Duke University student and adult film star Belle Knox has been harassed by fellow students, mostly women, and claims that “every day is a nightmare.”
There has been a lot of discussion within the feminist community about how violent or objectifying porn could possibly be “empowering.” Having participated in such porn, and having worked with the likes of Max Hardcore and shooting for Xtreme Video, which was known for extremely rough sex, I can say that one has to look beyond the actual rough sex to discover what is empowering about this porn. To me, aside from the financial gain which allows women to accomplish their goals, such as attending an Ivy league college, it is also the idea that creative and sexual expression are inalienable human rights. It is still very much the case that when men philander, society will look the other way, but woman who decide to express themselves sexually and who have too many partners are considered dirty and uncouth and immoral. The female attackers are quick to attack the object of desire, while overlooking the largely male audience that funds and watches the films that she appears in. There is a type of liberation in engaging in behavior that you find pleasurable and natural, and continuing to behave in a way that you feel is normal (even if it’s not specifically your thing but you don’t mind participating in it because someone else will get off on it) despite the fact that a distinct proportion of people believe that you are committing a mortal sin. The empowerment for women in the sex industry results not solely from financial gain, but also because of gaining an opportunity to participate in a sexual expression that will be appreciated by hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions of people, and in being the pioneering woman who breaks the “glass ceiling” for sexual expression.
Rough porn is a fact of life in the industry right now. I myself have participated in more than one rough scene in which the male performer felt really bad or worried about my welfare during the scene. Rough porn, especially at the time when I was doing it in the early 2000s, was just what was making the big money. I feel that in a certain sense, what a porn star does is very much like what a professional sports star or actor gets paid to do, which is take risks with their body for sport, art, and money. No one would accuse a professional football player or boxer of not respecting themselves, because they understand that that person is taking risks for professional and financial gain. Few would every think to accuse an actress who has done multiple loves scenes involving rough sex of being a slut, a whore or a prostitute. Instead, their work is seen as an artistic portrayal. The idea that rough porn (as well as non pornographic film depicting violence against women) encourages this violence and objectification is another matter, and something that I have struggled with in the past.
That being said, I think that the very nature of porn functions to objectify both men and women, and that that is part of the appeal for the viewer. It’s the same reason that the top selling barbie dolls still have those unrealistic proportions, because no matter how loudly activists protest, even five year olds subconsciously find the well known silhouette more desirable. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that SOMETIMES, HAVING A FANTASY IS OKAY, ESPECIALLY IF IT’S IN A WELL DEFINED CONTEXT WHICH DOES NOT VIOLATE ANYONE ELSE’S RIGHTS. The fact that women in porn tend to be augmented, spray tanned, and hair extensioned is the same reason why the men in porn are muscled, spray tanned, and generally 8 inches or larger. There are lots of porn films, especially in the bdsm genre, in which men are abused and objectified, and so in that sense it’s sort of an equalizing force. IN addition, in recent years there has been an explosion of “amateur” porn depicting average individuals with average body types, in addition to all manners of “niche” porn depicting heavier women, unusual fetishes, and all sorts of body types and situations, including gay and queer scenarios.
Are all women in the sex industry empowered? Are there women who become victims of the sex industry’s voracious appetite for new flesh, and who are not mentally or physically prepared for the psychological/physical stresses that they will be subjected to during the course of their work? The answer is most definitely yes. However, it is definitely the case that intelligent women make an informed choices to work in the adult industry, knowing full well what the costs and benefits are, and that intelligent, law abiding, and church going individuals participate vicariously through their enjoyment of those films. As with mainstream actresses, the types of scenes an adult film actress appears in are a poor way of determining how an adult film performer actually feels about her self worth, because she is often getting paid a hefty sum of money to do the scene. A better way of determining how the actress feels about herself is to take note of how she lives her life, how she allows people to treat her when she is not getting paid, and how she takes care of herself and her body outside of her time on film.
**As an aside note: I was introduced through a mutual friend to a retired dominatrix and mother of two, also living in the Park Slope area, who had been stalked. She found out that her personal information, including name, photograph, and address, had been posted on a site which was directly intended for the users of that site to harass sex workers, in a manner similar to the way Belle Knox’s family information was given out. I have been unable to locate such sites (the site that she was on was taken down) but I suspect that my name and personal inforation has also been posted on one of these sites.