Author: Abby Grosse

Duke U porn star glosses over industrys darker side

Belle Knox’s life looked very different just a few weeks ago. She was a Duke University freshman trying to succeed in school, get enough sleep and adapt to her new home. Like a lot of other college kids, she was earning some money on the side to ease the burden of inflated tuition. Sure, the fact that her side job was performing in the porn industry rendered her something other than “average,” but the anonymity of her porn career allowed her to enjoy some normalcy.

Now she fends off death threats from Duke frat boys in between interviews for major publications. Ever since a fellow Duke student outed her porn identity to the public, Knox lives at the center of a surreal media storm. It seems that even students at one of the United States’s most prestigious colleges can’t process the idea that a young woman could be educated, responsible and a willing participant in the pornography industry.

In a personal manifesto she penned for xoJane.com, Knox writes of the overwhelmingly positive experiences she’s had in her line of work. “Shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy,” she wrote. Her refusal to internalize the shame that her peers and innumerable Internet adversaries have lobbed at her is, in some ways, inspiring. Yet the feel-good, let-your-freak-flag-fly sentiment of her essay wears thin as she ventures into potentially dangerous territory.

Knox lost me when she wrote “[Performing in porn] is freeing, it is empowering, it is wonderful, it is how the world should be.” Later, she says that as a woman performing in porn, she “transgresses the norm and takes ownership of her body.” However personally empowered she may feel, Knox is glossing over the harsh, often exploitative realities of her industry. For every Belle Knox enjoying the pedigree of a top university alongside a blissful porn career, how many people are coerced into sex work? How many enter the industry voluntarily and encounter mistreatment and/or poor working conditions along the way? How many lose future job prospects from the stigma of their time in porn? It’s a logical fallacy for her to equate working in the porn industry with bodily autonomy.

It is a fact that with the exception of a few niche companies, porn caters to male viewers’ pleasure far more to females’. It enforces normative bodies and power dynamics. Basically, it replicates much of what plagues society as a whole, but in a more stripped-down way. Knox has every right to stand by her decision and have a good time doing so, but she isn’t doing anyone any favors by remaining silent about the uglier aspects of her industry.

One of the points that Knox has reiterated while defending her choice is that as long as college is so mind-bogglingly expensive, students have few desirable options to foot the bill. She is adamant that performing in pornography in order to graduate debt-free is just as valid as taking out monstrous debt loads. After all, we can’t always be ethical when an unethical system places us in impossible situations.

I understand this reality very well: I work for a chain restaurant that I consider socially and environmentally irresponsible – but that does not change the fact that I need the money. I buy jeans that I know were made in sweatshops because I can’t afford the fair trade alternatives. But at the end of the day, I am at peace with knowing that I do my best with the options I have. Knox seems to feel similarly.

My only wish for her is that she would take it easy on the rhetoric of empowerment and understand that just because performing in porn has been an enjoyable, supportive experience for her does not make it a supportive, woman-friendly industry. Rather than waxing poetic about the best aspects of her work and defending it at all costs, she should be advocating for change within the business so that other women can have equally empowering experiences.

Abby Grosse ’15 grosse@stolaf.edu is from Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English with concentrations in media studies and women’s and gender studies.

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New social media site encourages superficial interaction

When St. Olaf Flirts went viral on Facebook last year, I couldn’t help but wonder where we could possibly go from there. Flirts capitalized on online anonymity and the near-suffocating closeness of a small college. In that sense, Flirts was inevitable. I doubted we could create a space that was more of an instantly gratifying, virtual free-for-all.

However, schools like Harvard, Rutgers, Carleton and Macalester found the natural next step, and it’s called “Friendsy.” A hybrid of Flirts and Tinder, Friendsy is a social network just for your college community. Each user profile includes a few pictures, first and last name and a few bare-bones details like graduation year, major and clubs. Anyone can submit an anonymous friend, date or hookup request. The “Murmurs” feature allows you to leave a compliment on public display. You can even ask for a hint if you’re intrigued by your mystery suitor.

True to its name, Friendsy incited a frenzy. It makes sense: Haven’t we all craved a way to let the mysterious hottie in class know what’s up without actually risking anything? Still, just because something gives us what we want doesn’t mean it’s edifying for our community.

I hate to be a pearl-clutching naysayer spewing concern about the kids these days and their “hookup culture,” but I don’t think we need even more ways to commodify each other and evaluate our peers based on a few pictures. The kind of closeness bred by Friendsy is the cheap kind that ultimately makes you feel misunderstood. At least Facebook is a conduit for dialogue and engagement; Friendsy’s bare-minimum profiles shift the focus to appearance.

You could argue that the Murmurs feature is a great way to spread happiness and give and receive confidence boosts. Everyone loves an unexpected compliment, right? What strikes me as problematic is the public nature of it. Small liberal arts campuses tend to be deeply competitive as it is, with low-self esteem running so rampant that you can practically assume it in most people. Friendsy is yet another platform that can foster competitiveness and feelings of inadequacy, even if at first glance a lot of the commentary seems positive.

The most appealing feature of Friendsy is what unnerves me most: its faceless discretion and the idea that you can profess your attraction with no more effort than a click. Have we all forgotten that convenience and ease are literally the opposite of romance? Whatever happened to being brave? Whatever happened to bold gestures? Easier said than done, I know. I just worry that our generation has been enabled to be interpersonally lazy.

Friendsy hasn’t hit St. Olaf yet, but it has already spread from the East Coast to our peer colleges, Carleton and Macalester. It’s safe to say that most Oles don’t want Carleton to have nice things that we don’t have, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Friendsy sparks a craze here soon. If it does, I hope we can all take it with a grain of salt and not become too engrossed by its addictive luster.

Abby Grosse ’15 grosse@stolaf.edu is from Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English and concentrates in media studies and women’s and gender studies.

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Choosing feminism is about choosing equality for everyone

It has become a bit predictable: “I’m not a feminist, but I insert statement about men and women being equal.” Katy Perry and Taylor Swift have done it in the past year. On a more local level, St. Olaf students are lukewarm on the label, often sinking in their seats when a professor asks, “Who here identifies as a feminist?”

Yet, the evidence that we still need feminism is everywhere – from institutional dismissiveness of rape, to the wage gap, to the incessant objectification of women’s bodies. The argument that we live in a post-feminist society is as weak as that proposing a post-racial society. So what gives, then?

Well, feminism is having an identity crisis. Self-proclaimed feminists are very quick to tell you what it is not. Not bra-burning man-haters, not über-left-wing vegan Communists unless that’s your jam. Yet, when pressed to explain what it is, the stuttering begins. It’s about equality, sure. But equality isn’t a straightforward concept in a world where different kinds of women suffer from different degrees of oppression. Fact: A white, heterosexual, upper-middle-class, cis-gendered woman will lead a much more privileged existence than a queer or trans woman of color, regardless of the adversity she faces along the way.

As the feminist movement reorients itself to address the concerns of all women, it’s losing its focus and coherence. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it is incredibly confusing. You’ll notice that people who disavow the label “feminist” tend to do so without a working definition to guide their understanding. I understand how hard it is to sign up for something so ambiguous and so internally conflicted. In lay-woman’s terms, feminism is a hot mess right now.

But it’s more important than ever to embrace this hot mess, because collective action will always be more powerful than individual convictions. If you latch onto “the feminist movement,” you join a tradition and a community – one fraught with its own politics and hypocrisies, sure, but no ideology transcends human error. If you prefer to privately mull over your beliefs, exempt from the pressures of publicly identifying as a feminist, you forsake the opportunity to enter into something larger than yourself.

Look at the sweeping social movements of the past century, civil rights and LGBT rights. Would they have attained as much progress if people feared the stigma of a simple label? If they spent more energy qualifying their beliefs than proclaiming them?

Choosing feminism isn’t about your individual well-being. It’s about the women around you, the women you love. Maybe it will cost you something to start calling yourself a feminist. Maybe a guy you’re into will give you a weird look, or your great-aunt Sally will ask if you hate men now. But I would encourage you to think about what it could give to the Daisy Colemans and Malala Yousafzais of the world.

Abby Grosse ’15 grosse@stolaf.edu is from Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English.

Graphic Credit: ALLI LIVINGSTON/MANITOU MESSENGER

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News on tragedies should inform, not entertain

I’m not denying that the events were tragic. Tragic beyond comprehension. But I don’t want to talk about the twisted narrative of the Boston bombings – I want to talk about what was done with it.

The Boston attacks were a tragedy fully covered by the media. Witnesses documented the events on social media as they unfolded, blurring the line between experiencing and reacting. On the one hand, this was incredibly helpful to investigators who clung to any possible clues. However, when reactions precede information, there are high costs.

According to a National Geographic news article from April 26, “a Saudi student, injured in the blast, was tackled by another bystander and labeled a suspect by The New York Post.” Before Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were identified as prime suspects, the hashtag #Muslims was trending on Twitter. Prayers and well-wishes ran alongside blind accusations and sheer prejudiced hatred.

Not everyone can get on board with Ron Paul’s politics, but he made an eerie observation to Politico: “The Boston bombing provided the opportunity for the government to turn what should have been a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city.” Paul cited brutal home searches performed without official warrants and civilians threatened at gunpoint.

Of course, in the high drama of an alleged terrorist attack, it’s hard to see anything beyond the initial shock. What makes terrorism distinctive from other forms of violence is its ability to pull an entire nation into an undertow of cold fear. Yet, if we’ve learned anything from the 9/11 era, it’s that we have to be vigilant about our civil liberties, even in the wake of tragedy. No, especially in the wake of tragedy – because that’s when they are most likely to be violated.

Attacks on American soil inevitably clog up the news media. I recall checking the Atlantic Wire on the Sunday after the bombing six days later and the top 10 most-clicked stories all focused on the recently-identified suspects. As we moved into the next week, news outlets peddled stories about Dzhokhar’s collegiate pot smoking and small-scale dealing.

It’s natural to want to know exactly who is to blame, and what factors might have led them to do what they did – but by this point, were we acting like responsible citizens and informing ourselves, or were we just indulging in cheap sensationalism? More importantly, when we gorge on inconsequential details of the bombers’ lives and entertain their family’s media-courting nonsense, what is passing by without our notice?

It’s nothing new, but in the past year, we’ve been extra-guilty of giving perpetrators more attention than victims and helpers. We give gossip more attention than political action. That’s why the coverage of the Steubenville rape trials was so provocative and disturbing. Apparently, not much is changing. We’re watching the same skewed patterns reincarnate themselves.

Always remember to look for the story that isn’t being told; headline news or “most popular” articles will always cater to traffic over truth.

Arts and Entertainment Editor Abby Grosse ’15 grosse@stolaf.edu is from North Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English with concentrations in media studies and women’s and gender studies.

Illustration by Daniel Bynum

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Free access to online classes will challenge, improve education

It’s unnerving, to say the least: Higher education is more expensive than it’s ever been while its value has never been more questioned.

The “consumers” of education want to see a direct relationship between tuition dollars spent now and professional income a few years out, so the “producers” are facing unprecedented pressure to commodify the college experience. At a school like St. Olaf, one that prides itself on its small, traditional seminars, it’s easy to interpret structural changes as assaults on our core values. But one possible reform – putting introductory lectures online – could be an advantageous move for our students, faculty and surrounding communities.

The online-lecture phenomenon is national and growing. YouTube, usually seen as a fountain of lowbrow media and a gathering point for insensitive “trolls,” has become a source for Ivy League lectures in nearly every academic discipline. Schools are awakening to the benefits of “flipping the classroom,” which uses lecture as a supplemental material akin to a textbook reading assignment and moves the processing of information into the classroom. A common knee-jerk reaction to this shift is to assume that it will cheapen the value of an undergraduate degree. If anyone, anywhere can receive top-notch instruction from renowned professors, who would pay astronomical tuition for an antiquated formal education? But in reality, the flipped model has the potential to revolutionize education for the better by underscoring the distinction of a liberal arts experience while challenging the exclusivity of college.

If St. Olaf were to offer some of its lectures online, either in a restricted access forum like Moodle or on a public platform like YouTube, it would not diminish the importance or the uniqueness of what goes on in the classroom. It would amplify the contrast between the intake of information and the use of it. Passively absorbing a lecture does not mean you can write about, talk about or apply the subject matter. It definitely doesn’t cultivate a collegial relationship with classmates or an instructor. That can only happen in the old-fashioned, physical classroom environment that fosters discussion and collaboration. Public research universities may have to work harder to defend massive lecture courses and fully-online classes in the wake of these changes, but from where we stand on the Hill, we can rest assured that what happens here is a rare and valuable experience.

Beyond our limestone facilities, though, lies a world full of people who benefit immeasurably from the freer flow of knowledge facilitated by online lectures. There are infinite obstacles that can prevent an individual from enrolling in college – but here is an opportunity that requires nothing more than Internet access. Even people who have opted to pursue the formal route can explore topics beyond their primary fields or continue their education long after graduation. Advanced knowledge can have the accessibility of Wikipedia with the credibility of the academy; it’s an equalizing and galvanizing prospect. Do we want to be protective of our course content in a way that reinforces the elitism of higher education?

Of course, as it pertains to St. Olaf, one of the most significant concerns is that it would lead to additional strain on professors; it could demand much more time-intensive lesson planning. That’s one of the main reasons that the online lecture should be embraced in a gradual and restrained way. Professors already do a tremendous amount of work, and we can’t afford to overburden them.

All in all, we can’t demonize this possibility in the name of tradition. Moving academic content online and opening it up for free public use is the pull of the current, and fighting against it may just prove to be a waste of energy.

Arts and Entertainment Editor Abby Grosse ’15 grosse@stolaf.edu is from Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English.

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