Why Duke University’s “porn star feminist” is not all that she seems

There is currently a great deal of discussion going on in our nation that revolves around gender norms, sexuality and women. Hot topics dealing with women include violence against women, forced prostitution, domestic violence, objectification of women and human trafficking. While most would agree that it is right and just to oppose these things, there are others who don’t. Some of those who don’t are the very ones these issues center around: sex workers.

That’s exactly what Duke porn star “Belle Knox” (not her real name) is trying to say. She hopes to provide a “voice” for sex workers who have been marginalized by society and are what she calls modern society’s “untouchables.” She is pushing for better treatment and equality for sex workers.

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Duke U is a private top tier university in Durham, NC.

Belle’s real name is Miriam Weeks; she is an 18-year-old college freshman at Duke University majoring in (not coincidentally) Women’s Studies. She decided to act in porn to pay for her massive tuition bills, which amount to more than $50,000 annually. She makes it clear that she is fully aware she has other options–such as student loans–but she decided she didn’t want to go into debt, and that’s why she turned to porn. According to Belle, this was not a “desperate exchange,” but a conscious choice.

This story is not unusual. There have been plenty of young women who have appeared in adult films while attending a university. The difference between the “Duke porn star” and “just another college girl” that has turned this into a nationally headlining story is that she is a self-proclaimed feminist, she ardently defends her choices and she even claims that doing porn brings her “unimaginable joy” and that it “empowers” her and other women.

One of the most controversial things about her films is that they portray violence against women. Despite the contention of many that this is “rape fantasy porn,” she says that this is part of the “rough sex” genre and is okay if both parties are complicit. She also claims that she crafts her scenes around things that turn her on. She is tied up in the video, she cries, shakes her head and pushes away her “partner” in what looks like an attempt to escape.

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“Belle Knox” defends herself on Piers Morgan Live

Belle Knox is surprised that her story has gotten so much publicity and that she’s received so much criticism and contempt; she also laments the fact that it’s difficult for people to perceive that a young smart woman would willingly choose to be a part of the adult film industry. Despite these feelings, Belle has not shied away from the spotlight. She has written several articles on women’s blog website called xoJane defending her position and has appeared in numerous interviews in various news outlets. Most notably, she was featured in interviews on Huffpost Live, CNN’s Piers Morgan Live, and is now the first porn star ever to be a guest on ABC’s The View. In interviews it is clear that she is articulate, intellectual and vehement about what she believes.

But what does she believe? Why would a bright, intelligent young woman be drawn to the pornography industry? Does this make a statement about the sex industry and women’s role in it?  Here are her views:

  1. She believes that she is empowering women in the sex industry by breaking the stereotype of porn stars being simply “whores and bimbos” with no other job prospects. She doesn’t understand why anyone would discriminate against sex workers when working in pornography is a legal and legitimate profession.
  2. She believes she is unfairly criticized because of the fact that she is a girl, and that men who participate in porn are considered merely “innocent actors” while women are shamed and rebuked in society. She also reminds us of the lucrativeness of the pornography industry, and points out the hypocrisy of the fact that the same people who criticize and insult her are often the consumers of the product she makes.

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    Approximately 80% of internet traffic is in pornography.
  3. She believes that personal and sexual autonomy are not to be infringed upon, and that her body is her own to do with what she likes. She believes that “exercising her freedom of choice” against the backdrop of “slut-shaming” and misogyny is “incredibly liberating.”
  4. She believes that she is making a statement against our patriarchal society, and that she somehow poses a threat to it by exerting her sexual autonomy. She said this: “It terrifies us to even fathom that a woman could take ownership of her body. We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy. A woman who transgresses the norm and takes ownership of her body — because that’s exactly what porn is, no matter how rough the sex is — ostensibly poses a threat to the deeply ingrained gender norms that polarize our society.”
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Belle’s real name is Miriam Weeks.

While she is eloquent in her defense and straight-forward in her wishes, there are some things she’s not being forthcoming about and other things she probably has not considered about this situation. In a culture that is increasingly relative in their morality and incrementally inching towards embracing this type of thinking with open arms, it has become necessary to critically consider issues that make national headlines like this and bring these issues into the spotlight. Here are some initial reactions to this story. What would you add to these?

  1. She is a very hurt and broken young lady, despite her confident façade. When questioned about numerous deep marks on her thighs, she has confessed that she was a cutter in her youth. She even admitted to cutting the word “FAT” on her thigh after a bad breakup with a boyfriend. She also admits that she began watching pornography at the age of 12: not uncommon in this day and age, but certainly cause for pause, as the younger one is when first are exposed to porn, the more traumatizing it is to their brains.
  2. She does not acknowledge the fact that pornography is unhealthy for all involved. Numerous studies have shown that it makes a lasting impression on the brain, creates unhealthy expectations for both men and women and it perpetuates the cycle of violence against women both inside and outside of the industry. She may claim that what she is doing “empowers” women, but the facts show that it only degrades them.

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    The word “fat” etched onto Miriam’s thigh by cutting; a serious cry for help
  3. Her wish to challenge a patriarchal society is undermined by the fact that she is creating content for a largely male audience that perpetuates gender stereotypes and the subjugation of women.
  4. She acknowledges the risks, dangers and abuses that many women face in this industry, but doesn’t assent to the fact that she is playing a role in offering certain people the power to abuse women in this industry and in brothels throughout the world by participating in the commodification of sexuality. There are currently more than 20 million sex slaves all over the world, and this insidious black market has a reciprocal relationship with the adult film industry.
  5. She is very young. At only 18 years old, young adults think they know everything. However, just think what a difference a few years can make during this keystone time in a young person’s life. She may find that she regrets these decisions later and truly doesn’t grasp the consequences of her actions.
  6. She claims that pornography brings her “unimaginable” joy.  She says, “When I finish a scene, I know that I have done so and completed an honest day’s work. It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home. I can say definitively that I have never felt more empowered or happy doing anything else.” If she is so happy with this “legitimate career” that requires no skills and certainly no expensive Duke education, why even bother going to school? There are so many people in other professions who will never experience the ecstasy and fulfillment she describes about her “work” as a porn actress; finding fulfillment and personal creative expression in your career is a dream that many people have to live without. Seems like she’s found “The One” . . . unless perhaps she’s embellishing on the wonder and joy of the job.
  7. She may be striving for “progress” in our culture, but her methods are completely backwards. She is all about “empowering women” but she is essentially having sex for money. The lines between pornography and prostitution are blurred. By getting paid to have sex she has placed a price tag on her own sexuality and has given away her freedom of choice in sexual partners (even temporarily). She has also equated the personal intimate act of “sex” with “work,” which in a way strips her of her own sexuality.

One thing that Belle Knox has been completely open about is the hatred, death threats, insults and general vitriol that she has received since she came out as a porn actress. While the general public may disagree with her choices, ultimately they are choices that she will have to live with. And clearly this young woman has a skewed view of herself and sex. Hatred and bitterness are not what she needs. More “fans” and growing support of her actions are probably not what she needs either. She needs love.

What are your thoughts?

Rachel Sipe

Rachel is a Staff Writer for the Daily Runner and a student at Regent University. She hails from Virginia Beach but frequently daydreams of living on every continent of the world (sometimes Middle-Earth and Westeros find their way in there too). Rachel has many things in common with Winnie the Pooh: soft, cuddly, loves a boy, can't resist sweets, and when the going gets tough, it helps to sit on a log and think, think, think.