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Webcam Modeling: A Complex and Feminist Entrepreneurship

In January of 2015, Kendra Sunderland was arrested and charged with public indecency
after a webcam video was posted to PornHub of her performing solo-sex in the library of Oregon
State University. Sunderland, 19, describes herself as an entrepreneur and cam girl who
performs live webcam shows as a job (McCormack). Sunderlands arrest earlier this year was
deemed justified because she violated specific laws pertaining to public indecency, but it also
brought the complex and intriguing world of webcam modeling to the forefront of public
dialogue. While webcam modeling is a controversial topic considering it is a form of sex work, it
can also be described as a multidimensional form of adult entertainment that supports feminist
values and beliefs. I believe that the webcam industry deserves a critical analysis under a
feminist framework in order to understand the positive aspects of this business, which far
outweigh the darker side of webcam modeling. It is important to understand exactly what
webcam modeling entails before it can be critiqued using a feminist perspective.
This type of adult entertainment business is difficult to define in a single word, but for
my purposes I will refer to it as webcam modeling. As women make up the majority of
webcam subjects and producers, I will be referring to them as performers, workers, or cam
girls (Knight 22). According to Paul Bleakley, the webcam modeling industry has seen a surge
in popularity in the past two decades and pulls from ...a range of adult entertainment
classifications... including pornography, stripping, and prostitution (901). The performer uses a
webcam to interact with audience members online in a chat room setting. Audience members,
also known as clients, can buy tokens (a set amount for a certain monetary price) to pay for
performances. The pornography aspect of webcam modeling is viewers can watch a person
perform a variety of sexual acts- however, since there is no expectation of physical contact

between viewer and cam girl, webcam modeling can also be defined as a form of stripping.
Lines blur when one takes into account the sexual requests taken from the audience and
completed by the cam girl for money; some believe this kind of interactivity falls under the
category of prostitution. Webcam modeling is a multifaceted entertainment industry that
...defies existing categorization... to say the least (Bleakley 901). Despite its categorization
under the broad umbrella of sex work, webcam modeling exhibits many third-wave feminist
attitudes and values.
When describing third-wave feminism, many of the values held by this ideology can also
be found in the webcam modeling industry. Julia T. Woods, author of Gendered Lives:
Communication, Gender, and Culture describes third-wave feminism as ...characterized by
multiplicity and the resistance to any single center (87). Third-wave feminism encompasses the
humanitarian values of freedom and equality between the sexes, while paying special attention to
importance of intersectionality and inclusiveness of all women. Webcam modeling exhibits many
aspects of sex-positive feminism, a subset of feminism which claims that women can make
their own decisions regarding their sexuality and how they express it. Many proponents of sexpositive feminism support sex industry workers across a variety of platforms, including
prostitution, stripping, pornography, and webcam modeling.
Webcam modeling exhibits the feminist values of freedom and consent in multiple ways.
Models have complete autonomy over their bodies and the spaces in which they perform. By
having the ability to perform within ones comfort zone, models avoid exploitation by a pimp,
boss, or agent. They are essentially their own boss: models set their own schedules and choose
how they interact with themselves and the audience, therefore establishing (semi)firm boundaries
regarding sexual performances. They may recommend their preferred performances on their

website or try new shows for viewers. Most webcam sites, which use the electronic form of
currency called tokens, have standard prices per bundle of tokens: for example, a client can buy
200 tokens for $20, and then tip the model with those tokens depending on the number of
minutes or specific performance. Performers get a cut of the profit.
Webcam models also have the freedom to explore their sexuality. Many models express
feelings of increased self-esteem from working in this industry. Webcams provide a private space
within a public atmosphere because the worker doesnt have to see any of their clients if she
doesnt want to. Models can also remain anonymous, using nicknames or keeping their face out
of the camera frame. With the illusion of privacy, performers have more confidence in expressing
their sexuality. This feminist expression of healthy sexuality condemns the traditionally sexist
notion that women dont enjoy sex, or that they need a partner to have a sexual experience
(Attwood). Many people go so far as to equate webcam performances with erotica due to the
intimate and artistic nature of the scene. This categorization separates webcam modeling from
other forms of adult entertainment because it is considered more interactive and personal than
stripping, prostitution, or pornography. It is also safer because women arent exposed to
maltreatment or sexually transmitted infections on the job. Overall, this business of adult
entrepreneurship allows women to reclaim their sexuality and define it on their terms in a safe
and consenting atmosphere. Models are also more likely to be treated fairly and equally in this
line of work.
Webcam modeling ensures more equality than other forms of adult entertainment. Even
though the webcam site takes part of the tips made by workers, the model can still earn up to
60% of the profits. For a little perspective, a webcam model can perform for over one hundred
clients at one time, and make up to thousands of dollars per session (Richtel). The computer

levels the playing field between performer and client because the prices are set (or negotiable)
and clients cannot physically force the performer to do anything. Industries like stripping or
pornography do not always provide the same equality for their workers: often times strippers rely
on a bosss handout or pornography stars are pressured into uncomfortable sexual experiences.
The independent nature of webcam modeling secures a space where the model is in control and
equal to their audience. The real-time aspect of webcam modeling makes it harder to pirate
videos, too, so models are not cheated out of illegally downloaded or copied shows (Richtel).
Performers also have the ability to expand their market base by auctioning off clothing,
pictures, or videos, or by having private sessions with clients. In this way, cam girls can move
beyond the sponsorship of the webcam website and make profits first hand as an entrepreneur or
business leader. Promotions are made through social media accounts so models can remind their
clients of performance times or reach out to prospective audiences (Bleakley 900). As models
grow a loyal client base they tend to form mutually beneficial relationships with their viewers,
resulting in the repeated business that pornography videos do not achieve as easily. Models often
know and can name their most loyal clients and tippers, who may contribute hundreds or
thousands of dollars in money or gifts (Richtel). The interactivity of the chat room provides a
supportive and respectful atmosphere- for the most part, clients want models to feel appreciated
and comfortable. Since everyone is in the same chat room clients can report people who harass
workers, adding to the mutual respect between model and audience.
The opportunity to interact with the client base is not just beneficial for models, but can
serve various positive purposes for clients as well. In an age of heteronormativity- which Julia T.
Woods describes as The assumption that heterosexuality is normative and all other sexual
identities are abnormal- webcams provide a larger community base for LGBTQA* members

(327). Even though there are multiple people in the same chat room online, watching webcam
shows is typically a private experience; this means the viewer has the choice to privately explore
their sexuality online or connect with other clients/models. Having these opportunities can
alleviate feelings of isolation or provide sexual stimulation in a way that real-life cannot. The
same can be said of clients with mental or physical conditions that dont allow them to meet
people easily: veterans who suffer from PTSD, people with agoraphobia or social anxiety, or
those with physical limitations may all find comfort in being able to chat with models who
provide more interaction than stripping or performing sexual acts in front of a camera.
Of course, there are negative parts to the webcam modeling industry. Tragic cases of
human sex trafficking and child pornography do happen. Victims of sex trafficking may be
forced into webcam modeling by their captors, with profits going directly to the trafficking
industry or specific individuals. In other cases, adults (usually males) will coerce kids under the
age of 18 to make or perform pornographic material in front of the camera. One such case was
that of 19-year-old Justin Berry in 2006. Mr. Berry accused 28-year old computer consultant Ken
Gourlay of ...luring him to Michigan when he was 13, molesting him and setting up a website
that charged a monthly fee for videos of him performing various sex acts (Peters). These
realities are horrific and tragic, and unfortunately present in every adult entertainment industry,
from prostitution to pornography.
While the exploitation and trafficking of minors and adults for sexual purposes is
sickening, there is progress being made in the identifying and charging of individuals committing
these crimes. Clients can report underage webcamming or concerning behavior in the chat
rooms. Other organizations work to identify online users seeking children for sex acts. In 2013,
Dutch childrens charity, Terres Des Hommes, launched a project campaign to shed light on

webcam sex tourism by posing as a 10-year-old computer-generated Filipino girl named


Sweetie and setting up a webcam account. According to Angus Crawford of BBC News, by
creating a fake account with a fake child, this charity was able to hand over to the police the
names of those who offered Sweetie money to pose naked, roughly one thousand in total. Efforts
like these seek to restore justice to the victims of child pornography and human sex trafficking,
both of which are incredibly disturbing realities.
Another downside to the webcam modeling business is the stereotyped role of mother
that many webcam models fall into once they strike up conversations and online relationships
with male clientele. According to Julia T. Woods this gendered categorization is common for
women in a workplace: ...others expect women employees to take care of the emotional
labor... (235). Webcam girls often consider themselves ...digital geishas, therapists, consorts,
[or] virtual performance artists because they form online relationships with males who seek
comfort in the online dialogue as well as the physical performance (Richtel). Men typically feel
pressured to adhere to stereotypically male speech patterns, which undervalue emotional
dialogue and emphasize authority and control, known as conversational command (Woods
132). These same men may find liberation in the anonymity of the Internet, thus increasing their
capacity for emotional talk with a cam girl. Regardless, this behavior perpetuates gendered
stereotypes of women as caretakers in the workplace. Sometimes, these online relationships can
become threatening to the models.
Although webcam modeling is a relatively safe field, there are times when cam models
feel threatened by clients online. Some are outed, meaning their real names and other personal
information is identified and put on the Internet. According to cam girl Miss Lollipop, You have
to be O.K. with [the possibility of] that before you get into it (Richtel). Other models complain

of isolation as the lines start to blur between their cam identity and their real identity. Still
others complain of economic desperation that causes them to perform acts they may not be
comfortable with but know are profitable, which can result in feelings of low self-esteem and
shamefulness. However, if a model goes into this industry understanding the possible downsides
of webcam modeling they can learn to identify and take care of these issues should they arise.
Its important for webcam models to maintain a feminist standpoint in this industry by putting
their needs first and taking care of themselves emotionally. Thankfully, the independent and
individualistic nature of this industry encourages the feminist values of sexual equality, selfexploration, and self-management.
Webcam modeling is an incredibly broad industry that can only be described as an
entrepreneurial business. It emphasizes the sex-positive, feminist ideal of individual sexual
freedom as a means of making money and forming online relationships. Webcam modeling
boasts diversity in employment and clientele, as it is available for anyone and everyone with
internet access. Although there is a darker side to webcam modeling, such as human sex
trafficking and child pornography, the introduction of new technology and humanitarian
campaigns are working to combat the illegal usage of people for sex purposes. These unfortunate
situations do not deter from the fact that, for the most part, the webcam modeling industry
demonstrates progressive feminist ideals, especially in terms of healthy sexuality. No matter
what, webcam models must keep in mind that their emotional, economic, and physical needs
deserve precedence in this ever-evolving sex industry.

Works Cited
Attwood, Feona. "The Paradigm Shift: Pornography Research, Sexualization, and Extreme
Images." Sociology Compass 5.1 (2011). Wiley Online Library.Web. 19 May
2015.
Bleakley, Paul. "500 Tokens to Go Private: Camgirls, Cybersex and Feminist
Entrepreneurship." Sexuality and Culture: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 18.4
(2014).
SpringerLink. Web. 18 May 2015.
Crawford, Angus. "Computer-generated 'Sweetie' Catches Online Predators." BBC News. BBC
News, 05 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 May 2015.
Knight, Brooke A. "Watch Me! Webcams and the Public Exposure of Private Lives." Art
Journal 59.4 (2000): 21-23. JSTOR. Web. 20 May 2015.
McCormack, Simon. "Kendra Sunderland, Oregon State Cam Girl, Speaks Out." The Huffington
Post. The Huffington Post, 06 Feb. 2015. Web. 21 May 2015.
Peters, Jeremy W. "Another Arrest in Webcam Pornography Case." The New York Times. The
New York Times, 15 May 2006. Web. 22 May 2015.
Richtel, Matt. "Intimacy on the Web, With a Crowd." The New York Times. The New York
Times, 21 Sept. 2013. Web. 17 May 2015.
Woods, Julia T. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture. 10th ed. Chapel Hill:
Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.