Shedding Some Light

Anne Winter
It's a common misconception among anti-porn activists that the adult industry is dominated by men and that the most important job women hold can be performed primarily on their knees.

Mental pictures are painted by these uninformed ideas, depicting porn directors as misogynists running their studios out of dank basements, caring more about the "money shot" than the well-being of their performers.

And it's easy to believe these portraits because no one has actively refuted them. Until now.

Much coursework, academic study and print space has been devoted to analyzing the social ramifications of porn and its flourishing industry, and it's no surprise that students graduate with conclusions similar to those their feminism and sociology professors taught them. However, two professors at Pennsylvania State University's College of Communications have made it their goal to break this chain, and have successfully pitched a series of research articles exposing a side of the adult industry that has never before been given a prominent voice.

The first has been published by the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law at Vanderbilt University, entitled: "Porn in Their Words: Female Leaders in the Adult Entertainment Industry Address Free Speech, Censorship, Feminism, Culture and the Mainstreaming of Adult Content."

Clay Calvert, professor of communications and law, and Robert Richards, professor of journalism and law, moved to West Hollywood, Calif., last summer to begin their journey into the world of adult. For "Porn in Their Words," the duo interviewed five key female leaders, each representing different parts, and different eras, of the industry. "We're trying to get views not typically out there," Calvert says. "We want to make people see it's a business; they're not freaks or odd, which is how [adult professionals] are often portrayed in the mainstream media."

Contract star, writer and director Stormy Daniels shone light on the new generation of culturally aware female porn stars. Michelle Freridge, former executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, shared her experiences lobbying to protect 1st Amendment rights, regardless of whether she agreed with the message being shared. Joy King, the woman at Wicked Pictures responsible for making Jenna Jameson a household name, acknowledged the existence of adult studios that perpetuate the stereotypes many hold as truth, but that they do not dominate the industry. Twenty-year adult veteran Nina Hartley, whose attempts at communicating with hardline feminists like Catharine McKinnon were repeatedly shot down, reiterated that working in adult is a choice, not a condemnation. Sharon Mitchell, the former adult star now on the front line fighting the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted infections among performers, proclaimed that she feels not one ounce of regret about her colorful background.

Calvert and Richards both say that they never would have learned as much as they did had the women not been so friendly and open to discussion. Every question was answered, and Calvert says it's their candid responses that make the research article an honest response to the anti-porn position already prevalent in the academic world.

"They're not out there to say their position is the right way and the only way," Calvert says. "They're just putting it in perspective. At least now [readers] know what they think."

In the few weeks since the article's publication, Calvert and Richards have already received criticism from anti-porn groups on the East Coast. Calvert says a common complaint is that the research article is an unbalanced, one-sided account — and he agrees.

"It balances all the other stuff already out there," he says. "We're merely letting people speak. It's the other side of the story."

Calvert and Richards broke up their interview questions, and ultimately their 45-page study, into three parts: Free speech and censorship; feminism, exploitation, victimization and women in the industry; and the mainstreaming of adult content and the ways American culture is shifting to accept it. Richards says one of the things that impressed him the most was the women's understanding and insight into the issues at hand.

After speaking with them, Richards says he sees these five women as the embodiment of the 1st Amendment. They live by it. Rather than leaving the "legal stuff" up to their lawyers, these women take a proactive and informed approach to their trade, and it's likely that this strong mindset alone defies almost any negative stereotype an anti-porn activist could throw their way.

'The biggest misconception that the anti-porn feminists hold about the industry is that we're all abused, that we all hate what we do and that we're all trafficked," Hartley said.

And Daniels' career history is proof of this. "For those who say that porn exploits women, I say, 'Come to work with me for a day.' I've never done anything that I didn't want to do. I own my own company. I write my own scripts and make the money. If I'm so exploited, how come it's the only industry in the world where women make double what the men make?"

However, King acknowledged that many of these anti-porn sentiments are valid, due to the media exposure of studios that mistreat performers, ignore mandatory HIV testing regulations or put out product that offends even her.

"You talk about freedom of speech and the industry at large pulling together and wanting to stand up and lobby," she said, "yet it is sort of a drag that there are companies that do things that make us look bad."

And that is precisely why Calvert and Richards are working to help polish the tarnished reputation that the adult industry has held in the mass media's eyes for decades. It's the negative aspects of the business — and the anomalies and niches that make juicy, profitable news — that are given the mainstream spotlight.

The duo emphasize that by no means do they consider these five women to be a representative sample and in no way consider their viewpoints to be representative of all women in adult. Instead, Calvert says they sought to speak with women who have defied stereotypical roles and could accurately and effectively defend their trade.