“The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not data.” #LadyPornDay

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Sex academic, teacher, SFSI volunteer and sex educator Jessi Fischer beat Gail Dines last week in a room packed with academics at Cambridge.

Cambridge University Union Society decides porn is a ‘good public service’ (deseretnews.com):

A heated debate about whether pornography provides “a good public service” ended late Thursday in the historic hall of the Cambridge University Union Society with Cambridge students voting 231 to 187 in favor of the motion, according to the U.K. Press Association.

The title of this post was Fischer’s crowning blow to Dines: is the line Jessi Fischer bitch-slapped Gail Dines with in the room packed with academics at Cambridge. That line is the new “There can be only one” Highlander-of-ladyporn comeback lines, and it was the smack heard around the world. Huge.

Of course, it was not delivered whole because Gail Dines is such a lady and consummate professional that she actually interrupted Fischer while Fischer was taking her turn speaking.

But we have to give Dines a little pardon because she was already digging into a pie made of 50,000 crows called your statistics are fake and you finally met a woman with balls enough to say so and backed it up with facts. And for religious reasons Dines does not wear a pearl necklace so she could not clutch it in horror at the crude American display, which is the usual (and proven) line of defense that proper English ladies take.

* If you’re not familiar with Dines and Co. take a minute to get up to speed here. Also: all writing on Gail Dines.

It’s Lady Porn Day, and it is being celebrated in a massive way around the Internet and the world. I think that pondering the anti-porn takedown by a pro-porn sex educator is very fitting as we turn a wheel in the revolution.

Lady Porn Day Feb 22 2011Women are taking back the right to look at porn, the right to make and enjoy and share porn – but this has not gone unchallenged. Women like Dines (and Shelley Lubben) have built careers (and astonishingly, extra credit classes at universities) to prevent women from doing the single most powerful thing they can do about pornography, wherever they stand on the topic: the right to speak freely about it.

But they can’t stop the internet, and that’s where we’ve been talking about porn and comparing ideas, feelings, notes and questions – and facts – about porn for ten years strong*. I’m not saying Dines and Co. are censoring women’s ability to talk about porn; they can’t.

I am saying that Dines and Co. have purposely created, fostered and maintained an environment that is hostile to challenge, and therefore actively campaigns against discussions of pornography that are not their own.

They shut us up by shaming us and scaring us with threatening displays of sexuality. Pretty basic and effective tactic.

And to this effect, Dines and Co. continually shut out and categorically ignore pro-porn women – the millions of us, and those who identify as feminist. We have all been edited out of the discussion.

But we have a right to figure out what porn is, and what porn means to us, on our own.

Don’t tell a woman what to think about her own sexuality. Just don’t.

And if you still have to make shit up to justify why you think you can tell us what we can and can’t do with sex, our bodies, and porn – just get out of our way.

So last week Fischer brought it, Dines was mean and rude, and Lubben made everyone sad with her crazy. When Cambridge voted that Fisher won the debate, Lubben abjectly Tweeted “Cambridge University made their choice for porn over Jesus Christ.” Indeed. Today Rabbit Write is making Lady Porn Day a huge, cool, and fun reality, and women all over the world are sharing their views on porn and talking about what is great and what is awful in and about porn. Yes, people are arguing about it on Twitter, but that’s great too. Actually, it’s really important.

It’s an open discussion. We deserve that. I mean, I like to look at the inverse proof on things. For instance, last week a same-sex couple were denied entrance to a creationist museum: two men purchased tickets to a tour and dinner, but were told they could not enter as a same-sex couple and were not refunded their money.

The punchline is that they were not “together” but were two men going as a pair. It seems to me that hosting gay couples would be a tremendous opportunity to “save” them in the eyes of god. What better way to show them that being gay is a sin than by bringing them into a prime showcase for conversion?

I apply the same thinking to women like Gail Dines who campaign and attempt to create movements with ideology rather than facts. The most powerful cults (the ones who get people to commit mass suicide) control the sexuality of their followers. It’s the most personal and effective non-violent way to claim power over another person.

You can literally get anyone to do anything if you have their belief and their sexuality in your pocket. Anti-porn crusaders don’t need facts because they have the key cult elements in place. Which is why we’ll never see Dines and Co. do the equivalent of hosting the gay couple in the creationist museum. (The pro-porn feminist in the henhouse, anyone?)

Use porn responsibly, enjoy it to the fullest. And no matter what you do, don’t stop talking about it, and don’t stop questioning anyone who tries to control what you think about it. The power to evaluate what is sexually right and wrong for ourselves, and what is sexually healthy for ourselves and our communities, is not just the final frontier for modern sexual freedom – it is necessary.

* This blog is ten years old this year. We’ve come a long way, don’t you think?

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  1. While I agree that data are an accumulation of atecdotes, those anecdotes are collected and analyzed in (ideally) a scientific and meaningful way. I completely understand Wolfinger’s point in an academic classroom setting though. Don’t dismiss antecdotes outright, but do critically analyze what those anecdotes mean.

    @Chris: I was actually unsurprised at the amount of abstentions and a little nervous about the outcome. One of the students gave a point of abstention on the floor criticizing speakers for batting about statistics and not fully presenting why porn was a “good public service” versus why porn was harmless. Each speaker only had 10 minutes and trying to simultaneously dismantle dominant negative discourse surrounding porn and discuss the social benefits in that time frame was exceptionally difficult. I actually had rebuttles prepared, unaware that we only had speeches. Much went left unsaid.

    On the brightside, Cambridge students want me to come back and have a full hour or so to speak so the chance for a larger discussion should happen. Considering that MacKinnon is in residency there, I am impressed and humbled that they’d make that offer.

    @Violet As soon as I get the debate video we’ll be having a private screening at my friend’s renovated church. Send you details when we hammer them out!

  2. absolutely *adore rabbitwrite and ladypornday and your integrated twitter-feed *gazillion-yeah
    unfortunately not much in the german blogosphere about this very important event (methinks too many political scandals)
    thank you <3

  3. Although I’m happy with the overall outcome of the debate, it is worth pointing out that the victory was hardly resounding. The majority of the winning vote was swamped by the number of abstentions, which means that a substantial portion of what we are assuming to be a pretty intelligent audience was unconvinced of either argument.

    And on another point, data may be the accumulation of anecdotes in sociology, but in most fields it is the accumulation of (hopefully reproducible) observations. Just sayin’.

  4. Just in response to your comment, Violet, that you’re unsure what trolls and/or friends are thinking/judging(?!) when they’re sometimes so-quiet? Well, maybe they agree 100% with you — I opine that you should take the silence as meaning that ‘I couldn’t have said that better myself’!

  5. Well, I have been listening to BBC world twice a day for a while and it seem that they are fairly conservative. Listening to them talk to Wolfowitz about Obama’s foreign policy without mentioning his part in the invasion of Iraq was pretty bad.

  6. Is it really BBC standard to ridicule and laugh at the interview subjects? Anna Span is a very strong woman for dealing with this.

    At the end Dines says that she lost the debate at Cambridge because, basically, the Cambridge students in attendance are young knobs off the street. As in, she calls them 18-22 male hormonal idiots.

    In reality, Cambridge is comprised of the TOP university students in Britain.

  7. Okay, I had to stop it at 3:30. BBC just undermined what is supposed to be their whole point which is unbiased journalism. At 3:30 Dan Damon clearly sided with Dines.

    Fuck, BBC. You have failed.

    Also, Dines stated at 2:45 that “there has been no move in the United States by the Republican right wing to stop pornography.”

    This is absolutely untrue.

  8. Thanks for the comment, by the way. On the rare occasions I let fly with an OTT rant like this and then it’s like crickets, I feel like the crazy cat blogger lady. There’s something oddly reassuring about it, either in that it means the trolls will leave the crazy lady alone, or my friends are compassionately polite and kindly look the other way when I foam at the mouth.

    I’ll go back to defacing the Dr. Phil ad with a Sharpie in my copy of O Magazine now…

  9. I have that book sitting in my “read next” pile. That is really interesting – I like how Jessi pushed it back at Dines in this instance. The thing is that while this is true, the other obvious bit is that statistical data is much more than selected opinions and stories, which is exactly the problem we’re seeing with Dines and Co.

  10. According to Freakonomics, however, the quote, from economist Ray Wolfinger, is the opposite: “I said ‘The plural of anecdote is data” some time in the 1969-70 academic year while teaching a graduate seminar at Stanford. The occasion was a student’s dismissal of a simple factual statement — by another student or me — as a mere anecdote. The quotation was my rejoinder.” He goes on to point out the obvious: data is the accumulation of anecdotes.

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