James Deen and the Crisis of Media-Appointed Feminist 'Heroes'

CENTURY CITY, CA - JANUARY 24:  Adult film actor James Deen arrives for the 2014 XBIZ Awards held at The Hyatt Regency Centur
CENTURY CITY, CA - JANUARY 24: Adult film actor James Deen arrives for the 2014 XBIZ Awards held at The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on January 24, 2014 in Century City, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

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Originally published at Luna Luna Magazine.

When James Deen was accused of raping or sexually assaulting several women -- including his ex-girlfriend, the performer Stoya, the internet exploded. Some people wondered if porn actors could actually be raped (of COURSE they can; and never read the comments), while some people wondered how they could have ever supported him. Reading through the "we were wrong" headlines, it's clear that the masses are wondering: How could it be that someone who was public and likable and funny and into consent was allegedly raping his coworkers and other women?

When Deen started becoming porn-famous around 2012, women -- some of them devout "deenagers" -- thought of him as a feminist icon. Jezebel said he was "dreamy," painting him as the guy next door who wants to hold your hand and watch Clueless. The media at large took Deen off of the faraway internet sex pedestal and put him into our lives as a hybrid entertainer and women-loving dude friend. His own social media engagement helped hone that image as well, even when he made ignorant rape jokes. The Frisky even hired him to write an advice column (they've since stopped publishing him.)

When someone is given the feminist seal of approval by the media, it can burrow itself into the psyche of readers and fans. It's hard not to be excited about someone who doesn't appear to denigrate women; we naturally want to celebrate them and make a public case in the hopes that it will influence others. However, it creates this idea that James Deen is a disappointment because he was deemed such a cool guy, not solely because he possibly committed a series of serious ethical crimes against women and humanity.

When the porn actress Stoya tweeted that Deen had held her down and ignored her safe word, other women came forward and alleged that Deen had assaulted them as well, leading Deen to take part in an email interview with The Daily Beast, saying he was "honestly shocked" by the allegations and that "I have never claimed to be a feminist" or "the boy next door."

This is a guy who previously told Elle,

I wouldn't consider myself a feminist... At the end of the day I want everyone to have the respect that they deserve and to respect people's civil liberties and rights. I don't know, maybe I am a f*cking feminist!

Simply, as figures in the media and consumers/retweeters of media, need to rethink the way we categorize public figures. We bestow upon celebrities our seal of approval and then we taketh away, but the reality is we need to look at lots of variables to know if a person is a) a good human being, b) a feminist and c) not a criminal.

It seems like all men need to do is throw a bone towards women and they're suddenly in the clear. Bloggers need to know this isn't enough. Not online and not in real life.

The internet is the quickest to vilify. If an actor (who happens to be a woman) says she's not a feminist, we write dozens of responses, critiquing their ignorance or kicking them out of the Feminist Club that we'd put them in ourselves. Sometimes we call them feminist heroes because of something they said and sometimes we just decide they're the It Feminist and good for clicks. Just as wearing sneakers on the red carpet doesn't guarantee you're in feminist club, being a porn star who says he respects women doesn't make you feminist. Being feminist just isn't enough anymore.

Whether or not these allegations around Deen are true -- and I'm standing with the women who say they were victims to what sounds like Deen's sexual entitlement or dangerous blending of real world vs. porn world -- we know that we need to treat this like a criminal case and not like an, "Turns out he's NOT so feminist anymore, you guys" headline.

Interacting with feminism online should be done in an ideological way, not in a way that works for page views. When we pump content onto the internet, even us feminist journalists and bloggers, we need to be ethical and responsible enough to say, "Do I actually know 10 reasons X is a feminist?" We should always be thinking about what we're saying, why we're saying it and what affect it has on society. Deen could possibly be very guilty; don't let all the headlines make you question the victims.