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.