Rashida Jones on the documentary Hot Girls Wanted

Est Reading Time: 6 min

[CN: Porn including some graphic exerpts, sexual assault]

Camera with eye looking at viewer

Vice has a very interesting interview with Rashida Jones on the documentary Hot Girls Wanted which she co-produced. I haven’t seen the doco yet but the interview alone is worth a look:

[Video Link]

Jones starts out saying she has “no problem with porn as adult entertainment,” and if she did, who cares since she can’t exactly put a stop to people watching porn. The rest of the interview is about the documentary which is a critique of the “amateur” porn scene in Miami, Florida.

Jones’s take is much better than any SWERF material. Still, like most critiques of porn I’ve seen, there isn’t enough of a distinction made between these three topics:

  • The exploitation of people involved in the industry.
  • The industry’s effect on social perception about sex, gender roles etc.
  • Society’s attitudes to porn as a genre.

They may be inter-related but they’re not identical. You could have very different ideas about the prevalence, causes and solutions to each of the above.

The treatment of people in the industry

The doco is about young women who have been sold the idea of fame and money flying into Miami from all over the country. Then reality hits. The work is hard and takes a toll on their bodies (one performer says “it can’t be good to have sex that much”). They don’t make that much money when the expenses – and the fact that they are encouraged to live it up – are taken into account. Then there’s the nature of the “amateur” porn niche: it’s scripted porn where female stars play naive girls who get tricked by men into having sex for the “first” time. The need for perceived inexperience means a female star has a very short window of opportunity (about one year according to Jones), after which she may need to move on to other niches to get work. This includes more extreme niches, like facial abuse porn (a genre where a “producer” humiliates and abuses a woman hoping to become a porn star).

The above things are all problems needing some action; but the devil’s in the details. The first issue is the consent of the performer. Now, a lot of SWERF rhetoric says that a female porn performer can’t give consent in principle (whether all porn or hardcore BDSM-style genres like facial abuse). This is ridiculous but scenes that simulate lack of consent will always be more open to exploitation. As Jones says, it’s “difficult to believe that the girls who are crying are all just acting”. Of course, whether performers are acting or being abused is a fact that should be treated as the intersection of labour rights and sexual assault. Jones thinks porn has become so mainstream that we’re all expected to be ok with it. Which may be true, but for the kinds of labour and assault protections to start kicking in, porn would need to become even more mainstream.

There’s also the degree to which these young performers’ choice is meaningful, given that they go into the industry being ignorant of the details (and often being misled by scummy agents). This might be true of a lot of other industries but sex work is likely to take a special kind of toll. Still, Jones’s attitude borders on patronising. She actually says this about the 18-year-olds: “[y]ou might not be the best candidate to make the decisions but you’re allowed to” (emphasis mine). THE HORROR.

Jones is also worried the videos will be out there “forever”, which reminds me of victim-blaming tropes surrounding sexting. Yes, porn stars will probably be stigmatised about it later. But that’s not because of their decision, it’s because society is shitty. That’s what we need to be focusing on. The industry is exploitative and this can be particularly damaging to young performers, but the way to make things better has to be about treating the performers with respect. We need to offer choices not tut-tutting and a pat on the head.

The industry’s effect on social norms

Jones has a lot of good points here. If the average age of first watching porn is 11, its tropes will seep into the way people form expectations about sex. And if there’s one thing we can probably all agree on it’s that people shouldn’t be learning about sex from mainstream porn. Especially from say the “amateur” genre: a young, naive girl’s first time is pretty similar to misogynist fantasies of “deflowering” young virgins.

Some people would be genuinely into this but desires don’t occur in an asocial vacuum and aren’t exempt from criticism. For more info, see this excellent piece. This is particularly true for the facial abuse genre Jones mentions. Below is a description of one video from the site Jones mentioned [CN for ALL THE ISMS]:

Here’s another big doofy idiot whore who thinks porn is right for her. Wrong. First of all, you’re fat. Second, you can’t suck a dick without crying. I guess in her defense having a giant piece of meat crammed down your gullet can bring out some feelings. It’s a good thing that that’s our niche… making bitches get emotional and cry. Cierra Jade came, saw and sucked ass. She finished, though. Her throat was used all up… so much so that she’s probably an official lesbian by now. Good thing because our side don’t want her. We gave this whore something to remember

A common comeback is that people who watch videos like the above aren’t necessarily misogynists, if anything they eroticise such scenes because the treatment depicted is so taboo. This is a question for social science but I agree with Jones that it’s “difficult to believe that all who watch that know it’s for entertainment”. A video like that would need so much suspension of disbelief from non-misogynists to enjoy that I doubt they make up a majority of the viewers.

It’s all about the percentages. If only 0.5% of men watched this genre it might be a curiosity but I suspect it’s a lot more. And the types of things that our society finds arousing IS a cause for concern, criticism and activism.

Society’s attitudes to porn as an industry

Jones also talks about the pornification of pop culture and the related ease with which porn agents find new recruits. She says it’s because porn nowadays is not “marginal, taboo or subversive”. We are forced to accept a porn culture in a very direct, unsubtle way, with sexualisation being packaged as if it were sexuality. And while she appreciates the way say Rihanna and Nicki Minaj use sexuality in their music, her criticism is more about the more a general expectation that all self-expression for women should be like that.

It sounds like a tautology but it’s not: it’s mainstream porn that’s mainstream. It’s not marginal, taboo or subversive; but the kind of porn that IS subversive wasn’t the subject of Jones’s documentary. Porn where women’s pleasure actually forms some part of the equation. Porn made by LGBT entrepreneurs for the LGBT gaze. Or even that “thriving female-run Australian porn industry“. Just saying.

And yes, the expectation that you need to “twerk to be cool” (as Jones puts it) is a form of shitty prescriptivism and the ugly side of the sex positivity movement. There’s other interesting stuff in the video such as the distinction between sexuality and sexualisation and the idea of porn as the embodiment of the peak of capitalism and the commodification of culture. Although I suspect people involved in porn that may be truly subversive would take issue with their work being described as “peak capitalism”.