Friday, 21 March 2014

Can porn be empowering?




I have recently watched one of the most fascinating interviews I have ever seen with Belle Knox, the 18 year-old Duke University student in the United States who has become a porn actress in order to pay for her education. She is doing Women’s Studies and Sociology. That makes me assume that she considers herself a feminist, although the “f word” is not mentioned anywhere in the interview. Belle speaks out against all the hypocrisy around sexuality in our patriarchal society. Which I applaud. She also claims that she enjoys doing porn very much because it is “freeing” and “empowering”. Now I have a few problems with that.


Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want to do is make moral judgments about anyone’s life choices. Like Piers Morgan (the interviewer) does in typical old-white-conservative-man fashion. The condescending way he talks to her (“You’re obviously very bright cos you got into college, right?”) and the judging tone in his every question (“I have no moral hang-up about what you do or the industry you’re in” – yeah right) makes my blood boil. No, I think Belle stands her ground very well against this knobhead. I appreciate her honesty and courage. My problem is that while she thinks she is standing up against patriarchy, she is actually doing the exact opposite of that.

Let me first look at her claim that she loves doing porn (“Shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy”). I think sexual fetishes and fantasies should be embraced and celebrated. Every single person in the world likes different stuff in bed (or wherever). If what really turns Belle on is having sex with strangers while being watched by others then go ahead sister! Have orgies and knock yourself out. Or maybe it is the ‘being recorded’ aspect that gives her earth-shattering orgasms. Great, get someone to record your sexy time and if you want even upload it on this website: Make love not porn. It is a website created for people to upload and share their sex videos FOR FREE in order to celebrate REAL sex. Belle also makes some very valid observations about society that I, as a feminist, applaud. “In our society we are so repressed. We are told sex is bad, we are told not to have sex, we’re told not to show our bodies.” “After thousands of years of patriarchy and religion we so deeply fear sexuality.” “The porn performer is to be shamed. The porn consumer is to be celebrated.” All excellent points!

However, what I find extremely problematic is her claim that porn is “freeing and empowering”. I believe porn is the exact opposite of those things and I will explain why. Let me start with the fact that porn actors and actresses get paid to do porn. By selling sex, porn actresses (and also prostitutes) commodify their bodies, which, in my opinion, is the ultimate form of objectification. It is also true for porn actors but I am not going to discuss that here as in our patriarchal world men’s objectification is not yet such a wide-spread problem. What is objectification? Objects are used by people in order to serve a purpose. For example, I use a spoon to eat soup. When a woman is objectified by men, she is no longer viewed as an autonomous person but as an object whose function is to give men pleasure. Selling sex, selling your body like a commodity, just perpetuates that view.

Belle also argues that it is a mistaken belief that women are used or exploited in porn as most porn actresses love doing it. I find that very difficult to believe. Belle says that she earns $1200 per scene. If doing porn was such an enjoyable experience then people surely wouldn’t get paid so much to do it. Also, books could be filled with the differences between porn and real sex. Real sex is (or should be!) about giving pleasure to both male and female participants. Whereas the acts shown in porn are designed to excite male viewers and usually have nothing to do with things that women actually enjoy.

Moreover, Belle is mistaken in thinking that porn empowers her. The overwhelming majority of porn movies are produced by men for men. The overwhelming majority of consumers of porn are men so its primary purpose is to please them. Belle is young, skinny and beautiful. She fits the criteria of what is currently considered “sexy” in our society. Would she still find porn to be empowering if she was overweight or old? Her career in the porn industry entirely depends on how men view her. Her “value” is based on men’s perception of her. If your “power” depends completely on other people then it is not real power. It is very similar to situations where women sleep with men or manipulate men in order to achieve things. They may say that they feel “empowered” when they get what they want from men, but what they are really doing is temporarily leeching onto men’s power resources rather than having their own.

Belle criticises patriarchy but, sadly, she is aiming to be empowered by conforming to it, rather than rebelling against it and achieving empowerment, not through men, but in her own right. One of her statements that I found extremely sad was when she talked about how she experienced more hostility from women because they were probably “jealous” and “maybe they caught their boyfriend watching my porn”. That’s not very sisterly, is it? It is proof that she is playing by the rules of patriarchy where women fight each other for the attention and power resources of men, rather than saying “fuck this shit”, sticking together and changing the system.

So my conclusion is this. Belle, I hope you will learn this soon in your Women’s Studies and Sociology classes: true empowerment means having your own power in your own right, independently, and not relying on men’s perception of you. I know you said in the interview that it costs $61404 per year to go to your university, which is an insane amount. Perhaps porn is the best available option to you. But that doesn't mean it's a free choice. Money clearly acts as a coercive factor. Participating in bullshit male structures that promote the commodification of people because the similar bullshit male ideological/political structures have also commodified education and made it unaffordable for the vast majority is not challenging that system. It's perpetuating patriarchy.

If you find having sex with strangers exciting and enjoy recording it and posting it online then do it! Be safe and have fun! Just make sure that you are doing it for your OWN pleasure and not for others. Don’t conform to patriarchy and don’t try to be “free” and “empowered” on men’s terms. I hope that when you finish your degree you will join the feminist movement and never again let your career be based on how men view you.

DF

2 comments:

  1. Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic but I'd be interested in a collaboration.
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    Daniel.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Daniel,

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    Next time, I think you should do your homework before you try networking, my friend.

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    Huss Post

    ReplyDelete