Slut Shaming at Duke University

An uproar has broken out on the campus of Duke University, where a freshman who makes porn movies to pay her tuition has had her identity outed and is facing the predictable slut-shaming that goes with it. But she’s not shrinking from it. She wrote an eloquent and compelling essay about it at XOJane.

The storm began when I came back to school from Christmas break, happy and confident in myself. I was only a week in when I found myself being bombarded by friend requests on Facebook from random male students. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. I was a bit flattered to be honest (maybe I actually am pretty and nice and not awkward, I thought), but then, the unthinkable happened: a student in my grade followed my alter ego on Twitter.

When I got the notification, my heart stopped.

I stood there shaking in disbelief and fear. I knew what was coming next: fear, humiliation, shame, threats, name calling.

What I did not expect was that I would be brutally bullied and harassed online. I did not expect that every private detail about my life would be dissected. I did not expect that my intelligence and work ethic would be questioned and criticized. And I certainly did not expect that extremely personal information concerning my identity and whereabouts would be so carelessly transmitted through college gossip boards. I was called a “slut who needs to learn the consequences of her actions,” a “huge fucking whore,” and, perhaps the most offensive, “a little girl who does not understand her actions.”

Let’s be clear about one thing: I know exactly what I’m doing. What about you?

My entire life, I have, along with millions of other girls, been told that sex is a degrading and shameful act. When I was 5 years old and beginning to discover the wonders of my body, my mother, completely horrified, told me that if I masturbated, my vagina would fall off.

The most striking view I was indoctrinated with was that sex is something women “have,” but that they shouldn’t “give it away” too soon -– as though there’s only so much sex in any one woman, and sex is something she does for a man that necessarily requires losing something of herself, and so she should be really careful who she “gives” it to.

The prevailing societal brainwashing dictates that sexuality and sex “reduce” women, whereas men are merely innocent actors on the receiving end. By extension, our virginity or abstinence has a bearing on who we are as people — as good people or bad people, as nice women or bad women.

Women’s ability to be moral actors is wholly dependent on their sexuality. It is, honestly, insane.

The virgin-whore dichotomy is an insidious standard that we have unfairly placed upon women. Women are supposed to be outwardly pure and modest, while at the same time being sexually alluring and available. If a woman does not have sex after a date, she will be labeled as a prude. If she does have sex, she will be referred to later as a ho or a slut.

Society thus sets up a norm in which women simply cannot win.

We must question in this equation why sex workers are so brutally stigmatized. Why do we exclude them for jobs, education, and from mainstream society?

Why do we scorn, threaten and harass them?

Why do we deny them of their personhood?

Why does the thought of a woman having sexual experiences scare us so much?

The answer is simple.

Patriarchy fears female sexuality.

And the roots of this are found in religion. Female sexuality in the Bible is indisputably under the control of men, first the father and then the husband. If a woman dares to have sex with someone before getting married, she is to be stoned to death. Because she is a commodity, owned by her husband. It was a barbaric idea then and it still is.

47 comments on this post.
  1. colnago80:

    This reaches is predictable conclusion with “honor” killings in the Muslim World.

    http://goo.gl/TtQUWn

  2. eric:

    Well the students get their free speech, even if they use it to be jerks and idiots. OTOH I hope she’s getting some support and defense from the actual adults on campus, i.e., the professors.

    But after I read this once, I went back to the start of it. And you know what struck me as the most obscene part of it? She had to make porn movies to pay her tuition. There is something ethically noxious in charging students so much for an undergraduate education, that they don’t just have to work, but have to work under extreme circumstances just to afford it.

    Yeah, I know she had many other options. I know it was her choice to go there. I know that for the money, she’s not only getting good teachers etc. but also the cache and name that may help her be successful in the future. But even with all that, the comparison that comes to my mind is a sweatshop owner defending their hiring of 8 year olds with the response “I don’t force them to work for me, and the money I pay them helps put food on their table.” It doesn’t matter if it’s her choice, there is still something morally repugnant about charging that much for what has become, in today’s age, a pretty necessary level of education.

  3. oranje:

    I make the argument, ad nauseum, that destigmatizing the adult world goes a long way toward ridding it of social miscreants and the coopting of the sexuality of women. From this angle, in this story, though, the problems are much deeper in mainstream society than that.

    I wanted to work in the adult industry for a bit—maybe a year or two—a number of years back, mostly for fun, a few bucks, and because I knew some people who already worked out there. But the price I’d have to pay seemed so high: risking my career, most of my family, future possibilities. Struck me as extreme. And still does.

    I tip my hat to those who have the courage to still do what they want to do. I hate that such ostracizing can and does occur. And I fear for people who have to make these decisions under the duress of survival (not that I know the circumstances of the above case).

    Isn’t sex supposed to be fun? How did we fuck up so badly something that feels good and we enjoy? How did we bring such raging inequality into the bedroom, then carry it out the door with a megaphone?

    /incoherent rant

  4. Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges:

    Eric @2

    Well the students get their free speech

    Um. No. Harassment is outside the bounds of free speech.

  5. theschwa:

    “but then, the unthinkable happened: a student in my grade followed my alter ego on Twitter.”
    It is hard to imagine a horny, 19 year old college guy being into both porn and social media.

  6. eric:

    @4: agreed, there is probably a lot of illegal harassment going on. Sending unwanted messages to her, threatening her, folks who have her personal information in some trusted capacity revealing it. Stalking or cyberstalking (including sending out messages about where she is at any given time).

    I was attempting to refer to the students sharing negative personal opinions of her with each other in public fora (both online and off). They are free to do that, though the vast majority of their comments will likely be hurtful, idiotic, etc.

  7. scienceavenger:

    An older woman in my life once commented that she never understood why she was supposed to be a pure virgin before she got married and a total slut afterward.

    We must question in this equation why sex workers are so brutally stigmatized. Why do we exclude them for jobs, education, and from mainstream society?

    Patriarchy fears female sexuality.

    While agreeing with all the other points made, it’s a bit more than that. Sex workers are in some ways professional adulterers. Even in some swinging communities they are stigmatized for that reason. It is also, as is any arena that is illegal, attractive to those who have problems with morality and the law in general. Clearly we in America could use some collective therapy concerning our attitudes about sex, and need to follow the lead of other nations in having more rational public policy regarding sex workers, which would reduce a lot of these problems..

  8. Alverant:

    And yet sports scholarships are allowed. In both cases you have people using their bodies to make money by entertaining people. Except one does it with sex and the other with violence. Guess which one is more acceptable.

  9. dingojack:

    “But after I read this once, I went back to the start of it. And you know what struck me as the most obscene part of it? She had to make porn movies to pay her tuition.”

    No, to me the most obscene part of this is where is: the shaming of ‘male sluts’? I assume that this alleged porn involved men, so why isn’t their ‘sexual integrity’ (whatever the hell that is) equally under question?**

    Dingo
    ——–
    * SLC – ALLEDGED honour killings. No real concrete evidence = ‘alleged’
    ** Plus – why is a consensual sexual act (filmed or not) anybody’s (moral) business anyway?

  10. Wylann:

    Alverant@8:

    And yet sports scholarships are allowed. In both cases you have people using their bodies to make money by entertaining people. Except one does it with sex and the other with violence. Guess which one is more acceptable.

    Precisely! The same is true of TV in the US. Show a nipple, or even an excess of cleavage (or any cussword besides ‘shit’), and the rightwing berserk. But shootings, and even more gruesome forms of violence make it just fine on mainstream TV.

    I was pleasantly surprised that most of Europe seems to have the priority reversed.

  11. Brandon:

    @Alverant, #8

    The idea that sports = violence is absurd. A token few sports are violent, but most are not. Shaming athletes as blockheaded and violent is a crummy thing to do. The vast bulk of student athletes are legitimate students (they actually have higher graduation rates than non-athletes) that work incredibly hard to make their schedule meet. Equating swimming and track to violence because you don’t like football is dishonest.

  12. Cynickal:

    I’m with Dingo on this. To further show the hypocrisy why can students get full ride scholarships for ROTC?
    Being paid to train how to kill, maim, and torture? Fine.
    Get a job in the largest grey market in the country? OUTRAGE!!!

  13. abb3w:

    @11, Brandon

    A token few sports are violent, but most are not.

    If you weigh the count by allocated dollars in college athletics department budgets (or by scholarship dollars), it’s not so token.

  14. Olav:

    Ed:

    And the roots of this are found in religion.

    The roots of this are a lot older, and run a lot deeper, than religion. Where do you think religion got the idea?

    I think it can be said that sexism/misogyny likes to perpetuate itself through religion. Religion is a vehicle by which all sorts of nuttery and arseholery gets transported through time. But as we all know one does not necessarily have to be religious to be a sexist pig.

  15. dingojack:

    Ever heard of concussion? ALS vs STD’s – no contest.
    Dingo

  16. notyet:

    What strikes me as one of the most ludicrous parts of this tragedy, is the hypocrisy that the men in this story are exhibiting. They watch porn, enjoy porn, and would be upset if all the women acting in porn were to simultaneously stop. They obviously need porn to fuel their fantasies and/or libido, and yet rather than celebration and gratitude to someone essential to the production of (straight) porn, an actress, they ridicule and denigrate her. That they can do this without realizing the oxymoronic quality of their attitudes and actions is pathetic.

  17. Alverant:

    @11, Brandon
    The big sport, football, is VERY violent and those athletes get a much wider leeway for bad behavior than other athletes. Have you ever heard of a track star getting a free pass after raping a student? How common are full rides for golfiing? As for higher graduation rates, look at what classes they took and what degrees they get. Many colleges have special classes for athletes designed to keep them eligible while not contributing to their education. You criticize me by stereotyping “vast bulk of student athletes” when in actuality those athletes you’re defending make up a small part of the student body.

  18. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :):

    …you know, I’d never really considered paying for porn until now, but I kinda want to support her. :3

  19. robertbaden:

    Scienceavenger @ 7

    Adultery is involved with hiring a prostitute only if a married person is doing the hiring. Not so in the case of an unmarried person.

  20. colnago80:

    Re Pomeranian @ #9

    Apparently, the Pomeranian didn’t notice that the name of one of the victims was in the article. And by the way, there have been “honor” killings amongst Muslims in Israel.

    http://goo.gl/wkScRR

  21. colnago80:

    Re Pekinese @ #15

    Citation needed for the claim that concussions can lead to ALS.

    How about concussions and AIDS?

  22. Raging Bee:

    And the roots of this are found in religion.

    Actually, I suspect the roots are found in some basic hardwired instincts, which reinforce and are reinforced by social conditioning. Attitudes like this are so universal and so intractable that no one religion or group of religions can be blamed for it. The religious rules mandating such attitudes are more a symptom than a cause.

    There is something ethically noxious in charging students so much for an undergraduate education, that they don’t just have to work, but have to work under extreme circumstances just to afford it.

    What’s so “extreme” about having sex on camera?

    I was attempting to refer to the students sharing negative personal opinions of her with each other in public fora (both online and off). They are free to do that, though the vast majority of their comments will likely be hurtful, idiotic, etc.

    No, they are not — they are adults, and as such, they are — or at least SHOULD BE — expected to express themselves in accord with reasonable rules of adult conduct. And a college or university is supposed to enforce such rules, just as any other business is expected to enforce such rules among its employees, guests and clients.

  23. dingojack:

    SLC (the genially genocidal maniac) – Any other stupid questions?
    Dingo

  24. Travis:

    I have to agree with Raging Bee on asking what is so extreme about having sex on camera.

    She had to make porn movies to pay her tuition. There is something ethically noxious in charging students so much for an undergraduate education, that they don’t just have to work, but have to work under extreme circumstances just to afford it.

    I agree that tuition is ludicrous, and I say that living in a country where tuition at the best universities does not even come close to that of Duke. Why is this so much more extreme than working another job? She does not seem to indicate she was forced to do this, that there were no other options. I know a number of sex workers that are pretty tired of the idea that they must not have had any other options, because that is the only reason they would choose sex work. They are educated, they have other options, and they like that they are doing. But even if she did not have other options for paying for tuition, what is so extreme about this? She does not appear to have a problem with it, she is happy enough with it to stand up and show her harassers for what they are.

  25. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :):

    More “petulant” than “genial,” really.

  26. dingojack:

    So where is the ‘slut shaming’ of the Director, Producer, Clapper Puller, Gaffer, Best Boy and etc.?
    Didn’t they get paid?
    Dingo

  27. Raging Bee:

    I know a number of sex workers that are pretty tired of the idea that they must not have had any other options…

    Because, as we all know, all other lines of work are freely chosen, with no economic coercion or restriction. People who bus tables, flip burgers, or mop floors for minimum wage all do so happily and knowing they have plenty of other options, amirite?

  28. rory:

    I would argue that making pornography could be considered an ‘extreme’ occupation (if we’re defining extreme as ‘something far beyond what would be considered reasonable’) only because in our current society, the long term reputational consequences of being involved in porn can be pretty awful. The young woman in the article will have this following her for the rest of her life, and it’s very likely that it will negatively impact future applications to graduate school, jobs, relationships, etc. Now, that’s not her fault in the slightest–it’s purely down to society’s ridiculous sexual hangups. But given those kinds of consequences, I probably would not personally have made the choice she made unless it was truly the least worst option.

    Here’s to hoping we get out heads out of our asses on this issue sometime in the near future. It’s ridiculous that a society which is so steeped in sex is also so puritanical about other people having it.

  29. D. C. Sessions:

    When comparing the graduation rates of scholarship athletes with other students, is the comparison adjusted for major studies and the students who drop out because they can’t afford the costs?

  30. eric:

    Dingo:

    No, to me the most obscene part of this is where is: the shaming of ‘male sluts’? I assume that this alleged porn involved men, so why isn’t their ‘sexual integrity’ (whatever the hell that is) equally under question?**

    The student community isn’t sending nasty emails to all porn actresses, just the one that goes to Duke. So being a Duke student is clearly a key part of their response. I expect there is no e-nastiness flowing back to the over male actors, other female actresses, producers, gaffers, etc. because they are not part of the Duke community, and as far as the Duke students are concerned, that makes them not worth talking about.

    Bee;

    What’s so “extreme” about having sex on camera?

    In our culture its a heavily socially stigmatized job. You can certainly argue it shouldn’t be, but right now it is. The young lady is certainly aware of this; she describes herself shaking with fear when her work persona was discovered. It is an extreme job when you have to hide your idenify while doing it, because if you don’t, you’ll face social, psychological, and possibly even physical abuse.

  31. dingojack:

    Eric – so presumably the cameraman, producer, clapper loader, best boy etc. who also go to Duke (or certainly live in the area) should be suffering exactly the same level of opprobrium. right?
    No? Well perhaps (according to you) , that’s just the way the world is, therefore it’s perfectly acceptable.
    I’m sure you’re completely comfortable with that.
    Dingo

  32. colnago80:

    Re chihuahua @ #23

    Link didn’t work.

  33. eric:

    Dingo:

    Eric – so presumably the cameraman, producer, clapper loader, best boy etc. who also go to Duke (or certainly live in the area) should be suffering exactly the same level of opprobrium. right?
    No? Well perhaps (according to you) , that’s just the way the world is, therefore it’s perfectly acceptable.
    I’m sure you’re completely comfortable with that.

    Where the hell did that come from? None of them should be suffering any opprobrium. The student’s attacks on this lady or any of them are wrong. What I’m telling you is you’ve got your back up about the producers etc. not being attacked because they are men, when in fact its far more likely that they aren’t being attacked because the Duke students don’t give a crap about non-Duke-student porn workers. Which is also wrong, but social myopia and lack of empathy amongst college students for anyone outside their immediate social circle is an entirely different issue.

    You need to take your hyperbolic outrage goggles off, they are blinding you to all nuance. Yes this young lady is being mistreated and we should support her. No, that does not mean that when a person on this thread disagrees with some minor point that you make, they are supporting her abusers or finds the response ‘perfectly acceptable.’ Do you understand that there is a very wide space between “disagrees with Dingo” and “hateful bigot?”

  34. Gretchen:

    As for my professional career, I have no current plans to quit porn and I refuse to let ignorant people deprive me of the education that I have worked incredibly hard to achieve.

    I am going to graduate, I am going to pursue my dreams and I will hopefully galvanize change in a world wrought with gender norms and sexism.

    Fuck, I hope she does. I hope she runs for office and takes on laws aimed at sex workers. I’d vote for her in a heartbeat.

  35. Travis:

    Because, as we all know, all other lines of work are freely chosen, with no economic coercion or restriction. People who bus tables, flip burgers, or mop floors for minimum wage all do so happily and knowing they have plenty of other options, amirite?

    I actually agree wholeheartedly with this, we are always restricted to some degree or another (and for an increasingly large number of people, completely restricted), and many of us work jobs we hate, or we just have to have because one need to survive. But I know people that are pretty tired of their choice of job always being slotted in this category, thought of as the last resort when you just need money and there is nothing else, something no one would do unless they have to do it.

  36. Travis:

    Oh, sort of related to this topic, any Canadians on here should considering goin to this page:
    http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cons/curr-cours/proscons-conspros/index.html
    The Department of Justice is running public consultation on prostitution related offenses and we have until March 17th of register our opinions on what should happen after Bedford v. Attorney General of Canada. They might not listen, but I fear the right wing are probably flooding this thing and it would be nice to have some reasonable voices submitting the form as well as contacting their MPs and others.

  37. Pseudonym:

    Do we honestly think that without religion there would be no slut-shaming? If so, we’re more naive than we think.

  38. freehand:

    Raging Bee: Because, as we all know, all other lines of work are freely chosen, with no economic coercion or restriction. People who bus tables, flip burgers, or mop floors for minimum wage all do so happily and knowing they have plenty of other options, amirite?
    .
    Absolutely. It fullfills them.
    .
    On this note, and related because it’s sexist, all the outrage about women going to work outside the home in the seventies – most women weren’t going to work to fullfill themselves (although good for them if they were). They were going to work for the same reason most of the men were – to pay the damn bills.

  39. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :):

    Do we honestly think that without religion there would be no slut-shaming? If so, we’re more naive than we think.

    Citation needed.

  40. Ichthyic:

    Do we honestly think that without religion there would be no slut-shaming? If so, we’re more naive than we think.

    or you’re forgetting the influence the dominance of hundreds of years of xianity has had on western civilization.

    and you’re entirely ignorant of the fact that there are entire scientific journals devoted to the subject, with thousands of articles documenting the effects.

    here’s one for you:

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11199-010-9754-x#page-1

    which is about as subtle as it gets.

    naive?

    not hardly.

  41. dingojack:

    SLC (#21) – Sorry, let me link to that again.
    Dingo

  42. dingojack:

    I believe the paper they are referring to is:

    McKee AC, Cantu RC, Nowinski CJ, Hedley-Whyte ET, Gavett BE, Budson AE, Santini VE, Lee H-Y, Kubilus CA, Stern RA. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in athletes: Progressive tauopathy after repetitive head injury. J Neuropath Exp Neurol, 2009, 68(7): 709.735 [PDF available from here].

    But I could be wrong about that.

  43. leonardschneider:

    Duke University: You’re a bunch of useless fuckin’ hypocrites.

    Given their behavior, I’ll assume that after they’re done abusing Lauren A., they crack open their fifth beer and write an angry tirade to Anheuser-Busch about how their products destroy lives. It only makes sense… Just like the ability to type out “slut who needs to learn the consequences of her actions” with one hand, because of the other window on their screen that’s open to YouPorn or XTube. Nothing like self-righteous fake morality to get a person out of bed in the morning… Well, after they finish beating off to whatever hardcore they loaded onto their tablet the night before, for exactly this situation.

    My only regret — or apology? — to Lauren A. is that she’s learned, yeah, it’s pretty “easy” work, but I’m guessing the money isn’t quite as good as she might have expected. Don’t get me wrong, seeing $700* a day is pretty sweet, but if she’s covering tuition, plus rent, car payment, bills, yadda yadda, even $3500 a week (and that’s considered a heavy schedule — you’ve gotta rest, and I hate to say it, heal**) isn’t going as far as she might have hoped.

    @ notyet (#16): I know how to cure every obsessed porn hound of his compulsion in one day: have ‘em watch porn actually being made. The dismay will kick in when they watch the positions being blocked (the performers, usually still clothed, stage-block the sexual positions in the order they’ll happen), and the dismay and disappointment will be complete around the third or fourth cut… To move cameras and lights around, freshen up the female’s makeup, towel off the male (nobody sweats in porn), re-hydrate, and have a quick smoke. He’ll learn that all the noise the woman is making is fake, that when the director yells “Cut!” the couple break apart with all the excitement of getting off a bus, and the small talk that happens on a shoot is about as sexy as any other job: “Yeah, my damn car’s in the shop again…” Maybe he’d be briefly entertained watching the fluffer, but she’s fully clothed, and her job is to suck dick well… But not too well; she’s gotta keep ‘em hard, not make ‘em come. (Plus, she’s usually not all that hot.)

    I worked as a still photographer for a small production company about twenty-five years ago. Oh, the stories I could tell…

    ————————————————————————-

    * This is a roundabout, guesstimate number, a general average for straightforward male/female shoots. Taking a facial will earn you more — it used to, anyway — and so will anal. Doing kink (bukkake, gang bang, bondage, humiliation) ticks up your earnings even more.

    ** Women will understand this, and there’s no polite way of putting it. Be honest: how long, during a sexual encounter, are you actually just straight-up fucking? Okay, now imagine being fucked for, oh, two hours. It’s a safe guess you’d feel pretty sore afterwards. Now think of going through that several times a week.

  44. christopherkoulouris:

    What is intriguing about ‘Belle Knox’ decision to pursue porn is her assertion that attending Duke forced her into it, because of its prohibitive cost, notwithstanding the fact that she was also offered other full scholarships with other schools. Which is to suggest, perhaps Belle Knox used the guise of hefty student loans as a recourse to pursue porn, not necessarily because she had no choice but because she simply wanted to pursue it. Yet if there is no shame to this (as ‘Lauren’ insists, and there ought not to be) then why all the secrecy…. until now?

    http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2014/02/belle-knox-duke-college-freshman-porn-star-naked-pictures/

  45. John Phillips, FCD:

    #44 probably because she knew how judgemental arseholes like you would react.

  46. colnago80:

    Re Pomeranian @ #41

    One study is not definitive. This study is suggestive but one must always remember that correlation is not necessarily causation. This is the subject of some controversy in the medical community which suggests that further study is warranted. However, in what might turn out to be an excess of caution, whether the hypothesis that multiple concussions can to ALS is true or not, it would be a good idea to not have any for other reasons.

  47. Shadee Malaklou:

    Read a former Duke sex columnist’s open letter to Belle Knox here: http://jesusfuckingchristblog.com/2014/03/12/its-a-hard-knox-life-for-a-duke-woman-who-likes-sex-an-open-letter-to-belle-knox-from-the-old-guard/

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