The digestion of my Weetabix was not aided this morning by reading an article by Gail Dines in the Guardian. Dines has an impressive (albeit horribly commercial) website that describes her as an ‘anti pornography activist, lecturer, author, professor’ and on the main part of the site, a ‘scholar, activist, social critic’. She is Professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. Dines appears to hold the horribly stereotypical feminist views that enabled feminists to be successfully branded as ‘hairy lesbians’ for so many years (more about which, later).

She writes about the Adult Industry Expo, the world’s largest porn expo, held in Las Vegas. Dines describes the event as being a gathering held ever January in which ‘pornographers from all over the world descend on Las Vegas to participate in seminars, learn about industry trends, network with peers, meet the new “creative” talent, and keep up with the latest technology.’ Apparently, folks also go who hate porn and condemn all they see. It’s like a Christian Voice spokesman at a gay orgy. What were they expecting?

She describes ‘predatory capitalists figur[ing] out ways to expand their customer base.’ Well errrr yes, that does tend to be a feature of the Capitalist model. She goes on to describe how she ‘saw porn performers dressed in the usual garb of thongs, high-heeled shoes, and not much else, sitting on tables with their legs spread as men lined up to pose with them so their friends could take pictures.’

I’m assuming these were female porn performers? Oh yes, people like Dines define porn in the narrow terms of a) female performers b) produced for heterosexual male desire c) women as little victims. Dines does not head to barricades for all those women in shitty jobs in the wider service industry or other commercial enterprises which to my mind, can be as exploitative, and more so.

So we have women cast as flippy floppy victims. Which, I always find ironic given the ferocity of figures such as Dines. She focuses her criticism on a trend she has discovered through her students, that young females are increasingly waxing away their pubic hair – not out of choice – but because the men are making them do it! Yes, men won’t touch women otherwise. No Veet? No way! She points to the one ‘meagre weapon in their struggle to maintain a semblance of sexual autonomy’, which she calls ‘the trick’. This is where women don’t shave or wax on a night out as a way of avoiding casual sex without embarrassment. “Sorry love, not tonight, it’s like Bigfoot down there” or some such line is apparently delivered and the men leave the woman alone. Who is to blame for women managing their sex lives in this rather empowered way? Ahh yes, those evils porn Capitalists. Bad Capitalist, naughty Capitalist! Given the ever searching crusade for new markets and the apparently popular vision of women as shaved or waxed things, it is presumably only a matter of time before the evil porn Capitalists start making non waxed/shaved porn? Just a thought. At that point, Dines will presumably slam on the breaks and be handing out free Veet kits in her classes in a bid to resist the porn trend?

Dines also goes on to criticise the hotel trade which makes a fortune from people watching porn in their hotel rooms. Yes, people wank and have sex in hotel rooms folks. Who knew? For Dines, this is also about the expression and representation of fantasy.

Porn can, and often is about fantasy but it can also be about documenting desire – such as has been argued with bareback gay porn. On this point too, Dines appears lacking in nuance and too eager to create a simplistic ‘porn is bad’ narrative, just as to create a narrative that all porn is good would be equally mistaken. Porn is, I would suggest, generally a good thing, but not always. I don’t think Dines would even accept the position ‘porn is generally a bad thing but not always’.

I do agree with Dines that there has been a pontification of our culture but I think that applies to gay porn, queer porn, dyke porn, porn for straight women, and lesbian porn as well as straight, produced for men porn. I think that porn has heightened our sexual awareness and courage to engage in sexual practices that we might not otherwise have done – such as men engaging in cunnilingus more readily – and women’s ability to request that sexual activity. I regard that as a good empowering thing. I do not believe, as Dines seem to, that all women are victims of male desire.

I think that women can use porn to inform themselves and for for sexual fulfillment. Dines should check out Clarissa Smith’s excellent book ‘One for the Girls!: The Pleasures and Practices of Reading Women’s Porn.’

As an aside, I was also interested to see that on her official Wheelock College website, she is described as a ‘a radical feminist activist’ and also sets out how her philosophy informs her teaching: ‘Gail sees her teaching as a way to create in students a radical vision of the unlimited possibilities of progressive social change in individuals, communities and societies’. I would say I do the same thing in my own teaching but I have a suspicion our classes would be somewhat different.

Read the full Guardian piece here.