Ruth Marcus Is Very Concerned About the Duke Porn Star Because She Goes to Duke

What Women Really Think
March 12 2014 1:33 PM

Ruth Marcus Is Very Concerned About the Duke Porn Star Because She Goes to Duke

Duke_porn
Belle Knox

Screenshot via CNN

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post has heard about this "Duke porn star," and she is very concerned. Under the headline, "What the Duke Porn-Star Student Shows Us About Our Degraded Culture," Marcus writes that the young woman is displaying a "faux-feminist, hear-me-roar bravado," but she's actually hiding a "vulnerability," and she's allowing herself to be exploited by men because she is "so insecure." Marcus argues that this story shows just how much trouble our young, college-bound women are in. Granted, the vast majority of college women aren't in porn, but the fact that one went there should make us all worry that the rest of them are oversexed and undershamed. "Knox’s pathetic story wouldn’t be worth examining — exploiting? — if it didn’t say something deeper about the hook-up culture run amok and the demise of shame," Marcus notes.

While I'm tempted to question Marcus' assurance that the best way to boost young women's self-esteem is to instill sexual shame in them, what really struck me as interesting about her column is the women she expresses no concern about and, in fact, fails to acknowledge at all: the vast majority of young women in porn. Women the age of Belle Knox, the Duke porn star, absolutely dominate porn, but unlike her, most of them are not going to a well-heeled university like Duke. They are just as young and just as unformed as any college woman, and yet Marcus doesn't spare them a sentence or even a word of concern. She is all sorts of upset that Knox displays what she believes is a false bravado, but the possibility that many women in sex work are too busy surviving to indulge such displays, false or not, doesn't merit a mention. 

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This is a curious omission, because if one is genuinely concerned that the problem with porn is that it exploits and degrades women, wouldn't it follow that you would be more, not less, concerned about women who are in porn because they don't feel they have better options? The truth is that there's a wide variety of women in sex work. Some love it, some hate it, and some have extremely mixed feelings about it. But if exploitation is your real concern, Knox should be the least of your worries, since she has access to more opportunities and has a lot more social power to advocate for herself than most sex workers do. 

The real reason Knox is causing so much consternation is not that she was in porn, but that she thought she had a right to both be in porn and have access to a college education. By focusing on Knox, Marcus doesn't actually challenge the social norm of treating sex workers like they're objects to be used and discarded. On the contrary, the implication is that because she's a college woman, Knox deserves better than all those other women. If Marcus really wants to stop the dehumanizing of women, she could start by considering that all women in porn are human, not just the ones who go to college. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.