When I think of the international Stop Porn Culture (SPC) conference I attended in Boston last June, the first image that comes to mind is of a giant plastic foot with a slot in it for men to ejaculate into (Dr. Gail Dines discussed this during her presentation). The first phrase that comes to mind is humantoiletbowls dot com, the domain name of a mainstream porn site. And the first sound that comes to mind is that of a young boy gasping for breath as he is suffocated and raped by a trusted adult man addicted to pornography.
If what you’ve just read disturbs you, it should distress you even further to know that children are consuming porn at a younger age than ever before. Indeed, according to one of SPC’s presenters, the fourth most common word searched for by children is “sex,” (and what do you think shows up after such a search?); the fifth is “porn”. Where do you think your children are getting their sex-education, parents? Not from the “abstinence only” school curricula, that’s for sure.
Pornography is increasingly impacting our emotional health as well. Dear Abby had a sixteen-year-old girl write to her about porn addiction! Porn addicts have even been known to sing songs to their porn collections and stay home from vacation to masturbate to images. While we all were aware of the financial collapse, how many of us knew that men working at the Securities and Exchange Commission were jerking off to Internet porn, some as much as eight hours a day? And porn has increasingly come to (negatively) impact intimate relationships; some dub it the new “other woman.”
But, as is obvious to every woman alive, not everyone sees our porn-saturated society as a problem. As one of the founding members of Stop Porn Culture, Dr. Gail Dines, pointed out at the first SPC conference, while porn has become increasingly harsh, a feminist challenge to the porn industry has gone underground. Thus, SPC was founded in the hopes of bringing a radical feminist analysis of pornography back to the forefront of the feminist agenda. In order to combat porn, Dr. Dines suggests raising pornography consumption as a public health issue, much as was done with smoking. While this idea may be the most pragmatic way to challenge the industry, I’m saddened the exploitation of women required to make pornography does not in itself cause outrage. Perhaps male violence could be incorporated into a “public health” approach, but how likely this would be in a male-dominated society, I do not know. Yet, just the act of lessening porn production and consumption would have the effect of decreasing some violence against women, clearly a feminist goal.
Somewhat similarly, the topic of porn and capitalism came up among conference attendees. Several of the conference-goers I talked to seemed to believe if capitalism is dismantled, violent porn would cease to exist. I found this a rather odd assumption, since male supremacy is clearly present in non-capitalist societies. What reason is there to believe the images created by this imaginary society would be kinder and gentler to women? None, as far as I can tell.
These thoughts were echoed by the speakers on the panel regarding legal approaches to challenging the pornography industry. The first scholar, a woman from Durham University, stated that any new laws confronting pornography should be based on a feminist analysis of the industry as opposed to a moral one. The following presenter, Diane Rosenfeld, reminded us that the feminist community has a limited amount of monetary and time resources; we have to decide what the best use of these resources is: legal, education, etc. Rosenfeld also gave us a fairly recent example, the case of Abu Ghraib, where pictures were used to indict individuals for actions. But, when it comes to women, torture is a means to male sexual pleasure.
So, what did I take away from this feminist anti-pornography conference—in addition to overwhelming anger, that is? One of the main messages I got was that there are women fighting back; despite what the pornographers say, women will not be cowered into silence. Even if half the male population gets off to our pain, we will not go down without a fight. We will not give in to your phallic-like missiles, knives, and guns because we have justice on our side.