Or, an amoral academic has a book to sell …
About this event
Dr. Angela Jones discusses how exploitation and discrimination affect models in the new global sex industry of erotic webcamming.
ABOUT THE TALK
Through the erotic webcam industry — “camming” — millions of people from all over the globe have found decent wages, friendship, intimacy, community, empowerment, and pleasure. Cam models, like all sex workers, must grapple with exploitation, discrimination, harassment and stigmatization. Using an intersectional lens, Dr. Angela Jones discusses how the overlapping systems of neoliberal capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, cissexism, heterosexism and ableism shape all cam models’ experiences in this new global sex industry. In their book, Camming: Money, Power, and Pleasure in the Sex Work Industry, Dr. Jones pioneers an entirely new subfield in sociology—the sociology of pleasure.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Dr. Angela Jones is Professor of Sociology at Farmingdale State College, State University of New York. Dr. Jones’s research interests include African American political thought and protest, sex work, race, gender, sexuality, feminist theory, and queer methodologies and theory. Dr. Jones is the author of Camming: Money, Power, and Pleasure in the Sex Industry (NYU Press, 2020) and African American Civil Rights: Early Activism and the Niagara Movement(Praeger, 2011). She is a co-editor of the three-volume After Marriage Equality book series (Routledge, 2018). Jones has also edited two other anthologies: The Modern African American Political Thought Reader: From David Walker to Barack Obama (Routledge, 2012), and A Critical Inquiry into Queer Utopias (Palgrave, 2013). Dr. Jones is the author of two forthcoming reference books: African American Activism and Political Engagement: An Encyclopedia of Empowerment and Black Lives Matter: A Reference Handbook (ABC-CLIO). She is @drjonessoc on Twitter.
ABOUT THIS EVENT: The Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity Speaker Series brings cutting-edge research in the field of gender and sexual health equity to researchers, practitioners, students and interested members of the public, creating a unique opportunity for education and dialogue.From the blurb on Eventbrite
The problems with Webcamming
So before we start let’s discuss the problems with Webcamming upfront. I used two sources for this, an article on Nordic Model Now’s website, and a book called The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett – Chapter 6, Lights, Web-camera, Action.
How they are paid
On Chaturbate, a leading webcam platform, performers only earn money when viewers ‘tip’ them tokens – you can see the problem right there. There is no guarantee of being paid to do even the most demeaning act if you haven’t secured your ‘tips’ up front. Viewers can watch for free, unless a performer chooses to restrict access in order to show things to specific tippers, which requires a level of popularity few can hope to achieve.
Chaturbate charges the viewers to purchase these tokens – ensuring they get paid before their performers do. Bartlett writes that performers ‘have to pay 60 percent of any tokens they earn to the company’ (Loc 2074).
Bartlett spent time with one of Chaturbate’s top earners – who off the top of her head tells him her annual earnings were ‘around £40,000 per year’ – barely comparative to what a professional earns, if she does really earn that.
Crucially Chaturbate pays its performers via a prepaid card called a Payoneer: ‘Payoneer, in turn, takes a small percentage every time is it used,’ (Loc 2269) which means performers never stop paying the platform as they go about their daily lives, buying shopping and paying bills – and sharing their personal data.
Another way a performer might earn extra money is via posting a public Amazon wish list in the hope that a viewer might buy items off it for her (Loc 2271) – yet again more personal information leakage, making doxing a greater likelihood.
Not only do cam sites function as pimps, but cam girls also have to withhold 15–35% of their income. Cam sites collect a massive portion of women’s earnings for “operational costs.” MyFreeCams.com claims that cam models keep five cents from that (50 percent). Other sites allow women to keep anywhere from 35 to 70 percent.From the Nordic Model Now article
Webcam sites are essentially free porn sites and are flooded by thousands of performers. The possibility of earning a salary via them would be difficult to estimate, but it must be incredibly low.
Although major webcam platform try to protect their revenue by blocking filming and reproduction of images, most webcam performers can expect images of themselves to be shared to free porn sites. Once such images are posted it is almost impossible to have them taken down and costly to pursue.
Giving away personal information about yourself via chatting with the men viewing carries the risk of doxxing, so is not a risk-free activity. Using a VPN is essential. Women are encouraged to have a ‘girl next door’ look making them more recognisable in real life.
Users of webcam sites are protected by anonymity, you don’t have to purchase tokens from Chaturbate, or sign up, to watch the content, and send comments to performers.
The sites all say that they work hard to ensure that underage performers do not use their platforms. Of course, there is also the problem that performers try to look as young as possible.
Women and men, girls and boys, who have been sex trafficked also appear on these sites – though of course the sex work lobby is keen to promote webcamming as the ultimate freelance work.
So the industry is extremely exploitative, with performers earning next to nothing, run the constant risk of being identified in real life and have their images shared permanently on the internet. That’s without even beginning to analyse what the long term psychological effects of being routinely degraded online might be.
Thus I was interested to know how Dr Jones thought this dynamic had lead to a ‘sociology of pleasure’.
It was hosted by the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity (CGSHE) an academic research centre in British Columbia, Canada.
CGSHE has a strategic mandate to advance gender and sexual health equity among under-serviced populations in BC, Canada, and globally through three pillars: research, policy and practice. These pillars incorporate community-based, clinical and population health research, policy evaluation, implementation science and education.Mission statement
Dr Andrea Krüsi was the host. She’s an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia and a Research Scientist with the GGSHE.
Dr. Krüsi’s work focuses broadly on the criminalization of sexuality, with a particular focus on how intersecting social and structural contexts, such as laws and policies, shape the health, safety and wellbeing of marginalized cis and trans women.From Dr Krüsi’s bio page
So not worrying at all, that a far left academic unit would happily promote an exploitative form of ‘work’ in relation to the notion of ‘gender’ equality.
First came the traditional (and pointless) land acknowledgement and pronoun introductions. Then came the trigger warning for the pornographic imagery which was to be shown. Jones told us that she wanted to disrupt traditions and that she had developed a ‘progressive stacking’ methodology which classified which racial and identities groups were most oppressed, her slides carefully reflecting where she thought that person sat in that stack.
Jones claims that she is a former sex worker, though naturally enough was short on any further details, and sounded curiously removed from the peoples’ lives she was discussing. She cheerfully told the students that camming reproduces a system of oppression, like heterosexism, sexism and ableism, which oppresses people. On the other hand, cammers reported ‘high rates of job satisfaction and experiences of pleasure’. Good rates of pay were also possible, she promised, but wanted to emphasise that doing the job wasn’t ‘just about money’, describing the global expansion of this sex industry as ‘exciting times’ and that sex workers had always been at the forefront of improving human sexual pleasure.
So despite the camming industry having exponentially more women working in it (I hate making statistics up on the spot, but logic tells me it must be high 90s), 4 out the 7 case studies that Jones looked at were male. Pfft.
Subject no. 1 – ’23 year old lesbian black cis woman from the United States’
Tiffany in her room looking into her webcam. She is wearing a pink and white polka dot bathing suit.Photo description by Jones
Tiffany earns only about $1,200 per month from camming. However, for every $100 Tiffany makes she only gets to keep $20, meaning the typical total sum she makes for her studio is four times what she earns. Jones did not tell us how many hours of work Tiffany typically did.
Tiffany uses a studio because it provides security that her home location cannot be revealed via the IP address. She also has access to professional lighting and cameras, and a stable internet connection. If she leaves the studio she cannot take her stage name with her, that’s owned by the studio, but it sounded to me like she stays with the studio primarily for safety.
Jones stressed that ‘white bodies’ and ‘English speakers’ were favoured in the system and played into white supremacy since ‘white cis men’ didn’t want to interact with performers who don’t speak English well (as if non-white non-English speaking men don’t watch porn). Studios in Eastern Europe sometimes provide English language classes to their models.
Subject no. 2 – ’25 year old polyamorous white trans woman from the United States’
Adeline degraded in a private show. She is wearing a bondage mask with spikes and has the words ‘sissy,’ ‘fuckhole,’ and ‘cunt’ written on her chest in red lipstick.Photo description by Jones
Adeline apparently makes about $1,500 per month. Jones did not tell us how many hours of work Adeline typically did.
Jones told us that many (trans-identified) men were forced into doing sex work because they can’t find regular work because of ‘rampant and legally sanctioned discrimination in the economy’. Many cam sites were ‘trans exclusionary’ or had ‘transphobic trolls’. Funnily enough, Jones and Adeline did spend a lot of time discussing the ‘benefits’ of the work, especially that of ‘gender euphoria’ as clients would affirm Adeline as a ‘sissy’. Jones was keen to emphasise that Adeline had developed a personal bond with one of his clients and had been on a journey of self-discovery via BDSM practices. It all sounded very niche.
Jones wanted the world of social sciences to take note that although Adeline was experiencing high levels of ‘trans misogyny’, the experience had also allowed him to experience an immeasurable amount of ‘trans joy’, meaning therefore that ‘inequality’ wasn’t always a bad thing.
Subject no. 3 – ’31 year old bisexual black cis man from the United States’
Carl recording an extreme anal show, which he would be flagged for on websites such as Chaturbate. In this picture, Carl has two dildos of different lengths and widths inserted into his anus.Photo description by Jones
Carl has a full time job and did camming on the side because he is clearly an exhibitionist. He makes about $400-500 per month. Jones did not tell us how many hours of camming Carl typically did, nor whether the sum related just to camming or his private video sales.
Carl’s mission in life was to stick as many things up his bum as possible. The wince-inducing photo had me thinking about anal prolapse for the entirety of the lecture and well beyond. Camming allowed him to do more extreme stuff than would otherwise be allowed in a traditional strip club setting.
Carl was an example of a webcam worker who was exploring his sexuality and having fun, but was also subject to the ‘oppression’ of the moderators, deliberately flaunting a reasonable policy of the hosting website. Jones intoned that Carl wasn’t allowed to do his extreme anal shows live and had to sell these videos privately instead. It seems more likely that the real trigger words for the moderators is ‘private video sale’ and that Carl simply wanted to maximise his profits.
While it’s crucial that the cam industry provides a space to Carl to experience his pleasure publicly, it is also an example of how pleasure is regulated.Dr Angela Jones
Jones believes Carl’s is a good example of how Black Power can be embodied in the real world, talking of ‘tense muscles’ with Carl’s ‘pulsating anus’ being the resistance to ‘colonisation’ (no pun intended). Or summink.
Subject no. 4 – ’38 year old bisexual white cis woman from the United States’
Elizabeth in front of her computer. Wearing a long blue wig which hangs down to her cleavage, she holds a mug in front of her face that reads ‘If we all work together we can totally disrupt the system’.Photo description by Jones
Elizabeth apparently makes between $2,000 – $5,000 per month. Jones did not tell us how many hours of work Elizabeth typically did, but in the provided quote from Elizabeth it is claimed she can earn in ten hours close to a week’s pay for regular work.
Like the other female subjects, Elizabeth’s experience seemed enjoyment-lite, and helped her financially as a single mother. Jones explained to us that many mothers enter into such work because childcare costs were exorbitant and that camming provided them with stable income, suggesting it was the ultimate work/life balance (at which point I wondered what Ltd company Jones was associated with, in particular).
Jones reported that a lot of the subjects she spoke to were struggling with bills and debt, which contradicted her central theory that camming is a simply a means of exploring pleasure.
Subject no. 5 – ’34 year old polyamorous white cis woman from the United States’
Rebecca is crouched on the ground. She is wearing a revealing pink bathing suit.Photo description by Jones
Rebecca had been in sex work for 16 years, meaning she began at the age of 18, and had cammed for seven. Rebecca makes about $7,000 per month, but had made as much as $12,000. Again, we were not told how many hours of work Rebecca undertook. Rebecca also did other types of sex work and it was not made clear if the sum was a result of those other strands or just from camming.
Jones told us that the market was absolutely saturated and that many customers steal the content and post it onto free online spaces. Extra money can be made from private sales, including used panties (how desperate would you have to be really to sell your dirty underwear?).
Subject no. 6 – ’31 year old bi-curious white cis man from Hungary’
Aron is looking down. He is wearing a grey sleeveless hoodie that shows off his tattoos.Photo description by Jones
Aron had started doing cam work part time and made around $300 per month, but was now doing it full time and ‘making quite a bit more money’.
Aron felt that it was more difficult to be successful in cam work as a male performer, as men expected to see certain things, which were hard to keep repeating, and less interested in talking.
Jones was keen to note that we could see a ‘reversal’ of the gender pay gap in camming, stating that ‘trans women’ earned an almost equivalent rate to that of female performers.
Subject no. 7 – ’30 year old white straight and polyamorous cis man from the United States’
Ronnie working with a female cam model. A woman is lying on her back on a bed with Ronnie’s penis in her mouth.Photo description by Jones
Ronnie only cammed with female performers with his main interest in having sex, and main concern the gay men who got off on his performances. An example of cis heterosexism, I suppose.
Jones claimed that the highest wages corresponded with gender and race, claiming even that one model was making $54,000 a month, and that others were on $10,000 (which begs the question why they would bother to get out of bed to talk to her). All these people were ‘white thin cisgender women in their 20s’. Which is just outrageous, innit? It just reproduces the same inequities seen in any capitalist market place, she claimed, conveniently forgetting in regular work you get to keep the whole of your hourly rate, might even have pension benefits and don’t run the risk of having a rapist turn up on your doorstep.
Fun, fun, fun
Jones final message was that cam models have a great time being entrepreneurs which allowed them pleasure and ‘orgasms for a living’. Hm.
Dr Krüsi congratulated her at the end of the talk, describing it as ‘amazing’ and ‘evocative’. Then it was time for Q&A.
Dr Krüsi opened by asking an interminably long question, which was more a sort of extended compliment than anything. Jones took her time answering, 5-6 minutes in fact, which ensured that the time for Q&A was run down sufficiently.
One wanted to know what sample size Jones had used, particularly with regards to earning. She sheepishly admitted that her survey was not representative and was a qualitative researcher. She had created her own survey which drew 105 responses, from which she did 30 in-depth interviews (who she paid $100). She had also analysed another survey which had had 335 responses. ‘I try not to make big grandiose generalisations because it was not a representative sample,’ she said forgetting the claim she had made just five minutes earlier.
Another wanted to know how she coped with such emotionally challenging research and if looking through the optic of pleasure helped perk her up emotionally-wise. Jones told us she understood what kind of language she need to use to get IRB approval, and that in terms of the sex industry they normally expected to see criteria which had a sex trafficking component. The main thing to keep in mind is that the board will have litigation risks at the forefront of any decision-making.
An ex-camming model asked a question about chargebacks (i.e. when a credit card payment is refunded back to the consumer) which was a huge problem for performers, who had no support from the hosting cam sites, but unfortunately there was no time to discuss issues like fraud and theft.
An edited version of the webinar has been posted to the internet.
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