Dr. Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts. Dines specializes in the study of pornography. Here is the full transcript of Dr. Gail’s TEDx Talk entitled ‘Growing Up in a Pornified Culture’ at TEDxNavesink conference.
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Gail Dines – Anti-pornography activist
Thank you. Today what I’m going to talk about is: what does it mean to grow up in a pornified culture? What does it mean to live in a society where you are surrounded by images of hypersexualized, pornified women? What does it mean when you live in a society where basically pop culture is shaped by those pornographic images? And what I’m going to talk about is how those images shape gender and sexual identity because today young people grow up not in a print-based culture, like those of us over the age of 35, and I’m being nice here — but they grow up in an image-based culture, so let’s wander through the world they live in.
So when I lecture to people, often therapists or parents, they don’t really know the world their kids live in. But you know what? The media does. So here is a magazine called Details which is like Cosmopolitan for men. And they had an article called “How Internet porn is changing teen sex?” They interviewed a pornographer called Joanna Angel, and she said, “The girls these days, they just seem to come to the set porn-ready.” What does that mean?
What I’m going to say is that this culture is socializing our young girls to be ready for pornography whether they ever end up on a porn site or not. And the reason for that is that they are being taught to hypersexualize and pornify themselves. So let’s wander through the images that these young women and men live in. Let’s just think about the images that bombard them, the kind of pornified, hypersexualized images. And really, when you think of all the thousands of images, they all come down to a young, white, blonde, tall female. Now, God forbid, by the way, anything jiggles, apart from the breasts, of course. But other than that, your whole skin has to be bolted down.
Now, we do let some women of color in, if they look like Beyoncé, or Nicki Minaj, or, of course, Rihanna. But on the whole, the main image is a white, hypersexualized female. So in media theory, we have a concept called “the reader inscribed in the text”. So look at this woman. Look at her clothes, look at her face, look at her posture, and look at her gaze, G-A-Z-E. Now who is she speaking to? Because the notion is that every image has a reader in mind. Before you answer, do you think she’s speaking to her mother, saying, “Let’s go for a cup of coffee after the photo shoot?” So who is she talking to? Who is she speaking to? Men. And what is she saying? “Fuck me.” Would you all agree? So this is what I call the “fuck me” look, and there is not a woman in this room who couldn’t right now go into the “fuck me” look, am I right? Does this look right? With your vulnerable neck, looking with your eyes like this.
Now I want you to think what it means to be male and grow up in a culture where before you can even speak, females are offering themselves to you, “Come get me! Come get me!”
Now what happens to young girls is when they are developing their sexual identity, what they learn is they have two choices: either fuckability or invisibility. And what do you want from a teenager when built in to the DNA of adolescence is the need to be visible? What do you want from her when her friends are walking around with low-slung jeans, a tramp stamp, with their midriff showing? What do you want her to do? Because it is impossible to ask her to go for invisibility. So this is not a choice, this is being forced into a trap of sexuality that she didn’t invent, that she didn’t decide because there are so few choices.
So what does this mean to be a young girl? When I was struggling with thinking what has happened in this culture, you know who really told me what it was? It wasn’t someone with a PhD in sociology or psychology, it was actually an incarcerated child rapist I like to call Dick. Now Dick was imprisoned for raping his 12-year-old stepdaughter, and he was explaining to me how he groomed her. And grooming is what you do when the perpetrator homes in on his victim, starts to develop a relationship with her and then tells her what really matters is how hot she is, that she’s really sexy, she’s hot. And by the time you actually make your move, she’s bonded to you, and she thinks the most important thing about herself is that she’s hot.
Now, Dick was explaining to me how he groomed his stepdaughter, and then he looked me straight in the eye and he said, “The culture did a lot of the grooming for me.” And I have to tell you I nearly fell off my chair. Because he was exactly right. The culture is mass-perpetrating against our girls. It used to be that you needed an individual perpetrator to perpetrate against an individual girl. Not anymore.
Now, pop culture part 2 for the boys is the porn industry. When I talk about porn, I don’t mean Playboy, Penthouse, or Hustler. Let’s go back to Details. Basically, they said in this article, “There is an entire generation of young people who think sex ends with the money shot to the face.” Now for the uninitiated out there, a money shot is ejaculation on the face. To tell you what goes on in the world, because I teach young people, I lecture across the country in colleges all over, a student told me that she was talking to a boyfriend who wanted to actually date – which in the hook-up sites culture, believe me, is a big thing – and he said to her he had a deal breaker, and the deal breaker was that she had to let him come on her face. She said, “No, I’m not letting you do that.”
And I was telling a reporter in England, who was in her 40s, she was doing a documentary, and she said to me, “I don’t believe you. You’re exaggerating.” And a 23-year-old assistant turned to her and said, “Do you know how many men have come on my face without asking?”
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