Award-winning star Angela White [via angelawhite.com and Star Factory PR]

Porn Star Feminism and the Ownership of Pleasure

With the help of the internet, female stars are taking control of the industry

by Z IVAN MILLER

For the 33rd time, the heavyweights of the pornography industry gathered at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Paradise, Nevada on January 23, 2016 to celebrate the stars nominated for the Adult Video News Awards — often referred to as the Oscars of porn.

Despite years of degradation and demonization, the showcase for the massive industry that, according to Kassia Wosick, assistant professor of sociology at New Mexico State University, turns a profit of $10–12 billion each year in the United States and $97 billion globally, has eclipsed the Hollywood Academy in the way female stars are honored and paid.

Hosted by comedian and actress Kate Quigley, and joined by adult movie actresses Joanna Angel and Anikka Albrite, the AVN Awards aired on Showtime and distributed 18 awards on air and 115 total. The awards range from honoring the best male, female, and transsexual performers, the best specific sex acts and fetishes, the best pleasure product manufacturers, and more.

One of the standouts of the night was porn star Angela White. Her movie Angela White 2 received the third most nominations (16) at the AVN Awards and won 3 of them in the categories of Best Oral Sex Scene, Best All-Girl Group Sex Scene, and Best All-Girl Movie for her DVD Angela Loves Women.

White is one of the faces of an expanding group of female adult stars who exercise total control of their own material. She runs her own production company, AGW Entertainment, and produces and directs all content exclusively for her website at angelawhite.com.

The pornography industry awards female performers more extensively than Hollywood ceremonies like the Oscars and Golden Globes. Sixteen out of the eighteen televised awards at the AVN’s were at least partially presented to female or female-identifying performers.

The Sundance Institute and the advocacy group Women in Film reported that only 4.4 percent of the top 100 box-office domestic releases between 2002 and 2012 were directed by women. In 2012, only 28.4 percent of all on-screen speaking characters in the top 100 were women.

Forbes reported that the 10 highest-paid movie actors in 2015, led by Robert Downey Jr. ($80 million), made $431 million. But the 10 highest-paid movie actresses, led by Jennifer Lawrence ($52 million), made only about half that sum — $218 million.

But then of course, Jennifer Lawrence isn’t having sex on screen.


Choice and Legacy for Performers

Hollywood and the adult film industry, though both models are based on entertainment, operate on a fundamentally different level. Representation and pay equity is not enough to rewrite years of society’s treatment of adult performers as lepers.

Adult film actress Julia Ann (L) and adult film actress/director Nina Hartley attend the 2016 Adult Video News Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on January 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Source: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

“The idea that a woman could choose, on purpose, to perform in pornographic videos for her own reasons still goes deeply against the notion that women are somehow victims of male sexuality, that they’re delicate flowers who need the protection of a good man, or the law,” said Nina Hartley, porn godmother and positive sex educator, in an interview with The Humanist.

Just this week, the death of popular adult film actress Amber Rayne demonstrated the ways in which society attempts to define women that choose to perform in pornography, even posthumously. Many headlines read like the Daily Mail’s: “Porn star who accused adult actor James Deen of rape is found dead at age of 31.” Rayne survived cancer and was identified in her death by the man she accused of rape. The hashtag #SheHasAName began trending on Twitter soon after her death was reported.

The Daily Mail’s coverage of Amber Rayne vs. The Guardian’s

“You become a segregated part of society that has no civil rights group behind it,” said former porn star Bree Olson, who advocated against joining the film industry in a column for The Daily Dot. “Life is already hard enough, don’t do this to yourself. The money isn’t worth the pain of what society will put you through forever. Porn didn’t hurt me. The way society treats me for having done it does.”

However, current stars including Angela White have continued the fight by actively incorporating feminist and sex positive views directly into the independent films in which they both star and direct. On her website, White posted a lengthy explanation of one of her recent scenes after receiving messages from what she referred to as “white knights” trying to save her from being pressured into more extreme scenes:

“Everything is always more complex than it appears. Yet, I’ve had quite a few fans ‘worry’ about my participation in a blowbang and about the ‘mistreatment’ and ‘submission’ it allegedly entails. As an interesting aside, these were not concerns raised by my growing female and feminist-identified fanbase. They were concerns raised by hetero cisgendered male fans. The fact that I directed and produced the scene is not enough evidence of my desire to get on my knees and suck off seven guys.”

The Co-Existence of Feminism and Pornography

Feminism and pornography have sometimes had a contentious relationship. Some see it as continued enabling of male driven desires in a patriarchal society and some even view it as violence against women. Because of this, niches have developed in porn that rely on how female pleasure and body type is displayed on screen. For instance, feminist porn is defined as expanding the ideas about desire, beauty, gratification, and power through unconventional representations, aesthetics, and film making styles.

But is that really at odds with the larger pornography industry?

“I think my distaste for the term also comes from the fact that so many try to use their definition of the term against me. As if I’m the problem,” said porn-mega-star Asa Akira in a column for Playboy titled “Just Because I Do Porn Doesn’t Mean I’m Not a Feminist.”

Asa Akira at the Adult Video News Awards

“I have sex for money, so I’m not a feminist? I portray sexual fantasies on screen for entertainment, so I’m not a feminist? I like to wear makeup and feel sexy, so I’m not a feminist?”

Akira, who later writes, “Fuck you, I’m a feminist,” is not alone in her thinking.

The stereotype of the uneducated porn starlet is perpetuated by critics who would rather target a woman’s supposed lack of intelligence than admit the satisfaction of female sexual desire present in adult entertainment. In fact, the women most nominated for independent porn ventures hold degrees. Joanna Angel, who won the AVN award for best Porn Star Website in 2016, has a degree in English Literature with a minor in Film Studies from Rutgers University. Angela White attended the University of Melbourne and graduated with First Class Honours in Gender Studies and later went on to study at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (the Institute of Political Science in Paris).

Of course, college isn’t for everyone, and popular stars like Carter Cruise and many others chose to leave school to pursue entertainment careers full-time, while others like Belle Knox originally started performing to pay for college in the first place. But when porn-stars do it, it’s painted as lack of education or pure whoredom, not as drive or even conscious personal choice.

“If we accept that a young woman can consent to have an abortion or become a parent, then it stands to reason that we must accept that she can consent to make pornography,” said Hartley. “Of all the branches of sex work available porn is the safest, as it’s legal to make and we have an excellent testing program in place.”


Female Control and Producing Positive Porn

While attending university, White conducted qualitative research into the experiences of female performers in the Australian pornography industry for her thesis. According to a video called The Porn Identity, she closed her thesis with the following statement:

“Pornography provides performers with a unique opportunity to experience pleasures disinvested from desire and what one takes to be one’s own sexual identity. The French refer to orgasm as ‘la petite mort’ — the little death — and the potential to be reborn and to be reborn differently again and again makes pleasure a powerful rallying point for counterattacks against restrictive sexual identity categories.”

The internet has progressively ceded more power to women like White and others that control their own product. Online cam sites, where live audiences can tune in and even communicate with performers during an X-rated show, have exploded in popularity and efficiency. Many of the stars mentioned have banners across the top of their personal sites with an advertised date for their next live show. The most popular of these cam sites, MyFreeCams, was reported to be “the 344th most visited site on the internet” in 2014. The site features shows by 100,000+ models and over 5 million members.

Internet pornography has often been cited as leading technological advancement online. However, piracy has affected the adult entertainment industry comparatively more than any other wing of entertainment. There has been no Netflix, Amazon, or Spotify to successfully bundle together products for consumer ease at a monthly price and the number of people buying adult DVD’s has dropped dramatically. Tube sites, named after the structure of YouTube, like PornHub, RedTube, and others, allow community uploads that are often pirated, and profit from them via ads. The sites are required to comply with copyright, but often there are so many uploads that adult studios can’t afford to keep up legal action.

The twist is that a corporation called MindGeek owns all of these tube sites, but also owns many of the major studios that produce the films in the first place. Therefore, they profit on both ends as product creator and online distributor, while cutting into the wages of the performers and staff in the middle.

This makes cam sites and independent creators like White even more important. Not only has she taken control of her image in a way that encourages positive sexual exploration, it’s also financially progressive to build a platform outside of the current controlling economic model.

A few of the faces of adult actresses that have branded themselves as creators and feminists. From left to right: Angela White, Joanna Angel, and Carter Cruise.

As more women move towards this self-directed model, it decentralizes the power of the industry that some claim controls them and begins to reverse the paradigm of male exploitation.

“Not only are performers more connected with their fans than ever before, they are able to have more control over their income, hours and working conditions,” said Angela White in an interview with Dialogue Magazine.

Feminism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. Economically, women make on average 79 cents on the dollar of what men make doing the same job. This is where porn excels: women can make up to four or five times as much as their straight, male co-stars — something that other entertainment industries, and especially Hollywood, cannot say.

Statements like the one made by Olsen, who said: “Porn is the one industry where the more successful a woman is, the more she will suffer for the rest of her life,” expose the contradiction of how society view women in sex-based professions. When the same income percentages apply to the mainstream film industry, actresses will be hailed for conquering a system that once viewed them only as product. But for the women who choose to do porn and even control their own brand, the ostracization continues. By their own admission, the industry brings them pleasure, but for now, our culture still grapples with the idea that women can simultaneously sell and enjoy sex.


I’m Z Ivan Miller — writer and soon to be graduate of Champlain College’s Professional Writing department. My work has appeared in Broken Records Magazine and Broken Records Online, Auditory Spectrum, and in publications associated with Champlain College.

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Find me at zivanmiller.com and on Twitter or via zivanmiller@gmail.com

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