“The decentralization of the industry is giving workers more power,” said Heather Berg, a lecturer in gender studies at the University of Southern California who studies labor issues in pornography. “It’s now so easy to produce and distribute your own content that workers are a lot less dependent on the boss.”
“Since the recession, we’ve seen this giant influx of women who are older, college educated and have backgrounds in business,” said Ms. Shibari, who currently works mostly as a marketer. “Now we have all these empowered women who want to speak up.”
Women have always capitalized on technological change to find a way into the male-dominated industry. The popularization of the VHS tape in the 1980s allowed them to experience pornography in their homes instead of in darkened theaters surrounded by guys. Newly affordable cameras made it possible for them to shoot and direct their own films. And even as studios have faltered, independent companies have gained footholds.
Take Pink and White Productions, which is run by the director Shine Louise Houston. In her time working for a sex shop, she had noticed a lack of queer material, so she decided to direct her own. In her first film, “Crash Pad” (2006), she cast Jiz Lee, a nonbinary artist and porn novice, to star.
“I had always been interested in sex work, but I didn’t think I could do it without changing myself to present more in line with mainstream aesthetics — how I looked and how I had sex,” Mx. Lee said. “When I started, it seemed like everybody looked like Stormy Daniels.”
Mx. Lee has since performed in many of Ms. Houston’s films, but also for mainstream companies like Vivid, and now manages marketing for Pink and White. These days, “we’re seeing more trans people in porn, people of color, queer people, people of size, older people, people with disabilities,” Mx. Lee said. “We have a much more expansive vision of what’s possible.”