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Is it any wonder students turn to porn to pay college costs?

by Ted Rall

Everybody’s talking about — scratch that. Culture is too atomized for everybody to be talking about anything.

Lots of people who don’t usually cop to knowing about, much less watching, porn — writers at high-end intellectual magazines, columnists for The Washington Post — are talking about Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who embraced her outing as an adult film actress in an eloquent, feminist theory-imbued attack against slut-shaming.

Social media has responded as you’d expect: lots of mean slut-shaming that proves Knox’s point that “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.”

Tabloids and gossip sites are reveling in their usual witches’ brew of judginess and salacious intrigue.

Big corporate media is reacting like George C. Scott finding out his daughter is a whore. Considering that the average age of a journalist is old enough to be Knox’s mom or dad, knee-jerk Talibanality comes as little surprise, though quite unpleasant to watch.

About that Post columnist: Ruth Marcus, old enough to be Knox’s grandma and apparently a freelance psychologist, calls Knox a “troubled young woman.”

If Marcus hates the sin and not the sinner, it’s hard to tell. Her column drips with condescension and contempt.

“Methinks the freshman doth protest too much,” writes Marcus. Because, you know, like, 18 years old is mature enough to decide which Arabs to shoot, but not to have sex for money.

“Even more heartbreaking is listening to Knox’s still little-girlish voice describing how she’ll tell her parents. ‘I don’t want to,’ she told the Duke Chronicle last month, in the whiny tone of a child told to go to bed.”

Charming.

Marcus goes on. Who could stop her? “She mentioned rough sex, which requires an unpleasant discussion of what kind of pornography we’re talking about here and the increasingly violent nature of the Internet-fueled pornography trade. These are not your father’s Playboys. Letting a man ejaculate on your face is not empowering under anyone’s definition of the term. It’s debasing.”

Two things.

(1) The sex act that Marcus refers to predates the Internet. If she doesn’t know that, or how to Google, she should have spoken to someone who does.

(2) What’s sexy and what’s empowering are purely subjective. Knox describes feeling “fear, humiliation, shame” — not from her work, but from neo-Puritan a—-oles on the Internet giving her a hard time. “Doing pornography fulfills me,” she writes.

Part of respecting women — of being a feminist — is taking them at their word. Thus, in the absence of evidence that Knox is lying or insane, I choose to believe her.

So. Why did Knox become a sex worker? Her answer: “If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn’t have done porn. My story is a testament to how f—-ing expensive school is.” Media gatekeepers are ignoring it, but this is the real/big story.

Each year in the United States, 12 million freshmen take out student loans. By the time they graduate (or not), they wind up owing $26,000 — plus several times that amount in compound interest payments. In many cities, that’s more than the cost of a house.

Duke University charges Belle Knox $61,000 a year in tuition, room and board. I don’t care how many hours she could have put in at Starbucks; the only way a typical college kid can generate $250,000 in cash over four years is to think outside the box.

Knox isn’t alone. Many college students work as prostitutes.

When I attended Columbia University, I met many students who cut moral and legal corners to make their bursar bills.

I knew students who were call girls, including one who brought her clients to her dorm room to save on hotel rooms. Topless and nude dancers weren’t rare at Columbia. A close friend took advantage of his room’s southern exposure to grow pot plants; he sold his stash out of a deserted Butler Library stack full of 17th century Italian folios.

Another pal was banking six figures as a cocaine dealer (it was the 1980s.)

I discovered that one of my classmates was sleeping in the park. There was nothing left after he paid tuition.

One of my buddies, now a minor success in Silicon Valley, had a unique racket. He climbed outside locked campus buildings using grappling hooks. Yes, like a ninja. He entered the chemistry and physics department storerooms through the windows. He then sold the chemicals — including radioactive stuff — to an oily man who worked at the mid-Manhattan consulate of a nation that did not get along with the United States.

I won’t mention the guy who sold his poo in the Village.

Reagan slashed student financial aid during my freshman year. To pay my way sophomore year, I broke laws.

If I knew then what I know, I wouldn’t have done it. Going into debt or risking jail to pay exorbitant tuition at an “elite” school like Duke or Columbia is insane. You can get an excellent education at any number of cheaper, no-name schools.

You can save tens of thousands of dollars by attending a community college for two years, then transferring for junior year; the name on the diploma is what matters.

But that’s the point. I was 18. Like Knox. There’s a reason the military recruits 17- and 18-year-olds. They don’t know anything. I still can’t believe when my mom drove me to the bank to sign the student loan agreement. I was 17. Seriously? I couldn’t vote or drink.

I thought Manhattan was Long Island.

Americans hear a drumbeat of “unless you attend college, your life will suck” propaganda the first 18 years of their lives. Their parents say it. Their teachers say it. Their guidance counselors and the media say it. The college/university industry spends millions to advertise the message that the more you spend on tuition, the more you’ll earn during your lifetime.

The president says it too.

Everyone says college is a must and that expensive college is better than cheap college. Of course Belle Knox and young Ted Rall and 20 million new suckers every year believe it.

Ruth Marcus concludes: “Knox’s pathetic story wouldn’t be worth examining — exploiting? — if it didn’t say something deeper about the hook-up culture run amok and the demise of shame.”

Wrong.

Belle Knox has nothing to be ashamed of.

The real sluts are the cash-whore trustees of Duke University, who are sitting on top of a $6 billion endowment, and the overpaid college and university officials who have jacked up tuition at twice the inflation rate year after year.

Ted Rall is a U.S. columnist, syndicated editorial cartoonist and author. His website is www.tedrall.com. © 2014 Ted Rall

  • happyjapan

    This is a great article. The USA is just a money and status hungry cesspool. It’s a horrible place unless you’re rich. Why people think it’s such a great place when it’s a nadir of humanity is beyond me.

    • phu

      Do you live there? I do, and guess what: Your generalizations are disgusting and untrue. I’m not rich, nor is anyone I know; some of my friends actually live and/or grew up in poor areas, and even then, they didn’t call the USA a “horrible place.”

      It’s not perfect (it’s FAR from perfect). But it’s not universally a “money and status hungry cesspool.” You sound like either a very bitter American or someone who’s never spent much time here.

      It’s unpopular to be pro-US (and popular to be against it), so your comment is not surprising. But these ridiculous statements are your own failure to understand that such a huge place simply is not going to conform to your clearly-biased preconceptions. Places aren’t horrible, people are, and there are horrible people everywhere. Get over yourself.

      • happyjapan

        Healthcare? Relative poverty? Income gap? Hours worked? Holidays taken ?Stagnant wages for the middle class? Obesity? Education and literacy levels among low income earners? Face it, The US sucks for poor people. This is an UNDENIABLE fact. Only a completely brainwashed individual would not see this, but I suppose Being forced to recite the pledge of allegiance every morning at school might have that effect on you. You realise that the reason a lot of Americans stay in Japan so long is that they dare not risk returning to their home country and get sick!. I’ll tell you what’s disgusting: How the US treats people who don’t have health insurance. What’s also disgusting is the cruel and vicious classism and sexism shown in comments on this thread, the same privileged white guys blaming women and the young for bearing the brunt of a greedy dysfunctional dog eat dog system that has been going downhill since Regan. You can keep it.

      • Serawit

        You make it sound like there is a paradise for poor people somewhere in this world. I agree, that the U.S. and pretty much every place in this world is a pit for poor people. Japan is not any better, where 1 in 6 of its general population and 1 in 3 women live in poverty. That’s a big deal for the world’s 3rd largest economy, and for a society that supposedly values collectivism instead of individualism. At least our greed is blatant and up in your face. In contrast, the Japanese are so coy about it while engaging in the same parasitic endeavor.

        So, yeah, gently dismount that high horse.

      • happyjapan

        Actually, I completely agree with you, and if you look at my comments on this site about Japan, I have raised similar issues. I think what is different is that the “American dream” basically isolates and blames the victims for their own situation. European and Asian social philosophy at least acknowledges that “structures” of power and relationships make things much more nuanced: the poor are not completely responsible for their poverty and the rich are not rich thanks only to their own efforts.
        But the mind boggling Anglo saxon greed is infecting countries across the world, and the US media machine that is Hollywood is constantly pumping this wealth propaganda into homes and cinemas across the world.

        In my opinion, the terrible poverty and inequality in Japan has really gotten ramped up thanks to the Koizumi government and the current Abe government. Kozumi was a moron who basically tried to instill American “free market” values in Japan by slashing social spending across the board. Abe has followed suit, and hence we see the terrible social problems in Japan.

      • Serawit

        I haven’t read your other posts and am strictly responding to your comments on this thread. As you admit, your issue is not with what renders people poor, but as to the excuses provided by collectivist and individualist societies for poverty.

        Excuse me, but that’s a bunch of hogwash. You’re more interested in advancing your elitist argument as to which excuse is better, instead of deliberating on the structural problems of what render some people poor and others filthy rich. It is a disingenuous argument where the end result is to make yourself feel better.

      • happyjapan

        You’re not excused, you just came across with the ignorant bullying arrogance that Americans are infamous for the world over. You obviously have no idea about structuralist theory, but seeing as you have been brainwashed by American “education”, I don’t blame you. You guys still haven’t dealt with the fact that your country has been built on white settlers performing mass genocide and slavery on their fellow humans. That’s why you still blame the victim: It’s the thinking of a self obsessed child. You need to get an education from a culture that has developed beyond adolescent level solipsism, just don’t take out a college loan in the states to do it!

      • Serawit

        Your thin-skinned response lacking in substance is further evidence that you’re out here for self-aggrandizement; some sort of satisfaction you procure by belittling others. It doesn’t work, neither for you nor on others.

        I bet you’re the kind who would not get caught dead associating with the poor. They’re probably too beneath you, but you’d like to help them out of pity.

        And, no, I wasn’t referring to structuralism, a sociological theory, but systemic root causes of poverty, more of an economics approach.

      • James

        Can’t say that the OP’s comment is “ridiculous”…they’re actually true.
        Being an American myself, I know that we Americans tend to believe that we are the best when we are not…Worse than that, we will trash anyone who says otherwise…which is what you are doing. Of course, we can’t generalize but by far and large, the comments are true.

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    “If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn’t have done porn. My story is a testament to how f—-ing expensive school is.””

    No one forced you to go to school, sweetheart. Stop pretending to be victim and blaming men, universities, and the “go to school, get a good job” culture. We all heard the same thing, but not all of us made the same choices.

    If you want lower school fees, start advocating for the abolition of governmental school loans which are the cause of the ever-growing price of tuition. If you are not willing to do that, then please stop the attention ho-ing; the schtick is getting old already.

    • phu

      Exactly. Rather than addressing an actual problem, she complains that she wasn’t handed what she wanted.

      I did unquestioningly follow the “go to school, get a job” mantra, but even then it’s not hard to look forward a little bit and understand that you have to PAY for school. If you can’t afford Duke and you can’t get enough scholarship money, you go somewhere else or you deal with it.

      If her attitude were “I wanted to go to this school so I took responsibility and made it happen,” then I’d have applauded her. As it is, it’s just one more “omg teh patriarchy” on the pile.

      • 151E

        You seem to have conflated two issues. Yes, she complains about the high cost of tuition, but she does accept full responsibility for her choices. Her comments denouncing patriarchy are in the context of the stigmatisation of sex workers.

        From her article on xojane:

        The virgin-whore dichotomy is an insidious standard that we have unfairly placed upon women. Women are supposed to be outwardly pure and modest, while at the same time being sexually alluring and available. If a woman does not have sex after a date, she will be labeled as a prude. If she does have sex, she will be referred to later as a ho or a slut.

        Society thus sets up a norm in which women simply cannot win.

        We must question in this equation why sex workers are so brutally stigmatized. Why do we exclude them for jobs, education, and from mainstream society?

        Why do we scorn, threaten and harass them?

        Why do we deny them of their personhood?

        Why does the thought of a woman having sexual experiences scare us so much?

        The answer is simple.

        Patriarchy fears female sexuality.

      • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

        “If she does have sex, she will be referred to later as a ho or a slut.

        Society thus sets up a norm in which women simply cannot win.”

        Why is she speaking as if women have no agency at all? Why must all need to approve before you can proceed? Think and judge for yourself, grow a thick skin.

        If she believes women have no moral agency, then she is doing more damage to herself than any imagined patriarchy is.

      • 151E

        Interesting. I don’t interpret her comments as in anyway denying females moral agency (i.e. the cognitive ability to act deliberately on decisions within a framework of what is right or wrong). I read her instead as complaining that females are often in a no-win situation where their decisions are criticised no matter what they chose with regards to their own sexuality, and particularly so if sexually uninhibited.

    • James

      Trust an American to twist the story and blame the victim…for being the victim!

  • happyjapan

    Well said. America is not the world!

  • Miamiron

    This is just a stunt, she wants to be a star.

    Her father is a veteran, just as mine is, and a child of a veteran gets a lot of educational finance benefits which would cover a vast majority of student costs (It did for me and would have for her).