Porn and tuition: The Belle Knox problem

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With an intended double major in Sociology and Women’s Studies, Belle Knox, a.k.a. the Duke Porn Star, is under the scrutiny of collegiate communities nationwide.

A Duke University fraternity brother recently exposed Knox as an adult film star. The rumors surrounding Knox’s “extracurricular activity” went viral quickly. After a surge of cyber-hostility directed at the freshman, Knox wrote an essay to xoJane, a tell-all feminist online publication, defending her participation in porn as an “empowering” act.

Meanwhile, the 18-year old in her first scene for the porn site, Facial Abuse, breaks the fourth wall, telling her audience “I’d like to be a lawyer,” moments before a male counterpart initiates an asphyxiation fantasy.

Forget the Swiss Alps and Cabo – Knox would vacation in Los Angeles during school breaks in order to shoot the few dozen videos that jumpstarted her career in November of last year. With all expenses paid, and porn being a billion-dollar industry, Knox hopes her temporary career in porn will help her pay her $60,000-a-year tuition bill.

And with the announcement of a four percent tuition increase, many students are sympathetic to Knox’s plight.

“I can characterize her [Knox] as a typical college girl,” Dan Dzhurayev ‘17 said. “She seems to want the same in life as we do, but has a different way that she goes about it. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with her, but just that she’s different and that’s what makes her unique.”

Knox, in an interview with Playboy expresses how she wants our society to recognize “sex work” as a legitimate profession, free from employment discrimination. She also goes on to admit to the abuse that takes place within the sex industry and her hopes of being an activist for those who are exploited.

“I think the industry needs a feminist advocate as well,” Knox said. “There are a lot of anti-porn feminists who try to speak out against exploitation in the industry, but we need somebody who can advocate for women while standing up for our right to sexual autonomy.”

While this is all well and good, many find it difficult to buy the “feminist empowerment” claim as justification for her career choice. Yes, it is an empowered choice to decide to be financially independent. But, why not use that Duke-educated mind on a startup business? It seems like Knox’s decision is a statement about all a woman has to sell: not her mind or ideas, but her sexuality.

In addition, Knox herself admits to the exploitation of women in the porn industry. Although she claims to not have experienced this abuse first hand, she continues to work in an industry where the abuse is prevalent. Admitting she enjoys rough sex, She has also starred in many videos that have included oral sex with another barely legal teen and receiving as Playboy puts it, “facial after facial.”

President Byerly offered her comments noting that, “Duke has strong enough financial aid that I would have thought that a student who was genuinely needy would get the resources they needed in order to attend…I couldn’t say whether she genuinely needed to take an unconventional approach to funding her education,” Byerly said.

Despite what appear to be many inconsistencies, (“she seems to contradict herself a couple of times, which leads me to believe that she didn’t thoroughly think this over,” Dzhurayev said), one has to admire Knox’s persistence in revolutionizing the industry.

“I am going to graduate, I am going to pursue my dreams and I will hopefully galvanize change in a world wrought with gender norms and sexism,” Knox said in her essay to xoJane.

Knox takes her career in porn seriously and challenges her critics to try and stop her in her life pursuits during and after her porn star career. While she does not encourage her specific path to economic independence, she does stress that should do whatever they need to pay the bills. With what some may consider a large blemish on a resumé, Knox is determined to prevail in her educational and professional pursuits.