Content Warning/Not Safe for Work: Some description of violent pornography.
I finally had the opportunity (and courage) to watch the new documentary, Hot Girls Wanted. It is about the exploitation of teen girls in America in an industry that is known as “amateur porn” (a form of legal prostitution and sex trafficking). The film follows the short careers of some of these girls (I call them girls consciously because they are just barely out of childhood and it is this immaturity that is specifically exploited), documenting their experiences through their own words. Though the liberal position on pornography is that it is a “live and let live,” “freely chosen,” form of “employment,” the film really forces us to question how we can apply these neutralizing descriptions to what is essentially the highly violent, degrading, poorly paid, and high-risk exploitation of teenagers.
It is a form of employment that hurts, lacks protection, and is devoid of security or benefits. The average career is only a few months, and girls have to pay to play. After paying rent to their pimp (or “agent”) and purchasing lingerie, hair and nails, STD testing, Plan-B emergency contraceptives, trips to the emergency room, etc., there is almost nothing left. What this means is that earning a living in this “industry” is impossible for most (girls and women that is, as men profit considerably). As the girls become “spent” in the industry and the returns dry up, they must resort to increasingly dangerous sex acts to remain in the game.
While the idea of true consent existing in this industry is always suspect, sometimes the girls who “choose” to do particular scenes change their minds once the abuse begins, but they are either too pressured or frightened to say “no.” The power differential between impoverished teenage girls and older male business owners and bosses, while already significant, is amplified considerably when sex, cameras, and contracts are involved.
The film does not contain as much disturbing imagery as does The Price of Pleasure, but it did share a number of scenes “starring” (a euphemism) some of the girls in the documentary, which, for all intents and purposes, appear to depict violent rape and assault. New to me, there is an increasingly popular theme in pornography known as “facial abuse.” In this genre, a teenager’s mouth is penetrated so violently while her head is beaten and yanked about that she will cry and throw up. Sometimes she is forced to eat the vomit on her hands and knees. All the while she is demeaned with misogynistic insults.
There are hundreds of films like this. One such scene included in the film featured a college student who introduced herself as a student majoring in feminist studies so that the male audience could masturbate to the fantasy of raping a woman back into her place and brutalizing her as punishment for advocating for liberation and peace. In addition to being gagged with a forced blow job, she is choked and slammed–screaming–into the floor.
The skyrocketing level of violence in pornography is no accident. As in many “free market” capitalist enterprises, there is a no holds barred race to the bottom, and the vulnerable pay the price.
The parallels between the treatment of vulnerable women in our society and the treatment of other animals cannot be denied. One of the girls in the documentary even points this out herself, explaining that she and others in the industry are treated like “meat.” This is why vegans must “watch” pornography. We must keep an eye on its influence, its role in society, and its ability to shape human attitudes and behaviors.
In a world where we excuse this type of behavior against women as “normal” and even “natural,” in a world where approximately 80% of men tune into pornography such as that described here on a regular basis, we cannot expect anyone to take seriously the violence against Nonhuman Animals for pleasurable consumption. Veganism can never succeed in a pornified world. Pornography must be on our radar because pornography is the script of oppression. Any vegan worth their weight in salt must take issue with the status of women. At the root of it all is the neoliberal infiltration of society, the capitalist bottom-line. It is a structure that puts all vulnerable, feminized bodies in peril.
Dr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).
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