Aya de Leon

author – activist – faculty – mom

Problems with Rashida Jones’ “Hot Girls Wanted,” why porn is NOT sex ed for kids & limits of celebrity feminism

Rashida Jones’ documentary Hot Girls Wanted, about amateur porn in Florida, is the latest volley of shots in the porn wars. While I don’t belive in censorship, I have divided loyalties in this debate. However, I am adamant athat sex workers should never be blamed or targeted with our upset about the sexual exploitation and objectification which plagues our society as a whole.

Some great critiques of Hot Girls Wanted have come from Susan Elizabeth Shepard on Vice and Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals on Uproxx. I may weigh in on the film overall later. Today, I want to address two things:

  1. why porn is not “educational” for young people.
  2. why Rashida Jones is an example of why celebrity feminism is a problem.

First, a disclaimer to adults: if you like porn, watch porn. If you work in the adult film industry and you enjoy making porn, keep making it. And if you’re an actor, I hope you get a union. This post is not about adults choosing to make or consume porn. This is about the role porn plays in the socialization of young children.

I have written a racy book. And let me be clear, I don’t want my daughter reading my racy book til she’s at least sixteen. Because I don’t think the book is age-appropriate for anyone any younger. The book is intended for adults.

As a guest on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, Jones made a guest appearance, and sat around a table with a couple of writers for the show. Nightly Show contributor Mike Yard said he thought porn was a “net good” and reflected positive changes about sex: “sex is not like it used to be,” said Yard. “It used to be taboo like nobody talked about sex.” Yard is wrong. Sexual taboos aren’t gone, we just now live in a society where sex is simultaneously taboo and big business.

Jones responded with concerns: “[some parents] don’t want their kids watching it because they sort of treat it like education, but it’s not. It’s supposed to be entertainment. You shoudn’t learn about…sex from porn. I think that’s dangerous.” I agree that it’s dangerous for any young person without reality-based information about sex to learn about it from porn.

Yard joked about how much he had learned from porn, and Holly Walker, the other Nightly Show contributer agreed: “However,” Walker said, “I do need to back up when you say porn isn’t educational…I’ve learned a lot from porn.” And she emphasized a lot, by pronouncing it uhhhh-laaaahht.

Adults can lean about sex wherever they want. However, porn—or any commercial sexual stories, for that matter—develop apparent educational value only when real education about sex is not available. When I was in high school, I had comprehensive sexual education that was relaxed and sex positive. I learned what a clitoris was, what an orgasm was, how to protect myself from STIs & pregnancy, I learned about sexual orientation, and even sexual violence. We could ask any questions, we had queer speakers, we played with condoms, sponges, diaphragms, and IUDs. It never occurred to me that I could learn anything from porn, because I had a place to go with any of my sexual questions. As far as educational value for young people, porn is the flip side of abstinence only education. It has a very specific agenda that isn’t driven by the needs or curisoity of the young person, but by the agenda of the so-called “educator.”

Abstinence only education is an indoctrination into sexual values that stress conservative Christian values. Porn is an indoctrination into sexual values that places the gratification of heterosexual men in the center of sexuality.

It’s true that there are all kinds of porn, and adults can pick and choose and find porn that is empowering and reflects their non-male or non-heterosexual communities. If there was one thing Hot Girls Wanted got right, it was that in mainstream porn—amateur or professional—the women performers generally have much more desire for fame and compensation, than for the scenario or the partner in question. Feminist pornographers like Madison Young, organize storylines and sexual scenes based in mutual desire on the part of the performers. But most of the porn that young people come across or can access is the porn made for heterosexual men, white men, to be specific. And this is where I disagree with Rashida Jones. Porn isn’t just entertainment. It’s a particular type of entertainment whose job is to accompany the sexual act of masturbation. And isn’t it funny how people who are so “open minded” about porn might feel shame about acknowledging that they like to watch porn alone and masturbate. Now, people might be masturbating to other shows on TV, including sports, or the weather, or the news or comedies or dramas or reality shows or political documentaries. But that may be a less common practice with these other shows. The fact that porn is designed as a masturbation tool does set it apart from other types of entertainment videos. And I am utterly clear that I don’t think it’s a good idea for young people, particularly girls, to be “learning” about sex from a fantasy narrative that is designed to turn on adult men so that they can get off. In fact, study after study shows that young women in our sexualized culture aren’t getting more in touch with their sexuality, they show that young women are more in touch with adult men’s sexuality. And they have no idea what they are feeling inside their bodies, but rather are tuned into what men might be feeling looking at their bodies. And I want young women to learn to tune into what they are actually feeling, not what objectification is being projected onto them.

Porn is a fantasy. So no, I don’t want my children learning about sex from porn. Just like I don’t want them to learn about gravity from Superman comics or about how to drive from the movie Speed. The difference is that there’s no historical repression about driver’s education in this country. Imagine if adults were routinely giving young people  shaming, confusing information about driving. Or if there was a lobby telling young people not to drive until they were married. Or imagine if young women were routinely shamed for driving, for wanting to drive, for dressing like they might want to drive.

If adults have learned anything useful from porn, that’s good. But just like many drugs, herbs or medicines have brought a great deal of good to humans, there’s a reason they all say “cauton, keep out of reach of children.” I question the motives of people—particularly men—who don’t have any concerns about children getting their hands on porn. Are they enthused about a new generation of young women being socialized to see their sexuality as all about pleasing men? Porn as education is like when Reagan said kechup was a vegetable. There is some produce involved, but it’s so processed by the time it comes out that it’s no longer nutritious.

Which brings us to my second problem with the film. Hot Girls Wanted is gaining attention largely based on Rashida Jones’ celebrity platform. Jones, herself, gained some of her own platform from her dad Quincy Jones. Which is not to say that she doesn’t deserve her stardom. Rather, it is to say, that she hasn’t had to fight to be heard and taken seriously in the same way as many other activists. Which is why she was way too polite and Ann Perkins-ish on Larry Wilmore’s show and let Larry and his writers talk over her, get all the laughs, and get in the last word. As I’ve said before about the problem with celebrity feminism: women who are used to smiling and reading other peoples’ words on cue aren’t always the best ones to stand up and speak out in controversial situations. But I hope Rashida Jones will learn from this. If she can deepen her analysis, widen the pool of folks she’s learning from and get a little more pushy, she may make a strong spokeswoman yet.

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This entry was posted on June 12, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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