Porn Docs and Humiliating Women
This ran in 2015 on Ravishly.com. I just discovered it had disappeared from the site, so I figured I'd reprint it here.

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Perhaps the most important recurrent motif of Hot Girls Wanted (2015) is forced blowjobs. The documentary directed by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus follows a number of young women working in amateur, low budget porn in Miami. One of the standard gigs is forced blow-jobs. The cameraman, who is also the male talent, first insults the woman, then slaps her about, and then performs rough oral sex, culminating with her vomiting.

The scenes are of course staged. It's a consented-to simulation of lack of consent, carefully contrived, as one of the women points out, to look as shocking and unpleasant as possible. It's also the scenario that Hot Girls Wantedshows most often—you see snippets featuring at least three different women. The porn viewer wants to see humiliation…and the viewer of the doc, too, apparently, wants to see that same humiliation.

The viewers' motives in each case are, of course, supposed to be different. Porn viewers watch forced blow jobs because they get off on the idea of hurting women. The viewers of the documentary, on the other hand, get off on empathy. The young women are "girls next door", as both the porn industry and the doc continually emphasize. Many are very young; the main point of identification, Tressa, is 19. The women come to Miami, live in a house with other workers and 23-year-old talent agent Riley, and shoot scenes for which they are well paid. Most last only a few months at most in a life which Variety earnestly warns, "will come as an eye-opener for many parents, the kind that hopefully inspire frank and honest conversations with their kids." Lock up your daughters.

So what exactly is seducing those daughters away from their loving families and into this life of sin? Christina Parreira, a sex worker as well as a sex work researcher pursuing a sociology PhD  at UNLV, told me that in her experience "I feel it is safe to say that money is a motivating factor to enter sex work, as with most occupations." 

Many of the women in Hot Girls Wanteddo talk about money as a goal. But you don't actually learn much about whythey want the money, what other options they have, or don't have for work in our current crappy economy, or what they hope to achieve, or escape from, with the power that money provides. Without that context, as Parreira says, the force of the film tends to "be focused on their dreams of achieving huge stardom." Those dreams are very unlikely to come true (as Riley forthrightly informs them), and without other financial context, the women at best come across as unaccountably intelligent — what's a smart girl like you doing in a place like this? At worst, as Parreira says, they seem "vapid and naïve, which of course lends itself to the old tired narrative that sex workers need to be saved."

That narrative is, carefully, familiar. As Nix 66, a cyberdomme, pointed out, according to the logic of the doc, "No man needs to be rescued from porn." The guys are presented as skeevy rather than stupid or confused, though men are of course also exposing themselves to the possibility of STDs and (as the documentary After Porn Ends shows) they are also often stigmatized. It's women who are in distress, or who are making "bad choices" (as Tressa's disapproving boyfriend puts it.) Men's sexual choices aren't questioned; women's are.

The problem is that when the choice to work in porn is seen as bad in itself, it makes it difficult to talk about, or effectively condemn, abusive working conditions. Nix told me that in her experience, in most situations, sex workers have more control, rather than less, over their boundaries. "The presumption is that sex workers are more sexually available. I've found that it's the opposite. Sex workers are not widely available to people. On the contrary. You have to pay them and they have to consent." One of the women in the film does say that she only has sex on camera—but why she might feel safer in that context in terms of consent isn't much explored. 

Instead, the one real discussion of consent happens around its violation. Tressa discusses an incident when she flew to LA for a blowjob scene—and discovered when she got there that it was a forced blowjob. She says she didn't feel able to say no, and then felt disgusted with herself —as if she'd been raped, she says. 

What she doesn't say, though, is that the doc tends to cosign the self disgust. Because the industry itself is seen as abusive, this one abusive guy who violated her boundaries can't be singled out. The film doesn't name him, or try to track him down, or treat him as an abuser who needs to be exposed. Instead, it focuses on Tressa's sadness and trauma—a sadness and trauma which, given the film's framing, are presented as inevitable given her "bad" decisions. She is harmed because she is naïve and confused, rather than because some asshole deliberately abused her. By presenting the whole industry as predatory, the doc becomes unable to effectively condemn predators.

Instead, it condemns, and humiliates, women. The most viscerally abusive scene in the film is not forced blow jobs or facial abuse, but the dramatic intervention climax.  Sitting on her couch at home, Tressa's disapproving mother and her disapproving boyfriend gang up on her, demanding to know why she hasn't quit porn. She says she likes the money, the freedom, the travel—at other points in the film she talks about how she likes hanging out with the other women in Riley's house, where they stay.

But friendship and autonomy are not good enough reasons. Mom and boyfriend keep at her, until she is reduced to tears. Her mom tells her how lucky she is to have that loving guy over there who is currently emotionally bullying her, and then not so subtly threatens to tell her dad as the solemn soundtrack endorses this moment of moral transformation. Tressa finally breaks down and texts Riley on the spot telling him she's quitting — the much-anticipated money shot where she vomits out the prescribed emotions of guilt and repentance. 

At the end of the film, when she's living with her boyfriend and working as a restaurant manager, Tressa explains that her decision to do porn was "selfish."  How exactly taking a job in porn is supposed to be selfish is unclear, but the details of the sin are less important than the fact that she has confessed herself and seen the error of her ways. Hot Girls Wanted, it turns out, wants hot girls for the same reason as the forced blowjob porn with which it is fascinated. Both appeal to an audience that desires to see women humiliated, chastised and corrected.  The only real difference is that porn is more honest about its sadistic fantasies, and more willing to pay women for them.