The porn industry may be able to push boundaries in a way that mainstream film is unable to, but when it comes to race and equal pay, its systems are unsurprisingly vanilla.
In a recent Glamour feature, “Does Mainstream Porn Have a Race Problem?”, writer Lynsey G. explores the problematic ways that society’s definition of desirability directly results in unequal pay among female porn actors. Sex is a complicated thing and no one wants to be indicted for their attractions. However, nothing in culture is neutral — including our ideas about who or what is seen as desirable. Because many facets of society still reward racist constructs of beauty and attractiveness, white (cisgender) female performers in porn continue to come out on top, making money off a system that necessarily excludes others.
“While there are dozens or more Black female performers active in porn at any given time, [performer] Ana Foxxx says that there are only ‘three to five’ who compete for top roles,” G. writes. “And, with so many women of color vying for so few available spots at the top, some producers see an opportunity to offer them lower pay.”
Foxxx, a leading performer in the industry, tells Glamour that she turns down roles when she knows she is making less than another actress (a problem that Hollywood actresses of color also face). However, when other girls say yes to a lower rate, asking for more can become a futile exercise. And as there will always be dozens of other actors willing to accept lower rates — because they are trying to break into the industry or make a name for themselves — it has a negative impact on pay for all performers.
“This pattern effectively drives down rates for women of color across the board,” resulting in significant losses for non-white performers, G. explains.
There are more general discrepancies by gender, of course. Some estimates suggest that women earn much more money per scene than their male counterparts do, especially depending on the sex act. (A “girl-on-girl” scene nets less than double-penetration or anal sex, for example.) But, as with many industries, the majority of people in power in porn are male, and the average career span of female performers is much shorter.
That means if women in porn hope to earn as much money as possible in the general amount of time they are deemed marketable, race will become a compounding factor of inequality. In fact, Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor in the Department of Feminist Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara tells Glamour that “women of color are paid half of what white actresses in porn are paid.”