Feminist Porn: Explaining

So to begin, we offer a broad definition of feminist porn, which will be fleshed out, debated, and examined in the pieces that follow. As both an established and emerging genre of pornography, feminist porn uses sexually explicit imagery to contest and complicate dominant representations of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, ability, age, body type, and other identity markers. It explores concepts of desire, agency, power, beauty, and pleasure at their most confounding and difficult, including pleasure within and across inequality, in the face of injustice, and against the limits of gender hierarchy and both heteronormativity and homonormativity. It seeks to unsettle conventional definitions of sex, and expand the language of sex as an erotic activity, an expression of identity, a power exchange, a cultural commodity, and even a new politics.

Taken from The Feminist Porn Book (pp. 9-10).

Next month is a ceremony that tends to go unheralded in even feminist circles. The Feminist Porn Awards are run every April to define the delicate balance between films that are erotic and pleasurable vs. fair and honest depictions of multiple types of sexuality. I support discussing this and not solely because my site is named after erections. And while the introductory quote above suffices for an explanation as to what feminist porn is, there has to be more explanation about why feminist porn is important.

But first, we have to start from the emergence.

Almost as an echo for the Sexual Revolution, pornography began to receive mainstream attention in the 1970s, buoyed by the success of Deep Throat and Debbie Does Dallas among other features. These films, designed with a male audience in mind, gained this attention as a curiosity. While nudity and pornography had always been around, the 1970s was the first major period where pornography was more than a passing fad. Business saw an enterprise in people having sex and the similar emergence of the grindhouse scene gave low-budget pornography a home.

At this point, radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Gail Dines began protesting pornography on the platform that these films were about violent acts committed towards women. These arguments are expanded through more general feminist lenses on objectification of women, since women are portrayed in pornography through their abilities to have sex rather than to be a three-dimensional person. In a 2010 interview with the Guardian, Gail Dines says of porn, “‘[p]ornography is the perfect propaganda piece for patriarchy. In nothing else is their hatred of us quite as clear.'”

With all of this in mind (and please look at the Wikipedia for feminist views of pornography, there is a lot of denseness to unpack), the question gets murkier when third-wave feminism rises in the 1990s. I think Kathleen Hanna puts it best in a Bikini Kill song I posted last week, the amazing “I Like Fucking.” In it, Hanna says, “Just ’cause my world, sweet sister, is so fucking // Goddamn full of rape–Does that mean // My body must always be a source of pain? // No. No. No.” The question is complex now, muddled even further by antiporn feminists often finding themselves as strange bedfellows with rote conservative politics.

And that question ultimately is, “Can porn be feminist?”

The answer, obviously, is yes. And here’s why. The third-wave’s effects and the internet’s realization of just how many “turn ons” there really are in the world may have made the realization that porn is a multi-faceted field. Yes, I just wrote that sentence. There’s some gross porn out there. The recent revenge porn craze is fucking horrifying and I can’t exactly shed a tear upon hearing that Joe Francis’s “here’s a t-shirt in exchange for your body to be on DVDs” enterprise Girls Gone Wild is going bankrupt. But that is something sites like GoodForHer.com opt to change.

The most annoying term for porn is the tagged “porn for women.” While it makes completely clear that these tales are about a different sort of arousal (female orgasms), it sort of casts aside the idea that men can appreciate this. This is why I prefer “feminist porn” and why that label has been co-opted by wonderful filmmakers like Madison Young and Tristan Taormino. I will talk about the worth of their films at a later time.

Instead, I’m going to bring up the diversity of the types of porn films nominated for the Feminist Porn Awards. There are movies about straight, lesbian, trans, and complex romance in the nominations. Madison Young has a 50 Shades of Grey porn takeoff on the list. Even mainstream porn companies have films among the nominations, showing everything the mainstream companies put out isn’t just BangBus level creepiness. Body types are similarly numerous here. And even if the argument is that sex immediately equates the women into objects, who is to say that sex doesn’t have its own complexities? These films are actually about the complexities of sex. And that is why they deserve discussion that I hope will bring to attention some cool stuff.

Porn is complex, more than you can even imagine. As Kathleen Hanna says, “I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe.

I do. I do. I do.”

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