Today’s moral lesson involves the 18-year-old Duke University freshman who has revealed that she is moonlighting in pornography movies to pay her outsized $60,000-a-year tuition at Duke.
Miriam Weeks, aka “Belle Knox,” revealed her secret identity to her date on the way to a party a month or so ago and was astounded to find that within an hour everybody at the party knew it. Apparently in the age of Twitter and Facebook, there are still people who think that word doesn’t get around.
However, that doesn’t mean she is embarrassed about it. After becoming a campus sensation and having word leak to the outer world, Weeks defiantly defended herself in a lengthy tract on xoJane, a feminist website that features stories such as “Trust No One: Online Dating” and “It Happened to Me: I Found My Boyfriend’s Child Pornography.”
I won’t attempt to make too much sense out of this mishmash of feminist boilerplate, fetching naïveté and victimology, but here is a sample:
• “Everything I did was consensual. I also stand by and defend the right of adult performers to engage in rough sex porn.”
• “I do fully acknowledge that some women don’t have such a positive experience in the industry. We need to listen to these women. And to do that we need to remove the stigma attached to their profession and treat it as a legitimate career that needs regulating and oversight.” [A Federal Department of Rough Sex perhaps?]
• “Shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy. 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 have never felt more empowered or happy doing anything else. In a world where women are so often robbed of their choice, I am completely in control of my sexuality.”
• “My entire life, I have, along with millions of other girls, been told that sex is a degrading and shameful act.… 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 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.”
• “We must question why sex workers are so brutally stigmatized. Why do we exclude them from jobs, education, and from mainstream society?”
• “Why does the thought of a woman having sexual experiences scare us to much? The answer is simple. Patriarchy fears female sexually. [Emphasis in original.] 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.… The threat I pose to patriarchy is enormous.”
• “I find it interesting that porn is consumed by millions of people…yet… no on wants to hear about the abuses and exploitation that take place, no one wants to hear about the violence committed every day against sex workers.”
As you can see, Belle Knox’s logic can be a little fuzzy but she has absorbed a lot in her Women’s Studies courses. (She is, wouldn’t you know, a women’s study major.) One minute men are “innocent actors on the receiving end” of female sexuality, the next they are oppressive patriarchs bending women to their will. One minute sex workers are the happiest people on the planet, the next they are the victims of everyday violence. And by the way, I wouldn’t call working in a pornography movie “giving sex away.” I’d call it “selling it.” As Charlotte Allen put it in an excellent piece in the Los Angeles Times, “Pornography is essentially prostitution protected by the First Amendment.” But we’ll leave it to her women’s studies professors to sort all this all out. Foolish consistency, after all, is the hobgoblin of non-feminist minds.
But let’s try to set a few things straight.
First, it is not “patriarchy” that Weeks is threatening with her “liberated” sexuality. It is monogamy and the general social order. All human societies are built around some form of marriage. The pairing off between men and women for the sake of family formation and child rearing is something even the most primitive societies honor and protect. (Having babies is ultimately what sex leads to, in case anybody hasn’t told her.) The forms of marriage can differ. Many primitive societies practice polygamy, a system where a man is allowed to take more than one wife. Societies that practice hunting-and-gathering — the original human economy that lasted 5 million years — are almost uniformly monogamous. Those societies that have advanced beyond the tribal stage to become “civilizations” have (with the one exception of Islam) also returned to monogamy.
Why monogamy? Because it does several that things that promote social well-being:
- Monogamy creates a level playing field by ensuring that every member of society a reasonable chance to mate.
- It reduces sexual competition among males and provides a format in which they can cooperate on larger tasks.
- It redirects men’s energies from the task of collecting multiple wives to that of providing for their children.
- It creates the protective environment of the two-parent family, which is without a doubt the best situation in which to raise children.
Yet monogamy is, at bottom, an unnatural system. Ninety-five percent of mammals practice polygamy and we have strong polygamous tendencies ourselves. (Witness how often small religious cults and breakaway social groups revert to polygamy.) It would be much more natural to allow the strongest men to collect as many women as possible and to allow females, especially those of lower status, to congregate around the most successful males. Monogamy is a system of limitations that societies impose upon themselves for the greater good. But it requires rules that must be absorbed and enforced by every member of society.
The underlying problem of monogamy is this: although successful in creating better societies, I distributes its benefits unequally. There are winners and losers. The winners are:
1) Low-status males, who would otherwise be excluded from mating. In nature, they form the “bachelor herd” and spend most of their lives fighting with each other in status competition for the chance to gain access to females. With monogamy they get an equal chance to mate.
2) High-status females. Instead of having to share their mates with other females, they can claim the exclusive support of a higher-status male. That is why married women are usually the strongest supporters of monogamy in any society. (Although they also benefit, low-status males are usually too concerned with their low status to appreciate monogamy’s gift to them.)
The losers, on the other hand, are:
1) High-status men. They have their sexual horizons constricted and have to be content with only one wife.
2) Low-status women. This is often overlooked. With polygamy, a young, poor or unattractive woman can become the second or third or fourth wife of a more successful man. This is why, although polygamy is often portrayed as “oppressive to women,” it registers a surprising amount of support among women in any polygamous society. With monogamy, however, only by loosening its bonds can a lower-status woman become the escort, consort, mistress, Morganic or “trophy” wife of a more successful man.
For low-status women, then, there are always shortcuts available. They can abandon the game of trying to enter a permanent relationship with a man and make themselves sexually available on a short-term basis. This can be both ego-gratifying and financially rewarding. The wanton woman, call girl or prostitute who exchanges sex for money can reach directly into the wallet of otherwise inaccessible men. The same holds true for the mistress or secret lover supported on the side. Historically, most of the breaking of the rules of monogamy — “adultery” as we call it — takes place between high-status men and lower-status women.
Miriam Weeks is such a woman. First, she is only 18, which puts her on the bottom rung of the social ladder. Starting out in contemporary America, of course, has become particularly hard for young people because they must pay a ridiculously outsized “initiation fee” of college tuition. At bottom, this is just economic rent collected by the institutions of higher learning for being the meeting grounds for similarly endowed young people in our meritocracy. As the daughter of a friend of mine who attended a prestigious college put it after surveying two years of mediocre education: “I think we’re all paying to go to school with each other.” But that is the subject of a different story.
More to the point, Weeks is not terribly attractive and seems well aware of it. (“I was a bit flattered to be honest,” she confesses in her xoJane manifesto, “bombarded by friend requests on Facebook from random male students.… Maybe I actually am pretty and nice and not awkward.”) Given the general sorting process on campus, she would probably end up with an apple-cheeked fraternity boy who got drunk on weekends and took a job with Enterprise Rent-a-Car after graduation. Together they would spend ten years paying off student loans.
Instead, she has discovered what many a marginally attractive woman has discovered before her — that if you loosen the bonds of restrained sexuality and sell your body, you can get access to a lot of higher-status men and their wallets as well. (It is those men, I hope she realizes, who are paying her salary.) You may even feel “liberated,” although this is only temporary. The novelty of her nakedness will soon wear off, younger and more attractive women will take her place, and there will be a downside. (Weeks specializes in “rough sex,” one giveaway she isn’t making it on looks alone.) What is fetchingly naïve is that, hiding behind the camouflage of feminist rhetoric, she can claim to be offended by the campus reaction. “I vehemently want my privacy respected,” says the waif who makes a living displaying her private parts. What is less fetching is her surprise at the hostility from other women. “Maybe they just caught their boyfriend watching my porn,” she told Piers Morgan, who conducted a remarkably vapid interview on CNN. Does she really think she is not competing with these other women?
What is truly astounding, however, is the response from the Duke administrators. With sublime tolerance of contemporary liberalism, they have reassured Weeks that it’s not for them to judge and that however she wants to finance her tuition, they will support her. (You can understand the economic motive there.) These are the people whom Allan Bloom described in The Closing of the American Mind —the “easy-going nihilists” for whom nothing in the world is evil except perhaps Hitler and nuclear power. (Add global warming and its deniers to the list now.) They all make fabulous salaries, vote 95 percent Democratic and see their main responsibility as making sure their students don’t fall into the hands of the Religious Right or the Tea Party. Indeed, if anyone is likely to get reprimanded on campus it is the “fraternity boys and their girlfriends” who Weeks complains are “bullying and harassing her.”
Only when you confront something like this do you realize how completely contemporary liberalism has supplanted conventional morality in campus life. Who would dare make a case for sexual morality? The only standards for judging are “racism” and “sexism,” plus anything else to which the suffix “ism” can be attached. Thus, the only criticism anyone has been able to muster against Weeks is that her chosen profession is based on racism! “One anonymous writer on the Duke blog Develle Dish complained how young, thin white women `dominate porn production’ she argued influences society perception of beauty,” reports the Huffington Post. “Duke sophomore Diana Liu made a similar point about race in a Chronicle op-ed: ‘I have been lucky enough to receive financial aid so I can attend Duke, but if I had not, the same sex work opportunities available to you would not have been viable to me as an Asian woman.’”
Meanwhile, anyone who responds instinctively with old-fashioned morality — 5 million years old, in fact — is dismissed as a “frat boy and their girlfriend.” Thus, Huffington offers this incredible piece of journalistic ju-jitsu:
The campus’ harsh response to news of a porn star on campus adds to a reputation of sexual hostility that Duke has tried to shed. The lacrosse scandal “still looms over campus,” as Duke Junior Ellie Schaack notes, even as the men involved in that incident today walk free, legally innocent (the woman who falsely accused them was recently found guilty in connection with the murder of her boyfriend).
The story of the “town tramp” is as old as history. Whole novels have been written about it. Miriam Weeks is too young yet to know this. When she gets a little older, she will find out. The novelty of her nakedness will wear off, the jobs will start to dwindle and soon she’ll be replaced by younger and more attractive women. Within ten years she will be preaching against the exploitation of the pornography industry — although probably still blaming “the patriarchy” as well.
What is amazing is that there are no adults around today to teach her anything different.
(William Tucker's new book is Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human.)