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November 18, 2013

The Porn Industry, Feminism, & Women.

This is what Jenna Jameson looked like before plastic surgery…wat

 

As a feminist and someone who earned an MA in legal studies, I have always been oddly fascinated by the porn industry.

It’s a pretty safe bet to say that Jenna Jameson is not having a good month.

Her latest woes result from leaked surveillance tape footage that someone posted on YouTube.

Supposedly, cameras were installed in Jameson’s home without her knowledge or consent and show her supposedly drinking and taking prescription drugs—sometimes in front of her four-year-old twin sons. The leaked footage comes after a recent TV appearance of the 39 year old Jameson appearing dazed and inarticulate. (While many suspected that she may have been under the influence of drugs, Jameson denied it.) She also recently announced that despite repeated vows never to return to the porn industry, she is going to resume pornography to “support her family.”

All that I could wonder was, what happened?

Even though I have never watched a Jenna Jameson video, or any porno for that matter, I know who she is. In the early to mid 2000s, she was unavoidable. Besides the late Linda Lovelace, it’s hard to think of any other porn star who went as mainstream as Jameson did. There were appearances in an Eminem video, a Family Guy episode and she was even the subject of an E! True Hollywood Story special.  Plus, she was making a lot of money. Millions, in fact.

As a feminist and someone who earned an MA in legal studies, I have always been oddly fascinated by the porn industry. Granted, erotic/sexual imagery has been around since the times of the caveman, but I came of age at a time when porn was becoming “chic”. Not only was the industry changing thanks to the rise of the internet, but also because of the question of whether or not the vast majority of women who starred in porn were victims, or if they were businesswomen, re-writing the rules and owning their sexuality.

Many new wave feminists were quick to jump on the latter. For a long time, I did as well. As an undergraduate, I wrote a paper arguing that rather than harm women and men, the porn industry should just be seen as another business. Perhaps those that were in it, and making a “career” out of it, really were sex positive and making strides in an industry, that while I may not have had any desire to be a part of, was providing a service to many people. While I was aware of the tales of abuse and drug addiction, I took comfort that they were the exception and not the rule.

At least that is what I thought.

However, now that I am older and hear about the sad case of Jameson and countless others like her, I no longer feel that way.

It’s truly impossible for me not to see the majority of people in the porn industry as victims. While I don’t doubt that there are some performers who aren’t victims, I believe that they are the exceptions and not the rule.

In her well-received autobiography, How to Make Love like a Porn Star, Jameson revealed that in addition to losing her mother to cancer at a young age, she had been gang raped in high school. She also went into great detail about an abusive relationship that she had with a man in her teens whose uncle supposedly raped her.

While I wanted to believe she had conquered her demons, like she claimed, and was doing porn because she enjoyed it, and was making a lot of money from it, I had my doubts.

Speaking as someone who suffered childhood sexual abuse myself, I am all too aware of the attempts of some former victims to say that they are “reclaiming” that part of themselves by engaging in potentially self-destructive behavior be it drugs or promiscuous sex.

I’m not saying that all porn stars are victims of sexual abuse. I am just saying that I am not surprised by those who claim they were and wouldn’t be surprised if many others were as well.

However, even with many of those who aren’t, there may be some self-esteem issues in place if we choose to earn a living having sex on camera. Despite all the talk about choice, it’s up for debate how much choice there is in your life when you are determining what sex acts you will or will not engage in for all to see. Also, few performers make the sort of money that Jameson reportedly did in her heyday. Still, even if they were, some things are more important than money—like, say, healthy a sense of self-worth.

I don’t think the solution is to ban pornography. Even if it were, I don’t believe it would solve the problem. Rather, it would only result in driving it underground, possibly making it even more profitable than ever and secondly, I believe that even without the industry, would-be performers would just find other avenues of exploitation like prostitution that would arguably be even worse.

Instead, the solution may start with raising girls and boys in loving, nurturing environments. It involves changing our current culture where we advise girls not be raped rather than boys and men not to rape. It means telling young people of both sexes that lives have more to offer than performing sex acts for money. Lastly, it means having healthy, realistic images of sexuality that are woefully lacking in the porn industry.

As someone who will always consider herself a sex-positive feminist, it’s not my intention to ruin anyone’s fun: viewing erotic images is a healthy part of exploring one’s sexuality, but I do wish the next time someone pops in a DVD or watches a clip from a porn site they stop to realize that there is a real, live person behind the performer who, like them, lives in the real world. Maybe they are doing this because it’s fun or they they enjoy it, but maybe it’s for not-so-nice reasons—to support a drug habit, or because they truly feel they have no other options.

While I understand that one of the major attractions of porn is that it is fantasy, this is one situation where reality should be kept in mind.

 

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Ed: Bryonie Wise

 

 

 

 

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