Pop-Culture | Posted by Aph Ko on 06/29/2015

“Hot Girls Wanted”: White Respectability and the Erasure of Men

Credit: Netflix

Hot Girls Wanted  — a new documentary produced by actress Rashida Jones — follows five amateur porn actresses between the ages of 18 to 25 and details their experiences filming porn and living together. While the documentary’s subjects spoke freely, it seems like the filmmakers still crafted the work based on their preconceived notions about porn: Namely, they chose to portray the young actresses as innocent, exploited victims. The film fails to present the possibility that these women have any agency, erases the experiences of women of color in the industry, and arguably most problematically of all allows the men that drive the demand for this industry to remain invisible.

The character whose narrative anchors the film, Tressa, exemplifies this victimized narrative. Tressa is coded as white (although her racial identity is admittedly not made clear) and presented as “respectable.” Her story fits the film’s thesis that white women are inherently fragile and actions that suggest otherwise are imposed on them. Although Tressa appears satisfied with her work — which includes making $25,000 in four months — her porn work is framed as a misguided mistake of youthful innocence rather than a deliberate decision. She has access to all the elements of respectability: She came from a nice home with great parents, was a high school cheerleader, and has a concerned boyfriend and mother. Her mother and boyfriend (a self-professed porn-watcher, it’s worth noting) even try to intervene, telling her, “You’re supposed to have respect for yourself.” Her mother even asks her boyfriend, “How can you date someone like that?”

In addition to presenting the actresses as disempowered, the film further reinforces racialized stereotypes about women and sex. Tressa’s experience is problematically framed as alarming, but black women’s experiences with pornography are completely excluded from the documentary, reiterating old tropes that black women don’t have access to victimization and that their experiences with exploitation don’t matter. The only Latina featured, Jade, spoke of experiencing racialized sexism when told to wear “ghetto clothes” and violently gagged while being subjected to racial epithets during one shoot, but her overall presence in the film still felt like an afterthought.

However, the film also ironically undermines its own argument about these women as victims by allowing the women to cogently explain how they view their on-screen sexual experiences as work in candid interviews. That the film can juxtapose these women’s clear self-conceptions and agency with an imposed narrative of their helplessness underscores just how difficult it still is for our culture to grasp that women are people with decision-making capabilities. When it comes to sex especially, we are more comfortable talking about rape and victimization than we are talking about sexual expression and women choosing to engage in sex. Therefore, even when women aren’t being victimized, we often still label their experiences as abuse simply because we don’t know how to discuss them any other way.

Rather than frame women who join the industry as victims, it would have been more interesting for the film to expose the men who actually create and consume racist, violent porn. Even the title of the documentary itself — Hot Girls Wanted — passively focuses on the women, failing to focus on who wants the “hot girls” and therefore perpetuates the industry. Ultimately, the fact that many heterosexual men internalize the extremely racist, violent and even abusive images they view in a culture that also routinely harasses and violates women and minorities deserves far more exposure and concern than does the reiteration of puritanical, disempowering stereotypes about women.

What’s more, if a filmmaker wants to create a work about exploitation in this country, perhaps they can focus on the many workers in this country who though actually exploited are rarely visibilized — like migrant workers who endure slave-like conditions in our food production system where migrant women (usually women of color) are routinely raped in the fields. Narratives like these often escape our cultural radar while young women who choose to join industries like porn are conveniently spotlighted over and over.

Rather than shame these women and conceal the faces of the people who should be shamed, this film could have productively focused on the men who provide the demand that fuels this industry and make them visible and hold them accountable. It could have interrogated the true problematic aspects of this industry — such as the truly troubling dynamics of racism and violence at play. While this documentary failed to accomplish this, hopefully a future film will do better.

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  • des @ at 4:46 pm, June 29th, 2015

    Well written a little biased on the colour emphasis,and as noted all is not watched by males.

  • Ariane @ at 6:02 pm, July 1st, 2015

    Your thesis is comprehensive. I would like to add that the consumers of porn are indeed pepetuating acts of violence against women of color by their choosing to consume a product that is driven by heteronormative idealized white sexuality. Those who have infiltrated the porn industry to research it have documented that the vast majority of porn actresses are abused routinely–often violently–yet the only person of color in the film was shown to be abused. This communicates that brown people in porn films=abuse. It is sickening. I saw an interview where Rashida Jones was discussing the feminist perspectives that she was trying to evoke in the film. When I saw the film, I kept asking myself, is this feminism to her? As a woman of color, what was she thinking? Why is she off-kilter? Is she that privileged that she just loves to talk about feminism, but not raise issues of racism, sexism and the perpetrators of violence? I have lost respect for her.

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