We know abuse when we see it, unless it’s women who are being hurt

People everywhere were appalled at the treatment of David Dao on United flight 3411. When will they rise up against the abuse of women in pornography?

David Dao suffered a concussion and broken nose and lost two front teeth after being violently dragged off of United flight 3411.

Recently, I’ve seen many people on Facebook sharing Andrea Dworkin’s response to the question, “Can you explain why you are so opposed to pornography?” Her answer:

“I find it strange that it requires an explanation. The men have made quite an industry of pictures, moving and still, that depict the torture of women.”

Being shared even more is the awful video of Dr. David Dao being assaulted and brutalized as he is dragged off a United plane, blood dripping from his mouth, screaming “just kill me.” The CEO of United only inflamed this PR nightmare with his initial apology explaining he had to “re-accommodate… customers.”

Employing that very basic human mechanism of empathy, people everywhere took to social media to express their outrage at seeing the violence done to this man, and the way United tried to pass it off as just an unfortunate incident caused by overselling tickets. Notice that we didn’t need hundreds of peer reviewed academic studies or a Government-commissioned study to explain to us that what happened to Dao was violent, traumatic, and inhumane.

People saw the video, put themselves in Dao’s place, and came to the very sensible conclusion that what they were watching was a level of callous brutality that is unacceptable in a civil society. Andrea Dworkin would not have found our empathy strange because, despite her sadness and anger at the cruelty in the world, she always had faith in the ability for people to do the right thing.

What is strange, however, is that there is no public outcry over porn. You can type “porn” into Google and in 10 seconds come up with images that are so violent, so brutal, so dehumanizing that they take your breath away. You can see people being raped, tortured, strangled, beaten, electrocuted, and physically destroyed to the point that many must be thinking to themselves: “Just kill me.”

Why no outrage? Why no demands for the companies who produce this brutality to apologize? Because these people are women, and when women are brutalized in the name of sex, the violence is rendered invisible. As long as it is semen, not blood, dripping from her mouth (and usually from every other orifice as well), and she is saying “just fuck me” as she is grimacing, crying, and sometimes screaming in pain, it seems, as Dworkin pointed out, people require an explanation as to why this particular brutality is not acceptable.

So radical feminists began to explain, in very clear language, why porn is violence against women. They talked about the ways women in porn were being degraded and debased; they talked about how porn was, in fact, documentation of torture and thus a violation of women’s civil rights.

I was just learning about feminism in the 1980s, and saw my first anti-porn slide during those years. Looking at those images was a turning point in my life.I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. How could men do this to women and find it arousing? How could this happen in a civil society? How could this be a multi-million dollar industry? How?!? As I left the presentation, I felt sick, outraged, and hopeless. Much like I felt when I saw Dr. Dao being dragged off the plane.

As I write this, I am following the news about what we all know will eventually be a multi-million dollar lawsuit against United, and waiting to see how many top executives at United will be forced to resign. I am rooting for Dr. Dao to come away a very rich man, not only because he deserves it, but because this is how to make a statement in a capitalist economy that your pain matters.

We are all going to have to wait a lot longer for a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the porn industry, because we believe, as a society, that women’s pain really doesn’t matter. In fact, in porn, women’s pain makes men’s erections bigger and harder.

Today’s mainstream internet porn — now a multi-billion, not multi-million dollar industry —  makes the porn I saw in the 1980s look almost soft-core. The level of violence that women on the porn set endure today is akin to what has euphemistically been called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” If it was happening to men, it would be seen for what it is, and we would be asking: How is this possible? How has a global industry built on the torture of human beings been branded as “sex positive,” “empowering,” and “harmless fantasy?”

The answer of course, is that a woman is not viewed as a full human being. She is, as Simone de Beauvoir said, “sex… absolute sex, no less.” And indeed, no more. This is why, when we see pictures of men being brutalized, we see the brutality; when we see pictures of women in porn being brutalized, the culture sees sex. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of studies we have, volumes of testimony from women about the harms or porn, or millions of images that document the torture.

Only when women are seen as full human beings will it seem strange that anyone would require an explanation as to why feminists are against porn. Until then, we must organize against this industry, be bold in our activism, and unwavering in our commitment that women matter. We will not rest till the pornographers pay for all the pain they have caused women.

Gail Dines is a professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Wheelock College and author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. She is founder and President of Culture Reframed.

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  • oneclickboedicea

    Nailed as usual Gail Dines!

  • Lucia Lola

    Complicity is a shy, cowardly thing. Great article.

  • Liberation Spring

    Truth. Thank you for your unwavering commitment to a radical feminist critique of the p*rnography industry for all these years, Dr. Dines. What an illuminating comparison to share.

  • Megann Harvey

    I just want to say how awesome it is to see Gail Dines writing for this website. I know some of my comments here have been quite negative, so I want to make sure that I mention that I really like this site and the people who write for it.

  • Elizabeth Johnson

    Thank you, as always, for continuing to do this work and write this hard truths, Dr Dines. It’s so hard but we are all better for your advocacy.

  • Rachel Moran

    I don’t agree that the same could be said about domestic violence Lori. Domestic violence is broadly understood as just plain wrong, in society and in law. The same cannot be said for pornography; far from it.

  • FierceMild

    Thank you, Gail Dines, you are a hero and I am so grateful for your work. Is there any way that we can assist you? I think there is an unused army waiting for a general here.

  • Sabine

    Dr. Gail Dines you are a true hero of mine. Nailed it again. Thank you.

  • Sabine

    I fear you are right.

  • Meghan Murphy

    That’s interesting. I didn’t get the impression that Kidman’s character existed to justify ‘consensual’ or ‘sexy’ abuse… I interpreted that aspect of her abusive relationships as showing that there is no clear line between abuse and violent sex… That the lines blurred, in other words, until it became clear her relationship wasn’t really ‘sexy,’ just abusive…

    Re: Witherspoon’s response, I mean, we’re all socialized to respond in that way I think… We’re supposed to reinforce and support the sex our friends have with boyfriends and husbands, alll Sex and the City-like. Also, in her defense, Witherspoon’s character didn’t understand that the ‘fights’ Kidman’s character was having with her partner was actually abuse… The way Kidman described it was as though it was pretty harmless… Like ‘makeup sex.’ (Another idea i find pretty weird and unhealthy, but that is totally normalized and encouraged in our culture…)

    Happy to hear other perspectives on this, though. I quite enjoyed the show, but would love to hear what others thought.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Interesting! I missed all that first time around, and haven’t watched the show in years… I find it strange that it’s experiencing a resurgence… It wasn’t a particularly great show or anything…

  • Atheist

    Fantastic article. There’s some narcissistic misogynist over at the Guardian talking some irresponsible shit that “blonde haired blue eyed white women” wouldn’t have been brutalized the same way Dr. Dao was. Obviously he’s either never seen pornography or doesn’t think critically about it. Andrea Dworkin said years and years ago that in pornography white women’s white skin symbolized privilege, and this sends the message that even women of status deserve to be looked and treated like filthy w***es. I think of this every time female celebrities get hacked and nobody gives a shit, or when women like Kate Middleton can’t even go about their daily lives without getting photographed without consent. Then there’s everyday sexting scandals where it’s teenage girls that are bullied as w***res if they send their boyfriend a topless picture. Women don’t have to wait for overzealous police officers or flight attendants to experience the everyday brutality and abuse people put us through.

  • Cedar Cat

    Fantastic read! Thank you. I was also thinking about how Descartes theorized that since animals do not have language, they are not sentient and do not feel pain. Animals being “alive” yet not sentient. Perhaps this line of thought underlies the callous cruelty towards women?

  • Cedar Cat

    Perhaps. Although black men had been united with the suffragettes until they were given the opportunity to get the vote. At which point they threw their sisters under the bus…

    • Anon

      Yep, men are men.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Tooootally, re: the keeping the baby thing. Like, oh! How cool and original! A baby! I wonder if abortion somehow doesn’t seem edgy enough anymore?

    (That said, I have been in a position of having to decide to get an abortion [I ended up miscarrying, much to my relief, so I didn’t *have* to make the decision] and it was much harder than I imagined it would be… Especially considering I’d never in my life wanted a child…)

    I agree that watching the abuse and denial was super upsetting. The “it goes both ways” thing Kidman kept saying to defend it was awful to watch… But in the end, I found it to be such a pro-woman storyline and so satisfying to see some form of ‘justice’ served… I had been certain it would end badly for Kidman instead…

    • Cassandra

      Yes, I was very satisfied as well, and very surprised, especially by who did it!

  • Meghan Murphy

    Yeah, the media really needs to take responsibility for feeding women the idea that *all* men watch porn and it’s just a cute joke. It’s just more mass gaslighting.

  • Cangle

    What radical truth! Women need to reject “the third partner” in their bedroom – dump porn heads gals!

    Men and women both have a cruel streak – but men’s sexualized torture of women for entertainment is unacceptable as women rise in world leadership – let’s put an end to this. There are so many existing standards that could be enforced.

    “They” can’t keep juveniles from accessing XXX porn – or can they? Put it all up behind a paywall #1. Then, have mechanism to shut down distributors like what’s happening to Backpage.

    They’re finding terabytes of child porn on internet and busting individuals across globe this week, they can bust providers who are not protecting youth from exposure? It’s part of the multi-billion dollar international mafia enterprises, make them pay through the nose as Ms. Dines says – for all the pain they’ve caused women.

    It’s impossible for men to know which images are consensual and which are photographs of trafficked women. Porn expands their profit. That’s abominable of men to contribute to sexual slavery of women and children for their peters.

    We’ve got to End Demand. Porn is not sex. It is domination training. And, it twists the pleasure current, perverts it into cruelty.

    If men would turn their libido towards something that helped their communities instead of flogging their gonads on ugly violence against women and children we’d have a far better world.

    First step- for women to reject men as intimate partners who use porn. The personal is the political, remember?

    Thank you Dr. Dines! Hats off!

  • FierceMild

    That is absolutely true. I know more than one man who does not, and never has, consume pornography because they find it physically and emotionally repellent. There are extant in the world men who cannot get an erection if they think of someone in pain. That happens. If we stopped deliberately desensitizing and sexually militarizing boys this would be a very different conversation.

  • FierceMild

    Boom. Yup.

  • Kathleen Lowrey

    Yes to ALL of this.

  • Tired feminist

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    I’m getting more and more convinced that there are actually no waves. There’s just feminism and backlash.

  • Kathleen Lowrey

    ugggghhhhhhhhhh I did not see that one gaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh

  • Meghan Murphy

    Yes, I totally agree about the sex thing. (Well, both ‘sex things.’) The only reason, it seems, that most American TV shows or movies show sex is for titillation, not to advance the story line in any necessary way. And I actually hadn’t noticed, but you are very right that the only versions of ‘sex’ offered to women are either none at all (some boring, non-violent guy who doesn’t get you hot because he’s not ‘exciting’ enough) or abusive, violent sex.

    You know, it’s interesting, because I don’t think shows like Big Little Lies will ever receive the same level of criticism that, say, Girls did/does, which was an absolutely excellent show that was created, directed, and written by mostly women (with the exception of Judd Apatow) and was woman-centered. I don’t say this to say that Girls should not be critiqued at all, but to say that it drives me insane that Lena Dunham got attacked so badly when in fact she managed to de-sexualize sex and normalize/de-objectify female nudity many times over, and address sex, friendships, young women’s lives in a complex way.

    Obviously these two shows are very different. But when you think of the praise completely misogynist, male-made shows get vs the ongoing vitriol Lena Dunham and Girls got, I mean, it’s pretty astounding.

    True Detective is one example. It *was* (the first season, anyway) very well done, but it was HORRIBLY misogynist and porny. Same with shows like Shameless, Boardwalk Empire (although, admittedly, I didn’t get very far in this one…), Hannibal, True Blood, Modern Family (I cannot STAND this show and have no idea why it gets a pass from so many people, considering the Gloria character and her relationship with Jay)… I didn’t watch more than a couple of episodes of The Newsroom because I found it incredibly boring and undeservedly pompous, etc etc. I could go on, I’m sure. All sexist shows, all popular and celebrated. None subjected to the same scrutiny Girls was.

    I don’t really bring this up in response to your comments, which I agree with, but just as a general thought.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I watch it too! But I HATE the lead female role (Fiona). I think she was totally mis-cast and that they wanted some sexy, conventionally attractive, middle class-looking, boring actress to play an edgy, troubled, working class woman. It pisses me off.

    I like that they show how often she is sexually harassed and propositioned by men who know she is financially desperate/vulnerable, but I feel annoyed at the way she is portrayed as ‘always up for it,’ no matter how tired, traumatized, beat down, stressed, etc. I also am annoyed at the way she is objectified…

    I took a looooong break from the show so had to go back and start again at season 3. I will keep watching and see where it goes. I do enjoy many aspects of it and it’s definitely addictive…

  • Meghan Murphy

    I haven’t watched either of those shows (Shetland or Scott & Bailey) but will check them out!

    I have no idea what people’s TV-style is here, but if you haven’t watched Better Things, I recommend it… It’s kind of an odd dark comedy, but is woman-centered (centered around a middle-aged single mother, to be precise!) and Pamela Adlon is great…

  • Meghan Murphy

    Will def check that one out. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • lutrislutris

    Although she did tell him off “your pervert boyfriend saw me in a porno movie!”,. You’d never see that today.

  • lutrislutris

    I hated how Miranda’s character in SATC was shamed into keeping her baby and it was presented as a good thing… So disappointing.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yeah… WHY would Miranda ever want a freakin baby, was my question??

      • will

        I figure it’s because the series devolved into such blatant capitalist propaganda – we ALL want a devoted husband, “beautiful” children and a giant walk-in closet full of crippling over-priced shoes, right?

        I did, however, appreciate the way that they represented her pregnancy. There was none of the sterilized, airbrushed “glowing” that you usually see.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Right, yes. They didn’t glamorize her pregnancy, but rather made it seem difficult, alienating, and stressful…

  • Alex

    I forgot to mention that the reality is something you might not like to acknowledge yourself. IN THE UK, MANY LAWS HAVE BEEN PASSED TO LEGITIMISE THE PORN TRADE, while overtly pretending that they do otherwise. They have passed much too many laws to be able to keep getting it wrong. I’ve found from talking to my local MP (female, Conservative, Fareham, Hampshire, UK, go search, don’t want her name here in case I have to talk to her again), that this serves the purpose of giving a politician more to talk to about. Each time that I contact her, I seem to a get a more detailed letter that legitimises what has been allowed to become the status quo in the past few years.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Yeah, I’ve wondered if the UK version is better. I assume it is, because American TV always Hollywoods up their versions in a cheezy/sexualized way… But who knows.

  • Rachel Moran

    Well I’ve no choice but to disagree with this assessment because it’s the polar opposite of what happened when I was left black and blue by an ex partner. The police took it seriously on the spot, as did the judge who granted me a five year protection order on the grounds of my bruises, my word, and the police report. This happened back in the 90’s and was a direct result of feminist campaigning throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Nobody ever suggested, inside the court or out of it, that I wanted to be punched and choked. I don’t contend for a moment that this is the case all the time everywhere, but if this had been an incidence of sexual abuse it’d almost certainly be a different story, and that is the difference between the strides made on sexual and physical violence.

    • Independent Radical

      “This happened back in the 90’s and was a direct result of feminist campaigning throughout the 60’s and 70’s.”

      Wow, really? That makes me wish we were living in 90s. I think the internet really messed up the culture by making pornography (and thus the sadomasochistic sex acts associated with it) mainstream.

      “I don’t contend for a moment that this is the case all the time everywhere, but if this had been an incidence of sexual abuse it’d almost certainly be a different story, and that is the difference between the strides made on sexual and physical violence.”

      These days punching and choking women is sexual, according to many men (and sadly women). That’s the whole problem. Violence and sex have become inseparable in the eyes of the culture.