for those of you who don’t know yet, i used to be a part of the anti-porn “radical” feminist movement. this movement that claims to be in pursuit of an end to gender-based oppression, oppressed me remarkably during the years i devoted to the cause, and particularly to my former professor / employer / mentor, gail dines.
i discovered dines in 2003 or 2004, during a documentary at my school (see my bio for more details). i determined immediately that i would cross register for her intro class, Women, Culture and Society. we took a liking to each other’s passion for media literacy, and i particularly appreciated her sympathy and insight with regards to a deeply personal problem that i had had; an eating disorder.
i would begin to connect my experiences to societal crises while taking my first class with her. i learned that rape was linked to patriarchy, and I accepted this, because every trauma survivor at some point, to some degree, blames herself. in my case, i blamed myself A LOT.
and suddenly i had someone else to blame.
dines describes sexual attackers as being capable of smelling out “seasoned” victims. “seasoning” is a term for the theory that after someone is assaulted, subconscious mannerisms and actions present in the survivor that send a signal to sexual predators that they are more vulnerable than others and therefore more easy targets. this theory is practically law, and i am a living example, having experienced several unrelated assaults.
what i didn’t realize until later was that what Dines had smelled out my “seasoning.” when i met Dines, i had never HEARD of seasoning or patriarchy. and because she was offering me this explanation for why i felt like the world was against me, i began taking her word as my ultimate truth.
before long, i was her paid assistant. she took note of my persuasiveness, outgoing nature, and skill with the crafting of words. at twenty years old, i was a natural leader. and before long, i was doing everything from her research to traveling with her to attend the lectures she told me i would one day be giving in her place. she made me believe that i would one day i would even be the professor of her classes (like my former classmate is now).
not only was i keeping a dying feminism alive, she told me, but i was one of the few women left who were crusading for women’s rights! so many women who claimed to be feminists were now allies of the patriarchy, you see.
if i had been more capable of thinking for myself on the time, i would have questioned the legitimacy of a women’s cause that was not supported by the majority of women. instead, i accepted dines’ assertion that most women had become “female chauvinist pigs,” referencing the book by Ariel Levy, allies to the patriarch.
dines’ most notable argument, in my opinion, is that of “problematicizing consent.” this is where she argues that a woman’s consent is not necessarily consent if her judgement is clouded – and she claims that the PTSD caused by sexual assault renders survivors vulnerable to difficulty with or incapable of making educated decisions about our sex lives.
instead of questioning her assertion that survivors are basically incapable of making our own decisions with regards to our bodies, i began shaming myself. since i am turned on by MANY of the things she condemns, i determined that i had become an oppressor – the guilt was tortuous, and not in a good way.
regretfully, one day early on, i approached gail with my favorite pornography, a scene from a magazine created by a local indie queer porn producer which featured the founder herself being dominated by her tennis partner, who eventually stuffs a ball in her mouth and racket in her cunt.
though i never admitted to gail that the photo spread made me wet, i assuaged my guilt by begging the producer to meet with me and gail, believing that gail and i could “save” her.
this was not my lowest low. that came when we traveled to the worcester polytechnic institute (WPI) to give a lecture and found out that a “pro-BDSM student group” would be protesting us. somehow, gail convinced the group to meet with us one on one soon after, and when we headed back to worcester for that second meeting, i began to fall apart.
i was expected to talk ‘peer to peer’ with this group of people, about how BDSM was hurting not only them but society. yet i was attracted to more than one of them and fantasized about one couple who were particularly outspoken. i discovered the pair did amateur porn that i secretly purchased at home, in the quiet shame of my dark, closed-doored bedroom.
on the car ride home from the WPI debate, while i struggled to come to terms with the evening, she accused me of being on drugs. “what’s wrong with you,” she asked me, “you’re not acting like yourself.”
gail dines took me into her home and made me part of her family. she promised me she would show me ‘true freedom.’ what was i supposed to say? i don’t even remember what excuse i stammered out. i think i might have been honest – i’m just really shook up. — that was an understatement.
what was this true freedom she referred to? becoming a professor. it’s the classroom, she told me, that is the only place left where i could work without being oppressed. she knew i wanted to be a musician, but, she insisted, if i stuck with her i could one day do what she did and earn a comfortable living while still being true to myself. a comfortable living, which being an artist, would be “impossible” to attain otherwise, without getting a job working for the patriarchy.
when i decided though that i would forego further schooling to focus on my music, gail dines didn’t want the burden of my existence on her anymore. i bawled as i told her my decision not to pursue graduate school. she told me with far less emotion in her voice than she had used to speak to me with, that i needed to talk to my therapist.
as we grew apart, it seemed Dines’ anger towards me also grew. she chastised me when she disagreed with my method of protesting Ron Jeremy’s appearance at my college. i failed to deliver on my new research assignment the way i had previously, and in a move very unlike a professor / mentor, she chose to officially terminate my employment while we sat on her patio, with my entire class celebrating the year’s end inside her house. i’ll never forget her asking me to come outside, and how curious i was since i assumed it was about something positive.
it was as if once she found out i was no longer going to be able to potentially carry on her legacy of radical feminism, i no longer mattered to her. i never expected what was next – to be almost immediately replaced by my best friend (who stopped speaking to me), and one of the two other girls who graduated in the same year from the Gender Studies program, Dana Bialer. Dana Bialer now teaches one of Dines’ classes – coincidentally, the first class I took with Dines.
why does any of this matter? because dines is exactly what she claims to abhor. she profits off of pornography without even having to be attractive by cashing in with the explicit lectures she brings around the world. even worse, she preys on vulnerabilities students in order to move her agenda forward at any cost.
i don’t know why dines does what she does. i believe that in some convoluted way, she has good intentions – i certainly did. but i also believe she should be accountable for her actions, which need to be scrutinized.
at the end of the day, dines did help me. i went into sex work to spite her, and found myself enlightened and empowered by the experience. so i almost have her to thank for that. however, i will never utter a word of thanks to her – because she lobbies to keep us criminalized, marginalized, and vilified. if sex work was embraced by society, then rape, murder and generalized violence rates WOULD decline, because this large population of women would have the targets taken off of their backs. but dines profits from the very same madonna/whore complex that she claims to combat, so it’s no wonder at the end of the day, she stands with the neo-cons and Christians in maintaining a clear definition of society’s madonnas vs. whores. what i don’t understand is how, after so many years of study, she still hasn’t realized that what she is doing is causing the women she claims are being harmed, actual harm.