In the late 1970s and very early 1980s feminism came very close to mainstreaming the idea that porn as an industry is harmful to women. Being anti-porn was a view not maligned in feminist circles, and porn was recognized for the scourge it is: violence against women.

Then the 1980s went into full swing.

Now we have third wave feminists who believe that porn is not intrinsically harmful to women, and that in fact it can be empowering for them, assisting in helping individuals in exploring and controlling their sexuality. Porn is viewed as part of the growing and socially neutral sector of “sex work,” and to be anti-porn is to be viewed as being morally judgmental and robbing women of self-agency.

These feminists do recognize that the porn industry can be harmful. Unfortunately, these feminists are able to compartmentalize the porn industry and believe that only PART of the industry is harmful, and that pornography, if created with good, feminist intentions, can be empowering, having no ill effect on women or society. On the contrary, porn can be a positive change for helping women reclaim their sexuality.

It is a theoretical fantasy we have all heard from countless well-meaning feminists.

Rashida Jones’ documentary series “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On,” which is an offshoot of the 2015 documentary “Hot Girls Wanted,” purports to explore the relationship between technology, sexuality, and also give voice to female porn makers who consider themselves to be feminists. The goal of this documentary series is, in Rashida’s own words,

“…to broaden and show what’s possible, and what it’s like when a woman wants to represent female desire through her own gaze.”

I haven’t watched this offshoot documentary series. I accidentally stumbled across the original 2015 documentary “Hot Girls Wanted” on Netflix, and that is the documentary I watched. This documentary focuses on girls, just over 18 years old, who have answered Craig’s list ads to become porn stars for an amateur porn company called “Hussie Models.”

Here are some important points made throughout the documentary:

  • Amateur porn sites receive more visits than news and sports websites, including nfl.com and nbc.com.
  • In 2014, abuse porn websites averaged over 60 million combined hits per month.
  • 40% of online pornography depicts violence against women, a popular website description being “18 and abused.”
  • A popular form of abuse porn is facial abuse, which involves forced blow jobs during which a girl/ woman is being induced to forcefully vomit
  • Much of this porn involves a young “virgin” being taken advantage of by an older man
  • Minority women are often portrayed in a more violent, degrading light than their white counterparts
  • A lot of this porn is shot in Miami because it is still legal there is shoot porn without condoms, and this is consistently the most popular type of porn
  • Amateur porn is a multi-million dollar industry in which new girls are often booked 2-3 times before being forced into niche roles such as bondage, facial abuse, etc.
  • In this multi-million dollar industry, the girls are left impoverished. Although at first they seem to be making a lot of money – $800 per shoot – after rent, food, medical bills, clothes and makeup for sets, etc., the girls are left with nothing

The emotional and physical toll on these girls is obvious. They start out believing that they have found a route to freedom, particularly economic freedom, and very soon realize that the porn industry is abusive and exploitative towards women. They begin to describe how disgusting it is to have such abusive sex with strange men – often much older men – and how crappy it makes them feel. One girl had so much sex that she had to go to the hospital and get a cyst on her labia drained; the gland that lubricates the vagina became clogged. One by one the girls quit after a few months, realizing that the porn industry is not a path towards freedom and sexual empowerment.

Apparently, after this documentary was made, Rashida (who has stated she is not anti-porn) decided to make the offshoot series “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On” because, as she explains to Times:

“That movie (Hot Girls Wanted) represents a very specific set of stories that come out of a very specific type of porn. It did not represent all of porn, and there was a conversation among people in the industry about whether that movie was really representative. And I understood the fact that people inside the industry felt stigmatized and marginalized by that movie because it could be the only thing that anyone has seen inside the porn industry. So we wanted to make sure to broaden the spectrum of what is happening in the sex industry today.”

The Times article also seems to be implying that it is the proliferation of free porn on the internet that has “especially affected the female filmmakers you interviewed who want to make movies with backstories and high production values.” 

Rashida’s response:

“Obviously, the same thing has happened to music and film where technology has gotten so advanced that there’s a generation that’s okay taking things for free. There’s a lot more people making more music and movies that are more accessible. That’s true with porn, too. There’s just more people making porn, and it’s decentralizing the business. Holly and [her mother Suze, the first on-staff female photographer at Playboy] told me that there was more money to go around before the Internet.”

According to this article, you would think that the issue with porn and how it treats women is not because it was created specifically for male pleasure at the sexual objectification of women, but because female pornographers are suddenly unable to get funded due to a sudden proliferation of degrading porn.

Truthfully, I don’t ever plan on watching “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On” because quite frankly it doesn’t matter that there are some female directors out there who want to make porn with plots and backstories in which the women are actually enjoying sex. The reason that the violent amateur porn of the original documentary “Hot Girls Wanted” is so popular, the reason it is proliferating on the internet, is because THAT IS WHAT MEN WANT. That is the porn in demand, and so that is the porn consumed for the audience always for whom it has always been intended: men.

Feminists have been trying to empower through porn since the 1980s – that’s about three decades. I recall that, while in college, the president of the Campus Women’s Organization decided to go into “feminist” porn after college. I have no idea where her personal porn journey took her, but frankly it doesn’t matter. Because in the decades since feminists have focused on sex-positivism through the normalization of porn and prostitution, the situation of women’s sexuality has only worsened. Girls are being sexualized at a younger and younger age; the mainstreaming of porn culture has lead to boys being taught about sexual relationships through violent porn; and women are body-waxing and demanding vaginoplasty at alarming numbers.

Rashida Jones and other feminists who consider themselves “pro-porn” need to admit that empowerment through porn has failed and is never going to be a reality for women. The amateur porn sites are not outliers of the industry shining a negative spotlight on what is an otherwise harmless, female-friendly industry. Amateur porn IS and ALWAYS HAS BEEN the industry, and no amount of lesbian and female-friendly porn sites are going to change that.

The girls who answered the Craig’s List ads and went to work for “Hussie Models” believed they would achieve financial and personal freedom, and that they would be stars worshiped by men and women alike. Their dreams aren’t completely farfetched. Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian all have made fortunes and fame off the intense sexualization of their own bodies – all under the banner of feminist empowerment. These celebrities have made it abundantly clear to impressionable young girls that such sexualization can not only be empowering, but is also how to be sexual and how to conduct sexual relationships. The evidence is in the documentary as the girls, at the beginning of their short-lived porn careers, joyfully reflect on how admired they feel and how such attention from men boosts their self-confidence. This quickly changes, however, as the girls realize that they are not, in fact, being admired, but are being abused and exploited.

I also believe stars like Minaj and Cyrus make it easy for girls to go into amateur porn because they are blurring the line between the personal and private. If Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton can drop sex tapes while Minaj and Cyrus splay open their legs all over pop culture, it shouldn’t be that difficult to do porn, right?

Wrong, of course. Minaj can claim her Anaconda video is empowering because it is her choice and only shows women – but a lot of porn just shows women and is still exploitative. Her poses are nothing but simulated male porn; nothing she does is performed in a social vacuum. Those specific images of women’s bodies in Anaconda are not natural or found in sensual art across cultures and time – those images are specific to male pornography created specifically for male consumption in Western media. “Reclaiming” such sexuality does nothing to change its social meaning, nor does the fact that Minaj (or Cyrus) may claim to feel empowered as an INDIVIDUAL. The plain truth is that young girls look to grown women for advice on how to form their future selves, and thanks to the normalization of pornography, they are forming their future selves according to male pornographic expectations.

The fact that Rashida Jones can produce a documentary such as “Hot Girls Wanted” and still not be anti-porn shows the depth of denial and propaganda involved in liberal feminism’s view of porn. It shows how little liberal feminists (third wave feminists) are unable to apply social and class analysis to the proliferation of porn and what it means for girls and women as a whole – and how capitalism only works to intensify the degradation of female sexuality.

All pornography, including lesbian and female friendly porn, needs to be put into the context of the entire industry. Even if the number of female porn producers increased along with female friendly porn, the male demand for porn will never decrease, because pornography is one of the original tools to uphold and enforce the patriarchy. While feminists were busy creating sex-positive porn, the original male porn never ceased and has instead proliferated as the online degrading amateur porn examined in “Hot Girls Wanted.” By upholding ANY type of porn, feminists have upheld the ENTIRE porn industry itself.

By not demonizing and abolishing porn, feminists have allowed it to proliferate, all while under the delusion that porn will somehow evolve into something empowering and feminist. This belief in the power of porn to improve women’s sexuality is so pervasive in feminism that even I almost bought it at one point. But how can porn empower women when its proliferation has allowed the patriarchy to remain in place? This is a reality in complete contradiction to feminism – leaving in place the patriarchy is not going to leave room for feminist evolution.

Look no further than “Hot Girls Wanted” via 2015 for evidence that the feminist experiment with pornography has failed. Instead of a proliferation of porn with background stories and plot lines, our society has a proliferation of amateur porn and female celebrities mimicking this porn as a supposed means of empowerment.

You cannot dismantle the misogyny of the porn industry without dismantling porn itself. Thus feminists and other individuals involved in porn who claim that documentaries such as “Hot Girls Wanted” insults their art need to deeply reflect on why amateur porn exists in the first place.  It exists because the pornography industry still exists, and as long as ANY porn is made, including female friendly porn, the porn industry will still exist, and thus so will violent and degrading porn, and it will continue to poison society. Even if more women begin to consume female friendly porn, you still have the structure of violent male porn in place, and thus have done nothing to undermine the patriarchy. Does this mean that feminist pornographers are colluding in the patriarchy? Yes, it does, which is why it is not a popular perspective. It is one I may not have even agreed with years ago in college because, at face value, it seems to extinguish women’s ability to reclaim their own sexuality.

But why do women need porn to be sexual? If we didn’t have porn, would women be unable to form a sense of sexual identity? Of course not. In fact, societies in which women TRADITIONALLY have a high degree of REAL sexual freedom do not employ porn or have a pornographic tradition in their culture.

Claiming that porn can be a vector to women’s sexual freedom is reconstructing women’s sexuality according to a male framing of sexual dynamics. I don’t think we will realistically dismantle porn anytime soon, but I don’t believe that is reason to engage in it. I think it is time feminists acknowledge the negative reality of porn and that creating female-friendly porn does indeed feed into the survival of the porn industry as a whole – including porn that is violent against women. It is time feminists acknowledge that the only way female-friendly, plot heavy porn becomes mainstream is if the entire porn industry is dismantled and then re-created according to women – which of course is completely unrealistic. So it is time for feminists to stop this experiment with porn as empowering and begin to truly reconstruct women’s sexuality completely separate from male spheres of power.

Maybe then we can truly create a misogyny-free society.