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Porn, Women’s Rights and the Left

I have long been expecting to be personally attacked by the anti-porn activist Gail Dines, and when I was told about her recent CounterPunch contribution, comparing my organisation Sex & Censorship (S&C) with the US Tea Party, I was not disappointed. As ever, Dines delivered, providing one of her trademark low-in-accuracy, high-in-hyperbole pieces.

The foundation of Dines’ various anti-pornography theories is the idea that a huge, wealthy, male-run industry makes women do terrible things against their will, for the entertainment of men. Even from the start, her reasoning begins to fail her. She claims in her book Pornland that the industry is worth about $96 billion – a figure that is often used in anti-porn articles and seems to have been plucked from the air at random. This number probably overstates the true size of the industry by a factor of 50 or so, and also ignores the fact that the industry’s revenues have been in freefall since the free “tube” sites appeared several years ago. Dines also likes to forget that many porn-makers are women, and so are many viewers; that there is a growing feminist porn movement; that the industry is increasingly dominated by small, amateur producers; that gay porn exists.

Dines and her Stop Porn Culture (SPC) supporters are so obviously horrified by the things that happen in porn movies that it seems not to cross their minds that not all women are as disgusted by porn as they are. In particular it seems never to have occurred to them that women in porn could actually be doing what they do of their own free will. All porn, to SPC, is abusive. And so (the logic goes) the entire industry is a threat to women, and must go.

The problem with claiming that sexual abuse is taking place on a huge scale, in porn studios around the world, is that Dines can never produce any victims. If I ever heard of a woman being raped on a porn set, I would not hesitate for a moment before informing the police. Dines claims that such events occur constantly but – as far as I can tell – has never reported a single incident. After so many years of campaigning against pornography, one would expect her to be able to provide a list of rapists who have been jailed thanks to her activism, but to my knowledge there are none.

In fact, as British pornstars have discovered in the past couple of weeks, SPC supporters display nothing but contempt for women who have sex on camera, a fact which tears a huge hole in the thin pseudo-feminist veneer that coats their near-fundamentalist dislike of public displays of sexuality.

In February, SPC announced a conference to launch their organisation in the UK, which is to take place in London this coming Friday and Saturday. Shortly after the announcement, I was contacted by my friend Renee Richards, a former pornstar, who is now a student and pro-sex feminist campaigner. Renee asked if SAC would help organise a protest outside the conference, and I agreed. Renee wrote a post which I published on the S&C blog. She contacted her friends in the industry and I began to promote the protest via social media.

It was not long before Gail Dines heard about the protest; as if by magic, our Facebook event page was swamped with literally hundreds of messages from SPC supporters, accusing us of being ‘apologists’ for rape, child abuse and bestiality (Dines frequently equates consenting sex between adults in a porn scene with child abuse). Although I was urged by some supporters to block them, I chose not to, and instead posted the following message to the page:

Dear Gail Dines and Stop Porn Culture:

Your coordinated spamming of this event page has been noted. Our response is as follows:

1) We note that we have rattled your cage; we must be doing something right.

2) Unlike you anti-porn fundamentalists, we believe in free expression, and have not acted to block you. We know that pro-porn people are not afforded this right by Stop Porn Culture or Gail Dines. We claim the moral high ground.

3) Although you claim to be on the side of “exploited” women in porn, we know that in reality, you attack them and refuse them a voice. We, on the other hand, represent the women and men who choose to fuck for a living. You will be hearing from them on March 15 in London.

Women, including pornstars, who tried to defend pornography on our page were treated especially harshly. This is understandable, since according to Dines’ theories, these women do not exist. When some S&C supporters tried to post on SPC’s page, they were quickly blocked, as they were on Twitter. As with all advocates of censorship, Dines has no regard for free speech in any context. One woman who experienced the waves of hatred from SPC supporters wrote about it on our blog.

Dines also characterised our planned protest of her conference as an attack on her free speech. But we have no intention of blocking or disrupting her conference; the purpose of the protest is to demonstrate to conference delegates and press that SPC does not speak for the women it claims to be saving; although the conference is supposedly about women’s rights, women from the industry have not been invited, and will stand outside instead.

So it was inevitable that I, a male, would be caricatured as a front-man for the porn industry and oppressor of women. However, Dines’ Counterpoint attack on me was about as accurate as her other writings. It is true that I did run an adult website; but like the rest of the industry, my business declined sharply for several years, and I decided to close it in 2012. I am not, as she says, chairman of the Adult Industry Trade Association, although I was from 2010 till 2012.

But importantly, S&C is neither well-funded, nor a front for the porn industry. So far, the campaign has attracted small donations from supporters (including some porn performers), and any work I have done for it to date has been unpaid. Furthermore, although there is some overlap between my anti-censorship campaigns and the interests of the porn industry, the overlap is not by any means total. The bigger players of the UK porn industry see some benefit to censorship which would protect them from US competition. In fact, porn is at its most profitable when it is taboo and hard to access, and uncensored Internet access has severely reduced the value of the industry’s product. The porn industry is not, by any means, filled with ardent libertarians.

As for Dines comparing my small campaign group with the Tea Party: my own politics are left-of-centre. I am no anti-government militant. Yes, I am an ardent campaigner for free speech, but an equally strong supporter of Britain’s National Health Service (which, incidentally, gives free, regular STI checks to pornstars), a strong welfare safety net, and other tax-funded government services. I believe that government belongs in health, education, welfare, social services, environmental protection and transport; but I do not believe – unlike Dines – that it belongs in our bedrooms.

Although Gail Dines uses leftwing language to attack the porn industry, she is quite happy to share platforms with the religious right, as she recently did when campaigning for Internet censorship in Canada. What kind of feminist hangs out with the enemies of women’s rights? What kind of progressive tells women that they are being exploited when they earn hundreds of dollars per day having sex, but not when they earn minimum wage in a supermarket?

If SPC was serious about supporting the women in pornography, they would ask them what their concerns were, and help them address those issues. But they neither know, nor care, what pornstars think about their workplaces and employers, because they never ask. Which is why British pornstars will be protesting outside the SPC conference at 3pm in London this Saturday.

Jerry Barnett is an organizer with Sex & Censorship.org.

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