Feminist Gail is No 1 campaigner against 'cruel' porn industry

Simon Yaffe meets a woman determined to stamp out pornography

PORNORGAPHY is viewed by billions of people across the world, yet Gail Dines insists that it merely distorts most men's views of women and sexuality.

The feminist academic, author and activist - born and bred in Manchester - has been described as the world's leading anti-pornography campaigner.

And she is unrepentant in her view that the porn industry, which is worth billions of pounds, is cruel, brutal and dehumanising.

Speaking from San Diego, where she was giving a talk, Gail said: "Many people have no idea how cruel the industry actually is.

"There is a correlation between serial rape and heavy porn use.

"Pornography today is more affordable and accessible than ever before and studies have shown that most males watch their first porn at the age of 11-and-a-half."

Many may conjure up in their heads a Mary Whitehouse-type figure - dull and conservative - when imagining Gail. But she is eloquent, engaging - and determined to spread her message.

Her book Gender, Race and Class in Media is a bestseller in colleges and is also popular in Canada, England and Australia.

Her new book, PornLand: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, examines how men and women's lives, sexuality and relationships are shaped by the porn culture.

Her awakening came as a student at Salford University, where she read sociology.

"I went to Manchester's King David High School and there was no sex education at all," recalled Gail, who has lived in Boston, Massachusetts.

Perhaps her Damascene moment with regard to the plight of women came after she had moved to Israel with husband David.

Gail had met him at Salford, he an ardent socialist and she a socialist and feminist.

She recalled: "We went to Israel because we were both young and wanted to do something different.

"We arrived there in the early 1980s, just as the Likud party was becoming big."

The emergence of the Likud was much to the chagrin of left-wingers Gail and David.

Gail began volunteering at a rape crisis centre in Tel Aviv, where she found that the Promised Land was just as sexist as most other countries.

While in Israel, she also started a feminist movement group, Woman to Woman, from her Haifa living room.

She remembered: "There were lots of cases of incest, rape and battering, the same kind of atrocities that happen all over the world to women."

The couple moved to America in the mid-1980s after David decided to take a PhD at the Harvard Business School.

Gail explained: "Our son had been born while David was serving in the Israel Defence Forces in Lebanon.

"He was away for 10 months and I was completely alone looking after a baby, which was terrible.

"Israel was also fighting a war in Lebanon we did not believe in and we thought it was a war of aggression.

"David and I were both active members of Peace Now, but the writing was on the wall for left-wing campaigners in Israel."

British-born but having lived in America since 1986, Gail said she feels neither British nor American.

And, while not religious, she explained: "Being Jewish is my key identity, although I do feel more at home in America.

"People are more open about their Jewishness in America. I feel it is more played down in Britain, especially in academic circles."

Gail is now professor of sociology and women's studies and chairman of the American studies department at Wheelock College, Boston, while David is a business professor at the University of Massachusetts

Studying the effects of pornography for the last 20 years, as well as the hyper-sexualisation of society, Gail said she had no idea that the porn industry was "so cruel".

"Realising that changed my life," she said.

"Porn has helped develop men's minds into thinking of women as purely objects for male pleasure.

"Many males think it is normal that women want to be hurt and to enjoy pain because of what they watch in porn.

"It encourages violence and cruelty towards women. And women are merely considered to be fun, sexy and hot - and nothing else."

But what about the hundreds of female porn actresses who are proud of what they do?

Many of them are savvy businesswomen who manage their careers, finances and promote their films, while at the same time making a fortune, such as Jenna Jameson, whose name is well-known outside adult film industry circles, too.

"For every Jenna Jameson, there are thousands of women who end up in the brothels of Nevada performing for a minimum wage," said Gail.

"It doesn't alter the fact that men control the industry and get rich from it while many of the girls are left with nothing but the clothes on their backs."

Gail, who has spoken at hundreds of college campuses across America as well as conferences around the world, believes that sex education in the US is a joke.

She explained: "The right-wing, fundamentalist Christian core of America has had a chilling effect.

"Therefore it means pornography has become a major player in young teenagers' sex education because it is not taught properly or at all at many schools."

Four years ago, Gail helped to set up the Stop Porn Culture activist organisation.

It develops educational materials that raise awareness about the effects of living in a porn culture.

And the organisation has developed two slideshows - on the effects of porn on women, men and the culture and the second on the impact of porn on children and youth.

Gail continued: "Pornography is one of the major public issues of our time.

"We are bringing up a generation that encourages brutality and cruelty towards women.

"I don't see this as a mission. As an academic I am paid to be a public intellectual and I am trying to use my knowledge to enhance the betterment of our society.

"My politics are feminism - I want to make the world a better place."

© 2011 Jewish Telegraph