I came across the above image by way of Andrew Sullivan. I go to the Dish as much for its role as an aggregator as for his opinions, and he included the picture as part of a blurb linked to a Buzzfeed post featuring numerous female porn stars before and after getting their make-up done.
I don’t know if I would have been fascinated enough by that topic to click through, had it not been for a quirk of this particular picture. First of all, the “before” and “after” pictures scarcely look like the same woman to me. But beyond that, the “before” picture looks a little like someone I used to know, in a “could be cousins” sort of way.
This picture made me sad. As did many of the pictures featured in Buzzfeed. And I wonder if that’s sexist.
So many of the women look sweet and fresh-faced and like women I would theoretically know in my day-to-day life, and then they look… different. Plus the Buzzfeed link includes not only how old they are, but how many titles they’ve starred in. And I find myself wishing they didn’t have to work in the adult entertainment industry, but could simply be the sweet, fresh-faced women they otherwise were “meant” to be.
I think that’s the best way of describing how those pictures make me feel, and reading it over it seems patronizing even to me. Am I wrong to feel this way?
And there are yet more layers! I alluded briefly in my post about Leaguefest 2012 to seeing go-go dancers at one of the casinos, and feeling oddly compelled to blush and avert my eyes. I wanted to go Full Millicent on the men sitting around watching them, bashing in heads with an umbrella willy-nilly. I believe I had never before seen exotic dancers.
Or rather, female exotic dancers. (Attention readers who may or may not be members of my immediate family — I apologize now if anything to follow scandalizes you terribly.) The club where I used to go out dancing most often Back In the Day occasionally featured comely young gentlemen dancing in almost no clothing as part of its nightly show. Said performers weren’t the reason I went there and I was never part of the crowd around the edge of the stage waving bills of various denominations. However, neither did I stampede out of the room in shame and protest.
Had the go-go dancers in Vegas been male (which would have been a surprise, given that “Boobs, Boobs, Boobs!” may as well be that city’s motto), I doubt I would have been as chagrined by their presence. (I like to think I would have had the class not to ogle, at least not in that company.) I cannot help but think that my response, however well-meant, belies some kind of sexism on my part.
But damned if it doesn’t feel like the right response!
Further, I wonder if my being gay doesn’t somehow color my reaction. As a reader said to Sully:
I saw a group of attractive women make a transformation that is pretty familiar to women and to those of us who date them. Almost across the board these were women you’d be flattered to talk to in a bar. I saw a group of women who were working *hard* – this isn’t powdering your nose, this is an elaborate process.
The truth is, I am not used to interacting with women when they are behaving in a manner meant to attract a certain kind of attention. I am used to behaving with men that way. I’ve been flat-out propositioned by a woman once, flirted with a few times… and that’s about it. My reaction to almost all of the pictures is to think “but you looked so much better before!” But clearly there are lots and lots and lots of guys who like the “after” pictures, and I simply can’t relate to that.
There is no aspect of life in which my nascent libertarianism manifests itself more than what people should be allowed to do with their bodies. I am broadly against laws that try to save people from their own choices when it comes to what they do with them. I do not think that pornography should be illegal, or that women who make it should be shamed for doing so. Frankly, I’d want them to be unequivocally empowered to call their own shots. I would never tell the women in those pictures that they should be ashamed of themselves, assuming their careers are their own free choice.
So why do I feel sad for them? Why do I suspect that sexism is at play in that feeling? I can explain it to myself that my feelings stem from a belief that “good girls” don’t choose to do what these women do, and they look like “good girls” in the “before” pictures, so they can’t possibly have chosen to do porn. That sure looks like sexism to me. But I can’t talk myself out of feeling sad, none-the-less. Ought I to feel as ashamed myself as if I thought women shouldn’t work outside of the home, say, or be paid as much?
I’m asking. Really. (This is one of those where I wish we had a more proportionately female readership, and I am particularly interested in what my female readers have to say.)