“We don’t want to get women out of porn, we want to get them INTO porn!” said Erika Lust, the heroine pornographer and porn crusader featured in the first of Rashida Jones’ new Netflix documentary series on the porn industry called “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On.” This emphatic statement by Erika seems to embody the message Rashida was clearly sending throughout episode one.
“Women on Top” is the name of the first installment of the series and highlights a new phenomenon called “feminist** porn.” The idea is that by placing women behind the camera (and in front of it), the harms of porn are replaced by romance and sex that is supposed to be enjoyable for the women involved to the women in porn and appeal to women watching it.
The story begins with scenes of flowers blowing in the wind, the sun shining and horses frolicking on a farm. We hear soft music and the peaceful sounds of birds chirping in the background. Next, we are introduced to Holly, a porn photographer whose claim to fame is (according to her), creating “glamorous, beautiful” pornographic images. The story of Holly’s life and the life of her mother, who is also a pornographer, is presented in a nostalgic and romantic way. At one point Holly proudly reminisces about a time her mother shot an eight-woman orgy for Playboy magazine.
For much of the time Holly and her mother sit at a breakfast table, coffees in hand, and discuss in a manner that comes across as cozy and cute, how they have always been so shy to talk about “real” sex openly, even to the point of saying that having the mother-daughter talk about sex when Holly was young was “so awkward.” We get the idea through this scene that the “special” pornographic work of Holly and her mother is playful, innocent and fanciful.
Then, we are whisked to Barcelona, and in a flurry of dramatic and emotionally charged sound bites, Rashida continues to paint the picture of a perfect porn utopia. A place where empowered women rule, the scenes are beautiful and glamourous; the sex filmed is real, pleasurable, caring, classy, intimate and downright amazing; and the sexual fantasies are story-driven, romantic, and inviting. Erika Lust says that unlike mainstream porn, her films show “good sexual encounters”…that “empower” women and are based on “values where the people in [the porn scene] feel connected, that they are respecting each other,” and that show “female pleasure.”
After so much buildup of this so-called feminist empowering porn, the viewer is about to burst with joy because Rashida has almost totally convinced you that porn is a healthy and happy place for women. Finally we are brought onto an actual “feminist porn” set, where Erika Lust does her magic.
A young woman named Monica is seated at a piano and is about to embark on her first ever porn scene. She is wide-eyed and visibly nervous. The script says that she is going to act out her wildest fantasy of engaging in sex while she plays the piano on a stage. She anxiously fumbles through her lines a few times and Erika is getting impatient.
Then in comes the male character and the sexual scene begins. During the scene Monica is aggressively being pummeled by the man from behind, her hair is being yanked back, and she is clearly in distress. She calls out “Stop!”, “please give me a moment, I need a moment.” Annoyed, the crew asks her what the problem is, and as she winces as she says “I’m in pain!”
But waiting will cost too much money. They are on the clock, and so Erika the “feminist” hero of this episode, who actually could care less about Monica, bluntly tells her to just “fake it.”
Oh. Wait. I thought this was supposed to depict “real” female pleasure. Apparently not.
In an effort to explain away what actually just happened, Erika says, “well in the end this is a film, and it is an illusion, and I create the image that I want you to see as an audience.”
You see, what Rashida has been presenting through the stories of Erika and Holly have been thinly veiled illusions as well.
If you aren’t convinced that Erika’s words about female empowerment are a mere facade, you could dig a tiny bit deeper and check out her website. But once there you may be thoroughly perplexed and disturbed by the fact that her latest porn film is about the mutilation, rape, and torture of a woman “submissive” by a man—she titles it “feminist submissive porn.”
Say what? The most basic definition of feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. How is the rape and mutilation of a woman by a man even a remotely feminist idea?
One sex industry survivor told me, “Porn was built on the antithesis of feminism. It was built by men for men. The bottom line is porn is all about releasing men’s inner predator, on film and virtually. Porn is never about the girl…they are not ‘turned on’ by the scenes in porn.”
The fact is that this so-called feminist porn is no different than mainstream hardcore porn. It is exactly the same thing with higher cost and production value.
This episode is an example of a much larger disturbing trend happening today in pop culture. Women are attempting to own the title of “feminist” in order to whitewash and justify some of the most degrading acts that could ever happen to women. Touting the label of “feminist,” women are pimping out other women, promoting porn, promoting prostitution, and objectifying themselves by peddling softcore porn on social media in the name of “liberation” (see Kim Kardashian’s latest nude photo with the caption “liberated”).
But just because I say the words “I can fly” a hundred times doesn’t make it true. Likewise, porn doesn’t magically lose its harms by repeatedly invoking the words “feminist” and “empowering.” The fact remains that porn is inherently objectifying, dehumanizing and degrading to women regardless of the spin used to try and present it in a different light.
Rashida would have done well to stick to the truth about porn as she did in her original documentary, in 2015, for which she received backlash because of an honest presentation of the industry. But sadly, at least in this episode, she bowed to the pressure of a porn-influenced media culture in order not to lose her “cool-status” in the eyes of her peers.
At Exodus Cry we have a vision for women that doesn’t include being sexually exploited and consumed by hyper-aggressive men on film while having to fake pleasure. What Rashida has presented in this episode is not empowerment or equality–it is downright objectification and degradation.
** It’s important to acknowledge the existence of healthy feminism. At its most basic level, feminism is advocating for the rights of women equal to those of men. It’s not about man-hating. It’s not about casting off all traditional roles of women, as long as these roles can be exercised from a place of equality and respect. Although the term has been hijacked in a myriad of ways by those who promote ideas that are not in line with preserving the dignity of women, healthy feminism does still exist.