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.)

4 thoughts on “Feminist Pornography

  1. I find this so very interesting that this came up in my blog surfer on the day that I’m finishing writing a case study about Good For Her, and how that store is an example of Feminist Principles, Feminist Leadership and Feminist Activism.

    I believe that celebrating the good work of people who respect their sex-workers, is a type of anti-violence strategy in and of itself.

    I look forward to reading more about what people say about these awards, and these ideas in the near future.

  2. In the spirit of the value of subjectivity the article praises, I thought I’d post my reaction to it.

    These first couple of quotes are from the same paragraph…

    “The awards recognize sexually explicit films that fulfill at least two of three criteria: first, a woman is substantially involved with the making of the film; second, the film depicts genuine female pleasure; and third, it expands the range of sexual expression for women by telling us something new about female sexuality.”

    “Categories range from Hottest Group Sex Scene to Hottest Diverse Cast to Hottest Trans Sex Scene; winning filmmakers and performers travel to Toronto from across North America to accept butt plug-shaped trophies.”

    Nothing more empowering than recieving an award fashioned in the shape of a butt plug for the expression of genuine pleasure recieved for the best group scene.

    “Feminist porn is, for me, much more about the production end of things than it is about what is actually onscreen.”

    Yeah, you probably want to ignore the act of prostitution that is being filmed and concentrate of the production end. What is the gender equivalent of an uncle Tom?

    “Others argue that facials reflect the authentic sexuality of some women, and that in fact it’s impossible to call any sex act inherently nonfeminist”

    Really? Rape comes to mind, maybe if another woman arranged the rape of the victim on production end you’d justify though it though, huh.

    ‘”[For] every single piece of porn ever made, there’s a woman who will like it.”

    But are all women feminists?

    “Whatever it looks like and however it’s produced, the adult industry seems more than willing to embrace the feminist-friendly part of its image, likely because the market for it is undeniable.”

    Well if there is a market for it, it must be liberating.

    ‘So what does any of this mean for smut-inclined viewers? The way each of us perceives sexually explicit work is ultimately wholly subjective, which is perhaps what makes feminist porn so fascinating and simultaneously confounding. “Don’t try to make it objective,” Gallant chastises me when I try to tie up this undertaking in a neat little package. “I mean, why try to create the final word on what’s feminist? I think it’s okay for us to have varying ideas about what constitutes feminist porn.”‘

    So because there are fragmented ideas within feminism, we should simply shrug our shoulders and call all interpretations equal? Making slightly subversive porn is then respectful to the subjectivity of the performer (so long as it sells) and not about objectification of the subjects. If subjectivity and relativity are interchangeable (they’re not btw) then why even bother with feminism in the first place. I just love lazy postmodernism used to justify laissez faire more$. Is ‘feminist porn’ really progressive because its about the money, not the money shot?

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