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Going Wild: A Feminist’s Defense of the “Girls Gone Wild” Girls

Ggw_doggy_styleIn case you haven’t read this already, Joe Francis, the guy who runs the “Girls Gone Wild” empire, has been revealed by the L.A. Times to be a crazy, abusive, profoundly fucked-up asshole. I don’t actually have a lot to add on that particular topic apart from “Damn, what a crazy, abusive, profoundly fucked-up asshole.” Actually, the phrase “crazy, abusive, profoundly fucked-up asshole” would seem to be an understatement.

EverythingsexBut I do feel somewhat compelled to comment. I wrote a fairly lavish think piece about the “Girls Gone Wild” videos for the big Disinformation anthology Everything You Know About Sex Is Wrong (you can read it on my website if you like), and since then, I feel like I’ve become the Feminist Sex Writer Who Thinks The “Girls Gone Wild” Videos Are At Least Somewhat Defensible. So whenever the topic of these videos comes up, I feel like I need to chime in.

What I want to talk about now is not the people who run the “Girls Gone Wild” empire, but the “Girls Gone Wild” videos themselves — and the women who perform in the videos.

And more specifically, I want to talk about what’s being said about the women in the videos.

Ariel_levyThe writing I’ve seen about Girls Gone Wild is largely taking two directions. One is pity/concern for the poor exploited girls who are being taken advantage of when they’re too excited/too young/too drunk to know what they’re doing. The other is pity/contempt for the vulgar idiot girls who are squandering their feminist heritage by pulling their shirts up on camera… and are ruining things for the rest of us.

And I have much the same problem with both. I think there’s more than a whiff of patronization, and elitism even, in both attitudes.

Ggw_girls_who_like_girlsLet me talk about the first one first. In the strict Marxist sense, of course the women in GGW are being exploited. They’re being paid a disproportionately low amount for their labor — they’re getting paid in T-shirts and Mardi Gras beads, so duh — and someone else is getting rich off that labor. But I’ve seen a few of these videos, and it sure looks to me like most of these girls know what they’re doing and very much want to be doing it. They like the attention; they get off on exhibitionism; they enjoy feeling sexy and wild; they like having an excuse to do dirty things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Will they regret it later? Maybe. Some of them almost certainly will. But you know, a lot of us have done things in our youths that we now regret and can’t take back. (My entire first relationship leaps to mind.) Making dumb choices that you regret is part of being young. It’s the flip side of risk-taking and adventure.

TequilaAs to the women being too drunk to consent goes, I’m not seeing it. I’ve seen tipsiness in the GGW videos, high spirits, probably even some impaired judgement — but not blackout drunkenness, not drunkenness that would obliterate consent. I could be wrong, I’m not there on the streets of Spring Break with a Breathalyzer and a lie detector test (those don’t work, anyway)… but it sure looks to me like, hammered though many of them are, most of these girls know what they’re doing and know what they want.

Which brings me to my second point: the “they’re squandering their feminist heritage” argument.

This is the one that really bugs me. It’s as if sexual liberation is only for those of us with the right sex-positive feminist credentials — not for yahoo sorority girls who want to pull their shirts up on camera. Like they don’t deserve to have sexual choices, because they’ll make the wrong ones.

UlyssesBut we all deserve sexual liberation. We all deserve the freedom to make sexual choices — even dumb ones or crass ones. As someone whose name I can’t remember once said, not all censorship battles can be about Ulysses. (Does anyone know the source for that quote, btw? I couldn’t find it.) And the battle for sexual liberation and the right to sexual expression can’t always be about brilliant sex-themed performance art, or beautiful ecstatic lovemaking in loving long-term relationships. Sometimes it’s about college girls at big drunken parties pulling their shirts off for the video cameras. That’s the whole point of feminist sexual liberation — we don’t get to go around scolding other women for their consenting sexual choices. (Not on moral or political grounds, anyway. On aesthetic grounds… that’s another story.)

Nina_hartleyI’ve seen arguments that the problem with GGW isn’t the girls whipping their tops off for the camera — it’s the people behind the camera, the crassness of the videos and the company and the grotesqueness of the main man behind them. It’s not liberated or empowering if you’re whipping your top off for exploitative assholes, or so goes the argument. But while I’m certainly not going to defend the motives of the GGW empire (especially not now), I still think we should support the sexual agency of the wild girls themselves. Do you think every single porn movie that Annie Sprinkle or Nina Hartley ever made was a delicate work of artistic beauty and profound insight, made by sensitive feminists, with the profits going to rape crisis centers and saving the rainforest? I sure don’t. I’m sure that at least some of their movies were silly and dumb, and that the profits from at least some of them went to pay for the sports cars and coke habits of nitwit Silicone Valley porn producers. That doesn’t negate Nina and Annie’s sexual agency and power.

Guys_gone_wildAnd I think a lot of the “won’t somebody please think of the children?” hysteria about the women in the GGW videos is just flat-out sexist. The same company that makes the “Girls Gone Wild” videos also makes “Guys Gone Wild” videos as well… and I think it’s extremely interesting that nobody, not one person that I’ve heard or read on this subject, has gotten upset about the poor stupid young college boys with low self-esteem who got drunk and let themselves be manipulated into flashing their asses and dicks on camera, and who are going to feel violated and ashamed the next morning and will regret it for the rest of their lives. It’s apparently just young women who are incapable of making their own sexual decisions and living with the consequences.

Ggw_bad_girlsSo here is my plea. Can we please, please, try not to extend our excoriation of Joe Francis to an excoriation of the women who’ve performed in his videos?

Can we please treat them like adults, and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they do what they do because they want to do it?

Can we please at least try to remember that other people like different sexual things from what we like… and not jump to the conclusion that if someone is doing something sexual that we wouldn’t enjoy, therefore they don’t enjoy it either, and therefore they’re only doing it out of manipulation, desperation, coercion, drunkenness, low self-esteem, cultural brainwashing, etc.?

Annie_sprinkle_1Because when we treat the Girls Gone Wild with patronizing pity and contempt, when we stop respecting them and their sexual agency, it’s a small step to disrespecting Nina Hartley and Tristan Taormino and Annie Sprinkle and Carol Queen and all the other great exhibitionists of the world. And it’s a small step from there to disrespecting every woman — and every man — who makes unpopular sexual choices.

Comments

  1. says

    Way to go, Greta!
    As always, a cogent and well-reasoned plea for some freaking sanity on this issue. All points well taken, and well made.
    When I started stripping in 1983, the Porn Wars were barely stirring. I was already pissed at those feminists who were wagging their bony fingers in my face, telling me how expolited I was, blah, blah, blah. Excuse me? I read the same Ur texts as they did and simply, due to a combination of factors, came to a different conclusion on the issue of exhibitionism, exploitation, objectification, et al, a conclusion that fits my life and desires.
    So, I was using my mind and predilictions to, gasp! forge MY OWN way in the world, just as I had been taught to do by those self-same feminist thinkers. They were pissed at my audacity then, and they’re pissed now. Aren’t they tired of being pissed all the time?
    Twenty-three years later, the discussion has not got far. True, there are folks like me, Greta, Annie, Carol, Tristan, etc., who walk together, but the anit-porn group hasn’t changed its tune at all.
    As well, good point about the boys. Well, we all know that men are no good, you see, and we, as caring feminists, don’t have to concern ourselves with these budding patriarchs, now, do we? Men don’t, after all, have feelings and emotions and vulnerability, do they? (Tongue firmly in cheek).
    You go, girl!
    BTW, I LOVED “Bending!” Really well written and insightful.

  2. says

    “not all censorship battles can be about Ulysses”
    Fair enough. But do they all have to be about Rob Black or similar? It’s embarrassing and wearying.

  3. Chris Stehlik says

    Hi Greta, nice to see your last week :)
    Ok, I knew he was bad but didn’t know he was that horrific, why isn’t he is jail?
    While I agree with your point that sexual liberation should extend to all women, even to women who want to take off their shirts on film in public for little compensation . I can also see that people who read the argument out of context of the article will take it as a sort of faux libertarian rationalization, “well, they’re young and dumb, they superficially agreed, so they can be taken advantage of to the Nth degree”.
    That’s a rationalization that I really don’t like. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate the one with out the other.

  4. says

    Greta,
    Nice article.
    We need to separate two things: (1) the women on the videos from the men who produce the videos, and (2) the behavior on the videos from the behavior outside the videos.
    From the article in the LA Times, based on (2), the producer probably should be in jail. But that has nothing to do with what the women do on the videos, you are absolutely right.
    Now, I was always taught that my behavior and its consequences were my own responsibility. So I would extend that to other people as well. Whether you’re taking off your shirt for Joe Francis, Nina Hartley, the King of Spain, or Jane Goodall, it is, after all, you that’s taking off your shirt.
    If you are doing it while you’re drunk, it was, after all, you that took the drink.
    This would seem obvious. We are all able to make choices and live with the consequences. But a surprisingly large number of people still don’t get that.
    I don’t agree with Chris that anyone might seriously think “they can be taken advantage of to the nth degree.” This seems to indicate the idea the mindset that “once she’s said yes, she’s said yes to everything.” This would seem to assume that consent is a slippery slope and not a series of choices. And what could “superficially agreed” possibly mean? That consent is not an actual, meaningful decision, but rather a sort of surface performance, a social act with no more meaning than saying “I’m fine, how are you”? This trivializes the women as rational beings. (I won’t even comment on “they’re young and dumb.”) Yes, maybe someone _could_ read it that way, but only someone who didn’t respect them in the first place and considered them worthy of exploitation. This is the “lock up your daughters” argument. You don’t need “context” to read the argument the other way. You just need to think that women are people.
    (BTW, Nina: No, they aren’t tired of being pissed all the time. They actually _enjoy_ it.)

  5. Donna Gore says

    Another intelligent essay from Greta! Especially about the “guys gone wild” and the popular misconception that anything outside the mainstream is “wrong” or “sick.”
    One could argue about who is being “victimized” and “manipulated” – the girls who shake their titties, or the guys who pay to see it.
    As far as the girls being “taken advantage of” while they’re drunk, a reputable business does not hire anyone to work for them while under the influence. It’s legally very risky to do so – nowadays that is just common sense risk management.
    I do think those videos are lame and I don’t see how anyone (beyond puberty) could possibly get turned on by it !

  6. Jane S says

    I have to admit that I was turned on by the two GGW videos I have seen so far (“Girls Who Like Girls” and “Girls Gone Bad”). I enjoyed the tension while the girls got over their initial shyness and then the moment when they decided they were going to do this (be that taking off their clothes or kissing another girl or whatever). I think the ones where they just get women to show their breasts at Mardi Gras over and over would probably bore me, but that’s just a taste thing.
    I agree that it’s bad policy to make money off drunk people. Joe Francis seems like he’s probably crazier than a shithouse rat, so he’s probably not all that good at policy decisions. He does get them to sign a waiver, which should be a sobering influence on anyone who really doesn’t want to do it. However, sober people sign stuff they haven’t read all the time, so I’m not sure there’s much difference.
    Hopefully, Internet sites, the likes of YouTube.com, will help connect the exhibitionist directly to the voyeur and the middle men will become much less powerful.

  7. says

    Thank you, Jane. While on the whole I think the GGW videos are pretty boring, I’m fond of “GGW Bad Girls/Girls who Like Girls” as well, and actually consider it among the better porn I’ve seen. There was something about the documentary nature of it that gave it real unpredictability and suspense — qualities that are sadly lacking in most porn. I’m curious: did you read about the vids in my Disinfo article (again, if anyone wants to read it, it’s at http://www.gretachristina.com/girlsgonewild.html), or did you find out about it somewhere else?
    To answer Tony Comstock (“do they all have to be about Rob Black or similar?”): no, not all censorship battles have to be about work you find stupid or offensive. I love fighting for porn that I actually enjoy. (What’s that Tom Lehrer Line? “Nobody wants to talk about the real issue: Dirty books are fun.”)
    But it’s important to fight for porn (and other speech) that you don’t like as well. It’s harder to do, but it’s important. If you don’t stand up for someone else’s right to express themselves in ways you don’t like, you can’t expect anyone else to stand up for you when you want to say something unpopular. And while from what I’ve read about it (I havent’ seen it) I suspect I’d find Rob Black and Lizzie Borden’s work rather upsetting, I do respect their refusal to cave in to the chickenshit adult industry self-censorship standards.

  8. says

    Three things its probably best not to do while drunk:
    1) Drive a vehicle
    2) Get a tattoo
    3) Shoot a porno
    As for the GGW tapes themselves, I’d seen them before this whole thing broke out, and my reaction was, “this is supposed to be sexy???” (And I say that as a confirmed porn fan.)

  9. Jane S says

    I had been guiltily, and somewhat unwittingly, getting turned on by the GGW TV commercials for a while. Then I read your Disinfo article and realized I was not alone, as you were describing exactly what I was feeling. I chose the two I watched based on your reviews and I’m glad I did. I haven’t seen any other titles that interest me, but I do keep my eye out. I had heard that Joe Francis was a huge asshole, so I downloaded the videos for free, instead of giving him the money.

  10. says

    So glad you enjoyed my recommendations! Weren’t the three girls in “Bad Girls” something? I especially loved the brunette, Rebecca I think her name was. I wish she’d gotten more screen time. I hope she gets her dirty kinky titties punished someday like she wanted, and that she does, in fact, become a porn director.

  11. Karl Weiss says

    Simply another feminist essay that tries to exonerate women no matter what they do, and shift all the responsibility onto men.
    I’ll make a couple of counterpoints, even though I know it’s hopeless against the modern attitude that women are always blameless.
    1) From what I’ve read about how “Girls Gone Wild” operates, the camera crew etc. often include women.
    2) You don’t see the media equivalent of boys flashing their asses and dicks only because no one (except for a few gays) would want to watch it. If there were such a thing, the same digust would be turned against the men participating.

  12. Laura Deal says

    Karl,
    I’m curious. Did you read Greta’s article or just make assumptions about what she wrote and respond to what you imagined she wrote?
    I re-read what Greta wrote and I can’t find the part where she says men are to blame for anything.
    She in fact seemed to go out of her way to point out that even if Joe Francis is the big jerk he seems to be, the “girls” involved are in fact responsible for deciding to take off their shirts and she suggests that we don’t need to judge it as a bad choice.

  13. says

    So you’re “the Feminist Sex Writer Who Thinks The “Girls Gone Wild” Videos Are At Least Somewhat Defensible,” eh? That’s funny — I’ve never read a feminist defense of Girls Gone Wild before aside from what I’ve written myself. And I’m hardly qualified to pronounce on the issue since I haven’t seen any of the videos, and I haven’t read up on the details of how they were made.
    However, I ended up making some of the same points you did in a discussion of GGW with some other feminists here: http://thehathorlegacy.info/retro-roundup-41507/
    Here’s the main part of what I wrote:
    I’m not saying the video is feminist. But it sure as hell isn’t feminist to treat women as children, saying “Sure they’re adults and say they consented, but did they really consent? With the patriarchy and all, you can hardly take what women say seriously…”
    Defending women’s bodily/sexual autonomy necessarily means defending the right to make choices you personally wouldn’t have made, just as defending free speech sometimes requires defending ugly statements. Redefining consent to the point of rendering it meaningless does not help advance the cause of women’s rights.
    I agree that women shouldn’t be judged as “prudes” for not wanting sex any more than they should be judged as whores for wanting it — I specifically addressed this point in the post I linked to above.
    I’m ready to stand up and fight passionately for a woman’s right not to have sex or be sexualized against her will, as I discussed in the follow up to my questioning objectification post. I hope that feminists in general are willing to defend the bodily autonomy of women whose perspective is different from one’s own.
    A feminist should be wary of the assumption that because you would find something degrading, all other women must naturally feel the same way (unless they’re hopelessly broken by the patriarchy). That’s insulting and it’s simply wrong: it’s projection. You say this video is all about the men’s pleasure, but do these women see it that way? How do you know that? Are you in their heads with them? If you don’t want people second guessing your supposed “prudishness,” then please afford other women the same courtesy.
    The way to see to it that women are making their own choices for real — not being coerced — is to ensure that as many options as possible are open to them (particularly economic, i.e. if you know you could support yourself if necessary, you’re more likely to do as you please).

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