Sex

Sort-of-Mighty Aphrodites

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Joanne McNeil interviews Audacia Ray, author of the new book Naked on the Internet, about sex work, sex blogging, and alternative porn. Here's one exchange:

Q: You got a great quote from ex-Suicide Girl Molly Crabapple: "Degradation means posing for some vile rich dude who's insulting you the whole time. Empowerment means a fat wallet later." Obviously you talked with a lot of empowered women, but did any of your interviewees strike you as degraded? Would any of them describe themselves as such?

A: Well, in that quote, Molly kind of does describe herself as feeling degraded in some ways. The point of me asking that question about empowerment versus degradation is that I find it much, much more complicated than one or the other. Sometimes when I hear people talk about female empowerment, I almost think oh, god, here we go again. And I feel terrible about it, but that is such a boiled-down essentialist way of looking at it. It's much more complicated than: Yay! Boo!

Ray also discusses the drop in porno DVD sales, a topic we've raised on this blog before.

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  1. “Degradation means posing for some vile rich dude who’s insulting you the whole time. Empowerment means a fat wallet later.”

    i.e., they are one and the same. Vile rich dudes pay you to degrade yourself. If the experience is so empowering, you wouldn’t need to be paid for it.

  2. “Ray also discusses the drop in porno DVD sales…”

    The graying of America is the reason. The boomers are drooping and losing interest in the erotic.

    If the damn gen X and Y and Z and double-Z types would step up to the plate and buy some smut we wouldn’t have this problem.

  3. Jesse Walker,

    Aren’t you kind of poaching on Kerry’s turf here?

  4. Why does it have to be either degrading or empowering? You are willing to pose nude for money; someone is willing to pay you to do it. Both parties benefit. Where’s the problem?

  5. Internet porn has done more to free mankind from the bonds of ummm stuffy people than uhh something else like washer/dryers with no money down. Or something like that. Anyway, I likes me some net porn.

  6. “i.e., they are one and the same. Vile rich dudes pay you to degrade yourself. If the experience is so empowering, you wouldn’t need to be paid for it.”

    Lamar, I don’t understand your point. It is the being-paid-for-it part that is empowering. You suffer the vile rich dudes because the morons are paying for their humiliation.

  7. Boo fark’n hoo.

    I was in the service industry for 8 years. talk about degrading.

  8. I’ll admit that sometimes I feel a little dirty after coming here.

  9. squaroo – at the sites I’ve been to, there is a little more than just “posing” going on.

  10. After reading the article, I suddenly want a cup of coffee (french roast).

  11. My friend’s cousin’s roommate, who spends a lot of time (and money)where (and here’s the kicker) he’s degraded. As he says, how do you hurt a masochist?

  12. Wayne, that’s my point. The vile rich dudes are paying you to degrade you. You are empowered economically in order to compensate you for being degraded. Thus, degradation and empowerment are equal parts of the same equation.

  13. If the experience is so empowering, you wouldn’t need to be paid for it.

    That’s completely fucking backwards. It’s the very fact that you are being paid for your services that empowers you. It means you labor has a value attached to it, and people are willing to pay said value for said labor.

    Since posing nude is way better than, say, digging shit ditches, what’s more empowering than that?

  14. Lamar,

    I guess my question is, where does the “degrading” in the equation come from?

    If I pay to watch porn, I am not going to pay because I like seeing people “degrade” themselves. I am going to pay for the pleasure of watching it. On the other side of the equation; If I could bang hot chicks all day and get paid for it I would definitely not consider it “degrading” myself…

    Again, who says it’s degrading? Other people who don’t like the activity? Why should I give a fuck what they think?

  15. And porn is only degrading because a bunch of religious asshole told everybody that the leading cause of venereal disease is SIN.

  16. Taking orders from anybody is degrading. If it were so awesome, people wouldn’t need to be paid for it. I’m not saying porn is a sin or nudie pictures are destroying lives. I’m just saying that to the extent that people need to be paid to do something, that something is in some sense (decide for yourself the extent) degrading. Heck, porn is basically free these days with all the amateur stuff floating around the web, so it is basically less degrading than before.

  17. no, some porn is degrading because it is supposed to be.

    a lot of gonzo stuff is unnecessarily and pointlessly hostile. why? probably because people are twisted little fucks.

  18. Taking orders from anybody is degrading.

    Well fuck me then…and a large chunk of the world’s population that has to work for somebody…or is governed by somebody…or is in some way indebted to somebody…ah, we’re all degraded bastards…

    What kind of bs comment was that?? lol

  19. Lamar,

    Again, if I could get paid for doing something that I find pleasurable (sex), how would that be degrading?

    Please explain with something other than “Taking orders from anybody is degrading.”

  20. Perhaps we should give Jennifer a call and get her take on this story?

  21. Damn you DAR

  22. Degrade is defined as “to lower in grade, rank or status. When you take orders from somebody you are, by definition, lower in rank or status. To the extent that you can do what you love and make money, you are not degraded. I was under the impression (and still am) that these women are doing it for the money, not the love of making porn.

  23. DAR – let’s not.

  24. Isn’t degrading in the eye of the beholder?

    I think the point of the quote that was posted is that many performers in the porn industry consider that the actions they are asked to perform and the manner in which they are told to bahave degrading.

    Most people don’t want to be told to do things that are potentially painful or insulting or and have to pretend that they love it. I would imagine that if I had to do that in a job day in and day out I would have some potential self-esteem issues.

    The paycheck and the benefits of the earnings (not to mention the fame and adulation of fans) that they get for doing what they do on the other hand is empowering.

    If they had the money or an ability to earn similar money in a different field would they? I would imagine that the performers who consider many aspects of their work degrading would in fact choose a different feel.

    In any case, I imagine it has a lot to do with the personal feelings of the performers. I am sure there are many performers who don’t find it at all degrading and might even act this way in their personal life at times — for free 🙂

  25. two cents;
    I’m a patron of the arts when it comes to porn. I’d happily enlist in Kerry Howley’s army to legitimize all consensual commerce.

    That being said, self respect remains a rare commodity amongst sex workers. The downward spiral from pin up to porn star to crack whore is still well trod.

  26. Lamar,

    Not that I care, but I think most people equating pR0N with degradation are thinking of the second definition listed: “2 a : to bring to low esteem or into disrepute b : to drag down in moral or intellectual character : CORRUPT”.

    Words mean things, but sometimes one word means more than one thing. That’s what makes dictionary arguments kinda ineffectual.

  27. “to bring to low esteem or into disrepute”

    I think that Chicago Tom is right in noting that this definition applies to porn workers as well.

  28. I think the point of the quote that was posted is that many performers in the porn industry consider that the actions they are asked to perform and the manner in which they are told to bahave degrading.

    That’s in there, but I think the main point of the quote was that it’s silly to debate whether porn work “is” degrading or empowering, as though it were always a simple either/or.

    I’d add that the same observation applies to many other kinds of work as well.

  29. That’s in there, but I think the main point of the quote was that it’s silly to debate whether porn work “is” degrading or empowering, as though it were always a simple either/or.

    I hope my post didn’t come of as advocating an either/or proposition. Personally, I believe it CAN be both — and that is what I thought she was implying in the quote (but it doesn’t necessarily have to be either). The psyche and mindset/beliefs of the performer matters most.

    Degrading and empowering are very subjective and relative words and I don’t think a third party is in any position to label someone else’s situation/choices as either degrading or empowering

    I’d add that the same observation applies to many other kinds of work as well.

    Agreed. In fact, the fact that I have to work at all I find a bit degrading 😉

    I just thought we were specifically talking about the porn industry.

  30. Perhaps we should give Jennifer a call and get her take on this story?

    Degradation: working on a phone-sex line and having your most successful call of the night be from some goddamned psychopath.

    Empowerment: when your boss tells you the story you wrote about working on a phone-sex line and having your most successful call of the night be from some goddamned psychopath
    broke all records for number of hits received by any story, ever, on your company website.

    Not sure: when the story is taken off your company’s website, and the only place you can now find it online is on a site called “American Sex Gazette.”

    Empowerment: If the accompanying photos are any indication, I am a totally hot 18-year-old.

  31. And Asian. I’m Asian.

  32. Warren | July 12, 2007, 11:33am | #

    Internet porn has done more to free mankind from the bonds of ummm stuffy people than uhh something else like washer/dryers with no money down. Or something like that. Anyway, I likes me some net porn.

    Well said. Google trends backs up your hypothesis. This graph shows that “libertarian” trails “jihad” in popularity, but “capitalism” is neck in neck with “jihad”. So the cool gismos you can buy in free markets are as popular as the afterlife. Compared to “porn”, the popularity of all three is a flat line. Internet penetration hovers at 10% in the Middle East, which means this the sample is small and probably biased. Still, the gap is impressive.

  33. Do you speak Asian?

  34. Do you speak Asian?

    Not very well. That’s probably why the sex line fired me after one night.

    By the way, if anyone’s interested: I updated the post DAR linked to, to add a link to the sole remaining online copy of my story.

  35. Well said. Google trends backs up your hypothesis. This graph shows that “libertarian” trails “jihad” in popularity, but “capitalism” is neck in neck with “jihad”. So the cool gismos you can buy in free markets are as popular as the afterlife. Compared to “porn”, the popularity of all three is a flat line. Internet penetration hovers at 10% in the Middle East, which means this the sample is small and probably biased. Still, the gap is impressive.

    Something on your mind, jtuf?

  36. Umm… from what I understand of the dynamics of SG is that it’s not “posing for some vile rich dude who’s insulting you the whole time”, but a laid back atmosphere where a tattooed, pierced, gothic, exhibitionist women is in control of her own shoot. I’ve seen a few sets where, though they are in fact nude, they hardly show nipple, and that’s fine. The main idea of SG is to display beauty that is outside of mainstream norms. While SG is now a full out business, “vile rich dude” is not the boss, and they are all about empowing the woman who has been told that she is not attractive because she doesn’t look like what you’d see on the cover of “People”.

  37. Zoomie Junior: that’ what the marketing says. Plus there’s just a dash of stupid young girl who regrets what she did. Well, a lot of it. C’est la vie.

  38. This thread is worthless without pictures.

  39. Re: Zoomie

    Ah, technorati Vanity searching turns up cool stuff.

    I just had to make a quick note that Bookslut used that quote a bit out of context. I used to be an SG, but the way I made much of my cash back in my naked-girl-for-hire days was by posing for private sessions with “photographers”, who were mostly just men with cameras who wanted to see naked girls. Some of them weren’t super nice. If, in that context, I was asked about the Degradation and Empowerment of naked modelling, I’d say that posing often sucked, but that it was worth it to get lots of money quickly when I was 19 and start my own business.

    The person who runs SG is a man, and a rich one. “Vile” is a matter of opinion. While they have an awesome product, you should look at their record of selling girls’ photos to porn sites and suing their former models and photographers.

    Thanks for talking about Audacia’s book. It’s amazing, and I’m very proud to be in it.

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