The story of the porn star James Deen being accused by multiple women of sexual assault isn't just your typical beloved-celebrity-faced-with-multiple-allegations story, of which we have far too many. The story is a huge chatter point in online feminist circles. But this time it's not being driven by outrage at an industry for shielding him--on the contrary, it seems that Deen is being dropped like a hot potato by industry leaders--but because of what all this supposedly says about feminism.
You see, Deen had something of a reputation as the "feminist" porn star, or at least the male feminist one. In fact, it was this reputation, unearned by anything Deen himself did, that his ex-girlfriend Stoya said caused her to speak out.
That thing where you log in to the internet for a second and see people idolizing the guy who raped you as a feminist. That thing sucks.
— Stoya (@stoya) November 28, 2015
So now we're enduring a cycle of navel-gazing about feminism's internal failures and finger-pointing and suspicion aimed especially at male feminists.
The whole thing, however, is a pointless exercise because, as Amanda Hess at Slate points out, Deen never actually was the male feminist porn star icon that people made him out to be. He actually seems like he's dimwitted and sexist and always has been. The entire myth about him being a "feminist" started not because of anything he did, but because a bunch of teen girls and young women had, mostly on Tumblr, started a movement of creating short porn gifs and stills of Deen, who was selected because, in a hetero porn world geared strictly toward male viewers, Deen occasionally did something that the ladies like. Deen's fans aren't really fans. They are remix artists who prune away 99 percent of his movies to capture that one moment of real heat and string those together to create a female-friendly erotic landscape.
"As soon as these girls launched Deen to mainstream recognition, however, they were recast into minor supporting roles in Deen’s narrative," Hess writes. "Credit for the community they created was transferred to Deen himself."
Clearly, our society has not shed the notion that women are inherently asexual unless they are led astray by lustful men. The idea that women could be the engine of their own sexual empowerment is so hard for some people to wrap their head around that the credit was instead given to this doofus guy who has never, as far as I can tell, said a single thing interesting enough to remember in public. And now he's being accused by multiple women of rape, making the women who were supposedly following him like horny ducklings seem like fools.
The truth is that Deen's fame is a symptom of a sign of the keen longing that women, especially young women, feel to have their sexual desires catered to even a fraction as much as men get by birthright.
There are a million hack jokes you can tell about how easy it supposedly is to get porn from the Internet these days, and that no doubt seems true, if you are a straight man. For straight women, however, you might as well be a man in the 19th century trying to find some decent smut through an underground network. Going online to look for materials to stimulate the erotic imagination means running a high chance of being demoralized to the point where you just give up and decide to cook something instead. (Perhaps this is a plot against women.) If you're lucky, all that you'll come across is a bunch of women being jackhammered while they try not to look bored. If you're unlucky, you'll come across a bunch of materials that make you wonder if all men really do secretly hate women.
The female-driven porn gif community of Twitter is doing a hero's job of combing through all that unsexy stuff and pulling the occasional moment when it stops looking like work for the women and starts looking like they actually enjoy themselves.
It's a small piece of what is a larger issue for women in our age of increased sexual freedoms: We're still not as free as we should be from the assumption that sex isn't something we do for fun so much as a service we provide to men to thank them for the graciousness they have shown us in showing up at all.
It's not just in the porn world, where women on camera are often treated like extremely large sex toys more than mutual pleasure-seekers. As Rebecca Traister chronicled in her New York piece on campus women and sex, a lot of young women are increasingly vocal about how unsatisfying partnered sex often is. "Students I spoke to talked about 'male sexual entitlement,' the expectation that male sexual needs take priority, with men presumed to take sex and women presumed to give it to them," she writes. "Meanwhile, male climax remains the accepted finish of hetero encounters; a woman’s orgasm is still the elusive, optional bonus round."
Women Traister spoke to complained of still having to do all the work of having the perfectly fuckable bodies while men continued to "set the terms." This isn't anything new, to be clear. The idea that men are the buyers and women the product predates the so-called "hook-up culture" and, if anything, permeates the marriage-minded dating markets of the past even more.
And while feminist pushback against this is nothing new--consider the way that feminists took the vibrator from a place of shame to the shelves of your local drugstore--there is something to be said about the vibrancy that young women are bringing to the fight to change the way we look at sex. From the show "Girls" to the porn gifs to the popularity of the term "fuckboy" to describe entitled losers, women are growing increasingly bold about pinpointing why sex is so often unsatisfying (male entitlement) and outlining ways women can get more out of it.