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How the Abuse Against OnlyFans Workers is Fuelled by Sexism

By Isabel Prescott

I was recently unemployed when the Coronavirus hit and have therefore spent many hours, trawling online for easy ways to make quick cash. This has ultimately proved futile and has instead resulted in my inbox being inundated with invitations for (poorly) payed surveys. Due to this unique situation, starting an OnlyFans account has become more enticing than ever. For those unacquainted, OnlyFans is a website which allows users to create payed content for their subscribers, with said content often being of a risqué nature. Despite my interest I’m unable to take the plunge. I’ve convinced myself this is due to having no tits. The truth is even if I was a C cup, I simply do not possess the confidence, particularly since witnessing the barrage of horrendous abuse OnlyFans workers are subjected to online.

Scrolling through Twitter, there are a litany of enraged comments which include the usual derogatory terms such as 'slag', 'slut' and ‘whore’. There is also the tired refrain of 'get a real job', demonstrating how sex work is still dismissed as a serious career choice. This is partly fuelled by jealousy, since a lot of these women are cashing in big money and discussing their incomes online to demonstrate just how lucrative their businesses are. Previously men were predominantly at the top of the ladder in terms of income, with many women having no choice but to depend on a man's economic support. Now more than ever women can support themselves financially, but where there is progress there is always a backlash. This is evident online, with the increased visibility of feminism also giving rise to ‘popular misogyny’, as detailed by Sarah Banet-Weiser (2018). In the case of OnlyFans men are inflamed to an even higher degree, since women are owning and cashing in on something which previously they had the power to control, exploit and dictate; female sexuality. As feminism has become increasingly prominent, the double standards accorded to men and women's sexuality have been exposed and criticised, yet clearly slut shaming remains prevalent.

The attack against OnlyFans workers is a result of the tiresome correlation between a woman’s sexuality and her ‘self-worth’ or ‘respect’. Furthermore, this is not simply a matter of concern for the woman, with many responses repeatedly citing the shame sex work will bring to the woman’s father and/or brother. Attacks against OnlyFans workers continuously question whether these men know or approve of their daughter/ sister’s work, with many threatening to ‘expose’ the women by sending stolen pictures to their male family members. This implies that a woman is merely an extension of the men in her life, with her body and therefore her sexuality rightfully being under their possession and control. A woman’s lack of ‘self-respect’ is thus viewed as detrimental to men; a man cannot warrant respect if he is shamed by a disrespectful woman.

In creating an OnlyFans account, a woman is seen to be degrading both herself and her father or brother. It is a concept which is ingrained in culture, where a son's sexuality is something to be encouraged and a daughter’s is to be protected, with it being the right and responsibility of the father to do so. Once a brother is old enough, he too shoulders this responsibility and the right to be outraged if his sister decides to commit scandalous acts, such as posting revealing pictures online. This misogynistic outlook is one which has long been nurtured.

In Scarface (1983), Tony Montana is so enraged at seeing his sister, Gina, dancing promiscuously and flirting openly with a man in public, that he chases her into a bathroom stall and viciously attacks her. His anger is supposedly due to his brotherly concern, yet beneath this there is an undercurrent of perverse obsession, particularly since he only slaps Gina after she insists she'll fuck who she wants to. The galling excuse of paternal or brotherly protection is often used as a guise which provides men the right to exert control over their daughter or sister's sexuality. This is not to say that fathers and brothers should not protect the women in their life, however they should not conflate concern with unjustifiable interference and control. Despite Scarface being produced in the 80s and clearly embodying a brand of excessive, masculine pride and toxicity, it is highly indicative of how men today still seek to ‘protect’ women's sexuality.

In 2019, the rapper T.I joked on the Ladies Like Us podcast, that he accompanies his daughter every year to the gynaecologist to ensure her hymen is still intact, despite the fact she is now eighteen years old. This is another example of how a woman’s sexuality is framed as something which belongs under the control of her father. T. I’s comments also promote the damaging concept of ‘virginity’ and the misguided belief that this is related to a woman’s hymen. It does not take an expert in Gender Studies to assume the rapper does not apply the same treatment to his son. T.I later backtracked on his comments after they were rightfully met with widespread criticism, citing the patriarchal excuse of fatherly protection. The same vein of thought runs through the responses to OnlyFans workers, who are continually asked to think of how their work affects their fathers. This suggest that even after a woman is of legal age and is not causing harm to anyone, how she chooses to act upon her sexuality remains susceptible to unjustified, fatherly concern and condemnation. If only men were just as concerned about their sons becoming rapists.

The demonization and often punishment of the femme fatale character, is another example of how pop culture seeks to control and eradicate women who utilize their sexuality. In classic iterations of the trope such as Vertigo (1958) and Fatal Attraction (1987), the femme fatale’s unbridled sexuality threatens the male characters, thus justifying her eventual demise. Though the contradictory trope has since been reimagined in texts such as Gone Girl (2014), in the case of OnlyFans, men are similarly unsettled by female workers utilising their sexuality for profit, particularly since they are supposedly taking ‘hard earned’ cash away from their male subscribers. Men are willingly relinquishing their money for content, but due to circumscribed ideas of men and women's behaviour, this is being treated differently to other forms of economic transactions, with these women being framed as dangerous temptresses luring defenceless men into handing over their money.

The double standards of the abuse levelled at OnlyFans workers is further exemplified through men’s consumption of porn, which frequently exploits and degrades women and promotes damaging gender ideologies. Equally when 'The Fappening' occurred in 2014, in which hundreds of celebrity nudes were leaked with the majority belonging to women, men celebrated this sexual violation with many blaming the women themselves for taking the images. Thus it becomes evident that a violation of women's bodies is to be enjoyed, whilst women's sexual autonomy is to be derided and shamed. This desire to retain control over how women's bodies are viewed, also means subscribers are now leaking OnlyFans pictures online, reducing worker’s income and the need for other users to subscribe. This is an act which is also being celebrated online, as men successfully seize back control from women and police both their sexuality and means of income.

The expectation of women to be guarded under a prescribed idea of suitable, female sexuality and expression perseveres, and many still regard female sexuality as something which should only be of benefit to men. OnlyFans is an embodiment of [some] men's worst fears; sexually liberated, economically superior and independent women free from the constraints and expectations of men, including their own fathers or brothers. If this cultural perception does not begin to shift, it seems no one will be confronted with my OnlyFans account any time soon.

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