From Hip Hop DX
If you ask one hundred people what pornography is, you’re likely to get one hundred different answers. If you ask another one hundred what they think about pornography, you’re likely to get one hundred more. Sex sells, but mediated sexual acts wrote the blueprint on monetizing the erotic to the downright frightening. The multi-billion dollar a year adult entertainment industry has put its stamp on everything from the local 7-11 to the Supreme Court.
In the ’70s and ’80s pornography—or the debate about pornography—drew strict battle lines between the sexes, liberals and conservatives, and the feminist movement. The latter group birthed two staunch anti-pornography advocates in Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. The pair, along with other activists, believed that pornography was vile, a tool used by men to degrade, objectify, and dehumanize of women. Attempts by the two to censor pornography were ultimately unsuccessful, but the fallout from their efforts kept the pornography debate raging on into the ’90s.
Today, the landscape of the industry has undoubtedly changed from the time when it was almost exclusively a boys club (and more specifically, a white boys club). While most pornography is still made for and marketed to white men, there are a number of women taking charge in front of, and behind the camera. So the question is simple: in 2009, is pornography degrading to women? Is it the dehumanizing and degrading industry that Dworkin and MacKinnon alleged years ago? Or is it just another way for thousands of men and women to pay their bills and keep food on the table?
Craig Gross, the founder of XXX Church believes pornography is still harmful. Gross and his team have been attending adult conventions for the last seven years, distributing Bibles to attendees while reminding them that Jesus loves them. The group even passes out stickers and t-shirts bearing the phrase, “Jesus loves porn stars” to cement their message of love. While Gross does not condemn the industry—as many of his more conservative counterparts do with messages of hell fire and damnation— he certainly doesn’t condone it. “I think most [porn] nowadays is [degrading to women],” Gross told DX. “Long gone are the days when it was just one guy and one girl. If you look at half these titles out here, it’s very violent. I’d say this world of fantasy is pretty twisted. I’d say it’s not what you’ll find in a healthy sexual relationship. Most of this is geared toward the fantasy of the guy and the women are the objects.”
The pastor of the “#1 Christian Porn Site” acknowledges that the industry is not churning out sex slaves, but also believes that the almighty dollar causes many performers to do things they wouldn’t normally do. “Most of these girls aren’t stupid, they’re not going to go to work and be tormented, but it’s a sliding pay scale. You have sex with one guy, its 600 bucks. You have sex with three guys at a time, it’s a lot more. They’re not forced to do anything, but the final product I think is degrading.”
Not so fast say many of the women who actually perform. A visit to the Hustler booth at this year’s Adult Entertainment Expo revealed a group of women who are in control of the acts they perform on screen—and they seem to be loving every minute of it. “I do this because I love it, nobody forces me to do anything,” 20-year-old Madison Scott said. “I don’t think it’s degrading at all. For the girls who make this a job and make this their business, they do really well. I haven’t had a single problem.”
Britney Amber echoed Scott’s sentiments, and also added that many of the girls are in total control over what they do—or do not do—on camera. “I’m completely in control of myself. I’m 100% in control. If there’s something that I’m not cool with, I can say no and walk away.”
One dominate stereotype that seems to propel the “porn is degrading” ideology is that most of the (young) women in the industry are damaged through previous bouts with sexual abuse, a lack of an education, and a desire to get rich by any means necessary.
And while some starlets ultimately fit the profile, Ryder Skye smashes it to pieces.
Standing just 5’2”, Skye—a self described feminist—is not imposing but commands attention when she talks about her profession. The relative newcomer to the industry is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies and eventually wants to become a therapist. She’s candid when giving her opinion on the never ending pornography debate. Skye believes that pornography can be a source of empowerment for women, and efforts to ban or suppress pornographic media go against feminist ideals. “I think not allowing women to express themselves freely and sexually is extremely repressing for women and goes against feminism in general,” she stated. “In the US, we have this big sexual stigma where we feel like it’s uncomfortable to talk about. Why? It’s the same thing with porn, women watch porn, couples enjoy porn too. I understand both arguments, but I think pornography can be extremely empowering for women.”
One thing you won’t hear Skye say is that the industry is easy. She acknowledges that some women haven’t been fortunate enough to have the experiences she’s had thus far.
“I think what’s unfortunate is that [anti-porn advocates] end up talking to girls that have had bad experiences. Pornography is not for everybody. You have to be in control of everything and know when to say no. This is not a job that everybody can do; you really have to like sex. The second you feel like you need to be drunk to be on set, that’s when you need to stop.”
While many of the prevailing stereotypes about the industry—and subsequent allegations about its treatment of women—lie with images of battered and broken women who exited the industry, hooked on alcohol or drugs. Those who view the industry with such a broad scope may forget that for many, pornography is not simply a hobby, or an activity to engage in on the weekends. For the thousands of men and women who make up the industry, it is a way of life. Sex is often associated with intimacy, or at the very least, not something that should be sold to the highest bidder. However, pornography is just as much a business as running a record label or a department store; and running a business properly is a necessity. This includes not drinking or taking drugs during a shoot, or physically abusing women.
Michael Fattorosi of AdultBizLaw.com says abuse has happened and will continue to happen on set, but it is not the norm for the industry. “As far as mistreatment physically, I don’t see that happening too often. The people that make the movies aren’t bad people.” Ideas of physical abuse may be birthed from images of hardcore porn. Typically, spitting, slapping, biting and other actions typically associated with aggression don’t engender fond feelings to those who don’t participate in these acts in a sexual setting. Fattorosi is quick to point out that when these acts are depicted on screen, the performers are consenting adults living out a fantasy for willing consumers.
“In an industry where sex is what you’re selling, people have different types and flavors of fantasy. Some guys like rough sex, some women like fantasy, it runs the gamut,” he explained. “For the most part, the agents have done a good job with making sure that if a girl is going to a set, she knows what she’s prepared for. [Abuse] has happened, but for the professional side of the industry, they don’t physically abuse women. They don’t get them drunk or give them drugs.”
Even smaller companies are going the extra mile to make their female talent feel comfortable. Topp, from the New York based Creem Team Production says using women behind the camera goes a long way with the women who appear in front of it. “My assistant is always a female,” he says. “When [a woman] comes to a shoot, the person giving her the interview or the paperwork is always a female. It’s not just a bunch of guys around. I have females dealing with females; that seems to make everybody a lot more comfortable.”
So, if performers don’t believe they’re being degraded by performing, where does the belief that pornography is degrading to women come from? Much of the answer stems from academic research on the effects of pornography on consumers. Several studies have shown that the consumption of pornography can lead to decreased satisfaction with one’s partner, fuel aggression towards women, and promote an acceptance of rape. The data coming from academic studies does, on the surface, give credence to those who believe pornography should be banned, but a close look at what the studies actually say will more often than not unearth problems for anti-porn advocates. Rape in the United States has been occurring since at least the 1400s, centuries before pornography became a way to make money. Other studies that examine the effects of porn (often on men) have not been conducted over a lengthy period of time and long term studies of pornography effects are seldom undertaken.
At the end of the day, pornography—particularly in it’s more hardcore forms—just makes some people uncomfortable. Veteran porn star, activist, and nurse, Nina Hartley believes that those who believe pornography is degrading to women are simply projecting their feelings onto the stars they see on film.
“I think porn is degrading only if a person has an attitude about sex that says sex only belongs in a certain place,” Hartley, 49, said. “Being degraded is a subjective experience. If I don’t feel that I’m being degraded by performing in sex films, I am not being degraded. Other people look at my work and say, ‘Oh my gosh, she is being degraded.’ That’s projection. People place their own actions and feelings onto an activity they don’t understand. For them, if they were in such a position, they would be and feel degraded [but they think] it’s a universal experience.”
“It’s very narcissistic but very common. Degradation is a subjective experience and not objective or quantifiable.”