James Deen Is Not Your Feminist Hero—And That’s Okay.

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Regardless if you watch porn or not, you’ve probably heard of James Deen. He has become one of the most popular male porn stars in America. While female porn stars are typically the ones who achieve fame and have large fan bases, James has developed a cult following.  Although not many men can say that they have wanted to become porn stars since kindergarten,  James Deen, whose real name is Bryan Sevilla, is a relatable, boy-next-door type of guy. When he’s not busy  having sex on camera or dealing with “lemon stealing whores,”  he plays with his cats and has strong feelings about The Simpsons. He also runs his own website, JamesDeen.com, which features videos he has created independently, including ones in which he has sex with women who are not porn stars, allowing women to feel more comfortable watching porn.

I’m not the type of person who regularly watches porn. Not because I’m against it, but rather because it’s difficult for me to find a type of porn that I can enjoy and feel comfortable watching. However, the concept of the porn industry has fascinated me since my early teenage years. I did research, watched documentaries, and a variety of late night porn, hoping to understand the appeal and what it is actually like to work in the industry. James Deen’s self-produced videos have allowed me to find porn that I feel comfortable watching, so I decided it was a good idea to have a conversation with him about the porn industry and let him share his insight on what it’s truly like to work as a male porn star.

In an exclusive Bitchtopia interview, I chat with him about the porn industry, real sex, and his work with his company James Deen Productions.

When asked about the difficulties of breaking into the industry, Deen told me that maintaining an erection in front of the camera is “one of the only requirements for the job” as a male porn star. It is a skill that is vital for men who want succeed in the industry; almost anything else can be learned through experience.  One thing he had to learn was to adjust his body positions to orchestrate a proper performance. He says, “The part that was actually any sort of work or any difficulty was the opening for the camera, displaying things, showing, managing the positions and making things look good for a camera, and the performance aspect of it. That was something I had to learn, but as far as the actual performance on camera, that was never an issue.”

Although Deen enjoys working in porn and is not opposed to performing any scenes as long as they don’t involve him having sex with a guy, he does express that he has standards according to the production company’s ethics. He explains, “If I think the company doesn’t have a good message or a good ethical practice, then I try not to associate myself with them. It’s not because I’m trying to create a sort of moral standpoint on the ethics that a company should have, it’s me just saying, ‘I don’t want to align myself with this sort of business practice. This is my opinion.’ Luckily, I don’t need to, so I would rather keep myself happy and do what I think is right then be involved in something that I don’t support.”

I asked him if there was ever a production company he had to stop working for due to their ethics and he said he had experienced that before. He claims, “There was one company I stopped working for, because I feel like their product promotes a negative idea of objectification. It’s not just  women, it’s the men, it’s everyone.”

He now mainly works for his own company, James Deen Productions, where he has produced films that feature women who are not professional porn actresses. These women don’t typically fit the porn star mold, as their body type and race vary.  He began to produce these videos after getting a lot of e-mails from women asking if they could do scenes with him. He decided to try it and hired a model coordinator to read through the requests. Each applicant has to be over 18 and willing to work in a professional environment.

He explains, “The application process consists of accepting the applications, verifying that everyone is above 18, sober, cautious, of sound body and mind, stuff like that—not being manipulated. Then comes the obligatory ‘Hey, your family is going to find out, this is going to affect your life. If you want to be a politician or be a teacher, you shouldn’t do this because this is going to affect you and impact your privacy’ thing. Then after all that,  we shoot.” He explains that he enjoys it because he loves “the idea of capturing real moments in time and seeing things develop as they go, and seeing people who want to have sex with each other,  just having sex.”

It allows those who feel uncomfortable watching porn to know it’s filmed ethically and with full respect of the performers.  Deen does not participate in demeaning women in his films and the videos are filmed according to what the women want and feel comfortable doing on camera. I asked him how he felt about the common idea of porn being degrading towards women. Surprisingly, he claims, “From an inside perspective, I think it’s a very ignorant statement to say that adult films are degrading to women, or degrade women or anything like that.” He believes women in porn have more power because men are often considered as the props in the scene, while women are the stars. “She is primarily who everything depends on, as she is the star of the film. On set, the star is the one who is catered to and usually they get everything they want. ”

While I can see why he would consider men as props in porn, considering porn mostly caters to the male gaze, I can’t help but think about how porn sometimes influences men’s misogynistic views on women. He elaborated further and said, “It’s a lot more complicated than just saying, ‘Oh, pornography degrades women.’ Pornography doesn’t degrade women. Society degrades women. We live in a society where even though we are trying to fight equality and all this stuff, or trying to create equality or someone is trying to create equality, we end up in this world where we’re focusing on the wrong issues. What needs to happen is everybody needs retraining and re-education about what things actually mean.”

My personal views differ from his; I believe some porn is degrading to all genders. However,  I also believe he makes a good point by saying that it is society that degrades women. From my previous conversation with Siri, I learned that women in porn mostly do work that feels comfortable to them and represents their real fantasies, even if they’re sometimes seen as not too “feminist-friendly.” We all have different kinks and fetishes which don’t really represent what we enjoy outside of the bedroom.

We then discussed the ridiculous idea to base your sex life on what you see in porn. This is something that I felt was necessary to bring up, especially since so many teenaged men (and beyond) are still trying to figure out sex. Those men who lack proper knowledge in sex due lack of proper sexual education in schools and their households resort to using porn as an educational “tool” to learn about it. Deen agrees with my views on this and says, “I try to compare it to like The Bourne Identity or Fast and the Furious. You don’t watch Fast and the Furious to learn to drive a car. You can’t learn how to drive a car by watching movies. You don’t learn how to have sex by watching people have sex. There are sexual health and education opportunities in the world, but they are privatized. Sexual education in our society, like I said, is so stigmatized and we are given this very basic information and then people kind of end up looking to adult films, and they don’t understand.”

He then explains the important mutual understanding between partners and clear communication about what they each want from the sexual relationship. It makes me happy to hear someone so successful in the porn feel this way. While these views align with feminism, Deen is very adamant about not identifying as a feminist.

When I asked him how he felt about being seen as some sort of feminist icon in porn when he clearly does not identify with that label, he said, “I kind of feel like people are going to label things in various ways regardless. So whether somebody wants to label me as a feminist or an asshole or this or that or whatever, that’s their choice. That’s what they want. They want to find a thing to associate with me to make them identify in some sort of way. That’s great for them, I’m happy that they’re doing that wonderful. I just don’t, yeah, I just don’t share. I know what I believe in and I understand that a lot of the things that I talk about and I do believe in, I think what the core principles of feminism are. I think there’s a lot of people who take feminism and they do things with it that aren’t a hundred percent right, or proper, but also not really their responsibility. I just, I don’t know, I don’t associate with any ism. I don’t like isms.”

Although I am a feminist and recognize some things he says as ideas that align with mine, I already knew that he didn’t really share the same identification with feminism. He had previously discussed it in his interview with Observer and my views on his statement are similar to Jordyn Taylor’s. While I would be upset if a friend said that they didn’t like feminism or didn’t identify with it, it doesn’t surprise me that Deen doesn’t identify with feminism, considering he is a privileged white man who works in the porn industry.

Sure, there are plenty of feminists in porn or who work in the industry. However, James Deen did not choose to take on the role as a feminist porn icon. That’s just not who he is. Is he completely anti-rape and willing to discuss consent? Yes. Does he respect women? Absolutely. I may not agree with his reasoning about why he’s not a feminist, but I respect his decision to not want to put a label on himself. He doesn’t complain about “femi-nazis” or pull the “But what about our rights?” thing. If anything, the main concern I have is the way he falsely represents a feminist white knight in shining armor. He didn’t ask for the title, nor is it accurate. He is just a guy who treats women decently and does porn. This is not a groundbreaking concept; it should be expected behavior for men who hold the amount of fame and publicity as he does in our popular culture.

My acceptance of his views could be deemed controversial, but I don’t think it is my place to tell someone how to identify themselves. This is not something I consider offensive to me as a feminist; it is offensive when people complain about feminists and say ignorant and blanket statements such as Shailene Wooley’s infamous interview. While I cannot make James Deen change his opinions about his personal dislike for using the label of “feminist,” I can understand why this is hurtful to some of his loyal fans.

Before seeing his work, it was very difficult for me to find any male porn stars who were appealing and who would give me any type of sexual satisfaction. I do have to admit that he has changed this for plenty of other women besides myself who needed someone to help them feel comfortable with their sexuality. As someone who has watched some of this porn and read his blog, I can see that he truly cares about the women he works with and respects them. He is not be the feminist icon we were hoping for, but at least he can offer us some enjoyable porn.

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4 thoughts on “James Deen Is Not Your Feminist Hero—And That’s Okay.

  1. Really interesting interview! You’re right about how it’s funny he is lauded for being respectful to women, as if it’s some sort of incredible achievement. Perhaps that’s what he means when he doesn’t want to be associated with the term “feminism” – he just sees it as being a decent person? In an ideal word we wouldn’t need the word “feminism”, I guess, but I’m glad we have it in this one.

  2. Love the quote ‘we don’t watch Fast And Furious to learn how to drive just like we don’t watch porn to gain leverage on how to have sex with our partners’… I recently found out my bf watches porn occasionally and although it still hurts to even think about him eyeing a naked female, it easier to understand that almost 90% of men view it, and that it hasn’t in any way affected the privates of our relationship ^_^

  3. Pingback: #SolidaritywithStoya: How a Tweet Changed Our Perception of America’s (Former) Favorite Male Porn Star | BITCHTOPIA

  4. You certainly couldn’t have been more wrong in your assessments of James Deen or his role in an exploitative industry. Hope this became a lesson learned for you.

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