How can you talk about ethics when your company is posting stolen content from producers and sex workers?
A tube site aimed at women did just that this month. Recently launched, Bellesa claimed it created a safe atmosphere for its users, which, unlike other tube sites, was supposedly free of “degrading” porn. However, like all tube sites, their collection of videos was largely acquired through piracy. While boasting “safe space” and “ethical porn for women,” Bellesa perpetuated the same exploitative practices the sleaziest tube sites do.
Their hypocrisy caused a stir in the porn industry. The site claimed to be empowering while simultaneously exploiting people’s sexual labor. At least some other tube sites let performers upload their content and get paid for it—it’s a way to make your money back on already pirated content. Bellesa also perpetuated sex positive feminism’s voyeuristic and conditional obsession with sex work, that is, the idea that it is only valid as long as it’s empowering—a standard other jobs are not held to. What this attitude ultimately demonstrates is a complete disregard for those who work in the sex industry.
To add insult to injury, Bellesa’s marketing campaign used Twitter to blast videos full of this kind of rhetoric, feeding a liberal sex positive audience hungry for it. Feminist sex writer Suzannah Wess profiled their CEO Michelle Shnaidman at Bustle, opening her piece with, “It’s hard enough to find porn that isn’t totally degrading to women. And then, when you finally come across porn for women, it’s usually behind a paywall. There’s a good reason for this: It’s hard to produce porn ethically without charging customers. But Michelle Shnaidman, founder of Bellesa, has found a way to bring women porn they’ll actually enjoy without draining their bank accounts.”
This coverage advanced Bellesa’s unethical marketing strategy. Our right to be paid for our labor is actually portrayed here as a pesky inconvenience feminists need to work around in order to deliver women-friendly porn to non-sex workers.
I discussed Bellesa with fellow porn performer Jiz Lee and they pointed out something very interesting: the company denounced and demonized mainstream porn, claiming to be tired of its tropes, but they still relied on them for their own business model. For example, Bellesa features an interracial category, just as many mainstream porn sites do. We’ve slowly begun a conversation in porn about the racism behind interracial videos, and their inclusion is certainly not progressive. Also, none of Bellesa’s videos featured trans people. If they were truly the utopian tube site they claimed to be, they would have been fully intersectional.
Yet again, what really happened here was a company using “feminism” to sell shit without adhering to any of its principles. Now, I’m a sex worker. I’m dedicated to my hustle and I like making money. But I do not claim to further social movements while making it.
What does porn for women even mean? We don’t all have a shared sexuality. We do not all crave the same things. Women aren’t fragile creatures, either. We don’t need to be guided and have our hands held through the scary world of pornography.
Some women enjoy watching “degrading” porn. What is degrading porn? If you are being appropriately compensated and are consenting to that fantasy role play, is it degrading? I’ve shot vanilla porn that felt a lot more degrading than when I got gang banged by five guys.
After Bellesa’s debut, outraged porn workers took to Twitter and let the company know how they felt. AVN posted an article pointing out their hypocrisy. Subsequently, all of Bellesa’s problematic promo and their entire video section was taken down. CEO Shnaidman posted a lengthy apology in which she wrote that the critical reactions to the site “hurt,” but she expressed remorse for the company’s “massive amount of ignorance” and for “disrespecting…women in the sex-space,” committing “to transition the entirety of the video section of Bellesa to feature exclusively videos that are in direct partnership with studios, and that compensate all fairly for the contribution.”
Personally, I had mixed feelings about the company’s reaction. I appreciate the apologies, but no one should have to hold space for Bellesa creators’ hurt feelings. It’s not our job as sex workers to coddle you and teach you how to act right. Stay in your lane, porn companies, and this kind of thing won’t happen in the first place. Do not appropriate our experience for your own financial gain.