The Short Life of “Feminist” Tube Site Bellesa

by Arabelle Raphael on September 27, 2017 · 3 comments

in Porn

Bellesa CEO Michelle Shnaidman.

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 hypocrisySubsequently, 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.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashly Lorenzana September 27, 2017 at 10:33 am

Wow, this is one of the best pieces about sex work and porn that I’ve probably EVER read. Seriously.

The name Bellesa didn’t ring a bell, but the concept did. I remember hearing about some BS sounding ‘porn for women’ thing a while back, so I’m guessing it was probably them…I remember rolling my eyes at the time.

Thank you for mentioning also that some women enjoy porn that is generally thought of as ‘degrading’ to women. Personally, I dig the guys over at sites like Facial Abuse lol.

This is great, I will be including a couple quotes from this piece in one of my own soon. With full attribution, of course. Great work.

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Kagehi September 28, 2017 at 9:04 am

Yeah, I think there is some sort of requirement if you are either a) producing something that some people might think is bad, but others like, or, on the other side of the fence, apposing it, on the grounds that you think it is horrible, to exaggerate things to be “edgy”. Somehow this gets your point across better than being sensible, so you have anti-abusive porn advocates using hyperbolic language to attack people producing porn that they, “can’t imagine real women liking!”, while the people producing it are using hyperbolic language to slap their audience in the face. I find both seriously irritating, and not just because the result is often badly misleading about the content, to the point where actually finding what you may be looking for is less possible than if they dropped the stupid BS and stated things more clearly, from the perspective of the porn. As for the perspective of the people apposing it… how is attacking something for content you don’t like, and thing “has to be” degrading, purely by what some site chooses to use to call it (and not necessarily the content itself) any different than the people passing increasingly stupid anti-trafficking laws, because they imagine that everyone on the planet is somehow either a victim or a criminal, purely on the basis that they can’t imagine anyone “wanting” to do the work they appose, or the sex acts they think are ungodly? How is it that we comprehend the way that supporting some of the stupidity involved with such legislation is counter productive to the cause (except far, far, too many don’t see this at all), but its fine to never question if there might be something a bit… unreasonable about the level of rhetoric involved in apposing whole swaths of porn, for the exact same reasons.

Honestly, isn’t the more degrading thing that even supposed feminist porn often has scripts/acting, and an emphasis on implausible, and story derailing, sex scenes, that includes dialog and plot elements that could have come out of the “book version” of 50 shades? You know, the version that, if it had translated into film would have left half the audience walking out laughing their asses off at the “mental dialog” of the participants, and the other half even more confused over why this women actually liked the weirdo. lol I am still, personally, waiting for something from the “industry”, any part of it, frankly, which isn’t absurd.

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