Indirect Message

Episode 8: (Cam) Girl Power!

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Hello everyone and welcome back to Indirect Message for the last episode of 2019!

 

Guys, thanks so much for keeping up with this project this year. I know some of you out there have been keeping up with my projects for over a decade, and I am so grateful for that. This project is a much needed breath of fresh air from the social media craziness. That said, I’ve been toying with the possibility of bringing Indirect Message to YouTube. I am also hoping to evolve this project in new ways next year. While this first “season” of episodes, if you want to call it that, is focused on internet culture, that will broaden in 2020. You can think of this as some of the context for the conversations to come.  

 

Okay, let’s dive on in. 

 

CHAPTER 1: GIRL POWER

In the 1990s, a little band called the Spice Girls popularized Girl Power to the world. 

 

Anthems about standing up for yourself and putting your friendships before guys dominated the top 100. But the girl power movement was also simmering underground.  A smoldering punk rock movement known as Riot Grrrl was growing. The grrrrr in Girl Power - a growl, or perhaps a threat - was a rebellion against condescension toward girls, and at times, a more radical political agenda. Running parallel to each other in the mainstream and the underground, The Spice Girls and Riot Grrrl supercharged the conversation about what it means to be an empowered woman.

 

What is girl power, exactly? Girl Power invokes the image of a girl who is confident, unshaken, and unapologetic. In her 20s, she’s a woman who is comfortable with her sexuality, pursuing a high powered career, and affirmed by her material belongings. The movement was not without its consumerist undertones. Marketers in the 90s used Girl Power to sell the idea that women can have it all - through beauty products, clothing, and music that was available for purchase.
 

Today, “Girl Power” has been the subject of major marketing campaigns by Nike, Always, Cover Girl, and Dove, the list goes on. So-called “influencers” on social media also channel an updated, modern vision of Girl Power. The concept of “self care” is used to sell anything from crystals to tea.

 

But there are 2 new dimensions that seem to differentiate the girl power of the 90s with today. In order to truly be a 2019 “Boss Bitch”, you’ve gotta be real. Absolutely dripping with authenticity. And you must also be…visible. Seen. On social media, there’s no greater power than being watched.

 

Some academics argue that this is the context that created the increasingly popular alternative to porn stars: the cam girl. 

CHAPTER 2: THE SEX WORK REVOLUTION

A cam girl is a woman who makes money by streaming live video to her audience online. She might talk about her life, catch up with her regulars on stream, play video games, or do her makeup. But unlike your typical streamer, cam girls also present themselves in varying states of undress and may perform sexual acts on camera. The blurred lines between private and public is perhaps the defining characteristic of cam girl culture. Viewers are isolated behind computer screens watching her, and yet we’re also kinda in the same bedroom together, talking, in real time. Professional cam girls (and while fewer in number -- guys) make money in a variety of ways -- with Amazon wishlists, “tips” and “donations” during a stream, or with their own online shops. Instagram model Belle Delphine recently became a viral hit when she sold small jars of her used bath water to fans -- for $30 each. The jars sold out immediately. 

 

Is camming just porn, rebranded? While they’re often conflated, camming is different from porn in a few substantial ways.

One being what I mentioned earlier: that cam girls actually interact with their audience and may maintain ongoing relationships with lots of people.

Camming is also pretty much exclusively done alone -- which means she’s not exposed to the same safety risks that porn can present.

And while some porn stars do this too, cam girls almost always run their own businesses, making her a business owner rather than a contractor for another company. 

 

Is this girl power?

 

The complexities of cam culture and sex work as a whole are the subject of fiery debates on Twitter every day. Is it good for women? Is it bad for women? Liberal feminists see a woman making money on her own terms and owning her sexuality - from safety of her home. Second wave feminists might see cam culture as the natural ends of telling girls that their power is in performing their sexuality for others. But wait, say liberal feminists, it’s her choice - to deny that choice is patronizing. But how can you be sure it’s really her choice? reply second wave feminists, “Our choices are always made within the context of our culture.” 

 

At the heart of these conversations, is a debate about the meaning of consent. And if you really wanna get technical about it...it’s a debate about labor and what counts as exploitation when you live in a capitalist society. I find that there’s rarely enough space on social media to take an honest look at these complexities, despite being discussed ad nauseum.

 

What has not been discussed as much is the impact that camming has had on the internet itself and the women who are running the show. 

 

CHAPTER 3: THE SECRET LIFE OF CAM GIRLS

Before we dive in to today’s interview, I wanted to give a shout out to Sweet Pea Dating App. In a tech environment that uses addictive algorithms to keep people swiping for hours, Sweet Pea is taking a new approach:. just help people connect over the things they care about. With features that come closer to replicating our real world dating environments, Sweet Pea helps its community build quality connections through meaningful conversations. So by the time you go on your first date, it feels more like your third. Start the new year off with a different approach. You can give it whirl by downloading Sweet Pea for free on the App Store. 

 

My guest today is Ginger Banks. She’s a popular cam girl and has run her own business as a sexual entrepreneur online for a decade. 

I hope you enjoy our conversation!

Ginger:
Back when I was, uh, about 19 in college, I got my first webcam on my laptop and I started messing around on chat roulette and stick ham and all those other really fun websites...

Laci:
I forgot about Stickam! 

Ginger:
Right?? And, uh, I just kind of noticed the amount of attention I was getting and I, I had always seen advertisements for webcamming whenever I would watch pornography and I kind of put two and two together. I was like, this is, you know, business profitable. I started just trying out multiple different websites and it's been 10 years now and I'm still doing it.

Laci:
So it's something that you enjoy? It was, have you always been drawn to it? I mean, what was that process like for you?

Ginger:
Uh, I think I've always kind of been an exhibitionist, the one that gets off on attention, you know, and uh, so I think pretty early on I was, uh, sexually open. I had an open relationship and we were experimenting pretty early on with stuff like that.

Laci:
Is your family pretty sex positive and sex forward or what was your upbringing like?

Ginger:
Uh, definitely not. About half of my family kinda doesn't talk to me anymore. My dad and my step mom's side of the family, my, they don't talk to you. It was 2015 was the last time I saw them. I've reached out multiple times, you know, to S uh, but uh, that's all I can do. You know, I can't change another person's behavior or feelings and it's kind of something I've come to acceptance with, sadly. And maybe they'll come around, you know, I'm, I'm still open to it. I know I didn't do anything wrong. That's the sad thing. And it's just them and their experiences with sex. You know, I think it's a little shocking to have someone be so open about it.

Honestly, my dad thought my ex was like kind of forcing me to do it because I think it's kinda hard to accept the fact that women can be sexual. Like it has to be a guy's choice. It wasn't, yeah, exactly. 100%. And so I dunno, it sucks. It really does suck. But I like people, there's always going to be people out there that judge us for our jobs or have problems with us. The big important thing is to not care because if you're not hurting anybody, you're doing it in your own moral way. My dad definitely wasn't there for me, so I'm sure that like, you know, that's a huge stereotype for a lot of people, but who knows, maybe that did have an influence on me getting into the industry, but right now I'm doing it in such a healthy functional way. Every ounce of work, the hard work that I put in like is directly reflected in my own income.

And so it's for me, like I feel like I'm working hard for myself and so I'm proud of that.

Laci:
Has it changed how you see other people in any way?

Ginger:
Yeah, like it opens my eyes to like just all the different types of people that are online. A lot of people cannot get interaction with women or sexual experience in the most conventional of ways and I don't think exchanging money for it. If there's women out there who are much, who are willing women and men out there who are willing to provide it. Like I don't understand why it's so stigmatized or looked down upon because I dunno, I, I probably even use to stigmatize my customers a little bit. You know, before I met, started meeting them in person, you know, you forget that they're people, you just see some fucking user name or user name.

They give you money and then you start meeting them in person and you're just like, so you really do start develop relationships and stuff like that. I think my first convention like completely changed the way I felt about the people who gave me money. Has it affected your personal relationships in any way? Uh, not to my knowledge. Nobody's ever said that that's the reason they like have problems or anything like that. Like it sounds like I'm going to church really. I'm looking for someone to date a porn star. I definitely look for people who are more open minded and who are open to the fact that, you know, my job is to have sex with other people. And so that's something that, you know, I'm not really going to compromise on. I was at least my ex totally before I left him was trying to convince me that nobody would want to be with me.

So that was like a really hard one for me to get over personally. And I'm sure other people have been in similar situations or just like, I don't know, the way society portrays sex workers in general or just like entertainment has affected I think our view of things.

Laci:
Has it changed how you view yourself at all? Like your own internal conversations? Yeah. Tell me about that.

Ginger:
Oh my gosh, I was just talking about this. Like I remember the first time my ex asked me to masturbate for him. I thought that he was fucking crazy and I masturbated all the time like Bob to do it in front of another person. It was like, what? Like so insane. I learned a lot in sex work. I learned a lot in therapy. I can't just say it's like all from sex work. I'm not going to say, you know, it's all like that.

But like, yeah, I learned how to like set boundaries. I feel like that I, but I feel like my lack of boundaries had just a lot to do with my life in general and it, it's not something that was exclusive to sex work. I think a lot of people, even when they date and things like that have struggle like struggles standing up for themselves or I was definitely a people pleaser. So how did you, how did you go about developing those boundaries then? Just deciding what's important to you and then sticking to them and then you like gain this like respect for yourself and then it becomes like not even a question. I don't know. And I usually like I curate my following now. Like the people who interact with my activism, tweets and things like that, the things that aren't just like my vagina.

I think that I used to be really bad about objectifying myself in a way. Like I would just post sexual things. And I think that when you do that they are conditioned to see you as a sex object. Like it's, you know, like it's not okay for them to treat you poorly because it, but I've definitely noticed like opening up more about my family or just like my life and things like that has, uh, like caused them to like just treat me better.

 

Laci:
Is there anything in your process that has surprised you, um, about your work or, or maybe made you change your mind about the way you saw things?

Ginger:
Hm. My, my very first like time working with someone else, like on a set and it's a girl girl scene. The director like kicks everybody else out of the room and he has his handheld camera.

And of course, like as soon as he starts he starts touching us like, and it's a girl girl scene, it's in our contract. And it was just like, it was sucked because I felt like they reached out to me cause I was this advocate and all like all that. And even in the face of all of that, like they talked to me about getting Ron Jeremy banned from all of our expos and stuff. So I feel like they knew and they still did it and I lives in like denial. At first I was like, Oh, it was just this miscommunication. Like I dunno even know how I convinced myself of that and then I found out the director was still doing it and it was just like so frustrating and he like went on an interview to say that he was just trying to make my scene better.

Laci:
God.

 

Ginger:
Yeah. I thought that you know, Oh it's going to be great. Like I'm in control. They reached out to me for this special project, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then it was like, what the fuck? Like I dunno, it's just, it definitely changed my view of things and I was like, then I had more of a view of like, all right, how do we make things safer for talent? How does this shit not happen again? Like maybe I had like Rose colored classes because I am a webcam model.

Laci:
I'm really sorry to that happened. I feel like I've read a lot of stuff about the industry, not necessarily camming....

Ginger:
I think everybody needs to have their boundaries set and they need to be able to speak up for themselves on set because nobody else is onset and nobody's going to speak up for you.

It's so hard to like say, Oh, I would do this, I would do that. But like when it happens, it's just like you freeze up and it sucks. So...

Laci:
Yeah, I mean I feel like the onus shouldn't really be on you to have to prevent it at all. I mean like the, the real problem here is people who are pushing boundaries in a way that's unacceptable.

Ginger:
Yeah. There's no excuse. Like I've been on super professional sets where I never even felt like uncomfortable for a half second. So like it shouldn't be happening in this day and age. There is a professional ethical way to shoot porn.

Laci:
Is there anything being done about production companies that do this?

Ginger:
This makes me cry because I dunno what to do. Yeah. But I don't know what is the problem? What should we do? I think that we should have some like either, you know there's like fair trade coffee, like you know that this director or this performer like was trained for this, this, this and this and they know all of these things.

They follow this protocol and wonder like it seems like part of that then is speaking out what she did about Ron Jeremy and kind of letting other people know. I

Laci
I mean isn't there some, some liability here on the consumer side?

Ginger:

Once businesses see that people were buying more from these companies, maybe that would matter. Honestly, the most ethical way for you to buy porn is to buy it from the directly from the performer. They get the most money they chose to make that video.

 

Laci:

What do you think about, um, tube sites like PornHub? I mean my understanding is that a lot of the stuff on there is stolen.

Ginger:

Yeah. I think that it's become one of those like dance. Like it's like you dance with the devil or you don't because it's like, I feel like 90 something percent of people watch content on tube sites. Like my videos were constantly being uploaded there. No matter what I did, I put hundreds of videos up on PornHub for free chosen.

Laci:
Now you're saying you chose to put it up, but I'm hearing that you kind of had to put it up because otherwise it was going to profit off of it.

Ginger:
They kept doing it and then at one point I think it was like I had 6 million views or something and they were like, when I asked them to take it down, they were like, well, if you keep it up, we'll give you this much money. And I was like, Oh my God, fine. It's never going to stop. Yeah, like I might as well just like get a percentage of this money that I've never gotten ever in my career.

 

Laci:
It's troubling to me that you would not be able to choose where you want your own content posted.

Ginger:
I mean, PornHub respects us more out of all the tube sites. I know lot of people that stole from us. Pornhub's gosh, it's so hard to say stuff like that, but it's true. X video treats us like shit, they didn't give me any pay on the videos that they hadn't made money on that were still up there when I like went to join like PornHub does well.

Laci:
Another thought I have about PornHub and tube sites in general is, you know, sometimes I worry there are obviously a lot of women that are performing in developing countries and it's not always clear that they're actually wanting to do it. You know, there's the question of some people being sex trafficked or forced to perform. For me, obviously this is a major problem. We need to balance the freedom of expression and freedom for people like yourself who want to be there with freedom for people who are being exploited. Do you think this is something that regulators should be looking at more closely?

Ginger:
I think that like law enforcement in each individual area should just be using PornHub as evidence to take the people down if that's something that's really happening. I don't think that stopping PornHub is going to stop those people at all whatsoever. If people are doing their jobs, I don't want it to be up there at all. So I don't know what the answer is.

 

Laci:
The problem is there's just so much of it, right? There's just, so much content. So the idea of regulating it is very difficult.

Ginger:
Yeah. Only buy porn from individuals that you know are real on the internet and only watch verified channels on PornHub. It's really not that hard. There's so many amateurs like what do you, whatever you want, you can actually watch it in an ethical way for free. If you're really obsessed with getting your shit for free.

Laci:
Do you think that camming is changed social media in any meaningful way?

Ginger:
Yeah. Maybe like camming was like the first thing to inspire stuff like twitch, anything about it? Yeah, I mean I think a lot of people equate camming with Twitch. When girls who sit there with big boobs make more money than people who they team to be like whatever, statistically better players. It's like a, they get butt hurt, you know? I get it like I'm sorry, but if their problem is like, Oh my God, there's kids on there. Oh my God, I would love my child to be watching a girl with cleavage playing video games, kids, if that's what you're proud of, a problem with your kids watching. Like don't look at their search history like please. Like that's one of the, that's my biggest problem with tube sites to be honest.

There's like an unlimited, uh, plethora of that shit for every kid to watch.

Laci:
And like they're watching this stuff really young now, you know? I think the latest study found the average age was nine years old.

Ginger: 
I think that that's when I saw porn for the first time it was around that age.

Laci: 

Really? Wow. Wait, how old are you?

 

Ginger:

29.

Laci: 

Okay. We're about the same age. I was definitely way older than that.

Ginger:
I definitely saw some Nudie magazines from an at a neighbor's house and looking back, like she showed them to me and she was saying things like, yeah, I don't think she was growing up in the best environment.

Laci
Like she was kind of prematurely exposed

Ginger:
To stuff like that. Yeah.

Laci: 

I mean kids need, need a safe place to learn about sex and shouldn't be shamed or you know, made to feel bad about their bodies.

Ginger:
That's the problem though is that they need that. But it doesn't exist for most communities. And so they go online and they get it from a fantasy. It's like there being absolutely no driver's ed courses any in a bunch of States like most States. But they would let you watch like grand theft auto, I dunno, my sex education was like literally guys have wet dreams and girls have periods. Like I swear to God that was all they taught us and we had to send home a waiver and all this stuff. And I was like, first off, why do I need to know about guys having wet dreams? Like I think that's the big problem.

Laci:
Yeah, it's definitely a problem. I mean, people who are performing are not there to be educators, you know?

Ginger:
Exactly. So many of us have taken on that fucking responsibility it seems.

Okay. Everything I've learned about like sex ed and especially in terms of STDs has just made me super strict about sticking to my boundary. Like I don't even kiss unless they get an STD test. Someone told me one time, they were like arguing with me. They were like, you have to fuck every person if you want to call yourself a slut. I was like, I don't think there's one person on the planet who would have sex with every person on this planet on planet earth.

Laci:
That is a pretty extreme perspective. Do you think that people have kind of skewed ideas of boundaries because you're in sex work?

Ginger:
Totally. That's why like I think that integrating consent into the scene, especially for amateur style scenes is important. Like obviously, I don't know. I think it might be important for like even like our fantasy like office, you know boss scenes.

It's like just like asking like it shouldn't be a crazy thing that ruins the moment.

Laci:
What do you think about there's this image economy online, right? Where you post selfies to Instagram. You know there's this spectrum selfies to sharing sexual imagery with strangers online and a lot of social media kind of has this image based element to it. Right. Do you think that this is a positive step forward? That it is something that's empowering for women?

Ginger:

The negative part is like the photo shop or the unrealistic expectations where women or people just don't know that most of things are like an illusion. Like I think that is what affects people's self esteem and stuff like that. But I think just posting stuff online and itself, I think that maybe it's more like a narcissism problem, not a self esteem problem.

Laci:

Sometimes I worried that the platforms online are, we're encouraging our tendency to tell women that their value is only in how they look. You know? That's a fine line because of course it's okay to want that or need that or to give that as well. But I, I feel some sense of concern that girls who grow up online, you know, they see what it takes to get positive feedback. I don't know that that's always healthy.

Ginger:
No, I totally understand what you're saying. Like the pictures of my ass get by far and more away, like more attention than any anything I do. But to be honest, the more I talk about like, like my last, I wrote an article for expos and I posted it on my Instagram and it got just as much likes as an ass picture and I was like, Oh my God, they care about me. They do. It's, it's a deeper issue for me. So it's hard. I'm like, yeah, I think I was just like, I was complimented a little, a lot on my looks growing up and like not other things, but now like when someone gives me a non-physical compliment, like that's one of my favorite things.

Laci:
Why do you think about, um, the explosion and cam girls and eagerly more generally, does this say anything about our society as a whole?

Ginger:
It's hard for me to speak for society as a whole. All I can say is that I've always kind of like Ben, someone who was sexual and so it just seemed like an obvious way to make money, which I think that it's even easier because I feel like, like I had, I was taking nude pictures like, like my, like before I ever started camming. So I'm just saying, I'm sure most people have, a lot of people are in the similar boat. So it's like why not make money? Like I have girlfriends all the time that take nude pictures and new videos and masturbating videos for their boyfriends constantly. So it's like we just chose to put it on the internet and make money from it.

Laci:
Maybe I was, um, I was confusingly worded, I don't mean like you speaking for society as a whole, but you know, what is, it doesn't say anything about our society in general. This explosion in the cultivation of online relationships and not just like friendships and stuff, but sexual relationships online as well. It seems to me like people are kind of turning toward their screens and a way in some ways away from each other.

Ginger:

Oh I definitely think people are becoming more isolated. I always say this, I feel like we need something that's like church but that doesn't control people and like make ridiculous like claims of divinity and things like that. Like something that's like the thing like I think there is a significant lack of that and that's what I always tell cam models is if you can be like a good person who provides up sense of community for people, they will come to you, they will give you money consistently.

Like and you can feel good about yourself if you're genuinely giving people a place to be themselves. Like that's what I, I've heard, I have so many messages from people that are just like wow, this is the first time I've ever been able to, you know, be myself sexually. Like that is a beautiful, powerful thing. And so if you can provide an environment like that for people, they will be more than willing to support you. And I think that that is a great way to do things.

Laci:

Is there anything else that you feel like people need to understand about camming or need to understand about your world?

Ginger:
We are people, there's a lot of us that are happy and healthy and I, so it's so hard that like, this has to be so many people's biggest fucking secret. I'm not kidding. Like so many people's biggest secret.

It breaks my heart. It affects their relationships with their family. And I'm not even just talking about myself either. I hear about it all the time. Like I could never tell. My parents are like, please people all the time, kid, you know, you can't be as public, like, can't post any pictures with me because maybe my dad, like, we'll see it, you know, like I do have a bigger, like, just things like that. And it breaks my heart. Like they're, they're not ashamed of what they do, but they still have to lie about it. And I think that's hurtful.

[End interview]

Well, that’s a wrap. Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas, and A Very Happy New Year everyone! We’ll pick back up with new discussions and new ideas on January 8. See you then.

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