Feminist Pornography

There’s a fascinating article out on Alternet, about the efforts of feminist pornographers. (I know that some use definitions of ‘feminist’ and ‘pornography’ that make this term necessarily empty. If you’re such a person, substitute ‘feminist makers of sexually explicit films’, and read on– you may or may not grant that any of these people have managed it, but it’s worth thinking about what it would take to get there, and these people are doing interesting work.) It includes discussion of the Feminist Porn Awards (interestingly, these were initiated as a response to racism in pornography).  Also discussion of the many different ways that various directors understand what it is to make feminist pornography.  Audacia Ray focuses on working conditions.

According to Audacia Ray, director of the The Bi Apple as well as a sex educator and sex workers-rights activist, “Feminist porn is, for me, much more about the production end of things than it is about what is actually onscreen. It’s about the ability of the people performing the porn to negotiate what they’re doing.” For Ray, producing feminist porn involves paying performers above the industry standard, using condoms and covering the costs of HIV testing (neither of which are industry standards), getting input from her cast about what they want to do before they arrive on set, and avoiding surprising actors with last-minute requests.

Venus Hottentot discusses content:

“For me what makes it feminist is the story,” explains Hottentot. “[With Afrodite Superstar,] I wanted to create something about sexuality and self-esteem, and for me those were my first objectives in making this film. When I looked at what is going on with HIV/AIDS in the African-American and Latin communities, I felt like there needed to be a sexual conversation.” And it’s in that context that Hottentot tells the story of a young woman of color struggling to discover an authentic identity and sexuality in the mainstream hip hop industry.

Tristan Taormino combines both by allowing performers to decide the content:

Tristan Taormino places her cast of professional adult performers in charge of how, when, why, with whom, and how often they have sex, and then interviews them about everything from the racism in porn to what they like to perform. For Taormino, the collaborative aspect is a crucial part of what makes her work feminist. “I want viewers to get to know the performers and get a more three-dimensional character, as opposed to [a] one-dimensional sex robot.” Creating context is also how Taormino responds to the dominant imagery in mainstream porn. “When something comes up that could possibly reinforce a dominant image — like, for example, in Chemistry 3 there was a bunch of rough sex — [it’s] really important to, in my interviews with people, have them specifically talk about why they like rough sex, how they obtain consent, what their boundaries are, and how it relates to their sexual expression.

One particularly interesting thing that comes out in the article is that– if the article’s right– mainstream pornography is starting to pay a bit of attention to feminist pornography. One of the winners of the Feminist Porn Awards also won a mainstream award for Best Gonzo Release– particularly significant because this is a genre which has traditionally been amongst the most misogynistic. I really do urge you to read the article of you’re interested in feminism and pornography, whatever your views are. There’s a lot of complexity in the article. (The article is exclusively about feminist pornographers, so it’s not the place to go for a discussion of feminist opposition to pornography– but it doesn’t try to do that.)