Arielle Pardes | The freshman porn star

· February 27, 2014, 7:28 pm   ·  Updated March 2, 2014, 8:50 pm

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B ack in January, a Duke freshman named Thomas Bagley was huddled up in his dorm room, watching porn on his laptop, when he saw something that made him pause the scene. He squinted at the girl, and although she was sprawled naked across the screen, he was sure: It was a classmate of his, a fellow Duke freshman.

What happened next can only be explained as the way information spreads in cyberspace. Her name was splashed across fraternity listservs , online news sites and Collegiate ACB. Her friends and professors found out. She received 230 new friend requests in one weekend - most of which came from college men who professedly wanted to “bang the porn star.”

Can you imagine this happening at Penn?

When I think about all the flack this column gets for merely touching the subject of sex, it’s frightening to imagine how Penn would respond to a student involved in sex work. But here’s the rub: There are, undoubtedly, sex workers at Penn. And they deserve more respect than this girl at Duke is getting.

In 2011, 34th Street published a feature about students involved in sex work , mentioning a College student who worked as a foot fetish model, another who worked in a BDSM dungeon and another who worked as an escort. Underpinning each was the the same motivation: economics.

“Sex work is an economic issue, and so where there is economic need, it’s an activity that people will engage in to make money,” Samantha Majic, author of “ Sex Work Politics ,” explained.

For college students facing steep tuition bills, this type of work is more pervasive than you might think. A 2010 study, “ Participation in Sex Work: Students’ Views ,” suggested that 16.5 percent of undergraduate students would consider working in the sex industry, with moneymaking as the overwhelming motivation.

For the Penn students who were profiled in 2011, this was very much the case. The foot model made $10,000 within three months; the BDSM girl was making $500 per week. (One comment on the Street feature: “Ambitious Wharton students, take note.”)

The Duke freshman has defended her work in pornography with similar motivations, noting that she’s used all of her porn profits to pay her tuition - which, like Penn’s, is nearly $60,000 per year.

But what if she wasn’t using pornography as a means to an economic end? What if she wasn’t using the money for tuition? What if she was actually just enjoying sex work?

There are plenty of feminist activists, politicians and porn haters who will argue that pornography is inherently disempowering and void of choices. But for the Duke freshman , the Penn students and others involved in sex work, these arguments come across as condescending.

“I think that’s incredibly patronizing and stigmatizing - and actually objectifying - to say that she couldn’t possibly be doing this on her own volition,” Majic said of the Duke porn actress.

The Duke freshman, who strongly identifies as a feminist and is pursuing her degree in gender studies, responded by asking: “If the patriarchy is about men making decisions for women and taking away their agency, why do some feminists want to control other women’s decisions?”

It’s a valid point. And if her critics are mostly concerned with the pornography industry, then maybe they should stop finger-wagging at the Duke freshman and shift their criticism toward Thomas Bagley, who discovered her work only through his loyal viewership of an expensive subscription-only porn site.

“Just because pornography for the majority of us is associated with the shame of lonely Friday nights doesn’t mean it is a shameful industry,” said College sophomore Iris Zhang, who is vice chair of the Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women.

No matter how we feel about sex work, a student at a place like Duke or Penn shouldn’t be forced to defend her volition, whether the motivation is economic or for enjoyment (or both). After all, we don’t attack the agency of students who work part-time jobs to support themselves financially or entrepreneurial students who work to get a head start on their careers.

Whether our classmates are working as waitresses or porn stars, what’s the difference?

Arielle Pardes is a College senior from San Diego. Email her at ariellepardes@gmail.com or follow her @pardesoteric. “The Screwtinizer” appears every Friday.

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