Duke University has been the center of much controvery in recent years. We’ve all heard about the infamous lacrosse case. Then, of course, there was the “Duke Fuck List” thesis created by a sorority girl at the school.

So what’s the issue now? Porn. Specifically, a pornstar who just happens to have been a freshman at Duke:

A porn star at Duke University? A student’s interview with a college newspaper has stirred up controversy on campus — and online.

“Lauren,” a female freshman at Duke, admitted to The Duke Chronicle that she’s been performing in adult films to help pay for tuition, which costs close to $60,000 a year.

She described herself as a libertarian-leaning Republican with hopes of becoming a lawyer, and called porn a less “degrading” way to make money than a minimum-wage waitress job.

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Her stage name is Belle Knox. I won’t post too many links given their NSFW nature, but Google should return plenty of results. Her real name is Miriam Weeks. Here’s a quick note about her from a now deleted Facebook link introducing her as a writer for a campus publication.

Meet one of our new freshman writers…Miriam Weeks!

Here’s a little blurb about her: “My hometown is Spokane, Washington, but I have lived all over the world because I am an Army Brat!”

“I hope to major in Women Studies and Sociology, and someday be a lawyer! I am a member of Duke’s Moot Court, Duke Human Rights Student Advisory Board, and on the Executive Board of Duke Second Languages in Action. In my free time I enjoy sleeping, eating Milanos, and perusing Netflix.”

Belle got outed when a male peer recognized her in a porno he was watching and informed all of his fraternity bros of his discovery. Weeks was soon the subject of massive controversy across Duke’s campus, and soon decided to meet it head-on in the aforementioned interview with The Duke Chronicle and an op-ed in XOJane (which she authored under the pen name “Lauren A”):

I’m The Duke University Freshman Porn Star And For The First Time I’m Telling The Story In My Words

I am a porn star. I am a college freshman. You know nothing about me.

Anyway, there’s a lot going on in the article but I wanted to focus on this bit of self-defense she puts up here:

Why does the thought of a woman having sexual experiences scare us so much?

The answer is simple.

Patriarchy fears female sexuality.

It terrifies us to even fathom that a woman could take ownership of her body. We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy. A woman who transgresses the norm and takes ownership of her body — because that’s exactly what porn is, no matter how rough the sex is — ostensibly poses a threat to the deeply ingrained gender norms that polarize our society.
I am well aware: The threat I pose to the patriarchy is enormous. That a woman could be intelligent, educated and CHOOSE to be a sex worker is almost unfathomable.

Here, Belle attempts to paint herself as the ultimate weapon against the patriarchy, a threat so great that defenders of said patriarchy can hardly even fathom it. As far as she is concerned, feminists should clearly be on her side. She is their ally.

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But is she right? Are those feminists fighting the patriarchy really behind her?

Feminist critiques of the patriarchy usually focus on its alleged failure to respect and account for the intellectual capacities of women. The patriarchy, they say, puts far too much emphasis on female beauty and sexuality and not nearly enough emphasis on what women can do with their minds. It assumes that even highly intelligent women are best valued for their bodies, not their thoughts. It is the patriarchy that takes intelligent women and objectifies them to a point at which they are defined primarily by their sexuality and physical appearance, not their intellectual capacity.

Knowing all of this, can we honestly claim that “Belle Knox” is a weapon that actually stands against the patriarchy as these feminists have critiqued it? Here we have a pretty intelligent woman, smart enough to get into a Top 10 University that is arguably one of the best institutions of higher learning on the planet. This is a woman whose intellectual capacity has objectively been shown to be well above average: she wouldn’t have made it to Duke if it weren’t.

And yet, how has “Belle Knox” chosen to define herself, despite her intellect? She’s become a pornstar. She’s entered a career in which her sexuality and physical appearance are pretty much the end-all, be-all.

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What does it say when the most intelligent young women around (the ones you expect would be able to lean on their intellectual capacity for advancement and be valued accordingly) are still choosing to define themselves primarily with their sexuality? Keep in mind that this girl, despite repeatedly citing tuition as an excuse for her pursuing a porn career, really was not in a financial bind: she had plenty of scholarships to choose from.

I was offered scholarships at a lot of places. I was offered full tuition at Vanderbilt, for example, and was accepted into USC, Wellesley, Barnard, Pepperdine, some others.

She didn’t have to turn to porn to help fund a prohibitively expensive college degree. She could have simply went to Vanderbilt (still one of this nation’s elite schools) and gotten a quality degree. Why didn’t she do this? Why did she go to Duke and end up in her current position?

I visited Duke last year on Blue Devil Days [Duke’s programmed weekend for admitted freshmen], and I remember walking into the Duke Chapel — I’m a very spiritual person — and just feeling an energy that told me, “This is the place you need to be.” And I felt something in the chapel in that moment that told me that I needed to be here and go to Duke and it was something that would be an amazing experience for me.

She did it because she felt entitled to the school that satisfied her “feelings,” regardless of how much it cost. She’s a prep-school product from a well off family, and is used to getting precisely what she wants—there was no other option there in her mind. She also really likes porn, and a career in that industry was something she genuinely wanted:

I am not ashamed of porn. On the contrary, doing pornography fulfills me…
… For me, shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy. When I finish a scene, I know that I have done so and completed an honest day’s work. It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home.
I can say definitively that I have never felt more empowered or happy doing anything else.

Belle Knox was not forced into the situation she is in. She was not shoved into the adult industry against her will. She got there due to a series of decisions she made freely of her own accord. And her choice was not to fight the objectification of women as so many feminists claim to want to do—on the contrary, she chose to embrace that objectification by becoming a pornstar, claiming in one video to “love” the thought of millions of men masturbating at the sight of her having sex. She was intelligent enough to avoid doing this and had other options available, but chose this path anyway.

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Despite clearly wanting to be objectified (and deriving a substantial amount of pleasure from said objectification), Belle attempts to take a stand against the objectification of women, which she claims is rife on her college campus and a source of many problems:

If you look at the anonymous CollegiateACB forums of other schools, there are maybe four topics. At Duke, there are 800 topics. All of them are “rate freshman girls on a scale of one to 10” or “which Asian has the biggest boobs.” So Duke has this — and I blame the Greek system a lot for this — culture of objectifying women.

And yet…

I was just sitting in my dorm one day and said to my roommate, “Fuck it, I’ll be a porn star.” So I Googled “how to be a porn star” and came up with all these agencies. I had no idea you could apply to be a porn star; I thought someone came up to you and scouted you at a mall. I sent in my info and a couple of my pics and literally the next day all these agencies were calling me. I started talking to all these agents who thought I could be making six figures and saw real potential for me in the industry. I was like, “Oh my God. Let’s do this. Let’s go.”

Feminists want to fight the objectification of women. Like I said above, they prioritize the female mind and spirit and want women to be considered for more than their tits, butts and vaginas. Belle Knox stands with feminists in this regard, and considers this objectification of women a serious problem with serious negative consequences…

…so serious and so negative, in fact, that she then proceeded to eagerly enter an industry entirely built on said objectification, one in which her value and earning potential would be measured almost entirely in her ability to get millions of men across the country to “objectify” her fully exposed body as she engaged in a variety of highly explicit (and, occasionally, somewhat extreme) sexual acts.

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I’m not one of those feminists, so I don’t really care about what “Belle Knox” has chosen to do with her sexuality. The fact that her behavior could be considered slutty is not particularly relevant to me. If she thinks that deepthroats are “empowering,” then more power to her (and to the men she’s “empowering” herself with). Her decision to rely on her sexuality and appearance as opposed to her intellect is hers and, if we’re to buy into feminist notions regarding the sanctity of female choice, has to be respected. She can do whatever she wants.

It is also true, however, that this female’s actions are at odds with many feminist statements and objectives. For the many feminists who want to keep going on about the need to stop “objectifying” women and undervaluing their intellect by privileging their sexuality, it simply isn’t possible to celebrate a woman who has made a conscious decision to put her high intellectual capacity on the backburner in order to take a path that privileges her physical appearance and sexuality over all else. This girl’s actions have already put her into direct conflict with a very vocal bulk of the feminist hivemind, one that has had no problem attacking women for committing much less substantial deviations from their vision of the feminine ideal.

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So, is “Belle Knox” a friend to feminism? I’m not so sure about that. For as many male enemies as Belle seems convinced that she made with her decision, I’m confident she made many more among women. Her actions stand in direct contradiction to objectives that many feminists hold dear and consider essential to female progress. If Belle is still seeking ideological shelter in this storm, I’m not sure she’ll be able to count on feminists to unanimously provide it.

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