For the majority of its modern existence, pornography has been made for and by men. That has to be partly why men consume the most porn and why, to some, the concept of feminist porn is antithetical. That’s also probably why a male porn star rarely gains the attention of women and the interest of sex positive feminists. One could even say that the positive attention James Deen once received is unprecedented. In fact, he even had some mainstream cross over appeal. What other male porn star is making headlines in CNN?

While Deen is known for rough, BDSM, or S&M scenes, he was mythologized as a boy next door. Fans were given the impression that adult actresses were happy to work with him. Deen’s popularity is often attributed to his boyish features and his good-boy demeanor, but there were a lot of signs that he shouldn’t be the feminist porn poster boy. Amidst rape and assault allegations from 8 women, James Deen is now being called the Cosby of Porn. Deen’s fall from grace began with one tweet from adult film star Stoya.

#stoya #jamesdeen #feministporn

This tweet then encouraged other women who’d been in scenes or personal sexual encounters with Deen to speak out about their assaults. It had become known in the porn industry that Deen pushed the boundaries of actresses which resulted in physical or emotional trauma. What was known within the industry, though, was kept a secret from the public. Viewers were fed a male feminist porn star who was far from it. Lily Labeau said that Deen hit her so hard in the face it resulted in a locked jaw, and Bonnie Rotten described degrading behavior that pushed her past agreed upon boundaries. Various other women have come forward with similar stories of boundary pushing, coercion, manipulation, and rape both on and off screen. But until Stoya bravely told the world that Deen is a rapist, many didn’t believe it.

Sadly, Deen was never a male feminist porn star. He declared he wasn’t a feminist and he often made rape jokes. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to convince some fans and sex positive feminists that Deen was not following the rules of consent in his personal life or his career. Many women were sort of duped into believing that Deen was someone girls wanted to work with, who only acted within the boundaries of everyone in the scene, and who was safe to let into their fantasies. Were they fools to believe that there can be a male feminist porn star actor a woman could ethically let into her sex life? The answer should be no.

Anti-sex work feminists would have you believe, though, that no porn star–regardless of sex/gender–can be a feminist. Being anti-sex work means that you believe rape culture is inextricably entwined with the industry. But isn’t rape culture and sexism entwined with all industries? Sex typing of work, sexual harassment and assault, and pay discrimination are just as much a part of non-sex work employment. Does that mean feminists should consider it impossible for anyone involved in said industries to be a feminist? Again, the answer should be no.

Some feminists believe that you can be a sex worker and be a feminist. On the other hand, 2nd wave feminists will no doubt use the allegations brought against Deen to reiterate that sex work is anti-feminist and impossible to be made into a feminist action, but there’s a basic problem with being for sex workers and against sex work:

“Feminists seek to be supportive of sex workers while deploring the work itself as inherently wrong. While they do not admit to taking an ethical position in contemporary moral terms, radical feminists are in fact making a moral statement. Once their arguments are evaluated in an ethical light they tend to break down logically. Much of the problem stems from a lack of understanding of ethical concepts such as virtue, morality, and degradation. Other problems with their position, as exemplified in Kathleen Barry’s writings, evolve from a political theory that is oververbalized, generalized, and too often uses stereotypical notions of what a prostitute is.”

In other words, feminists who are anti-sex work are enforcing a moral judgement on the profession, and thus those who work in it. Shortly after Stoya’s tweet, a friend of mine posted an article about it and an anti-sex work feminist started to comment, at first condemning Deen, and then the women who were his co-stars. She was saying things like “how dare those women” go into porn when other women are working toward “liberation” — as if liberation and sex work are mutually exclusive, and these women are somehow responsible for being assaulted simply because of their immoral/unethical profession.

The other assumption is that women involved in sex work are always victims, which in some way normalizes when they become victims. The result is seen in the way that people have reacted to adult film actresses coming forward to say they had been raped or assaulted. The fact that anyone would say any person cannot be raped for any reason is wrong, yet that has been a common reaction.

Even though James Deen turned out to be the farthest thing from a feminist porn star, it’s a bad idea for feminists to abandon pornography as a feminist space. While some strides have been made in the porn industry, it seems at times that those changes are short lived or not what they seem. Never the less, feminists cannot leave the porn industry in the hands of misogynists. Actually, that’s exactly why feminists should take a bigger interest in it. It never should have been an industry made for and by men. That reality was only created because patriarchy insists on objectifying women and denying them sexual pleasure.

It’s actually quite important for feminists to be an active part of the porn industry, otherwise it will continue to be overrun with misogynists who victimize women and non-binary individuals. Instead of shunning sex work and by default its workers, feminists should still continue to stake their claim in pornography so there’s better review of consent and a no-tolerance policy for assault. In other words, sex workers deserve a safe work environment, just like any other worker in the world. And who better than feminists to make that dream a reality?