Gail Dines: Visible or Invisible (being a young woman)

At a lecture I was giving at a large West Coast university in the spring of 2008, the female students talked extensively about how much they preferred to have a completely waxed pubic area as it made them feel “clean,” “hot,” and “well groomed.” As they excitedly insisted that they themselves chose to have a Brazilian wax, one student let slip that her boyfriend had complained when she decided to give up on waxing. Then there was silence. I asked the student to say more about her boyfriend’s preferences and how she felt about his criticism. After she spoke, other students joined in, only now the conversation took a very different turn. The excitement in the room gave way to a subdued discussion of how some boyfriends had even refused to have sex with nonwaxed girlfriends, saying they “looked gross.” One student told the group that her boyfriend bought her a waxing kit for Valentine’s Day, while yet another sent out an e-mail to his friends joking about his girlfriend’s “hairy beaver.” No, she did not break up with his; she got waxed instead.

Two weeks after the waxing discussion, I was at an East Coast Ivy League school, where some female students became increasingly angry during my presentation. They accused me of denying them the free choice to embrace our hypersexualized porn culture, an idea that was especially repugnant because, as members of the next generation’s elite, they saw no limits or constraints on them as women. Then one student made a joke about the “trick” that many of them employ as a way to avoid hookup sex. What is this trick? These women purposely don’t shave or wax as they are getting ready to go out that night so they will feel too embarrassed to participate in hookup sex. As she spoke, I watched as others nodded their heads in agreement. When I asked why they couldn’t just say no to sex, they informed me that once you have a few drinks in you and are at a party or a bar, it is too hard to say no. I was speechless – these women, who had just been arguing that I had denied them agency in my discussion of porn culture, saw no contradiction in telling me that they couldn’t say no to sex. The next day I flew to Utah to give a lecture in a small college which, although not a religious college, had a good percentage of Mormons and Catholics. I told them about the lecture the previous night and asked them if they knew what the trick was. It turns out that trick is everywhere.

(…) The reality is that women don’t need to look at porn to be profoundly affected by it because images, representations, and messages of porn are now delivered to women via pop culture. Women today are still not major consumers of hardcore porn; they are, however, whether they know it of not, internalizing porn ideology; an ideology that often masquerades as advice on how to be hot, rebellious, and cool in order to attract (and hopefully keep) a man.

(…) What my conversations with college students reveal is how conformity to porn culture is defined by young women as a free choice. I hear this mantra everywhere, yet when one digs deeper, it is clear that the idea of choice is more complicated than originally thought. To talk about women’s free choice is to enter into the tricky terrain of how much free will we really have as human beings.

(…) To illustrate this point, we can look at women’s “choices” in the post-Second World War era. At first glance, it looked like women were eagerly giving up their wartime jobs to go home and look after their husbands and kids; it appeared that women as a group suddenly and collectively chose to return to being housewives and mothers. It was only after that period, thanks to feminist historians and writers, that we found out that what drove them home was a complex set of circumstances that included women being fired or demoted to make room for men, the inability of married women to find employment, the growth of suburbia, and the lack of child care. What, then, appeared as free will were actually economic and social forces that cohered to limit women’s life choices. Not least of these were the media images and sitcoms such as Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to the Beaver, which depicted the housewife as the idealized woman: feminine, nurturing, and blissful in her role as cleaner, caretaker, nanny, chauffeur, and nurse. This was the dominant image of femininity that was celebrated and perpetuated by the media. The only problem was that the image was a lie. As Betty Friedan revealed in The Feminine Mystique, many real women were miserable, lonely, and overburdened with the daily duties of holding the family together.

– Gail Dines, Pornland, pp. 99-101

photo from Asja Bakic’s blog,


4 thoughts on “Gail Dines: Visible or Invisible (being a young woman)

  1. Jana says:

    Comment by Simon Ellis, received via email:

    David Rusbatch (2010)

    One of a series of postcards being sold to raise money for Feminism in London 2010
    9:30am-5pm, Saturday 23 October
    Friends Meeting House
    173-177 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BJ

  2. devotchka says:

    Has the author considered what the women meant when they said ‘it is too hard to say no to sex’?

    It sounds like the author assumes that the women felt too much pressure from whoever is offering the sex to say no, and was (understandably) shocked by this.

    But I don’t think this is necessarily the case, because I have found myself in this situation too. It’s actually about knowing your own lack of self control once you’ve had a few drinks (or whatever). Cuz yes you might really wanna do this hot guy/girl who’s offering it to you on a plate, in that moment, when you’re off your head…but the next day you will look at yourself in this random’s bathroom mirror and shake your head, knowing you now have to crawl home in yesterday’s underwear and spend most of the day sleeping off a hangover since you were awake all night drinking and fucking!

    The ‘trick’ therefore does say something about our ideas of sexuality, as it is still an (objectively bizarre) excuse not to have sex – but the fact that nowadays women sometimes have to give themselves a reason not to have random sex with someone they quite fancy just for the hell of it, *because they feel free to do that if they wish*, says a whole lot more.

    • Jana says:

      Hello Devotchka,

      That’s true, I agree, and it occurred to me while I was re-typing this passage that Dines might have missed some of the ambiguities of the situation.

      At the same time, I have a sense that it is a gendered response nonetheless. I cannot think of any man I know who has ever expressed the desire not to get laid at a party, however complicated the outcome. Which might say more about the societal pressures on men, and is a gross and untested generalization on my behalf anyway.

      However, I think the detail is what matters in this story. The fact that keeping oneself in check is done by nothing more than NOT grooming. This is the equivalent to, for example, making sure you stay home and study for exams by not plucking your eyebrows – so you are to embarrassed to leave the house.

  3. Tim says:

    Jana, Although no man you know has ever expressed the desire not to get laid at a party, I can assure you that it happens. More that one guy has been drinking too much and has gone home with a woman that they would later regret. I myself have gone home early, when I would have preferred to stay and party, because I realized if I stayed and had another drink, I would likely end up going home with the unattractive woman who was showing interest in me. I didn’t have a silly excuse like I didn’t shave, just that I wanted to get home, but the result is the same.
    I believe not shaving is really just a reminder to themselves to be more selective, because it is doubtful that a man would pass on sex with an attractive woman just because of a few days growth.

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