It’s been only a few days since James Deen — a man formerly referred to as a variation of the boy-next-door, nice-Jewish-boy, and even “feminist hero” of pornography — was accused of sexually assaulting several women, including his ex-girlfriend. The Internet can’t seem to get enough of Deen, even (especially?) when he has been accused of something heinous.
But as I delve through the online commentary and debates, I notice how fast and far they’ve moved from being about Deen, the rape allegation, or the pain he may have caused multiple women.
It all began Saturday when porn star, writer, and activist Stoya accused Deen, her ex-boyfriend, of raping her. “That thing where you log in to the internet for a second and see people idolizing the guy who raped you as a feminist. That thing sucks,” she tweeted. “James Deen held me down and f—ed me while I said no, stop, used my safeword. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore.”
Deen did not immediately respond to the claim and still hasn’t responded to requests for specific comments (I, myself, tried to reach out to his press representatives as the news broke and have yet to hear back after multiple attempts).
A day after Stoya’s tweets, Deen also took to Twitter. He did not specifically reference the rape allegation but tweeted:“There have been some egregious claims made against me on social media.”
“I want to assure my friends, fans and colleagues that these allegations are both false and defamatory.”
“I respect women and I know and respect limits both professionally and privately.”
It didn’t take long to go from wondering about the factual accuracy of Stoya’s claim to pondering if Deen’s passion for rough, BDSM porn inevitably made him into a rapist (perhaps, one who could not separate role-play from reality?) to a series of navel-gazing pieces about how Deen ever earned the title of feminist or any female adoration. It’s a somewhat bizarre path of commentary that runs from a brief curiosity about caring about the truth or facts of the allegation to female self-flagellation for ever liking Deen in the first place, and, in some cases, eventual self-congratulation for… being comfortable with our sexuality as women… What was this about again?
At this point, it almost doesn’t matter what evidence there is to determine whether Deen raped Stoya. Her tweets on Saturday were followed less than 48 hours later by two more women in the adult film industry, Tori Lux and Ashley Fires, sharing their own accounts of forced, unwanted sexual contact with Deen. Then, another porn actress who requested only to be referred to by her initials, T.M., told LAist Deen assaulted her in 2009 at a party in Las Vegas. Porn stars Amber Rayne and Kora Peters also came forward on Wednesday with accounts that Deen had assaulted them.
The Frisky, a feminist website which had employed Deen as a regular sex advice columnist, cut ties with Deen a day after Stoya’s tweets. Editor-in-chief Amelia McDonell-Parry explained in a blog post that “From a professional standpoint, as the editor of a women’s blog which has published the accused’s words, acting swiftly and decisively is the least that I can do. The court of public opinion is not a court of law, and I don’t need Stoya or any woman to ‘prove’ that she has been raped for me to believe her…. I BELIEVE WOMEN. Period.” Adult film companies have also terminated their professional relationships with the AVN (the Oscars of porn) winner with some of the most significant mainstream appeal.
To question Stoya’s claims when she initially made them on Saturday would have been sufficiently blasphemous as is. For years, women were blamed for their own assaults, told they were asking for it or could have prevented it. Too often, they still face this victim blaming. At the same time, in 2015, we are often highly hesitant to ask questions about a woman’s account of rape for fear of being called rape apologists or accused of making women relive the trauma of their assault. Now, with multiple women having come forward against Deen, it’s seen as more than enough proof of his guilt. As McDonnell wrote “the court of public opinion is not a court of law,” and ergo, due process doesn’t really matter in the former.
But it took under four day days for Deen’s guilt to cease to be the prime concern of the web. Now, we’re too busy wondering how we, women, let Deen earn his title of feminist.
Amanda Hess at Slate devotes a post to debunking the image that Deen was ever a “feminist idol.” She rightly points out that he disavowed the label “feminist” many times. She goes on to explain that “in the face of extreme erotic scarcity, women molded Deen into someone who appealed to them.”
Hess writes about how Deen’s fans formed connections over their common love for him. She recalls that one Deen fan (also known as a Deenager) told her in 2012 that, “Finding a fellow fan of your favorite performer is kinda like when you meet someone who loves your favorite band…. We always have each others’ backs.” According to Hess, “That is subversive. They are the feminist icons.”
I understand wanting to rightfully disprove Deen’s image as a feminist, but are we really turning this into something where we congratulate ourselves for finding a way to bond over mutual spankbank fodder?
Ann Friedman at New York also wrote about the Deen rape allegations and his feminist accolades, but used it to highlight that “women are desperate for prominent, positive male-feminist examples.” She pointed to Jon Stewart as another man who sometimes talks the talk of feminism but doesn’t walk the walk in his reported failure to hire more female writers (to her credit, Friedman makes it clear that “there is a huge difference between not hiring women and assaulting them”).
I’m not sure how we got to this point of making the James Deen rape allegation about us.
Perhaps, it’s because it’s an easier debate to have than one about sexual consent or how we respond to claims of sexual assault. It’s easier to focus on chastising or absolving ourselves for once crushing on a man who may very well be a rapist than to think too hard about the actual accusations made, the women who say they’ve been hurt.
Maybe a few more think pieces will come up with the answer. But I doubt it — and I certainly don’t think they will help any of the victims.
Emily Shire is a writer at The Daily Beast