French Lesbians and College Porn Stars: Where Feminism Takes Us in New Media

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Duke Student Revealed As Porn Star

The current climate of feminism is in a transitional phase. In both international film and news, the fight for female empowerment is causing a stir. From Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games to the thorn in Putin’s ass, Pussy Riot, being a bad bitch is finally in style. But what does it mean to be in a state of “transitional” feminism? Perhaps we latch onto female figures that exhibit the mark of “taking control” of their sexualities. The film, Blue is the Warmest Color, struck chords at Cannes Film Festival for (supposedly) presenting such empowered female characters. But what happens when a sex worker claims a similar role? Could she be the paragon of feminine empowerment?

Now, meet Belle Knox.

“Do you think my face looks good next to your big cock?” -Belle Knox

The girl says this as she squeezes the erect penis against her face with one hand, while snapping a selfie with the other. This familiar face has received widespread attention, from CNN to ABC News to countless trolls online. You may have heard about Miriam Weeks, better known by her (online) pseudonym, Belle Knox. She’s the recently revealed porn star from Duke University and self-described nymphomaniac. Supposed feminists have applauded her for being “brave” with her body and open about her intense attraction to both men and women. In response to criticism for taking part in scenes where she is “face fucked,” Weeks stands by her work: “It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home.” After a fellow student exposed Weeks, Duke University allowed her to take time off from school during the (understandably) stressful period. Ms. Weeks later admitted that she had been in Los Angeles filming more porn, during said break.

As any person versed in media should do, Weeks jumped out in front of the camera to tell her side of the story. She claimed that she was doing sex work to pay for tuition and to empower herself. Before she knew it she had become a rising feminist and a champion for the middle class, whose goal in life was to defend sex workers. Is there something wrong here?

“Porn is empowering” -Miriam Weeks

On the news

Porn at its core is about objectifying women, or at least the porn Weeks is doing. No matter how much the female actors actually enjoy being involved in the making of porn, porn is made is so men can pay to watch it (check out the stats). Many have criticized Weeks for doing “rape-fantasy” porn. “Everyone has their kinks,” she says.

Weeks claims that it is her right to engage in this type of porn, to get choked and spit on in the name of… equality for women. But what we don’t see is any sort of equality, any objectification or subordination of her male counterparts. Why isn’t she choking or coming on the faces of her male sex workers? Knox never once assumes the aggressor role because apparently, that is only allowed in dominatrix porn. No, here she is being directed by whichever person understands that males sitting at home want to see a girl made into a sex object. The industry is not equal, so why pretend that it views women as so?

“When you are taking a dick in the mouth for money, such self-empowered preaching is hard to swallow” -Brian Figueroa, Feminist Activist

Weeks is indeed not a feminist. Or at least, she is not adequately presenting herself to the public as one. She has sold her body to a company that is funded by men tugging at their dicks in dark rooms. She’s right when she points out that many of the people criticizing her are also the ones who watch porn. There IS hypocrisy there. But let’s not detract from the point that she is subordinated on video as a part of a role-playing, misogynistic fantasy–one that her fellow bisexual females are unlikely to consume.

“When you’re fearful, you stumble” -Jenna Jameson, Porn Star

Weeks is justified in bringing attention to the double standard. Women should be able to express the same sex drive and promiscuity as men without judgment. But it is utter blasphemy to pretend that taking cum shots in the face is in service to women’s liberation.

Take a look at the current climate of feminism as presented in cinema. Blue is the Warmest Color (now out on DVD) caused a stir for its high degrees of sexual content. The film received praise for having two female leads who take control of their bodies and sexuality. Do we place similar judgment on these characters as we do with Weeks? Why or why not?

Blue is the Warmest Color

blue two

Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, the film is about a high school girl (Adele) who falls in love with a twenty-something emerging female artist (Emma). Emma has rich, blue hair that fades (as the relationship unravels) throughout the film. It is a compelling love story, one part bildungsroman and one part tragedy, filled with authentic and visceral moments where we get lost in their adoration for each other. For most of the film, their attraction feels authentic and charming.

What interrupts the narrative is the near ten-minute sex scene, one that supposedly took ten days to film. This scene has provided fodder for feminist critics, including harsh words from the author of the graphic novel on which it’s based. Even the two actresses claim that they would never work with the director again. Most critics decry the scene for portraying lesbian sex through the lens of male fantasy. In fact, some of the choreography and camera angles resemble the porn of Belle Knox. This single scene detracts from any feminist notions in the film, not because they are hardcore (gay or straight, people have rough sex) but because a misguided male directed them. As a result, many lesbian critics denounced the film for its inaccuracies and hypocrisy. It employs the same objectifying techniques that we see in the porn produced for straight males.

What’s unnerving about this sex scene is how out of place it feels and what that suggests. Males have been trained to see girl on girl sex, in this particular fashion, exclusively for male arousal. The emotionless sex Adele and Emma share feels more like sex work than any act of love. This failure is rooted in the idea that men are depicting “empowered women” in the ways men have learned to understand it: by being aggressively sexual. This charming narrative is hijacked by a man’s conception of lesbian sex. This film takes such a sharp turn because it is a reflection of the disorganized state of feminism today. We want female heroes, but often struggle to find them in the world of media.

How We Do Wrong

blue water

By its nature, being in a transitional phase of female empowerment involves a great amount of confusion. Suddenly, any woman who is in the spotlight can find undeserved appreciation or criticism (just look at the people lambasting Hillary Clinton for being “too masculine”). Because there is a disparity in women leaders and icons of feminist ideology, our society is desperate to latch onto anything and anyone who can (at least partially) fulfill those ideas. We are still inadvertently (or not…) portraying feminism as our patriarchal society wants to see it.

In a culture that is exhausted by the misogyny of everyday catcalls and glass ceilings, many supposed feminists have jumped to the defense of Weeks. While Weeks appears to exhibit some of the ideology of female liberation (mainly, that men and women should be able to behave in the same ways with their own bodies without judgment), she has neglected to take a step outside of this argument to understand what she’s really doing. Weeks is defending the porn industry and in doing so, completely negating her feminist argument. Just because she feels empowered by porn does not mean it is empowering to women–it’s a business for male satisfaction.

While Belle Knox partakes in both “lesbian” and straight porn, she fails to acknowledge that primarily straight male viewers consume both lesbian and straight porn. She also denies the fact that female bodies are made into sex objects in order to be sold as a video product. This might be the most objectifying concept since chastity belts–WOMEN ARE OBJECTS. WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO LOCK UP THEIR VAGINAS FOR OUR OWN PERSONAL USE. When you think about porn, it starts to feel like that too. So is porn not controlling of women? Is it not one-sided? Sure, the women are getting paid, but we know that argument collapses on itself. Porn, at its core, is destined and designed to degrade women. The feminist climate is stirring and conflicting, and although we are in a transitional phase, the world of media and film is still dominated by patriarchal control, from fiction to real life.

emma

Works Cited

1. Bradshaw, Peter. “Blue Is the Warmest Colour – Review.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.

2. “Duke Porn Star Belle Knox: Rough Sex Empowering, Critics off Base.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.

3.”I’m Finally Revealing My Name and Face as the Duke Porn Star.” XoJanecom RSS. N.p., 4 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.

4. Kingkade, Tyler. “Porn Star Belle Knox: Every Day Is ‘Like A Nightmare'” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.

5. “Pornography Statistics.” Pornography Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2014.

6. “Pornography Statistics.” Welcome to Women’s Services. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

7. “Salon.” Saloncom RSS. N.p., 21 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.

8. Scott, A. O. “For a While, Her Life Is Yours.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Oct. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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13 Comments

  1. alchiggins

    This was a really thoughtful article, thank you!

    I wouldn’t go as far to say that porn is “destined” to be patriarchal – I’d like to imagine a world in which egalitarian porn is possible – although it definitely is patriarchal in our current culture.

    Week’s choice to objectify herself kind of reminds me of the choice of women to be stay-at-home moms – to what extent is it a genuine, independent choice, and to what extent is it influenced by external factors? While people should be free to choose to live whatever life they want under an egalitarian society, some of those choices can be counterproductive. It’s an interesting problem.

    • Nate Océan

      I agree with you–I’d also like to imagine a world where egalitarian porn is possible. Though it’s certainly hard for me to imagine a paradigm shift like occurring anytime soon.

      And you’re right about there being a lack of clarity between what constitutes genuine choices and what part of our decision making is handed down to us by society. Though I’d point out that Weeks claimed that she HAD to do porn because tuition was so expensive. So it didn’t come out of a passion for the work, at least initially. Many people have wondered why she didn’t work a part-time job like many other students do every year. She’s free to do whatever she wants, but I thought there was a conflict in how she felt somewhat forced into porn (for money reasons) and then suddenly porn becomes empowering for all women. That logic is hard to follow.

      Thanks for your insightful comments!

  2. ScorpiusNox

    I read discussions like this and always end up feeling like I don’t have a dog in the fight. As I man, can I ever truly understand the kinds of societal trials that are unique to women? Do women want me to? Do I want to? These aren’t questions with easy answers, nor are they particularly easy to ask.

    One hurdle for me is that I often end up feeling attacked by the rhetoric of the discussion, and this article causes the same reaction. I don’t enjoy seeing anyone brutalized, I don’t want to degrade anyone, and I certainly haven’t been “trained” to view any kind of porn in a particular manner. Yet, in accordance with the generalizations of this article, all of these things apply to me as a male. I believe and hope that such is not your intent or the intent of the people who take your side in the discussion, but that belief is seldom made manifest.

    Maybe that kind of talk is the best way to get things moving, though; I wouldn’t know, as I don’t really act as a champion or “voice” for any cause at all. All I know is that I do want all people, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality, to have as much control as possible over the course of their lives, but when the discourse paints me as the enemy, I won’t usually be inclined to lend my voice.

    Regardless of my feelings, this is a very well-written and well-researched article overall, and for that, I commend you. It kept me engaged from start to finish =) .

    • You raise an important issue that feminists need to address: how do we engage males who support gender equality but feel alienated by feminist discourse? More specifically, how do we represent the problem of female oppression to a male audience in ways that effectively appeal to both sexes?

      To begin, I do not think that the sort of rhetoric used in this article should be toned down significantly, because it illustrates the difficult reality of sexual violence against women in our society-what some have termed America’s “rape culture.” I assume that this is exactly the sort of rhetoric that makes you uncomfortable, and I empathize with your reaction. Nonetheless, it is crucial for both males and females to remember that such rhetoric is not a personal attack against any one male, but an indictment of larger cultural forces that have undoubtedly exploited female sexuality for male gain.

      What is tricky about feminism now is that, oftentimes, the same old problems (such as sexual violence or exploitation) are masked by discourses of freedom and individuality, and both males and females are to blame. Weeks’ statements about her porn career are perfect examples of this problem. Being choked during sex hardly seems representative of female empowerment. From my perspective, it just normalizes the sort of sexual violence that plagues women around the world. The feminist rhetoric in this article that may seem harsh is so important precisely because it reveals the insidious normalization of sexual violence under the guise of sexual freedom.

      In any case, thanks for your comment-your feelings are certainly not unusual-and I hope this opens up another way to think about the issue. Both men and women are responsible for effecting any significant social change, and we ladies could use the support of well-meaning men like you!

    • alchiggins

      As a male, I think that a way to think about feminism without feeling alienated is to understand feminism not as opposed to men themselves, but as opposed to systems that put men in power.

      • Robyn McComb
        Robyn McComb
        0

        Very well put! Some feminists take it too far and make it all against men, but most of us just want equality and systems that are more balanced and put women in power just as much as men.

  3. izombiheartzoey
    0

    I’m not sure how authentic you can be a porn star. It’s also important to note that she is using the word empowerment rather then powerful. So, yes having sex for money on film does put some change into your pocket, but it’s not politically emancipatory. Or at least (as you said) no in the way she is doing it.

    I’m remembering a news article from a while back about a bunch of strippers who got sick of a church protesting their place of employment set up shop in bathing suits on the lawn outside churches. Maybe when porn takes the crazy step to do something political relevant in the world that isn’t driven by pure fiscal motivations we can start talking about porn stars being empowered.

    Interrogating Ideology With A Chainsaw
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  4. The thesis of this article seems to be: women who have sex on camera are innately not feminists because of their performance of sex for male viewers. I thoroughly enjoyed the choices of media you wrote about, both claiming to be feminist in their nature but seemingly abiding to the omnipresent male gaze. There is one main question that perhaps should be considered when speaking on the subject of feminism and media: what is the cultural context? On one hand, we have an American Ivy League porn star, Weeks, who, if you’ve seen her interviews, is either terrible at public speaking (which is unlikely since she is in an industry where she not only speaks to millions of viewers but is actually completely naked while doing so) or, as I suspect, using feminism as a “viable,” I’m-doing-this-for-a-bigger-purpose excuse for her porn career. She is quite adamant about the fact she never wanted anyone to find out, then when she does, she does it because of college tuition and…feminism? This is where American culture comes into play. We want to associate ivy leaguers with highbrow society, not the “dirty” sex industry. In our culture, had she been a high school dropout who claimed to have been doing porn for feminism, no one would have given her a second glance. It’s our culture’s need to equate anything we deem worthy of aspiring to (a Duke student, for example) with something equally as validating, like doing porn for feminism. In my opinion, Weeks falls very far from the feminist tree.
    On the other hand, we have Blue Is The Warmest Color, a French film that is as heartbreaking as it is sensual, as sexy as it is terrifying, and as true as it is a thing of nightmares. Yes, there is a rather long sex scene in the film, but when juxtaposed to Adele’s sex session with the boy earlier on in the film, I think the lengthened sex scene is symbolic for Adele’s sexuality maturity, actually wanting to have and ENJOY sex. The male gaze is perhaps working against itself here — and I say this solely because depicting sex is a hard thing to do in itself and it’s really quite hard to make sensual sex not look appealing. It’s appealing therefore it’s accommodating the male gaze…? I don’t buy it. I think we need to consider the fact that nudity and sex are much more openly talked about and portrayed in French film. It’s just, this film made it internationally. Its accurate portrayal of how it feels to fall in live, have your heart broken, deal with the realization of discovering one’s sexuality, and fully embracing that from the perspective of a woman and having the dialogue consist of solely Adele’s personal growth in the film makes waves for feminism in the international scene, but probably wasn’t so controversial in France. Women performing sex doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for men to sexualize. It’s very important to consider the context of the piece.

    • Nate Océan

      The cultural context of each situation certainly creates some parameters that we need to situate ourselves within when we talk about feminism, so I agree with you there. Even shampoo commercials are QUITE different in France.

      I wonder what it would have been like had the sex scene in “Blue is the Warmest Color” were only portrayed from Adele’s point of view? What if we saw only what she could see, and there weren’t long sweeping shots of the two leads intertwined–what if we kept it in her head and didn’t make it feel so much like a third party watching the two of them? I can’t help but imagine that this would certainly do work to lessen the feeling I described as the male gaze. Because while the French audience might not react to nudity in the same ways that American audiences, for example, might react, that doesn’t necessarily mean that French feminists didn’t look at the film and see the sex scene as exploitative. But again, it’s difficult to put myself in that situation.

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. Jamie Tracy

    Very well written article. I applaud you for approaching a difficult subject to discuss without being vulgar. Excellent job.

    You discuss the medias representation of women and it is difficult for me not to think about the documentary Miss Representation. If you have not seen it and forgive me if you have, I think you may enjoy some of the questions that are brought up. “You can’t be what you can’t see” is there tag line.

    I’d also point you in the direction of the recent controversy of the toy company Goldie Blox which sells “engineering toys for girls”. They used a Beastie Boys song “Girls” to promote their product on a viral commercial. the focus has been on the copyright infringement however the bigger issue is they were using a song that degrades women and treas them as objects to promote an empowering product.

  6. catwyatt

    It is obvious that your intentions in writing this article are good, but I think your phrasing and rhetoric ultimately do more harm than good, most especially, in your vilification of porn stars and sex workers. Part of the problem with the porn industry stems from a problem in society, which is the idea that sex work is inherently shameful. In Weeks’ words: “…we need to remove the stigma attached to their profession and treat it as a legitimate career that needs regulation and oversight.” In other words, when people speak of sex work they speak of it only in a shameful manner. If it were treated more positively, it would be more possible to impose regulations on the content made, which would hopefully lead to more egalitarian representations of all sexes in porn (as alchiggins mentioned). You automatically discredit Weeks purely because she is a sex worker. This attitude is exactly what makes porn what it is today: degrading to women and other minorities. Your rhetoric is inadvertently aiding the perpetuation of the white male gaze in porn. It would be less harmful to everyone if you would not automatically assume Weeks is your inferior simply because of the films she has made.

    Also, I’m not really sure that if someone says they’re a feminist, you can just tell them, “No, you’re not.” Like, can you really dictate to people what their beliefs are? Both you and Weeks are feminists, you are just trying to approach the problem of sex inequality from different angles.

  7. Robyn McComb
    Robyn McComb
    1

    Your statement that porn is destined and designed to degrade women is very true. While there are plenty of women out there who watch porn, generally it is a male audience that consumes it. And the people who watch it, either male or female, are just viewing the porn actors as objects – they aren’t concerned with their thoughts or feelings, their dreams, just their bodies and what they can do for the porn watcher sexually. They become a fantasy, not a reality, so they are clearly being valued for what they are not really. Women are generally the focus, too – but plenty of porn focuses on men, making men sex objects as well. So women are not the only ones being degraded by porn. I think overall porn is degrading to people and the people who act in it are only kidding themselves if they think that they are empowering themselves. Maybe they are empowering themselves in the sense that they are breaking social rules and working a job generally socially unacceptable, but they are only being sex objects. A true feminist would want to be valued for more than her nymphomania and her body and her face, so Belle Knox may feel empowered but she is not empowering herself or other women. I am not judging her – if she is happy, that is awesome. But she is not some feminist role model. The sexualization of women in our media is not empowering to our women – it is degrading them into sex objects for men to value only for their bodies. However, men are degraded too, so it is not just women affected.

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