23-year-old ex-porn star Sasha Grey is the face of Belgium's Equal Pay Day, the country's worthwhile and certainly well-meaning movement (we have our own, too, on April 12th) that seeks to close the 22% wage gap between men and women. But the campaign's PSA sends mixed messages about women and the porn industry, which makes us wonder if Grey knew how the video would be edited before she decided to lend her voice to the cause.
In the (NSFW) clip, Grey dons a classy dress and lounges around what looks like a Hollywood Hills mansion as she explains her life story. "When I turned 18, I left high school and I decided that I wanted to pursue different career opportunities," she says. "I worked as a secretary, as a teacher, as a waitress; as a nurse, I actually made more than the doctors. Within a year these jobs not only brought me respect but also a lot of money." Then the camera starts focusing on the porn stars in the background — a blowjob here, an orgy there — and you realize Grey doesn't really have a nursing degree. "I liked really dirty things," she says. "I've been hung upside down, and tied up, and had a 12-inch-dildo stuck in my ass, with my mouth gagged. I'm proud of this. It's something I chose to do. Who I am: I'm Sasha Grey."
Without context, one would assume that the video is meant to empower young women who choose alternate career paths. But the PSA concludes by telling viewers, "Porn is about the only way to make more money than men — Find a better alternative on equalpayday.be." The site makes it very clear that the campaign does not applaud Grey for having the agency to make money as she chooses, but hopes to use her as an example of a poor little girl who fell down a wayward path. "Sasha is a handsome, intelligent and independent young woman who recently starred in the series Entourage and The Girlfriend Experience, a movie by Steven Soderbergh," the website explains, "But before this, she was also the most well-known pornstar of the last 15 years. It was no coincidence that she joined the porn industry at 18: it is one of the few fields where women earn more than men." Here's their description of the PSA:
In the web commercial we see Sasha in a role she plays well: that of the sweet young woman. She tells us the story of her early professional life. She tells us about the choice she made to leave school aged only 18 years old and to take on a different sort of career. She tells us she earned a decent living. And then the commercial changes in mood. And she tells us with the same sweet smile about the things she had to do to earn all this money. Tough things. Things you wouldn't do for all the money in the world.
So, that's confusing! In the video, Sasha says she's "proud" of liking dirty things — in fact, they make her who she is. So why does the PSA end with "find a better alternative"? The website also mentions that the campaign will include posters and flyers with the words, "Close the wage gap, become a porn actress'" tattooed on a woman's lower back. Based on the rest of their marketing, it seems this is a sarcastic statement, meant to illustrate that the only way for women to make money is to permanently tattoo the word "slut" on their bodies. ("Tramp Stamp": not just an American term, it turns out!)
Speaking of permanently being branded a slut: In November, when Grey was attacked for (gasp!) reading books to elementary-school children despite her x-rated past, she told The View that one of the reasons she got into porn in the first place was to "stop the stigma and stop the stereotypes against the adult film industry." The campaign is obviously trying to appeal to young women who turn to porn because they lack other financially viable options, but Grey has always stood up for her porn-star past. So why is she in this PSA? Is it because the chief goal of Equal Pay Day — to close the wage gap — is more important to her than the movement's marketing? Or did she expect the film to turn out differently?