Integrity: noun. 1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. 2. The state of being whole and undivided.
To have integrity is to be whole, undivided in moral uprightness, whole in not violating the boundaries of ethical behavior. In Harry Potter speak, Voldemort splits his soul into pieces by killing people. The act actually rips him apart. And of course (spoiler alert) in the end he dis-integrates.
A year or two ago a good friend of mine did a brief stint writing the sex column for our alma mater’s campus newspaper. That summer she applied to work for a youth summer camp. She had the job nearly offered to her and then yanked out from beneath her feet after a google search for her name revealed her column. Frankly, I would rather my child have teachers who, if necessary, were comfortable and open and sex-positive to address their questions. But unfortunately I am apparently an outlier. I am also apparently not in the majority in comprehending that someone who writes a sex column for a college newspaper might actually have the capacity to discern between their newspaper venue and a camp for learning about other things. I find this irretrievably pathetic.
This morning I read an article written by an articulate young woman, currently a freshman at Duke University, arguing ably for her right to earn money to pay for her tuition by doing side work as a porn star and be treated like a human being–with common decency and respect. While I admit I clicked on the article partly because of its title –“I’m the Duke University Freshman Porn Star…”–which put ‘university’ and ‘porn’ in the same sentence, at the same time I find it off-putting that part of why the fact of this particular young woman’s sex work garners attention is because she is also getting an education.
I also (after clicking around and reading the article in Duke’s campus newspaper) believe that part of the uproar here in general is that a porn star unequivocally being a person, with a personality, with parents, who goes to school, i.e. is identifiable as “like us” (us being middle/upper-middle-class college-educated Americans) and who furthermore enjoys sex, is actually verbal and vocal about it, inherently threatens the impersonality of porn, of our view of sex as a culture. It calls out our voyeurship. And it calls out our tendency to dismiss the prostitute, the porn star, the dancer, the sexy silhouette on the back of a truck as “other.”
In the Lord of the Rings it is not very hard to watch as a battalion of ghosts guts, maims, dismembers, and overcomes the orc army of Mordor. Why? Because the bad guys aren’t people, they are orcs; monsters, so in fact it’s pretty much a huge relief to see them all die. Not so very long ago, slavery in this country was justified by asserting the “inferiority” or rather, the “somehow less humanness” of African Americans. Watch pretty much any action flick and notice how the costume designer covers or disguises the faces of all those guards and attackers who are in the way of the main protagonist, who serve no other plot purpose than to build suspense or make an adventure seem realistic. We can sit through Mr. & Mrs. Smith for entertainment sake even while within the film hundreds of people just kind of die without much fanfare. They don’t count. Only the protagonists count.
I have to state before entering this paragraph that I have never seen any “actual” porn. Unless you count Amanda Palmer’s makeout session with Stoya in “Do It With a Rockstar” which for the purposes of this conversation doesn’t count. So anyway while I cannot speak from experience with the porn industry here is where I’m headed: When people talk about “the objectification of women,” what it means in many ways is that a pretty face, a photogenic, lithe, young, naked female body, can be viewed in much the same impersonal way we look at an orc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we don’t do this to men’s bodies and non-gendered bodies, too. But in the case of women’s bodies, we as a culture are more likely to look at them as a canvas for our own projections than as people with ideas, values, emotions, rights. Open up a fashion magazine and tell me how many of those models strike you as people. I know I often don’t think of them that way. We open up Vogue in order to critique the minutest details of every crevice, not to read the few articles it contains and their shreds of actual thought.
We don’t need to cover her face to forget that she is human (although focusing on her torso helps).
But if she goes to Duke University and can write a solid argument “how are we going to get off?!” Having sex with an actual person is way scarier than the prospect of banging an inanimate object. It’s vulnerable. It opens people up to heartbreak at the same time as it can make indelible bonds between people. It is my personal (and fairly insulting) opinion that probably most of the sexist assholes on the internet who make it their pleasure to call women sluts as if their sexuality were shameful are just scared of the enormity of dealing with the wholeness of another human being rather than continuing to plow through their insecurities. These jerks can make me justifiably angry but on the whole I just find this irretrievably sad.
I want to make a note about accountability here. We live in the 21st century, but in many ways, especially in the United States (I can’t speak so well to other places though I’d guess they are similar), our ties to the Victorian era have not been severed. Despite the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the “moral outrage” at a young woman who would dare be open and celebratory and in charge of her sexuality is palpable. It is palpable in the idiot who missed out on having my friend work as a camp counselor and it is palpable in the frat boys at duke who, upon learning of this young woman’s side job, verbalized their goal to fuck her by graduation time (and that’s the milder of the commentary). It is just as palpable in the well-meaning questioners who ask, “why would you choose to do that to yourself?” for though I sympathize with the question in some ways I recognize also the inherent victim-blaming in it. If a healthy dialogue existed surrounding sex in our culture, no one would really care that she did that as long as she did it of her own will. She is not exempting herself from other work by doing sex-work. She is not exempting herself from the circle of respectable human beings. Other people (attempt to) do that to her.
You can hoot and holler all you want about the morality of this or that. But sex is human. And humans are sexual. The more we try to deny it the more suffering results. The terrible boundaries (and fear) that exist around sex exist largely because we don’t have decent open conversations about it. It’s like the biggest scariest elephant in the room. I mean it’s WEIRD. Unregulated human pleasure and passion could seriously destroy most of the power structures “we” cling to (that’s another blog post). I applaud the “Duke University Freshman Porn Star” for speaking out, for writing, for making certain she gets to be a voice, not just torso in a bra that is too large, a vague archetype to throw insults at.
And I challenge everyone else to remember this: when it comes to integrity, any act which denies the wholeness of a human being is the deepest violation. The most immoral thing we do on a daily basis is shame each other for being who we are. Let’s cut it out already. I think we’d ultimately all end up happier.