JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN

Duke’s ‘feminist’ porn star

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"Why do we call women sluts and whores?"

The question comes from an article posted last week by a Duke University freshman, who admitted that she moonlights as a pornography actress.

“Lauren” (not her real name) went public after a fellow student recognized her on a porn site and told his fraternity brothers about it.

Within a few days, the topic “Freshman Pornstar” was trending on CollegiateACB. The Internet lit up with slurs against Lauren, featuring “slut” and “whore” and many other nasty terms that we can’t print here.

She fired back in last week’s article, which argued that these slurs reflect a long-standing male denigration of women.

She’s right, of course. But here’s what Lauren didn’t say: that same vilification of females is fed by pornography itself. And if you think otherwise, there’s all too much evidence only one click away on the Internet.

I can’t describe what you can easily find on some sites. But suffice to say that there is a lot of rough stuff, with women violated, abused and humiliated in every way you can imagine. And yes, the men who couple with them often call them sluts and whores. Indeed, many sites feature those words — and worse — even in their names.

In her article, Lauren admitted to shooting some edgy scenes. But she has also defended her decision as a feminist one.

“Feminism to me means advancing my personal liberty, my opportunity in the world, while also championing my right to choose what to do with my body,” Lauren told the Duke student newspaper. “Everything we do is consensual.”

But why does that make it OK? And how can this possibly be “feminist” if it depicts precisely the kind of misogyny that Lauren deplores in her own article?

Suppose an African-American “chose” to appear in a racist film made by the KKK, or a Jew in a movie produced by neo-Nazis. You might support their right to do so, as I would, but I doubt you’d praise them as tribunes of freedom. Instead, you’d ask what led them to participate in imagery that reinforces the hatred against them.

Some women in the pornography industry don’t have a choice, as Lauren noted in her article; they’re coerced into the business by pimps and other predators. So we need to protect the vulnerable women who are forced to do porn, Lauren argued, even as we acknowledge that some women — such as herself — might actually decide to do it.

But it might be hard to tell the difference. Consider America’s first modern porn star, Linda Lovelace, who headlined the 1972 blockbuster “Deep Throat.” Eight years later, she published a book describing how her then-husband used threats and violence to force her into prostitution and pornography. “When you see the movie ‘Deep Throat,’ you are watching me being raped,” Linda Boreman (her real name) told a reporter. “There was a gun to my head the entire time.”

Rather than keeping the violence off-camera, some porn movies began to depict it directly.

In the 1976 film “Snuff,” a man and woman have sex; he then proceeds to dismember her. The second part wasn’t “real,” but it sure looked like it.

“Snuff” helped jump-start the feminist anti-pornography movement. In New York’s Times Square, the hotbed of the industry at the time, women led tours of the area to expose the violent underside of porn. They also pressed for municipal ordinances to bar “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women,” as one proposed measure said.

But none of the cities that considered these laws instituted them.

Courts struck down some of the ordinances on First Amendment grounds. Many feminists rejected them, too, worrying that the anti-porn laws would unfairly restrict women’s right to determine their own sexuality.

And they were right about that. If anyone tried to pass a law barring Lauren from doing porn, I’d object. She’s an adult, and she should be able to do with her body as she pleases.

Nor did she deserve the torrent of online abuse she received, often from men who had seen her movies.

Would they heap the same vitriol on a male friend who got paid to have sex on camera?

My guess is that they’d congratulate him instead. And if Lauren is such a disgusting you-know-what, then why are they watching her in the first place?

Because they’re turned on by the denigration of women, that’s why. Porn teaches them to regard women as sex objects, who actually like it when they are demeaned and degraded.

Only, they don’t.

After news of her porn career went viral, Lauren wrote that she was “brutally bullied and harassed” with “fear, humiliation, shame, threats, name-calling.”

But that’s also what you’d see in a lot of porn movies, including the ones she made. And that makes me incredibly sad.

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University and the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.” He lives in Narbeth, Pa.


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