By Josephine Battye Martinez
I once flirted with the idea of becoming a camgirl with my housemate, to tackle the impending doom of our maintenance loan being cut off and paying for our own rent. We had heard idyllic fairy tales of friends of friends of friends being offered a grand to piss on the floor, or hundreds for coy photographs of their feet.
Kerching! What an easy ride to wealth.
Every Generation Z girl knows a girl who has been or is a Camgirl. Its pervasiveness renders it reassuringly accessible. Just as a pleased friend with her new boob job naturalises plastic surgery and creates your personal advert for the key to happiness, Camming works in similar ways; poster girls that have tried and tested their site have an in for you whenever you should ask.
I began communicating with my friend on how the Webcamming ordeal worked. She would put me in contact with a woman who would ask questions about what I’d be willing to do, set me up on the site and find me clients, all whilst repeating that I am safe and protected, that I will never have to do anything I don’t want to do. Effortless.
As my girlfriend described the process my dormant feminism awoke. “So, she’s pimping you out” I asserted. She couldn’t see it this way. This was honest work, and a labouring woman should be rewarded for her time in building relationships between woman-as-object and ogre-with-cash-to-spend-on-live-porn. She panders from her watch tower, calmly profiting off my vulnerability.
The true dynamic between camgirl and cam-godmother flashed before my eyes, something my friend, unfortunately, did not understand. A belief rules her psyche, characterising the inability to prevent oneself from tumbling down the Webcamming hole: women’s bodies are rightly situated in the consumer system.
If you have the joy of not being lured in by one of your mates or aren’t aware of someone who Cams, then there are how-to articles to rope you in, like Maximizing Your Slut Impact: An Overly Analytical Guide to Camgirling, how to get started, the ins and outs of what everything means, by Aella on KnowingLess.com.
She opens with some attractive information, the highest-earning camgirl on MyFreeCams.com (the most famous site) was a non-nude model. However, she closes with “nobody knows you and nobody cares about you. It’s going to be horrible and you’re going to be discouraged. Be prepared for this. Know that your first few weeks will probably be a slog. (Some girls have an immediately easy time, but don’t expect this will happen to you)”. This slog is the kicker that loses you clothes and boundaries.
To begin, Aella explains, you must choose between a token site, which has a higher earning potential but is a more intensive “busking” for tips sort (like MyFreeCams.com), or a private site, resembling a brothel, where you enter rooms one-on-one for a fixed rate.
To be a successful camgirl you should look as feminine as possible by appearing to not wear any makeup and no lingerie: the “girl next door” look. Although camming is really all about personality, she says… better money is made by creating an emotional connection with your grotesque buyer, far beyond being just a masturbatory tool; being their support on and off camera is how you boost profits.
Girlfriending, being this ‘support’ off-site, means sending porny photos and videos of yourself for free to fulfil a returning customer. After that, filming amateur porn and selling it to the Camming site is your only hope when your clients have become bored of you.
Webcamming is consistently presented to be a lucrative business. Televised propaganda, programmes like Olivia Attwood’s Getting Filthy Rich, portray salaries to be incredibly high, enough to buy you a mansion and a Ferrari. One scroll through the Twitter hashtag saw many tweets from NHS workers jokingly, and not so jokingly, saying how much they were considering leaving their posts for this kind of sex work. Good job Channel 4.
This earning potential is a myth. I read through multiple news articles promoting the cam industry to offer dependable big bucks, but all the women interviewed were either previously in criminally low-paying work, had lost their job, or had to leave due to mental health issues. So, their new £700 per week salary seems like a dream. But at what cost?
“I once had an eight-hour shift where I only made £0.81” one woman slips into the mass praise. This extreme fluctuation is the reality, due to hidden fees, such as a 5% to 10% processing fee from the high-risk payment services these sites use, on top of a camgirl receiving anywhere between 35%-75% of her wages after the site takes its cut. Not to mention all the equipment and set-up costs, whether you cam from home or a studio. To set up your own space, ordering everything from Amazon, even with some suspicious discounts on all the products Aella linked in her article, will set you back £185 before you’ve even started.
The promise of good money for little effort is the primary attraction to webcamming, as we now know, but for many women, there is a physical force they cannot escape. This woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells the story of how she was groomed into camming by her ex-partner.
“It started simple. Small, like drops of water into a bucket. At first it was camming, which at the time when my ex suggested it, sounded easy enough. I thought, well I could make that work. At the time I was doing a shitty job, with shit pay, barely able to cover my bills, sometimes not even, and I wanted some financial security. I was wrong.
I thought it was to be on my terms, all I needed was an extra 200 a month. I thought it’d just be one or two hours. Well, I was inherently wrong.
Every night I would paint my face, dress up slutty, trying my best to mask the pain inside, just to put on show my body, to an uncaring audience for their sexual gratification. I mean after all why trouble people with your own problems when they came to have a good time? My ex would use the threat of brute force if I didn’t perform well. Every night I was just streaming myself into a void, to an audience that didn’t care there was a human behind it.
Yeah, sure, I wasn’t being pimped on the streets. I wasn’t forced to work in a strip club. But it was still hell. I was being intimidated to debase myself for an audience because I was scared, and alone. I had no support system, no help. Eventually, I accepted my lot. I pretended I wasn’t there, that the person on the screen wasn’t me. What little profit I earned went to vodka, which made the whole experience bearable; I was scared and alone, and I did drink to forget that, and it never worked well for me.”
Empowerment enshrines the sex industry in all its cognitive dissonant glory. Cognitive dissonance describes the mental conflict that occurs when your beliefs and your actions do not align. “I charge £2/minute for group chats, so that’s where a few different people are in the same room. In those cases, they can tip you – I once got a group of guys who tipped me a tenner every time, I spanked myself. It was crazy, but so, so empowering!” is a prime example, taken from a Vice article on Webcamming.
Such liberal feminist philosophy decides that any pornification and objectification of oneself is a positive in the face of monetary gain. This insidious mental gymnastics melts away the reality of the sex worker, degeneration from the inside out. It cements women in this position, as something that has a price. What about a blow job for a tenner? Is that suddenly less empowering? Men view the woman on their screen as equal to those ten pounds, having as much value as a hot meal. And where do they take this association? Into every relationship with every woman in their lives.
Revenge porn is a real and rapid danger for Camgirls. By being fully identifiable on camera, because you’d be missing out on cash if you wore a mask or such heavy makeup so that you no longer looked like the vulnerable teen-like girl next door, you undeniably look like yourself. It takes a punter no difficulty to record his screen or take screenshots of the nude camgirl and then plaster it over the internet from his gilded palace. Her face remains attached to that act forever. Revenge porn is so frequent, MyFreeCams.com has a new policy working with RemoveYourContent and using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act if a cam model finds her content posted elsewhere. This is treated as an issue of intellectual property, within consumer law boundaries, not as a crime against women.
Stalking is another crime you cannot be saved from. Abi, a university student, started camming, as the well-known story goes, because it seemed smarter than menial minimum-wage labour. One of her clients identified her. He started stalking her. Abi was so terrified that she had no choice but to turn to the police. They were initially helpful, but he remains at large and a very serious threat – so now she can’t do anything online with a public profile because of the risk that he will find her. She has maximum privacy settings on all her accounts and must avoid some platforms completely. She’s now graduated and is building a career – but is unable to post a portfolio of her work online because of the continuing risk that he poses. Similarly, she can’t advertise freelance services or have a LinkedIn account, which is a real disadvantage in the field she works in – because that’s the key way employers find contractors and potential employees.
Abi has been beaten into the shadows, unable to participate as normal in her skilled career path. Webcamming from the comfort of your own home, with your own laptop that you can slam shut when you become overwhelmed with fear, is an illusion of safety. No woman is safe filming herself live doing sexual acts for an audience of nameless men. Once you leave your house, any of your information gets leaked, or try to move on from it, there is nothing stopping a punter from discovering you in person. Is that empowering?
An edited version of this article was read as part of the ‘Sugaring the pill’ section of the Nordic Model Now! ‘Power Play: Is the sex industry REALLY empowering for women?’ event in Coventry, England, on Saturday 3 June 2023.