Porn, Paternalism and its Discontents

August 30, 2014
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“What if your daughter was a porn star?” asks TheWeek.com correspondent Damon Linker in a post published recently. The thrust of Linker’s piece, which makes some good points in support of its thesis, is that regardless of how groovy, tolerant and open-minded modern Americans might be, if they respond honestly to the question, they will admit that they’d be outright dismayed if their daughter (or son, presumably) were to become a porn star.

Cutting to the chase around the middle of the piece, Linker asserts that “with a remarkable degree of unanimity, we supposedly non-judgmental, morally libertarian, 21st-century Americans judge having sex for pay and in the most public forum imaginable to be low, base, and degraded — and for that reason certainly not the kind of thing we want our children to be doing.”

Fair enough, I suppose – although to be frank, I’d be every bit as disappointed by a son of mine having to pay for sex than I would be by a daughter of mine choosing to sell sex to men; what kind of sorry-ass loser have I raised if he can’t get laid without pulling out his wallet, after all?

Porn, Paternalism and its Discontents

While I’m willing to concede that Linker has a point, he’s also missing one: namely, his daughter doesn’t need his approval to become a porn star. For that matter, she may not even want it.

It’s not just Linker that doesn’t get it; a lot of men miss this point entirely when it comes to questions about what they do and don’t want the women in their life to do, whether those women be their daughters, wives, or mothers.

To wit, I don’t give a rat’s furry little ass whether my husband thinks of me as being “his” by virtue of our marriage. At a very basic, fundamental level, he’s ass-backward wrong if he believes that to be the case. He doesn’t own my body, or any part thereof, any more than he owns my mind – and if he has a lick of sense in that thick skull of his, he’ll bloody well remember that fact, and conduct himself accordingly. Otherwise, he might have to make his primary nocturnal residence the living room sofa, and forget that he even owns a bed.

Linker notes that porn is not the only place in which a young person can be exploited by an employer, observing that “so is working up to 100 hours a week as a junior analyst at Goldman Sachs,” a job that most parents would be “thrilled” to have their kid land.

Personally, what I want my kids to do when they grow up is whatever the hell they want to do, within reason. Would I be happy if they wound up being porn stars? No. Would I ever give them guff over it? No, again. Unless my daughter one day tells me she has been retained as a hired killer for the mob, decided to run for Congress or taken a job as Dick Cheney’s intern, my inclination would be to express nothing but support for her decision.

Porn, Paternalism and its Discontents

I don’t say this because I believe that parents shouldn’t criticize their kids, or give them constructive guidance, but because by the time a kid is old enough to become a porn star – meaning at least 18 years of age, and therefor legally an adult – it’s no longer my place to tell them what to do. At that point, they need to make their own choices, including their own mistakes. I can’t shelter them from the world, and I’m not inclined to try.

What I would do, given the fact that I work in the porn industry myself, is use my knowledge of the industry to help point them in the right direction. I’d be greatly relieved, for example, if my daughter-turned-porn-star decided to work for Sssh.com. Then I’d know she was being treated with respect and dignity on the set and off, and she’d never be asked to do anything she wasn’t comfortable with. I’d be equally comfortable with her working for Homegrown Video, a company that has very much earned its reputation as a good corporate citizen – by any measure, and not just by porn industry standards.

That’s the other thing that Linker doesn’t address in his piece, and my guess is that it’s because he simply doesn’t know it: There are porn companies that actually treat their performers far better than most mainstream corporate employers treat their personnel.

That fact probably doesn’t do much to comfort those who are hung up on the idea that being a porn star is the same thing as being a prostitute (with the implicit point being that selling sex, or “selling your body” is necessarily degrading and inexcusable, a premise I reject in the first place), but for the rest of us, it’s something worth bearing in mind.

I spent several years working in the software industry, and if you think that’s a good place to be a woman, I have news for you: you are very fucking wrong. While the public tends to think of the high tech sector as being full of cuddly little nerds who aren’t comfortable enough around women to be shitty to them, the truth is that among male programmers and coders, women are typically considered unable to do the job on spec. It’s total bullshit, and there’s no legitimate, rational reason for it, but trust me tech sector sexism is very real.

So, if you ever do find yourself having to address the question “What if my daughter IS a porn star?” just know this: it could be worse… much worse. Instead of getting your panties in a bunch about it, try walking a mile in her high-heel pumps. Instead of immediately passing judgment on her choice, see if you can reach a place where you understand that choice.

Your daughter will thank you for it – probably not literally, because all know she never calls – but rest assured, even if it’s just in the back of her mind, she’ll appreciate that dialogue much more than she would a lecture.

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Coleen Singer is a writer, photographer, film editor and all-around geeky gal at Sssh.com, where she often waxes eloquent about sex, porn, sex toys, censorship, the literary and pandering evils of Fifty Shades of Grey and other topics not likely to be found on the Pulitzer Prize shortlist. She is also the editor and curator of EroticScribes.com. When she is not doing all of the above, Singer is an amateur stock-car racer and enjoys modifying vintage 1970s cars for the racetrack. Oh, she also likes porn.

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