Rashida Jones' documentary, Hot Girls Wanted (now available on Netflix), explores the world of "amateur porn," a booming industry thanks to a never ending influx young women, ready and willing, no coercion required.
This reality might, initially, appear to support the popular liberal feminist model that says so long as we're talking about consenting adults, everything is A-OK. Instead, it tells a much more complex story, proving that simplistic approach to be far more dangerous than many are willing to admit.
Reviews from both The Guardian and The New York Times (both written by men) stubbornly avoid moving beyond decades-old cliches about feminist critiques of pornography. Jordan Hoffman at the Guardian writes the film off as a "scared-straight manifesto" and "a considerable flub" for "anyone who has read a newspaper," by which I assume he means "any member of the general public who has bought into mainstream discourse and pop culture representations of the porn industry," as he clearly has.
We want our porn, we want it now, and we don’t want to think about the consequences. Those who do are clearly uneducated, irrational, and deceptive in their critiques.
The New York Times' Mike Hale takes a thinly veiled these-ladies-are-prudish-crones stance, writing that directors, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus and writer, Brittany Huckabee, are unable to reconcile the "challenge" they are faced with: "Respecting the right of their subjects to make the choices they do while abhorring those decisions." He says this failure results in a film that presents "an uncertain tone that vacillates between weary outrage and motherly concern."
Hale, apparently, didn't watch the same film I did. That or he already made up his mind long ago that no woman was going to tell him what.
The very clear message of Hot Girls Wanted is that "choice" and "consent" are deeply insufficient and misleading lenses through which we should view the impact of pornography on women and society as a whole.
There is no need to "reconcile" what Hale presents as two oppositional realities because "respecting a woman's choice" to do pornography is not what this discussion is about.
The influx of young women -- literally "barely legal," in order to satiate consumer demand for the youngest girls possible, at 18 years old -- eager to get into porn, is no exaggeration. As Riley, a 23-year-old "manager" featured in the film (whose job is to house new recruits and drive them to shoots) says all he has to do is post a Craigslist ad, and he instantly gets countless responses.
It is true that there isn't much coercion happening in an immediate sense. The "coercion," rather, has already taken place over years as children and teens are groomed to view porn as fun, glamourous and, in fact, inseparable from the pop culture they’ve been ingesting for so long. The young women featured in the film, brand new to the industry, believe that the porn world is exciting, that is will bring them fame and fortune, that it is an escape from the mundane. They believe that performing in porn makes them powerful. When I get big, when I get big, when I get big, they say, over and over again. Getting "big" will happen for none of them, of course, but these women have learned that this is how stars become stars -- rom Kim Kardashian to Belle Knox to so many pop stars like Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus -- the message is that pornification is sexy, normal, and a route towards success. The way they talk about the industry and their imagined futures is as though they think they're in a rap video. Money, sex, power.
But, like all "power" gained through sexualization, it's short lived.
One male porn performer, John Anthony, explains just how quickly young women are chewed up and spat out by the industry: "The shelf life of a girl is -- worst-case scenario -- one to three months. Ok-case scenario? Three to six months. Best-case scenario? A year. Tops."
When I get big.
The amateur porn industry, in particular, likes new faces. They shoot a "girl" (their language) a couple of times and that's it. Of course, that's not it. Because those images are out there, online, forever, for men to use and profit from indefinitely. Those experiences are forever, too…
"You're just processed meat," a young woman named Rachel (known as Ava Taylor in the porn world) says in the film. The industry, she says, sees the women they use as "boobs, a vagina, and an ass -- that's all that matters. They don't care about who you really are."
The women permitted to stay in the industry after the first month or so get old fast. Over 25? You're relegated to doing "MILF" porn. Anyone younger has to be able to pass as a "teen." It’s what the consumer wants, after all.
Themes in these porn videos are incestuous and non-consensual — teaching men and boys alike that rape and coercion is hot. Titles include: "Virgin Manipulations" and "Daddy's Girl Gets Filled," and feature much older men (father and uncle figures) and what are meant to be teen girls. One of the more popular sites is literally called "ExploitedTeens.com." The "consensual adults" line pushed on us by liberal media is laughable when you acknowledge what it is that consumers really want: exploited, non-consenting, underage girls who are not enjoying the acts inflicted on them. They don't want empowered adult women. Men don't look at porn to see sexually liberated, powerful women.
Most major amateur porn companies will only book a "girl" two or three times, after which they have to start doing "niche-oriented jobs." This means bondage, S&M, and generally more extreme, more violent acts.
One Latina woman named Jade (aka Ava Kelley) tells the camera that her first porn shoot was a Facial Abuse scene (a forced blow job, in other words). The Facial Abuse scene, she says, consists of extreme oral sex aimed at making the girl vomit. In Jade’s case, she specifies that what she does is called “Latina Abuse,” wherein the sexual abuse happens while men hurl racist and misogynist slurs at her until she vomits. The men then force her to eat her own vomit as they continue to call her names.
The reality is that the sex industry is one of the most racist industries around. Men who pay for sex, whether through porn or prostitution, do not love and respect the women they use. Rather, they hate them.
This is evidenced by the abuse and violence johns hurl at prostituted women while using them as well as by what we see in pornography. Three Leicester City soccer players were sent home recently after a video taken during a team trip to Thailand showed them taking turns having sex with and hurling racist insults at a prostituted Thai woman. The Telegraph reports,
One of the players is heard calling one of the women a "slit eye" and another shouts out "minging -- an absolute one out of 10" as his friends laugh.
The question of "choice," insisted upon by liberals, men, and industry advocates, is not the issue, unless we are prepared to frame women as having chosen racism, incest, and rape.
"If they're watching it on the internet, they aren't doing it to an actual girl," Jade says about her "Latina Abuse" scenes. Almost as though the women in porn aren't meant to be seen as "real women." Almost as though we are to believe Jade isn't real (or that she believes she is not "real," herself). As though male fantasies don't happen to real women and girls.
In 2014, porn sites like these averaged over 60 million hits per month. This isn’t a minority. This isn’t just a few porn videos in the Dark Web. This is porn. Real porn watched by "regular" men and "normal" boys. And it happens to real women and girls.
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