porn industry – from Playboy pencil cases aimed at young girls to the increasingly violent nature of unregulated internet pornography – a wide-ranging analysis is badly needed. Unfortunately, Dines’ focus remains narrow.

As with her fellow ‘new-feminist’ contemporaries (see Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs), a faux-academic veneer undermines the credibility of certain assertions. Dines cites academic studies where they exist to support her perspective, but where research is lacking, she nonetheless draws broad and often unfounded conclusions.

Different voices are heard in Pornland: academics, feminists, male porn-users and their girlfriends, porn producers and male stars. Strikingly absent are female ‘porn stars’ themselves. Aside from one patronisingly analysed interview with actress Jenna Jameson, the women she universally declares ‘victims’ are mute. Dines’ empathies are explicit; she names them ‘all whores by nature’.

Yet strangely, in her analysis of leading US video series Girls Gone Wild, she sympathises with non-professional actresses’ negative social experiences as a result of appearing on the show. The reasoning behind this professional/amateur distinction is unclear.

She also fails to understand the financial ties that bind many actresses to their work, and therefore what the employment consequences would be of the end to pornography that she advocates.

Simplistic gender divides (women are victims, men are consumers), ignorance of the diversity of porn (there is only one passing reference to gay porn) and sensationalist language ultimately lead the reader to question Dines’ authority and, by extension, paint contemporary feminism as anti-sex and prudish. The aim of providing a serious critique and challenge to the capitalist porn industry is a worthy one, but a more nuanced approach to the complex world of pornography is needed.


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