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"Become a Porn Actress": Sasha Grey's Equal Pay Day PSA Misses the Point

March 20 is Equal Pay Day in Belgium, and to draw attention to the country's 22% wage gap for women, zij-kant (a women's group organizing the equal pay efforts) has launched an awareness video and corresponding campaign starring porn actress Sasha Grey. It hinges on the fact that, according to the video, porn is one of the few industries where women are consistently paid more than their male counterparts. It is also a very strange and weirdly sad PSA that misses the point by making the equal pay issue all about porn, with a tone that is at once both slut-shaming and sensationalistic. (Also, it's NSFW.)


Transcript here.

Where to begin? First of all, this is a major downer of a PSA. Sasha Grey is shown in a sad dress, with a sad face, wandering around a big empty house while blurry people make porn in the background. What a sad life she's been leading! And all because of the wage gap! Right? That tenuous connection drawn between working in the porn industry and the systematic sexism (and racism, though that doesn't get a mention in this all-white video) that results in a wage gap, is where this PSA really starts to fail. How, exactly, are the two related? Are we really supposed to believe that the only reason Sasha Grey chose a career in porn is because she knew that if she followed her dream of being a teacher or a nurse she wouldn't make as much money as her male colleagues?

screen cap from the video of Sasha Grey looking sadEven if we accepted that confusing logic—though I honestly doubt Ms. Grey left high school with the sole intention of avoiding the wage gap at all costs—I have a hard time believing that women really do make more than men in Belgian porn, at least as a rule. And what about women of color? In the US, non-white women in porn make significantly less than white women do—is the same true in Belgium? My guess is yes, which makes the "avoid the wage gap by being in porn" message not just weird, but also bullshit.

So what's the point? According to the press materials that accompany it, the purpose of this video and campaign is to focus on "young people and the relation between their subjects of study, their career and their wage, guided by the controversial slogan: Porn is about the only way for women to make more than men." It would seem that the Equal Pay Day folks are working to promote porn as a career option for young Belgian women (white women, anyway) because it's their only shot at getting equal pay. If you can get past the nudity and the sad music though, you can see that they're clearly counting on an audience that is horrified by the very thought of porn (why else would they ask Sasha Grey to describe being penetrated with a 12" dildo?) and thus will be motivated to do something—though they don't say what—to avoid it. Again from the press materials:

In the web commercial we see Sasha in a role she plays well: that of the sweet young woman. She tells us the story of her early professional life. She tells us about the choice she made to leave school aged only 18 years old and to take on a different sort of career. She tells us she earned a decent living. And then the commercial changes in mood. And she tells us with the same sweet smile about the things she had to do to earn all this money. Tough things. Things you wouldn't do for all the money in the world.

WTF? The slogan accompanying this campaign is "Close the Wage Gap: Become a Porn Actress"! (Apparently the posters bearing that slogan will be "tattooed on a woman's lower back," which is fighting for equality how, exactly?) But what they're actually saying is "We know you wouldn't do porn for 'all the money in the world,' but you'll do it if you want equal pay even though it's horrifying," which is a mixed message at best. Why not ask people to take action instead?

Clearly this campaign is trying to capitalize on the stigma of porn, and, like PETA before them zij-kant is hoping that images of women being sooo sex-ay (but in a gross way) will garner enough attention that somehow radical change will just magically happen—they give literally no other suggestions for taking action beyond asking women to "become a porn actress." Does anyone else find this campaign super problematic and bizarre? What's going on here?

I guess if their tactics don't work then at least the women of Belgium can all follow Sasha Grey's lead and start doing pornography—I hear it pays great.

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Comments

15 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I can see the remnants of a

I can see the remnants of a good idea, but I think the ad just screwed up the message entirely. What I got out of the ad was a promotion of the porn industry and more women should go into it, than the message that porn is demoralizing, dehumanizing and all- around wrong and the only way a woman (white) can make equal to or more than men in their society is by taking part in this gross industry. I think most men will be like "Awesome porn" and women will think, "Maybe I should get into this."

The part I find most

The part I find most confusing in regards to the "Porn is about the only way for women to make more than men" tagline is that she says at one part that as a nurse she made more than the doctors. So... Doesn't that undermine their point a bit? I know a nurse isn't a doctor, and presumably a male nurse would make more than a female nurse, but by sticking in that line it undermines their whole porn message. I'm not even going to tackle the actual porn issue for women, as you did that well.

Another weird part of the video...

That confused me the first time I saw it too, Bronwyn, but Sasha Grey is actually referencing playing a nurse in a porn. I think they were going for kind of a "gotcha" moment, but it didn't work all that well.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Ahhh. Yeah, that's not at

Ahhh. Yeah, that's not at all clear. Thanks!

ladies & sex & money

Thanks for this post. I have lots of disorganized thoughts about this ad I'd like to share once I figure them out (that are also part of a larger project I've been working on), but I really need to just say thanks for sharing this now because it'll probably be quite a while before I get it all sorted out.

I'm somewhat confused by this

I'm somewhat confused by this critique which seems to miss a lot of important points. I concur that the ad is questionable, and probably meant to be sensationalistic in order to get people talking, but I think it is reasonably clear that they are not telling Belgian women to audition to become porn stars (nor are they saying that they shouldn't - this is Belgium, and their sex politics are not in any way the same as yours are in America), even though some people will probably take it that way (which is certainly problematic). The fact that you failed to even mention the second half of their slogan, "... find a better alternative," means that this article isn't even covering the entire issue. Perhaps that message is lost amongst the rest of the ad, but to ignore the fact that they said it is downright bizarre.

Yes, the ad is problematic because it is ambiguous, but really, this isn't a cut and dried issue. Porn is not seen as negative by a large portion of the population, and this includes a large number of feminists. My own feelings aside, simply calling what women do in porn or (PETA adverts) "gross" is as much of an oversimplification of a major issue than this ad is (even though PETA ads usually are gross).

As for the race issue... well, less than 10% of the Belgium's population is not white. Again, not America. And while this does not exonerate them for failing to deal with every issue that might contribute to a wage gap in less than 90 seconds, it would seem like a relevant point to make here if you want people to take this critique seriously. Not bringing this up would allude to a lack of awareness of what race issues might even be in Belgium. Race plays out quite differently in different areas of the world.

Mostly, I find this critique more confusing than the ad itself. Or maybe I'm missing something.

Thanks gk1984. I want to make

Thanks gk1984. I want to make it clear that I also support women's right to act in porn, and when I used the word "gross" I was attempting to interpret the way the Equal Pay Day campaign presented a career in porn (which they say most women "wouldn't do for all the money in the world"), not my own feelings on the matter. I think this ad makes porn look like a sad, lonely last resort for women who aren't paid equally in other fields, which is problematic and also obscures the real issue—systemic change is needed to achieve equal pay, and this campaign doesn't make mention of that at all.

As far as race is concerned, it's not so much about accurate representation as it is that a conversation about equal pay needs to take race into account because people of color are typically paid less than white people regardless of gender, and this is true in the porn industry as well.

Since I was totally confused by this campaign, I'm not surprised that my critique was unclear to you—there's a lot going on in this PSA. I hope this helps to clarify!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

oh Sasha...

Alright, so it's obvious the video totally F-ed up the message of equal wages, we get that. However, I'm really still confused about why this public relation's prodigy gets SO much attention??? Sure, she's gorgeous but what does she bring to the table that makes her so damn iconic? Anyway, the fact that anyone would promote porn as an alternative to being a nurse, is for lack of better words, stupid. The misogyny that engulfs the porn industry is disgusting and although these women may be making a generous living and promoting their self sufficiency, which is in deed amazing, at the end of the day, porn videos are still supplying the ends to a mean for thousands of male viewers whom continue to only view women as objects to use.

This is absurd

This could have been a great PSA but it wasn't. It's as though it started with a good idea but became something entirely different, perhaps too many cooks in the kitchen.

The idea of having women act in porn because it pays better does not require other industries to change their pay scale. What a message to send to young women? We know this isn't fair, so sell your body instead because you're not worth it. Disgusting.

Whoa. This PSA is totally

Whoa. This PSA is totally weird. Having Grey say "I'm proud of these things that I did" and then directly following up with the PSA perspective "find a better alternative" totally undermines Grey's voice. As a viewer, I would probably think that the campaign used Grey, instead of collaborating with her. I wonder what she thinks about it in retrospect?

I wonder if the commercial is

I wonder if the commercial is also subtly trying to say "hey, there may be a wage gap, but it could be worse, you could be in porn, so don't complain". I'm also confused as to why Sasha says she worked as a teacher and a nurse, I'm pretty sure you can't do that with only a highschool diploma. I've also seen a porn documentary (Porn 9:5 I think it was called) in which Sasha Grey was not at all sad to be in porn. She looked pretty happy to me.

I found this ad to be really sad

I wasn't hit at all by the wage gap message this video was supposed to provide, but Sasha Grey saying she's proud of having been sexually abused in a porn video. Now yes, I know some people like S&M and that's cool, and I'm fine with whatever goes on in people's bedrooms as long as it's consensual. The way Sasha said she was proud, it seemed empty. Like, she's claiming to have a sense of pride left, after it's been clearly taken from her. Like, her self-worth was taken by that video she performed said act in, but if she says she's proud if it that will make it okay.

I have a morbid curiosity, and one day it lead me to look up a film online which was a documentary about a infamous porn site that involved hardcore S&M videos. The way Sasha talks in this video, in a detached way, reminded me of the girls from that video. Maybe it was her acting like porn was a horrible alternative to other work, because of the message the ad was supposed to convey.

I'm finding it hard to really explain why I would feel what Sasha said disturbs me, I mean if she really is proud of doing that scene, then good for her. I guess I just had a moment of visualizing it, and how having a woman put in such a helpless position could be sexually arousing just astounds me. Yes, I understand some people into S&M really are into that, but it seemed with Sasha like she's talking about it in a way that girl tells a secret to another girl. Sort of a, "I got really drunk last night and puked everywhere, but I'm so proud I drunk all those beers and showed up the guys!" kind of way.

I think perhaps I feel sorry for her, and I understand if this is truly what Sasha wants from her life, I'm not one to judge that. Maybe she's just a good actress, and conveyed a feeling of sadness to send the message about the wage gap. I just find myself very conflicted as to how I feel about this ad, and my ethics in feeling what one does with sex is their business.

Marina Hantzis is about as

Marina Hantzis is about as intelligent as a porn star. Wait! She is one! She may say she isn't. But she carries the same lustful heart she did while getting pounded in the backdoor.

If you ask me, she's just trying to flood a clean and decent area of society with a dark disgusting lifestyle. She cares nothing about "equal pay". It really steps on a nerve to see a woman (or anyone) complain about wages when they chose to be a deadbeat by becoming a prostitute. There are indeed some exception in places where women are trapped into it. But this woman was not trapped. She decided one day that instead of getting a real honest job, she would nurture her desire to be an attention whore. And she did so by changing her name and letting many STD infested guys spread their diseases over her. It may not show, but I would bet she's carrying some kind of STD around with her. And statistics don't justify it. She ignored reality. The porn world is notorious for drugs and rape. And as I said, it is nothing more than prostitution with a video camera in the room. Anyone who outwardly supports it has a filthy mind, heart, and soul. And that makes them a threat to society, just the same as it did for thousands of years when people were jailed, hung, or burned for it. Once upon a time, corruption of society was dealt with harshly. But now it is being called "Freedom of Speech" as an excuse to allow it to run rampant. There is no such thing as freedom that's good for all people. Lack of law and order allows freedom. Tolerance allows freedom. And that's what allows destruction. Intolerance is required to exercise right and wrong.

Hey everyone, I was going to

Hey everyone,

I was going to jerk off to this, and started to have my dick out. Then I realized it was not an actual porn but a PSA.

Please help.

James

Trademarked

I'm a Belgian feminist and I just wanted to say that the organization behind this clip even has a trademark on the name "Equal Pay Day". Are you part of another group that wants to organize around equal pay for men and women? Better think of a different name...

This is really the most problematic ad they've ever done, not feminist at all imho.