Just A Fly in The Ointment: Remembering the Nagging Fact That Porn Stars Are People

If you have an Internet connection, you’ve probably seen some of the backlash of Kanye West’s August interview with Jimmy Kimmel, in which, after discussing lyrics he wrote about the sick feelings he gets when he thinks of future men objectifying his young daughters, he responds to Kimmel’s question about whether his attitudes toward women have changed since having daughters with “nah, I still look at Pornhub.” In a society where women are treated as sexual objects, Kanye’s response seems all too familiar: on the one hand, he wants his daughters, who are precious and important to him, to be above sexual objectification, but not enough to stop objectifying anyone else’s daughters.

I could go on endlessly with sources to support that porn is inextricably linked to sexual objectification and violence by its viewers; this is not new. What I don’t feel like I hear enough about, however, is the Stockholm Syndrome that seems to permeate the porn industry: it’s not just the viewers of porn that dissociate porn stars from their personhood, it’s the stars themselves as well. While watching the Netflix documentary “Hot Girls Wanted”, I was surprised to hear Jade, one of the actresses, justifying what is done to her in an abuse porn (after talking about how horrible it was for her, because the male actor was degrading her verbally while physically abusing her) by saying that “if they’re watching it on their computer they’re not going out and doing it to an actual girl”[1]. This is problematic for so many reasons, but the most obvious is that those things are being done to an actual girl-her! She refers to herself as acting in these violent pornographies, but to be clear: the violence in abuse porn is 100% real. She and other women like her are not pretending to have these things done to them; they are having these things done to them in front of a camera. The presence of a camera does not make it acting.

It’s not just this one porn actress in one documentary, either. Though it’s not always so overt, most first-person accounts I’ve read or seen of former porn stars seem to have the same theme: they talk about abuse or being scared, of doing things they don’t want to do. Then, when asked why they did them, it’s always something along the lines of not being able to say no, because they didn’t feel in charge of their own bodies. Even those who retire and have no regrets about their time in porn seem to document moments like this. As one former porn star puts it, “damaged little girls are exactly what the porn industry preys upon and depends upon”[2]. The industry needs women who don’t see themselves as real people so that they are able to be manipulated and coerced into anything.

As a person, it’s upsetting to me to see people regarding porn stars as somehow subhuman. It’s frustrating to hear people talk about how much they love porn but would never date/marry a porn star. They’re good enough for fantasy, but not for reality. As annoying as I find this dichotomy, it’s truly devastating to see women in the industry, one that is often defended with the argument that the actors chose to be in porn, forget that they are people and it’s OK to say no. The mere fact that there is both demand and disgust is exactly why porn stars forget their personhood: you have to be OK with knowing untold numbers of people spend their free time fantasizing with your likeness but wouldn’t give you the time of day in real life. How can you do that and maintain your personal identity? And how do we, as consumers, reconcile those incompatible truths in our heads? Is regarding porn stars’ as something other than a person like us the only way to enjoy pornography, and if so, then is it really worth it?

[1] Jones, Rashida. Hot Girls Wanted. Netflix. Directed by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus. 2015

[2] Shelley Lubben, Truth Behind the Fantasy of Porn The Greatest Illusion on Earth, (Shelley Lubben Communications, 2010), 10.

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