Exploring ‘Pornland’ with Dr. Gail Dines

Pornland. Sounds like an amusement park rated for mature audiences with very adult rides, right? (Sex sells, after all.) Nope. Pornland is the main title of a book translated into four languages, recently turned into a short documentary film that was released in the autumn of 2014. The author is one of the speakers at TEDxNavesink 2015: Accelerators.

Dr. Gail Dines has been researching and writing about the porn industry for well over 20 years. A recipient of the Myers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America, Gail is a consultant to government agencies nationally and internationally. She co-edited the best-selling textbook Gender, Race and Class in Media and her latest book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. Dr. Dines is a regular guest on television and radio shows (CNN, BBC, NPR) and has appeared in various media publications (The New York Times, Time, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Vogue, Cosmopolitan).

Below is a condensed summary of our conversation in which Gail shared details of her work and life with passion and enthusiasm.

Birthing Pornland and More
Originally from the United Kingdom, Dr. Gail Dines is an award-winning professor of sociology and women’s studies as well as the department chair of American studies at Wheelock College in Boston. The trajectory of her life’s work began when she was 22 years old and working at a rape crisis center. While living in Israel before moving to the United States, she was informed about a feminist anti-porn slideshow by someone and asked if she would like to see it. Up until that point, Gail had been working on violence against women and had not thought about the connection to pornography.

“And then I went to see this slideshow and I was just so shocked. I couldn’t believe the level of violence in the images. I couldn’t believe that: a) men made these images; or b) men found them arousing. It was such a wake-up call to the reality of women’s rights,” said Gail. “And I started changing my [Ph.D.] thesis and writing about a clinical analysis of pornography. So, I always say, ‘This thing got me. I didn’t get it.’ I thought, I can’t notice and not do something about it.”

Reflections on Work
How do your expectations meet reality in your role as a professor, and what surprised you?
“As a teacher, what surprised me was the level of abuse that most of my female students have suffered by the time they’re 18. What’s shocking to me is how many of them have been abused over and over again — and a lot of them don’t define it as abuse because, for them, it’s just normalized sexual behavior.”

What is your favorite part of being a professor?
“The students. I love helping them make sense of the world we live in, especially the young women. But I also love teaching the young men because a lot of them, as well, have been using porn and don’t feel good about it. And you have them for 14 weeks, so you really get into porn and stigma analysis.”

You’re also the founding president of a NGO named Stop Porn Culture (SPC). And how does this impact your life?
“With Stop Porn Culture, what surprised me was how much traction we got very quickly with people. The first project we did was a slideshow called ‘Who Wants to Be a Porn Star?’ It’s been translated into [around] eight languages. It’s given all over the world. It’s used in training programs in battered women’s shelters, in anti-violence organizations.”

“What [SPC] did was it made it not just about me going out and giving a lecture and then leaving people to say, ‘Well, then what can we do?’ And the truth was there wasn’t much they could do on their own. And now I say, ‘You go to Stop Porn Culture, sign up, and you become part of our movement.’ And a lot of people do. They work with us, and they organize their own groups at colleges. They organize talks and lectures. So that’s the best thing: I can leave them with something.”

Besides the impact of Stop Porn Culture and its customizable slideshow, consisting of images and a 50-minute script available on the website, your latest book has also made quite the impression.
“Pornland has probably had the biggest effect of anything. It took me into a level of major exposure, international major exposure. The book was selected for the Sydney Writers Festival, and it absolutely started a firestorm in Australia.”

Pride and Passion
Are there any stand-out career moments? What is most memorable to you?
“I’ll tell you the best thing. When students come up to me at the beginning of class, and especially the ones who’ve been sexually abused and you can see it — they carry around like a ten-ton weight around their shoulders. And you see over the [semester] how they change: You see their bodies change, you see their faces become less stressed. They sort of become empowered and no longer do they carry the guilt around them.”

“People [come] up to me, even after just an hour and a half lecture saying, ‘You’ve changed my life. I will never see things the same [way]. I understand why I was raped. You’ve just changed everything I ever thought about the world.’ And that’s very common.”

What are you most proud of?
“I’m obviously proud of the fact that I have managed to take feminism more mainstream, that I’ve touched so many lives. And, of course, I’m totally proud of my son, doing a good job being a parent — and a lot of it is geared towards the fact that my son is worth more than the porn industry says he is, and I believe that’s true for many men. They’re not what the porn industry says they are because I certainly know my son isn’t.”

For the naysayers and critics: Why should people care about SPC and its role in the community?
“Because nobody, man or woman, should have to commodify their body in order to survive. That people have a right to physical and bodily and sexual boundaries — and the pornographers have violated them over and over again. Human bodies should not be monetized. They should be outside of the capitalist market. People should have a right to own their own bodies. They shouldn’t have to sell them to the highest — or in the case of pornography, sometimes, the lowest — bidder.”

What would you say to someone who was interested in getting involved in grassroots organizations, whether it is SPC or something else?
“I would say that the best feeling in the world is being part of a group of other like-minded people. It takes away your feelings of powerlessness and distress and depression. There’s nothing like being part of a community that believes the same thing as you.”

Any advice you’d give to other advocates, professors, or public speakers on how to give a talk?
“Passion is infectious. Commitment to a cause is infectious, and people feel it. And I think to have that sort of passion electrifies the room, no matter what issue you’re talking about, and that’s what you need to do. Because many people are in a stupor about how the world works, and so what we need to do, those of us who are activists and fight for social justice, we need to go in there and wake people up literally.”

Anything else you’d like our audience to know?
“Yes, that the issues of hyper-sexualization and pornography are probably amongst the biggest public health issues of our time. And that it is incumbent upon us to help young people navigate their way through this pornified world. I absolutely believe that we cannot leave them to sink or swim in this world because most are sinking.”

The latest project Gail is involved with is the #50DollarsNot50Shades campaign, co-sponsored by SPC, National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and London Abused Women’s Centre (Canada), which asks would-be moviegoers of 50 Shades of Grey to boycott it and donate the money: “Ditch the film, and give to a domestic violence shelter” of their choice instead. Those who have seen the movie, and those who have already planned not to see it, are still encouraged to participate by donating to support the fight against domestic violence and abuse. The international viral campaign has recently been featured in articles in The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Post, Huffington Post, and ABC News, among others in the U.S. and other countries.

The talk Dr. Gail Dines will present for TEDxNavesink 2015: Accelerators on Saturday, April 11 at Monmouth University is entitled “The Porning of Pop Culture.” She will open up a discussion about how hyper-sexualized media shape the attitudes and choices of young women and men. The issue goes much deeper than that, however. Find out more about the accelerated and systemic changes — and what would be necessary for the status quo — when Gail speaks bloody brilliant truth to power aimed at both men and women. Get your TEDxNavesink tickets here before they’re sold out.

JennHom1In addition to serving on the curation team as its curation manager, Jennifer Hom also serves on the marketing team as its marketing analyst and a content contributor, sometimes functioning as the liaison between both teams. This is her second TEDxNavesink event as a volunteer. Previously, she served on the marketing team as a social media manager and live reported during the 2014: Play event. When not seeking a full-time job, Jen can be found advocating various causes and regularly volunteering for different non-profit organizations. A vegetarian since 1998, she is a lover of the arts, service, and sustainability. For more on Jen, please click here.