Rashida Jones Has Something To Say About Porn, And We Should All Listen

A few days ago, looking radiant and hip as ever, comedy-actress-turned-writer-and-producer Rashida Jones sat down with Vice to chat about Hot Girls Wanted, the documentary she recently produced on Miami’s lucrative amateur porn industry. If you haven’t seen the film—which was released at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and picked up by Netflix for exclusive distribution—hop on Netflix, like, as soon as you’re done reading this, and check it out.

Before I get to Rashida’s kick-ass interview, let me give you a basic run-down of the flick:

Hot Girls Wanted focuses on porn newbies Tressa and Rachel (among several other 18- and 19-year-old women) who’ve been recruited via Craigslist by a (relentlessly slimy) pro-amateur porn agent to live Girls Next Door style in his North Miami Beach pad as he hooks them up with their first adult film gigs. If the doc ends on an arguably anti-porn note, it certainly doesn’t start that way; these young women are healthy, articulate, empowered hustlers with dreams of getting out of their small towns to become rich and famous, and if commodifying their bodies is the easiest way to do that, so be it. Each woman’s introduction to the industry is super positive; they report feeling safe, happy, valued, and comfortable as they climb to porn stardom. As the film progresses, though, it becomes clear that they’re in over their heads. The bottom line? Tressa, Rachel, Karly, Michelle, and Jade didn’t anticipate the toll having sex for a living would take on their bodies and their psyches, particularly after they get wheeled into some incredibly horrifying, abusive shoots (a mild example: Rachel gets coerced into doing a forced blow job scene with some fucking sicko wielding a tripod and, I’m sure, a very, very small penis). Having decided they’re not making nearly enough money to justify the pain (physical and otherwise), abuse, and manipulation doing porn incurs, Tressa and Rachel exit the game after just a few months to pursue other passions.

Okay, so, theoretically, I don’t take any issue with porn. And neither does Rashida. We both feel, however, that mainstream porn—especially the amateur stuff all premised on virginal teens getting plowed by older, experienced dudes while “daddy’s not home”—both reflects and informs the sex culture of a society that teaches little boys to fuck like egomaniacal porn stars while neglecting to tell little girls they have a clitoris.

“I have no problem with porn as adult entertainment,” Rashida responds when asked about her general thoughts on pornography. “I think it’s great that we have the freedom to explore our sexual fantasies and that we have tools to do that. The problem for me is that there’s no regulation in the industry. The average age, now, when somebody watches their first porn is eleven. And, that would be fine, except that to say ‘porn’ is such a broad term. Porn can be anything from something really softcore and mellow to, like, hardcore, violent, torture porn. So for somebody to learn about sex from porn I think is really dangerous. And I think that happens a lot.”

Here, Rashida kicks the dialogue off with two salient points, both of which pretty precisely echo my own judgments of porn. First, porn is not, in the abstract, bad or evil or dirty or gross. It’s become destigmatized in the wake of the women’s rights and sexual liberation movements, and rightfully so. We should be sex-positive and encourage each other to get to know our bodies and what gets them off, and if watching other people have sex helps us do that, Rashida and I are all for it. Second, therefore, we agree that the problem is not porn itself—the problem is that (most mainstream) porn creates and amplifies the ills of institutional misogyny and, more specifically, of rape culture—of a universal understanding of (heterosexual) sex as starting and ending with the man, where the woman (often unwillingly) is reduced to her southern holes—where girls fuck exclusively to make men come. I know this. I experience this. I experience the self-obsessed, priapic fucking of 20-something boys coached by porn to not give two shits about my orgasm. And I experience, in turn, the insidious ways in which pop culture has become inculcated in porn. So I stand the hell up for Rashida when she says:

“I had a bit of a tipping point with pop culture—and I don’t know if this ages me or makes me of a different generation—where I saw so much imagery in one week that was just fully inspired by porn and stripper culture. It just felt like something we were forced to accept and we never got to have a conversation about it. It wasn’t like sexy, titillating, suggestive… it was like, ‘Here is the bottom of my ass. Here is the closest thing you’re going to see to my vagina without getting arrested.’ That message—that really homogenized, myopic message—that your sex is the thing that makes you valuable—that is your currency—that limits women’s choices.”

To me, her argument is zero parts aged or prudish—two adjectives that have been popularly used to blast Rashida and her tweets (and her follow-up piece for Glamour, “Why Is Everyone Getting Naked?”) regarding the twerking, G-stringed pornification of pop stars, of their art, and of the hyper-sexualized behavior they inspire in young girls. As much of my own writing confirms, like Rashida, I’m not some repressed puritan who wishes to tell anyone what do with their own body. I just recognize that—when I see my 16-year-old brother scrolling through Snapchat stories featuring selfies of his (straight) girl friends kissing each other in their designer underwear—porn imagery has made a soiled, indelible mark on pop culture and on the teenage girls who consume it. We (girls) are taught that self-objectification is sexy—that we’re only as desirable as our bodies are bare. And, like Rashida, I think that is why terms like “consent” and “choice” become murky when they’re appropriated by just-turned-18-year-olds eager to make a name for themselves in porn. To that end, Rashida remarks:

“When you’re 18—when you’re making choices for yourself—you’re not thinking about the eternal effects of footage online. You’re not thinking about the external and internal costs—psychological, emotional, physiological, physical costs of having sex for a living. You’re thinking about the fame part of it, you know? And so you might not be the best candidate to make a decision for yourself, but you’re allowed to, because you’re 18. And that’s all you need to be.”

Finally, like Rashida, I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t want to say “no” to porn, and definitely don’t want to say “no” to ambitious, enfranchised young women who have every right to capitalize on their T & A. But, like Rashida, I do think this question of why and how (and at what cost), everyday, droves of barely-legal aspiring Jenna Jamesons flock to a profession that will—once their pussies are tired, defeated, dry, and loose—chew them up and spit them out, is worth asking.

I’ll leave you with Rashida’s brilliant, cautiously optimistic coda—her response to her interviewer’s final question: have we reversed the path that we were on for women’s rights?

“I do not think we’ve gone backwards. It’s tricky. Because what’s happening is that women are now embodying this classic idea of the powerful, successful, capitalistic man, which is, like: ‘I make money, and it doesn’t matter how I make my money. I make money.’ That’s kind of the new brand of sex, and I think there’s a lot of value in that, but I also think it’s dangerous, because we’re ignoring whatever other costs there may be, you know? Why does it have to be our currency? It’s just limiting. I just find it really limiting. But I don’t think we’ve gone backwards, and in fact, I think the fact that we’re having this discussion probably means that we’re going to continue to move forward.” — Rashida Jones, Professional Boss Ass Bitch. TC mark

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