In my final year at University I created a three channel video installation surrounding the theme of Cam-Girls. For those that are not familiar Cam-Girling is a form of online sex work. Patrons of various websites watch Cam Models performing sexually explicit acts, the users of sites pay the models per minute, or via tips and paid private sessions. You can also pay for their social media videos and links such as SnapChat/Skype etc. These sites have grown increasingly more popular as the internet proliferates, and with the developing demand for instant gratification the sites have become a niche area of the porn and sex work industry. These sites have also become a place of artistic inspiration, (I fully include myself in this category) with artists such as Dye Lindsey who uses CamGirling as not only as a means of funding her Art Degree but also as a form of inspiration for her artistic practice.
My project entitled “Cyber Feminist Manifesto” attempted to infiltrate this subversive world. I reenacted famous feminist performance pieces from throughout contemporary art history. I performed these on a popular Cam Girl website, aiming to investigate firstly the public reaction to these performances, but to also gather evidence about the psychological effects of use of these sites for both the client, and the performer. This project was for my Degree show, for which I received a 1st and an award from the South Korea University of Seoul for my creativity and concept. If you are interested in the artistic concept and the evidence supporting that concept, I suggest you check out my other blog.
While undertaking the project I was very much aware that whatever the resulting effects were on myself this was my own subjective experience. I am accepting of the fact that there are many people who freely choose to use cam-girling as a sustainable form of income, who have not experienced any form of abuse on these sites and are extremely happy with their job. I spoke to some of these people in person and online while I was researching the project and they really felt a strong sense of community from the CamGirl Network. Some prolific figures, who could even be considered minor celebrities of the Cam-Girl world have become inspirations to me in terms of their artistic talent. VICE made an interesting documentary telling this particular side of the story and it can be found here.
However, this being said, it is also clear that there is an overwhelmingly large number of people who are being abused on these sites, who are being taken advantage of and who seem frankly….Depressed. There are women being forced into using them who do not find it empowering and liberating and who have very little agency over what they are doing and where their image is being disseminated. I wish to make it clear now that for the purpose of this blog I am solely discussing women like myself who have actively chosen to use these sites, with no pressure from any outside force. I am not talking about women who are being illegally pressured or forced into sex work.
Online sex-work has been hailed as being far safer than escorting. While it is true that the physical well being of that person is safer behind a computer screen, what my project explored was the psychological side effects of camgirling and how easily recorded, and then disseminated your image can be. The effects of this have the potential to be life destroying, and I feel this is something that should be taken into strong consideration when someone is signing up to use one of these sites as a model. It is also something that the sites themselves should take more responsibility over and if there is technology available to stop people recording their own screens while watching models perform then it should be implemented on these sites. We know this technology exists because applications such as QuickTime use it if you attempt to screenshot or record a DVD on your computer using a screen capture function. Its this function that I used to record my performances, and its this function anyone else could of used to record me.
I spent the whole of the project using these sites frequently as a model and as a customer – trying to get as much information as possible about the users of these sites. In my own experience I must say I did not have any truly bad altercations with anyone, or what I would consider as abusive. I had bad language, sexually suggestive language and my own ego took a battering, but I never felt overtly at risk. Most of the patrons I encountered were respectful and intrigued by my performances, which were obviously unusual compared to the average content of the site. Now, perhaps I am just a sensitive person, but despite only having a few users on the site get overtly inappropriate, or pressure me into over stepping my boundaries, I still felt the whole experience had an adverse effect on my mental well being and left a generally bad taste in my mouth. At the start of the project my fascination with the world of camgirls shrouded the true nature of what this job actually entails I suspect that many women with prolonged use of these sites come out with a warped sense of their own body and sexual identity.
When you first use one of these sites, clicking the button that activates your live stream sends adrenaline racing round your body. The allure of liveness is very real and the person being watched feeds off of it just as much as the voyeur. This is another reason I believe these sites will continue to gain popularity. More and more young people have a compelling desire to be noticed online, to be liked and therefore fulfilled. I began to feel angry with myself for feeling this way, and it was extremely noticeable just how addictive these sites were, adding the opportunity to make money only makes it more desirable. Therefore it is easy to deduce how in the moment someone could be offered a large amount of money, to perform a sexual act that later they will regret. In that moment it is very easy to lose your sense of self and to make decisions that if you were in a rational state of mind you would of made differently. Watching back the footage I shot to make my video installation, even my voice does not sound like my own, mainly through nervousness but also due to the preformative nature of what I was doing.
I feel that it is an individuals choice to use these sites, and that individual needs to take personal responsibility for the outcome, as I did with this project. I felt that the site had a negative impact on me personally, and while I am extremely glad that I did the project, and happy with the results it is not something I would encourage other women to peruse as a career. I wanted my video work and written manifesto which accompanied it to reflect both the positive and negative situations I had occurred while using the sites.
So there you have it. I haven’t really come to much of a conclusion I’m afraid, so my apologies if you are disappointed by my incoherent ramblings about my small experience of this online space. It may be worth adding that the whole project led me to really rethink a lot of things about myself, my relationships and in particular my relationship with feminism, of which I am still internally tackling on a daily basis.
Below is the link to my blog which has all of my research materials, process and development – along with a lot more writing. I am also going to very briefly write about a Journal that I found very informative while I was undertaking this project.
Link to my Tumblr Blog: Cyber Feminist Manifesto.
A journal that I found incredibly interesting while researching this project was entitled eGirls eCitizen’s . It would be impossible to attempt to explain all of the books findings and research into a couple of short paragraphs but I’ll do my best:
The book uses research, statistics, and interviews to explore women’s online presence, the agency women and girls have online, and the problems surrounding this. While the book discusses cyber-feminist discourse, it comes at all the discussion from a non biased view point.
Early cyber-feminists (at the conception of/when the internet was first arising) had a somewhat Utopian view of the internet and its possibilities. However, the online sphere instead became a hot bed for feminist debate and discussion “where feminist issues manifested” it seems that cyberspace is full of contradictions, for example:
- virtual space being liberating vs constraining
- virtual experience as vulnerable vs empowering
- virtual space is viewed as Utopian or dystopian with nothing in between
The book then goes discuss Agency and Vulnerability – Liberation, Risk and Self Disclosure. How can risk be liberating and vulnerability lead to empowerment? Being online is the simultaneous bringing together of these elements. The book then discusses the risks of being online for women, (they’re pretty self explanatory) and goes onto suggest that these risks are not exclusive to women and can be used for liberating purposes too. It is a fascinating read and I highly recommend downloading it (you can download it for free)!