Feminists Collide on College Campuses

As a rising college freshman (hopefully) I find myself hyperaware of college news, and the ethical dilemmas that are frequently linked to this new universe. Scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed I stumbled upon an article written by a young Duke University freshman, defending her career as a porn star. Automatically I was drawn to the story: a young woman paying her college tuition with money from an industry I had previously thought of as degrading, all while attending a top tier college.
She had been pushed to write the article after having been discovered by a classmate in a video. The classmate revealed her identity to his peers, and the news quickly spread around the school. After she posted the editorial on a website devoted to more scandalous female stories, xojane.com, hateful comments soon filled her inbox and public scorn spread throughout the school. She explains herself while projecting her own feminist approach in a reflection that states, “I can say definitively that I have never felt more empowered or happy doing anything else. In a world where women are so often robbed of their choice, I am completely in control of my sexuality.”
The first angle I considered researching revolves around an overwhelming problem seen among the majority of colleges in the US. The Duke Freshman’s primary reason for going into the porn industry was money, money to support herself and pay for her college tuition. If college tuition is so high that students must turn to the porn industry, it speaks to the absurdity of impossible education costs, which affects all students. Of course the arguments proposing a different job choice, or the option to apply for financial aid do hold some weight; however, porn pays well without having to work two jobs, sacrificing school work, and rarely do applicants receive all the financial aid necessary for their families’ incomes.
Instead, I want to address her word choice, and the defense she is taking as a porn worker, and as a female. Over time feminism has taken on a variety of roles in our society. Feminism has taken on several identities and has split on many issues; pornography continues to be a controversy that is debated among all feminists alike. The Duke freshman is advocating for the sex-positive feminist. These feminists consider themselves to be a part of the third wave of feminism. Leslie L. Heywood published a two-volume set, The Women’s Movement Today: An Encyclopedia of Third-Wave Feminism, in which she explains the new feminist approach to pornography: “Feminist pornography for [the third-wave] generation is heavily influenced by marginalized or nonnormative sexualities—including gay and lesbian, transgender, butch, and sex worker activists—and is devoted to reducing the stigma surrounding sexual pleasure in feminism and U.S. culture.” Third wave feminists believe sex should be seen as an act of self-expression. By taking a hold of what has previously been demeaned; sex workers and porn stars are reclaiming their right to sexuality and empowering themselves as women. The Duke freshman considers herself a strong sex-positive feminist, she feels that by taking a hold of her own sexuality she is giving others the willingness to do so as well. She writes, “As a bisexual woman with many sexual quirks, I feel completely accepted. It is freeing, it is empowering, it is wonderful, it is how the world should be.”
However, as one may imagine, there are feminists who oppose this idea. Anti-porn feminism has been around ever since porn has been around. It argues that pornography is a field that publically broadcasts sex, an act that should be private, shared between two people. By making sex public, pornography projects unrealistic ideals of women, men, and sex, internalized by youth and adults alike. Ellen Willis, a proclaimed American left-wing journalist and feminist wrote an essay titled, Feminism, Moralism, and Pornography, in which she states, “Feminist criticism of sexist and misogynist pornography is nothing new; porn is an obvious target insofar as it contributes to larger patterns of oppression––the reduction of the female body to a commodity (the paradigm being prostitution). The sexual intimidation that makes women regard the public streets as enemy territory (the paradigm being rape), sexist images and propaganda in general.” Anti-porn feminists feel that pornography is yet another media to objectify women, making sexual violence and dehumanization acceptable. Anti-porn feminists feel advocating for porn is a step back in female equality, halting progress as a whole. This ideology is considered by third wave or sex-positive feminists to be too traditional and ignorant to the changing times.
The scandal that permeates the Duke campus today is not the first one involving sex related issues that has tainted the school’s image. In 2010 another female Duke student made a 42-page PowerPoint about her exploits with 13 male athletes, outlining her experiences and rating each one; this PowerPoint quickly went viral. Some believe that had a male made a similar PowerPoint he would’ve been overlooked, and that she is simply putting into words her more sexual side.
Both episodes call into question the “progressive” way a female should act. College campuses have become a collision point between old and new feminist ideas that clash on moral levels. We are seeing considerably more controversies because feminists are no longer a single unified group, but instead many parties with different ideas on progress. It is the college campus, an environment where sexual stereotypes are played out, but also a place where movements are started where the feminism parties are colliding.
At Lick-Wilmerding, where we talk about gender roles extensively, and feminism is inextricably linked to our progressive, San Franciscan student body, it is important to think about these mixed messages and the arguments that both sides present. Feminism is simply the advocacy of women’s rights in the battle towards equality on all levels. It is necessary to remember that simple definition, and that feminists, though treading different paths, are working toward the same goal.

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