Ruth Marcus, opinion columnist for the Washington Post, has heard about Belle Knox, the Duke student that took up a career in pornography to pay her way through college. Upon doing so, she promptly wrote a scathing piece about the cost of higher education, credentialism as an ineffective response to increasing struggle in the U.S. economy, and how the indignity of the kind of low-wage labor Belle was in prior to taking up sex work itself undermines the “dignity of work” sewage spilling forth from conservative corners.
Actually, I’m kidding, she did no such thing. Instead she wrote a faintpiece about What Our Culture Is Coming To due to a woman having the nerve to not only like sex but enter a profession based on it. In the course of the column, Ruth basically denies Belle being an adult, calls rejection of slut-shaming “faux-feminist” (cuz apparently embrace of ones body & sexuality by a woman is anti-woman?), and laments “hookup culture” as if casual sex & sex work — note the inclusion of the term “work” there — are the exact same thread. All this, while completely whiffing, perhaps even sneering at, a line of argument that would fit into cultural critique while having the added benefit of being correct: if in order to make a remotely decent living as adults we are expected to start our adult life going deeply into debt for credentials, the value of which are plummeting due to basic supply and demand, with us throwing a fit when some take up ways to exit the debt cycle deemed distasteful while the economics we expect everyone to follow actually suggest it’s a great idea, what does THAT say about our culture??
The remark at the top, which Ms Knox provided in an interview after being identified about comparing her past employment experience with her porn work, Ruth uses as the “punchline” to her cultural scold talk about confusing “relative merits” of sex work to waitressing. To this I would like to remind Ruth that with any employment there is a tangible quality to measure, which we in the real world call “money”, and on that measure I find it difficult to imagine even the best waitress touching with tips what the average adult film actress can make. Maybe in Vegas some get close, maybe.
While we’re on the subject of pluses v minuses of porn and waiting tables, the column also contains reference to a common practice in pornography that probably made the author blush when typing it, and which I’m somewhat surprised the Washington Post let remain in description. Of course, what she completely ignores is the aspect of consent: if one lets a sexual partner express their satisfaction in such manner, then that is what they deemed themselves to be okay with, so the view of 3rd parties going “eww, that’s degrading!” is irrelevant. For the record, I am actually not a fan of the practice myself*, but I’d have to imagine due to the consent aspect it beats the routine misogyny and groping that many waitresses across the country endure for $2.13 + tips. Yet she’s expected to continue the latter for the duration of her college life?
For as much as Ruth Marcus detests the choice Belle Knox has made, her ignorance of the context of that choice emerges from a worldview that Ruth has internalized which defines sexuality as inherently offensive and holds that women must be effectively sexless to be “respectable”, the act only considered in hushed tones, behind closed doors, and only for the fulfillment of men. That erasing the agency of women is not seen as an insult while women reclaiming said agency is frowned upon is a sign of just how far we have to go as a society, regardless of how enlightened we claim to be. In trying to point at what she calls sign of a cultural abyss, Ruth Marcus effectively points at herself.
* — for probably way more detail on that view than you need (NSFW!!), click here.
By the way: the cultural scold talk thrown at Ms Knox is also of a piece with the stereotypes around women that take strip club jobs to pay for their education. Ironic we fuel such only to blame them for the denigration we have sown the seeds of…