This article has been trending on xojane. The article is about a woman in college who works in porn and her account left me with mixed feelings. Some of what she said I totally agreed with and some of what she said made me skeptical and anxious and then I felt anxious for feeling anxious and skeptical in the first place.
Let me start with the part of the article I agree with. She asks that people not call her a slut, whore or in any other way insult and shame her. Yes absolutely! She addresses feminists with differing beliefs and urges them not to name-call her. Uh yeah, if you call another woman a slut or whore or mock her for her choices especially in some sort of machismo way, you’re not acting like a feminist. Feminists provide education and raise awareness on the sexism and violence against women, especially women of color, found in porn. But they do not shame or insult the women involved. First of all because there are so many women who are coerced into pornography and to insult them because they were coerced or forced into the industry is absolutely wrong. Second of all, like I said in this post, men have been telling women what to do since forever, so why would I do that too? It’d be totally counterproductive. And finally, in cases where commercial sex is victimizing the workers the people to hold accountable for that are the people doing the victimizing, not the victims.
But I am also skeptical about quite a few things mentioned in the article or about the issue of the sex industry in general.
The first is that I always get nervous when someone describes their experience in the sex industry as empowering. Empowering how? I know a woman who worked in a strip club, as a bartender, and she said it was an empowering experience because the women had so much power over the men and could use that power to make money. So first, this woman was not a stripper so she doesn’t know how the strippers were actually feeling. Second, the power women feel related to sex is a false sense of power. Sure, maybe for a brief moment with any given man you can hold your sexuality over him to get more money, attention, whatever. But at the end of the day, men still have power over women on a societal level and ultimately men always have a leg up on us and it’s up to them, not us, if they choose to use that advantage against us. And what happened to equal relationships? The point of feminism and empowerment of women is about equality for women, men, transgender folks and any other genders. Not a chance for women and other oppressed genders to be on top and manipulate straight men. Granted, the author of this article seems to be saying her experience is empowering because her work allows her to embrace her sexual identity without judgment. That, to me, does sound empowering. But my concern is that overall when women describe an experience in porn, etc as empowering it may be a facade of power (not true empowerment) that they’re experiencing.
Another issue is that I’ve heard that the vast majority of female workers in the sex industry have a trauma history of childhood sexual abuse. I have not done extensive research on this but there is research that supports there is a direct correlation. And this is not because survivors of childhood sexual abuse are “damaged goods” as too many people think. But rather it’s because of messages that abusers impose upon victims and how profound of an impact those messages have when a victim is only a child. So even if women are 100%, coercion-free choosing to perform sex work as adults, how much does their abuse history impact that choice? And if a woman who hasn’t experienced sexual violence likely wouldn’t go into porn but one who has would, should we re-consider how much choice the abused woman really had? To me, if you consider that the choice is likely being influenced by an abusive, traumatic experience the choice seems less of an autonomous one and more one that was directly or indirectly was influenced by an abuser.
Of course not everyone who has done sex work also has a trauma history. So with any individual worker I could never say who does or doesn’t have an abuse history.
As a DV professional, I know that the strategies survivors use to cope with their abuse and trauma are plentiful. Case in point, Melissa Gorga writing a book on the benefits of being a submissive wife. I don’t know her personally, of course, but to me the whole thing sounded like a DV survivor still in her marriage and doing what she needed to do to cope and survive. So I wasn’t going to belittle her or assume she’s actually okay with it. This is not to say that Melissa Gorga is definitely using denial to cope, nor any other woman in a situation that more often than not is traumatic, like women working in the sex industry. I would have no way of knowing what is actually going on without knowing very well the individual who is purporting that things are great. But I try to keep an open mind to the idea that she may be hiding certain realities, possibly subconsciously, in an effort to protect herself.
That is also where I feel so full of guilt. Because what if she isn’t burying aspects to protect herself? What if she does enjoy her work? If that is the case then could my writing this post just give more credence to the idea that she doesn’t know what she’s saying? That she can’t be trusted?
I really don’t know either way. All I’m saying is her article gives me pause and causes me to wonder. I advocate for believing survivors, especially about their abuse. But when a woman is in a risky situation (and as a whole the porn industry most certainly is) then I don’t take her insistence that things are fine at face value. I leave room for the idea that she may be doing her best to cope with an ongoing traumatic experience while also remaining open to the fact that she may be portraying the situation for exactly what it is. I hope that in this way I don’t end up judging her or discrediting her.
It is such a tedious balance.
Oh and here’s a very well-written post about this xojane article from The Huffington Post. It gets at a lot of what I am trying to say and in a much more articulate way. The author of the article, Jennifer Ketcham is a survivor of the sex industry.