Porn

The creators of Hot Girls Wanted and Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On— Jill Bauer, Rashida Jones, and Ronna Gradus. (Still from Youtube)

I first heard that a sequel to Hot Girls Wanted was being made about three months ago. A performer I followed posted about being approached for filming. He rejected the offer immediately. I shared his discomfort.

The first Hot Girls Wanted was a documentary film carefully designed to manipulate the viewer into feeling disgust towards the porn industry. It followed a household of porn models, predominantly new to the industry, for several months as they journeyed into what Hot Girls Wanted creator Rashida Jones referred to as “pro-amateur porn.” While the filmmakers claimed a totally unbiased approach, I watched the documentary taking note of each carefully placed, mid-sentence cut designed to de-contextualize industry critiques; each depressing tone played at low volumes creating emotionally charged responses to a comment; each unsourced statistic and each citation from disreputable websites.

Porn performers responded harshly yet appropriately to the documentary. They aimed their critiques primarily at the film’s producer, actress Rashida Jones. With the announcement of a sequel came promises of an improved, non-stigmatizing, and nuanced discussion of the porn industry.

It was not delivered.

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I want to believe with all my heart that material can be made about sex workers that doesn’t demonize or belittle us. I want to get the same feeling chefs get while watching Chopped or car enthusiasts feel watching Top Gear UK. Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On is not that feel-good series—there is no perspective through which it is not problematic.

The show eases you into the material in the first episode with living legend producers Suze Randall and her daughter Holly working on photoshoots and erotic film. The episode focuses on their business practices, how they treat the talent, and their issues with male producers. This segment is the only redeeming portion of the show. Savor the mother-daughter bonding and camaraderie; no warm and fuzzy feelings lie ahead.

I could give you a blow-by-blow of the other five episodes, but to be perfectly frank, it’s a waste of time. This docu-series is even more harmful than its predecessor, 2015 documentary film Hot Girls Wanted, which covered amateur porn. Creator Rashida Jones and the other people behind this film are not sex workers. In fact, Jones has a long Twitter history of belittling women and out-right slut shaming other celebrities.

 

The show creators have no experience in sex work and aren’t even close to anyone who uses the sex industry as their main source of income. They use adult film star Lisa Ann as their poster girl, but she has never dealt with stigma the same way transgender performers or performers who are people of color do. In fact, she is apathetic about the plight of more marginalized sex workers.

The series features screen caps of people surfing cam girl sites. Though these cam performers signed up to be on those platforms, they did not sign up to have their identities exposed on a Netflix documentary. When sex workers on Twitter saw this, they exploded in response, and soon tweets by other sex workers roped into the project revealed further outrages: Not only did HGW:TO reveal screen caps; they showed the legal names of other performers; interviewed workers and agents under false pretenses, insisting the material wasn’t for Hot Girls Wanted; and even used interview footage of someone who’d changed their mind about being involved. Lisa Ann has been less than sympathetic about this, stating on Twitter:

 

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juliette1

“Modern industry, in overturning the economical foundation on which was based the traditional family, and the family labour corresponding to it, had also unloosened all traditional ties.” – Karl Marx, Capital

I open up my browser and type “pornhub.com” into the search bar. Once the page loads, I hover my cursor over “videos” and click on “most viewed.” This is a type of occupational research for a sex worker like me. The ad on the right side of the page says “small, tiny, teens gettin’ fucked!” It’s an animated .gif: the male performer wraps his hands completely around the circumference of the female performer’s torso, demonstrating just how small and tiny this teen getting fucked is.

Of the four videos displayed at the top, only two of them feature third-person cinematography showing the whole body of both performers. One of them is a lesbian incest fantasy video, the other is an interracial video, the title of which refers to the white male performer as “innocent” and the black female performer as “his First African Princess.” The other two videos feature a mix of first person, or “POV,” shots and third person shots which barely show more of the male actor than his dick. One of these videos is an internal ejaculation, or “creampie,” video; the other is an incest fantasy video. Both feature an all-white cast and heterosexual sex. Naturally, the white man is the absolute Subject, and everyone else is the Other.

According to a study featured in an early 2016 issue of sexology publication The Journal of Sex Research, porn viewers have more egalitarian views about gender than non-viewers. The specific metrics used by the study to assess whether participants have “gender egalitarian views” are a series of questions which gauge the extent to which they agree with contemporary liberal status quo with respect to gender and the family. The study shows that porn viewership is positively correlated with the beliefs that abortion should be legal, and that women should be allowed to work outside of the home and hold positions of power in society. Other studies have shown that pornography exposure is correlated with positive attitudes about premarital sex among younger adults and that women who view pornography are more likely to hold sexually liberal attitudes as well as have engaged in sex work. A plurality of Pornhub.com viewers support Bernie Sanders; most support marijuana legalization and federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Porn is a form of media which typically delivers images of women’s sexual objectification – the camera focuses on the woman’s body and her affective performance while the male performer seldom exists more than a few inches above his navel or below his knees – and where genres commonly cater to exploitative sexual proclivities (incest, “barely legal” teens, gangbangs, exploitation of domestic laborers such as maids and babysitters, and so on). It might seem counterintuitive that consumption of this media would correlate to liberal ideas.

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(Photo by Alexa Vachon)

(Photo by Alexa Vachon)

Coming Out Like A Porn Star is an anthology edited by award winning indie porn talent and author Jiz Lee consisting of essays by porn performers and industry workers on privacy and disclosure. It was featured by Reason’s‘ Elizabeth Nolan Brown as one of the best sex work books of 2015. Foreworded by renowned Black porn scholar Dr. Mireille Young, the book includes pieces by celebrated porn mainstays such as Stoya and Annie Sprinkle, as well as work by Tits and Sass’ own contributors and interviewees such as Kitty Stryker, Conner Habib, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and Cyd Nova. The collection spans a wide array of porn experiences from writers of color, trans and queer authors, and performers from every branch of the industry. With Lee’s permission, we excerpt two exciting essays by authors who are new to us, “Queen Beloved” by Milcah Halili and “Even Someone Like Me: How I Came Out As A Smut Starlet” by Betty Blac. They both feature stories of the authors communicating with their sex worker writer idols, so we were immediately hooked. [READ MORE]

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Stoya in 2012 at the AVN awards. (Photo by Michael Dorausch via Flickr)

Stoya in 2012 at the AVN awards. (Photo by Michael Dorausch via Flickr)

Content warning: this piece contains general discussion of rape.

I got a call from a reporter from Mother Jones the other day, her voice nervous. She was one of the many journalists who called the sex worker health clinic I work at, St. James Infirmary, looking for comments about the public sexual assault accusations made against James Deen over the past week.

She told me, “I’m learning about this world from this story, let me know if I say something wrong.” We tried in stops and starts to lay a groundwork of understanding about what Stoya’s tweets meant. It seems hard for people outside the industry to digest this story. This time around, most journalists seem to want to be survivor centered, and they want to be clear that they know a sex worker can be raped. But their understanding of the environment of porn is always one with contracts which, once signed, mean that anything can happen to you. Where all men on set are lurid in their gaze, and the sadistic domination they demonstrate is heartfelt and misogynist. It’s a world view in which porn shoots are a battle field where women try to keep as many of their boundaries up as possible.

For the survivors of James Deen whose stories are told and untold; for the sex workers whose perpetrators used the stigmatized environment of the profession to prey on their vulnerabilities; for the sex workers who have been assaulted and then continued to work, sometimes with the same person who assaulted them, because at that moment that was what they had to do to survive; this news cycle has been hell. The only thing more unrelenting than the new stories of James Deen’s violent misogyny cropping up every day is the understanding that these reports are only the tip of the iceberg, that there will be more stories of his attempts to “break women.”

There is a way in which these revelations are also exhilarating. I’ve never seen such public furor around the assaults of sex workers. It’s left everyone I know drained thinking, talking, or reading about it. Waiting to see what direction the narrative will take—will the news coverage continue to slant in favor of the survivors? What will the consequences be for Deen after the scandal of this story is dusted over by another? Will any long term systems be created to ensure worker safety, and will those be driven by performers themselves or placed on top by an outside enforcement agency?

These questions will take a long time to answer, but what is clear is the deep breath many took after Stoya’s two tweets were posted. It spread across my Twitter feed and it felt like witnessing a spell break. Arabelle Raphael said in an interview with Melissa Gira Grant that, “It was a big relief. Finally, someone had put it out there.”

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