Pornography has been a hotly contested field of New Media entertainment with feminists for decades. From anonymous interactions with cam girls, who perform their individualized femininity for their viewers’ pleasure, to the treatment of adult porn models in the studio, the patriarchy has found no end in its evolution of the way it controls women’s bodies. Despite the adversity that is intensified in the adult entertainment industry to this day, feminists carved their own sanctuary into it. Feminism has proved to withstand any contrasting force, and the digital age that makes the male gaze more widely levied does not limit feminism’s place in digital pornography. Moreover, the exploitation that results from the male gaze may continue to thrive, but a woman’s sexual self-expression is more powerful than this exploitation. Finally, the ability for feminism to thrive within it ensures that pornography can be generally positive for society.
New challenges presented by the current era of New Media make a futile attempt at thwarting feminism’s successful navigation of the previous era of Old Media. Candida Royalle is considered the adult industry’s feminist pioneer. Her work in uplifting and equating women’s position in adult media is a trademark of Old Media’s feminism. Celebrating women’s sexuality through her “positive sexual role modeling” approach shed a hopeful light on the disparities faced by adult women models (“Not safe for work,” 2016). What is perhaps most impactful by Royalle’s legacy, however, is how these ideals are in no way limited by the shift of pornography to the digital sphere. New Media has given marginalized people greater opportunities to coalesce and create their own safe spaces as Jessica Bennett discussed in her Time magazine article “Our Bodies, Our Selfies: The Feminist Photo Revolution” (Bennett, 2014). Bennett’s discourse is applicable to feminist digital pornography in that people, ideally, are able to express themselves without embedding some societal context in order to be socially acceptable. Women adult models are able to securely express their sexuality by utilizing feminism to engineer a haven out of a traditionally misogynistic environment. The next step for feminism to address is how exploitation interacts with these newly created, feminist spaces.
New Media, especially the internet, is rife with misogynistic gazes that act to exploit women’s agency and ensure the nonexistence of their safe spaces. One of the most apparent workings of feminism is the denial and reclamation of exploitative slang and treatment towards women. Words like “bitch” and “whore” have been reappropriated into uplifting or colloquial terms used amongst women (these terms have even spread to other communities like the queer community). This reclamation extends into the realm of women’s sexuality in reference to the porn industry. Women adult models are able to dismiss the disparaging negativity of online sexual exploitation by exuding their own sexuality on their own terms. This is not to say that sexual exploitation in New Media should be ignored, and eradicating it rests on the shoulders of the exploiters themselves. Furthermore, a woman’s sexual expression is an enormous agential force that is able to rise above the rampant sexual harassment and gazing that happens online. Women are already confronting exploiters and taking away their spaces, reappropriating them as their own. Vice’s short documentary, “The Cam Girl Capital of the World”, shows this phenomenon in Bucharest, Romania’s primary cam girl studio, “Best Studios”, in how online sessions are kept non-pornographic and their models have the power to moderate their audiences (Vice, 2018). Realistically, exploitation will continue to exist on New Media platforms that are open-ended in its content, so online sex work without those who try to exploit women seems unfathomable. Nevertheless, like with previous example in Romania, the power that New Media, and thus online sex, are able to give acts as a powerful antithesis.
Despite the hardships experienced by online sex workers, feminism has found a way to break through this noise and champion a positive effect for pornography in society. Concerns that come with doing online sex work include sexual harassment, privacy invasion, workplace labor exploitation, and even future employment anxiety. In Vice’s short documentary, all of the cam girls donned a fake name and personal to keep their identity hidden from potential harassers and future employers (Vice, 2018). Additionally, the lack of research on what drives exploitative behavior in relation to porn makes the industry seem universally negative and irreparable (“Pornography: A user’s manual”, 2015). Anti-pornography feminists from the 1970s and forward used these as supportive talking points to say that porn is inherently misogynistic (“Not safe for work,” 2016). However, due to its widespread viewing, pornography has the potential to not only dissolve the taboo that generally surrounds sex and weave sex positive attitudes into society, but it also carries the potential to dismantle this sex negativity that largely impacts women. Therefore, sex positivity is crucial because it translates to empowering a woman’s expression of sexuality. A pornography that makes a positive impact on society would be one that celebrates the sexual expression of women and other marginalized people through the application of feminist ideals.
The explosion of developed technology gave birth to New Media, namely the internet, where open spaces are available for marginalized peoples are able to thrive. In spite of oppressors’ ability to thrive through the same method, feminism has maintained the immense strength it showed in the era of New Media to ultimately flip a tabooed industry like pornography on its head. Moreover, the oppression of women that results from the male gaze is continually thwarted by women powerfully expressing their sexuality. Conclusively, this is exactly how feminism has been able to thrive in the digital sex world, and the celebration of sexuality that takes place in feminist spaces is able to pioneer a generally positive effect from pornography on society. Feminism possesses the ability to positively manipulate New Media to show patriarchy out the door in terms of societal relevance, and it is on the way to uniting to ultimately celebrate women’s sexuality instead of shadowing it.
Bennett, Jessica. (2014, 11 August). Our Bodies, Our Selfies: The Feminist Photo Revolution. Time. https://www.time.com/3099103/feminist-selfies-uglyfeminists-iwokeuplikedis/
Pornography: A user’s manual (2015, 26 September). The Economist. https://www.economist.com/international/2015/09/26/a-users-manual?zid=319&ah=17af09b0281b01505c226b1e574f5cc1
Potter, Claire. (2016). Not Safe for Work: Why Feminist Pornography Matters. Dissent Magazine. https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/not-safe-for-work-feminist-pornography-matters-sex-wars
Vice. (2018, June 14). The Cam Girl Capital of the World [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mINmdJHBNEI