By all appearances, Sheryl Sandberg is God’s gift to feminism. Belle Knox, not so much.
Beyond the ideas and the discourse, feminism attracts adherents by offering role models. It must present real live human beings who can embody the promise.
Sandberg is feminist dream: high powered and super-rich corporate executive in the coolest of cool businesses; wife; mother of two; attractive.
Beyond the fact that she is a great marketer, Sandberg looks like she has it all. More than a few young girls would be happy to have her life… or at least, her life as it appears in the media.
Her ideas do not withstand serious scrutiny, but her appeal does not lie in her ability as a thinker. As a living argument for the cause, she persuades people to join.
Lately, Sandberg has been eclipsed in the media by one Belle Knox.
Many feminists are cringing.
As you know, Knox is working her way through college by starring in porn videos. But now, she has promoted herself as the embodiment of the feminist dream… or should it be the feminist nightmare.
Lately, Knox has been all over the media, discussing her porn career, her past experience with cutting and how she gets sexually aroused by pain.
To explain it, Knox trots out the lessons she has learned as a Women’s Studies major at Duke. She may not have understood them as well as others, but they certainly sound familiar. I do not believe that Women’s Studies made her a porn star, but clearly it has not deterred her.
To her mind, though not to all minds, she is a role model for today’s liberated women. She might not have the career you would wish for your daughter, but she is pursuing her career, making her way in the world, paying for her education, preparing to be a feminist activist. And, of course, she does not allow herself to be judged by anyone's moral standards.
In the current narrative Knox’s outing was an accident. A classmate noticed her on a porn video he was watching and let the secret out.
But, if she had wanted to earn money doing sex work there are other ways that involve far less public exposure. Other coeds work their way through college doing sex work… in strip clubs, escort services, and with various arrangements with older men.
Their work is more or less discreet. They tend to do it away from campus. Thus, they do not become a public spectacle.
If you are a young college student and you do porn videos you are going to be noticed. You are going to be identified. Given today’s pornified culture, it is inevitable.
This means that Belle Knox is not just making her way through college. She is making a statement. She is creating a brand. She wants to be identified as the Duke porn star. But, she also wants to show how unjust American higher education has become. She wants to show what it does to women. In so doing she believes that she is affirming the virtues of feminism, especially its attempt to help women to overcome shame.
Now, Belle Knox is enjoying her fifteen minutes of fame as a public spokesperson for feminism. On HuffPost Live she struck back at those who were criticizing her. She blamed their attitude on “patriarchal society.”
Yesterday, she was on a vastly more popular show, The View, where most of the co-hosts looked askance at her activities.
Gawker reported the scene:
Anti-vaccine nut and former Playboy Playmate Jenny McCarthy spent her part of the conversation talking down to Knox, asking her what happened that made a "sweet, innocent" high school girl "turn to porn."
As ironies go, that one was especially pungent. Getting criticized for doing porn by the Playmate of the Year is especially rich. Then again, why did Barbara Walters offer a platform to a former Playmate who has been convincing parents not to vaccinate their children?
If you thought porn was bad, what about the anti-vaccination movement?
But, I digress.
Knox has even defended herself, on feminist grounds, because her sexuality is very particular. She gets aroused by pain. By doing kinky porn she believes that she is embracing her sexuality, openly, honestly and shamelessly.
Some feminists have been appalled, so Knox has happily defended herself:
I’ve been called a hypocrite and mocked for daring to talk about empowerment if I have also not kept adequately hidden away my enjoyment of rough and dirty, nasty and filthy, saliva-dripping and name-calling-filled sex.
"So getting spit on and degraded is feminism now?" wrote one poster on Collegiate ACB.
Sure. Whatever choice a woman is making and she is the one deciding to do -- reclaiming the agency behind the decision to do, even if it is a degrading sexual act -- is absolutely feminism. To me, feminism is about women not being shamed but rather being empowered.
You can dress up your critical essays of me saying that I deserve to be disowned by my parents and kicked out of school however you like, but all of these hit pieces are about one spectacularly anti-feminist notion: SHAME.
No one is going to argue with her. She has certainly overcome her sense of shame. She seems to have joined with the sex-positive feminists who have declared culture war against slut-shaming.
… feminism means that I do not need to hold down my head because you tell me that's exactly what I should be doing.
Yes, a Google search reveals pictures of me in hard-core sexual experiences. No, that Google search is not me.
I am me. Feminism tells me that I can be me, not my Google search.
Except feminists can’t possibly enjoy rough sex, right?
This is completely paradoxical. A woman cannot preach feminist empowerment during the day and at night participate in what we have constructed to be stereotypically submissive behavior. Why is that? Why is that we have to adhere to the ascribed gender roles of the patriarchy?
To be a feminist is not to say that everything “submissive” should be rejected. It is simply to say that you should not feel pressure to adhere to canonized ideas of gender. People attack feminism by saying a feminist who enjoys submission -- even degradation -- in the bedroom is upholding patriarchy, but if she likes “dominance” then she is trying to be like a man.
Feminism means I can take ownership of what I enjoy sexually and that sexuality does not have to determine anything else about me. You might. But I will not.
Obviously, some feminists take vigorous exception. Eliana Dockterman writes in Time:
Knox’s quest to put a positive, feminist spin on her work is failing. In most adult films, women are depicted as objects who are there to please the man in whatever way he might choose. And as Gloria Steinem pointed out typical pornography normalizes a relationship of dominance between men and women. So it’s not surprising to note Knox’s protestations that anyone who derides porn is sexist aren’t gaining much traction.
One wonders how they all know what is going on in most adult films. Not to be too vulgar about it, but women being aroused, women being pleased, women achieving sexual rapture must also be a staple of the films. Most of the audience for these films is more aroused by seeing a woman in ecstasy than in seeing a man in ecstasy. After all, women porn stars are far better paid than male porn stars, and they are getting paid the big bucks because they are slaves to the male gaze.
Of course, Dockterman is trying to limit the damage to the good name and the reputation of feminism.
It’s interesting to see feminists repudiating Belle Knox in the name of female honor.