Yes, I would let a porn star read to my (hypothetical) kids

This post was written by Owen on November 15, 2011
Posted Under: Feminism,Puritanism

Ladies and gentlemen, your confected moral outrage du jour is….an actor who used to do porn daring to read a book in the same room as some children. Some of the more depressing and scandal-obsessed corners of the web are currently a-buzz over the news that Sasha Grey, a “porn legend” who moved into mainstream film and TV a couple of years ago, went to Emerson Elementary School in LA to read to a class of first-graders. She did so as part of Read Across America, a charity initiative to promote childhood literacy. Parents, predictably, got wind of what happened and complained to the school. The school in turn responded by denying Grey had ever been there, a claim which was somewhat undermined when celebrity gossip-mongers TMZ published photos of the event:

Neither the reactions of the parents at the school nor TMZ’s gleeful reporting of the whole affair are remotely surprising, but both are sad reflections of widely-held attitudes to pornography and to female sexuality in general. Would it have been appropriate for Grey to have gone to the school to talk about her experiences in the porn industry? Of course not. But that’s not what she was doing. She was there to read a book – a children’s book – to children. That’s all. Even if she was still appearing in porn films, it would have no bearing whatsoever on her suitability to do that.

Equally irrelevant are questions about the ethical status of the porn industry as a whole. The porn industry might be damaging and exploitative to women (both those who are performers in the industry and in society at large), but if it is, Grey’s surely a victim of that exploitation, not a perpetrator of it. (And, as an aside, she’s well-known for publicly arguing against the idea that there’s anything particularly exploitative about appearing in porn [link NSFW] – though since she’s clearly been far more successful than most, her experience is unlikely to have been typical.)

What lies behind the outcry at Grey’s appearance at the school is a deeply unpleasant Victorian-era view of sexual morals. In the eyes of both the parents and TMZ writers, because she’s been in porn, she’s now a fallen woman, and as such has no business being around the innocent little cherubs of Emerson Elementary. (This is perhaps best illustrated in the sidesplitting suggestion by TMZ staff in the video above that the book she chose to read was Dr Seuss’ Horton hears a Whore; everyone loves a bit of casual misogyny with their gossip, right?) But a porn actor visiting a school isn’t going to magically corrupt the children she meets. The only people at the school who could plausibly have known how she became famous would be the staff, and you’d hope they’d be mature enough to deal with it. Should Grey also avoid ever having a family of her own, lest the stain of her terrible sin of having consensual sex on camera be passed onto her children?

Practically every adult who’s ever worked with children will have been sexually active at some point. Some of them might even have been filmed doing so, or been paid for it. But so long as all a person’s sex partners were consenting adults, their love life has precisely zero bearing on whether they’re well-suited to being around kids. Claims to the contrary are prudish, puritannical, sexist rubbish, and should be treated as such.

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Reader Comments

Quite right.

There is another related issue that gets very little coverage – that of those convicted of crimes relating to prostitution (for example soliciting). It’s not commonly known that they are often put on the sex offenders register meaning that they will not be able to get any job that requires a CRB check at all.

Way to ‘not help people out of desperate situations and stigmitise them for the rest of their lives’ law.

#1 
Written By jim jepps on November 15th, 2011 @ 7:08 pm
Hugh

Wouldn’t the reason that her porn career is relevant be that she was invited as a celebrity reader, and she is a celebrity because she is a porn star? I don’t think the children are more likely to know her from “Entourage” than from pornography, and a quick Google of her name would definitely acquaint them with her career in the latter more than in the former.

So it is relevant – which means that the debate is about the morality or otherwise of porn. I don’t think that arguing pornography is bad is “prudish, puritanical, sexist [or] rubbish” (I’m not sure being ‘puritanical’ means anything more specific than having high moral standards – the kind of moral standards the Left would apply to business practice or environmental damage, for example) Whether or not she consents, watch a few of her videos and draw your own conclusions about the attitudes towards women they might encourage in men.

#2 
Written By Hugh on November 15th, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

No, you’re completely and utterly wrong. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the morality of porn. If the kids who she was reading to find out she was in porn (a scenario that I’d say has become a hell of a lot more likely now that their parents have kicked up a fuss; I find it hard to imagine first graders are in the habit of Googling the names of people who come into their class to read to them), the issue is then whether it’s appropriate for 7-year-olds to be *learning about* porn, not the morality of porn per se – which is why I deliberately didn’t express a view on the latter in this article.

#3 
Written By Owen on November 15th, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

Oh, and in reply to Jim: I hadn’t heard that before. You’re absolutely right, that’s atrocious.

#4 
Written By Owen on November 15th, 2011 @ 11:36 pm
James

I agree with Hugh. She’s not gone there as an ordinary citizen or parent helping in the community – this would be fine. She has gone as a celebrity, which means her background is the basis for her being in the school, so inviting her as a celebrity is in effect endorsing her career.

This article seems to imply that being anti-porn is the same as being anti-female sexuality (it is not). And I also don’t agree with the assertion she must be viewed as a ‘fallen woman’- if she went to the school as an ordinary citizen it would be fine. Its only the endorsement of her celebrity status that makes it wrong.

#5 
Written By James on November 16th, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

Again, no. At no point do I claim being anti-porn is the same as being anti-female sexuality. As I’ve said more than once already, whether porn is harmful or not is *irrelevant*. If it is harmful and exploitative then as a former performer Grey clearly counts as someone who was harmed and exploited. As such it’s not legitimate to condemn her for appearing in porn even if you think porn is a bad thing. Unless, as I said you take some kind of ‘fallen woman’-type view.

#6 
Written By Owen on November 16th, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

At the bottom of the article is a poll. The question asked is “Porn stars teaching kids”, with the permitted responses, “No big deal” and “Inappropriate”.

So the poll’s strapline is slightly loaded. Pornstars are not just reading to kids. They have been transformed from readers to teachers. I suppose the implication is a greater degree of long term contact.

But guess what? two thirds of the 150,000+ resonses to the poll have sided with “No big deal”.

If TMZ do have some kind of puritanical editorial policy, it isn’t necessarily shared by it’s readership.

#7 
Written By Paul on November 16th, 2011 @ 11:57 pm

Also, having looked a little deeper, TMZ are very much towards the National Enquirer/Daily Sport end of the journalistic spectrum. They sell advertising by pressing emotional buttons. I doubt if they really give a shit about the children of California.

#8 
Written By Paul on November 17th, 2011 @ 12:20 am
Paddy

I’m not sure that the morality of it is irrelevant. For example, would you be happy for murderers or rapists to be reading books to your children in school? No.

Obviously, Sasha Grey is neither a murderer or rapist, however you’ve said morality is irrelevant. If that is the case then you make no distinction about the morality of people who come into contact with your children?? What planet are you on mate?!

#9 
Written By Paddy on November 17th, 2011 @ 8:55 am
Paddy

Having reread your article Owen, I can only conclude that you are deluded… In fact, frankly, I think you should admit that you are entirely wrong. If you can’t see why someone would be upset about their child coming into contact with, and being read stories *without their permission* by one of the most hardcore porn actresses out there then you are utterly up the wrong garden path.

#10 
Written By Paddy on November 17th, 2011 @ 9:00 am
AdamP

@Paddy: No, Owen didn’t say morality was irrelevant, he said the morality of *porn* (whether it is harmful or not) was irrelevant, *because* unless you subscribe to the fallen-women idea he mentions, or similar, then either she’s exploited (and perhaps deluded) or empowered, neither of which should be reasons to attack her reading to children if she wants. Do you subscribe to a “deeply unpleasant Victorian-era view of sexual morals”? If not, please do explain how your view differs.

Personally I’d say that the basis on which she was invited/arranged the event, the point James makes, is much more pertinent than your ‘but she does hardcore porn why can’t you see’ riposte…

#11 
Written By AdamP on November 18th, 2011 @ 12:28 am
Paddy

Well logic is that if the morality of porn is irrelevant then you could go on to say that if we considered it morally as bad as for example rape, then it would still be ok, since its irrelevant.. Pretty simple logical step there if you ask me.

As for the point James made, I fully agree with it, and he has already made it. I’m not trying to reassert that point, what I am asking is how Owen can fail to see the reasons why parents would be upset about their children being minded by someone of arguably very dubious background without their consent or consultation. I find it ridiculous that he has written this article without even trying to empathise with the concerns of the parents in question. To me the article comes across as a kind of unthinking standard-template libertarian/ultra liberal response to an event. In other words he takes what he sees as the standard ultra-liberal or libertarian (although I’m sure he wouldn’t be happy with that term, but it is) position on porn and applies it to the situation. This goes against a more effective position which would be looking at the situation and then building a position based on an understanding of the issues involved.

I would go on to suggest that whether Owen would happily let his children be looked after by Sasha Grey or not, shouldn’t be the basis on which processes for selecting suitable literacy tutors should be established. These processes are quite stringent for good reason: children are impressionable and vulnerable. They have no choice go to school – it is compulsory – so they themselves have no choice over who looks after them.. The least you could expect then, is that they get looked after by trained professionals. Having strangers of dubious background and unclear motives coming in to contact them at their school (supposedly a secure and safe environment) without their parents permission is unacceptable. Aside from the fact she was a porn star, I wouldn’t want Tom Cruise reading to my kids either.

Finally do I really have to spell out why someone who has been “exploited” by the sex industry might not be a good candidate for child minding? Now it may be that all she did was read a book, under careful scrutiny of other staff members and then leave. That in itself would be harmless I agree. The dangers could be, for instance, a precedent where an “exploited” porn star becomes a role model for young children. It could be that she has important life lessons or unique advice for mature young people, but I would argue that those lessons/life experience certainly wouldn’t of benefit to young children.

#12 
Written By Paddy on November 18th, 2011 @ 9:35 am
Hugh

Thanks Paddy – I feel Owen has slightly twisted the substance of my objection.
***
The morality of porn is not relevant because Sasha Grey, as a porn star, is dangerous to the children (as a murderer or rapist might be), or even because she would be a bad role model (although this is a nuanced point, as the the arguments that porn exploits women don’t depend on a Dworkin-esque attitude to women’s sexuality in society meaning their choice to become porn stars in the first place was coerced: only one the evidence of the gradual coercion that takes place. Choosing to become a porn star would make you a bad role model because it is in that respect a dangerous career where the danger is to your whole person rather than only your body).
***
It is relevant because choosing someone to be a celebrity guest reader endorses (or at least normalises) the way in which they have earnt their celebrity: in this case, the porn *industry*. You may not have a problem with the porn industry, but I and many feminists do. In the interests of women at large and the industry’s victims immediately, the porn industry should not be presented to other adults, or children, as a normal thing and certainly not as a good way to break into the film industry or become famous.

#13 
Written By Hugh on November 19th, 2011 @ 7:24 pm
Paddy

I take your point, and I agree, however I also maintain that parents have a right to be sensitive about dubious strangers being given contact with their children without permission. As I said before, I wouldn’t want Tom Cruise reading to my children either. On the endorsement point, I think it is likely that the school hired her on the basis of her appearance in entourage and were unaware of her porn career. I can only assume that she left that part out of her CV. Otherwise yes that would be an endorsement of the porn industry but I find that quite hard to believe.

On the subject of morality or otherwise of the porn industry.. It’s a very complex issue. I don’t think I would say I am against the concept of pornography per se. In theory sex between consenting adults is harmless, and a representation of it is equally so. However (and this is a BIG however), the reality of the porn industry is very far from something so abstract as consensual sex. I don’t think I need to elaborate on why. What I’m saying is that I don’t think pornography is wrong by definition, but it is very clear to me that the actual condition of the porn industry in general is horrendous, and I would never want to condone or apologise for the treatment or situation of porn actresses/tors. Perhaps the most unpleasant thing about it is the silent hand of the market in this process. I think people tend to blank out everything by saying that it’s all an act. To a degree I think that is true, but the reality of how it affects people in the business is much darker and problematic (the statistic that the majority of women working as strippers or porn actresses were the victims of childhood sexual abuse is revealing). It may be acting, but its all still real – its not cgi and in reality people really are doing and experiencing the acts depicted. But that’s only the people involved in the production industry – I think you could equally make a case based on the impact that the porn industry has on consumers. Finally my instinct is Huxleyan in that there is a big problem with a world view that endorses pornography and I do deeply sympathise with Huxley’s views in that respect. Having said that I am no prude!

#14 
Written By Paddy on November 20th, 2011 @ 12:50 am

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